May 31, 2008

If the facts don’t support your thesis, make up some better ones!  (Via Instapundit.)

What a week!

May 31, 2008

The past week has seen an amazing flood of good news from Iraq. It’s worth a review:

Robots, defense contractors, and industrial espionage

May 31, 2008

An engrossing true story, at Wired.  (Via LGF.)

Judge refuses to treat families individually

May 31, 2008

On Thursday the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the State erred when it took hundreds of children from their families in the ranch of the FLDS cult. Eugene Volokh points out that the primary error was the State’s failure to treat cases individually. Instead, the State treated the entire ranch as a single “household” and removed all its children (and some adults), most of whom were in no immediate risk.

Now, Judge Barbara Walther, who rubber-stamped the original removal of the children, has compounded her error. Child Protective Services came to a legal agreement with the mothers wherein:

The families won’t be able to leave Texas until Aug. 31 but would be allowed to move back to the ranch. It also calls for parenting classes and visits by CPS to interview children and parents in the child abuse investigation.

Judge Walther first tried to change the agreement, and after being rebuffed, ruled that no children could be returned until every one of the mothers signed the agreement. (Since the mothers are spread throughout the state to be close to their children, this adds a significant delay, which may well have been the judge’s purpose.) It’s hard to fathom any reasonable justification to delay one reunion because a separate family has not yet signed the agreement. Furthermore, it exhibits an amazing judicial arrogance, since the Texas Supreme Court already ruled she was wrong not to treat the families individually.

The principle of individuality is important. I expect that the courts eventually will decide that some of the children are in danger and should be removed for their protection, but such decisions must be based on the facts of those particular cases. If the government can take away your children merely because the children of another family might be at risk, then no one is safe.

UPDATE (6/2): After three days, Walther signs the order.

America is essential and disliked

May 30, 2008

The Telegraph has a short piece on how America is a vital force for good in the world, and yet is disliked by most European nations. Its concluding thought:

Regardless of who wins [the Presidential race], there will be a need to project a more positive light of the United States in Europe, but without ditching America’s vital global role.

But what if, as seems likely, we are disliked precisely because of our vital global role?  Then it’s one or the other.  (And we have one candidate for each option.)

Glenn Reynolds adds:

Europeans have been anti-American pretty consistently since America began, except for brief intervals where they needed us enough to (mostly) pretend otherwise.

Thumbsticks and the military

May 30, 2008

Popular Mechanics has a fun article about the evolution of the dual analog thumbstick controller and how it is being adopted by the military. (Via Instapundit.) Here’s the key bit:

By now, the dual analog thumbsticks on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers have turned the standard logic of the first-person shooter (FPS) into muscle memory for most red-blooded young American men (and I’m sure a few women, but I’m willing to call a gender bias on this one). Die-hard PC gamers will argue that a player with a mouse and keyboard can outgun a console player while eating a ham sandwich, but the portability, durability and easy ergonomics of the gamepad make it ideal for military use. “It’s interesting that all of the game paddles have evolved toward a similar thumb-based design,” says Bigham. “And when we’ve talked to our human factors experts, what they’ve told us is that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument and requires the least energy.” While that low-energy, high-efficiency control may lead to less sunlight and exercise for hardcore gamers, it also allows soldiers to remotely fly UAVs effectively for long periods of time.

Some might say that all those teenagers “wasting time” on Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are actually the warfighters of tomorrow, training themselves at zero cost to the U.S. taxpayer. In fact, when offered the choice between the traditional airplane controls and gamepad controls, many younger soldiers pick the thumbsticks that are familiar to them.

This is interesting, but the notion that the thumbstick is the perfect controller is nonsense. You don’t have to be a die-hard PC gamer; you merely have to have played both desktop and console games to know that a mouse is much better for aiming than a thumbstick.  (If it weren’t, would there be a market for this?)

Furthermore, the idea that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument is ridiculous. Consider the trackpoint interface (that’s the rubber nub in the middle of the keyboard, common to ThinkPad laptops). You use it with your index (or “pointer”) finger, not your thumb, because your index finger is more precise. If you want to argue that that’s just because the trackpoint is placed conveniently for the index finger and not the thumb, consider the touchpad common to non-ThinkPad laptops. The usual placement of the touchpad (below the keyboard) is most convenient to the thumb, but still most people prefer to lift their entire hand off the keyboard into order to use the touchpad with their index finger. Moreover, while trackpoints and touch pads are very nice for computer work, nearly anyone would prefer a mouse for gaming.

I think that the big advantage of the thumbstick is ergonomic, not precision. You can put two thumbsticks plus several additional controls onto a controller that you can conveniently hold in your hand. With the keyboard/mouse or a joystick (i.e., airplane controls) you are affixed to stationary controls. (Yes, you could hold an old 1980s-era joystick in your hand, but then you got only one directional input, not two.)  So I think the “low energy” part of what they’re saying makes sense.  Also, the thumbstick is pretty good for movement (as opposed to aiming), and that may be more relevant to the military’s applications.

Iraqis lose patience with Sadrists

May 29, 2008

Just as those Iraqis who lived under the rule of Al Qaeda learned to hate them, so too are Iraqis learning to hate Sadr’s Mahdi Army, reports the LA Times.  (Via the Weekly Standard.)

60 Minutes blows another one

May 29, 2008

The Columbia Journalism Review reports:

The Securities and Exchange Commission sued a Canadian drug maker this week—and in the process blew apart the premise of a two-year-old 60 Minutes investigative piece on short sellers.

The March 2006 segment by Lesley Stahl sought to warn viewers about hedge funds that use bad information to drive down stock prices to benefit themselves at small investors’ expense.

To make its point, 60 Minutes focused on a lawsuit brought by Biovail Corp., of Toronto, which accused the big hedge-fund SAC Capital, of Stamford, Connecticut, and a stock-research firm of conspiring to spread bogus information about the company. . .

On Monday, though, the SEC sued not the targets of the 60 Minutes piece, but Biovail itself and two of its executives, alleging accounting fraud and other wrongdoing. The SEC said the drug maker “repeatedly overstated earnings and hid losses in order to deceive investors” and “actively misled investors and analysts about the reasons for the company’s poor performance.” . . .

The SEC charges against Biovail effectively torpedo the Stahl piece, which was devoted to airing the drug maker’s allegations that the stock-research firm, a predecessor of Gradient Analytics, concocted phony research to please SAC, a client.

In fact, the danger to investors was Biovail. So, 60 Minutes had it exactly wrong.

It gets worse:

Biovail had been under SEC investigation since 2003. So it was clear at the time that Biovail was probably not a good example of a public company victimized by shorts. In fact, it was more likely that the Biovail example would prove the value of shorts, as it has.

The 60 Minutes segment acknowledged that its alleged victim was under investigation, but buried the information artfully in the middle of a denial of wrongdoing by the hedge fund.

Here it is. The emphasis is mine:

The hedge fund SAC denies all the charges in Biovail’s lawsuit and says that the decline in the company’s stock was due to earnings shortfalls and investigations by authorities, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, “not any conspiracy.”

Confused? I think you’re supposed to be.

Why the media is tanking

May 29, 2008

Evan Coyne Maloney has a perspicacious explanation for the woes of the mainstream media:

While it is true that the quickening pace of technological change caught the old media off guard, much of the media’s current predicament is largely of its own making. By intertwining their most valuable differentiator (facts gathered at some expense) with something that’s increasingly ubiquitous and free (opinions), media outlets diminish the perceived value of their product and send a muddled message to news consumers.

Although there are bloggers who have done excellent first-hand reporting, most bloggers are not equipped to compete with the core competency of large news-gathering organizations. Instead, bloggers tend to function as filters, amplifiers, analyzers and fact-checkers for stories that have been reported (and under-reported) by the establishment media. . .

By seeing bloggers as direct competitors, outlets put themselves in a position of competing on their greatest weakness while at the same time undermining their greatest strength. Instead of competing in the arena of gathered facts, many in the traditional media have responded to the rise of online outlets by deciding that they need more opinion in their product, not less. The problem with that is, the news media has been insisting for decades that they’re “objective.” . . .

Yet under the guise of “news analysis,” “putting things in context,” giving “perspective” and “helping you understand,” the news media insists on wrapping what should be its unique product—hard-to-gather facts—in packaging that makes their product look similar to everything else that’s available online for free.

Maloney makes a very good point, and I think there’s a lot of truth in it.  Let’s perform a thought experiment, though.  Suppose that the media is behaving rationally.  Suppose that it makes sense for the media to focus on opinion over facts.  What could be the reason?

It strikes me that the most plausible reason is that the media is no longer good at gathering facts, if indeed they ever were.  By focusing on opinion, they are competing in what their core competency is, not what it should be.

As evidence, consider Iraq.  The war in Iraq is the most important story in the world today (other than possibly the 2008 elections), and yet the media won’t cover it.  We have to rely on bloggers (particularly the three that Coyne links) to tell us what’s actually happening there.  The media’s reporting is limited to press releases and unreliable stringers, and increasingly little of those.  (And this is despite the fact that embedding is actually free.)

Indeed, we see evidence almost daily that the media is barely better at gathering facts than it is at gathering non-facts.  I think Maloney is right that the media should focus on original fact-gathering, but I conjecture that they are no longer good at it.

If I’m right, we will see the news media’s die-off continue, as outlets that cannot compete go out of business.  The ones that survive will be the few that know (or can learn) how to gather news.  Of course, before that happens, we will see calls for the government to bail-out the media and insulate them from competition.

Life resumes in Sadr City

May 29, 2008

The avalanche of good news in Iraq continues with this ABC report:

In Baghdad’s Sadr City today, once again, street vendors line the sidewalk with colorful shirts and shoes. Vegetable markets, once again, have fresh limes and produce. Family stores, once again, are back in business.

And in the local Ibn al Balad hospital, no more war wounds.

“There are no injured people in this hospital,” says Jabber Shanshal, an Iraqi nurse, drawing a stark contrast with the situation more than two months ago, when heavy fighting took place in the Shiite suburb of almost three million people.

The residents of Sadr City have been longtime followers of the firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and his 60,000-strong Mahdi militia. . . But all that has changed. Last week, al Sadr’s representatives and the main Shiite political party here signed a cease-fire agreement.

And at sunrise on May 20, a legion of Iraqi soldiers cautiously marched into Sadr City. Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki had ordered the thousands of soldiers into the Shiite enclave as part of “Operation Peace.” They were greeted with open arms.

(Via Hot Air.)

The article also reviews the history of the operations in Basra and Sadr City. Widely derided as they were when they began, it’s now clear that they were a masterstroke.

ASIDE: Do you think Time and the NYT have figured out who won yet? Here’s a hint for them:

Sadr is trying to grasp on to a sliver of political leverage, claiming to have struck the deal which brought his people their livelihoods back. While Maliki is lauding the latest in a series of successes to ensure security and a regained national unity to his country.

Certainly, it seems as though there is little Maliki can do wrong these days. With provincial elections around the corner, an Iraqi future without Maliki is almost impossible to imagine.

Today’s UN news

May 28, 2008

There’s two stories out today on the UN’s continuing depravity. First, we have another case of child abuse by UN “peacekeepers”:

Children as young as six are being sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers, says a leading UK charity. Children in post-conflict areas are being abused by the very people drafted into such zones to help look after them, says Save the Children. . .

