Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blogging on the election

The newspaper business keeps moving more to online-first, with the dead-tree edition still important but to some extent used mainly to enhance credibility and direct traffic to the Web version. So we newspaper writers are increasingly becoming bloggers. Here's a link to the Register's Horeserace'08 blog, on which we've been commenting on the election, including Obama's pastor problems and Hillary's big lie about Bosnia. I'm especially pleased with the posting based on this article, about what social psychologists call the "saying is believing" effect, through which people who try to persuade audiences and establish emotionl connections with them come to believe what they say to pesuade more than the original facts they start with. Could explain a lot about politicians -- and the rest of us more often than we might like to admit -- who come to believe their own BS

A becoming court modesty

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the Supreme Court's Medellin v. Texas decision. It was a complicated case but a fairly simple principle, that only Congress (and state legislatures) can make law in the U.S. Medellin, a U.S. resident since age 3, is a Mexican national, and according to a treaty should have been entitled to see a consular official from Mexico. The issue wasn't raised by his defense until they were appealing the death sentence. The Supremes said the treaty wasn't self-executing -- it would have required Congress to pass a law to make it a new right in the U.S. So the state of Texas didn't have to grant a rehearing.

In fact, this case was taken to the World Court as a way of trying to weaken the death penalty in the U.S. and establish the power of the World Court to dictate domestic law in the U.S. There was no allegation that the trial on the crime, a brutal gang rape and murder of two teenage girls, was defective, or that consulting with a consul would have changed the outcome. I have no love for the death penalty; I'm suspicious of letting the State have that kind of power. But if it's to be changed in the U.S. it should be done by us, not stealthily through some international elite. organization.

88-78. That was not easy!

Well, I have to hand it to Western (!) Kentucky. They came out fired up in the second half. Collison fouled out for the first time this year -- he was really bothered by the WKU defense, especially Ty Brazelton, who is a remarkable player I expect will have and NBA career -- and WKU got within 4 -- until Josh Shipp (my man!) drained a three. Western Kentucky didn't go away, but the Bruins hung tough. Kevin Love was a big difference-maker, but the real revelation was James Keefe, getting his first collegiate double-double (18-12) off the bench. He's had some good games recently when Mbah a Moute was injured, but this was some performance.

On the the Elite Eight. Against Xavier. Saturday. Pardon my enthusiasm.

41-20 at halftime. That's more like it!

I had Jen DVR it, so I'm a little behind real time. I'll take it. Well, I don't think we can hold them to 18% shooting in the second half as well, so it might not be a lock just yet. The nice thing from my perspective is that Josh Shipp finally hit a trey and it seemed to energize him. He then slashed in for a couple of driving scores. And Keefe has been good off the bench. The Bruins are typically stronger in the second half then the first (otherwise they would have lost a lot more games this year) so I feel good but still mildly wary.

Hoping for support for Love

I'm getting ready to leave the office to go home, but if the schedule is right I'll miss the first quarter or so of the UCLA-Eastern Kentucky Sweet Sixteen game. After the Texas A&M game I'm not taking anything for granted. UCLA should win, but it could well take more than Kevin Love and Darren Collison scoring to win this one. I suspect that Russell Westbrook will bounce back nicely from a less-than-stellar game on Saturday, but my real dream is that Josh Shipp will sink the first three-pointer he tries and go on to drop a few more bombs and score at least in the 'teens. If he does, and recovers his shooting eye, the chances of going all the way increase substantially. The Register says Ben Howland worked with him on shooting for 90 minutes or so the other day, and he's gotten his stroke back, at least in practive. But practice doesn't always translate into game play.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

British eccentric denied entry to U.S.

This is about as silly a use of the power the government has arrogated to itself and decided to use more aggressively since 9/11 as I've heard of. Sebastian Horsley is a British upper-class toff who has written a book about his life as a wastrel -- drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, rehab, getting sober but still being depraved -- called "Dandy in the Underworld." He was coming to the U.S. for a book tour, but was turned back by ICE for "moral turpitude" -- arriving in New York, whose former governor had just resigned over a prostitute scandal and whose current governor has admitted both he and his wife had affairs and he took drugs when he was younger.

Turns out Horsley, who is viewed as more odd and maybe absurd than criminal back home, had a drug conviction in the UK 25 years ago. According to the U.S. customs people, it doesn't matter that he's been to rehab and is drug-free now. That old conviction is enough.

These laws are arbitrarily enforced -- Horsley has been to the U.S. several times before without complication -- but somehow he got an a watch list for this time. Maybe it was the added notoriety of the book. But the laws on visas for those accused or moral turpitude -- vague and arbitrary and they tend to be applied to gays more often than others -- should simply be eliminated. They make the United States look absurd because, in this instance, it is absurd.

