Archive for March, 2008
31 Mar 2008

Spinning Sadr’s Ceasefire

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New York Times:

The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr on Sunday took a step toward ending six days of intense combat between his militia allies and Iraqi and American forces in Basra and Baghdad, saying in a statement that his followers would lay down their arms providing the Iraqi government met a series of demands.

That sounds to me like the Mahdi Army has been getting its clock cleaned, and its fearless leader (generally believed to be directing operations from a safe location on the other side of the Iranian border) is looking for a face-saving way to keep his private (Iran-supported) militia, now facing the Iraqi Army backed by US air power, from being annihilated.

But the mainstream media is on the job, determinedly spinning reports and editorial analyses into gloomy tales of insuperable obstacles, righteous and invincible adversaries, and inevitable defeat for America and her allied government of Iraq.

James Glanz, at the same New York Times, tells us that we aren’t liberators, no, no, no, we are evil foreign invaders, and the Mahdi Army isn’t a bunch of gangsters funded by Iran’s fanatical mullahs. They are homies defending the ‘hood.

Sometime during my four years of traveling to Iraq, I developed a recurring dream in which a Middle Eastern country invades the United States and occupies, among other places, my old neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The dream flashed briefly through my mind on Thursday as I walked the dirty, broken streets of Sadr City, a teeming Baghdad slum that forms the power base of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric.

Here is what happens in the dream: Because I know a little Arabic, I somehow find myself a translator for the invaders, even as some of my Chicago buddies are in the alleys plotting against my employers. And each night when I walk home along my beloved Dearborn Street under the rusty elevated tracks and past the White Hen grocery store, I wonder what the guys poring over maps in their armored vehicles plan to accomplish against a few million South Siders fighting in their own alleys. That’s usually when I wake up.
before dismissing the ragtag Mahdi fighters, it would be well to remember that — partly because the alleys of the neighborhoods they control are too narrow for the Iraqi Army’s armored vehicles — Mahdi units like Riadh’s have been fighting Iraq’s federal forces to a standstill in Basra, the country’s southern port city, for nearly a week now.

Alleys: they are dangerous only when used by those who grew up in them. That is the basic reason Mr. Sadr and his fighters simply will not go away in this war.

The Associated Press goes over the history of the last five years with a fine-toothed comb looking for scandals and bad news in order to buttress its cry of indignation over the Iraqi military finding US assistance desirable: After years of effort, Iraqi army still can’t ‘stand up

The US still has armed forces stationed in Germany more than 60 years after the end of WWII. How about an “After Six Decades, Europe Still Cannot Stand Up” story?

McClatchy says negotiations prove Sadr was really winning and the Iraqi government losing.

After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al Sadr, Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the firebrand cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.

OK, well, maybe Sadr did order his men to stop fighting, says McClatchy a bit later, but the Iraqi Government and the US didn’t make him. It was the noble and peace-loving mullahs of Iran who sent their spiritually-enlightened special forces commander to preach the gospel of peace.

Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran’s Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.

Propaganda aside, it’s pretty obvious that Sadr chose a ceasefire because his forces were taking a beating and that resistance was not sustainable. Letting him have a ceasefire is a mistake. They should have wiped his militia out.

31 Mar 2008

Karl Rove Advises the Democrats

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In Newsweek, Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s political strategist supreme, pitches in to help out the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

It will be a contested convention, Karl predicts.

After the last Democratic primary is held in early June, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will have enough votes from delegates elected in caucuses or primaries to be declared the nominee. Obama would have to win 76 percent and Clinton 98 percent of the 535 delegates that are at stake in the final eight contests. Neither will happen.

How do you win one of those?

Control the Convention Mechanism. If you set the rules, decide who votes, organize the event and control what is said, it’s almost impossible to lose. So while Democratic National Committee chief Howard Dean is ostensibly in charge, both candidates would be well advised to gain control of the levers of the convention.

Three committees are key. The Rules Committee is where trouble can begin. Someone will come up with a smooth-sounding rules change that will give one candidate the advantage or the appearance of having a majority of the delegates. There will be an early test vote: the key is to pick what it is and win it. It’s likely to be obscure—the election of a temporary chairman, say—or contrived. But it will establish who’s in charge.

Read the whole thing.

30 Mar 2008

Take a Young Person Hunting

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or fishing, before it’s too late.

If America’s increasingly aging sportsmen don’t make more of an effort to recruit members of the younger generation, in the years to come, hunters and anglers will become a smaller minority increasingly outnumbered and out-voted by anti-field sports advocates and gun control supporters. Britain’s ban on hunting with hounds is a sample of what we can look forward to here.