Save the Children says the most shocking aspect of child sex abuse is that most of it goes unreported and unpunished, with children too scared to speak out.

A 13-year-old girl, “Elizabeth” described to the BBC how 10 UN peacekeepers gang-raped her in a field near her Ivory Coast home. . . No action has been taken against the soldiers.

(Via LGF.)

Tragically, we’ve come to expect this from UN peacekeepers. Second, Fox News has obtained the report of the UN’s own auditors on the UN Development Program:

The multibillion-dollar procurement business of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the U.N.’s flagship anti-poverty agency, is a gigantic shambles, according to UNDP’s own investigators.

Moreover, UNDP’s management has privately acknowledged that fact and is scrambling to fix the mess — even as it loudly denied concerns of a procurement scandal that have been raised by FOX News, among others.

Just a few of the cited failures were:

  • the failure “to provide plans to support its buying activities, which the report says causes many purchases of goods and services to be carried out on an ‘ad hoc basis’ (in fact, more than $595 million worth of non-existent purchases were recorded, although the audit notes that they were not paid for),”
  • staff that are “drastically unqualified: Fully half of the organization’s procurement staff around the world were not certified for the basic requirements of their jobs, while the auditors also found the six-hour course for those who were certified to be ‘inadequate.’ Additionally, the auditors noted, ‘there are entire offices without a single certified buyer’,”
  • an “‘apparent’ conflict of interest at the top, where the people charged with vetting the procurement process for flaws are also members of the procurement office staff,” and
  • the lack of a “sure way of knowing whether it is doing business with organizations that the U.N. itself has condemned for terrorist ties.”

The last item is not merely a hypothetical worry. The article reminds us of this gem:

UNDP practices in its client countries have been controversial since January 2007, when then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Mark Wallace raised questions about the agency’s use of cash payments to North Koreans who were employees of the Kim Jong-Il regime and who also occupied sensitive UNDP local posts. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Kim regime had also used UNDP bank accounts to funnel money to its nuclear weapons program.

UNDP subsequently fired a member of its staff who blew the whistle on the North Korean practices and declared it was not bound by U.N. rules when the U.N.’s newly appointed ethics officer declared he had found “prima facie evidence” of retaliation against the whistleblower.

In short, the UN funded the North Korean nuclear weapons program, then fired the whistleblower who made that fact public. Why do we continue to fund this organization? We would do better giving that money to the mob.

SCOTUS strategy and the Marks rule

May 28, 2008

Orin Kerr has a very interesting theory regarding why we aren’t seeing as many 5-4 decisions.  It has to do with a clever strategy by Chief Justice Roberts. I won’t try to summarize.

Ravenstahl in hot water again over road trip

May 28, 2008

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is in hot water again, this time over his road trip to Detroit for games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl traveled to Detroit to watch [the] Penguins play Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final with his friends and a bodyguard.

Before he left, Ravenstahl said, “I won’t use any city dollars whatsoever to make any trips to Detroit, but I want to make a determination of what’s appropriate and what’s not before I make a decision or not on whether to go.”

Ravenstahl paid for his own ticket, meals and lodging in Detroit, but was driven in a city vehicle by his police bodyguard.

The bodyguard got into the game free, but the city picked up the tab for gas, for the bodyguard’s food and lodging and for his overtime, WTAE Channel 4’s Jon Greiner reported.

Ravenstahl has invited scrutiny because of his previous ethical problems involving the Penguins and because of his promise not to spend “any city dollars whatsoever” on a trip to Detroit.

The usual ethical practice, as I understand it, is to reimburse the cost that would have been incurred by a private citizen.  (For example, when the President goes on a personal trip, he reimburses first-class airfare, not the full cost of Air Force One.)  That would mean that Ravenstahl should reimburse the city for the cost of the car, but not the bodyguard.

Beyond the ethical minimum, there’s the question of judgement.  When the city is bankrupt, does it send the right signal for the mayor to spend the city’s money to go to a hockey game in Detroit?

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s part of a larger problem.  Ravenstahl won’t grow up for the sake of the office; rather, he behaves like a kid with a really awesome job.  He like to hang out with his buddies and gets into a lot of trouble, like public drunkenness, absenteeism, flagrant lies, conflicts of interest, and misappropriation of funds.

Dann out as Ohio AG

May 28, 2008

Ohio governor Ted Strickland (a Democrat) selected Nancy Rodgers, dean of the Ohio State law school, to replace him. But I thought this was curious:

Strickland says Nancy Rogers will lead the office for about six months but has no plans to run in the November election. Strickland’s announcement means he must still select a candidate to run for the remaining two years left in the term of former Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann.

(Via Instapundit.)

Is that how it works in the “Democratic” party now? The governor chooses the candidate? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given the Democratic affinity for superdelegates and the disenfranchisement of entire states.

The public is to blame for bad Iraq coverage

May 28, 2008

Such is the pronouncement of the New York Times:

Even as we celebrate generations of American soldiers past, the women and men who are making that sacrifice today in Iraq and Afghanistan receive less attention every day. There’s plenty of blame to go around: battle fatigue at home, failing media resolve and a government intent on controlling information from the battlefield.

The media isn’t responsible for their coverage; we have to share in the blame. In fact, their only problem is a “failure of resolve” (whatever that means), not that they’re incompetent and dishonest.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news as of last week, falling from 25 percent as recently as last September.

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories — like the economy and the election — have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.” . . .

I see; it’s our fault that the media stops covering the war when we start winning. Do they write this stuff with a straight face?

Television network news coverage in particular has gone off a cliff. Citing numbers provided by a consultant, Andrew Tyndall, the Associated Press reported that in the months after September when Gen. David H. Petraeus testified before Congress about the surge, collective coverage dropped to four minutes a week from 30 minutes a week at the height of coverage, in September 2007.

It was also pointed out that when Katie Couric, CBS’s embattled anchor, went to Iraq to report the story, she and her network were rewarded with their lowest ratings in over 20 years. Hollywood producers who had hoped there would be a public interest in cinematic perspectives on this war have been similarly punished.

It’s the public’s fault for not watching. The fact that Couric and Hollywood were putting out crap played no part in their woes.

The war remains on the front burner for some outlets. On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times gave over much of its front page to chronicling Californians who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post continues to personalize the war with a series called Faces of the Fallen.

Honoring the memories of our fallen veterans is great, but if the war were really on the front burner, they might also report the actual events of the war. They know how to do it; in 2003, when they were paying attention, I read the Washington Post daily (or more) for updates on the war. Alas, you can’t get that kind of information from the mainstream media any more. When war reporting contains little to no actual war reporting, you can’t blame people for tuning out.

(Via Countercolumn, via Instapundit.)

I should have died at the age of two

May 28, 2008

That’s according to the website for Planet Slayer, an environmentalist show for kids out of Australia.  No joke, no paraphrase.  It says: “find out when you should die.”  Then, lest you miss the point, the next page says: “When you’re done, click on [skull and crossbones] to find out what age you should die at so you don’t use more than your share of Earth’s resources!”  I took the questionnaire, just to find out what it would say.  According to Planet Slayer, I should have died as a toddler.

This childrens’ show is promoting sentiments that Pol Pot would have found extreme.  Yes, it’s taxpayer funded, of course.

(Via Lileks.)

Obama admits a mistake

May 27, 2008

This almost never happens, so it’s worth noting when it does. After bloggers pointed out that Obama’s story of his uncle liberating the Auschwitz death camp was impossible, insofar as Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that he meant to say Buchenwald.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg points out that Obama has been talking about Americans liberating Auschwitz (and Treblinka) for years, which tends to undermine the “he misspoke” defense. (Via LGF.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Riehl World View and Rand Simberg question whether the revised story is true either. (Via Instapundit.) It appears that Obama’s great-uncle may not have been in the 89th Infantry at all, and in fact may have served in the Navy. Still, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the (revised) story ends up being true. If so, Obama can help his case by telling us his great-uncle’s full name.

LATER UPDATE: The (revised) story does indeed seem to be true, despite some confusion about the great-uncle’s name.

Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones

May 27, 2008

I saw two movies over the weekend: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a rare treat for me; since my daughter was born I’ve seen about two movies a year on average.

Prince Caspian is a good movie, but it’s not the movie that I hoped it would be. I had high hopes, having read more than one review that said that the movie was even better than the book. I should have read between the lines and interpreted that to mean that the movie improved on the shortcomings of the book (as perceived by those reviewers). The book is a tale about faith in which there happens to be talking animals and a big battle. The movie is a story about big battles involving talking animals.

Crystal Skull is not a very good movie. All the previous Indiana Jones movies were implausible, but within the genre you could suspend disbelief. The latest installment crosses the line into farce.

(Spoilers follow.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Texas CPS placed adults into the system

May 27, 2008

It’s been hard to know what to think about the Texas polygamy cult case. It seems likely that some abuse may have taken place (perhaps even a lot), but it also seems likely that there was a massive abuse of authority by CPS and the Texas courts.

Then, along comes a story that emphasizes that it’s not only us; Texas CPS hasn’t a clue what went on there either:

Ten “girls” taken into custody by Texas Child Protective Services have convinced the agency they are really adults and more are expected to be similarly reclassified this week, weakening the agency’s claim that dozens of underage girls were forced by a polygamist sect to have sex with older men.

On Tuesday, six more “girls” were deemed adults, including 27-year-old Leona Allred, whose lawyer insisted CPS knew from the beginning that her client was an adult.

My client showed them the same documents they showed them from the beginning: a valid Arizona driver’s license and a birth certificate,” said Andrea Sloan.

Two others, Merilyn Jeffs Keate and Sarah Cathleen Jessop Nielsen, were reclassified as adults Monday as five judges began sifting through the cases of all the children taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in West Texas. . .

On April 28, CPS officials said the agency believed that 31 of the 53 girls were between ages 14 and 17 and were pregnant, had children or both. But that 31 figure has been tied precariously to the fact that 26 “disputed minors” were among them.

This doesn’t let the cult off the hook, but it does rob Texas CPS of any credibility.  The ability to tell 27-years old from children and to read official documents is a minimum level of competency for child protective services.

(Via Media Blog.)

We can ignore it for you wholesale, redux

May 27, 2008

I predicted this, about a month ago.  For now it’s just in the fevered minds of Keith Olbermann and Think Progress, but give it time.

Obama on Memorial Day

May 27, 2008

Addresses the living dead:

On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.

Later in the day, the campaign airbrushed the gaffe from his remarks, which is as close as Obama gets to admitting a mistake, I suppose.  (Via Instapundit.)

Amusing, but on a more serious note, the AP reports:

Obama spokesman Bill Burton declined to respond directly to [McCain’s invitation to visit Iraq], saying only: “Senator Obama thinks Memorial Day is a day to honor our nation’s veterans, not a day for political posturing.”

In Obama’s political-posturing-free campaign event in New Mexico (the one attended by fallen heroes), managed:

  • To criticize the quality of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in female veterans,
  • To attack the President for his promised veto of the “GI Bill for a 21st century,”
  • To hint at a prosecution of security contractor Blackwater, and
  • To assert that the funding for the war in Iraq must be cut off in order to pay for roads, bridges, broadband, jobs programs, and (ha!) middle-class tax cuts.