DC Freedom Rally April 15

This came in as a comment to my last post on Ron Paul -- maybe there's starting to be something of a community? -- and I thought it should be seen by those who might not have clicked on the comments:

Ron Paul Suggested it! We're doing it!"FREEDOM RALLY"

Dear Ron Paul Meetup Organizers and Members:My name is Bill Stegmeier.I'm a Ron Paul Meetup organizer from South Dakota.
I'm contacting every Ron Paul Meetup organizer about the following:You may have heard of this upcoming event, but if not, I would like to bring to your attention the Washington D.C. "Freedom Rally", featuring among other speakers, our very own Ron Paul! It's billed as the April 15th "Mass Rally in DC to Take Back America."
While not being exclusively about Ron Paul, it is most certainly about the "Ron Paul Revolution" which we all credit Dr. Paul for having "lit the fuse."I won't go into much more detail about the April 15th Freedom Rally, except to encourage you to do the following:

1. Check out the websites listed below to get a handle on what's planned.
2. Google the distinguished speakers that will share the stage with Ron Paul.
3. And then, once you are totally excited about this event, plan a Ron Paul Meetup in D.C. for April 15th! If your Meetup group is large enough, you may want to contact your local charter bus company for the trip to D.C. No one has to spend the night. Bus in, do the Rally, and bus right back home. That's what I will be doing in my motorhome with at least ten other patriots from the Midwest! (And hopefully a charter bus if needed)

For those of you in Mountain or Pacific time, forget about a bus. Charter an airliner!You all be there now, ya hear!
Yours in Ron Paul,Bill Stegmeier
Check out the following "Freedom Rally" websites:
(Great Freedom Rally Flier)

P.S. For a Word doc. of this message, go to:
Click on "Files", then click on "Freedom Rally"

Taiwan less dangerous now

Here is the Register's editorial on last weekend's elections in Taiwan. The short version is that with the victory by the Kuomintang (KMT), which used the be the one available party but has been out of power for eight years, tension between Taiwan and the mainland should ratchet down. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had been edging ever closer to a formal declaration of independence from mainland China, thus upsetting the delicate balance of make-believe that has undergirded stability. The mainland claims Taiwan is a renegade province, of course, and Taipei still pretends it's the real government of all of China. Taiwan has de facto independence, but formal indendence could trigger military action by the mainland that could involve the U.S.

I talked to Ted Carpenter, who wrote a recent book on Taiwan, and he told me a few other things we couldn't fit into the editorial. For example, KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou had to promise not to propose reunification. The crackdown in Tibet probably reduced the KMT margin of victory by six percent of so, but at 58% it was still decisive. Ted also offered a bit of an explanation for China's insistence on having every bit of territory it traditionally held, which still strikes me as an example of statist irrationality (why keep constantly troublesome Tibet?). In addition to constant propaganda from state-controlled media, of course, during the 19th century China was ruled by decentralized warlords, and the European colonial powers took advantage of that to establish local footholds. So there's at least a semi-understandable reason for China being so insistent on being unified. But I still think it's irrational.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Van Cliburn plus 50

Can it really be 50 years since American -- Texan -- pianist Van Cliburn won the Tchiakovsky International piano competition in Moscow? It happened in April 1958, and heaven help me I remember it fairly well. The Van Cliburn Foundation recently held a dinner to commemorate the anniversary.

We got the details from Life magazine back then, and it seemed to many of us like a triumph of American talent over communist regimentation and strict training. It was also, however, part of one of the first communist "thaws" following Khrushchev's speech exposing and deploring Stalin's crimes (some of which he had committed). So it was both Cold War competition and the possibility of some easing of tension, which happened periodically.

Anyway, shortly thereafter, already being a confirmed classical music fanatic, I bought the version of the first Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto done by Van Cliburn with Russian conductor Kiril Kondrashin. It's still my favorite version of the piece, sensitive and delicate where appropriate yet with great power in the forte passages.

I suspect Cliburn never quite reached his full potential as an artist, though he made a marvelous recording of the Rachmaninov Third as well as the Tchaikovsky First. I suspect it was partly because in the dozen or so years when he was as celebrated as a rock star, every orchestra with which he played wanted the Tchaikovsky or the Rachmaninov, and he never quite established his ability in other parts of the repertoire. But he did establish the Van Cliburn Foundation, which holds its own piano competition and has nurtured several very fine pianists into international careers. Van Cliburn is 72 now (still looking almost boyish), and looks to have had a life well-lived.

