Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Go Norte, Young Man

And if his insect-borne swelling wasn’t enough trouble at Christmastime, Fidel has to deal with the defection of a prominent former comrade to the welcoming arms of the New York Yanquis. His prospective salary of $32 million over four years assumably represents a significant raise from what he was paid for his pitching in the workers’ paradise. He joins a list of past defectors, including the successful Orlando Hernandez and not-so-successful “Traitor to the Motherland” Andy Morales.

Respond
Reach for the Citronella Cigars

The CIA’s genetically engineered mosquitoes have finally started doing their job, though it appears their first victim might end up surviving the attack. Despite the less-than-fatal reaction, the program is expected to expand - Col. Kadaffi, there’s a cybernetic scorpion with your name on it.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Government to Mandate Time Machines in All Post Offices

The New Jersey legislature has just voted to require use of a technology that doesn’t exist. The Childproof Handgun Bill will require that all guns sold in the state be equipped with a device that allows only the owner to fire it – that is, once someone creates such a technology. Naturally, illegally-obtained guns used by criminals will probably not end up being similarly equipped. In addition, the device will keep other family members from using father’s gun in self-defense in the event of a home intrusion. As with trigger locks and other safety measures, anything that slows down response time or makes the weapon less accessible puts the potential victims of a violent crime in greater danger. But, Mrs. Brady says, they help keep children from firing guns! Yes, the more you do to lock up a weapon, the less likely it will ever be fired. People who think that private ownership of firearms for self-defense is legitimate at all, though, need to acknowledge the trade-off. “Safety” legislation can make people less safe, sometimes fatally so.

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Sunday, December 08, 2002

Still No Recount

The extremely close senatorial election in South Dakota has broken many Republican hearts in the last few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped some party officials from pining away for rescue by their own white knight – credible evidence of electoral fraud. South Dakota’s attorney general is currently investigating allegations from across the state, the most serious coming from Indian reservations in the state, which generally vote heavily Democratic.

Respond
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, except 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election

The much-awaited legal battle between free speech and campaign finance regulation has finally begun in earnest with oral arguments before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over the McCain-Feingold "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act." Unfortunately for PR purposes but fortunately for the plaintiffs' prospects, former special counsel Ken Starr will be leading the case against the spending and contribution restrictions. Focusing in on one of the reasons for the much-vaunted bipartisan nature of the bill’s passage, Starr said "When you look at the legislative record, what you see is ... the incumbent members of Congress, who supported this legislation, said, ‘we don't like ads. We want control over our campaigns. We don't like people using our names in ads.’ It's really quite staggering. In a free society, if you have a view with respect to a particular law, you can't name a member of Congress or a candidate for Congress?" All the members who voted for McCain-Feingold were by definition incumbents, most of them planning to run for reelection. What could have more bipartisan appeal than hobbling potential challengers while preserving, indeed strengthening, the advantages of incumbency?

Respond

Friday, December 06, 2002

Reading the Bans of Government

The Canadian government seems to be having a difficult time these days deciding what to ban. Banning things, of course, is one of the prime functions of government and fringe benefits of political power, so this could end up turning into something of a national crisis. The first ban they’re considering is on the Lebanese group Hezbollah. This plan follows a speech by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah encouraging true believers to adopt the practice of suicide bombing worldwide and to “not be shy about it.” Indeed – there’s nothing worse than a timid suicide bomber. Progress looks like it’s going to be slow, though, as the government is waiting for official intelligence and law enforcement reports before proceeding. Before proceeding, that is, to seize the Canadian-held assets of a known terrorist organization that has expressly advocated genocide. Wouldn’t want to rush into that rash course of action without crossing all of your Ts, certainly. The Canadian Justice Minister is also putting the brakes on another impending ban, this one on child pornography. He is of the opinion that the legislation moving through Parliament on that topic needs an “artistic merit” exception. That way, if you’re going to sexually exploit children while producing pornography, you’re going to be required to have really nice lighting and a believable plot first. First up under the new law – an all-nude, all-underage performance of King Lear. What could have more artistic merit than that?

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Thursday, December 05, 2002

A Merry Centenary Birthday to You

The U.S. Senate’s most senior member is 100 years young today. The man who once played little league with Methuselah’s older brother if finally heading toward the quiet reward of a restful retirement in his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina. Ol’ Strom has had a colorful career in politics, now spanning over 70 years, that stretched from reform-minded educator to hang-’em-high judge to anti-integregationist Democrat to conscientious conservative Republican to, eventually, racial reconciliator (after a fashion). He’ll be remembered not only for his extraordinary longevity but as a favorite subject for countless morbid Washington jokesters for whom his advancing decrepitude and persistent ass-grabbing were a combination too compelling to resist. This is man, after all, who makes Robert Byrd look vigorous and coherent. A most remarkable individual indeed. So happy birthday, Senator Thurmond. May your next 100 years be filled with as much excitement as your first.

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Thursday, November 28, 2002

Bubbles Can Burst?

The last strangled cries of peer-to-peer pioneer Napster was heard recently, when Roxio agreed to buy its patents and trademarks for the grand sum of $5 million. Considering that Shawn Fanning’s creation was supposed to revolutionize the music business, it’s especially disappointing - some dotcoms spent more than that on their launch parties. Of course the spawn of Napster – Grokster, KaZaA, WinMX, LimeWire and the rest – are still going strong, bringing copyrighted music and low-res pornography into the homes of millions of people around the world. Napster, you shall not be forgotten.

Respond
All Irrelevant Politics is Local

The Grateful Dead-loving residents of Eugene, Oregon have always been reliable paragons of liberalism. The presence of the University of Oregon has a lot to do with it, as has the proximity of celebrated countercultural figures such as the late Ken Kesey. Not wanting to remain silent in the face of an attack on civil liberties, the Eugene City Council has voted to officially denounce John Ashcroft’s baby, the USA PATRIOT Act. Eugene’s city fathers heard from many locals at a public forum, including Alexander Gonzales, who said, "If we grow up thinking that it's ok to profile, it's ok to subject people to searches, then what is ok?" A compelling question, certainly. Symbolic resolutions like this one have a long history, including Takoma Park, Maryland declaring itself a “nuclear-free zone,” Berkeley deciding it would become a “hate-free zone,” and the various towns in states like Vermont voting their approval of the Kyoto Protocol.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Double Bacon Cheeseburger, Hold the Bun

More vindication for the Atkins Diet this week. Physicians have dumped on poor Doc Atkins for years, saying that a high fat diet couldn't possibly be good for your heart. Why, everyone knows eating a lot of fat is bad for your health! Yet the good doctor seems to have proved repeatedly that the mainstream medical opinion about the effect of fat consumption of cardiovascular health is simply wrong, and always has been. Normally the debate wouldn't be so interesting, but it has developed into a battle of personalities - the condescending medical expert who thinks Atkins is some kind of diet book charlatan selling a worthless fad vs. the feisty doctor himself, always ready to debate and challenge the establishment to more research. Proving pretentious people wrong, it seems, is also good for your health.

Respond
The Third World Rejoices

The news is out on yet another curse of of abundance: asthma. The President of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology told his organization's members recently that in the cleanest nations with the best health care have the highest rates of asthma, while filthy developing nations have hardly any cases at all; "perhaps we live too cleanly," he told his immunological colleagues. Perhaps, but I'll trade more asthma for less malaria, dysentery, and intestinal parasitism any time.

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Monday, November 18, 2002

Will the Real John Engler Please Stand Up?