I doubt they even see the irony. After all, Obama is The Only Man Who Can Heal Our Souls. When he does it, it’s not posturing, it’s gospel.

AP and Time promote enemy misinformation

May 26, 2008

I’m sufficiently used to media failure that I rarely any more find a case that really makes me angry, but this one manages. The AP runs a story that would be very bad news:

Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. . .

So far, al-Sistani’s fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.

All spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Fortunately, the story isn’t true. Unfortunately, this is the kind of story than can cost our people their lives just by being out there, even if it’s not true. One might have hoped that the AP would feel a special obligation to get the story right in this case, merely in the interest of not feeding violence.   Nope.  Instead, they run a story based entirely on anonymous accounts and apparently didn’t even ask Sistani for comment.  (The closest they get is another anonymous statement, from a “longtime official.”)  On the other hand, they’ve got plenty of people who think it’s unlikely, including one Juan Cole (an infamous Iraq war opponent).

Still, the AP comes away smelling like a rose compared to Time, who run the story after it’s already been debunked:

In recent days, there have been reports that Sistani has been quietly issuing religious edicts, or fatwas, calling for the armed resistance to U.S. forces. Such a move by Sistani would essentially mark a reversal of his passive cooperation with the U.S. enterprise in Iraq to date. However, Sistani’s aides deny the reports. “Nothing like that came from the office of the ayatollah,” said Hamid al-Kahfaff, a spokesman for Sistani in Najaf.

Times knows that Sistani’s aides deny the story, and they know that it would be out of character for Sistani to do it, and they have nothing but anonymous statements made to someone else (ie, gossip), but they print it anyway.  Time’s reporting in Iraq has been pretty funny, but I’m not laughing any more.

(Via Gateway Pundit, via Instapundit.)

Iraq captures Sadrist caches

May 25, 2008

The last week’s avalanche of good news from Iraq continues.  The Iraqi army has captured several large weapons caches in Sadr City, including poison gas stored in a school.  (Via Instapundit.)

The Sadrists responded by complaining that the Iraqi Army was violating the cease fire, which is pretty rich.

Obama fires up the flux capacitor

May 25, 2008

Barack Obama:

Since the Bush Administration launched a misguided war in Iraq, its policy in the Americas has been negligent toward our friends, ineffective with our adversaries, disinterested in the challenges that matter in peoples’ lives, and incapable of advancing our interests in the region.

No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.

(Emphasis mine.)  (Via LGF.)

So, Hugo Chavez stepped into the vacuum created by the war in Iraq, did he?  Neat trick, since Chavez was elected in December 1998 and the war in Iraq began in March 2003.

POSTSCRIPT: I’m sure the Obama spin will be that Chavez didn’t fully step into the vacuum until later (when the vacuum existed), so let’s look at a few more dates:  Chavez took office in February 1999.  He amended the constitution in December 1999.  He was re-elected in July 2000.  Shortly thereafter, he was given the power to rule by decree.  Surely even the spin doctors will admit Chavez was fully in power by the time he became a dictator.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of neglect toward our friends in the Americas, how about the Democrats killing the free-trade pact with Colombia for no reason whatsoever?

Change you can believe in

May 25, 2008

Barack Obama, on May 22:

I would be willing to initiate such talks with leaders of countries adversarial to the United States. There would be a lot of preparation. The first steps would not be to pre-judge all the items on the list. . .

One of the obvious high priorities in my talks with President Hugo Chavez would be the fermentation of anti-American sentiment in Latin America, his support of FARC in Colombia and other issues he would want to talk about. It is important to understand that ignoring these countries has not led to improved behavior on their part and it has not served our national security interests.

May 23:

[Obama] promised to punish any South American government that gives support to the Colombian rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, an indirect reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“We will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments,” he said. “This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation, and — if need be — strong sanctions. It must not stand.”

(Emphasis mine.)  (Via Political Punch, via Instapundit.)

So Obama will simultaneously isolate Chavez, and also meet with him on topics of his choosing.  Neat trick.

Iraq at its most peaceful in over four years

May 24, 2008

General Petraeus reports:

In Iraq, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to build on the security gains of the past 15 months as we also continue to reduce US forces and transition responsibility to Iraqi Security Forces, strive to maintain the conditions necessary for political progress, help build governmental capacity, and seek to foster economic development.

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents.

This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July.

Follow the link for a chart.  (Full speech here.)

Iraq: Al Qaeda cleared from Mosul

May 24, 2008

AFP reports:

A 10-day operation by Iraqi troops in Mosul has succeeded in dismantling Al-Qaeda’s network in Iraq’s main northern city, regarded by US commanders as the jihadists’ last urban bastion, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

“Operation ‘Mother of Two Springs’ has enabled us to dismantle and weaken the Al-Qaeda network in Nineveh province,” ministry spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP. . .

The US military has provided support for the operation in Mosul but it has been conducted and led by Iraqi troops.

(Via Hot Air.)

I would caution, however, that this account is somewhat at odds with the US Army’s assessment, which is that there may be some heavy fighting in Mosul remaining.

Colombian rebel leader reportedly dead

May 24, 2008

According to the Colombian government, reports the AP.

An optimistic view of November 2008

May 24, 2008

Politico reports that many (anonymous) GOP strategists are very optimistic about McCain’s chances in November, due to favorable circumstances in the Electoral College. I’m not remotely ready to buy into it, but it’s an pleasurable read. Here’s hoping.  (Via Power Line.)

Rice and the fall of the Bush doctrine

May 24, 2008

One of the biggest disappointments of Bush’s second term has been the performance of Condoleezza Rice since moving to Foggy Bottom.  The State Department is in desperate need of reform, and I had hoped that Rice would be the one to do it.  Alas, it seemed instead that she went native.

In the cover story for the next Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes writes that we don’t know the half of it.  Hayes reports that Rice was central to the fall of the Bush doctrine, and also that she opposed the surge, which is easily the most important success of Bush’s second term.  The article is unsummarizable, so I’ll leave you to read it.  (Via Power Line.)

Reds bash new Indy movie

May 23, 2008

The London Times reports:

Leaders of the Communist Party of St. Petersburg have accused the actors Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett of being “capitalist puppets” and promoting crude, anti-Soviet propaganda in their new film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” . . .

The swashbuckling archaeologist’s fourth adventure is set in the Cold War in 1957. It pits Indiana Jones against a sinister KGB agent, played by Blanchett, who leads a ruthless team of Soviet spies in the hunt for a skull endowed with mystical powers.

The Communist Party’s ideology committee in Russia’s second largest city saw red over the plot. In an open letter, it declared: “Your work in this film is an insult to the Soviet and Russian people, who remember the difficult Fifties when our country was concluding its reconstruction after the Great War, but did not send merciless terrorists to the USA.” . . .

“You have no future in Russia any more. Speaking plainly, it is better for you not to come here. You will be beaten and despised.”

Good show, Ford and Blanchett; you’re making good enemies. I wonder what the Communist Party ideology committee thought of Charlie Wilson’s War.

By the way, here’s a good example of the kind of “reconstruction” the Soviet Union was doing during those difficult Fifties.

Hillary Clinton’s strangest argument yet

May 23, 2008

This is bizarre:

Hillary Clinton today brought up the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy while defending her decision to stay in the race against Barack Obama.

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it,” she said, dismissing calls to drop out.

Usually when liberals talk, I at least have some idea what they’re trying to say.  Not this time.

Obama’s campaign fired back, which illustrates their inexperience, I think.  When your opponent says something this bizarre, you just want to stand back and watch.

(Via the Corner.)

Obama’s tall tales

May 23, 2008

Fox News has a piece on tall tales told by Barack Obama (third in a series that started with Clinton and McCain). Most of them I’ve heard before (e.g., it’s not true that Obama doesn’t take money from lobbyists), but I thought this one was interesting:

5. Nuclear Legislation, Dec. 30, 2007
During a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, Obama touted his sponsorship of a bill in the Senate that required nuclear power plant owners to notify authorities immediately of all radioactive leaks, no matter how small.

Non-truth: That was “the only nuclear legislation that I’ve passed” he told the crowd.

Truth: Obama had rewritten the bill to ease its passage and removed the language requiring the reporting of leaks. The bill died when it reached the full Senate, and did not pass as he claimed.

Why lie about a matter of public record?  Doesn’t that seem kinda stupid?

Mosul operation succeeding

May 23, 2008

Completing today’s hat trick of good Iraq news, the Mosul operation is succeeding:

The number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling said U.S. and Iraqi forces have not met fierce resistance since the operation began on May 10. He attributed this mostly to the large numbers of troops on the streets, an initial curfew, extensive preparations and construction of new checkpoints.

The American media has been almost silent on the Mosul operation, presumably since it’s going well. But the Army cautions that there may be some tough fighting ahead:

Iraqi commanders have said some al-Qaida fighters fled in advance of the operation, meaning they would be able to fight another day.

But Hertling said he did not believe many had escaped and that some who had been in regions outside Mosul before the crackdown were moving toward the city to take up the battle. He said intelligence indicates “many of their leaders have been pushing fighters to Mosul because they see it as a critical fight as well.”

“We anticipate there will be some attacks by the enemy once they come out of this initial phase of being surprised within the city,” he told reporters during a news conference in Baghdad. “We anticipate that there might be car bombs, suicide vests or things like that.”

I’m sure the media will rediscover Mosul if that happens.

(Via Max Boot, via Power Line.)

British troops back in Basra

May 23, 2008

The British have emerged from their compound and are patrolling Basra again.  Good for them.  I wonder about the politics of this though.  Gordon Brown has shown no enthusiasm for carrying through on the British commitment in Iraq, so why do this now?  Is this a response to his drubbing at the polls by the Tories?  Or is it just a result of the success of Iraq’s Basra operation?

(Via Max Boot, via Power Line.)

Iraqi army takes control of Sadr City

May 23, 2008

The NYT reports:

Iraqi troops pushed deep into Sadr City on Tuesday as the Iraqi government sought to establish control over the district, a densely populated Shiite enclave in the Iraqi capital.

The long-awaited military operation, which took place without the involvement of American ground forces, was the first determined effort by the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood, which has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric.

The operation comes in the wake of the government’s offensive in Basra, in southern Iraq, which for the time being seems to have pacified that city and restored government control.

The Iraqi forces met no significant resistance. By midday, they had driven to a key thoroughfare that bisects Sadr City and taken up positions near hospitals and police stations, institutions that the Iraqi government is seeking to put under its control. . .

The soldiers were also deployed near the political headquarters of Mr. Sadr. There were no visible signs of the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by Mr. Sadr, although many walls bore posters of him that seemed to have been put up in the last few days.

(Via Power Line.)

It’s good to see the Iraqis take charge.  Question 1: How galling must it be to the NYT to have to write a comes-at-time sentence that correlates Sadr City to other good news in Basra?  Question 2: How is Time going to portray this as a victory for Sadr?  (I’m guessing the posters.  If Sadr has posters up, he must be winning.)

The article also gives an interesting account of how the operation took place.

