Archive for May, 2010
25 May 2010

“One of the Three Futile Battles”

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Mark Williams, a junior research fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, serves up the newly discovered text of a Fifth Branch of the Mabinogi.

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi – Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan and Math – are the greatest works of medieval Welsh prose. They are based on a rich vein of orally-transmitted folklore and mythological material, but were synthesised in the early 12th century by a redactor of genius. They take the form of four roughly chronological and interlinked short-stories, termed ‘branches’, which are set in a pre-Christian, pre-Roman Britain which resembles an idealised version of the redactor’s own high medieval era. His humane, sober style contrasts fascinatingly with the violence and shape-shifting which loom so large in the four tales. Translations into English are numerous; the most recent is that of Sioned Davies (Davies, The Mabinogion (Oxford, 2007)), which is particularly good at drawing attention to the techniques of the oral storyteller discernable in the text.

But the existence of the ‘fifth branch of the Mabinogi’, Amaethon uab Don, was unsuspected until very recently, when a hitherto-unknown medieval Welsh manuscript was discovered in the library of Judas College, Oxford. The MS itself is of a decidedly heterogenous character. It contains a series of verse prayers, a version of the ladymass, and a partial collection of legal triads. Unusually, a significant amount of agricultural material is also found in the MS, in the form of a list of activities to be performed by the farmer according to the months, and a tract on the diseases of livestock. Amaethon uab Don is the only narrative text contained within the MS. It is tempting to connect the agricultural bias of the MS with elements of the story, which, as noted below, shows an overriding concern with fertility and the natural world, as its presiding character Amaethon suggests. (Amaethon from British *Ambactonos, ‘Divine Ploughman’.) …

Before the rediscovery of the MS, the sketchy lineaments of our tale were known from three other sources. These, when placed together, point to the existence of a tale recounting a battle between Arawn, lord of Annwn, the Welsh otherworld, and the sons of Dôn, Gwydion the enchanter and Amaethon the Ploughman. Arawn plays an important part in the first branch, and Gwydion is the central character in the fourth. This skirmish, termed ‘One of the Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain’ in one of our three sources, was brought about because Amaethon stole a hound, a roebuck and a plover from Arawn’s kingdom. When Arawn and his armies clash with those of Gwydion and Amaethon, neither side may achieve victory because each contains a kind of palladium, a warrior who may not be defeated as long as their name remains unknown. Gwydion discovers the name of the magical warrior on Arawn’s side by means of three extempore verses, which are preserved in a version rather different to that in our text. He also enchants the nearby trees, so that they acquire human form and become warriors attacking the forces of Annwn. The totemistic warrior on the side of the sons of Dôn is revealed at the last to be a woman, named Achren.

The inspiration for the pastiche can be found in the Cad Goddeu.

Hat tip to Thor Ewing.

25 May 2010

Bojutsu Bear

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Claude, a then six-year-old Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) demonstrates his mastery of the katas of the Bo at the Asa Zoological Park in Hiroshima, Japan in 2008.

3:21 video

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

24 May 2010

The Culture War Over the Economy

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Arthur C. Brooks, president of the America Enterprise Institute, has an excellent editorial on the current struggle over America’s future between the 30% comprising the American left and the rest of us.

America faces a new culture war.

This is not the culture war of the 1990s. It is not a fight over guns, gays or abortion. Those old battles have been eclipsed by a new struggle between two competing visions of the country’s future. In one, America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise — limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.

It is not at all clear which side will prevail. The forces of big government are entrenched and enjoy the full arsenal of the administration’s money and influence. Our leaders in Washington, aided by the unprecedented economic crisis of recent years and the panic it induced, have seized the moment to introduce breathtaking expansions of state power in huge swaths of the economy, from the health-care takeover to the financial regulatory bill that the Senate approved Thursday. If these forces continue to prevail, America will cease to be a free enterprise nation.

I call this a culture war because free enterprise has been integral to American culture from the beginning, and it still lies at the core of our history and character. “A wise and frugal government,” Thomas Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address in 1801, “which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” He later warned: “To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” In other words, beware government’s economic control, and woe betide the redistributors.