McCain snubs Ron Paul supporters

Here's another reason to wonder whether John McCain is all there. In a Washington Times interview, Ron Paul acknowledged that not only had the McCain campaign made no effort to make contact with the candidate who inspired the most enthusiastic grassroots support, especially among young people, essential if the Republican Party is to have a future, but McCain and the party establishment have actively snubbed him and his supporters. Apparently the drop-dead requirement to be a "good Republican" in today's party is to love war and foreign interventionism. The GOP should be put on suicide watch, but it may be too late.

Worldly powers overcome

Here's the Register's Easter editorial. I tend to be my most anarchistic when I'm the most Christian. The resurrection is an affront to every empire and government that ever existed, not just Rome and ancient Israel. The powers of this world are the enemy of innocence and goodness wherever they appear, and seek to take the rightful place of God. Few who call themselves Christian understand this fully, though most have some understanding. Too many Christians, however, seek to use the State to further what they think is good for others, which to me is an utter subversion of what Jesus tried to do.

Government can't protect privacy

Here's the Register's editorial on the fact that the passport records of the three remaining semi-realistic presidential candidates were broken into. The explanation so far is relatively innocent -- inappropriate curiosity on the part of contract workers doing data input -- but the initial explanation for accessing Bill Clinton's passport records back in 1992 was putatively innocent too. It tirned out to be an effort from a high level to smear him. More explanation and maybe a congressional inquiry would be appropriate.

The most important thing to take from the episode is that the government simply can't be trusted with private information. Even when it tries, it will never do the job of protecting privacy well. Technologically the government is always a few generations behind the state of the art, so it will be vulnerable to hackers. And it is inclined to share information among departments anyway. If the Real ID act is ever implemented -- it's on hold, with states permitted to apply for waivers -- it will be a nightmare, with everything an identity thief could want in one place.

Monday, March 24, 2008

McCain the warlike

Here's a link to my latest piece for, a review of Matt Welch's excellent recent book, "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick." The book cuts through the heroic history and the media's love affair with with the 2000 Straight Talk Express to check out what McCain really thinks and what kinds of policies move him. The bottom line is that what his philosophy has evolved into is "national greatness" nationalism as expressed mostly through military action. He could be, if elected, the most militaristic president we've had in decades. He missed a chance to distance himself from Bush and identify with Petraeus on his recent trip when Petraeus talked about the lack of Iraqi government progress toward reconciliation. He could have talked nicely but tough to Maliki, but he seems so in love with the idea of the Iraq war that he doesn't seem to have thought of it.

And on the domestic side, he's about as far from a conservative, let alone a free-market advocate, as one can get. Add the legendary temper and possible instability, something he's displayed ever since he was a kid. He strikes me as actively hostile to liberty and a fairly complete disaster.

Fallon retires -- will Iran war follow?

Here's a link to the piece I did for on the retirement of Adm. William Fallon, a military leader who from what I can tell thought it was more important to serve his country than to continue to serve this administration. Almost as soon as he assumed leadership of the Central Command (CentCom) he said in public that a war with Iran would not occur on his watch. He had to know that the article in Esquire on his views would be viewed as close to insubordination, and from those I talked to there seems little doubt that he was told to leave or be fired. President Bush is fond of saying that he listens to his military commanders in the field, but he seems to listen only to those who tell him what he wants to hear. Gen. David Petraeus (Adm. Fallon denies calling him an "ass-kissing chickenshit" but that sounds like typical Navy talk to me) is one of those -- and even he has said that nobody in the Iraqi government or the U.S. government believes the make-believe Iraqi government has come close to the kind of reconciliation everybody claimed to believe was essential in the wake of the "surge."

I still don't think a war with Iran is inevitable -- it would be even stupider than the Iraq war -- but who knows with this administration.

There's word that Congress wants Adm. Fallon to testify, but the Pentagon won't allow it. I thought he would retire officially April 30, but I guess not. I hope when he does that he will speak out boldly and often. And maybe before.

Kenneth Gregg memorial dinner

I had heard on the blogosphere that Kenneth Gregg had died a week or so ago. I haven't seen Ken in almost 20 years or so, but we used to be somewhat close, seeing one another at libertarian events and talking on the phone every so often. Ken was a close student of history who was more interested in getting it right than in proving a point, and a kind, benevolent soul. I don't know about anyone else, but even though I hadn't seen him for years, I'll miss him. The world seems smaller without him. I'll try to see if I can find his Website again and post it.