How a gaffe becomes doctrine

May 23, 2008

Charles Krauthammer writes about how Obama’s foreign-policy gaffe at the YouTube debate has transformed itself into doctrine, due to Obama’s inability ever to admit a mistake:

Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers. But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that. Unprepared, he said sure — then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration’s refusal to do so not just “ridiculous” but “a disgrace.”

After that, there was no going back. So he doubled down. What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.

(Via Power Line.)

Meanwhile, Power Line posts what a thoughtful answer to the question might have sounded like, courtesy of Nixon and JFK.

Never trust Harry Reid

May 23, 2008

Last April, Harry Reid promised to move three judges before Memorial Day.  He didn’t.  Republicans are angry, but I hope they’re not surprised.

In a feat of chutzpah, Reid blames Republicans for stalling.  The substance of the stalling allegation is the treatment of Helene White.  White was nominated at the request of Democratic senators, and her hearing was held almost immediately (while other well-qualified and thoroughly vetted nominees languished), even before the ABA’s report was in.  Pat Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the committee, has a rule that no vote can be held until the ABA report is received.  Yet Reid nevertheless moved her nomination early and blames the GOP when she wasn’t prematurely confirmed.

(Via the Corner.)

New laser would protect commercial planes from missiles

May 23, 2008

The Department of Homeland Security is experimenting with the laser system, called Project Chloe (after the “24” character).   The system would sense a missile launch and fire its laser to jam the missile’s heat-seeking guidance system.  Flying at 60,000 feet, the DHS hopes that a single such system could protect all commercial airports in LA County.

Hauser’s Law

May 22, 2008

US revenues remain constant, regardless of tax rates.David Ranson, head of research at Wainwright Economics, has an amazing op-ed piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. Most of us have heard of the Laffer Curve, which is based on the unarguable proposition that the government will collect no revenue when tax rates are 0% or 100%, and that revenue peaks somewhere in the middle. When tax rates are to the right of the peak, tax cuts make money and tax hikes lose money.

The question has always been, where on the Laffer Curve are we? Clearly there is no sense in tax rates that are past the revenue peak. Moreover, (lest it be forgotten) the government’s purpose is not to maximize tax revenue. If taxes are discouraging economic activity so much that we are even close to the peak, taxes are much too high. The problem is that the Laffer Curve is not really a fixed function that we can plot; it’s very difficult to determine what the result of a change in tax rates will be.

Enter Kurt Hauser, who made a remarkable discovery in 1993 that, even more remarkably, has not been well publicized. As Ranson explains in his op-ed, over the last half century, revenues have remained roughly constant at 19.5% of GDP despite wildly varying tax rates. He calls this Hauser’s Law, and shows that it has continued to operate in the years since Hauser discovered it.

Hauser’s Law is more compelling than the Laffer Curve it part because it is empirical (the Laffer Curve posits a theoretical relationship, but does not spell out the actual shape of the curve), and in part because it is so shockingly simple (a horizontal line). And it’s lesson is clear:

Forget about generating more revenue through tax hikes; it won’t work. Clinton’s big tax increase isn’t even visible on the revenue graph, and neither are Kennedy’s and Reagan’s massive tax cuts. If you want more government revenue, the only way to do it is to grow the economy, which is what supply-siders have been saying all along.

UPDATE (3/24/2010): Hauser’s report is on-line here.

Pat Buchanan is an idiotic swine

May 22, 2008

Okay, I suppose we knew that already, but he’s outdone himself now. In a recent column, Buchanan lays the fault for World War 2 at the feet of . . . Poland. (Via LGF.)

Why did the tanks roll? Because Poland refused to negotiate over Danzig, a Baltic port of 350,000 that was 95 percent German and had been taken from Germany at the Paris peace conference of 1919, in violation of Wilson’s 14 Points and his principle of self-determination.

Hitler had not wanted war with Poland. He had wanted an alliance with Poland in his anti-Comintern pact against Joseph Stalin.

But the Poles refused to negotiate. Why? Because they were a proud, defiant, heroic people and because Neville Chamberlain had insanely given an unsolicited war guarantee to Poland. If Hitler invaded, Chamberlain told the Poles, Britain would declare war on Germany.

From March to August 1939, Hitler tried to negotiate Danzig. But the Poles, confident in their British war guarantee, refused. So, Hitler cut his deal with Stalin, and the two invaded and divided Poland.

The cost of the war that came of a refusal to negotiate Danzig was millions of Polish dead, the Katyn massacre, Treblinka, Sobibor, Auschwitz, the annihilation of the Home Army in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, and 50 years of Nazi and Stalinist occupation, barbarism and terror.

Buchanan seems to be saying that there would have been no Second World War, if only the Poles had negotiated away Danzig. (The Poles actually did negotiate over Danzig, but I guess not early enough or earnestly enough to suit Adolf Hitler or Pat Buchanan.) Danzig would have been Hitler’s last conquest — we are to believe — and with it achieved he would have set aside his lifelong dreams of lebensraum. But poor, poor Hitler; those unreasonable Poles refused to hand it over.

It truly takes a special sort of person to argue that appeasement would have worked with Hitler, if only we had done a little bit more of it. Bravo, Pat Buchanan.

(POSTSCRIPT: If the President’s speech achieved nothing else, it sure has turned out the idiots.)

Barack Obama’s secret dictionary

May 22, 2008

Is there any length to which Barack Obama will not go to avoid admitting a mistake? ABC News writes about his shifting position on negotiations with Iran:

“I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything,” Obama said. “They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries, including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions, but that does not mean without preparation.”

On CNN, Tuesday, Obama echoed [advisor Susan] Rice, saying he may not meet with Ahmadinejad.

“I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what’s important,” he said. “I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparations for that meeting.

(Emphasis mine.) (Via LGF.) So, there would have to be preparations before a meeting could occur. That is precisely what a precondition is:


n. A condition that must exist or be established before something can occur or be considered; a prerequisite.

How does Obama explain the difference between a precondition and something that merely has to happen before an event can occur?

Last week, in South Dakota, Obama sought to explain what he meant at last July’s debate when he agreed to meetings “without preconditions.”

“Preconditions, as it applies to a country like Iran, for example, was a term of art because this administration has been very clear that it will not have direct negotiations with Iran until Iran has met preconditions that are, essentially, what Iran views and many other observers would view as the subject of the negotiations,” Obama told reporters.

I see. At the YouTube debate, Obama wasn’t using the word for its usual English meeting; it was a “term of art” that conveniently means something far less embarrassing now. (This is risible already, but lets not forget that Obama didn’t even use the word himself. The word was used in a question asked by a citizen in a YouTube video. How Obama can project his “term of art” into another person’s question is quite beyond me.)

An ordinary person might admit that he was overly hasty in answering the question, but not Obama.

Does NYT use extortion to obtain access?

May 22, 2008

According to Ed Morrissey’s source in the McCain campaign, yes. (Via Instapundit.)

The allegation isn’t exactly solidly sourced, but is it plausible? I guess the matter comes down to whom we think is more respectable, the New York Times or an anonymous source cited by Hot Air. Tough call.

UPDATE: It’s not proof that they made the threat, but if they did, they followed through on it.

Another wiki-shenanigan

May 21, 2008

At 2:30 Eastern, Charles Johnson posts that Obama’s opening act, the Decemberists, is known for opening their concerts with the Soviet National anthem. He links Wikipedia as his source.

You may not see that information there, because it was deleted at 3:22 Eastern. The cited justification for the anonymous edit is “Removing uncited statement.”

So, is it true?  It took me 10 seconds of googling to find this YouTube video, which has been up for over a year.

UN sends aid to Burma

May 21, 2008

Forget water, food, and medicine, what the cyclone victims really need is condoms.  (Via the Corner.)

NYT omits Obama rock concert

May 21, 2008

The New York Times breathlessly reports:

Senator Barack Obama drew the largest crowd of his campaign so far on Sunday, addressing an estimated 75,000 people who had gathered here on the banks of the Willamette River.

“Wow! Wow! Wow!” were his first words as he surveyed the multitude, which included people in kayaks and small pleasure craft on the river on an unseasonably hot day in Oregon.

It is “fair to say this is the most spectacular setting for the most spectacular crowd” of his campaign, he told the audience. His wife and daughters, who have been with him most of the weekend, joined him on the stage at the beginning of the event but left as he was about to speak.

Also on the stage was a free concert by a popular local rock band, which might have drawn a fan or two to the park on a beautiful Sunday. The NYT didn’t think that was worth mentioning. (Via the Corner.)

Court overturns libel judgement in al-Dura hoax case

May 21, 2008

The Jerusalem Post reports:

The French Court of Appeals on Wednesday found in favor of Jewish activist Philippe Karsenty, overturning a lower court decision that he had libeled France 2 and its Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin when he accused them of knowingly misleading the watching world about the death of the Palestinian child Mohammed al-Dura in the Gaza Strip in 2000.

“The verdict means we have the right to say France 2 broadcast a fake news report, that [al-Dura’s shooting] was a staged hoax and that they duped everybody – without being sued,” Karsenty told The Jerusalem Post shortly after the verdict was issued at 1:30 p.m. Paris time.

Al-Dura was filmed cowering with his father Jalal behind a barrel at the Gaza Strip’s Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, during an apparent gun battle between Palestinians and Israeli troops. Fifty-five seconds of video footage were released to the world by France 2 at the time, out of some 18 minutes that were shown in court and even more footage that France 2’s detractors claim is not being shown to the public. . .

Karsenty, the head of the media watchdog Media Ratings, was sued for libel after calling for Enderlin’s and France 2 news director Arlette Chabot’s dismissal, saying the footage was “a hoax.” Enderlin, who was not present in Gaza at the time of the incident, has vehemently denied the charge, expressing confidence in cameraman Abu Rahma’s honesty. . .

The IDF, which initially apologized for the death of al-Dura, concluded after an investigation that the boy could not have been hit by Israeli bullets.

(Via Israel Matzav, via Instapundit.)

DC takes another step toward becoming a police state

May 21, 2008

DC police officers will now be armed with AR-15 rifles.  Mind you, not SWAT units, which have had assault rifles for years, but routine patrols.  The AR-15 is essentially the same weapon as the M-16, the Army’s main rifle, the only significant difference being that the AR-15 will not fire burst/auto.

In other words, the District of Columbia is going to start using soldiers to patrol the streets.  Actually, that’s not quite fair, since DC police haven’t the training or professionalism of real American soldiers.

(Via Reason, via Instapundit.)

With friends like these . . .

May 21, 2008

Iowahawk tracks the GOP from 1994 to 2008.  (Via Transterrestrial Musings.)

Court to reconsider business-method patents

May 20, 2008

An article from last week’s Economist drew my attention to business-method patents, which I hadn’t been aware of before. For the last ten years, it seems, the Patent Office has allowed patents on business strategies. For example, Priceline holds a patent on the method of using Dutch auctions to sell tickets.

All patents are fundamentally anti-competitive, but patenting business methods seems particularly egregious. Therefore, it seems like good news that the US Court of Appeals is considering overturning the case that allowed them.

On the other hand, the NYT quotes one observer who is not bullish about the chances that business-method patents will be overturned, commenting: “Definitions of business method patents always end up being circular. You can’t really ban something unless you can define it and no one is offering a definition we can use.”