Now, as then, entrepreneurship can flourish only in a culture where individuals are willing to innovate and exert leadership; where people enjoy the rewards and face the consequences of their decisions; and where we can gamble the security of the status quo for a chance of future success.

Yet, in his commencement address at Arizona State University on May 13, 2009, President Obama warned against precisely such impulses: “You’re taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this “who’s who” list or that Top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car. That’s the message that’s sent each and every day, or has been in our culture for far too long — that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf — that’s how you will measure success.” Such ambition, he cautioned, “may lead you to compromise your values and your principles.”

I appreciate the sentiment that money does not buy happiness. But for the president of the United States to actively warn young adults away from economic ambition is remarkable. And he makes clear that he seeks to change our culture. …

[T]he real tipping point was the financial crisis, which began in 2008. The meltdown presented a golden opportunity for the 30 percent coalition to attack free enterprise openly and remake America in its own image.

And it seized that opportunity. While Republicans had no convincing explanation for the crisis, seemed responsible for it and had no obvious plans to fix it, the statists offered a full and compelling narrative. Ordinary Americans were not to blame for the financial collapse, nor was government. The real culprits were Wall Street and the Bush administration, which had gutted the regulatory system that was supposed to keep banks in line.

The solution was obvious: Vote for a new order to expand the powers of government to rein in the dangerous excesses of capitalism.

It was a convincing story. For a lot of panicky Americans, the prospect of a paternalistic government rescuing the nation from crisis seemed appealing as stock markets and home prices spiraled downward. According to this narrative, government was at fault in just one way: It wasn’t big enough. If only there had been more regulators watching the banks more closely, the case went, the economy wouldn’t have collapsed.

Yet in truth, it was government housing policy that was at the root of the crisis. Moreover, the financial sector — where the crisis began and where it has had the most serious impact — is already one of the most regulated parts of our economy. The chaos happened despite an extensive, intrusive regulatory framework, not because such a framework didn’t exist.

More government — including a super-empowered Federal Reserve, a consumer protection watchdog and greater state powers to wind down financial firms and police market risks — does not mean we will be safe. On the contrary, such changes would give us a false sense of security, especially when Washington, a primary culprit in the crisis, is creating and implementing the new rules.

The statist narrative also held that only massive deficit spending could restore economic growth. “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years,” Obama warned a few days before taking office. “Only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the cycle that is crippling our economy.”

This proposition is as expensive as it is false. Recessions can and do end without the kind of stimulus we experienced, and attempts to shore up the economy with huge public spending often do little to improve matters and instead chain future generations with debt.

24 May 2010

US Soldiers Patrolling With Unloaded Weapons in Afghanistan

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More “courageous restraint” reported by Chris Carter at Human Events.

Commanders have ordered a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan to patrol with unloaded weapons, according to a source in Afghanistan.

American soldiers in at least one unit have been ordered to conduct patrols without a round chambered in their weapons, an anonymous source stationed at a forward operating base in Afghanistan said in an interview. The source was unsure where the order originated or how many other units were affected.

When a weapon has a loaded magazine, but the safety is on and no round is chambered, the military refers to this condition as “amber status.” Weapons on “red status” are ready to fire—they have a round in the chamber and the safety is off.

The source stated that he had been stationed at the base for only a month, but the amber weapons order was in place since before he arrived. A NATO spokesman could not confirm the information, stating that levels of force are classified.

What this signifies is very troubling. The policy indicates quite clearly that our government values potentially better relations with the general Afghan population above the safety of American military personnel.

Disarming one’s own troops is a policy expressive of a serious lack of self identification with their interests. No administration made up of men who had actually served in the military would be willing to treat US soldiers as expendable pawns in this way, and no America in which the military was representative of the entire population would put up with such a policy.

23 May 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

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Brook trout fishing, filmed by F.S. Armitage on June 6, 1900 somewhere along the Grand Trunk Railroad. 1:15 video.


Who should replace Dennis Blair as National Intelligence Director? No one, proposes John Noonan at the Weekly Standard:

Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.

