Friday, October 04, 2002

The Krugman Truth Squad continues it's public service with a fine dissection of the Prof's latest NYT column.

However, there a couple of howlers to be noted.

In the first paragraph he says, "Let's put politics aside for once, and review where we are and what we should be doing." When you finish laughing, remember that this was written by a guy who for partisan political interests has yet to acknowledge the the present economy is growing faster, with less unemployment, than he believed possible just six years ago. See Squad report #43.

The other howler is the part of his economic plan that would extend unemployment benefits. First, as we just pointed out, unemployment is not high currently–in fact, it's lower than Krugman is on record as saying was possible. Moreover, as any labor economist will tell you, the surest way to keep unemployment high is to keep paying people to take their time looking for work. In short, this perscription is right out of the liberal playbook of yesteryear. We guess that "straightforward text book economics" he refers to is from a 1950's text book.
I think I'm regressing but I do find this headline to be funny:

New Moon for Uranus

Lileks, in fine form as always, dissects Wellstone's speech on Iraq.

As General Wes Clark, former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe has recently noted, a premature go-it-alone invasion of Iraq "would super-charge recruiting for Al Qaida."

And a successful conversion of the Republican Guard to bone-flecked Thug Jam might super-charge defections from the same. Ah, but that’s an assertion, backed up by nothing - if I’m going to be persuasive, I’d best learn from the experts, and salt the accusation with weasal-words: there are questions about whether al-Qaeda could attract new recruits when the most salient characteristic of America’s opponents is a buzzing cloud of corpse-flies.
...
Finally, our approach toward Iraq must be consistent with international law and the framework of collective security developed over the last 50 years or more.

Kuwait. Bosnia. Falkland Islands. East Timor. Afghanistan. Tibet. Vietnam. Cambodia. Rwanda. Angola. Nicaragua. Korea. Kashmir. Sudan. Somalia. Ethiopia. Haiti. Iran-Iraq. Lebanon. Israel.

It’s astonishing that the framework of collective security still stands, given the number of bullet holes it has.
...
Our response will be far more effective if Saddam sees the whole world arrayed against him.

The whole world shaking a piece of paper, or one SpecOps soldier burning a single red spot on your forehead: which would you prefer?
From ScrappleFace:

NJ Dems Hire Surrogate Voters, Court Approves Tactic

(2002-10-04) -- New Jersey Democrats can stay home or at work on election day because the Democrat party has hired surrogate voters in each precinct to vote for Frank Lautenberg for Senate.

"It's such an inconvenience for our party members to actually go to the polls," said Governor Jim McGreevey. "We wanted to make it easy for them. So, we've hired unemployed and homeless people to cast their ballots for them."

Although the tactic is "technically" illegal, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that it is permissable on the grounds that laws shouldn't stand in the way of offering Democrats a choice. The court ruling said it is important to uphold the two-party system.

Republican lawyers said they'll appeal the ruling, and are still scouring the Constitution for evidence of the "two-party system".
Radley Balko delivers a big Happy 25th Birthday wish to that great posterboy of bureaucratic sloth and uselessness, no not the UN, the DOE.
This is pretty cool. Sharp said its researchers in Britain have developed a flat-panel display for either two- or three-dimensional viewing that does not require special glasses. Unfortunately the article is sort of sparse with details on how it works. It does say the 3D only works when you look at it from a sweet spot.
The Nanny State gets serious. In England parents will face jail under proposals in the new Mental Health Bill if they refuse to drug their children diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I already think the number of children parents volunteer to put on heavy doses of Ritalin or other mood-altering drugs is frightening, having the state force parents to drug their children because they are outside the 'norms' of behaviour is truly 1984 territory. One can only guess how long such legislation makes it to these shores. There are already reports of local schools forcing parents to put their kids on Ritalin. Can you say Patrick McMurphy? (via Number 2 Pencil)
This from Kimberly Swygert at Number 2 Pencil. I love the line by Hitchens, I don't know how I missed it until now.


"When the Taliban swept to power in the mid-1990s, women were barred from working and encouraged to remain indoors at all times. Girls were forbidden education, and hundreds of schools shut down countrywide....

Nowadays, Afghanistan's schools are overflowing. New students arrive on Zarghuna's doorstep every morning. "Poor families, rich families, everyone is sending their girls to us," explains Zarghuna's principal, Alia Hafezee. "It's like everyone woke up and realized their children can't make their lives better without knowledge."