The Prior Art, an IP blog, has been following the case and has some other interesting thoughts.

That would be a “no”

May 20, 2008

The most darkly funny headline of the day: U.N. Coming Cleaner? Ban Ki-Moon Presses Top Officials on Corruption Probes, Wants Less Public Disclosure.

Beset by scandals surrounding the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided to tighten the reins on anti-corruption and ethics investigations across his sprawling organization — even while trying to keep those investigation results from the general public.

The decision by Ban marks a major reversal of course from less than a year ago, when he announced that the U.N. Secretariat “does not enjoy the jurisdiction” over protection of whistle-blowers who expose wrongdoing at UNDP, the U.N.’s development arm, or other agencies in the labyrinthine U.N. system. . .

In the midst of all the controversy, Ban told a meeting of top-level U.N. officials in Switzerland three weeks ago that he has suddenly seen the wisdom of a single set of standards in those sensitive areas, at least when it comes to the U.N. investigating itself. . .

Even while Ban is asking the U.N. to toe the line on investigating itself, he wants fewer outsiders to know the outcome. Among other things, he said, he wanted copies of U.N. system-wide audits to be available to nations that asked for them — but only if governments would keep them confidential. The U.S. mission to the U.N., for one, has in the past put Secretariat audits on its local Web site for public review.

The article paints this as two developments at odds with each other. Would it be too cynical to wonder if there’s another interpretation; that perhaps one of the investigations is getting close to the Secretary-General’s office?

Susan Rice defends Obama, sort of

May 20, 2008

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Obama advisor Susan Rice tries to defend Obama’s shifting position on unconditional negotiation with Iran:

BLITZER: How does Senator Obama defend that decision to meet without preconditions with a leader like Ahmadinejad?

RICE: Well, first of all, he said he would meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. He hasn’t named who that leader will be. It may in fact be that, by the middle next of year, Ahmadinejad is long gone. There will be elections in Iran.

And again:

BLITZER: So, let’s be precise, because what they criticize Barack Obama, not only John McCain, but others, for suggesting that he would meet without preconditions with Ahmadinejad, who only last week on Israel’s 60th anniversary called Israel a stinking corpse. The question that they ask is, what is Barack Obama going to talk with him about?


RICE: Well, first of all, as I said, it will be the appropriate Iranian leadership at the appropriate time, not necessarily Ahmadinejad.

(Via Power Line and the Weekly Standard.)

It’s interesting that Rice realizes how radioactive (so to speak) Ahmedinejad is, so she wants to back off the promise to meet with him in particular. This doesn’t really help though. Ahmedinejad is in power at least until August 2009, so there is no way that he will be “long gone” by the middle of 2009. Moreover, Ahmedinejad is basically selected by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who controls the candidate list. So if Ahmedinejad isn’t “re-elected,” it’s only because Khamenei has found someone else he likes better.

Question: is Susan Rice really the sort of person who would make this her first line of argument without even finding out when Ahmedinejad’s term ends? Or is she simply lying?

Later, Rice accuses McCain of “distortion” for quoting Obama accurately:

BLITZER: And just to clear up, there’s no hard and fast commitment he would in fact if he were president meet in that first year with any of these leaders [Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, or Syria]?

RICE: He said he’s willing to meet with these leaders, obviously, after preparation and at the appropriate time and when and as it serves our interests.

These are distortions, Wolf, that John McCain has found convenient because he knows that, if the American people are allowed to focus on his failed policies and that of George Bush, they won’t have a chance in this election. It’s all politics. And they continue to distort Barack Obama’s words and his intentions.

It’s a “distortion” to say that Obama would meet with those leaders in his first year, is it?

QUESTION: Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries? . . .

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.

(Emphasis mine.)

Obama can “clarify” if he likes, but he is not being distorted. And as regards Susan Rice: no man (or woman) is more a scoundrel than the one who lies when calling another man a liar.

John Bolton raps “100%-ers”

May 20, 2008

John Bolton has an insightful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the limitations of negotiation, and the foolishness of Barack Obama:

At first glance, the idea of sitting down with adversaries seems hard to quarrel with. In our daily lives, we meet with competitors, opponents and unpleasant people all the time. Mr. Obama hopes to characterize the debate about international negotiations as one between his reasonableness and the hard-line attitude of a group of unilateralist GOP cowboys.

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous.

Negotiation is not a policy. It is a technique. Saying that one favors negotiation with, say, Iran, has no more intellectual content than saying one favors using a spoon. For what? Under what circumstances? With what objectives? On these specifics, Mr. Obama has been consistently sketchy.

Like all human activity, negotiation has costs and benefits. If only benefits were involved, then it would be hard to quarrel with the “what can we lose?” mantra one hears so often. In fact, the costs and potential downsides are real, and not to be ignored.

Bolton goes on to discuss the potential costs of negotiation.  Read the whole thing.

Democratic self-parody alert

May 20, 2008

Fried food will be banned at the Democratic convention.  Also banned: bottled water and all non-organic food, unless it’s locally grown.  (Via the Corner.)

The announcement came around the same time as Barack Obama raised eyebrows by implying support for controls on Americans’ diets.

An update from Mosul

May 19, 2008

Mohammed Fadhil reports at Pajamas Media.  Not a lot of news, but what there is, is generally good. (Via Instapundit.) I suspected things must be going well, since we haven’t been hearing the Basra narrative.

Red-light cameras aren’t about safety

May 19, 2008

The LA Times finds that in Los Angeles most red-light camera tickets are for rolling right turns, which carry minimal safety risk:

In Los Angeles, officials estimate that 80% of red light camera tickets go not to those running through intersections but to drivers making rolling right turns, a Times review has found. . .  One of the most powerful selling points for photo enforcement systems . . . has been the promise of reducing collisions caused by drivers barreling through red lights.

But it is the right-turn infraction — a frequently misunderstood and less pressing safety concern — that drives tickets and revenue in the nation’s second-biggest city and at least half a dozen others across the county.

Some researchers and traffic engineers question the enforcement strategy.

“I’ve never . . . seen any studies that suggest red light cameras would be a good safety intervention to reduce right-turning accidents,” said Mark Burkey, a researcher at North Carolina A&T State University who has studied photo enforcement collision patterns. . .

“We’re kind of very leery about right turns. . . . They’re not really unsafe per se,” said Pasadena’s senior traffic engineer, Norman Baculinao. Only one of that city’s seven camera-equipped intersection approaches is set up to monitor right-turn violations, he said.

“This is intended to be a traffic safety program. People who make right turns generally are going at a low speed,” and resulting accidents tend to be a “sideswipe at most,” he said.

Emphasizing those violations, Baculinao said, would be “more for revenue generation” than safety.

(Via Instapundit.)  (Previous post.)

Obama: other countries deserve a veto over our cars, diet, and thermostats

May 19, 2008

At least, that seems to be what he’s saying:

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

(Via Instapundit.)

Perhaps it would be simplest if Obama would give us a list of the parts of our lives where we would keep individual autonomy, rather than the ones where he would take it away.

But whatever you do, don’t call him a socialist!

Obama: don’t criticize my wife’s bizarre remarks

May 19, 2008

Obama adds another rule, saying it is “unacceptable” to criticize his wife for her incredible statements. And there’s so much to criticize, not just her infamous for-the-first-time-I’m-proud-of-America remark.

Obama will probably get away with this, because he always does, but it’s incredible to me. Michelle Obama is not a political wife in the model of Laura Bush, Kitty Dukakis, Nancy Reagan, etc. She is a campaign surrogate, like Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Dole. Her political remarks cannot be off-limits. Obama’s real problem is that, unlike most of his surrogates, she cannot be disavowed.

UPDATE: Rachel Lucas puts it in her own inimitable way.

Gordon Brown backs creation of human-animal hybrids

May 19, 2008

According to the AP.  Wow.  It’s hard to know what to say.

Time: Pelosi seen as an “antiwar caricature figure”

May 19, 2008

Time also reports that Nancy Pelosi’s position on Iraq is even more extreme than that of Moqtada al-Sadr:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to see most U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the 2008, a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. Rather, Sadr contends that the Americans should simply announce a reasonable timetable for the departure of U.S. forces.

(Emphasis mine.)  (Via Gateway Pundit.)  (Of course, I’m stipulating here that Time knows what they are talking about, which is generally a dubious proposition.)

Next, Time tries to bash the administration, but it doesn’t quite come off:

But for all of Pelosi’s unpopularity, in many ways she got a nicer arrival treatment than the last senior female American official to appear in Baghdad, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice slipped into Iraq in January much the same way Pelosi did today — stealthily, with a terse confirmation by the U.S. embassy offering few details of the agenda. But within hours of Rice’s arrival, TV news was crackling with word of it, and soon thereafter a volley of mortars fell on the Green Zone in an obvious message from Rice’s detractors. No rockets or mortars were heard heading into the Green Zone today as word of Pelosi’s presence hit the Iraqi airwaves in what amounted to a daytime news blip.

So the enemy wants to kill Rice, but not Pelosi.  Since Rice wants to destroy them whereas Pelosi wants to give them what they want, this isn’t the least bit surprising.

High-ranking FARC leader turns herself in

May 19, 2008

Quite a coup for Uribe.  (Via the Corner.)  It will be very interesting to hear what she has to say.

Freedom of speech is dead in Holland

May 18, 2008

UPI reports:

A Dutch cartoonist has been arrested following a lengthy investigation into allegations his work was discriminatory to other races, authorities say.

Radio Netherlands said Friday that the artist, who works under the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot, was arrested and had a number of his materials seized as part of the ongoing investigation.

The investigation into Nekschot, who has kept his identity hidden since 2005, was initially brought about after an imam complained about the artist’s works.

Today’s Europe: Disparage Islam and go to jail.

(Via LGF.)

Dems: McCain has too much military service

May 18, 2008

What a difference four years and a different candidate makes. In 2004, military service was the sine qua non of a Presidential candidate. In 2008, when McCain has it and the Dems don’t, it’s a minus, of course. The only question is how to make that case with a straight face.

The New York Times takes a stab at it, aided by the fact that in print no one can see your face. Basically, the NYT’s argument is that the value of McCain’s service is negated by his time as a POW, because he missed the real Vietnam experience. Seriously. This is possibly even stupider that the LA Times’s argument that McCain shouldn’t be President because he’s receiving a disability pension (for injuries received as a POW).

Meanwhile, fake war hero Tom Harkin argues that while it’s okay for a President to have some military experience, he really oughn’t have too much. Better none at all than too much.

Mark Steyn gives both efforts their due mockery. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Fake war hero Tom Harkin says there was no bloodbath after the US abandoned Vietnam.  (Via Instapundit.)

Change you can believe in

May 18, 2008

April 11:

Obama declines to criticize Carter on Hamas

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Friday it was not his place to criticize former President Jimmy Carter if he were to meet with Hamas, although Obama said he would not meet with the militant Palestinian group. . .

“I’m not going to comment on former President Carter. He’s a private citizen. It’s not my place to discuss who he shouldn’t meet with,” Obama told reporters while campaigning in Indianapolis.

April 16:

Obama criticizes ex-President Carter’s Hamas meeting

Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama on Wednesday disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter’s overtures toward Hamas, saying he would not talk to the Islamist group until it recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. . .