Admiral Blair was a casualty of Intelligence Community turf wars. Closing the DNI office would reduce unnecessary conflicts and duplication of effort. It’s too logical a course of action to be given serious consideration most likely though.


Bruce Fleming
says that standards at US service academies have been lowered for affirmative action and to allow academy teams to compete in the NCAA top divisions. He thinks standards should be restored or all the service academies closed down.


Robin Hanson observes a unidirectional dynamic at work in progressive statism.

[I]n any area where we let humans do things, every once in a while there will be a big screwup; that is the sort of creatures humans are. And if you won’t decrease regulation without a screwup but will increase it with a screwup, then you have a regulation ratchet: it only moves one way. So if you don’t think a long period without a big disaster calls for weaker regulations, but you do think a particular big disaster calls for stronger regulation, well then you might as well just strengthen regulations lots more right now, even without a disaster. Because that is where your regulation ratchet is heading.

What if you can’t imagine ever wanting to weaken a regulation, just because it was strong and you’d gone a long time without a big disaster? Well then you apparently want the maximum possible regulation, which is probably to just basically outlaw that activity. And if that doesn’t seem like the right level of regulation to you, well then maybe you should reconsider your ratchety regulation intuitions.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.


Ann Althouse chides the Washington Post: If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it or link it, not paraphrase it inaccurately.

22 May 2010

The Wisdom of Mayor Daley

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The Supreme Court is expected shortly to overturn the city of Chicago’s gun ban, and Mayor Richard M. Daley has been talking a lot about gun control.

Mike Dumke, a reporter for the in-no-way-conservative Chicago Reader, brought up at the mayor’s recent press conference the obvious point that Chicago’s draconian gun laws have been ineffective in stopping the use of guns in crime, and hizonner (while brandishing a police-confiscated military rifle complete with bayonet) proposed a hypothetical including the reporter.

Guns are one of the mayor’s favorite soapbox topics—he regularly goes out of his way to point out that he despises gun manufacturers and “extremists” like the NRA. “It’s really amazing how powerful they are,” he said today, standing next to a table covered with handguns, rifles, and even a machine gun that police had seized. “They’re bigger than the oil industry, bigger than the gas industry, bigger than Google, bigger than President Obama and the rest of them.” …

But even supporters of tough gun regulations—myself included—have to admit that it’s not clear how much they reduce violence. Despite having some of the most restrictive laws in the country, Chicago is a national leader in shootings and murders, and the mayor himself noted that “we’ve seen far too many instances in the last few weeks” of firearm violence, including the shooting that left a cop dead last night.

So I asked: since guns are readily available in Chicago even with a ban in place, do you really think it’s been effective? …

“Oh!” Daley said. “It’s been very effective!”

He grabbed a rifle, held it up, and looked right at me. He was chuckling but there was no smile.

“If I put this up your—ha!—your butt—ha ha!—you’ll find out how effective this is!”

For a moment the room was very, very quiet. I took a good look at the weapon. It had a long bayonet. (Was it seized during the Civil War?)

“If I put a round up your—ha ha!”

The photographers snapped away. Suddenly everybody started cracking up.

Daley went on. “This gun saved many lives—it could save your life,” he said—meaning, I think, that getting that gun off the street might have saved many lives, including mine.

And he went on some more. “We save all these guns that the police department seizes, you know how many lives we’ve saved? You don’t realize it. First of all, they’re taking these guns out of someone’s hands. They save their own life and they save someone else’s. You cannot count how many times this gun can be used. Thirty, forty times in shooting people and discharging a weapon. I think it’s very important.

“Next will be hand grenades, right? We’ll say that hand grenades are OK. I mean, how far can you go in regards to mass weapons? To me, any gun taken off saves thousands of lives in America. I really believe that, I don’t care what people tell me. You have to thank the police officers for seizing all these weapons. We lead the country in seizing weapons. This is unbelievable.”

I had to agree.

