Something I stumbled across that I thought I should share -- President Bush, speaking at a March 9 joint press conference with Romanian President Traian Basescu:
President Bush. [...] I'll never forget my trip to Bucharest--it was the rainbow speech. [Laughter] It was a mystical experience for me. It was one of the most amazing moments of my Presidency, to be speaking in the square, the very square where Ceausescu gave his last speech. And the rainbow that I saw in the midst of the rainstorm ended right behind the balcony, from my point of view. It's a clear signal that, as far as I was concerned, that freedom is powerful and----
President Basescu. It meant the signal of destiny, Mr. President.
President Bush. Well, we'll see.
Researchers in France have successfully created a duplicate of the Shroud of Turin using a technique that would have been available in the Middle Ages. This is signficant because:
The experiments...answer several claims made by the pro-Shroud camp, which says the marks could not have been painted onto the cloth.
I'm not sure, however, that the headline "Turin Shroud confirmed as fake" is justified. Just because the image definitely could have been created by mundane means long after Jesus's death in a process consistent with the technology of the time doesn't necessarily mean that the image wasn't in fact the product of a miracle. And that's the point. Nothing will ever prove that the image wasn't the product of a miracle. (Link via Sploid.)
Kerry Howley suggests that civil libertarians cut Microsoft some slack for providing trivially crippled free-speech software to Chinese bloggers. Dong ma?
Who gives a fo'c'sle about the solar sail? What downhomey megaretailer has been seen squiring the brightest luminaries of la haute société? Who watches the credit card watchmen? Only Reason Express readers know for sure.
In a recent Russian opinion poll, 1600 adults were asked what countries they regarded as Russia's greatest enemies and closest friends. The results, according to Novosti commentator Vladimir Simonov, were "a bombshell."
In the opinion of respondents, Russia's biggest enemies are Latvia (49 percent), Lithuania (42 percent), Georgia (38 percent) and Estonia (32 percent). Its friends include Belarus (46 percent), Germany (23 percent), Kazakhstan (20 percent), India (16 percent), and France (13 percent). Where's the U.S.? For a change, Russians seem to have no strong opinions about the U.S. one way or the other.
Simonov calls the U.S. "the archenemy of yesteryear," and he's not just evoking memories of the Cold War. The U.S. was perceived as Russia's enemy during the Clinton years, too. "In the 1990s," Simonov writes, "the Russia-U.S. relationship was largely determined by conflicts such as the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and 'unscrupulous' U.S. diplomatic maneuvers around Kosovo." Although many people expected anti-American sentiment to increase in Russia, "public hostility to the U.S. has plummeted" instead.
Simonov notes that "there are no disagreements of this scale between the two countries." He also thinks that the frequent description of the U.S. as a "strategic partner" by the Putin regime has influenced popular perception. Simonov makes no mention of recent events in the Ukraine, where U.S. and Russian interests diverged sharply, but then the Ukraine doesn't make the list of Russian friends and enemies, either.
Simonov sees a list of "enemies" that pose no actual threat as an issue of "wounded pride." The Baltic counties, for example, treat their numerous ethnic Russian residents badly, in the view of many Russians.
"Russia is a country of wounded pride," writes Simonov. "As a result, [Russians] take out their bitterness on minor states whose authorities are trying, rudely and tactlessly, to kick Russia whenever they can. . . . This is how a new, toy-like image of the enemy is being born. Russia's enemies today are not a threat but petty bullies."
Do we really need another book that makes all the familiar arguments against drug prohibition? When it's by a former police chief, we probably do. Last month Norm Stamper, who ran the Seattle Police Department from 1994 to 2000, published Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (only part of which is about the war on drugs). Alternet has a drug-related excerpt.
"I say it's time to withdraw the troops in the war on drugs," writes Stamper. He lists various costs of prohibition, including
the reputation of individual police officers, individual departments, and the entire system of American law enforcement. If you aspire to be a "crooked" cop, drugs are clearly the way to go. The availability, street value, and illegality of drugs form a sweet temptation to character-challenged cops, many of whom wind up shaking down street dealers, converting drugs for their own use, or selling them.
Almost all of the major police corruption scandals of the last several decades have had their roots in drug enforcement. We've seen robbery, extortion, drug dealing, drug stealing, drug use, false arrests, perjury, throw-down guns, and murder. And these are the good guys?
In a similar vein, former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara has been working on a book titled Gangster Cops: The Hidden Cost of America's War on Drugs. Former law enforcement officials like Stamper and McNamara are crucial for bringing credibility to the antiprohibitionist cause, especially on the topics of corruption, black market violence, and diverted police resources. The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organizes and publicizes such dissenters.
[Thanks to the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman for the Alternet link.]
John Yoo, who worked in the Justice Department from 2001-2003, blames George Bush.
The Voice of America, that purveyor of comatose, sub-Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programming that costs Americans $160 million a year, has decided to move a whopping 8 of its 1,400 employees to Hong Kong. This has Democrats, including John Kerry, hopping mad:
In a strongly worded letter to VOA Director David Jackson, 14 Democratic senators said the shift would undermine VOA's mandate to "present a balanced and therefore comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions." [...]
"We find it difficult to believe VOA will be able to satisfy its mission of projecting 'significant American thought' through non-American citizens," the letter said.
The Chicago Tribune article is full of laughs, including the complaint by the American Federation of Government Employees that the outsourcing "is financially motivated." Noooooo!!! (Link via Romenesko.)
In poll results distributed by email this week, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) finds that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians supports the current "calm" with Israel.
According to the PCPO, 76.5 percent of those polled "Support at different degrees the continuation of the calm with the Israelis." (That is, more than 28 percent "strongly support" it, while 48 percent "somewhat support" it.) The polls also found that 73.5 percent of Palestinians "Support in different degrees the call of Abu Mazin upon Hamas to abandon the violence" against Israel.
According to the PCPO, 37.2 percent of those polled said that if parliamentary elections were held that day, they would vote for Fatah candidates, while 25 percent said they would support Hamas. The Palestinian electorate is splintered among a dozen political groups.
Polling took place June 6-11, and included "965 Palestinian adults over 18 years . . . representing the various demographic models of the Palestinian society in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip." Women made up 47.1 percent of the respondents. The margin of error was 3.18 percent.
Who was John Vance? He was the guy who, while working for the CIA Inspector General's office in 1963, discovered that the spy agency was feeding LSD to Americans without them knowing it, in order to experiment with mind control. He wrote a report slamming the program, and it was eventually discontinued. Here's more about the Executive Branch's acid dreams, from the Vance obit in the Washington Post:
Code-named MKULTRA (and pronounced m-k-ultra), the project Mr. Vance uncovered was the brainchild of CIA Director Allen Dulles, who was intrigued by reports of mind-control techniques allegedly conducted by Soviet, Chinese and North Korean agents on U.S. prisoners of war during the Korean War. The CIA wanted to use similar techniques on its own POWs and perhaps use LSD or other mind-bending substances on foreign leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro a few years after the project got underway in 1953.