The number of new arrivals at schools countrywide shocked the international aid community...Based on 1996 enrollment figures of 900,000 students countrywide, UNICEF prepared 1.2 million back-to-school packs consisting of notebooks, pencils, erasers, and other necessities. Current enrollment, split equally between boys and girls in the urban areas, is estimated at 3 to 3.2 million, with tens of thousands more waiting to start classes in September."

We can thank George W. Bush as well, for being the first U.S. president, as Christopher Hitchens put it, to "bomb a country out of the stone age".
Here are some scary accounts from Maryland where a shooter or shooters were able to pick off five people one by one,
Here's a story about an experimental system which uses highly magnified sunlight for surgery. Do you think these guys burned a lot of ants with magnifying glasses when they were kids? They also point out that it is not completely reliable because, well, the sun isn't out all the time. "I'm sorry, we lost Mr. Johnson on the table because of rain."
PDF inhibitors, a new class of antibiotics begin human trials this fall. PDF is one of a group of enzymes that are essential for the life of the microbe. Blocking the action of PDF jams a microbe's cellular machinery and causes it to die.
Also in Reason, Sara Rimensnyder has a fine takedown of Ann Coulter, who though I find occasionally amusing (much in the same way I found Andrew Dice Clay occasionally amusing), I can't stomach for long periods.
Jacob Sullum has a good piece in Reason on the idiocy of US farm subsidies, protectionist tariffs, etc and the damage it does to third-world economies. Maybe we should insist all public officials read Ricardo (David, not Ricky) before taking their oath of office.

In a new report, Oxfam shows how the injustice of U.S. cotton subsidies contributes to poverty. "Cotton subsidies in the U.S.," it argues, "have been the single biggest force driving down world prices."

That's because the government's direct payments, cheap loans, and other forms of assistance enable U.S. farmers to sell cotton for less than it costs to produce. "In an economic arrangement bizarrely reminiscent of Soviet state planning principles," Oxfam says, "the value of subsidies provided by American taxpayers to the cotton barons of Texas and elsewhere in 2001 exceeded the market value of output by around 30 per cent."

This absurd arrangement victimizes not only U.S. taxpayers but also struggling producers in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, and Brazil (which recently filed a complaint against U.S. cotton subsidies with the World Trade Organization). Farmers in Burkina Faso can produce cotton at one-third of the American cost, but that competitive advantage is eroded by the subsidies.

Oxfam estimates that Burkina Faso lost 1 percent of GDP in 2001-02 because of cotton subsidies; for Mali and Benin, the losses were 1.7 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively. "The economic losses inflicted by the U.S. cotton subsidy program far outweigh the benefits of [American] aid," Oxfam notes. In effect, the U.S. government is robbing poor farmers, then deigning to give some of their money back under the guise of charity.
So instead of disbanding terrorist supporting organizations operating within Egypt, the Egyptian government has just disbanded a group that had promoted peace with Israel. And we are giving them billions in aid because.....?
Why JFK was President and Teddy will never be (from Lucianne.com):

"This nation is prepared to present its case against the Soviet threat to peace, and our own proposals for a peaceful world, at any time and in any forum -- in the Organization of American States, in the United Nations, or in any other meeting that could be useful -- without limiting our freedom of action."

-- President John F. Kennedy, Cuban missile crisis, address to the nation, Oct. 22, 1962

"I'm waiting for the final recommendation of the Security Council before I'm going to say how I'm going to vote."

-- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Iraq crisis, address to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Sept. 27, 2002
To those of you who still believe Bush is an idiot:

"George W. Bush will win both at home and at the United Nations. Let stray doubters cease their doubting. You can love George Bush or you can hate George Bush, but after watching him win at Strategery, only a foolish and bitter person blinded by partisan hatred could still believe Bush is a dope."
Peter Beinart in TNR explains why attacking Iraq, contrary to the beliefs of left and right conspiracy types, is not about oil.

Before the Gulf war, Iraq produced as much as 3.5 million barrels of oil per day. Some analysts think that with significant foreign investment, Iraq might eventually manage six million barrels--enough to substantially lessen American dependence on Saudi Arabia and perhaps even destroy OPEC, which keeps oil prices artificially high.