“That’s why I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and disagree with his decision to meet with Hamas,” Obama said.

I’d love to hear the spin for this one.

(Via LGF.)

The Seattle Times outdoes itself

May 18, 2008

Bruce Ramsey, an editorial writer for the Seattle Times’s “Editoral [sic] Board” writes at the Times’s editorial page blog:

The narrative we’re given about Munich is entirely in hindsight. We know what kind of man Hitler was, and that he started World War II in Europe. But in 1938 people knew a lot less. What Hitler was demanding at Munich was not unreasonable as a national claim (though he was making it in a last-minute, unreasonable way.) Germany’s claim was that the areas of Europe that spoke German and thought of themselves as German be under German authority. In September 1938 the principal remaining area was the Sudetenland.

Wow. Ramsey needs to read William Shirer if he actually believes this crap.

For the record, we knew everything we needed to know about Hitler in 1925, if only we had taken him at his word. In 1925, Mein Kampf spelled out everything he planned to do. Shirer writes:

For whatever other accusations can be made against Adolf Hitler, no one can accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest. The blueprint of the Third Reich, and, what is more, of the barbaric New Order which Hitler inflicted on conquered Europe in the triumphant years between 1939 and 1945 is set down in all its appalling crudity at great length and in detail between the covers of this revealing book.

Each of Hitler’s “bloodless” conquests that preceded the war was executed in the context of a campaign of terror by local Nazis and the threat of invasion by the massed armies of Germany. In the lead up to Munich, the West repeatedly bent over backward to agree to Hitler’s demands, but no such appeasement was ever enough. In the case of Czechoslovakia, Hitler first wanted Germany to take over the Sudetenland if a plebiscite approved, then without a plebiscite, then without a plebiscite and with an immediate military occupation. (The relevance of the immediate occupation is clear, as the Sudetenland contained all the defenses that Czechoslovakia had built to protect themselves from Germany. Its occupation meant the end of Czechoslovakia.) Hitler’s demands at Munich, which Ramsey thinks were reasonable, were in fact the most unreasonable in a long chain of unreasonable demands.

In the course of speaking out against speaking out against appeasement, Ramsey commits the same error as Neville Chamberlain; he believes that we can achieve peace with monsters through negotiation. Hitler and Ahmedinejad have something in common. In both cases, the man has said exactly what he plans to do, but the West cannot believe he really means it. (Moreover, there’s some similarity between the two plans, at least as regards the Jews.)

Ramsey ultimately negates himself, though, by claiming that Hitler’s demands were not unreasonable. If you can’t see what Hitler was doing with seventy years of hindsight, you’re not qualified to comment on the crises of today.

POSTSCRIPT: Ramsey has silently edited his column since it was blogged by Sound Politics and LGF. The earlier version was even more bizarre.

The most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, you know, a long time ago

May 17, 2008

Taylor Mali (whom I hadn’t heard of before, but will be watching for now) has the most insightful three minutes of comedy you’re likely to see:

(Via Ultrapastor, via the Corner.)

Tennessee State Patrol pays its officers’ fines

May 17, 2008

Glenn Reynolds notes an article reporting on Tennessee state troopers caught speeding by automatic traffic cameras. The cameras fail to extend “professional courtesy” the way most any human cop would.

Sounds like a story of poetic justice, right? But then there’s the last line of the article:

State Safety Department spokesman Mike Browning said Thursday the Patrol will pay the speeding fines.

So when the troopers break the law, the state pays their fines.  Yeah, that’ll show them.

How can you tell a political hack is lying?

May 17, 2008

As the old saying goes, when his lips are moving. Or, in the case of James Rubin, a Clinton administration official and sometime journalist, when he submits an op-ed to the Washington Post. Rubin accuses John McCain of a major flip-flop on Hamas:

I [Rubin] asked: “Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?”

McCain answered: “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it’s a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.”

For some Europeans in Davos, Switzerland, where the interview took place, that’s a perfectly reasonable answer. But it is an unusual if not unique response for an American politician from either party. And it is most certainly not how the newly conservative presumptive Republican nominee would reply today.

Given that exchange, the new John McCain might say that Hamas should be rooting for the old John McCain to win the presidential election. The old John McCain, it appears, was ready to do business with a Hamas-led government, while both Clinton and Obama have said that Hamas must change its policies toward Israel and terrorism before it can have diplomatic relations with the United States.

Rubin’s charge is clear. The old McCain “was ready to do business” with Hamas, in contrast to Clinton and Obama who say “Hamas must change its policies toward Israel and terrorism” first. Thus, Rubin is saying that McCain did not require that Hamas change its policies.

Well, firstly, the statement that “we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another” doesn’t necessarily support Rubin’s charge. After all, we dealt with Saddam, one way or another. In any case, any question about McCain’s meaning here is resolved by the very next exchange (which Rubin left out):

Rubin: So should we the United States be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?

McCain: I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are and see what ways we can engage them; and if there aren’t any then their may be a hiatus. But I think that part of the relationship is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts.

(Transcript from Ankle Biting Pundits, which also has video. (Via Instapundit.))

McCain said that there may be a “hiatus” in relations, depending on Hamas’s policies, and then said further that the relationship “is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts.” In other words, McCain did require that Hamas change its policies or face an interruption in relations, which is the same thing he says now. (Incidentally, Rubin notwithstanding, it’s not at all clear that this is Obama’s position.)

An honest mistake? Not likely. CNN’s Dana Bash reports:

CNN asked Jamie Rubin earlier today for the rest of the interview or at least for a transcript and he said he didn’t have it. He said he only had this particular quote he said that was e-mailed to him.

(Via the Corner.)

Oh, come on. He expects us to believe that he only has one paragraph from his own interview with McCain, and that one paragraph is the very one that, when taken out of context, can be twisted to support Rubin’s point. It’s much more plausible that he doesn’t want us to know the context, which would eviscerate his argument.

I’ve found that the Washington Post tends to be a little more honorable than most of the mainstream media, so perhaps they’ll run a correction. I won’t hold my breath, though.

UPDATE: Rubin attempts to defend himself on Geraldo Rivera’s show. Geraldo makes it easier, by leaving out the evidence of Rubin’s duplicity — allowing Rubin to characterize it himself. I don’t think his defense works with anyone who’s watched or read McCain’s actual words.  (Via Instapundit.)

As a bonus, Mike Huckabee (who won’t often be praised at Internet Scofflaw) has a good comment about Obama’s response to Bush’s anti-appeasement speech. “It’s the hit dog who hollers,” Huckabee said. After all, Bush’s speech never mentioned him by name. Obama should have shrugged it off, saying he’s not an appeaser. Instead, he fell back on the old “how dare you question my patriotism?”, implicitly conceding that Bush was referring to him.

Joss Whedon brings a new show to Fox

May 16, 2008

Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly (the best television show ever), has a new series called Dollhouse. It is scheduled to premiere on Fox in January.

One hopes that Fox will treat it better than Firefly.

Hugo Chavez is a class act

May 16, 2008

Interpol reports on its authentication of the captured FARC files implicating Chavez. Chavez responds by calling the Interpol chief names:

Chavez has denied providing the FARC material support, but did not address the issue directly on Thursday. Instead, he called Interpol’s secretary general, Ronald Noble, “a tremendous actor,” “Mr. Ignoble” and an “immoral police officer who applauds killers.”

An Obama embellishment

May 16, 2008

Andrew Malcolm at the LA Times catches Obama embellishing his tale about standing up to the Detroit auto makers.  (Via Instapundit.)  I’m not sure this is as embarrassing as Malcolm thinks, but it is another example of dishonest politics-as-usual from the man who his followers say will heal our souls.

Chavez threatens war over US base in Colombia

May 15, 2008

The AP reports that Chavez is threatening war if Colombia allows the US to build a base on its border with Venezuela.  Such a base has been floated as a possibility to replace the US base in Ecuador, which is scheduled to close next year.

Alas, I can’t find any evidence that this is a serious plan; every google hit is about people (mostly Chavez) complaining about the idea.  Too bad, it sounds like a great idea.

I suppose this is how Chavez looks strong; force Uribe to “back down” over something he never planned to do anyway.

Oink, oink

May 14, 2008

The farm bill, which passed the House today, gives $257 million to one particular company. I thought the Democrats were supposed to be against “corporate welfare.”  For that matter, I thought the Republicans (who voted 100-91 for the bill) were supposed to be against pork.


Washington initiative could stop red-light cameras

May 14, 2008

Washington’s ballot initiative I-985 is sheer genius. Supporters of red-light cameras (which we do not have in my state, thank heavens), claim that they are about safety. They are lying. Red-light cameras exist to generate revenue, and that’s all. We can see this from all the red-light cameras that are shut down for losing money. Also, they usually hurt safety, since municipalities can’t resist shortening yellow lights to generate more revenue.

That’s why I-985 is sheer genius. I-985 would allow red-light cameras, but would assign any revenue they generate to the state, thereby removing any financial incentive for them. If they were really about safety, this wouldn’t discourage municipalities from using them. So what’s happening?

[Wenatchee] Mayor Dennis Johnson says Tim Eyman’s red-light camera initiative could delay the cameras’ arrival in Wenatchee. . .

“Quite frankly I have no problem with the money being used locally for traffic-congestion projects,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “But there is no way the city of Wenatchee will become a tax collector for the state of Washington. It certainly is not acceptable from my point of view.” . . .

Johnson said if the council were to approve the cameras and I-985 passed, the city might stop using them because the money would not go completely toward local projects. He also said it is possible the council would wait to see what happens with Eyman’s initiative before it makes a decision. . .

In February officials in Aberdeen cited I-985 as the reason for dropping discussion on red-light cameras there.

(Via No Silence Here, via Instapundit.)

Professor fired for upholding academic standards

May 14, 2008

At Inside Higher Ed:

Other professors at Norfolk State, generally requesting anonymity, confirmed that following the 80 percent attendance rule would result frequently in failing a substantial share — in many cases a majority — of their students. Professors said attendance rates are considerably lower than at many institutions — although most institutions serve students with better preparation.

One reason that this does not happen (outside Aird’s classes) is that many professors at Norfolk State say that there is a clear expectation from administrators — in particular from Dean Sandra J. DeLoatch, the dean whose recommendation turned the tide against Aird’s tenure bid — that 70 percent of students should pass.

Aird said that figure was repeatedly made clear to him and he resisted it. Others back his claim privately. For the record, Joseph C. Hall, a chemistry professor at president of the Faculty Senate, said that DeLoatch “encouraged” professors to pass at least 70 percent of students in each course, regardless of performance. Hall said that there is never a direct order given, but that one isn’t really needed.

(Via Instapundit.)

More complaints about King memorial

May 14, 2008

More woes for the Martin Luther King memorial:

A federal investigation is under way into the organization raising funds for a memorial to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the nation’s capital, according to two people interviewed as part of the inquiry. . .

The scope of the inquiry is not clear, but it seems to focus on whether the foundation was obliged to follow federal procurement rules, including competitive bidding and so-called “Buy American” policies favoring domestic sources. The foundation is largely supported by private donations, but it received almost $10 million from the federal government in 2006.