Eminem being praised by conservatives is an amusing turn, but in this case the substance of the issue overwhelms the irony. Henry Payne writes in NRO today about how well 8 Mile portrayed the "infamous urban nightmare" of Detroit. Yes, it's a city with two large, daily newspapers. But:

"The results of [Great Society social] policies are everywhere. Detroit, Michigan's largest city with 970,000 people, has only one movie theater, the Phoenix on Eight Mile (where a man was shot in the stomach on the film's opening night). It does not contain a single large retail store. Not one. Detroiters must travel to neighboring Dearborn to find a Sears or a Marshall's. Seventy percent of children are born into single-parent households. Kids walking to school along Hamilton Avenue on the city's west side or John R Road on the east side — just to use two of numerous examples — pass rows of abandoned buildings (an estimated 10,700 dot the city), dope addicts and criminals often lurking inside. On the city's main street, Woodward Avenue, teenagers serve Popeye's and McDonald's kid's meals from behind bulletproof glass."

Respond

Friday, November 15, 2002

Got Ovaries?

Japanese-Americans and the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments have new company - thousands of sterilized Oregonians. Joining the list of groups abused by the power of the state who have now been publicly apologized to are 2,600 epileptics, unwed teen mothers and other unwanted indigents who lived in Oregon at the time they fell into state care and were subsequently deprived the powers of natural reproduction. Surprisingly, this practice of eugenics continued in the state until the year Jimmy Carter left the White House. And it didn't consist merely of relatively humane procedures like vasectomies; in the early years of the eugenics program castrations were apparently just as common. Being hailed as a milestone by (generally left-leaning) human rights activists, it should cause just as much happiness in the churches of the nation, especially those familiar with His Holiness's teaching on The Culture of Life.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Sharia Family Values

Amina Lawal is still alive, though the day of her execution grows ever closer. The 31-year old Nigerian mother of three is to be stoned to death as soon as the baby she illegally bore out of wedlock (the result of a rape) is weaned. The sentence comes down from the Islamic officials in her home state of Katsina. Her case is receiving renewed attention, as Nigeria is this week hosting the Miss World beauty pageant. Several contestants from around the world have declined to travel to a nation whose government punishes rape victims with a hail of sharp rocks.

Respond

Monday, November 04, 2002

Mere Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World

Just when you think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outdoes every other ethnic clash is pure bloodthirsty horror, someone in Northern Ireland gets crucified. True, it was only one unfortunate bloke and not a bus full of children, but the personal viciousness of it is particularly arresting. This is the sort of attack that causes apocalyptic-minded Evangelicals to revisit their favorite underlined passages of Revelation and pop that copy of Left Behind into the VCR. Remember the scene in The Devil’s Advocate when the Jeffrey Jones character gets attacked and beaten to death while jogging in Central Park? That’s what this reminded me of. If this is what passes for everyday strife, the end must be nigh.

Respond

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Fine Wine Deflates Snobbery

Europeans engaged in selling products where discernment and good taste are paramount have long had a reputation of looking down on Americans. Take wine, for example. Could most Americans imagine a French winery owner having anything but withering disdain for the American public and its tastes? Imagine my surprise, then, upon reading some of the comments made by the wine aficionados at this year’s Vinexpo, held in the U.S. this year for the first time. According to the president of Maison Louis Jadot, Americans are discerning and willing to pay more for quality, while Philip Guigal of Rhone Valley winery E. Guigal actually said “American people really understand quality” and confessed that other French producers needed to become “less arrogant.” Dare we hope that this attitude will spread to France’s politicians as well?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Don’t Be Fooled Again

Today’s bizarro Libertarian candidate: William Bolen, candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s third district. His website features what would normally be a radio ad (though this one is not for broadcast) with a censor bleeping out a seemingly obscenity-filled rant against state and national politicians. He also makes an interesting observation on comparative government and geography: “I believe what makes America the greatest is our long history of individual liberty and personal responsibility. China has amber waves of grain and Iran has spacious skies, but neither have the freedom we enjoy in America today. What makes us great and sets us apart from other nations is Liberty.” I don’t think I’d ever made that comparison before, but he certainly has a point. Nepal has purple mountain majesties, yet still lacks a good after-hours coffeehouse. Finally, my eyes are starting to open.

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Sunday, October 13, 2002

And I Thought People Who Smoked That Much Weed Were Supposed to Be Mellow

Claiming to be homosexual – it’s not just for avoiding the draft anymore. It can now get you protected refugee immigration status in the UK. Two men from Jamaica have recently been granted asylum on the basis of virulent homophobia in their homeland. This comes as a surprise, as the image of Jamaica presented in television ads in the U.S. is one of smiling resort employees cheerfully carrying an American tourist’s golf clubs, or serving him a refreshing tropical drink on a platter. It hardly seems possible that such charming people would kill their local village hairdresser with a machete. The other compelling detail in this story is the anecdotal evidence the two men presented to illustrate how dangerous it is to be that way in Jamaica. Their tales of physical attacks were “reinforced by concern about the lyrics of some of the country's leading music stars.” I had no idea Eminem was a leading music star in the Caribbean.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2002

It's the liberals trying to dupe us to believe it's the economy, stupid!

Buried in an article about the longshoremen's strike, and probably peppered throughout all political reporting this week: “polls show a growing number of voters want Bush to spend more time talking about the economy than Iraq.”

No, not poll(s) but a poll by the NYT and CBS that was a total sham; you don’t have to be a trained political scientist to know that. Just ask Dick Morris or David Tell.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Unfairly Focusing on Likely Suspects

The arrest of three individuals suspected of supporting terrorism in my hometown of Portland, Oregon has produced the expected cries of unfairness from local Islamic community leaders. "It seems like part of the witch hunt from the FBI," said Alaa Abunijem, president of the [Portland] Islamic Center. "The Muslim community in general is being targeted.” Well yes, the Muslim community is being targeted by FBI agents who are trying to find U.S. residents or citizens who are aiding Al Qaeda. How else would law enforcement go about their investigation? Who else would possibly have a motive? Other startling revelations include that only men are targeted in rape investigations and only people people who have been previously convicted of a crime are taken down for parole violations.

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Thursday, October 03, 2002

Shades of the Truth

Sometimes the Libertarian Party tends to give its nomination out to some very colorful characters. Given their chance of winning a local, much less state-wide race, state parties will often endorse anyone who signs on to a basic statement of principles (government: bad, capitalism: good) and promises to make some effort at campaigning. Montana’s Libertarian Party has outdone most its fellow chapters, however, by nominating Stan Jones to run for U.S. Senate. The photo on his campaign site doesn’t really do him justice, though, as he now has blue skin as a result of drinking a solution of silver as an alternative to antibiotics. You see, he was concerned that Y2K computer problems would cause so much havoc that basic medical supplies would no longer be available. CNN reports that the condition is now permanent, but if you have any home remedies that might ameliorate the situation, please share them with the candidate. Other interesting Libertarian candidates include Matt Beauchamp, who is running for Illinois Secretary of State on a “15 Minutes or It’s Free” platform – that is, if elected, he’ll guarantee that you get your driver’s license renewed in less than 15 minutes. And his favorite band is The Tragically Hip – what more qualification does a man need?

Thanks to Marc Webster for the Stan Jones link.

Respond
Inimicus Curiae

Scenario: Robert Torricelli is losing the race for Senate in New Jersey, so he drops out in favor of former Senator Frank Lautenberg, who both state and national Democratic officials hope will keep the NJ race from tipping the Senate back into Republican hands. Problem: State law says there are to be no ballot substitutions if there are less than 51 days to go before the elections, and the Democrats want a substitution with only 34 days to go. Solution: A state supreme court appointed by one of the nation’s most liberal Republican (former) governors, Christine Todd Whitman, which ignores both the letter and spirit of the law entirely, ruling in favor of the Democrats. As Robert George points out, the Lautenberg substitution is exactly the kind of scenario the law in question was meant to prohibit. Yet the New Jersey Supreme Court is allowing it anyway. The Democrats knew that Torricelli was vulnerable – he has been facing credible accusations of corruption for years. This was not a last minute scandal, or even an unexpected problem. They took a calculated risk, hoping the advantages of incumbency would give them the edge, and they lost. Now they’ve managed to get the NJ Supreme Court to essentially overturn state election law to keep from having to deal with the consequences of backing a loser. See also Mark Levin's close review of the Court’s opinion today.