AP:

Sales of Vermont hunting and fishing licenses have dropped more than 20 percent over the last 20 years, leaving the Fish and Wildlife Department pleading with lawmakers for extra funding.

Other states report similar drop-offs:

—Arkansas hunting license sales dropped from about 345,000 in 1999 to about 319,000 in 2003.

—Pennsylvania sold about 946,000 hunting licenses in 2006, down from just over a million in 1999, and a peak of 1.3 million in 1981.

—Oregon had 100,000 fewer licensed anglers last year than in 1987, and 70,000 fewer licensed hunters.

—West Virginia sold 154,763 resident hunting permits in 2006, a 17 percent decrease from 1997.

The nature of the problem can be seen in the ignorance, bigoted animosity toward field sports, and implicitly Disneyfied perspective of Drew Curtis’s 3/29 link to the story on Fark.com:

Interest in hunting and fishing dropping among Americans, who are finding other things to do than inflict pain and death on nature’s beautiful, innocent creatures.

30 Mar 2008

Maureen Dowd Has Definitely Drunk the Kool-Aid

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Maureen Dowd gives a pretty good summary of the liberal perspective on public affairs on the editorial page of today’s New York Times.

Politics, you see, is really a branch of the entertainment industry. What matters is fashion and perception. George W. Bush’s foreign policy has been opposed by the international community of fashion, and by provoking its wrath, Bush has damaged the image of the United States. The decision on whom to elect president in 2008 needs to be made on image grounds.

It’s all about the magic, really.

And whether we can take a flier on this skinny guy with the strange name and braided ancestry to help us get it back.

Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France and a strong supporter of the United States, recently observed that President Bush has done such a number on our image in the world that no one will be able to restore the luster.

“I think the magic is over,” he said.

Pas si vite, mon vieux. In terms of style, the Obamas could give Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a run for her euros. …

Obama, like the preternaturally gifted young heroes in mythical tales, is still learning to channel his force. He can ensorcell when he has to, and he has viral appeal. Who else could alchemize a nuanced 40-minute speech on race into must-see YouTube viewing for 20-year-olds?

But at several crucial points in the last year, he held back when he should have poured on, leaving his nemesis around to damage him further.

Obama has social engineering plans as ambitious, in their own way, as the Bush administration’s failed social engineering plans to change the psyche of America and the Middle East.

“I think the president needs to use the bully pulpit to change our culture,” he said Thursday, talking energy at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser in Manhattan. “We are a wasteful culture. It’s always been that way because of our history. We do everything big.”

He wants to make government “cool” again. He wants to banish the red-blue culture of conflict on TV and in Washington. And he wants to make the country healthier, thinner and smarter. “I want our students learning art and music and science and poetry,” he says, in a crowd-pleasing line.

From image flows practical effect, in Dowd’s fantasy. All you have to do is elect this season’s smooth-talking democrat, and abracadabra! all over America, healthier and thinner children are learning “art and music and science and poetry.” The bitter divisions of race and class, city and country, left and right vanish overnight. Republican deer-hunters need only listen to the latest Obama speech on YouTube, and they are instantly converted into tree-hugging socialist supporters of Sarah Brady. The entire country, from sea to shining sea, is magically transformed into one super-sized version of Berkeley, California.

For a liberal, it must be pretty to think so.

30 Mar 2008

Don’t Try Mugging 84-Year-Old Ex-Marines

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Marin Independent Journal:

A teenager learned it is not a good idea to try to rob a former U.S. Marine at knifepoint, no matter how old he is.

Santa Rosa police Sgt. Steve Bair said an 84-year-old man was walking on Fourth Street with a grocery bag in each arm when the boy approached him with a large knife at about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“Old man, give me your wallet or I’ll cut you,” the boy said.

The man said he was a former Marine who fought in three wars and had been threatened with knives and bayonets before.

The 84-year-old put his bags on the ground and told the boy that if he stepped closer he would be sorry. When the boy stepped closer, the man kicked him in the groin, knocking the youth to the sidewalk.

The ex-Marine picked up his grocery bags and walked home, leaving the teen doubled over.

29 Mar 2008

Yahoo and MSN Help China Apprehend Tibetan Protestors

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France24 The Observers:

Yahoo! China pasted a “most wanted” poster across its homepage today in aid of the police’s witch-hunt for 24 Tibetans accused of taking part in the recent riots. MSN China made the same move, although it didn’t go as far as publishing the list on its homepage.

Yahoo indignantly wrote France24 saying: “Yahoo! isn’t doing this. It’s Yahoo! China*.”

*Yahoo had to accept a Chinese partner, and Chinese control, to gain access to China’s market.