Heading MKULTRA was a CIA chemist named Sidney Gottlieb. In congressional testimony, Gottlieb, who died in 1999, acknowledged that the agency had administered LSD to as many as 40 unwitting subjects, including prison inmates and patrons of brothels set up and run by the agency. At least one participant died when he jumped out of a 10th-floor window in a hotel; others claimed to have suffered serious psychological damage.
Is there a topical angle to this story? Sure. MKULTRA was made public in 1977, by the Church Commission hearings about flagrant abuses by the CIA, to which Vance supplied much crucial information. That very commission has been targeted by both the Bush Administration and its supporters as a key culprit in the intelligence failures leading to the Sept. 11 massacre. As we saw during the 9/11 Commission, the president always resists non-Executive Branch scrutiny, and his pro-war allies will obediently leap down the throats of anyone who attempts or even requests it. If the country was run entirely according to their desires, we'd never find out that the CIA was feeding us LSD in the first place.
The Sustainable Development Commission in the United Kingdom is set to propose that every Briton be issued a ration card allowing them to emit so much carbon dioxide annually. The idea is that before a Briton could purchase gasoline for her car, or turn on the home heat, or board an airliner, she would have to show that she had enough carbon emission credits to allow her to do so. This is very much along the lines of the Contraction and Convergence idea in which every person on the planet would be issued equal number of carbon credits after the Kyoto Protocol expires.
"Use of Terri Schiavo's Grave Marker a Reprehensible and Repugnant Act says Christian Defense Coalition," according to the latest press release from the so-called Christian Defense Coalition. The alleged outrage?
Terri Schiavo's husband had her death date listed as February 25, 1990 (when her brain died) instead of March 31, 2005 (when her heart stopped). The best medical evidence available and numerous determinations by various state and federal courts found that Terri did unfortunately die way back in 1990.
When will these disgusting, self-righteous ghouls let poor Terri Schiavo rest in peace?
Reader Brendan Themes sends along this news bit he rightly deems "simultaneously hilarious and repugnant" about how a tax hike on hooch in Russia had led to a massive increase in industrial-strength cocktails:
Production of drinks concocted from perfume, skincare products and anti-freeze increased by 38.2 percent in the first five months of 2005 compared with the same period in 2004, while vodka production fell 9.4 percent, according to data from Russia's National Alcohol Association....
Pavel Shapkin, director of the association, which represents the interests of drinks producers and consumers, blamed recent tax hikes on vodka for the increase in consumption of vodka substitutes.
A quarter of a litre of these "surrogate" drinks costs around 14 roubles (63c), while the same amount of vodka costs 70 roubles ($3.16), Shapkin said.
"The increase in alcohol surrogates is because of tax legislation on vodka," he told Izvestiya.
I'm not sure I buy Comrade Shapkin's argument completely, but it sounds plausible.
Whole account here.
Can't these cancer patients paint, play sports, or listen to music instead of doing drugs? That's what they taught us in health class.
That's one of the responses in The Onion's fake survey of reactions to the Supreme Court's ruling on medical marijuana.
Whole thing here.
As Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) explains, America's obesity epidemic has spread to Southeastern Cuba:
Hunter added a recitation of the daily menu, which on Sunday included Noodles Jefferson and chicken breast in broth.
"The average inmate in Guantanamo has gained five to seven pounds last year...," he said.
As we await the Morgan Spurlock expose, I'm all for engineering a strategy to stop the terrorists by overfeeding them. Hunter has been promoting Gitmo with a weekly roundup of the menu (oven-fried chicken, rice pilaf, fruit and pita bread last week.) If that isn't enough to make you book a ticket through Mexico (assuming the travel ban still applies), talk to this guy:
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Ala., expressed impatience at Democrats who called for more legal rights for detainees. He said the newly constructed facility at Guantanamo was on "a beautiful site" and "would make a magnificent resort."
Link via Wonkette.
McCartyhism may have been a dark stain on American history, but does that mean we have to romanticize the Hollywood communists Tailgunner Joe attacked? Cathy Young looks to the left coast and wonders: Have they, at long last, no sense of decency?
Remember that Woody Allen movie where the hyper-liberal Upper West Side couple are mystified about how their son could've become a staunch Republican... until their doctor reveals that a medical condition was blocking the supply of oxygen to his brain?
Well, if it's not quite that simple, The New York Times is reporting on a new study suggesting that our gut-level political reactions may have as much to do with our DNA as with whether mom and dad reared us on National Review or The Nation. The study compared the views of fraternal and identical twins on a range of issues, and came up with this graph showing the purported heritability of opinion on various issues.
Count me a little skeptical: For one, unless these are studies on twins raised apart, you need to account for the fact that being raised as someone's identical twin is a difference in family environment that could conceivably shape one's attitudes in various subtle ways. On the other hand, so much political argumentation seems to amount to an elaborate rationalization for what we know in our bones has to be right that it's hard to entirely discount as well.
The article closes with the chilling observation that, since people tend to seek out ideologically congenial mates, genetic concentration of this sort may well be increasing. Yep, the zealots you see on the party convention floors? They're breeding.
The Washington Times reminds us that Laurie Anderson,
NASA's first (and
likely hopefully) last
"artist-in-residence" has delivered on her $20,000 subsidy with the
performance piece, "The End of the Moon":
"Nominally, [sez the "O Superman" auteur], it's my official report as the first NASA artist in residence, but the stories include things about war, my dog, trees, people I've known, theories."
The Times quotes from the piece:
"Americans say that everyone hates us because we are rich, democratic and free. They remind me of those girls who are convinced people hate them because they are beautiful. The truth is everyone hates them because they are [expletive deleted]."
Whole Times bit here.
I'll note that the Times is responsible for deleting the expletive, not moi. Indeed, I'm left wondering what the offending phrase was, though I'm too busy trying to get through my eight-track of Rick Wakeman's White Rock, the official soundtrack to the 1976 Winter Olympics (zzzz) to track down another piece of commissioned music that sounds like it really sucks. (Besides, didn't Dino effectively close out the moon as an inspiration for music?)
But let's give NASA some credit here: Every dollar they spent on Anderson was a dollar less they spent on killing people, as National Review's John Derbyshire would have it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration's investigation of Billings, Montana, neurologist Richard A. Nelson has forced him to stop prescribing narcotics, leaving his patients without medication to relieve their pain. Last week some of them tried to draw attention to their plight with a rally outside the local office of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) "I promise to take each concern to Max," the senator's communications director said, adding that there's really nothing Baucus can do, since he has "a strict policy not to interfere with criminal investigations or legal policies," as the Billings Gazette put it.