Compare this situation with a similar one in Hawaii where Representative Patsy Mink died a few days after the ballot substitution deadline. Even in this extreme circumstance, the state is keeping her name on the ballot and will hold a special election if her name “wins” the election.

Respond

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Fighting Diversity in Higher Education

The freedom-loving kids at Bureaucrash have highlighted some interesting facts about political diversity in higher education. It seems that the faculty at elite universities are overwhelmingly leftists. I know, what else is new? But having the voter registration numbers to prove it is an interesting development. The American Enterprise conducted the research, labeling Democrats, Greens, and Working Family party members as on the Left, leaving registered Republicans and Libertarians to represent the Right. Walter Williams recently summarized the results in Insight magazine:

“The results? At Brown University, 5 percent of the faculty were members of the party of the right; at Cornell it was 3 percent; Harvard, 4 percent; Penn State, 17 percent; Stanford, 11 percent; the University of California at Los Angeles, 6 percent; and at the University of California at Santa Barbara, 1 percent. There are other universities in the survey; however, the pattern is the same - the faculty is dominated by leftist ideology. In some departments, such as women's studies, African-American studies, political science, sociology, history and English, the entire faculty is leftist. When it came to the 2000 presidential election, 84 percent of Ivy League faculty voted for Al Gore, 6 percent for Ralph Nader and 9 percent for George Bush. In the general electorate, the vote was split at 48 percent for Gore and Bush, and 3 percent for Nader. Zinsmeister concludes that one would find much greater political diversity at a grocery store or on a city bus.”

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Friday, September 27, 2002

Two Terrifying Predictions

Eugene Volokh has some interesting speculations on NRO today regarding Saddam Hussein and nuclear deterrence – written in Hussein’s voice and set during the first presidential term of Hillary Clinton in 2009. Normally writing a column in the voice of another person or dated in the future is an annoying exercise, but this one isn’t bad. It’s tough to tell, however, which development is most uncomfortable to contemplate; Saddam’s nuclear arsenal or a second Clinton presidency.

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Office of Orwellian Imagery

As Jesse Walker pointed out in the October issue of Reason, it seems the graphic designers in the Bush administration are trying to tell us something. Case in point: the seal of the new Information Awareness Office, a part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The seal depicts a pyramid surmounted by an eye casting its glowing gaze over the entire earth. Now DARPA has done lots of great things, including creating what would eventully become the Internet, but their choice of symbols is downright creepy. See also the animated logo the U.S. Patent & Tademark Office is using to symbolize their commitment to homeland security - also featuring a disturbing eye, this time peeking throug a keyhole.

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Friday, September 20, 2002

If Not Now, Then When?

The New York Post is reporting that Saddam Hussein has devised a “doomsday scenario” wherein Al Qaeda suicide bombers would detonate biological weapons in major U.S. cities in the event of a land invasion. This will of course be used as a reason why we can’t now take the risk of invading Iraq. Perhaps, but at the very least it should be acknowledged as a vindication of everyone who said that the UN weapons inspections of the last 10 years were worthless. They didn’t stop Hussein from developing and perfecting the very weapons of mass destruction with which we are now being threatened. If the U.S. lets Hussein get away with playing the UN resolution-and-stall game for another decade, it may be multiple-warhead ICBMs rather than biological dirty bombs we’re confronting.

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Saturday, September 14, 2002

Notes from Underground

The UK has at last come up with a solution for the reeking problem of late night drunks and their urgent bladders. The UriLift is a toilet (raised by hydraulics and not psychokinesis, as the name might imply) that spends the day below street level but rises to duty above the sidewalk when he sun goes down. Its Dutch developer states with admirable clarity that the goal of the UriLift is to "provide a unique solution for indiscriminate urination." Such solutions are, of course, no small matter, as any number of neo-Brecthian absurdist melodramas have recently pointed out.

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Monday, September 09, 2002

Primarily Political

Tomorrow’s twelve state primaries will decide the fate of several high profile candidates. Elizabeth Dole will be trying to fend off six opponents to replace Sen. Jess Helms and become the Republican Hillary Clinton, and former attorney general Janet “Butcher of Waco” Reno will be fighting Florida lawyer Bill McBride for the chance to be defeated by Jeb Bush in November. In local news, the city is faced with an unusual election as both serious candidates in the Democratic primary are running as write-ins . Current DC mayor Anthony Williams was barred from appearing on the ballot (though obviously not from running) because his campaign workers committed election fraud, while his main opponent, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, joined the race too late to qualify for ballot status.

Respond

Saturday, September 07, 2002

Next up, an Article on the Swing Revival and Cigar Bars

As usual, the national news weeklies can be counted on never to be more than 18 months behind in reporting on a new trend. In this case, Newsweek’s version of the blog-trend story is surprisingly restrained, with only a mild whiff of official-journalist condescension: “…thoughts and experiences that range from the somewhat profound to the stultifyingly banal.” As if the same couldn’t be said of Newsweek feature stories. The story goes on, like most do, to cite A. Sullivan, Mickey K., and Jim Romenesko. The authors also go on to quote Rebecca Blood, however, a decision I question, especially after reading Siduri’s Pigdog Journal review of Ms. Blood’s The Weblog Handbook. Treacly and inane, indeed.

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Friday, September 06, 2002

Penny for Your Thoughts, Millions for Your Grief

A new report on the United Way’s September 11 Fund is being issued today, detailing where the $336,000,000 that has been spent so far has gone. Despite early criticism leveled at some of the private charities, especially the Red Cross, the non-profits seem to have done an honorable job of getting help to people who have suffered. Also out this week is a Fortune magazine story on Ken Feinberg, the director of the federal government’s September 11 fund. Congress offered the families of victims federal money in exchange for not suing and bankrupting American and United airlines, and now it’s Mr. Feinberg’s job to see who gets what money. Announced payouts have so far averaged $1.36 million, which has angered some previous terrorism victims, such as survivors of those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, who did not receive any federal compensation for their losses.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2002

No Time to Go All Wobbly

Iain Duncan Smith is do doubt pleased that, as per his challenge in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Prime Minister Blair has now promised to publicy detail the evidence that Saddam Hussein is a menace to the UK. Blair seems reassuringly unfazed by Iraq’s latest offer, delivered in Johannesburg by the oleaginous Tariq Aziz, that they are willing to welcome UN weapons inspectors back into the country.

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Sunday, September 01, 2002

The Winds of Justice Visit Punjab

Death penalty opponents will no doubt be conflicted, but the rest of the world should be pleasantly surprised that at least some crimes against women in Islamic countries are punished severely after all. Six men were sentenced to die early today for their part in a gang rape of Pakistani woman Mukhtiar Mai. The rape was originally sanctioned by Mai’s local tribal council, which ruled that it was just retribution for an alleged affair between Mai’s brother and a sister of one of the attackers. According to Pakistani Law Minister Khalid Ranjha, the decision as the first time in Pakistan's history that tribal jury members, as well as perpetrators, have been punished: "It is a straight message that we are very firm on these issues." Eight other jury members were acquitted.

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Blair on the Spot

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is doing his best to point out the peril to his countrymen of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. In today’s Sunday Times he challenged Tony Blair to publicly explain the threat that he believes Iraq poses to UK, an explanation that would then assumably create a demand for an effective solution, i.e., support for a US-led invasion. Smith seems confident that the evidence of Iraq’s perfidy is strong enough that even Blair would have to admit that Hussein threatens British citizens almost as much American ones: "Anyone who believes that Iraq lacks the ability to strike or denies that this capability is growing is deliberately ignoring the evidence or willfully misconstruing it."