Hat tip to Matt Brown Hamlin

29 Mar 2008

Geert Wilders’ Fitna (2008)

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LiveLeak:

has replaced the link to Geert Wilders’ Fitna, a short film linking Koranic endorsements of violence and religious intolerance to recent atrocities, with this statement:

Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.

This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people, from all backgrounds and religions, who gave us their support. They realised LiveLeak.com is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture.

We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.

YouTube is still hosting the film:

10:13 video

The Islamic fanatics will not be able to prevent its distribution on the Net. If YouTube is forced to take down the link, I’ll post another one.

29 Mar 2008

John McCain “Courageous” Video

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Democrats are really going to hate this extremely effective McCain campaign ad.

12:02 video

29 Mar 2008

“If It Moves, Regulate it; If It Stops Moving, Subsidize It.”

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Ronald Reagan said: “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Democrat Barack Obama promises to do all that:

In a major economic address at Cooper Union today, Senator Barack Obama called for immediate relief for homeowners hit by the housing crisis, modernization of our regulatory framework, and an additional $30 billion stimulus package to jumpstart the economy and help protect families from the economic slowdown. …

In his speech today, Obama made the case that while markets are the engine of American progress, the government’s role as umpire and steward is critical to the function of the free market. For too long, he said, special interests have been able to bend the rules to maximize their profits on the backs of hardworking Americans.

Obama pledged to restore confidence in the markets, tackle the housing crisis and protect families from the economic slowdown by:

Ø Creating 21st century standards for transparency and oversight of the financial system in order to prevent future abuses and crises.

Ø Providing immediate relief to homeowners hit by the housing crisis.

Ø Enacting a second stimulus package to stabilize and strengthen the economy, provide aid to homeowners and states hardest-hit by the housing crisis, and extend and expand unemployment insurance.

But who needs Obama? Even if the democrats don’t win, Republicans like George W. Bush, and certainly John McCain, will do nearly every bit of very much the same.

Bloomberg:

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is likely to call for the creation of new regulatory agencies with broad powers over lending, the securities industry and business conduct, according to the draft of a study he commissioned.

The report, which recommends more power for the Federal Reserve, also proposes combining the Office of Comptroller of the Currency — which dates back to the Civil War — and the Office of Thrift Supervision into a single banking overseer. In addition, the draft, which was circulated to government agencies this week and obtained by Bloomberg News, calls for the merging of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

New York Times:

The Treasury Department will propose on Monday that Congress give the Federal Reserve broad new authority to oversee financial market stability, in effect allowing it to send SWAT teams into any corner of the industry or any institution that might pose a risk to the overall system.

The proposal is part of a sweeping blueprint to overhaul the nation’s hodgepodge of financial regulatory agencies, which many experts say failed to recognize rampant excesses in mortgage lending until after they set off what is now the worst financial calamity in decades. …

According to a summary provided by the administration, the plan would consolidate an alphabet soup of banking and securities regulators into a powerful trio of overseers responsible for everything from banks and brokerage firms to hedge funds and private equity firms.

29 Mar 2008

Major Cities Turn Their Lights Out

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Flagellants in Ingman Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957)

There is something residing deep in human nature which believes that mankind is not entitled to comfort or prosperity and that the jealous gods of Nature are even now preparing to punish our insolence in illuminating our cities and heating our homes. The same impulse which actuated the medieval penitents who flagellated themselves to turn aside the wrath of God remains active and alive in today’s secular age.

Displays of piety, of course, are not necessarily entirely penitential or propitiatory. When cult membership is associated with social rank, religious behavior can function as a status marker. Thus, in today’s Western community of fashion, penitence no longer pertains to sin, and society’s elect proudly displays possession of the visible signs of grace by publicly repenting for consumption.

Cthulhu must be so pleased.

AFP:

Twenty-six major cities around the world are expected to turn off the lights on major landmarks, plunging millions of people into darkness to raise awareness about global warming, organisers said.

‘Earth Hour’ founder Andy Ridley said 371 cities, towns or local governments from Australia to Canada and even Fiji had signed up for the 60-minute shutdown at 0900 GMT on March 29.

“There are definitely 26 (cities) that we think, if it all goes to plan, we are going to see a major event of lights going off,” he told AFP.

Cities officially signed on include Chicago and San Francisco, Dublin, Manila, Bangkok, Copenhagen and Toronto, all of which will switch off lights on major landmarks and encourage businesses and homeowners to follow suit.

Ridley said it was also likely that other major European cities such as Rome and London, and the South Korean capital Seoul, although not officially taking part, would turn off lights on some attractions or landmarks.

The initiative began in Sydney last year and has become a global event, sweeping across 35 countries this year.