0: 24 video

Mayor Daley’s understanding of firearms and America is pretty sad. The National Rifle Association has typically around 3-4 million members, its membership roll fluctuating and tending to rise significantly when major new gun control initiatives make the news. The NRA is an influential lobbying organization, but its strength is not really a matter of the size of its membership or annual budget, which is certainly small potatoes compared to the oil and gas industries or Google. The NRA is influential because it represents the views of many millions of American sportsmen and gun owners who have demonstrated their opinions by voting against liberal politicians who supported gun control. The gun control issue has cost the democrats a great any congressional seats and certainly the Presidential election of 2000, in which Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee. Mayor Daley’s adversary on the gun control issue is not the NRA. It is the American people.

Mayor Daley then holds up the military rifle with fixed bayonet. He is holding it sideways, so we can only see the bottom. It is short, a carbine, and seems to have an extended magazine. I think it was probably an SKS with a a folding bayonet.

Did confiscating that SKS really save anybody’s life? It seems doubtful to me.

There is plenty of crime and many shootings take place in Chicago, but gangbangers and muggers tend to use pistols which are considerably easier to carry and conceal than a carbine. Mayor Daley’s “To me, any gun taken off saves thousands of lives in America.” is obviously craziness.

Chances are overwhelming that that SKS was never used in any crime whatsoever. (Anybody hear of any bayonetings in Chicago recently?) And guns actually fired in the commission of a crime tend to be used once, by and large, and then discarded. There are many, perhaps hundreds of, millions of guns in private hands in the United States. Some collectors own hundreds. The percentage of firearms actually ever used in crime is infinitesimal.

People like Mayor Daley want to focus law enforcement efforts on confiscating objects instead of apprehending criminals simply because taking weapons away from people not committing any crimes with them is so much easier than catching the bad guys.

21 May 2010

“I Leave the Field of Ideas to Doctor Schweitzer and Doctor Zhivago”

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Vladimir Nabokov

From the history of American television:

In the 1950’s ABC television Close-up! documentary series, John Daly interviews Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling, pt. 1 — 5:41 video — pt. 2 5:51 video

Nabokov lispingly delivers dismissive apothegms in an effete and frivolous style inevitably reminding one of Anthony Blanche, while Trilling is earnest, grave, serious, and sometimes just a bit obsequious.

Great lines:

“I don’t want to touch hearts, and I don’t even want to affect minds very much. What I want to produce is really that little sob in the spine of the artist reader. I leave the field of ideas to Doctor Schweitzer and Doctor Zhivago.”

“It was fun to breed her in my laboratory,” says Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita.

Hat tip to Cynical-C via David Ross.

21 May 2010

“Big Fat Greek Funeral”

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Mark Steyn watches Greece arrive at the end point of the road Europe is well along, and on to which Obama has turned the United States.

From the Times of London: “The President of Greece warned last night that his country stood on the brink of the abyss after three people were killed when an anti-government mob set fire to the Athens bank where they worked.”

Almost right. They were not an “anti-government” mob, but a government mob, a mob comprised largely of civil servants. That they are highly uncivil and disinclined to serve should come as no surprise: they’re paid more and they retire earlier, and that’s how they want to keep it. So they’re objecting to austerity measures that would end, for example, the tradition of 14 monthly paycheques per annum. You read that right: the Greek public sector cannot be bound by anything so humdrum as temporal reality. So, when it was mooted that the “workers” might henceforth receive a mere 12 monthly paycheques per annum, they rioted. Their hapless victims—a man and two women—were a trio of clerks trapped in a bank when the mob set it alight and then obstructed emergency crews attempting to rescue them.

Unlovely as they are, the Greek rioters are the logical end point of the advanced social democratic state: not an oppressed underclass, but a pampered overclass, rioting in defence of its privileges and insisting on more subsidy, more benefits, more featherbedding, more government. …

Traditionally, a bank is a means by which old people with capital lend to young people with ideas. But the advanced democracies with their mountains of sovereign debt are in effect old people who’ve blown through their capital and are all out of ideas looking for young people flush enough to bail them out. And the idea that it might be time for the spendthrift geezers to change their ways butts up against their indestructible moral vanity. Last year, President Sarkozy said that the G20 summit provided “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give capitalism a conscience.” European capitalism may have a conscience. It’s not clear it has a pulse. And, actually, when you’re burning Greek bank clerks to death in defence of your benefits, your “conscience” isn’t much in evidence, either.