But this just raises another logical problem: If all the Bush administration wanted from Iraq were those six million daily barrels of crude--if all its talk about nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons was merely a smoke screen--why wouldn't the United States simply lift sanctions? Attacking Saddam, after all, entails huge financial costs, risks American lives, and could prompt civil war in precisely those parts of Iraq where oil companies want to drill. Lifting sanctions would far more easily produce the same result--since it is sanctions that have partially prevented Iraq from importing the equipment that it needs to boost oil production. Saddam has made it clear that he'd love to pump more oil--if the world would let him use the revenue to buy palaces and Scuds. In 1995, for instance, Baghdad announced that if sanctions were lifted it would enter into agreements with foreign oil companies aimed at boosting production to between six and seven million barrels per day--roughly the same amount analysts envision under a post-Saddam regime.

And while Russian, French, and Italian oil companies would have the inside track in cutting deals with Saddam if sanctions fell, that's largely because Washington's anti-Saddam hard-line has kept American oil companies from investing in Iraq. Saddam's government, for its part, has said it would be perfectly happy to partner with American oil companies. And even under sanctions, it has knowingly sold substantial quantities of oil--through middlemen--to U.S. energy behemoths like ChevronTexaco and Valero.

In fact, it isn't war that the American oil industry has been lobbying for all these years; it's the end of sanctions. As late as October 2001, after Bush administration hawks had already begun talking about war with Iraq, the American Petroleum Institute was still focused on trying to lift sanctions.
Here is a good piece by Max Boot on the history of Pre-emptive strikes.
Seems that a majority of the delegates at the "African and African Descendants World Conference Against Racism" voted to expel all non-Blacks from the conference. That is just too funny. You know its a bad sign when the Cuban delegation (who opposed the vote) is the voice of reason. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing this out.
Finally an electric car that isn't just a fancy golf cart. It is capable of going 180 mph!
Why are people like this always the ones running for office as Libertarians?

I can see the bumper stickers now: Vote for Papa Smurf!
Wisdom of Homer Simpson

Bart: I was wondering. How important is it to be popular?
Homer: I'm glad you asked, son. Being popular is the most important thing in the world!
Bart: Like, sometimes, you could do stuff that you think is pretty bad, so other kids will like you better?
Homer: You're not talking about killing anyone, are you?
Bart: No.
Homer: Are you!
Bart: No!
Homer: Then run along, you little scamp!
Looks like we have quiety put in place many of the forces we would need to attack Iraq under the cover of "military excersizes":

"You'll continue to see little pieces move here and there," said one senior defense official. "If the decision is made to attack, there will be one big rush to close out what's missing. But it's going to take days and weeks, not months."
It's that time of year again, for the annual joke prize from the Nobel committee, yes it's Peace Prize time again. They have chosen the winner from 156 nominees and will reveal the winners name next week. Last years winner was Kofi Annan along with the U.N., that tireless bureaucratic whiner for inaction followed by threats of less inaction if more countries aren't nicer to each other, punctuated by many large and expensive boondoggles where they discuss how horrible the U.S. and Israel are. Other previous notable winners include that prince of Peace: Yasser Arafat. So who could this years winner be? Robert Mugabe, for his work in affirmative action? Kim Jong Il, for his apology to Japan and S.Korea for kidnapping and killing large numbers of their citizens and his commitment to a socialist paradise on earth, so strong that he is willing to let half his population starve to bring it about? Gerhard Schroeder for his spineless election posturing er, principled opposition to the US? Or maybe they'll just give another one to ol' Yasser for his continued resistance to Zionist terror.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Stanley Kurtz has a good piece on the reasons for invading Iraq.

Let me tell you the truth about our reasons for invading Iraq. We are not invading Iraq to protect the credibility of the United Nations. We are not invading Iraq to bring democracy to the Arab world. We are not invading Iraq to save the Iraqi people from poverty and oppression. The reason we are invading Iraq is to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining nuclear weapons.
...
Saddam has a nearly 30-year history of defying the logic of deterrence. Saddam regularly and radically miscalculates the dangers of his aggressive actions. He is ignorant of the outside world, and punishes or kills those who come to him with bad news. He is apt to seek revenge (as in the assassination attempt on former president Bush), even when revenge could cost him his life. And Saddam is possessed by a driving wish to dominate the Middle East. He also holds a vision of taking down his enemies when he goes, if go he must, with a terrible act of destruction that will permanently impress his "glory" into the pages of history.
...
There are two reasons why Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons: First, because he may pass them to terrorists, or his own intelligence agents, for use against the United States. Second, because once in possession of nuclear weapons, Saddam will move to take control of the Gulf and subject America to nuclear blackmail. Some believe that Saddam's fear of nuclear retaliation will make him hold back from another move on Kuwait. But Saddam sees the matter in reverse. If he takes Kuwait before we can stop him, he will force the United States to decide between ceding him control of the region's oil supplies, and an invasion that would surely result in a nuclear strike by Saddam against either our troops, our cities, the Saudi oil fields, or all of these. Thus threatened, the United States may indeed be forced to back down and grant Saddam control of the world's oil. This is why Saddam has sacrificed all in pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Bush Seeks U.N. Support for 'U.S. Does Whatever It Wants' Plan