Respond
Propaganda. The Anti-Drug.

The claim that profits from the sale of illegal drugs in the U.S. is funding Islamic terrorism post-9/11 has struck me as little more than a dishonest PR windfall for federal drug warriors, as showcased in the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s television ads launched earlier in the year. The feds are no doubt wagging their fingers we-told-you-so style today, however, as the DEA has allegedly discovered a meth operation operating in Chicago and Detroit that was funneling profits to Hezbollah. It should be remembered as Asa Hutchinson has his day in the sun, though, that this was the first time the DEA has found any evidence of a connection between U.S. drug sales and any Middle East terror organization – several months after the government’s TV ads began presenting the link as an indisputable fact.

Respond

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Crackling with Laughter?

I just had a flashback to Tuesday’s George Monbiot column in the Guardian about Western affluence and its discontents. In the piece, GM makes the vague and unlikely observation that people in desperately poor nations are more happy than the average Brit:

“I hardly dare to mention this for fear of being accused of romanticizing poverty or somehow conspiring to keep people in the picturesque state to which I would never submit myself. But it is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls.”

Flash forward to yesterday’s BBC reports of the Ethiopian government bulldozing a slum village built by just the sort of grinning natives Monbiot wishes all of us alienated rich folks could be more like:

“Thousands of people are being made homeless in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“Under the orders of the city administration, bulldozers began moving into the Bole Bulbula area, near Ethiopia's International Airport, on Thursday morning and began demolishing the houses of more than 10,000 people.

“[BBC correspondent Nita Bhalla] witnessed them arrive to finish the job on Friday morning.

“As people heard the sound of the great machines approaching, they ran inside their homes and began removing all the possessions they could, before their mud and wood houses collapsed to the ground.

“The government says that these houses are illegal and that they would obstruct the planned development of the city.

[…]

“Mekasha Zebene has five children and has lived in Bole Bulbula for 11 years.

‘“The people here have big families...many have seven, four or three children. They are poor and most work as day labourers or do small jobs around the city.’

‘“It would have been better if the government had killed us rather than destroying our homes. They have violated our rights as people and as citizens of Ethiopia.’”


Well, at least they don’t have to worry about being separated from their neighbors by double-glazed windows. And I doubt any of them have ever even seen a remote control.

Respond

Friday, August 30, 2002

Help the Poor Now!
Unless We Say Not To.


The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development continues to horrify and amuse, particularly the confusing arguments of the professional activists. This week the leftist paradox of the developing world has come into sharp focus: activists castigate the United States and the rest of the G-7 for not contributing enough towards growth and development in the Third World, yet every development project and new technology that is proposed is immediately attacked as being environmentally harmful and culturally destructive. From the standpoint of the environmental movement, of course, they’re correct to object – any development project makes life significantly better in a poor country is going to consume more natural resources and use additional energy, and that violates the idea that everyone on the planet should be conserving and using less of everything. The same activists know how callous it sounds to say that people living in poverty don’t deserve the same energy intensive luxuries we have here in the U.S., though, so they generally talk out of both sides of their mouth (“We must encourage development in poor countries” / “We all need to reduce our use of scarce natural resources”) and hope no one calls them on it, which most people never do.

A refreshing if also depressing example of honesty came earlier this week when a development expert from India assailed the expanding prevalence of flush toilets as a pernicious and environmentally destructive trend. Perhaps the Greenpeace monkey wrench crews that have spent the last few years trampling fields of bioengineered crops can start on a new environmental jihad – tear out the indoor plumbing of the cities and villages of the Third World. This new project could be even more successful than their old one, since most of the universities and agribusiness companies that they’ve hit can afford to re-plant their crops, while most developing countries will be too poor to replace their plumbing.

Speaking of which, the development paradox becomes especially stark when it comes to bioengineered foods. Activists point the finger of blame at the wealthy developed countries whenever there is a famine anywhere in the world, yet they vociferously oppose the single most potent solution: the introduction of higher yield crops created through precision genetic modification. The hypocrisy in simultaneously demanding and opposing aid has not gone entirely unnoticed, fortunately. The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development said of the activists’ victory this week in persuading Zambia not to accept U.S. aid that might contain bioengineered foods: "They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake." Shame especially on the government of Zambia that has decided it is better that their people should starve than be exposed to the imagined risks of new crop varieties.

Respond

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Johannesburg: Objection Sustained

This week’s Spectator has an excellent piece on the folly of pursuing that eco-ideal called sustainable development – just the goose chase that is currently engaging tens of thousands hard-working bureaucrats at the UN Summit in Johannesburg this week:

“The environmental lobby is correct that many human activities are, in simple terms, unsustainable. There is, presumably, a limit to the supply of fossil fuels — though the oil industries’ geologists continue to confound the Jeremiahs who once predicted that the last drop of petrol would disappear into the tank of some Chevrolet around 1990. But, given that fossil fuels are in finite supply, it makes no difference whether we keep on buying bigger and better cars or stick to the Kyoto protocol: any level of usage of oil is ultimately unsustainable. To conclude from this that the Western way of life is doomed is wrong. The history of mankind’s progress is one of passage from one unsustainable activity to another. Each time, technology has moved us on to better things before the crunch point has been reached.

“The mediaeval settlement of England depended on consuming vast quantities of native woodland. Between 1500 and 1700, a million acres of English woodland were destroyed in the quest for firewood and ships’ timbers — a rate of consumption which would have seen England’s last tree axed by 1900. So much for the ‘sustainable’ pre-industrial way of life. Just as wood was replaced by coal, so oil and gas will give way at some point to other fuels. But it won’t need an ‘Earth Summit’ to bring it about: the market alone will decide the point at which oil has become so scarce that some other means of powering machinery is to be preferred.”

As the late economist Julian Simon delighted in pointing out, human civilization is the history of substituting new materials, finding better processes, and applying more efficient technologies in the search for a safer and wealthier world. In other words, we don’t need to worry about running out of any particular natural resource because the dispersed intelligence of humanity will always find a substitute, generally a much better one, when any material becomes scarce enough. Whether it’s oil, steel, copper, or anything else we’re allegedly depleting, human beings have proven again and again their ability to invent around scarcity. In fact, it is unsustainable practices themselves that have done so much to make the world a better place to live – if companies and individuals didn’t run up against costly shortages, they’d never need to innovate in the first place.

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Welcome to the Aaron Burr Federal Building

The J. Edgar Hoover building may be on the way out. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, (the civil rights group founded by Martin Luther King, Jr.), has petitioned the Department of Justice to remove Hoover’s name from the FBI’s headquarters in DC (the exterior of which is often glimpsed in X-Files episodes) because of his practice of abusing the FBI’s investigative powers for personal reasons. The campaign is being headed by the SCLC’s current president, Martin Luther King III, but also has support of several members of Congress, including House Government Reform Committee chair Dan Burton (R-IN) and Traficant pal Steve LaTourette (R-OH), among others. I don’t know what the feeling is like inside the FBI, but most people I’ve talked to find Hoover’s name on a federal building highly disagreeable – what Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently called “a monument to a monumental embarrassment.” The only disturbing factor: the current legislation (H.R. 5213) that was introduced by Rep. Burton in July of this year is an almost exact copy of a similar bill that was introduced last year (H.R. 1278) by none other than the Bush-libeling Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). Perhaps there’s more of an X-Files connection here than I thought.