Pam Maltzman is having a dinner for him (Dutch) April 5 at 6:00 p.m. at:

Baiplu Thai Restaurant/Aki Sushi
1626 East Seventh Street
Long Beach, California
(562) 436-3123


The UCLA basketball game took it out of me so severely that I haven't been able to blog. Well, actually, although I was exhausted after the game -- Texas A&M was even tougher than I expected and really played well, leading at halftime and right up until the last couple of minutes, and I was whooping and hollering ridiculously -- it had more to do with the plans Sunday. A high school friend I haven't seen since my wedding day more than 27 years ago e-mailed and suggested a reunion at the church we all attended in high school on Easter. It ended up being me, Bob Clark and Sandy MacNicoll-Brown, but it was really quite exciting and gratifying. And it took most of the day. Then tonight I indulged myself and watched the Lakers. An exciting game, which they should have won in regulation until they threw a couple of lazy passes and had to scratch out an overtime win that wasn't certain until the last 3.3 seconds. I've been following the Lakers since the West-Baylor days, but I'm still not as emotionally involved with them as I am with the Bruins. So there will be a few more tonight.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Passportgate like deja vu

I don't think I know enough of the details to comment very well on the news that somebody or somebodies accessed Barack Obama's passport records -- certainly don't know why but it's hard not to be suspicious. Often enough these stories take a while to develop to being reasonably complete. It's worth remembering that this isn't the first time it has happened. They did it to Bill Clinton too, back when another Bush was in the White House.

Five years and killing

It's five years since the Iraq war began, and there really is no satisfactory end in sight. Here's the Register's editorial on Bush's delusional speech yesterday. To be sure, violence is down (though it stopped declining in November and may be ratcheting back up). But for Cheney to compare Bush to Lincoln, and to natter on about him having a firm strategy and solid objectives! They've been improvising this thing from the beginning -- check out the recent story that Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army, probably the single most disastrous decision in what has been the biggest strategic mistake in U.S. history (as my friend Gen. Bill Odom puts it, check out his excellent book), was made almost impulsively, without consultation or discussion, and in contravention of a decision the top leaders thought they had made a few weeks earlier. And nobody had the gumption to say, "Er, Jerry, this isn't quite what we had in mind"?

What a bunch of doofuses, led by the doofus in chief.

Blowout, Butterfly, beer and blogging!

And with the game over, I can turn to NYC Opera's Madama Butterfly. With a Chinese Cio-Cio San, whose name I can't remember, but she is really quite remarkable. Just swooned to the humming chorus, which I've sung in performance ... much harder than it sounds. I remember years ago somebody complaining to our music critic that this is really a sexist opera. I e-mailed back that Cio-Cio San, even though a tragic figure, is clearly the central character, the most three-dimensional character -- and she gets the greatest music. Pinkerton (the cad) doesn't even get a decent aria. Puccini had it figured out.

Almost not fair . . . almost

Well, any worries that the Bruins would take it too much for granted and come out flat. Beating Mississipi Valley State 70-29 strikes me as perhaps a bit excessive, but it was done with almost entirely substitutes in the second half. It's a good omen for the near future. These Bruins this year are unlikely to play down to the competition. The announcers say Texas A&M i s big and physical and unlikely to be intimidated. Bring on Saturday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Trouble in Tibet

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the crackdown by mainland China in Tibet. Bloody and tragic. The editorial makes a point I haven't seen made elsewhere, namely that nation-states can sometimes be downright insane when it comes to the lust for control over territory. Tibetans are ethnically distinct from Han Chinese, and while it paid tribute to some Chinese emperors in timess past, it was essentially autonomous because of distance, and for most of the 20th century because of troubles in China that were something of a distraction. The Tibetans hate Chinese rule and give the Chinese nothing but trouble and grief, and there's no economic benefit to China from controlling Tibet -- quite the contrary. Hanging on to Tibet wrecks China's image in the world, which for the first time in a while it cares about. If Chinese leaders were thinking rationally they'd let Tibet (and Taiwan) have uncontested independence, ridding nthemselves of headaches. But they're in charge of nation-states, which tends to reduce one's IQ by at least 50 points.

Not much audacity from Obama

I blogged a little more for the Register on Barack Obama's speech yesterday, repeating some of what I said here but adding that it would have been nice to see him say something about the drug war. There is probably no federal policy that does more damage to African-Americans than the drug war, and Barack I am sure knows this. It should be virtually impossible to discuss race in America without mentioning the drug war, but Barack managed it. It reinforces the impression that for all his speechifying and talk about change, when the rubber meets the road and it's time to be genuinely unconventional, he's pretty much a standard-issue left-liberal, too timid to touch the drug war issue. Too bad.

Supremes and the Second Amendment

Here is the Register's editorial commenting on the oral argument Tuesday before the Supreme Court on D.C. v. Heller, regarding the District of Columbia's draconian gun law, passed in ,976, which prohibits ownership of handguns entirely, and requires that rifles and shotguns be disassembled or disabled by a trigger lock. Heller, a security guard, had applied for a permit and was denied, so he had standing to sue.