Let us take it as read that Greece is an outlier. As waggish officials in Brussels and Strasbourg will tell you, it only snuck into the EU due to some sort of clerical error. It’s a cesspit of sloth and corruption even by Mediterranean standards. On my last brief visit, Athens was a visibly decrepit dump: a town with a handful of splendid ancient ruins surrounded by a multitude of hideous graffiti-covered contemporary ruins. If you were going to cut one “advanced” social democracy loose and watch it plunge into the abyss pour encourager les autres, it would be hard to devise a better candidate than Greece.

And yet and yet . . . riot-wracked Athens isn’t that much of an outlier. Greece’s 2010 budget deficit is 12.2 per cent of GDP; Ireland’s is 14.7. Greece’s debt is 125 per cent of GDP; Italy’s is 117 per cent. Greece’s 65-plus population will increase from 18 per cent in 2005 to 25 per cent in 2030; Spain’s will increase from 17 per cent to 25 per cent. As lazy, feckless, squalid, corrupt and violent as Greece undoubtedly is, it’s not that untypical. It’s where the rest of Europe’s headed, and Japan and North America shortly thereafter. About half the global economy is living beyond not only its means but its diminished number of children’s means.

Instead of addressing that basic fact, countries with government debt of 125 per cent of GDP are being “rescued” by countries with government debt of 80 per cent of GDP. Good luck with that. Alas, the world has deemed Greece “too big to fail,” even though in (what’s the word?) reality it’s too big not to fail. And the rest of us are too big not to follow in its path. …
Greece, wrote Theodore Dalrymple, is “a cradle not only of democracy but of democratic corruption”—of electorates who give their votes to leaders who bribe them with baubles purchased by borrowing against a future that can never pay it off. The future is now here, and the riots will spread.

21 May 2010

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair Forced Out

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National Intelligence Director Dennis C. Blair

Admiral (ret.) Dennis Blair’s resignation as Director of National Intelligence is apparently the result of his personal defeat in a series of turf wars within the administration over Intelligence issues.

The New York Times describes some of the conflicts.

The departure of Mr. Blair, a retired admiral, had been rumored for months, but was made official when President Obama called him Thursday and asked him to step down.

Mr. Blair’s relationship with the White House was rocky since the start of the Obama administration, and he fought a rear-guard action against efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency to cut down the size and power of the national intelligence director’s staff. He is the first high-ranking member of the Obama national security team to depart.

Mr. Blair’s departure could strengthen the hand of the C.I.A operatives, who have bristled at directives from Mr. Blair’s office. In recent months, Mr. Blair has been outspoken about reining in the C.I.A.’s covert activities, citing their propensity to backfire and tarnish America’s image.

The administration has largely embraced the C.I.A. operations, especially the agency’s campaign to kill militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drone aircraft. …

Officials said that Mr. Obama called Mr. Blair on Thursday to ask for his resignation, but that the two men had several discussions in person about the subject this week. Their relationship has been characterized as professional but not close, and some administration officials said Mr. Blair often felt cut out of discussions about important security matters.

Tensions among the White House, the intelligence director and Congressional oversight committees escalated after a young Nigerian man nearly detonated a bomb on a trans-Atlantic flight on Dec. 25. White House officials openly criticized Mr. Blair and his staff for a litany of missed signals that could have prevented the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, from boarding the plane.

They laid particular blame on the National Counterterrorism Center, one agency that Mr. Blair supervises. A report released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee was particularly critical of the NCTC’s failures to piece together the information that could have put Mr. Abdulmutallab on a “no-fly” list.

American officials said that Mr. Blair had also angered the White House in recent months by pushing for closer intelligence ties to France, an arrangement opposed by Mr. Obama.

Some intelligence experts and Republican lawmakers say they believe that the White House has tried to micromanage America’s spy agencies, and there was a particularly tense relationship between Mr. Blair and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism director.