From 8:00 pm local time in Sydney, the energy-saving campaign will see harbourside icons such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House bathed only in moonlight, restaurant diners eat by candlelight and city skyscrapers turn off their neon signs.

Organisers hope the initiative will encourage people to be more aware of their energy usage, knowing that producing electricity pollutes the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels which are contributing to global warming.

But they are also aware that it will be just a small step in solving the problem of rising temperatures around the globe.


Nuremburg Chronicle, 1493

29 Mar 2008

Larry Ellison Gets His Tax Assessment Reduced

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I recently got my home’s tax appraisal reduced, so did Larry Ellison. I argued that my appraisal was higher than the price we paid for the house and was then increased, although average county house prices had declined 12.5%. Larry made somewhat different arguments.

John Murrell explain:

You don’t get to be one of the richest men in the world by being a pushover, so it was no surprise to see Oracle CEO Larry Ellison bring his boardroom combativeness to bear when he felt the property tax assessment was too high on his 23-acre Japanese-style compound in Woodside. Ellison’s aptly named Octopus Holdings bought the property in 1995 for $12 million, and over the next nine years Ellison built it up in the style of a Japanese emperor’s 16th century country residence. The estate consists of a nearly 8,000-square-foot main house, a guest house, three cottages and a gym. The landscaping includes a 5-acre man-made lake, two waterfalls, two bridges and hundreds of cherry and maple trees, redwoods, pines and oaks. It’s the kind of place where a Zen monk would feel comfortable, assuming he won the Powerball.

Including the cost of delays, overruns and change orders, Ellison put about $200 million into the compound. Based on the reproduction cost — without those added expenses — the San Mateo County assessor’s office listed the value at $166.3 million in January 2005, and that’s where it’s stayed. Octopus Holdings, however, had the estate on the books at $64.7 million, and took its case to the appeals board, claiming the property’s unique nature would put it at a disadvantage on the open market. The appeals panel agreed — given the limited market for luxury homes, particularly in the 16th century Japanese style, the “overimprovements,” and the expense of keeping up the “excessive” landscaping, the board said the property is suffering from “significant functional obsolescence.” The board knocked $100 million off the valuation for the last three years and will pay Ellison a refund of about $3 million.

Unfortunately, Ellison’s gain is the rest of the community’s loss. Almost half of the refund comes out of Portola Valley School District funds, and the property’s lower valuation means the district will be short $250,000 to $300,000 in annual revenue starting next fiscal year. “It’s a significant chunk,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Hanretty. “It’s a permanent, ongoing reduction.” Other losers are the county general fund and assorted cities and redevelopment agencies.

Hat tip to Karen Myers.

28 Mar 2008

Damn America!

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Poor Reverend Jeremiah Wright has led a life of constant victimization by White America’s racism and discrimination. Denied opportunity all his life, now he will be condemned to live in retirement in the above dreadfully tacky $1.6 million 10,340-square-foot, four-bedroom home in suburban Chicago, currently under construction in a gated community, with a $10 million line of credit, presumably intended for furniture and other incidentals.

Fox News

28 Mar 2008

Study Shows No Problem With Leftwing College Bias

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Campaign contributions by faculty and administrators at American colleges and universities routinely show a preference for democrat candidates in the high 90 percentages. Leftwing crazies and convicted terrorists have no problem being hired as faculty members, but a speech by a visiting member of the Bush Administration is typically a cause célèbre resulting in angry petitions and demonstrations.

“Who cares?” says Inside Higher Education, we have a study demonstrating that American higher education is a complete waste of time and has virtually no intellectual impact whatsoever.

We also know that when someone gets to frame the questions, choose the methodology, and select the data, he can “prove” anything he wants to prove.

One of the key arguments made by David Horowitz and his supporters in recent years is that a left-wing orientation among faculty members results in a lack of curricular balance, which in turn leads to students being indoctrinated rather than educated. The argument is probably made most directly in a film much plugged by Horowitz: “Indoctrinate U.”

A study that will appear soon in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics accepts the first part of the critique of academe and says that it’s true that the professoriate leans left. But the study — notably by one Republican professor and one Democratic professor — finds no evidence of indoctrination. Despite students being educated by liberal professors, their politics change only marginally in their undergraduate years, and that deflates the idea that cadres of tenured radicals are somehow corrupting America’s youth — or scaring them into adopting new political views.

28 Mar 2008

Earliest Known Sound Recording

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David Giovannoni displays phonoautogram

The New York Times reports on recent research in the history of audio recording demonstrating that the basic principle used by Thomas Edison in his phonograph was previously known and understood. Edison’s genius consisted of taking these kinds of ideas and making them practically useful, thus turning them into commercial products.

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.

Read the whole thing.

Mp3 link

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