The key issue is whether the right to keep and bear arms, which according to the Second Amendment "shall not be infringed," is an individual or a collective right. Adherents of the religion of gun control have made the case that because of the introductory mililtia clause, the right accrues only to members of a state militia. Recent scholarship on various aspects of gun control and history has established the idea that it is an individual right pretty firmly, and the D.C. Circuit agreed, invalidating the law.

Five members of the Supremes seem to agree too, with Kennedy, Mr. Swing Vote, leading the questioning of DC's lawyer and even helping out the pro-rights lawyer when he got off track.

The hero here is Robert Levy, who made a bunch of money in investments, sold his firm for a pile, then got his law degree and joined Cato. He financed the entire case himself, picking the plaintiffs and hiring the lawyers (he was a co-counsel). Bob doesn't own a gun or want to, but he's a strong believer in individual rights and in the individual-right interpretation of the Second Amendment. I've talked to him on the phone many times and in person a few times, and he is truly one of the good guys.

For more than you can digest on Supreme Court activities (e.g., links to 50-plus amicus briefs on this case), the place to go is SCOTUSblog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's racy talk

Guess it's almost required for a blogger to discuss Barack Obama's speech today trying to distance himself from his pastor of 20 years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I've seen people suggest it was the best speech on race by any major politician in our lifetime. It was thoughtful and measured, demonstrating an understanding of how difficult it is for both blacks and whites to communicate with one another, even after all the progress that has been made. I don't know if it will do what it had to do. It might have been too complex, maybe even too thoughtful for the degraded political discourse in this country. No 10-second sound bite to sum it up and all.

As good a speech as it was, however, I thought it showed a politician less open to real change than his generalized rhetoric suggests he wants you to believe. There was candor, but almost no departure from what I see as the straitjacket of pretty conventional liberal-left thinking. I have to admit that I'm always suspicious of any politician who stresses "unity." It almost always means get with my program or else, and this country is simply too large and too diverse to be unified about much of anything -- and thank the good Lord for that. We don't have common hopes, we have individual hopes and dreams, and the genius of this country has been to provide an environment in which people have at least a chance to work out their individual dreams and desires, and the result has been the richest and most inspiring country on earth. Common dreams are for fascists and authoritarians.

Obama seems to see political leadership as the key to improvement and government as the natural shaper and guider of aspirations, when things generally work out better when government has the good sense to get out of the way. He flogs the standard bogeymen of corporations and "special interests" without seeming to have an awareness that it is the size of government and its ability to hand out favors that attracts special interests like flies. He talks about education, but can't bring himself to utter the words "school choice," which every poll shows large majorities of blacks would prefer. He dropped hints about merit pay early on, but he hardly ever mentions it. I don't expect him to come out for separation of school and state, but it looks as if his solution is more of the same -- throw more money at a failed system, something we know won't help the children much at all (though it will get votes from teachers' union members).

The key to getting beyond racism is stressing individualism over tribalism and identity politics. Obama may sincerely want to move beyond racism, but I don't think he has a clue about how to do it beyond offwering glittering generalities.

Anyhway, here are some other reactions, from Andrew Sullivan (an increasingly unabashed enthusiast), Ross Douthat, Charles Murray, and John McWhorter. Comments, please. The more discussion on these topics the better.

Kevin Love is lovin' it

Here's a really nice NYT feature on UCLA freshman center Kevin Love that makes me like him even better. Being in Southern California rather than Oregon, where he spent most of his life, he says he's finally comfortable enough to say he loves the music of the Beach Boys, in which his uncle Mike Love played and sang. Mike Love may not have been the (tortured) genius Brian Wilson was, but at concerts it always seemed to me he was the Beach Boy having the most authentic Beach Boys fun.

The Bruins play No. 16 seed Mississippi Valley State on Thursday. Hope they don't overlook them.

Russian hockey players going home

This is one of those signs-of-the-times stories that demonstrates how globalization and the growth of economies that are not traditionally considered "advanced" is opening opportunities for people that simply weren't available even a few years ago. Russians who have come to America to play in the National Hockey League are starting to return to Russia to help build professional leagues there. Some of them are past their best playing days and even they aren't making the kind of money they could make in the States. But they can still make the kind of money that puts them in the economic elite back home, and they're at home, which is something of a comfort level.