UNITED NATIONS—In an address before the U.N. General Assembly Monday, President Bush called upon the international community to support his "U.S. Does Whatever It Wants" plan, which would permit the U.S. to take any action it wishes anywhere in the world at any time.

"As a shining beacon of freedom and democracy, America has inspired the world," said Bush in his 25-minute address. "With its military might, it has kept the peace and bravely defended the unalienable [sic] rights of millions around the globe. In this spirit, I call upon the world's nations to support my proposal to give America unrestricted carte blanche to remove whatever leaders, plunder whatever resources, and impose whatever policies it deems necessary or expedient." [more] (from the Onion)
Fine post by Cinderella Bloggerfella on Idolitarian Metaphors.

Green idiotarians are happy that subsistence farming ensures that wretchedly poor people are forced to commune with Nature. But what I really mean by this metaphor is something else. Idiotarians want to apply 'biodiversity' to the political systems of the world. The idiotarian is terrified that liberal democracy will eventually become the only form of government in the world and will do anything to stop this disaster happening. The Third World is seen as a big safari park where endangered species like military dictators and theocratic tyrants can roam wild and be free to express their instincts to torture, starve and oppress their own people. This is not immoral, just different, just 'their way which we don't understand and have no right to judge'. Whilst idiotarians would generally claim they don't actually like many of these Third World regimes, they accept as a given Rule One of anti-Americanism: any system is superior to the USA. (read the whole thing at the link above).
Some fine British dissing of Clinton, specifically his speech to the Labour Party, by Hitchens

Since I had the pleasure of watching Clinton in office every day for eight years, I hope to be excused if I was not impressed by seeing him again. How it all came back to me - the tongue ruthlessly roving the cheek; the lip-biting to indicate sincerity; the husky voice; the abject self-deprecation; the incurable habit of speaking for 20 minutes longer than he should. Most amusing, though, was how he made his own foreign policy sound more statesmanlike and judicious than it had ever been.

There probably was not a delegate present who would not have been primed to laugh at a George Dubya "cowboy" joke. Yet Mr Clinton's most notorious foreign policy action was to launch a flight of cruise missiles into the outskirts of the city of Khartoum, destroying the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory on the pretence (now acknowledged to have been false) it was a chemical weapons facility. How could such an atrocity have been committed?

Because Mr Clinton did not even demand an inspection, did not consult the UN or Congress, and over-ruled Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA and State Department.

One hopes he was not influenced by Miss Monica Lewinsky appearing before a grand jury that week. One also shudders to recall the speech he gave in defence of the attack was taken from a speech by Michael Douglas in bad movie The American President. It is the nearest America has come to a "wag the dog" moment, and the most cowboyish piece of presidential thuggery.


and by the Times of London editorial page:

America once had founding founders. It now has shameless sons. In a spellbinding performance of extraordinary audacity, Bill Clinton did not so much rewrite history as transport it to a parallel universe. A serial philanderer, unprincipled operator and habitual rogue managed to repackage himself as a cross between an Old Testament prophet, college professor and international statesman. A period in office that owed more to the Dukes of Hazard than West Wing was presented as if it were Mr Smith goes to Washington.

A man who exploited the Democratic Party much like a delegate might use a Blackpool tram — as a means of moving from A to B but with no other sense of responsibility for it — wrapped himself in the poetry of progressive politics. The comeback kid became the throwback kid in a triumph for charm over credibility, revisionism over record and chutzpah over substance.