Pain Relief Network President Siobhan Reynolds, who was in Billings last week for the rally, is trying to alert Montana officials to the threat that the DEA's de facto regulation of medical practice poses to state prerogatives and patient welfare. She'd also like to see Congress, which theoretically oversees the DEA, take an interest in the agency's interference with pain treatment. "We want the senators to realize these are people just like them," she told the Gazette. "This could happen to anybody."
Like some kind of fugitive from a Lovecraft short story, the broadcast flag is irrational to the point of brain death, but keeps rising again no matter how many times you think you've killed it. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports a rumor that one more attempt to sneak the sweeping technology mandate into law (by way of an appropriations bill rider) will be made tomorrow.
Robert Byrd has a new autobiography out, and at 770 pages, it should make for some light and lazy summer reading. Say what you will of Byrd, he speaks the truth:
The Washington critics of 'pork' had a full-time job in trying to keep up with me.
On the other hand, Byrd's take on his youthful Klan indiscretion isn't quite so believable:
My only explanation for the entire episode is that I was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision -- a jejune and immature outlook -- seeing only what I wanted to see because I thought the Klan could provide an outlet for my talents and ambitions.
Even granting the benefit of the doubt to the 20-something year-old Byrd, he's had more than 60 years in which to revise his judgment that the Klan's membership included "many of the 'best' people."
Link via Rick Brookhiser, who wonders if Byrd might have misspelled his official Klan title of "Exalted Cyclops."
Via Atrios comes a report that the Transportation Security Administration has "collected extensive personal information about airline passengers although Congress told it not to and it said it wouldn't, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press."
If you're getting a vague sense of deja vu, it may be because the data was collected to test the nascent Secure Flight program, whose defunct predecessor, CAPPS II, drew fire when it emerged that TSA planned to test the system with personal data provided by the airline JetBlue without passengers' consent.
Jeff Taylor joins a few maverick Republicans in the search for an Iraq exit strategery.
In response to my article last week on Patrick Seale, I received this note from Patrick. While the blog may not be a place for letters to the editor, it seems only fair, inasmuch as the piece was focused on an individual and there was a mistake on my part pertaining to his sources for the famous Al-Hayat expose, to publish this clarification:
I have the hide of an elephant--you need one in this business--so I did not of course take [the article] amiss. It's just that a few of your facts were wrong.
It's true that I had something of a special relationship with Asad pere. For some reason he trusted me. I could not have written his biography without access to him and his entourage. But, in his defence, I should tell you that he always said 'Write what you like!' and never asked to see the text before it was published. I would not have agreed to show it to him, in any event. Nor--and you should be very clear on this point--did money ever change hands.
Quite the contrary. You may not know that Rifaat [Assad, the president's brother] sued me in the British courts because I linked him to drug smuggling in the Beqaa. I threw in the towel after about three years of legal dispute and agreed to change the text in subsequent editions, but not before it had cost me some tens of thousands of pounds (British pounds) in legal fees. So it is a bit galling to be called a propagandist for the Asad regime! As you probably know, [my biography of Assad] was banned in Syria for years, and I never got a penny for the thousands of copies of the Arabic edition which were sold ...
You should also know that Syrian officials did NOT leak to me 'valuable details of their negs with Israel' which formed the basis of my Hayat articles. My sources were Western.
The proposal to break the deadlock over the north-eastern corner of Lake Tiberias by making it into a joint tourist site was my own. The Syrians shot it down--before the Israelis did.
I could go on and on, but to what end? I happen to believe that the Arabs should close ranks if they want to keep their enemies at bay. If this makes me an Arab nationalist, so be it. It doesn't mean that I believe in 'a golden Arab future'. Far from it, the Arabs have never been weaker and their prospects never so doubtful. If you think Lebanon can get by on its own, think again.
I also think it is rather short-sighted to think in terms of Lebanon versus Syria, or of democratic Lebanon versus authoritarian Syria. The two countries are as flawed, as corrupt and as violent as each other. They are also indissolubly linked in a thousand ways. One day, their relations will be put on a healthy basis, free from the disgraceful networks of the past. They have many common interests, not least the need to deter Israel. If you hope for another 17 May 1983 accord [between Israel and Lebanon, since abrogated], I'm afraid I would have to part company with you. I note that even the 'anti-Syrian' Michel Aoun understands the need for a relationship with Syria. It's always worth remembering that Lebanon has only two neighbours--Syria and Israel--and must choose between them. The idea that it can somehow escape from the regional power struggle is pure utopia.
As a footnote to my piece, in the original version Seale had written considerably more on the shenanigans of Syrian officials, but some key passages were subsequently taken out (both in the version published in Arabic in Al-Hayat and the version I received for publication in the Daily Star). The uncut text is available on an opposition Web site in Syria, but it is in Arabic. Seale has no idea how the original version got onto the site.
I thank him for taking the trouble to respond.
According to the Boston Globe, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel tells U.S. News:
"Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse," said Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."
Whole account, which includes Sen. John McCain saying, "What the American people should have been told and should be told [is that] it's long, it's hard, it's tough," here.
This is slightly stale news, but did you see where Ralph Nader is dropping N-bombs and comparing himself to the Black Panthers and victims of Jim Crow laws? From the New York Daily News:
Speaking Wednesday night at a Washington fund-raiser to retire the debt from his 2004 presidential campaign, Nader complained that Democratic Party powerbrokers had kept him off the ballot in such Southern states as Georgia and Virginia -- which reminded him of the oppressive Jim Crow laws that denied African-Americans equal rights.
"I felt like a [n-word]," remarked the 70-year-old white multimillionaire graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. [...]
Yesterday, Nader told me he was using the word in the same spirit as the Black Panthers of the 1960s -- "as a word of defiance."
Link via Sploid, who remark on the incident's non-traction thusly: "Could it be that Nader is finally, mercifully irrelevant?"
(* "s" changed to "z" at the suggestion of commenter Monkey RobbL.)
If you are an American who travels to Cuba, legally or illegally, you are expected to fill out a detailed report listing every place you spent money, and every Cuban you came into contact with. This is one of many ingenius methods we have for finally overthrowing that rat bastard Castro. When I traveled illegally to Cuba, for example, the Treasury Department's hideous Office of Foreign Assets Control sent me a threatening note, indicating I'd better name names or else possibly face time in the pokey. I declined; pointed out (accurately) that the money I spent there originated from my non-American wife, and luckily that knock never came on my front door. But that was back in the anything-goes '90s, and in any case, I wasn't a politically controversial exile Cuban who'd dared to change his mind about supporting the U.S. embargo.
In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Ann Louise Bardach spells out just how these flagrantly illiberal (and I believe unconstitutional) regulations can be rained down on the head of one individual to score cheap and injurious political points. She writes of the case of Alberto Coll, "a military expert of impeccable pedigree who is a dean at the U.S. Naval War College," a "former deputy assistant secretary of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration," and a lifelong Republican "anti-Castro hard-liner" who was persuaded after Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit to the island that the embargo wasn't working. "Hence," Bardach writes, "Coll had to be destroyed."