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Cell Block Cincinnatus

It’s official – Jim Traficant will stay on the ballot in Ohio’s re-drawn 17th congressional district and direct his campaign from a minimum security jail cell in Allenwood federal prison. While, sad to say, he might not be able to win the seat outright, he could garner enough votes from his loyal supporters to force a runoff. Unfortunately for his rank and file supporters, however, it seems that serving a nine-year federal prison term puts the brakes on big money fundraising; according to his most recent FEC report his campaign has only $33,745 on hand.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Don't Fence Him In

James Lileks has a hilarious new Screed on the latest pretentious natterings of Guardian columnist George Monbiot. Sample:

Monbiot:
“...in his new pamphlet, The Prospect of Cornutopia, [Simon Fairlie] envisages the future that most of the rich world's governments, economists and media foresee. In this vision, economic growth proceeds at some 3% a year, without threatening the earth's capacity to support its population. By 2100, if this rate is sustained, we will be 18 times richer than we are today.

“Fairlie asks the question that so many economists have ducked. When we possess this fabulous wealth, how will we spend it? ‘A fraction of this amount,’ he notes, ‘will provide all of us with the one car per two people which appears to be the saturation rate...’ What next? Will everyone be jetting around the world on a weekly basis from airports in every town? Will each home have 10 rooms and a swimming pool and, if so, where are we going to build them?”

Lileks:
“The American answer, of course, is ‘right over there. See? Between those trees? By the road? Right there. We’ll call it Fairlie Grove, or Monbiot Acres if you like. You want to see the model house? Two-story family room, broadband ready, and with today’s low rates you can have it for nineteen hundred a month, most of which is tax deductible. Can I put you down for one?’

“Wrong answer, in Monbiot’s world. The line ‘will each home have 10 rooms?’ could only come from a European, accustomed as they are to houses so narrow that Robbie Coltrane had to come to America to live because he doesn’t fit in the average English living room. Ten rooms is nothing in America. My parents ‘62 rambler had ten rooms. The first house I bought had seven; the second, built in 1924, had nine. My current house has more than 10 rooms, and frankly I’d like more. I’d build an addition, if I had the money. Were dollars no concern, I’d build a nice home theater room, and a playroom for my daughter. But would this salve my wounded soul, enliven my deadened heart? Would it make me happy, really truly happy?

“Of course it would! It’s not that I take some sort of rude thoughtless delight from having additional square footage - I like movies, and it would be great to have a big room in which to see them. The absence of such a room does not cause my soul to wither like a salt-sprinkled slug; I do not burn with hatred for those who have such a room, nor do I wake each morning determined to grind my fellow man into a red paste under my tank treads so I can watch ‘Star Wars’ on a 72” screen. It’s one of those American reveries: if I had the scratch, I’d do this, but since I don’t, well, let’s nuke some popcorn and watch The Simpsons. Hey, it's that one where they go to Tokyo! I love the part where they all have seizures.”

Truly a national treasure.

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And You Thought Traffic School Was Embarrassing

The police in Washington, D.C. have come up with a new way to deal with men arrested for soliciting prostitutes – a one-day seminar known to participants as “John School.” First time offenders are allowed to take the course, which requires a $300 donation to charity that helps get prostitutes off the street, in lieu of prosecution. After they sit through six hours of lectures and their check clears, their record is spotless. Even for first time offenders, the participants prove to be more varied that most would expect. Subjects of the John School recently observed by Washington Post reporter Helen Rumbelow included two men with doctorates, a traveling businessman from New York, and a rabbi. Yes, a rabbi, though assumably from a Reform temple.

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Comrades in the War on Terror

One nice thing about the War on Terror is that all heads of state can agree on it. Which political figurehead wouldn't like to increase his own government's power? George Bush's diplomats circumnavigated the globe, getting everyone to agree: It's time for more state-sponsored surveillance and violence. Bombing is thumbs up and midnight raids are in vogue.

Witness Vladimir Putin. We used to pressure him to lay off on the black-masked raids of Chechnya. But now the US and Russia are good buddies, and we happily turn a blind eye. Isreal's raiding. Uzbekistan's raiding. Statism is hip, and there's no doubt. Soon paramilitary fatigues will be in all the fashion magazines.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

An Unlikely Benefactor

It seems the U.S. may have the late terrorist mastermind Abu Nidal to thank for stopping a new wave of Al Qaeda attacks. The Telegraph has reported that Nidal’s violent death last week was the result of refusing Saddam Hussein’s orders to train and lead Al Qaeda refugees in northern Iraq in a new terror campaign against America. Other than recent health problems, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Abu Nidal would refuse an offer to continue his life’s work as nemesis of the West, especially given Saddam’s reputation for dealing with people who decline to follow his orders. According to the chief of Iraqi intelligence, of course, Nidal’s death was a suicide – he killed himself after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Saddam. All who believe that explanation are free to raise there hands. One possibility that does seem intriguing, however, is the connection to Jordan. It turns out Abu Nidal was one of five defendants found guilty (in absentia) last December of murdering a Jordanian diplomat in 1994. Could Saddam’s decision to kill Nidal last week be a way of currying favor with the Jordanians? Certainly with the likely U.S. invasion of Iraq moving forward, he would want to cement as many alliances with bordering states as possible. When the invasion is over and there’s a new government in Baghdad, these questions may all be answered.

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Saturday, August 24, 2002

Trial of the Event of the Century

According to a recent poll conducted by The History Channel in the UK, 41% of viewers considered the September 11 attacks the most important event in the last 100 years of world history, compared with only 19% who considered the bombing of Hiroshima deserving of the distinction. Interesting sidenote: over 12% of British men considered England winning the World Cup in 1966 to be the most important event in the last 100 years of British history.

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The Green Menace

Mark Steyn writes in the National Post this week about the issue assassinated Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was most vocal about – the undermining of open societies by Muslim immigrants. It seems clear now that the generous-minded social democrats who run most of Northwestern Europe are preparing their own societies for destruction by allowing large numbers of Islamic refugees to emigrate with no equivalent demand that they accommodate the culture they’re being welcomed into. To expect cultural assimilation of immigrants – whether in California of in Norway – is regarded by local Progressives as the height of racist impropriety. This attitude persists even when the immigrants’ cultural practices run to street violence and gang rape:

“Five days before 9/11, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65% of the country's rapes were committed by ‘non-Western’ immigrants -- a category which, in Norway, is almost wholly Muslim. A professor at the University of Oslo explained that one reason for the disproportionate Muslim share of the rape market was that in their native lands ‘rape is scarcely punished’ because it is generally believed that ‘it is women who are responsible for rape.’

“So Muslim immigrants to Norway should be made aware that things are a little different in Scandinavia? Not at all! Rather, the professor insisted, ‘Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes’ because their manner of dress would be regarded by Muslim men as inappropriate. ‘Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.’ Or to modify Queen Victoria's wedding-night advice to her daughter: Lie back and think of Yemen.”

Norwegian women need to swath themselves in modest yards of fabric so that they won’t be raped by Muslim immigrants? This is the kind of insane thinking that multiculturalism leads people to. When violent sexual assault is regarded as a valid cultural expression, civil society isn’t long for this world. It’s the natural consequence for people would rather live in a country that is perfectly tolerant than reasonable safe.