(Via Instapundit.)

Plus, there’s continuing complaints about whether the design and manner of construction of the memorial are worthy of the slain civil rights icon.  Lei Yixin, the sculptor selected for the project who is best known for his official statues of Mao Zedong, probably didn’t help his case by defending Mao:

“He isn’t as bad as some people think,” the artist told [Cox Newspapers], while acknowledging that the man who led China from 1949 to 1976 “had made some mistakes.”

About 40 million of them.

(Previous post.)

Obama: Iraq using translators needed in Afghanistan

May 14, 2008

At a town meeting in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Obama claims that the Iraq war is hurting our efforts in Afghanistan, because it’s tying up all our Arabic translators. (Via Gateway Pundit, via Instapundit.) Observers found his argument a bit weak, since they don’t speak Arabic in Afghanistan. (The Arab-speaking world runs from Morocco to Iraq.)

Halfway through his statement, Obama realizes his mistake, but true to form, he cannot admit it:

Obviously, they may not speak Arabic, but the various dialects that they speak in Afghanistan — often times people will speak Urdu or Pashtun or whatever the languages are — they’re going to be needed in those areas and a lot of them have ended up being placed elsewhere.

(Transcript mine.) Unless he thinks that Urdu and Pashtun are dialects of Arabic, this makes no sense at all. In fact, Urdu is mostly closely related to Hindi, and there is absolutely no shortage of people who could translate between English and Hindi.

The pushback on this is fascinating. A commenter at Gateway Pundit claims that this wasn’t a gaffe; Obama was right because the foreign fighters in Afghanistan mostly speak Arabic. That’s an interesting point (although I think that many of the foreign fighters are Pakistani), but rather a silly one since we have very little to say to those people. Translators are for dealing with the native population, not the people we are trying to kill.

One wants to dismiss this as just a foolish blog commenter, but it turns out that he was simply parroting the talking points of the Obama campaign. Sheesh. They would do better just to admit the mistake and move on. It’s obvious from the video that he recognized his mistake and tried to cover, so why do they try after the fact to claim that he was right? Why are they so committed to Obama’s inerrancy over there?

POSTSCRIPT: Another Gateway Pundit commenter suggests that all Muslims speak Arabic since they’re taught to read the Koran. I’m no expert, but this seems very doubtful to me. First of all, I think it’s much more common to memorize the Koran than to learn to read it (literacy in Afghanistan is only 51% even among males). But even among those who do learn Arabic for the Koran, I’d be surprised if it gave them a working ability to communicate in modern Arabic on topics of interest to our troops, in such numbers that it would be worth sending translators.

FoldIt hits the big time

May 13, 2008

FoldIt, the protein-folding game by new CMU professor Adrien Treuille and colleagues of his at UW, gets linked by Instapundit. A longer story on FoldIt is at Science Daily.

Nothing gets past CNN

May 13, 2008

The crack reporting staff of CNN has reeled in a major scoop: Superdelegates could determine race between Clinton, Obama.

Liberalism ⊢ False

May 13, 2008

When faced with a conflict between Muslims and the disabled, what’s a poor liberal to do?

A St. Cloud State University student in a teacher-training program at Technical High School left the school in late April because he says he feared for the safety of his service dog. . .

Hurd said a student threatened to kill his service dog named Emmitt. The black lab is trained to protect Hurd when he has seizures. The seizures, which can occur weekly, are from a childhood injury. The dog has a pouch on his side that assists those who stop to help Hurd. . .

The threat came from a Somali student who is Muslim, according to Hurd, St. Cloud State and school district officials. The Muslim faith, which is the dominant faith of Somali immigrants, forbids the touching of dogs.

Hurd trained at Talahi Community School and Tech. He said his experience at Talahi was good. The Somali students there warmed to the dog and eventually petted him using paper to keep their hands off his fur, Hurd said. Things didn’t go as well at Tech, Hurd said. Students there taunted his dog, and he finally felt he had to leave after he was told a student made a threat. . .

Steffens said it is important to respect different cultures and the rights of disabled students. “I think this is part of the growth process when we become more diverse,” Steffens said.

(Via the Corner.)

What do we do when those “different cultures” and the rights of the disabled are in direct conflict? I’ll give you a hint: they didn’t expel the student who made the threat. (The school district decided that the incident was a “misunderstanding.”) Instead, they waived Hurd’s remaining 10 hours of training.

(Previous post.)

“You cheated!”

May 13, 2008

Rich Lowry explains the rules of this election:

Here are the Obama rules in detail: He can’t be called a “liberal” (“the same names and labels they pin on everyone,” as Obama puts it); his toughness on the war on terror can’t be questioned (“attempts to play on our fears”); his extreme positions on social issues can’t be exposed (“the same efforts to distract us from the issues that affect our lives” and “turn us against each other”); and his Chicago background too is off-limits (“pouncing on every gaffe and association and fake controversy”). Besides that, it should be a freewheeling and spirited campaign.

Glenn Reynolds quips, “They kind of remind me of Calvinball. Perhaps the election will end ‘Q to 12.'” You know, I think I’ve seen that result in a few Zogby polls. . .

Seriously though, Reynolds is on to something. It does seem like playing a game with a preschooler. Invariably, the preschooler will layer on additional rules (“you can’t move your feet” or “you can only use one hand”) until he can’t lose. The preschooler often gets away with it, too.

“We control this house, not the parliamentarian.”

May 13, 2008

At long last, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is due today to be called to account for his part in the falsified House floor vote of August 2, 2007. (Via Instapundit.) The Washington Post thinks this is no big deal:

The events of that day have been long forgotten by all but the most partisan of Republicans or the wonkiest of C-SPAN watchers.

Right, because no one else cares about the integrity of floor votes in the US House of Representatives.

(Previous post.)

The candidate will disavow any knowledge of your actions

May 12, 2008

Jake Tapper has an amusing post about Obama’s propensity to disavow his staff.  (Via the Corner.)

NYT op-ed muses on Obama as Muslim apostate

May 12, 2008

The New York Times has a strange op-ed by Edward Luttwak musing on the geopolitical implications of Barack Obama as a Muslim apostate:

As the son of the Muslim father, Senator Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law as it is universally understood. It makes no difference that, as Senator Obama has written, his father said he renounced his religion. Likewise, under Muslim law based on the Koran his mother’s Christian background is irrelevant.

Of course, as most Americans understand it, Senator Obama is not a Muslim. He chose to become a Christian. . . His conversion, however, was a crime in Muslim eyes; it is “irtidad” or “ridda,” usually translated from the Arabic as “apostasy,” but with connotations of rebellion and treason. Indeed, it is the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder (which the victim’s family may choose to forgive). With few exceptions, the jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools prescribe execution for all adults who leave the faith not under duress.

Luttwak goes on to muse that Obama’s status as an apostate would complicate American foreign policy, were he to be elected President, in part due to security considerations.

I don’t buy it. Any US President would be marked for death by the Islamic fundamentalists; there’s no difference there for Obama. The factor that will govern the success or failure of our foreign policy is whether or not we are viewed as strong and credible. That question (not his childhood biography) is what would complicate our foreign policy under an Obama administration.

ASIDE: Charles Johnson (via whom I found this piece) thinks he’s caught the Obama campaign in a lie here:

The Obama campaign, by the way, blatantly lied about Obama’s Muslim origins in a statement on January 23, 2007: . . .

To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago.

I think Johnson is being unfair. Muslim law may say that Obama was born a Muslim, but we don’t operate under Muslim law. (Indeed, this point is very important to Johnson!) In America, we choose our own faith. Absent any evidence that Obama was a practicing Muslim, I think it’s entirely fair for Obama to judge whether he ever accepted Islam’s precepts.

“Lifesaver” bottle makes water purification easy

May 12, 2008

Fox News reports on a terrific new water purification tool:

On the outside, it looks like an ordinary sports bottle. On the inside, there’s a miracle: an extremely advanced filtration system that makes murky water filled with deadly viruses and bacteria completely clean in just seconds.

The Lifesaver removes 99.999 percent of water-borne pathogens and reduces heavy metals like lead, meaning even the filthiest water can be cleaned — immediately.

It will be a boon to soldiers in the field, so it’s winning accolades from the military.

It also stands to revolutionize humanitarian aid. It could be the first weapon in the fight against disease after a natural disaster, like the one in Myanmar this week. . .

Outdoor enthusiasts may find it useful, but the Lifesaver is perfect for the military. The bottle is designed to “scoop and go,” so soldiers won’t have to carry the added weight of clean bottled water. They can pick some up out of any source and keep moving.

As an added bonus, the bottle can shoot a pressurized jet of water from any angle, which will be useful for washing wounds free of contaminants and debris.

There’s video at the link.

US relief mission lands in Burma

May 12, 2008

Over a week after the cyclone, the Burmese junta has finally allowed the US to begin delivering relief.  The junta is still blocking most foreign experts, the AP reports.

The state of Lebanon

May 12, 2008

Michael Totten has a Commentary piece on the state of affairs in Lebanon.  It’s not good, but not hopeless yet.  (Via Instapundit.)

An update from planet Time

May 12, 2008

Ed Morrissey predicted that the crackdown in Sadr City would give us a repeat of the “Basra narrative“; that is, report defeat until victory can no longer be denied. Right on cue, Time gives us our first report of defeat in Sadr City. A month ago, Time won the prize for obtuseness, continuing to report defeat in Basra long after everyone else had noticed that the Iraqi army had won. Their latest article is eerily similar to their reporting in Basra, enough so that for a moment I thought I was looking at an old article.

Anyway, Time reports that Sadr has won again by declaring a cease-fire he does not intend to honor:

Al-Sadr aide Sheik Salah al-Obeidi said the agreement, “stipulates that the Mahdi Army will stop fighting in Sadr City and will stop displaying arms in public. In return, the government will stop random raids against al-Sadr followers and open all closed roads that lead to Sadr City.” . . . [He] added: “This document does not call for disbanding al-Mahdi Army or laying down their arms.”

The fact that a leading figure in al-Sadr’s ranks announced the deal and pointedly rejected the Iraqi government’s key demand to disarm suggests that the cleric is still controlling the agenda tactically and politically despite the most serious challenge his power the Iraqi government could muster.

Meanwhile, Bill Roggio reports on the progress of the war by tracking the activities of the combatants, rather than by interpreting the hidden meanings of public statements.  (Via Instapundit.)  He notes that operations against Mahdi Army holdouts are continuing, as is the construction of a barrier around Sadr City:

US and Iraqi forces continue to strike at the Mahdi Army in Baghdad despite the agreement reached between the Iraqi government and the Mahdi Army late Friday. Seventeen Mahdi Army fighters were killed in northeastern Baghdad over the past 24 hours. . .

The cease-fire signed yesterday between the Sadrist movement, which runs the Mahdi Army, and the government of Iraq will not hinder the building of the concrete barrier or operations against the Mahdi Army, US military officials have stated.

“Seeing as how the Special Groups never listened to [Sadr] to begin with, I don’t see how things will change,” Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, told The Long War Journal on May 10. “We’re not stopping [construction on the barrier],” Stover said. “The barrier emplacement is ongoing and about 80 percent complete.”