To be sure, the availability of enough money to attract people who have pulled down American money in professional sports has more to do with the high price of oil than with sensible economic policies, but for whatever the reason, the money is there. It's too bad all that oil wealth is bolstering Putin (though there doesn't seem to be much demand for real democracy in Russia) and there's the constant danger in a single-resource economy (though Russia isn't quite that) that it will bolster authoritarianism, as it has in almost every oil-rich country.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bear Stearns crisis makes case for gold

I'm not much of a gold bug, although I certainly can appreciate the case for a gold standard and the critiques of fractional-reserve banking. The current crisis that the government and the Federal Reserve are having so much trouble dealing with -- the fire they are pouring gasoline on -- certainly makes something of a case. Robert Samuelson, in a recent column, explains how convoluted the financing/banking system has become. Mortgages aren't often kept by the institution that issues them, but are "securitized" -- packaged with other loans and sold to inveswtros. The current crisis is likely to affect more of the economy because the system is so convoluted and not the least bit transparent. Without fractional-reserve banking, such convolution would be almost impossible. Bank runs like Bear Stearns couldn't happen, because banks could lend out only on nthe basis of the funds they have on deposit.

The other problem is loss of confidence in the dollar, due largely to thr Fed pumping in more Fed-created money into the economy. The Fed's response? Lower interest rates more so as to pump in even more funny money! It's a quintessentially short-term, not to say desperate approach, that will only make the problems worse in the long run. With a gold standard the government wouldn't be able to manipulate (and more often than not, mismanage) the money supply so irresponsibly.

Penn Jillette wuz robbed!

I guess there's no choice but to admit that "Dancing with the Stars" is one of my guilty pleasures. My wife absolutely loves it, and I actually enjoy it. Which is the introduction to the headline. Of course I'm rooting for Penn Jillette, not only because his magic-comedy is entertaining, as is his and Teller's Showtime show, but because it's pretty well known that he's an enthusiastic and articulate libertarian. The last time I went to the Freedom Fest in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, he was in the audience, listening intently to the speakers, including John Stossel and Ron Paul, and trying not to draw attention to himself, which isn't all that easy considering how big he is.

Is that tribal of me, who is supposed to be a consummate individualist? Guilty as charged.

Anyway, he actually did better than I expected, bringing lots of energy to a cha-cha, and showing himself to be a natural entertainer. Of course, he wasn't exactly light on his feet, which are suitably huge. But I thought he deserved better than the 5-6-5 the judges gave him. I think because he went first they started with low scores to have room for better scores if others were better.

Actually I think Jason Taylor, the football player, could very well turn out to be the best male dancer this year. Still, Penn was better than the judges gave him credit for.

Ron Paul also questions privacy violations in Spitzer case

I noticed that Ron Paul gave a speech on the House floor Friday raising some of the same concerns the Register expressed about the investigation into Eliot Spitzer being a supreme violation of privacy. The laws that gave the government the justification for warrants simply shouldn't exist. Good for Ron!

Bruins: First seed on the way

As expected, the UCLA Bruins are the first seed in the West section of March Madness, and will play 16th-seed Mississippi Valley State on Thursday. If Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute is healthy enough to play and Kevin Love's back injury is really all better -- and especially if Josh Shipp recovers his three-point shooting touch -- I expect them to go very far. The other night on ESPN the so-called experts all had UCLA getting into the Final Four, but none of them projected the Bruins to win it. The projected winners were all over the map -- Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas, even Pittsburgh, but none thought UCLA would take it. To be sure, the Bruins have vulnerabilites, but their defense is excellent, Collison (who had a few iffy games) keeps getting better and is much better at handling pressure. I'm a hopeless homey, of course, but I hope the Bruins prove the so-called experts wrong-wrong-wrong!

Iraq: Five years a nd counting

Here's a link to the Register's editorial Sunday on the fifth anniversary of the misbegotten war in Iraq, and realikstically there is no decent end in sight. People laugh at McCain saying he wouldn't mind if we were there for 50 years or even 100, but I suspect he reflects what many in the foreign-policy "community expected and wanted out of the deal. Early on said the real purpose of the invasion was to establish permanent bases in Iraq so we could have a forward presence in the Middle East but not in Saudi Arabia. Even the dimmest knew, though neocons and other ignorant war-whoopers deny it, that the presence of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, home of the two holiest sites in Islam, was a special burr under Osama bin Laden's saddle and one of the reasons for the 9/11 attacks, and would remain a spur to terrorist attacks as long as they remained there.

Of course they didn't count on the insurgency, having been beguiled by the Cheney-neocon meme of being greeted as liberators and neglected to look into the homework the State Dept. and others had already done. The sheer carelessness of the commitment still rankles me. All those connected with starting the Iraq war deserve to be im peached and/or tried for treason, but of course it will never happen. Now the occupation of Iraq serves the purpose policymakers feared the bases in Saudi Arabia would serve, of attracting jihadists, "blooding" them in actual combat and insurrection, and training them to wreak havoc when they return to other countries.