The opportunity came in January, about six months after his 18-year-old daughter died in a car accident, which by all accounts left Coll devastated. Coll visited Cuba, as he has done legally over the years for research and to visit relatives. He noted on his visa that he would be visiting an aunt, which he did.
But he also had a romantic liaison with a childhood friend while seeking "a shoulder to cry on," his lawyer says. Coll did not note the rendezvous on his visa. It is the kind of semi-lie of omission committed routinely by thousands of Cuban exiles since the Bush administration instituted onerous restrictions on travel to the island last year.
Nevertheless, Coll's enemies pursued a vigorous yearlong prosecution -- one that may well have cost taxpayers $1 million. Sources close to Coll believe that his liaison was discovered through secret wiretaps by the Justice Department at the behest of influential Cuban hard-liners. [...]
With legal bills close to $100,000 and overwhelmed at having to face a protracted trial, Coll agreed to plead guilty to making a false statement on a federal form. He faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but an incredulous judge reduced the fine to $5,000 and gave him one year of probation.
Still, he will lose his security clearance because he is now a felon, which also effectively sabotages his future with the military.
Whole shameful thing here.
A new study by LeMoyne College economists Edward Shepard and Paul Blackley, based on New York state data, finds that drug law enforcement is associated with increases in predatory crime. Possible explanations include diversion of law enforcement resources, violence generated by disruption of drug operations, and increased attraction to property crimes among people deterred from dealing drugs. "At a minimum," Shepard and Blackley conclude, "the empirical findings should raise serious questions about the effectiveness of drug enforcement as a crime control measure, and they suggest that significant social costs arise from existing approaches to drug control."
The study appears in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly. If you don't want to pay for access to the full text, you can read an earlier draft for free here.
[Thanks to NORML's Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]
How conservatives learned to quit worrying and love political correctness, chapter CXVII:
Two former editorial writers at The Indianapolis Star have gone to court, charging that top newsroom managers "consistently and repeatedly demonstrated ... a negative hostility toward Christianity."
James Patterson and Lisa Coffey have sued the newspaper and its owner, Gannett Co., claiming religious, racial and age discrimination in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court....
In their lawsuit, the two allege Star Editor Dennis Ryerson and Publisher Barbara Henry said editorials perceived as proselytizing or containing Christian overtones could not be printed in the paper....They also assert that Henry and Ryerson strongly disagreed "with anyone who had a biblical view of homosexuality."
[Via Virginia Postrel.]
Washingtonian mag recently asked DC's ink-stained wretches to name the blogs they must read and has delivered "a fresh crop of blogs and Web sites now has become standard stops, according to an informal survey of Washington journalists."
Hit & Run, which Mark Felt told us is required reading on the former presidential yacht (though to be honest, we're not sure if he meant the Sequoia or the Potomac), makes the list, with the following descriptor:
The libertarians behind Reason magazine strike back with moderate commentary on a variety of topics ranging from public television to Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl."
Moderate isn't exactly the adjective I'd use to describe what goes on here (foul-mouthed, anyone? Or how about "award-winning"?). Was it Barry Goldwater who said that moderation in the pursuit of praise was no virtue? And that extremism in the pursuit of pleasure was no vice? Or was that Barry White?
This seems as good a place as any for a subscription pitch.
Whole Washingtonian list here.
In a review of Jose Canseco's Juiced, Aaron Steinberg explains why the ballplayer wants to pahmp... you ahp.
Lebanon's daily Al-Nahar has a front-page article in its Sunday edition (in Arabic), written by its correspondent in Cairo, describing the resignation of Ibrahim Sa'da, chairman of the board and editor in chief of the state-owned daily Akhbar al-Yom. The writer sees the event as a sign of growing disarray in the Egyptian leadership, but also a reflection of the tension caused by President Hosni Mubarak's efforts to have his son Gamal succeed him.
Sa'da as well as the editor of two other government papers, Al-Ahram and Al-Goumhouria, have come under pressure from journalists to resign, given that all are older than the mandatory retirement age of 65. All are also close to Mubarak, so that the efforts to dislodge them are also, partly, ways of expressing displeasure with the regime.
However, here is where things get complicated: Sa'da, in his resignation letter published on the front page of his newspaper, criticized, among others, the Politics Committee of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Gamal Mubarak, as well as the secretary-general of the NDP, Safwat Sharif, who as information minister once ruled supreme over Egypt's media, and President Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, who is believed to be pushing Gamal's succession with maternal fervor.
In other words the row is essentially a regime affair. The struggle for succession is being depicted by Gamal and his allies as a generational struggle, something familiar to those who follow politics in Syria, where Bashar Assad has been dining out for the past five years on the notion that progress is being blocked by an "old guard." Perhaps it is somewhat, but, as in Syria, proponents of this convenient line rarely consider whether father-to-son successions in a republic are in any way signs of newness and "modernity." Indeed, neither in Egypt nor Syria had family succession been a norm since independence; on the contrary, before Bashar, and now Gamal, the idea was unheard of.
One optimist is Rami G. Khouri, my colleague at the Daily Star, who has just published a column suggesting that Egyptian politics are awakening after a half-century of slumber. The reason? American pressure on the Egyptian government (and Rami has been a perennial agnostic about Bush administration policy in the region):
In the meantime, the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States had generated a new foreign policy in Washington that suddenly equated Egyptian reform with American national security. The U.S. and Europe softly pressured and nudged Egypt toward democratic reforms, including via direct telephone conversations between President George W. Bush and Mubarak, and some private dressing downs of senior Egyptian ministers by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.
Egyptian activists took advantage of the space that opened up to challenge the regime peacefully. They started raising issues that had been taboo, like the fate of Egyptians in police detention for years. Even members of the establishment who want change became active, such as former Prime Minister Aziz Sidqi who heads one of the many reform groups now active in the country.
Other observers are more skeptical. The head of the Middle East program at an American think-tank told me last week that the Egyptian regime would only give in where it felt it could do so, without prejudicing its control over society. He said that the U.S. administration was willing to accept cosmetic democratic changes in exchange for heightened Egyptian cooperation on counter-terrorism.
The key question is whether change can be calibrated without the Egyptian regime's, at some stage, losing control of matters. The optimists see any change as creating momentum for more and better; the pessimists believe that well-calculated, ultimately "absorbable" concessions by the regime can, in fact, undermine such momentum. With Mubarak now 77 years old, we may not have to wait long to see who's right.
The NYT reports that EU leaders have returned home "in anger and in shame" following their failed summit this week. At issue was the EU budget as well as the proposed constitution that has been rejected by French and Dutch voters. However, the complete failure of the reportedly acrimonious meeting to address the EU's pressing problems "stripped away all pretense of an organization with a common vision and reflected the fears of many leaders in the face of rising popular opposition to the project called Europe."