The breadth of Mr Clinton’s reach was amazing. He claimed credit for the liberation of Kosovo, an enterprise in which he had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Tony Blair, as if it were the storming of the Normandy beaches. He pronounced the merits of the “integrated global community” that he intended to construct between lucrative lectures. He took on the cause of Africa as if that continent were some sort of consolation prize for no longer being able to exercise power in his own country. He talked about the affairs of Nigeria, then Rwanda, then Mozambique, then South Africa. For understandable reasons he decided to leave Ugandan affairs alone.


(via Lucianne)
Here is a great piece on the benefits of globalization:

"The Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. just released a study documenting a significant reduction in poverty over the last 20 years. Thanks to faster growth in low-income countries, the share of the world population living in poverty declined, remarkably, from 44% in 1980 to 13% in 2000. Much of the gain occurred in Asia, the result of increased international trade and market-based economic reform. Sadly, little progress was made in the economically repressed countries of Africa."

...

"Over the last 40 years, improved farming techniques have lead to an expansion of food production. Globally, daily calories per person have increased 24% since the early 1960s. In the developing world, daily calories per person increased 39% over the same period, reaching almost 2700 calories per person per day by 1999."

"Advances in medicine, improved public health policies, and greater food supplies have lowered infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy. In the 1950s, 178 children out of every 1000 live births died before reaching their first birthday in developing countries. By the late 1990s, the infant mortality rate in these countries declined to 64. Life expectancy for people living in low-income countries increased from 44 years in 1960 to 59 years in 1999."

"Critics of globalization point to child labor as evidence that greater world trade is harmful. However, the use of child labor is the result of poverty, not international trade. Child labor declines as a country's income increases. As trade promotes economic growth, globalization will result in less child labor over time. In 1960, children comprised 32% of the labor force in low-income countries. Forty years later, following the massive expansion in international trade, child labor has declined to 19% of the workforce of low-income countries. "
Quote of the Day Part Deux

"Nobody pays a lot of attention to what the former vice president said."

--Ari Fleischer in a response to a question about Gore's recent Bush bashing.
Quote of the Day

"I've gained so much weight I couldn't get it off."

--Al Gore, responding to a reporter who asked why he wasn't wearing his wedding ring (he actually could get it off but just couldn't get it back on).
Those who question the inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil" should really read this article. I never knew this but as recently as the 1980's, North Korea would kidnap people from the shores of Japan and hold them prisoner for their papers and for practice speaking Japanese. If that's not evil, I don't know what is.
Wisdom of Homer Simpson

Marge: Lisa, Bart, what did you two learn in Sunday School today?
Lisa: The answers to deep theological questions.
Bart: Yeah, among other things, apes can't get into heaven.
Homer: What? Those cute little monkeys? That's terrible. Who told you that?
Bart: Our teacher.
Homer: I can understand how they wouldn't let in those wild jungle apes, but what about those really smart ones who live among us? Who roller-skate and smoke cigars?
An interesting column on possible Iraqi links to McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. (via Lucianne)
World's Funniest Joke Revealed After Scientists Study Humor

Hatfield, England, Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- British scientists
revealed what they say is the world's funniest joke, following the
largest study ever of humor.
People from around the world were asked to rate on the
Internet and to submit examples of their own.
The so-called LaughLab yearlong experiment was carried out by
psychologist Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire in
Hatfield, England, in collaboration with the British Association
for the Advancement of Science. It attracted more than 40,000
jokes.
The winning joke had to appeal to most people around the
world and overcome cultural and social differences. It was
submitted by psychiatrist Gurpal Gosall, 31, from Manchester in
northern England. Here it is:


``A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when
one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing,
his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his
cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the
operator: `My friend is dead! What can I do?' The operator, in a
calm soothing voice says: `Just take it easy. I can help. First,
let's make sure he's dead.' There is a silence, then a shot is
heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: `OK, now
what?' ''

The story makes us feel superior, reduces the emotional
impact of an anxiety-provoking event and surprises us with
incongruity -- all key elements in Wiseman's estimation of a good
joke, he said on the LaughLab Web site.
``This joke is interesting because it works across many
different countries, appeals to men and women and young and old
alike,'' Wiseman said. ``Many of the groups submitted received
higher ratings from a certain groups of people, but this one had
real universal appeal.''
The research found that jokes containing 103 words were the
funniest and jokes mentioning animals, especially ducks, were
funnier than other jokes.