Mark Hosenball, at Newsweek’s Intel blog, refers to “missteps” by Admiral Blair in the behind-the-scenes struggles over authority over US Intelligence.

While the timing of Blair’s departure seemed a bit abrupt, the notion that his position inside the administration was shaky has been common gossip in Washington intelligence and political circles for weeks if not months. Blair, who had a glittering career as a military leader, rising to become commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, gained a reputation as a not particularly adroit operator in the Machiavellian world of D.C. espionage politics. One of Blair’s earliest missteps was his attempt to appoint former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council, effectively the chief analyst of the entire U.S. intelligence community. The nomination was canceled after pro-Israel organizations questioned some of Freeman’s public statements.

Blair also lost battles, originally begun by his predecessors as intelligence czar, to win White House approval for the intelligence czar’s office to have the power to name its own supreme U.S. intelligence representative in countries abroad, and to give the intelligence czar’s office a place in the chain of command for “covert operations” proposed and carried out by the CIA. CIA chief Leon Panetta fought hard and successfully to preserve the CIA’s historical and exclusive prerogative to name U.S. intelligence station chiefs overseas. Panetta also succeeded in limiting the intelligence czar’s role in covert operations to an advisory one.

During the aftermath of the Christmas Day attempted underpants airplane bombing, Blair irritated White House officials with undoubtedly truthful, but politically awkward, statements to Congress about how U.S. agencies handled suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after his arrest. Perhaps as a consequence, Blair’s public role in handling the aftermath of the more recent attempted car bombing of Times Square was reduced to the point of near invisibility.


There are a lot of insiders talking about this one. ABC has even more details.

One official tells ABC News that President Obama sought Blair’s resignation earlier this week, but Blair pushed back, hoping to convince the president to change his mind.

That did not happen.

The official says that there were high-profile problems on Blair’s watch and those certainly didn’t help him, but the ultimate reason Blair is gone is because of the dissatisfaction President Obama and the National Security Staff had with Blair’s ability to share intelligence in a tight, coherent and timely way.

This was, the official said, the result of long pent-up dissatisfaction with Blair as the principal intelligence adviser to the president, responsible for briefing the president every day and briefing the National Security Staff. In short, officials didn’t think the briefings were relevant to what the president was focused on that day or time period. They weren’t crisp or well-presented.

At other times, Blair didn’t seem to take “no” for an answer, the official said. He was pushing an initiative dealing with intelligence and other countries, and he kept pushing it even after President Obama turned it down.

The news will not come as a surprise to those in the intelligence community. For months, Blair has turf battles while the White House made it clear that it had more confidence in others, such as counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan, taking the lead both publicly and privately.

Last November, the White House sided with CIA director Leon Panetta when Blair attempted, against Panetta’s wishes, to pick the chief U.S. intelligence officer in each country, a job that traditionally has gone to the CIA station chief.

At other points, Blair seemed simply out of the loop. In hearings looking into failed Christmas Day bomber Abdulmuttalab, Blair seemed unaware that the High-Value interrogation Group was not yet operational. He later walked back his statement.


Judith Miller describes Blair’s problems as being related to his bring an outsider in the Obama Administration.

Congress loved him. A Rhodes Scholar brain with military bearing. A fitness fanatic, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair presented well on Capitol Hill. Peter King, the New York Republican who has fought so hard to toughen homeland defenses, praised Blair’s dedication to the job. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence committee, called him a “consumate public servant.”

But he was, as Peter King observed, the “odd man out,” or as another colleague called him, a good man in the wrong job. There were one too many turf fights. One too many bureaucratic battles lost for lack of White House support or just picked badly and lost.

John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, increasingly made intelligence policy from the White House. CIA Director Leon Panetta sliced him up again and again. Attorney General Eric Holder, close to Obama, muzzled him, too. Even DHS chief Janet Napolitano testified on issues that Blair would normally have weighed in on. He was, as King called him, “not an insider. Not one of them.


Daniel Foster quotes ranking Republican member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Pete Hoekstra (R- 2 MI) making the very same point Judith Miller did, with greater indignation.