"Most embarrassing," writes reporter Elaine Sciolino, "was a last-minute attempt by its 10 newest members to salvage the budget agreement late Friday night. They offered to give up some of their own aid from the union so that the older and richer members could keep theirs." France, for example, receives $13 billion in farm subsidies from the EU.
Tony Blair was talking about Jacques Chirac when he told reporters Friday that, "I'm not prepared to have someone tell me there is only one view of what Europe is and that's the view expressed by certain people at certain points in time." On the other hand, Luxembourg's Claude Juncker, outgoing EU president, said he would "not be listening" when Blair addresses the European Parliament this coming week.
Anybody got a plausible Plan B?
Christopher Preble and Marian L. Tupy have discovered the perfect storm of market interference: That keep Africans poor, soak American taxpayers, and give fuel to demagogues railing against the Great Satan. They're ag subsidies and they're coming to a farmer's market near you.
The London-based Saudi Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper has just opened an English-language site, and it looks competently done. The opinion page is particularly interesting. Alas, as I noted in an earlier post, among the by-products of Arab journalism are those frequent attack jobs done on individuals who, for some reason or another, are disliked by the author, the author's paymaster, the author's paymaster's sovereign, or any permutations of the previous.
Particularly irritating in this regard is the commentary by Syrian columnist Ghassan al-Imam on "the fate of journalists addicted to a single subject matter." The target of the hit, after many circumlocutions, is the departed Samir Kassir, killed over two weeks ago by a bomb placed under his car.
The article merits being highlighted only for its sheer venality. The gist of the argument is that Kassir only focused his attentions on Syria, and must have done so for dark reasons Imam will not otherwise go into: "Did he receive encouragement to harass the Syrian regime? ... Opposition to authorities in any country is no shame. However, a journalist's credibility diminishes when his dedication to slandering a certain government turns into an obsession, to the degree where he loses his objectivity."
Of course Kassir wrote about very much more than Syria, and no he was not on anyone's payroll, other than that of his newspaper; had he been, he would almost certainly, like Imam, have still been alive, since that kind of journalist is far too versatile to get killed. But then again, what's easier than kicking a dead man?
That said, Imam, in his byzantine way, also seems to point to a Syrian motive for killing Kassir, even if it comes across as something of a justification:
Let us ask ourselves another question: for whose benefit was Qassir's continuous political criticism which was replete with malice and provocation? Had the murdered journalist become too close to some in the anti-Syrian camp that he endangered the security of the regime in Damascus?
Now you can read all this splendid cravenness in English (and next year Al-Jazeera will be following suit, with an English-language station). The Arab world lies before you.
Dave Cullen, who watched Christian Bale make some fairly ludicrous claims on the Charlie Rose show about his weight gain for his role as Batman, raises a point that tends to get overlooked in the midst of our national hysteria over steroids:
We hear these virtual admissions of steroid use from actors prepping for roles all the time. How come no one ever calls them on the obvious? Or even raises the question?
(Link via Andrew Sullivan). The answer, I think, is that most of the outrage and/or posturing over steroid use in sports has to do with nostalgia for a purity that never was, and there's no comparable reserve of sentiment to generate an anti-steroid campaign directed at actors.
Still, many if not all of the arguments for prohibiting steroid use by athletes apply to actors as well. "It's not fair to competitors who don't use the stuff" -- And how are non-using actors supposed to compete for action roles with their beefier enhanced colleagues? "Think of the children" -- Well, if a kid who aspires to be a movie star thinks having a certain kind of physique will open up roles to him, doesn't he then have an incentive to use? "Athletes are supposed to be role models" -- Movie stars aren't?
There's a moment in the surprisingly watchable new flick Batman Begins when the psycho-medic running Arkham Asylum, Dr. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. Scarecrow), mentions patient "Szasz" (as in Reason Contributing Editor Thomas) or, more likely, patient "Zsasz," a Batman character whose name is an inverted homage to everyone's favorite critic of involuntary commitment and many other coercive practices that hide under the rubric of helping people.
Read Szasz's excellent 2000 interview with Reason here. And then read Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's review of the new book Szasz Under Fire here. And then check out The Thomas S. Szasz Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsbility, which includes photos from the 85th birthday party Reason Foundation, the nonprofit publisher of Reason and Reason Online, here.
I just learned that Gene Ford, an indefatigable opponent of neoprohibitionism, died last week at the age of 77. As a wine writer, book author, and magazine publisher, Ford steadfastly resisted black-and-white thinking about alcohol, promoted an ethic of true temperance, and spread the word about the health benefits of moderate drinking well before they were widely recognized.
[Link by way of The Wine Commonsewer.]
I'd doubt this is near the top of anybody's priority list, but this contrarian article entitled "Beethoven was a narcissistic hooligan" has got me madder than a post-op tranny with a protruding adam's apple. Here's a long quote that gives the gist of the argument:
Beethoven certainly changed the way that people thought about music, but this change was a change for the worse. From the speculations of Pythagoras about the "music of the spheres" in ancient Greece onwards, most western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal. Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul.
This was a ghastly inversion that led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern. In other words, almost everything that went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries is ultimately Beethoven's fault. Poor old Schoenberg was simply taking Beethoven's original mistake to its ultimate, monstrous logical conclusion...
With Beethoven...we leave behind the lofty aspirations of the Enlightenment and begin the descent into the narcissistic inwardness of Romanticism.
Although subsequent investigations have shown that the "music of the spheres" does not actually exist, my beef isn't with the author's assumption that mathematical perfection is the supreme goal of music. And this article is in general agreement with the current notion that twentieth-century modernism was not so much a revolutionary movement as a continuation of the nineteenth-century romantic cult of the individual. No, what's got my dickie in a flap is the umpteen-millionth gratuitous slam against Arnold Schoenberg. Now I'm not a big Schoenberg fan—but that's just the point: Practically nobody is a big Schoenberg fan. So why is it that the inventor of 12-tone serial music—which nobody listens to, that has been abandoned by history, and that may or may not have dominated classical music academia for a period of less than a decade—gets blamed for everything from ruining classical music to inspiring bureaucratic bloat? (I'll leave aside the slam against Anton Webern, who certainly was a victim of hooliganism—first of the Nazis who hounded him out of public life for his association with Schoenberg's "Jewish" musical style and then of the drunken American soldier who shot and killed him during the postwar occupation.)
Even Pope Benedict XVI has to take a sidelong swipe at poor Schoenberg. In his more celebrated comments about the evils of rock and/or roll, the pontiff also condemned "Modern so-called 'classical' music" that "has maneuvered itself, with some exceptions, into an elitist ghetto, which only specialists may enter—and even they do so with what may sometimes be mixed feelings."