To give McCain his due (not that he really deserves it), he wasn't talking about 50 years of active combat, but envisions things settling down and the U.S. keeping a garrison of U.S. soldiers there, much as we have in Korea, Germany and Okinawa. It's a stupid idea, but at least it's not endless combat, which even he must know would be disastrous (I think).

Emperor Club VIP hooker may get music career

Is this a great country or what? The 22- or 23-year old hooker whose dangerous liaison brought former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer down may get a music career out of the deal. I haven't checked out her songs on her MySpace page -- club R&B doesn't interest me much even if the singer is very good, which I rather doubt she is -- but apparently more than 2.3 million people had as of Friday -- more than 9 million as of now -- and some of them were music industry talent scouts. I have nothing against somebody parlaying notoriety into a show biz career, so long as one doesn't confuse notoriety with actual talent. And who knows, maybe this one does have talent. So more power to her, I say.

I'm sure nobody who reads this oh-so-serious blog is prurient enough to be interested, but just for research sake, here's a link to some images stored elsewhere from the Emperor's Club VIP site, which was taken down early last week. They're less lascivious than your average Victoria's Secret ad, but . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bruins deserved it

Kevin Love looked much better in the second half, but still not quite himself. However, he was good enough to continue his string of scoring in double figures in every game this year, the Bruins managed to beat Stanford fair and square. Collison really showed a lot. I'll be surprised if they don't go far into the NCAA tournament; in fact, I'm surprised -- well, maybe not, the eastern bias on netw0rk sports continues -- the commentators on TV didn't mention UCLA more often as a likely Final Four contendor -- or is it just assumed?

Anyway, I'm encouraged but still mildly worried by a tendency not to come out at their strongest at the beginning of a game. It's fine to have the experience of coming back, but I'm concerned that they might encounter a team in the tournament against whom they won't be able to come back.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

32-32 at Halftime

Well, it's not quite what I had in mind, but considering the circumstances it's encouraging, even remarkable. Luc-Richard M'bah a'Moute is out of this game (he says he'll be OK next week) due to a sprained ankle suffered in the USC game. Takes away a lot of rebounds. Then, less than 5 minutes in, Kevin Love, our best player, injured his back, and they say he's suffering from back spasms. He's been in a few minutes, then out, and didn't score his first field goal until 3:51 remaining. Probably played only half of the first half. He's obviously not himself, obviously in pain, though he's still gotten some rebounds and thrown a few of those amazing outlet passes that may be the best in college basketball this year. Stanford went up quickly -- I think by as many as 7 or 8, but the Bruins battled back and even led for a brief period. Then Stanford went into a zone, which UCLA has not handled all that well this year. Usually the Bruins turn it up in the second half, but Stanford is awfully good (gee, Brook Lopez is remarkable). We'll see what happens.

Obama and Geraldine's big mouth

Here's the Register's editorial reacting to the various flaps that arose after Geraldine Ferraro opened her big mouth and suggested that black males in this country have all the luck! It makes an argument I suspect you won't find elsewhere, having to do with the fact that democracy is divisive rather than unifying, and becomes increasingly so as government increases in size and becomes increasingly paternalistic/maternalistic.

Musharraf's latest troubles

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the situation in Pakistan, where the two more-or-less opposition parties (Sharif's and Bhutto's) that got most of the votes in the recent parliamentary election are forming a coalition government and could very well end up impeaching Musharraf. It's actually rather weird that the U.S. is still insisting that Musharraf is the key in Pakistan despite all the evidence of his deep unpopularity. I suspect strongly that it's the Bushlet, who like many ignorant but powerful people still has a faith in his ability to size people up, and also seems to think that international relations is about personal relations. I can't wait for that twit to be gone!

Exploring Blackwater

I almost forgot that I did a review of Jeremy Scahill's book, "Blackwater" a couple of weeks ago. Here's a link. The book can be annoying with all the left-wing buzzwords (anybody to right of, say, Teddy Kennedy is "far right" or an "extremist") but it's based on solid reporting and is a good source of information.

Some stuff about Spitzer's fall doesn't smell right

I blogged here on the subject a couple of days ago, and here's a link to the Register's editorial on Friday discussing some aspects of the Eliot Spitzer downfall that might just be cause for concern. The most troubling, of course, is that very fact that banks are required to report transactions of $10,000 or more to the feds, and also transactions of smaller amounts within a few days of each other that might look like "structuring" to get around a law that should not be on the books in the first place.

The $10,000 transaction law, of course, is part of the Holy War on Drugs. They haven't reduced the number of people who use illicit drugs, but they sure have found ways to violate the privacy of Americans on a wholesale basis.