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Thursday, August 22, 2002

Robin Hood in Reverse

There is more evidence today that the fruits of Robert Mugabe’s reverse-Apartheid land policies are bypassing his poor countrymen. Actual beneficiaries of the racial land-grab include such people as his wife, sisters, brother-in-law and cabinet ministers. I can imagine Madame Mugabe collecting vacated farms by the dozens like a kind of African Imelda Marcos. Not only was over 30% of the land officially distributed to the President’s family and senior government officials, another 40% initially allocated to landless blacks has since been redirected to ruling party members and assorted presidential cronies. This despite the fact that even Zimbabwe’s own courts have ruled the eviction notices served by the government are unconstitutional. Imagine Roger Clinton being granted half of Yellowstone National Park or the Everglades being given to Jeb Bush.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2002

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap

The question would warrant a wager if the results weren’t so grotesque: How many Zimbabweans are going to die unnecessarily of famine in the next year? Despite the warnings of international aid agencies and impartial observers, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is proceeding with his plan to force white farmers off of their lands, allocating the land to black citizens instead. This comes at the same time as a severe drought, which would have required that the nation’s farms be as efficient and productive as possible just to keep yields stable. With the current owners of the farms being harassed, attacked and imprisoned and the new “owners” lacking the necessary experience and equipment, that is clearly not a goal that is going to be attained. Thus, the very landless peasants that Mugabe is purporting to help are the ones most likely to die in fly-covered droves over the next several months. And perhaps not surprisingly, diplomatic observers have noticed the flood of appropriated land flowing not in the direction of the average poor Zimbabwean, but into the already bulging pockets of Mugabe’s cronies and ruling party apparatchiks. Just when you though things in Africa couldn’t get any worse.

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Millions of Acres and a Mule

I was here in D.C. on Saturday, but somehow I missed the massive gathering of reparations advocates and their demonstration on the Mall. As usual, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan cheered them on, declaring “All Congressmen ought to be here today.” That would have been quite a success for the organizers – perhaps they shouldn’t have scheduled their rally in the middle of the summer recess. The Rt. Rev. Louis Farrakhan was also in attendance. Going far beyond pervious demands for billions in government cash, he harkened back to the black separatist goal Malcolm X (among others) was identified with, saying "We need land for political independence, we need millions of acres." It’s been a while since a recognized black leader called for an autonomous nation-within-a-nation status in the U.S. Note to reparations fans who want to make their goal politically palatable to the majority of the country: you might leave Farrakhan at home next time.

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Friday, August 16, 2002

The General, Not a Team Player

Why is Brent Scowcroft stabbing the Bush administration in the back over invasion plans for Iraq? Hopefully obtaining the fawning attention of the left-wing British press is an insufficient reason. Part of the reason may stem from the perception cited by The Guardian’s Julian Borger that the current President Bush “has surrounded himself with far more radical ideologues on domestic and foreign policy.” In other words, he’s actually a conservative instead of a middle-of-the-road establishment Republican like his father. Unlike George H.W. Bush who was clearly uncomfortable with the allegedly simplistic world outlook of Ronald Reagan, Bush has ended up being for more Reagan Jr. than Bush Jr. when it comes to matters of both policy and style.

Bush and his advisors are making the War on Terrorism a matter of clear moral distinctions - as they should. Just as the cosmopolitan diplomats shuddered when Reagan called the Soivet Union an Evil Empire, so their counterparts today deride Bush for his "cowboy adventurism" and embrace of unilateralism. Yet that strategy is the only way the U.S. will be able to make any progress. And until the foreign ministers of Europe come up with a convincing explanation of why Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to his own citizens, the rest of the reigon and American lives everywhere, we'll all be better off for it.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Experts for Life, Meet Dictators for Life

The forces in American political life opposed to an invasion (“regime-change”) of Iraq seem to have started grasping at straws. The New York Sun examines a couple of anti-invasion spokespeople today, one dispensing advice under a spurious title and another with direct financial ties to the Saudi royal family. But because once you’ve held a government job in Washington you’re an expert forever, two people who each spent less than three years in Iraq twenty years ago are now referred to as distinguished sources of current wisdom.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Hands Off the Economy

Why do people think that the President controls the economy? Congress can pass tax cuts and the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee can change interest rates – both of which can have large and somewhat predictable results of the nation’s economy. But the President of the United States has no such power, which makes comments like today’s so odd. According to the Associated Press “President Bush assured Americans Tuesday that his administration has a steady hand on the economy.” Not only does the Administration not have “a steady hand” on the economy, it shouldn’t even if it were possible. I trust the President is familiar with nations where the executive has kept a guiding hand on the economy; they didn’t work out so well.

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Lobster: A Magnet for Freaks

A speech by U.S. Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) was interrupted by the hysterical ravings of a madwoman this week, as she attempted to rescue several lobsters from almost certain death at a Boston-area clambake. While she succeeded in absconding with the first five, which she subsequently released into the waters of a nearby cove, she caused some friction when she returned and went from table to table offering other guests cash if they would give up the lobster meal they had paid for. According the unbalanced larcenatrix, the lobsters spoke to her: “I went by the pot where they had the lobsters, I peeked in and saw a lot of them wiggling their tails,” Ellis told the [Boston Herald]. “They were saying, ‘Take me back to the beach.’” Area police, upon assessing the situation, declined to become involved.

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Thursday, August 08, 2002

How Scorched Was My Valley

The New York Times actually ran an op-ed about federal land management that was more than an environmentalist screed about the need for more public land purchases. The author points out that for decades state and local governments have been subsidizing the risks taken by people who build homes in areas where large forest fires are a significant hazard. Thus, when the people in these newly affordable homes are beset by the peril they knew they were living amongst, the government must spend millions of dollars and risks the health and safety of thousands of firefighters trying to put out a blaze that otherwise could have been allowed to burn itself out. Insanity. He advises tree thinning and brush removal – exactly the common sense techniques vociferously opposed by large environmental groups who claim they represent a stealth reintroduction of commercial logging onto federally-owned forests. Not only is that not so, even if it were, a limited reintroduction of commercial logging would be a small price to pay for federal forests that were actually managed to minimize expense and injury – to local residents, taxpayers, and firefighters alike.

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Digging Out of the Cesspit of Stability

The always entertaining Mark Steyn has written another piece of insightful and counter intuitive analysis for The Spectator. As we move ever closer toward our long-anticipated land invasion of Iraq, voices of protest increasingly fret that such an invasion would have terribly consequences for the stability of the other regimes in the region. It certainly would, and all the better for it, writes Steyn:

“What’s the real long-term war aim of the United States? I’d say it’s this — to bring the Middle East within the civilised world. How do you do that? Tricky, but this we can say for certain: you’ll never be able to manage it with the present crowd — Saddam, the Ayatollahs, the House of Saud, Boy Assad, Mubarak, Yasser. When Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, warns the BBC that a US invasion of Iraq would ‘threaten the whole stability of the Middle East’, he’s missing the point: that’s the reason it’s such a great idea. Suppose we buy in to Moussa’s pitch and place stability above all other considerations. We get another 25 years of the Ayatollahs, another 35 years of the PLO and Hamas, another 40 years of the Baathists in Syria and Iraq, another 80 years of Saudi Wahabbism. What kind of Middle East are we likely to have at the end of all that? The region’s in the state it’s in because, uniquely in the non-democratic world, it’s too stable. It’s the stability of the cesspit.”

With the current governing factions we’re faced with in the Middle East, who wouldn’t want destabilization? Some observers fear that less stability means more radicalism and unpredictable use of force. But the U.S. is already being hunted from the shadows by a global network of terrorists covertly financed and encouraged by the same regimes who’s stability were are supposed to be so protective of. And after all, how exactly are the people who are willing to become suicide bombers supposed to become any more radical? Organized militaristic Islam wants every Jew on the face of the earth exiled from Palestine or dead, whichever is easier. Any degree of radicalism past that is a distinction without a difference.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Billboard of the Beast, Sign of the Times

It may come as a shock, but it seems there are some residents of Maryland that have very little appreciation for controversial art. A billboard featuring Jesus endorsing a Budweiser-esque beer was vandalized with white paint this week by an as yet anonymous assailant. It brings to mind the many people who were horrified by the Sensations exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 and Chris Ofili’s allegedly blasphemous “Holy Virgin Mary” in particular. Yet in this case, the use of Jesus as a advertising pitchman is meant to reinforce just the kind of reverence the witless paint-wielder assumably though he was defending. The artist is lampooning the advertising industry, one he clearly thinks has no shame and probably would stoop to putting Jesus in a beer ad. If he didn’t expect a certain reverence for the image of JC from his audience the piece would have no impact. So, Unnamed Vandal, he’s on your side - which you might have realized if you spent more time contemplating art and less time destroying it.