Schoenberg is the Andres Serrano of classical music complaints, somebody who's only kept around as an example of wretched excess—usually referred to by people who have never seen or heard the original wretchedness. (You can sample some of his super sounds here.) To listen to the complaints, you wouldn't know that in his own lifetime, Schoenberg saw himself as an embattled standard-bearer holding up the true faith of German Romanticism against neoclassical backsliders like Igor Stravinsky and the post-deBussy French school. The mid-century French guys like Francis Poulenc, Jacques Ibert, Darius Milhaud, etc., were all occasional enlightenment-style composers whose stuff is neither atonal nor offputting. Listening to them, or to Olivier Messiaen, who lived into the 1990s, you don't hear a peep of 12-tone horror. (Messiaen should have a special place in Il Papa's heart because he not only rejected fads like serialism but was a big Catholic; his opera based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi is so long I don't think even Messiaen ever listened to the whole thing.) But still people refer to serial music as if it's responsible for killing people.
The final unfairness is that serial music was actually a pretty interesting thought experiment that opened up how people think about notes and composition. And it yielded at least one great work: Schoenberg's opera Moses & Aron. That one got a performance at the New York City Opera in the early nineties, and it was pure nitro. So like Mussolini, I say Hands off Schoenberg!
The Southern California Journalism Awards, which honor news organizations from San Diego to Santa Maria, threw some love in Reason's direction this past Saturday. Jersey boys-made-good Tim Cavanaugh and Nick Gillespie finished First and Second in Online Commentary; I was one of the three other finalists they crushed like a grape. Here's what the judges said about young Tim:
Writing is lively, entertaining and thought-provoking, but more important is Cavanaugh's resistance to pigeon-holing. His willingness to reject knee-jerk ideology makes each column a treat full of surprises designed to delight and fascinate the reader.
Our Democratic Convention coverage also won First Place for Best Weblog (partial judges' comment: "Reason uses well-placed humor to replace the mud-slinging and hate that all too often overflow from political coverage"); and my "Temporary Doves" essay pulled a Second.
Some friends of Reason were also honored -- former staffer Mariel Garza (whose blog is here) came in Second for Columnist of the Year, and Advice Goddess Amy Alkon got a First and two Seconds for columnizing and headline-writing.
When Oxfam began sending in relief vehicles to Sri Lanka to help with post-tsunami reconstruction (none were manufactured locally), the government understandably waived import duties... for the first four months. But now:
Britain's Daily Telegraph said Sri Lankan customs had charged $5,000 a day while the vehicles were processed.
Oxfam was given the choice of handing over the vehicles to the government, re-exporting them or paying the 300% import tax.
Grant McCracken, super anthropologist, has a new collection of essays addressing cultural consumption. Culture & Consumption (1988) has long since attained classic status. Now comes Culture & Consumption II, inquiring into everything from Raymond Loewy's streamlinedness to Marilyn Monroe's "invention of blondness."
Consumption remains profoundly controversial; see, for example, Virginia Postrel's just-posted response to the most recent wave of critics. McCracken doesn't think you are being frozen by too many choices; his interest lies in the meaning with which consumers invest those artifacts they do choose. He's had a lasting influence on reason's cultural critique.
Jacob Sullum applies a sheep's-urine-and-staghorn poultice to America's fevered brain.
I'm not taking sides in the controversy over shark fin soup at Hong Kong Disneyland, but I will say this: It's refreshing to see Disney critics accused of "cultural imperialism."
A GAO report on Defense Department trash notes that items worth $3.5 billion were in "new, unused, and excellent condition" before they were destroyed, donated, or sold for pennies on the dollar. The department then "continued to buy many of these same items." Presumably DOD bureaucrats have been reading John Tierney.
In Britain, the government wants to get tough on crime by identifying potential criminals while they are still mere terrorizing tots. The Crime Reduction Review, a leaked study commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Blair, suggests that wayward children as young as three should be singled out in the nursery and attend programs intended to curb their behavior, or even be removed to foster-care.
Quite a different strategy on "child-proofing the world": The British government suggests protecting society from the diapered ruffians based on the unscientific impressions of child-care workers.
Research cited in the 250-page CRR states that 85 percent of juvenile delinquents in detention facilities were bullies in school; and that 43 percent of imprisoned adults have children who are also criminals. Although science can't point to a primary origin of criminal behavior, the study is right in concluding that environment plays a significant role in shaping young minds.
Which begs the question, how exactly would a seven year-old respond to learning that she has been classified as a potential criminal as a toddler and that nanny was actually a rehab counselor?
For years, the good people at Reason have been protecting you from the menace of juvenile delinquency. Chris Lehmann lifted the "siege" against parents a few years back, and Carl F. Horowitz fought against a mall-full of consumerized teenaged zombies. Nick Gillespie gave the old in-out to the bogus boom in "middle-class teen prostitutes" a few years back.
Rafsanjani, 70, a wily pragmatist who favours better ties with the United States, pointed out that Iran was fielding eight candidates for president -- a larger choice than American voters had at their polls in November.
"If the number of candidates is a proof of democracy, we are ... better than the Americans in this regard," newspapers quoted Rafsanjani as telling Penn.
I keep reading that Sean Penn is covering the Iranian election for the San Francisco Chronicle, and hearing about the controversy the Oscar® winner generated when he warned a bunch of fanatics that chanting "Death to America" was not "productive." But I have yet to see Penn's byline in the Comical itself. Now back in the fifties, when the New Orleans Times-Picayune sent Penn's Fast Times costar Ray "Mr. Hand" Walston to Iran to cover the US-backed coup against Mohammed Mossadegh, actor/journalists knew how to meet a deadline! Anyway, if Penn's been filing, they must be sticking him in the Wine & Food section.
The Huffington Post reports on yet another clever and thorough analogy on the part of Bill O'Reilly:
The latest dispatches from the Natalee Holloway case in Aruba in a moment. But first, what do The New York Times and the mafia have in common? That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo".
The answer to that question is both The Times and organized crime routinely engage assassins. In the case of the newspaper, they are propping up character assassins.
I must confess, I do like the image of Bill Keller lying in wait, sweat on his brow, nervously clutching at piano wire as his mark approaches.
What's next for Europe? The Observer's Will Hutton says the project of European integration is at a turning point:
If mishandled, the crisis may even lead to closure, protection, recession and the disintegration of the euro - and the balkanisation of Europe into mutually suspicious and hostile camps. The end of an era of easy movement from country to country embodied by cheap flights, a single currency and growing interpenetration of each other's economies is now in prospect. Historians may come to say that Europeans never knew they had it so good, but then they threw it away.
How's this: wider integration is where it's at, deeper integration is the Pandora's box of the European experiment. Drop the political, salvage the economic and finish the job developing and integrating the east.
Deeper integration, political integration is the elephant riding Europe. Jean Monnet's "United States of Europe," according the BBC's John Simpson, is dead. Forcing member states to sacrifice political autonomy to Brussels will be met with harsh consequences that could sink the single market and the euro. Instead of producing a richer Europe, the political carnage will leave an economic shell behind.