--Mark Hughes in London


I dunno, maybe it's me, but I only found that joke mildly amusing. You can see more results at the Laughlab website.
Who's says socialized medicine stinks.

Women to get sex toys on the NHS

"Women suffering sexual problems ranging from a general lack of desire to severe genital deformity are being prescribed vibrators on the National Health Service to help them rediscover their sex drive.

One of Britain's most eminent consultants in sexual dysfunction has also begun regularly referring his patients to a London sex shop for advice on exploring their bodies - with the range of sex toys available."

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Bigwig discusses potty-training using 'toddler crack' (ie M&M's) as a reward. Very funny.
The Wisdom of Homer Simpson

Homer: The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy to be a man. Let's see. Don't tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you're sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do. What else...
Quotes for the day:

""All our lives we fought against exalting the individual, against the elevation of the single person, and long ago we were over and done with the business of a hero, and here it comes up again: the glorification of one personality. This is not good at all." --Vladimir Lenin, as quoted in "Not by Politics Alone"

"Comrades, we must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all." --Nikita Khrushchev February 25, 1956 20th Congress of the Communist Party

"The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalistic concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute for them the folk community, rooted in the soil and bound together by the bond of its common blood." --Adolph Hitler, quoted in Hitler, A Study in Tyranny, by Alan Bullock

"There is the great, silent, continuous struggle: the struggle between the State and the Individual; between the State which demands and the individual who attempts to evade such demands. Because the individual, left to himself, unless he be a saint or hero, always refuses to pay taxes, obey laws, or go to war." --Benito Mussolini




"We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society." --Hillary Clinton Rodham, 1993
According to this article in the Washington Post, the blonde study is a hoax. Thank god. What would I do in a world without shiksa goddesses?
A detailed analysis of a despicable and grossly inaccurate article about the Middle East in the October issue of National Geographic. (via Lucianne.com)
According to Jonathan Rees, professor of dermatology at the University of Edinburgh, natural blondes will become extinct by 2202 because the 'blonde' gene is recessive. They say too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last beyond the next two centuries. I guess Seven of Nine used the Borg equivalent of Clairol.
One wonders why the German birth rate is so low.
Salmon Rushdie defends Michel Houellebecq in the WaPo.

Now, however, Houellebecq has been brought to court in France by four Muslim bodies -- the largest mosques in Paris and Lyon, the National Federation of French Muslims and the World Islamic League -- accused of "making a racial insult" and of "inciting religious hatred."

The gravity of this suit against a multi-award-winning writer widely acknowledged as one of Europe's finest, if least comfortable, newer talents obliges all good men, as the saying goes, to come to the aid of the party.
...
The accusations against him turn out to be ridiculously slight. Last year, in an interview published in Lire magazine, Houellebecq called Islam "the dumbest religion" and compared the Koran unfavorably with the Bible, which "at least is beautifully written because the Jews have a heck of a literary talent." This generalization may raise one or two non-Muslim hackles: What, all Jews? And are the Christian authors of the New Testament deliberately excluded from this ungainly compliment?

But if an individual in a free society no longer has the right to say openly that he prefers one book to another, then that society no longer has the right to call itself free. Presumably any Muslim who said that the Koran was much better than the Bible would then also be guilty of an insult, and absurdity would rule.
...
His accusers claim to be acting in part out of their concern that in the post-9/11 atmosphere, Houellebecq's utterances and writings will increase antagonism to Muslims in the West. In this they have miscalculated badly. It is not Houellebecq but their assault upon the writer that runs the risk of creating that backlash in these sensitive times. So this is a case that both sides have already lost.

Michel Houellebecq's reputation has been damaged, and his Islamic adversaries have shown themselves, yet again, to be opponents of the rough-and-tumble world of free speech. Houellebecq's lawyers argued with considerable force that were the judgment to go against their client, the law of blasphemy would have effectively been reintroduced. As we await the judge's ruling, we can only hope that he does not take so dreadfully retrograde a step.



I must admit to a fair amount of Schadenfreude about the Torricelli situation in NJ. The Dems nominated him despite the stink rolling off the 'Torch' in waves, but when they realized the voters might actually care about the fact that he is a corrupt, noxious creep, are now desperately trying to get around NJ election rules to push in a replacement. Lileks once again perfectly reflects my sentiments but with much gooder writing.