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Friday, July 26, 2002

Live from Tucson…

The Associated Press reports that noted political maverick and campaign finance reform advocate Sen. John McCain is signed up to guest host Saturday Night Live this Fall. Could NBC executives trying to jump start an Independent run for President in 2004? Could there be a more wrongheaded political pipe-dream? Based on his alleged appeal to young people, formerly disaffected from politics, McCain seems to be turning into the thinking college student’s Jesse Ventura. Which is to say a media-created phenomenon that represents no substantive political program or cohesive group of followers. Maybe if the show goes well, he'll be able to retire from the Senate with a career in TV comedy ahead of him.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2002

The Details of an Open Secret

Secretary Rumsfeld is clearly in a state of high agitation over the leak of U.S. invasion plans of Iraq, declaring that the leaking party ought to be imprisoned for his or her loose lips. It’s a justifiable reaction, certainly, to a Defense Department official publicizing battle plans, but it still seems strange considering that the U.S. has been very public about its intention to invade Iraq and overthrow their government for some time. Not since Medieval warfare required battles to be held only in spring and summer months have nations given their enemies almost entire year’s notice that they’re about to be attacked. Assumably the Administration has hoped to spur a coup to overthrow Saddam and thus avoid a land invasion. Unfortunately all they’ve gotten out of it is the stiffened resolve of most of the Arab League and facile schemes like the plan for Saddam to eventually turn over power to his son Uday, who no doubt would prove just as enlightened a leader as his father.

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Watch Your Summer Interns

While seasonal student assistants can be of great value to the nation’s offices and laboratories, it doesn’t do to give them too free a hand. Officials at NASA would doubtless agree, given the recent theft of “priceless moon rocks” from the Johnson Space Center in Houston by three students. It seems that the lunar larcenists had intended to sell them online for as much as $5,000 a gram. One hopes they’re in slightly less trouble than other entrepreneurs who sell rare granular substances by the same unit of measure. NASA has vowed to increase security.

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Friday, July 19, 2002

The Last Angry Congressman

The process has been followed, the papers filed, and now we’ve come down to the finale we all expected but never wanted to witness. James A. Traficant, Jr., the working man’s hero and the voice of the people, is about to be expelled from the House of Representatives. Despite his inspiring history of fending off federal prosecutors, this April his luck finally ran out when he was convicted on nine of ten federal charges, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. The Honorable Gentleman from Ohio has vowed to fight on, pursue the appeals process, and conduct a vigorous campaign for re-election as an Independent.

Defiant is the word everyone seems to be using for his reaction, a state of mind illustrated by the following quote, delivered to the House Ethics subcommittee that soon after voted to recommend his expulsion: “I will take with me a file, a chisel, a knife, I will try and get some major explosives, try to fight my way out," Traficant said of the possibility of his incarceration. "And then when I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius [the Russell Crowe character from Galdiator] and as a Gladiator I will stab people in the crotch." He has suggested that if the House votes to expel him and his convictions are overturned on appeal, the members would look like fools. Indeed they would – I advise them to hold off until his appeals are exhausted or he is vindicated.

To weigh in on Traficant’s behalf, feel free to contact his friend and colleague Steve LaTourette (R-OH) at his Washington, D.C. office, 202-255-5731, or drop by in person at Room 2453 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

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Monday, July 15, 2002

From Marin to Alexandria, via Yemen

John Walker Lindh, or “Jihad Johnny” as he is know on Fox News, has struck a plea bargain with federal prosecutors that would result in a maximum of 20 years in prison, on two charges. The deal rests on Lindh’s promise to cooperate with federal prosecutors and U.S. intelligence gathering efforts. Of course, given that he was not a particularly key part of the al Qaeda leadership it’s possible that he doesn’t have much to tell us. He certainly would have been a useful propaganda tool for bin Laden if he hadn’t been captured, but having only been with al Qaeda for about four months (and being an American) it seems unlikely that he was brought discussions of any high level plans. Considering he got his indictment knocked down from 10 counts - three of which carried possible life sentences - to a maximum of twenty years, I’d say he’s made out remarkably well. With this generous bargain struck, we might have only Zacarias Moussaoui left on which to vent the nation’s collective thirst for righteous vengeance.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2002

A Spoilt Special Relationship?

Dateline: York, England. After spending a month in the United Kingdom, I really wonder how special the "Special Relationship" is between among the peoples of the UK. I have found the British people to be particularly unsympathetic to America. Out in the country or in the city, the milk of human kindness seems to sour once my American accent has passed my lips. For the Fourth of July the Daily Mirror ran a front page calling America the biggest "Rouge Nation" in the world. Commentators on the BBC seem bent on challenging the use of standing together with the Americans with politicians. I must distinguished the British politicians from the people at large: I watched Tony Blair give a rather bracing defense of American policies and the "Special Relationship" he steadfastly sustains. Perhaps Britian's loss of empire and resulting loss of world prestige has made them bitter or uncomfortable with a power that is not wholly directed from London. I'm not sure, but it is clear that Britain has soured on America. However well our governments may function together along official channels, it is disappointing that the feeling isn't mutual between the English speaking peoples.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Goat Udders + Hamster Kidneys = BioSteel

The pharmaceutical company Nexia Biotechnologies Inc. will soon start selling products made from “the Holy Grail of performance fibers” – spider silk. After decades of failure by everyone from the U.S. Army to DuPont Chemical, Nexia is introducing BioSteel, a fiber spun from spider silk proteins that have been generated in the milk of genetically engineered dairy goats. It seems efforts were made many years ago to “farm” spiders in the same way as silkworms, but they wouldn’t produce any silk until they had eaten all the other spider in their same enclosure, so those projects were scrapped.

Nexia hopes to use BioSteel for a wide array of applications, including in surgery and on the battlefield (and then, presumable, back in surgery again). Not only do they expect their new product to “find application in the wound closure industry,” they even think it can replace Kevlar in bulletproof vests and body armor. I’m sure there will be the usual bleatings of protest from animal rights and anti-biotechnology activists, but I doubt they’ll be able to slow down the commercialization of such an important discovery.

Forbes was on the ball back in February of 2001 with a story titled “Charlotte’s Goat” when they predicted that Nexia’s artificial silk would be no more than two years away.

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Honorable Treason

D.C. statehood activists took treasonously to the streets yesterday, petitioning the government of the United Kingdom to take them back as subjects. Objecting to their inability to vote in federal elections, the activists decided to flip the meaning of Independence Day in order to get some attention for their cause. There was no word from Her Majesty on whether she would be willing to accept the nation’s capital back into the empire. The District already has license plates that bear the phrase “Taxation without Representation,” and there is a campaign afoot to officially add the same words to the city’s flag.

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He Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea

Normally local politicians are suckers for any excuse to draw media attention to their town and its distinguishing features. City Commissioners in Tarpon Springs, Florida are playing against type, however, in their reticence to embrace a tie-in with one of today’s most popular TV characters: SpongeBob SquarePants. Some of the local leaders of the town, famed for its natural sponge industry, object to the fact that SpongBob appears to be an artificial sponge, but most of them just seem confused. Clearly they are unaware of the legions of fans that the show has inspired.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Celebrating Nevada’s Little BM

The somewhat-Official Armpit of America is celebrating its status as the least desirable U.S. town in which to live. The arid hamlet of Battle Mountain, Nevada was declared to be the nation’s Armpit after an extensive contest conducted by the Washington Post Magazine’s Gene Weingarten. The town is hoping to capitalize on its newfound notoriety by staging its “Party in the Pit” event. Being an armpit isn’t all block parties and novelty wire stories, though. You may remember that agreeing with the WP Magazine’s assessment got the editor of the town’s newspaper fired after local residents who resented the designation read Weingarten’s initial story.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2002

The Death of Outrage?