An erstwhile apologist for Syria's Baathist regime appears to be abandoning ship; Michael Young says "come on in, the water's fine!"
Federal contractors owe more than $3 billion in taxes. The Government Accountability Office cites "abusive and potentially criminal activity" among approximately 33,000 federal contractors who have already cashed their checks.
One contractor that furnishes temporary workers to the Department of Housing and Urban Development has owed back taxes for nearly two decades, simply closing businesses and starting new ones when the bills get too high.
The Senate Governmental Affairs' permanent subcommittee on investigations will review the data today. On Thursday some senators urged the federal government to avoid doing business with tax-deadbeat contractors.
The Japanese government has launched a "no jacket, no tie" campaign, the idea being that shedding excess fabric in the workplace will keep air conditioning to a minimum. The "Cool Biz" campaign is being billed as painless and earth-friendly. The tie lobby, however, is livid:
But necktie makers said Thursday they fear the new dress code could cost them up to 30 percent of their annual sales.
"We are not opposing the Cool Biz itself. Dressing cool is fine," said Tetsuo Yamada, a spokesperson for the Federation of Japanese Necktie Unions. "The problem is the slogan that discriminates against neckties."
How to calculate the damage done by government-sponsored dress codes? A government-sponsored study is in the works.
Max Boot is back flogging his solution to the U.S. military's acute manpower shortage, brought on by the foreign adventures he and his pals have lobbied for:
offer citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military. We could model a Freedom Legion after the French Foreign Legion. Or we could allow foreigners to join regular units after a period of English-language instruction, if necessary.
While interesting, I think that's a non-starter. What intrigues me more is Boot's handling of the inevitable Roman Empire objection:
Some letter writers invoke the specter of mercenaries leading to the fall of the U.S. as they supposedly led to the fall of Rome. That's a misreading of Roman history. As classicist Victor Davis Hanson points out, by the 1st century AD, the legions "were mostly non-Italian and mercenary, and the empire still endured for nearly another 500 years." If only the Pax Americana were to last half as long!
When war enthusiasts are no longer even defensive about comparisons to the Roman Empire, we have arguably crossed over into new territory. I had this exact same conversation over the weekend with a Marine Iraq War vet, and a civilian pro-war guy. They had me on the defensive for a half-hour -- "What's WRONG with being like the Roman Empire?? They lasted a thousand years, didn't they?" Silly me, I was hoping the United States would hold out a little longer than that....
You see some numbers saying as much as $1.4 trillion, just in stock market devaluation. Carl Bialik, the sharp Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal, lays out the math, and notes that such huge figures are based on "event analysis" -- interpreting all of the stock market's activity over a finite period to one main event. Whole thing, worth bookmarking, is here. My non-bookmark-worthy take on event analysis, and the so-called "nonsense index," is archived here.
Over drinks last night with Tim Harford (who writes the excellent Financial Times column Dear Economist), I mentioned the post below about Bob Geldof's displeasure at the reselling of Live 8 tickets on eBay.
Tim observed, first, that the nontransferrability requirement was part of the rules of the contest to win tickets, so he is certainly entitled to insist that people not sell them. But Tim also pointed out how counterproductive the requirement is: Part of the value of the ticket (and hence the incentive to pay the three bucks a chance to win a ticket costs) is the ability to resell it. Forbidding resale therefore depresses entry, lowering the available funds to underwrite the costs of the concerts and fund aid programs. Similarly, a rule allowing only one pair of tickets to be won by any individual decreases the marginal value of each additional entry chance bought, discouraging repeat entry.
The Omaha World-Herald (registration req'd) took a detailed look at how Nebraska has been spending its anti-terrorism moolah from the federal government. That state, which "got more than twice as much money per capita in 2004 as California, New York or Pennsylvania," now boasts of a $150,000 mobile bomb-detonating robot in Douglas County, a $6,250 John Deere 4x2 Gator for Adams County, and some cattle-herding equipment for Cherry County. Could be worse, of course:
some communities spent money for such items as air-conditioned garbage trucks in New Jersey, a Dale Carnegie speaking course in Washington, D.C., and a paging system at the South Dakota State Fair.
Declan McCullagh reports that the Department of Justice is pondering data retention rules that would require Internet service providers to retain users' e-mail, chat, and web browsing records just in case investigators ever want them.
Declan wrote about the benefits of living in a Database Nation back in our variable-cover issue from July 2004. This is presumably not what he was talking about.
The always entertaining Matt Labash profiles David "Mudcat" Saunders, who might be the redneck guru who teaches the Democrats how to win in the south ... and might merely be, in the words of one GOP strategist, "a Carville-lite act with a NASCAR twist, aimed mostly at neurotic urban liberal reporters who love the southern fried two-fisted-damn-Democrat'n'proud-of-it noble savage shtick." Of course, the options aren't mutually exclusive.
It's a typical situation in these typical times: Too many choices. Nevertheless, as Virginia Postrel observes, everybody's happy, everybody's free.
What's the surest way to defuse the Downing Street Memo? Get people to read it.
The House voted Wednesday to block the FBI and the Justice Department from using the Patriot Act to search library and book store records.
Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.
After years of complaining that Bush never vetoes a bill, I find myself annoyed at the thought that he could pick up the habit now.
"No one with government funds to dispense has done more to bring jazz to American audiences than Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts," begins Nat Hentoff, in this Wall Street Journal column.
I was going to say you could leave out the "with government funds to dispense" part because when people are given a choice they don't choose jazz, but what do you know: Sales of jazz music have been on the rise lately. Admittedly, jazz sales are up the way flag burnings are down, but still... Rock on, jazz fans, whoever you are.
Jim Henley sang an ode to Gioia last year, and Kerry Howley ran afoul of critic Stanley Crouch the year before that. Back when Ken Burns' miniseries Jazz was bebopping a nation to sleep, Chuck Freund blew hot riffs.
A clothing line? Life-sized action figures? A Happy Meal? Meghan Keane ponders the remaining possibilities in Jessica "Washingtonienne" Cutler's entertainment franchise.
At last, the real reason why the French voted against the EU constitution:
A crucial turning point for the fate of the constitution in France came last March, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said, when he phoned Mr. Chirac to warn him not to send the entire three-part, 448-article document to every French voter. The third and longest part consisted only of complicated treaties that have already been in force for years.
He said Mr. Chirac refused, citing legal reasons. "I said, 'Don't do it, don't do it,' " Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said. "It is not possible for anyone to understand the full text."
Pardon? While some might interpret M. d'Estaing's remark as an expression of contempt for the average citizen, I think the key word here is "anyone." The authors of the EU constitution undoubtedly created something so sublime that even they had to avert their eyes in deference to its brilliance. Who indeed could understand the full text?