If the law is upheld, then “democracy” is thwarted. Really? There will be an election with a ballot whose names are the ones chosen by voters in the primary. Sounds “democratic” to me. After all, Toricelli didn’t quit because he discovered an eight-pound neoplasm in his small intestine, or had his brain turned into a fine red mist when a marble-sized meteorite from the Oort cloud struck him in a 7-11 parking lot. He’s not even under indictment. He resigned because there was such a bad odor coming from him and his campaign that actual wavy cartoon stink lines were coming off him, and the cameras were starting to pick it up. He was going to lose. So he quit.

I’ve never seen anything like this - you have to step back and consider what this means. A guy knows he’s going to lose, so the party yanks his short hairs until he quits and hands the campaign to a more attractive candidate. We’re used to guys resigning because they were caught with their hand in a pocket or their dinghy moored in a non-marital port, so Toricelli’s resignation seemed to fit that pattern. But you had to remind yourself that he hasn’t been indicted. He had some really, really, really bad publicity, and was shown the door when his poll numbers started chewing the basement floor.
...
I prefer clear laws with regrettable results to judicial legerdemain in the service of “higher causes,” the nature of which vary from person to person. You can always endeavor to change the law through elected representatives who serve at the electorate’s pleasure. Letting the courts allow a hand-picked candidate who did not run in the primary to replace a primary winner who screwed up his campaign does not strike me as, ahem, genuine democracy. It's playground logic: I call do-overs. Nor would this situation be acceptable and genuine simply because it allowed for a “spirited campaign” to follow. (The previous campaign was unspirited and unenlightening in the Times’ eyes, because it consisted mostly of the challenger pointing out that he wasn’t a greasy ball of vicious, solipsistic mendacity like You Know Who.) If the government decided to have the most boring candidate shot in the streets so the other candidates could have a spirited campaign about his assassination, I wouldn't see this as an improvement.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Mark Steyn explains the different factions of the Democratic party with regards to the war:

Faction A (the David Bonior option) is openly anti-war despite the party's best efforts to turn off their microphones. (Congressman Bonior appeared on TV live from Baghdad yesterday.)

Faction B (the Paul Wellstone option) is also anti-war but trying hard not to have to say so between now and election day in November.

Faction C (the Al Gore option) was pro-war when it was Bill Clinton in charge but anti-war now there's a Republican rallying the troops.

Faction D (the Hillary Rodham option) can go either way but remains huffily insistent that to ask them to express an opinion would be to "politicize" the war.

Faction E (the John Kerry option) can't quite figure which position alienates least of their supporters and so articulates a whole all-you-can-eat salad bar of conflicting positions and then, in a weird post-modern touch, ostentatiously agonizes over the "inherent risks" in each of them.

Faction F (the Jay Rockefeller option) thinks the priority right now should be to sit around holding inquiries into why the government ignored what it knew about al-Qaeda until they killed thousands of Americans. To Senator Rockefeller, it's vital that we now ignore what we know about Saddam so that we can get on with the important work of investigating the stuff we ignored last time round.

I may have missed a couple of dozen other factions.
After taking on Castro yesterday, Lileks turns his sights on that other great socialist, saviour of the downtrodden: Barbra Streisand.

"I know some Democrats who feel the same way. Smart sharp people who want to hiss SHUT UP at Babs, because she has a knack for taking legitimate concerns and filtering them through the clue-remover. Her polemics have that familiar fatal flaw: her conception of the opposition is based on a caricature of the opposition’s beliefs. In the world of political invective, in which I have some small professional experience, I’ve learned that caricatures are fun and useful - but you have to tether them to an understanding of the oppositions’ actual beliefs in all their varied nuances and manifestations. Otherwise, you’ve succumbed to that thoughtless Manichean division of the world, and that is the death of humor. That’s why so many websites that purport to offer amusement are so baffling to those who don’t have that flavor of Kool-Aid flowing through their veins. The authors confuse their contempt of the opposition with an accurate apprehension of the opposition."
Here is something sorta funny. Sharon is currently visiting with Putin in Russia and Putin corrected Sharon when he said that Israel was the Jews only country. He pointed out that Stalin had created an autonomous region for the Jews within Russia. What the article, of course, doesn't mention is that this region is in Siberia and often gets down to 24 degrees below zero centigrade in the winter (about 12 degrees below zero fahrenheit). Thanks but no thanks Mr. Putin, Israel might not be the best place in the world to be in, but at least you can go to the beach.
Ha'aretz is reporting a Jane's newsletter which is claiming that Israeli special forces are currently in western Iraq searching for scuds. If this is true, the war must be coming pretty soon.