Blair’s resignation is the result of the Obama administration’s rampant politicization of national security and outright disregard for congressional intelligence oversight. Blair’s resignation is disturbing and unfortunate. The concerns I have come from how the Obama administration conducts national security, not over the director of national intelligence, who they never allowed to do it.

“Congressional Republicans we will be watching closely who the president plans to name as a successor. Right now, the Obama administration’s national security apparatus is broken, dysfunctional and in disarray. Dennis Blair was the one person you could count on for rationality among Holder, Napolitano and Brennan—and he’s the one the president let go.”

20 May 2010

London 2012 Olympic Mascots Are Truly Vile

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Wenlock and Mandeville

The Telegraph reports on the remarkable results achieved by an enormously large committee inspired simultaneously by commercial vulgarity and political correctness.

After 18 months, 40 focus groups and a secret operation worthy of MI5, London 2012 on Wednesday finally revealed the mascots that will help define the capital’s Olympic experience, and just as importantly help pay for it.

The one-eyed figures, called Wenlock and Mandeville, were unveiled at an east London school on Wednesday with organisers hoping they will inspire a generation of children and persuade their parents to contribute the £15 million the mascots are slated to raise in merchandising revenue.

Two parts-Pokemon to one-part lava lamp with yellow ‘Taxi’ lights on their foreheads, the distinctive characters are intended to capture the imagination of children and work as well in the digital world as they will in costume form at trackside in 2012.

Any concern at the appropriateness of the design, which shares a certain abstraction with London’s much criticised logo, should be off-set by the smart choice of names, which resonate with Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic history.

Much Wenlock in Shropshire is considered by many the birthplace of the modern Olympics. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the IOC, visited the town in 1890 and took inspiration from the annual Games organised by Dr William Penny Brookes, a local doctor, to “promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants”.

Stoke Mandeville’s famous spinal injuries unit meanwhile was where the Paralympic movement began, and the naming of one mascot after the hospital is an explicit attempt to raise the profile of the Paralympic Games.

The mascots will soon be ubiquitous, with merchandise going on sale in July to mark two years to the London 2012 opening ceremony.

They are a central part of London’s £70 million merchandising budget, and organisers hope the mascots will contribute up to 20 per cent of that sum through sales of T-shirts, key-rings, tea-towels and the like.

The Cyclops design allows the mascots’ eyes to work as lenses, and digital cameras in the shape of the characters will be available.


The design has provoked a strong critical reaction.

The organisers of London 2012 were plunged into a fresh row after the new Olympic mascots were branded “patronising rubbish” by design experts. …

Apparently hewn from the “last drops of steel” left over from constructing the final support girder of the Olympic Stadium, the one-eyed creatures are intended to help young people relate to the Games.

But branding experts last night called them “a calamity” and accused Olympic bosses of wasting thousands of pounds on their creation.

Stephen Bayley, the prominent design critic, said: “What is it about these Games which seems to drive the organisers into the embrace of this kind of patronising, cretinous infantilism? Why can’t we have something that makes us sing with pride, instead of these appalling computerised Smurfs for the iPhone generation?

“If the Games are going to be remembered by their art then we can declare them a calamitous failure already.” …

[C]ritics said the design would leave young people baffled. Aaron Shields, a partner at the design agency BrandInstict, said: “I don’t think people are going to relate to these very modern creations. The first rule of mascot creation is to make something familiar and accessible, not something alien. This is just going to be seen as another disappointment coming out of the Olympic games.”

20 May 2010

The Dynamic of Statism

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Ross Douthat wonders aloud if any political movement, any reaction on the part of the electorate, can possibly overcome the one directional dynamic of Progressive Statism.

This feels like a populist moment. Americans are Tea Partying. Greeks are rioting. Incumbents are being thrown out; the Federal Reserve is facing an audit; Goldman Sachs is facing prosecution. In Kentucky, Ron Paul’s son might be about to win a Republican Senate primary.