Meanwhile, Chirac deserves bonus points for sending a three-volume edition of the charter to every voter. Maybe he could have driven down the "oui" vote even more by assigning book reports. (Story here; link via Crooked Timber.)
A year ago in Reason, Michael Young had premonitions about the difficulties of European unification.
An unimprovable headline, as British cops take a drug dealer to court to seize 53 cents in assets. Thanks to reader Brendan Themes.
Legislation that would have barred the U.S. Justice Department from spending money to persecute medical marijuana users failed by a vote of 264 to 161 in the House of Representatives today. It attracted 13 more votes than a similar bill did last summer. You could say that's encouraging, since the Supreme Court just last week confirmed the federal government's authority to snatch homegrown medicine from sick people. Or you could say it's discouraging, since the Court's decision should have stirred to action all those principled conservatives who, like Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, may not approve of marijuana as a medicine but believe the matter should be left to the states. My fear is that it did.
Yesterday Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill that would have banned regular soda and "junk food" from vending machines in the state's public schools. Rell said the legislation would usurp the roles of parents and school boards in deciding what beverages and snacks should be available to students. Aside from the issue of local control, there is the question of whether this particular solution makes sense as a response to obesity, which is how the legislation was pitched. The authors were enlightened enough to allow diet soda, but they also would have permitted fruit juices that, while more nutritious than soft drinks sweetened with corn syrup or sugar, have the same number of calories. Whatever contribution school vending machines make to students' waistlines, replacing Coke with orange juice is not going to make anyone thinner.
The editors at the New York Times evidently believe that genetically enhanced crops will help poor farmers in developing countries. Hooray! Perhaps some of their readers who buy only organic at Zabar's will take note.
However, the Times' editors need to get down on the farm a bit more. The editors condemn biotech companies for creating genetically modified seeds that can't be replanted. In actual fact, most of them can be replanted; it's just that modern farmers in industrial countries sign contracts agreeing not to replant them. Why? Because modern farmers (dismissed as "agribusiness") generally want to get the latest improved varieties each year so they don't save seed anyway.
But where the Times' editors go most wrong is that corn (maize) farmers in rich countries have not been saving seed since hybrid varieties were developed in the 1930s. Before hybrid corn, US farmers produced around 30 bushels per acre; today they produce over 150 bushels per acre. Of course better fertilizers, pesticides and land cultivation techniques contributed to this increase, but hybridization was critical. Farmers don't save hybrid seed because they don't breed true.
The Times' editors are right that subsistence corn farmers probably do need to save seed for the time being, but they seem to believe that poor farmers will "subsist" forever. The boost in productivity that biotech crops will give poor farmers will also boost their incomes which leads to a path away from subsistence toward ever more modern methods of high yield farming. To achieve even higher jumps in their crop productivity, once poor farmers will eventually choose to buy hybrid seeds each year just the way that their rich country competitors do today.
One final observation: why is "profit" apparently OK for newspapers, but not for biotech companies? And just where do the editors think the Rockefeller and Syngenta Foundations got the money to fund research in the first place?
Bob Geldoff is incensed that folks are selling tickets to his upcoming Live 8 charity benefit show on eBay. (People won the tickets by entering a raffle via mobile phone text message, at a couple bucks per entry.)
EBay UK has shut down ticket sales (after outraged users started making false bids in ridiculously high amounts to prevent the tickets from moving), after Geldoff turned down eBay's offer to donate their listing fee for the tickets to help fight povery. According to Geldoff, eBay and the ticket sellers are "profiteering on the backs of the impoverished."
Except, as reader Paul Wilbert observes, that's idiotic. The poor get not one cent less as a result of a third party transaction between ticket-holders and prospective buyers. If anything, it's Geldoff who's depriving the poor by turning down eBay's offer—and, more importantly, by raffling off all those tickets instead of reserving some to auction off himself.
We learn from the autopsy:
- Schiavo's brain was about half the size of a normal brain,
damaged beyond any possible hope of recovery.
- There are no signs that she was abused (by her husband or
otherwise) as some had claimed, though it remains unclear what
caused her to fall into a vegetative state in the first
- Remember those carfully edited clips that purported to show Schiavo following a balloon with her eyes? Well, turns out she was blind.
Does it matter? Probably not: I expect most people put the whole circus out of their minds long ago, while for the true believers, this is doubtless just further evidence of how elaborate and sinister is the anti-life conspiracy to hide the "truth."
It's flag burning amendment time in the Senate again. USA Today reports:
The Senate may be within one or two votes of passing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag, clearing the way for ratification by the states, a key opponent of the measure said Tuesday.
"It's scary close," said Terri Schroeder of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the amendment. "People think it's something that's never going to happen. ... The reality is we're very close to losing this battle."
An advocacy group that supports the amendment says reported "flag desecration incidents" in the U.S. declined last year. To one. Regardless of how far the measure goes, which I doubt will be very far at all, burning a flag just isn't a very popular or interesting form of dissent.
Whole thing here.
[Via Rational Review.]
Federal Elections Commission Chairman and friend o' liberty Bradley Smith has submitted his resignation to President Bush, after serving five years on the board authorized to enforce the campaign finance laws he despised. From his resignation letter:
I remain concerned about the effects our campaign finance laws are having on grassroots political participation. Political activity is more heavily regulated than at any time in our nation's history. For example, in accordance with the law, during my tenure the FEC has assessed penalties against parents for contributing too much to the campaigns of children; against children for contributing to the campaigns of parents; and against husbands for contributing to campaigns of their wives. We have required citizens to respond to complaints for the display of homemade signs supporting a candidate. These are just a few examples: the Commission's regulations take up nearly 400 pages of fine print. I urge you to consider the effects of regulation on grassroots, citizen political activity when proposals arise for still more regulation.
Reason interviewed Smith in May 2004 and July 2001. Though Bush is somewhat of a campaign-finance skeptic, it's hard to imagine him nominating a replacement as rightfully hostile to a terrible set of laws.
Wolfowitz said on Tuesday the key to helping Africa's poor cotton growers was to cut the subsidies paid to U.S. and European agriculture producers.
On a tour of a cotton-processing factory in Burkina Faso, Wolfowtiz said the World Bank would have a "strong voice" at the Doha trade talks to make a case for wealthy nations to reduce agricultural subsidies worldwide.
Ron Bailey explains why if only we'd had socialized healthcare in feudal times, we could enjoy free computer-aided leechings today.
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair stand up for the Michael Jackson jury.
Columnist Robert J. Samuelson picks up on the graying-of-Europe meme: "Europe as we know it," he writes, "is slowly going out of business."
Samuelson's theme is that "It's hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling." Europe's economy is faltering, European majorities don't want to reduce the social benefits that are straining their economies, and now an increasing number of European societies want to reduce immigration as well.
"All this is bad for Europe -- and the United States," he writes. "A weak European economy is one reason that the world economy is shaky and so dependent on American growth. Preoccupied with divisions at home, Europe is history's has-been."