Monday, September 30, 2002

The Rev.Jesse Jackson defender of...er, Jesse Jackson of course.
Good piece in LA Times (requires registration) on why containment won't work as a strategy against Iraq:

"Critics of the use of force against Saddam Hussein say the Iraqi leader can instead be contained. They concede he's a murderous despot but contend that he's not suicidal. They believe that if Hussein launched a chemical, biological or nuclear attack against Israel, other neighbors or the U.S., he would invite devastating retaliation. As a result, he is deterred from using his weapons of mass destruction as instruments to achieve regional dominance, in the same way that the Soviet Union was discouraged from using its nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

But the Sept. 11 attacks have severely undercut containment as a way to handle Hussein, for many reasons. The terrorist attacks on America highlighted dangerous new realities. Geography no longer protects the United States. Individuals and groups are prepared to carry out mass murder against us without the slightest moral scruple; some are willing to sacrifice their own lives in doing so. Even more ominously, there is little reason to believe that the Sept. 11 attackers would not have used weapons of mass destruction had they possessed them.
...
Containment is a risky defense against a man of Hussein's character. He rose through the ranks of the Baath Party as a hit man. He has brutalized his own country, possibly murdering as many as 200,000 people. He revels in the torture and execution of opponents, real or imagined, in his own military and party. Family members have been among his victims.

His tactical successes cannot conceal his penchant for dangerous miscalculation. In September 1980, he launched a war with Iran that nearly resulted in his own defeat. The eight-year conflict inflicted great damage on Iraq and killed as many as 1 million people in the two countries. He used chemical weapons against Iranians and his own population.
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Finally, a policy of containment is no match for a nuclear capability in the hands of a man of Hussein's character. The evidence of Hussein's dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons is incontrovertible. Before they were thrown out of Iraq in 1998, U.N. inspection teams found evidence of a nuclear program whose size exceeded the estimates of even the most pessimistic foreign intelligence agencies. The findings made a mockery of the pre-1990 inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which gave Iraq a clean bill of health." (via AndrewSullivan)
According to this story the Pakistani nuclear arsenal may already be under US control. That certainly makes me feel better.
Here is a good column on why we don't need to fear the armies of the Arab world.
Today Lileks takes on those who admire Cuba for their universal health care system:

Supposedly, it’s universal; supposedly, it’s high quality. Egalitarian. (muffled laugh.) Ask yourself this. You’re poor. You have a heart attack. Do you want to be in Havana or New York? Which phone system summons the EMTs faster? Which emergency response team is better equipped? Which hospital is better staffed with highly-paid doctors who have come from all over the world to work here?

Somehow I suspect that a heart attack in Havana at 3 AM means bundling Uncle Raul into your block captain’s ‘57 Belair and hoping it doesn’t break down before you get to the hospital.

But let’s assume that health care in Cuba is the equal of health care in America. If this is the reason to admire Cuba, then this is what some American citizens believe is more important than anything else. Free health care. They will give up elections, the free press, the freedom to travel, the freedom to dissent, the freedom to own a personal computer, for heaven’s sake - they’ve been banned for personal use. But for some, all of those freedoms are negotiable. They’ll give it all up for free health care. That’s their price.
Artificial Vision Systems

Researchers are developing a new type of visual prosthesis implant that will mimic normal chemical signaling between neurons in the retina and brain. Some think that crude implantable devices will be available within a decade which will allow people who are completely blind to see movement and make out large forms.
I have another small bone to pick with a popular children's story, this time Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I don't object to three bears living in a house in the woods, my problem concerns thermodynamics. All three bowls of porridge start out too hot, why is it then that Mama Bears bowl is too cold when Goldilocks tries it but the smaller Baby Bears bowl is just right? The bowls contain heat proportional to their volume and radiate heat through their surface area, so assuming that the bowls were all the same shape, Baby Bears bowl should be colder than Mama Bears and could not be 'just right' if Mama Bears was too cold. Of course in this strange house-abiding bear world I am assuming certain philosophical norms like transitivity of preference (ie if I prefer A to B and B to C then I prefer A to C).
The Wisdom of Homer Simpson

Homer: When will I learn? The answer to life's problems aren't at the bottom of a bottle, they're on TV!