But look through these anti-establishment theatrics to the deep structures of political and economic power, and suddenly the surge of populism feels like so much sound and fury, obscuring the real story of our time. From Washington to Athens, the economic crisis is producing consolidation rather than revolution, the entrenchment of authority rather than its diffusion, and the concentration of power in the hands of the same elite that presided over the disasters in the first place. …

Taken case by case, many of these policy choices are perfectly defensible. Taken as a whole, they suggest a system that only knows how to move in one direction. If consolidation creates a crisis, the answer is further consolidation. If economic centralization has unintended consequences, then you need political centralization to clean up the mess. If a government conspicuously fails to prevent a terrorist attack or a real estate bubble, then obviously it needs to be given more powers to prevent the next one, or the one after that.

The C.I.A. and F.B.I. didn’t stop 9/11, so now we have the Department of Homeland Security. Decades of government subsidies for homebuyers helped create the housing crash, so now the government is subsidizing the auto industry, the green-energy industry, the health care sector …

The pattern applies to personnel as well as policy. If Robert Rubin’s mistakes helped create an out-of-control financial sector, then naturally you need Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers — Rubin’s protégés — to set things right. After all, who else are you going to trust with all that consolidated power? Ron Paul? Dennis Kucinich? Sarah Palin?

This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it.

But their fixes tend to make the system even more complex and centralized, and more vulnerable to the next national-security surprise, the next natural disaster, the next economic crisis. Which is why, despite all the populist backlash and all the promises from Washington, this isn’t the end of the “too big to fail” era. It’s the beginning.

19 May 2010

What Happened to Newsweek, CBS, and CNN?

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Ed Driscoll rubs in the fact that the Internet changed the news and information business permanently, causing establishment media outlets like Newsweek, CBS, and CNN, all notorious for partisan reporting, to wonder where their audience went.

Silicon Graffiti 7:55 video

19 May 2010

California Government Employee Pensions Based on Projected 28,000,000 Dow

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How did California go broke? In the Wall Street Journal, David Crane how democrat giveaways to unionized state employees created an early retirement leisure class whose maintenance was soon consuming the bulk of the Golden State’s budget.

In 1999 then California Governor Gray Davis signed into law a bill that represented the largest issuance of non-voter-approved debt in the state’s history. The bill SB 400 granted billions of dollars in retroactive pension boosts to state employees, allowing retirements as young as age 50 with lifetime pensions of up to 90% of final year salaries. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System sold the pension boost to the state legislature by promising that “no increase over current employer contributions is needed for these benefit improvements” and that Calpers would “remain fully funded.” They also claimed that enhanced pensions would not cost taxpayers “a dime” because investment bets would cover the expense.

What Calpers failed to disclose, however, was that (1) the state budget was on the hook for shortfalls should actual investment returns fall short of assumed investment returns, (2) those assumed investment returns implicitly projected the Dow Jones would reach roughly 25,000 by 2009 and 28,000,000 by 2099, unrealistic to say the least (3) shortfalls could turn out to be hundreds of billions of dollars, (4) Calpers’s own employees would benefit from the pension increases and (5) members of Calpers’s board had received contributions from the public employee unions who would benefit from the legislation. Had such a flagrant case of non-disclosure occurred in the private sector, even a sleepy SEC and US Attorney would have noticed.

Eleven years later, things haven’t turned out as Calpers promised. While state employees have been big winners from the bet, the state budget has been, and will continue to be, a huge loser. Far from being “fully funded” as promised, Calpers has already required $15 billion more from the state budget than projected in 1999 and $3.5 billion is budgeted for this year, a figure that is more than five times the expense projected by the state legislature in its SB 400 analysis.

18 May 2010

Nancy Pelosi, Patroness of the Arts

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Queen Nancy

Not looking forward to dramatically increased health care insurance premiums and soon-to-be rationed services? Americans can console themselves that their sacrifices make it possible for Lady Bountiful Nancy Pelosi to encourage other Americans to quit those day jobs and follow their bliss.

0:36 video

“We see it as an entrepreneurial bill,” Pelosi said, “a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations because you will have health care.”

Hat tip to Tabitha Hale.

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