Brigadier General James Milano, the Deputy Commanding General for Multinational Division Baghdad, confirmed the barrier is 80 percent complete and gave no indication the construction would be halted.

It sounds like our approach to the cease-fire is exactly what it should be: “you first.”  At the same time, the backbone of the Mahdi Army isn’t listening to Sadr.  On planet Time, this is a victory for Sadr.


May 11, 2008

Stanley Kurtz has a devastating piece on Jeremiah Wright’s magazine, Trumpet. (Via LGF.) Here’s the open:

To the question of the moment–What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?–I answer, Obama knew everything, and he’s known it for ages. Far from succumbing to surprise and shock after Jeremiah Wright’s disastrous performance at the National Press Club, Barack Obama must have long been aware of his pastor’s political radicalism. A careful reading of nearly a year’s worth of Trumpet Newsmagazine, Wright’s glossy national “lifestyle magazine for the socially conscious,” makes it next to impossible to conclude otherwise.

Wright founded Trumpet Newsmagazine in 1982 as a “church newspaper”–primarily for his own congregation, one gathers–to “preach a message of social justice to those who might not hear it in worship service.” So Obama’s presence at sermons is not the only measure of his knowledge of Wright’s views. Glance through even a single issue of Trumpet, and Wright’s radical politics are everywhere–in the pictures, the headlines, the highlighted quotations, and above all in the articles themselves. It seems inconceivable that, in 20 years, Obama would never have picked up a copy of Trumpet. In fact, Obama himself graced the cover at least once (although efforts to obtain that issue from the publisher or Obama’s interview with the magazine from his campaign were unsuccessful).

Obama flip-flops on meeting with Iran?

May 11, 2008

The New York Times reports that Obama has reversed his position on meeting with Iran without conditions. In typical form, however, the Obama campaign will not admit that his position has changed:

Susan E. Rice . . . a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic candidate, said that “for political purposes, Senator Obama’s opponents on the right have distorted and reframed” his views. Mr. McCain and his surrogates have repeatedly stated that Mr. Obama would be willing to meet “unconditionally” with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

But Dr. Rice said that this was not the case for Iran or any other so-called “rogue” state. Mr. Obama believes “that engagement at the presidential level, at the appropriate time and with the appropriate preparation, can be used to leverage the change we need,” Dr. Rice said. “But nobody said he would initiate contacts at the presidential level; that requires due preparation and advance work.”

(Emphasis mine.) Rice’s statement is completely clear: Obama never said it and McCain is lying. Charles Johnson ran down the facts, which turned out to be really easy. Obama made the statement unambiguously in a public debate (video at LGF):

QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since.

In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

COOPER: I should also point out that Stephen is in the crowd tonight.

Senator Obama?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.


(Emphasis mine.)  Unless Rice is trying to draw a distinction between “unconditionally” and “without precondition,” she’s the one being dishonest.  (ASIDE: It’s ridiculous to suggest that the idea that the above is a principle of the administration at all, much less its “guiding principle.”)

There’s also Obama’s own web site: “Diplomacy: Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions.”

The only question now is whether Rice gets disavowed.  I hope not; this flip-flop is actually good from a policy standpoint.

Iraqi forces move in on Mosul

May 11, 2008

The long-awaited battle for Mosul has begun:

In the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi army commander announced the start of a long anticipated offensive against Al Qaeda in Iraq’s last urban stronghold. . . Maj. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the commander of military operations in the northern city of Mosul, issued a statement on Saturday announcing Operation Lion’s Roar and Righteousness Battle against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Mosul was considered the last important urban staging ground for Al Qaeda in Iraqi and allied groups after losing strongholds in Baghdad and other areas during the U.S. troop “surge” last year.

Provincial forces are “undertaking a new phase of operations in Mosul to counter the terrorist threat there,” said Maj. John C. Hall, a military spokesman in Baghdad. “These operations build on operations that have been under way for the past several weeks, targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq cells.” . . .

In January, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised his military was preparing for a “decisive” showdown with insurgents in Mosul, about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. But no major offensives were mounted, even as Al Qaeda in Iraq tried to exert its influence in Iraq’s third-largest city through attacks and intimidation until now.

Bloomberg seeks to gag Madison

May 10, 2008

New York City’s lawsuit against a Georgia gun shop has become even more bizarre.  Mayor Bloomberg is asking the judge to issue a gag order barring any references to the Second Amendment.  (Via Instapundit.)

The Carter economy (mis-)remembered

May 10, 2008

I just listened to public radio’s This American Life do their special program on the housing crisis. The bread and butter for This American Life is the varied angsts of people who aren’t fortunate enough to live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, so this was an unusual foray into something resembling hard news. I suppose it was to be expected that it would be filled with risible economic misinformation.

At the end, the program made its obligatory comparison to the great economic crises of the 20th century, the Great Depression and the “malaise” of the Carter administration. Comparisons to the Depression are obligatory in any election year with a Republican incumbent and a slow economy, so it’s a telling sign of economic improvement if This American Life admits that comparison doesn’t work. Instead, they compare to the 1970s: “unemployment keeps going up, and things are really bad, unless you’re comparing to the Depression.” (Quote from memory, not verbatim.)

Well, let’s look at a few numbers, comparing today with January 1, 1981. Today’s unemployment rate is 5.0% (actually down, not up, from last month). That’s higher than the recent low of 3.8%, but much lower than 1981’s 7.5%. Today’s prime rate — the best interest rate available in the private sector — is 5%. In 1981 it was a whopping 20.5%. (That was the highest it’s been since 1948, this first year my source reports the data.) Today’s inflation rate is 3.98%. In 1981 it was 11.83%. (That was actually down a bit from its mid-1980 peak of 14.76%, a height unmatched since 1947.) If we do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to adjust for inflation, that means that the real prime rate today is about 1%, compared to about 9% in 1981. (Note: this calculation is probably not exactly right, due to differences in the way the data sets are reported, but it gives a sense of the orders of magnitude.)

In addition to the numbers, there was the untold suffering caused by Nixon’s unrepealed price controls and Carter’s “voluntary” price controls, most famously the gas lines. Gasoline may be expensive today, but you can buy it nearly anywhere without waiting. (You can thank Ronald Reagan for that.) Today’s economy looks nothing like Carter’s, thank heavens.

Obama adviser sacked for carrying out Obama’s policy

May 10, 2008

Exhibit A:

I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.

Exhibit B:

One of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy advisers disclosed yesterday that he had held meetings with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – prompting the likely Democratic nominee to sever all links with him.

(Via the Corner.)

POSTSCRIPT: As many have pointed out, Obama is confused about WW2. Roosevelt and Truman did not meet with our enemies. With a policy of unconditional surrender, there wasn’t much to talk about.

Modern socialism

May 10, 2008

Matthew Yglesias complains about Victor Davis Hanson referring to Obama’s “socialist view of government.” (Strangely, though, he chooses to direct his attack at Glenn Reynolds.) Yglesias’s point is that Obama doesn’t advocate governmental ownership of the means of production, so it’s not fair to call him a socialist.

I can appreciate his point, in light of the regrettable tendency of our political culture to rob words of their meaning (e.g., “liberal”). Nevertheless, I think that Obama — and today’s left in general — does advocate a socialist view of government. Oh sure, he’s willing to let people continue to hold the title to their land, capital, and labor (after all, how else can we tax them for it?), but the government will tell them how to use it. The government doesn’t need to own the means of production, as long as they can control it.

Moreover, let’s not forget how much of the means of production (and distribution) the government does already own. Most of the highways, airports and mass transit, all of the airwaves, most of the schools, most sanitation services, the Postal Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and an enormous amount of land. I think it’s safe to say that Obama would privatize very little of that.

Obama not a socialist? Technically, perhaps, but it’s a distinction without much of a difference.

Sadr blinks?

May 9, 2008

McClatchy reports:

Followers of rebel cleric Muqtada al Sadr agreed late Friday to allow Iraqi security forces to enter all of Baghdad’s Sadr City and to arrest anyone found with heavy weapons in a surprising capitulation that seemed likely to be hailed as a major victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

In return, Sadr’s Mahdi Army supporters won the Iraqi government’s agreement not to arrest Mahdi Army members without warrants, unless they were in possession of “medium and heavy weaponry.”

The agreement would end six weeks of fighting in the vast Shiite Muslim area that’s home to more than 2 million residents and would mark the first time that the area would be under government control since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. . . It also would be a startling turnaround in fortunes for Maliki, who’d been widely criticized for picking a fight with Sadr’s forces, first in the southern port city of Basra and then in Sadr City.

(Via Instapundit.)

It looks like this may be over before the media can employ their defeat narrative.

Commission unhappy with King statue model

May 9, 2008

The Washington Post reports that the US Commission of Fine Arts is unhappy with changes that have been made to the design of a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. intended for the national mall. (Via the Corner.) I’m not conversant with the artistic jargon in their complaint, but looking at the picture, I can understand this complaint:

Its general design was approved by the seven-member federal commission [in 2006], based on drawings of the Stone of Hope that showed a more subtle image of King, from the waist up, as if he were emerging organically out of the rock, the commission said. . . Commission members said the sculpture “now features a stiffly frontal image, static in pose, confrontational in character,” Luebke wrote.

However, what truly resonates with me is an older complaint also mentioned in the article.  This statue of the premiere civil-rights leader of 20th-century America is being fashioned in . . . China.  Not only that, but the sculptor’s most famous previous work is a monument to Mao Zedong, the infamous Chinese dictator who murdered tens of millions.

iPS cells dominate stem cell research

May 9, 2008

In the few months since they were discovered, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have started to dominate the stem-cell research scene. Not only are they free of ethical concerns, but they are cheaper and easier to use. Yuval Levin explains.

It will be very interesting to watch the development of the political debate in light of these advances.

Stand and Deliver, the postlude

May 8, 2008

Ellen at Armchair Commentary discusses her five favorite teachers in the movies. (Via Instapundit.) I agree with her winner, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) in To Sir, with Love. My second favorite, which she ranks third, is Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) in Stand and Deliver. Stand and Deliver is particularly compelling, because it is based on a true story. (90% truth and 10% drama, Escalante says.) What I didn’t know, until I read the comments, was the sad postlude to the story.

The events of Stand and Deliver took place in 1982. In 1987, the year before the movie came out, Escalante’s math enrichment program reached its peak.  After that year, the program started to face difficulties, at the hands of the teachers’ union, jealous colleagues, and a new principal.  (The old principal, Henry Gradillas, had spearheaded efforts to improve academic standards at Garfield High School.  In 1987 he took a sabbatical to finish his doctorate, hoping afterward to return to Garfield.  Instead he was picked to supervise asbestos removal.)  Escalante left Garfield in 1991, and his handpicked successor, Angelo Villavicencio, left the following year.

Within a few years, the percentage of students passing the AP exam dropped into single digits.  In absolute terms, 11 students passed the exam in 1996, down from a peak of 85 in 1987.  That year, Villavicencio offered to return to Garfield to rebuild its once-proud program.  His offer was declined.

In the end, Stand and Deliver isn’t just the story of how inner-city education can succeed; it’s also the story of why it so often doesn’t.

Al-Masri captured

May 8, 2008

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the latest head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, has been captured in Mosul. (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: US officials aren’t so sure.