Could it be possible that the condescending scolds of the cultural Right have finally gotten tired or looking down their noses at pop culture? David Segal of the Washington Post assesses the lack of sputtering outrage over the latest round of explicit albums, including Slim Shady’s latest LP, The Eminem Show. Even William Bennett, King of the Uninvited Moralists, has surrendered: "They've won... They get to say and do anything and make billions and castigate us in the process." Here’s to the twin liberties of American life – the freedom to castigate sermonizing gasbags and the freedom to make billions of dollars in the process. God Bless America.

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Smugglers of the World, Unite!

If it were federal legislation, it could be titled the Mafia Restoration Act of 2002. New York City is raising the per-pack tax on cigarettes to $1.50 (on top of the $1.50 levied by the state), bringing the cost of the average pack to somewhere around $7.50. With taxes significantly lower in nearby states and even outside the city, the new tax creates a massive incentive for entrepreneurs with a relaxed attitude toward the law to provide untaxed cigarettes to the smokers of New York. The new tax is expected to raise over $100 million this year alone for the city; I wonder if they’ve estimated how much of that will be spent trying to interdict menthol-laden trucks from out of state.

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Monday, July 01, 2002

He’s Still No Marion Barry

London is still buzzing over accusations that the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, tossed a man over a stairway railing during the course of a drunken argument at a late night party last week. The Mayor, historically known as “Red Ken” for his socialist leanings, has denied causing the man’s fall or “manhandling” his pregnant girlfriend Emma Beal. In response, Livingstone has gone on the offensive against the editor of the Evening Standard, which has been devoting a large amount on ink to the accusations.

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The Rainbow Narrows

Representative J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the only black Republican in Congress, has officially declined to seek re-election this year. With Republicans more worried about picking up Hispanic support in key Western states, he may end up being the last black Republican for some time. With about 90% of blacks voting for Gore in 2000, it seems unlikely that many will be motivated to change parties or that the Republicans will bother expending any resources to entice them.

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Thursday, June 27, 2002

The Lazarus Effect

Gore may decide this weekend whether or not to run for President in 2004. The former Vice President has invited key Democratic fundraisers to Memphis this weekend to debate, in all probability, whether he’ll be able to attract enough money to make a credible run against a large field of motivated rivals.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Next, Subsidizing the Pony Express

The New York Times is also taking on the Amtrak debate today, except they’re castigating the Bush Administration for not shoveling money into the company fast enough. According to the Times, “the administration has been sluggish about proposing a national rail policy.” Do we, though, really need a national rail policy? Specifically a national passenger rail policy? We don’t have a national stagecoach policy, or a national canal policy (as far as I know). Could it be possible that, with a couple specific exceptions, passenger rail is simply no longer an economically efficient mode of mass transportation in this country? I’d like to suggest exactly that. The Times seems to think that it is a “fantasy” that “there are private train operators eagerly awaiting their chance to compete.” A simple route auction could solve the question of whether or not there are private companies willing to take over Amtrak’s job without subsidies. And if they can’t sell off at least the Boston to Washington, D.C. corridor there’s even less reason than even to subsidize Amtrak’s operations.


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This is the Red Line to Oblivion. The Train Will Not Be Stopping.

Robert Samuelson has an excellent summary of why the nation should end passenger rail subsidies and let Amtrak go quietly into graveyard of industry. He points out the extremely small number of people that Amtrak actually moves around the country – 0.3% of intercity passengers – and the fact that subsidies run as high as $300 per passenger, per trip. Amtrak supporters like to point out that passenger rail is subsidized all over the world; in most countries profitably is not a goal their systems seem to even attempt. That’s true, of course, but it says more about the decades of inefficient industrial policy in places like Western Europe than it does about American transportation policy.


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Save the Bums

The popular congressman from my ancestral district, Oregon’s third, has taken a strong anti-bum exploitation stance. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has called for a federal investigation of the video "Bumfights," which features homeless men fighting each other and, according the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “performing other risky stunts.” Advocates for the homeless, naturally enough, are aghast that someone would produce such a film, though the filmmakers themselves have aggressively defended their creation. The FBI has responded to Blumenauer’s worries by saying there is no apparent violation of federal law, though as a member of Congress, Earl must know that that situation is remedied easily enough. Still unclear is why the Portland area’s favorite liberal politician is making a video of dueling indigents filmed in Las Vegas a public priority. Rep. Blumenauer is generally best know for advocating “urban livability” zoning restrictions and riding his bicycle to work.


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Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Riding the Tariff-Go-Round

In the interest of making the debate over steel tariffs even more confusing and annoying to our trading partners, the Bush administration has decided to balance out the threatened 30% tariff on imported steel with 224 separate exemptions. The rationale for the unnecessary and damaging tariffs, you might remember, is that below-cost foreign imports were putting defenseless U.S. steel producers out of business. Now the Administration is acknowledging that domestic producers are incapable in keeping up with demand for such basic goods as steel bars and stainless steel wire. It seems not to have occurred to them that they could repeal the tariffs all at once rather than through hundreds of exceptions to various overseas allies and foreign corporations.


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Sunday, June 23, 2002

A Moveable Feast of Global Disasters

Alarms are frequently raised about the threats of global warming these days, but have we all forgotten the how recently the climate horror on the horizon was global cooling and the coming of the next Ice Age? Andrew Kenny writes in The Spectator of the parallel meteorological scares and why the worry over warming has proven to be so much more politically salient. For more background, see columnist Lowell Ponte's 1976 book The Cooling and Dave Shiflett's analysis of the Kenny piece on The American Prowler.

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The Distinguished Yet Ineffective Gentlemen

David Broder popularizes (right before our eyes!) some Harvard-based political science in today's column about the Senatorial curse - the tendency of U.S. Senators to be poor presidential candidates. One of the most interesting conclusions is that the substantial advantages of the being a Senator - long terms, frequent lack of serious re-election challenges - work against a candidate when they hit the national campaign trail. They've unprepared for the pace and unrelenting criticism of the big race, rarely performing as well governors, especially those from large states.

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Saturday, June 22, 2002

Heather Has Two Controversial Mommies

In another example of the war between Liberal journalists and cultural conservatives, we have debate over Nickelodeon airing a half-hour Nick News segment on gay parenting. Religiously-minded parents deluged the network with criticism, while enlightened Progressives shook their heads in despair, wondering at the continued evidence of homophobia disguised as faith. In an interesting postscript, New Republic editor Michelle Cottle throws some support in the direction of the outraged breeders:

"Now, Nickelodeon is a private broadcaster. Its directors have every right to tackle these sorts of issues. But, when the network ventures into the world of adult subject matter--and any discussion that touches on sexuality falls into this category--they have to be prepared to alienate some parents. And while journalists have a right (an obligation, even) to champion the virtues of tolerance towards gays, they should also recognize that the issue remains a controversial one. Sneering at the fears of the more conservative-minded only furthers Middle America's conviction that we are a bunch of godless, soulless, drug-abusing, elitist, pinko perverts. This perceived liberal bias is what makes folks like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity so successful--which should give the rest of us more than a little pause."

The debatable "power" of Sean Hannity notwithstanding, her piece is refreshing in its acknowledgement that there is a major rift between the open-minded liberalism of most reporters and the traditionalist priorities of religious conservatives.

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