Pac-10: The right B-ball game

Been away a couple of days. One of the things the Register still does even in these lean times of reinvention is a dinner each year for those who have reached the 25-year (and 30, 35 and 40) mark with the company (Freedom Communications; some started at other papers). They invite all those who have reached the mark, which I did a few years ago. Anyway, that was Thursday. Nice event. Terry Horne, publisher since September, who is supposed to lead us into the new era, did a nice job as MC and passed my wife's sincerity test.

I'm doing chores here so I can settle in like a couch potato to watch the Pac-10 basketball championship game at 3 pm PST in proper style. I have a variety of UCLA hats and shirts in case they need the rally-cap treatment.

It's unusual that the higher seed won every single game so far in this tournament, but the final game, between UCLA and Stanford, is the right one. I hope UCLA takes control early, as it did against Cal Thursday to leave no doubt that a close (and perhaps tainted; that last foul to get Collison to the line was dubious) game last week indicated a lack of focus by UCLA rather than a lack of ability to win the big ones decisively. It could be dicey, however. Stanford, with the twin Lopezes, is pretty formidable; if they get Love in foul trouble early it could be a long afternoon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Was Spitzer targeted?

I stand by everything in this Register editorial on NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned today, but I'm starting to wonder whether he was a victim of the same kind of stretching of the original purposes of laws that he employed when he was a grandstanding, bullying NY attorney general. There would be a certain karmic fitness to that, but it could still very well have been an abuse of power.

I noted previously that there's no good reason for prostitution to be a criminal act. The laws through which Spitzer was ensnared are also of dubious purpose and provenance. The law requiring banks to report transactions of $10,000 or more had their origin in the drug laws, which are also unjustified (and in my view unconstitutional). When people found ways around that, they passed a new law outlawing what is called "structuring," which applies to transactions of less than $10,000 that are close together and might be ways to get around the $10,000-transaction law. It's not something that's ever been applied to me (alas!) though I still have dreams of cashing large checks in connection with my next book, though the previous books have not led to such problems.

Anyway, it seems the feds got onto Spitzer when he moved money around from one account of his own to another (he's heir to a substantial fortune) to conceal the large sums he was paying to prostitutes. Some now want to call this money-laundering, which also has no business being a crime. I remember years ago being appalled at reading about the number of "economic crimes" in the old Soviet Union, which made perfectly ordinary economic activities criminal. Thanks to the War on Drugs, we now have similar crimes in the "land of the free."

Perfect blogging environment

I complain and will continue to complain about the appalling people who rule us (Dick Cowan's phrase, thanks, old friend), but I have to confess my personal life is pretty good just now. Jen is in her office working on apps and talking to an old friend, and I'm sitting in the living room with a glass of very nice Pinot Grigio, listening to Beethoven (3rd piano concerto, after a couple of the violin Romances) from a CD that cost me almost nothing a few years ago on a bargain label but is a quite acceptable performance. And pouring out indignation about the government. It's not bad at all.

McCain embraces torture

John McCain has now abandoned one of the few aspects of his stand on issues that was reasonably attractive and laudable. I have been reading Matt Welch's excellent book, "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick," which documents numerous shifts in position accompanied by declarations that he has never shifted positions, and prevarications accompanied by promises never to lie, so I shouldn't have been surprised. Nonetheless, this shift is particularly dispiriting. I had allowed myself to believe that this was one position on which he was likely to stand, given that he had already taken whatever grief was coming to him for this particular deviation from what seems to be (sadly) the new Republican orthodoxy, and his life story was compelling enough that it trumped any serious criticism.

The occasion was Bush's veto of a bill designed to prohibit U.S. agents from using "waterboarding" and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" techniques. McCain announced he would support the veto. Thus another betrayal of whatever traces remain of his better self.

The saddest aspect is that in the wake of Bush-Cheney tortured justifications for torture seem to have become an article of faith for the misguided band who remain unaccountably loyal to this terrible president. The justification here is that the CIA has better-trained interrogators and is likely to be dealing with rougher characters than the military so it shouldn't be bound by the Army Field Manual on interrogation. It also seems to be an expression of Bush-Cheney's drive to enhance the power of the presidency as an unaccountable repository of power vis-a-vis the other branches of government. In fact that may be the issue that persuaded McCain, who is also an unabashed advocate of a Rooseveltian (TR and FDR both) view of untrammeled executive power.

It might also be another way of pandering to what is laughingly called the Republican "base." which is said to be enamored of constant war and torture.

I refuse to believe that all is lost, but this is a sad day for America

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogging the horserace

Here's a link to the Register's Horserace'08 election blog. Recent posts discuss Obama's win in Mississippi, the implications of the GOP losing Denny Hastert's seat in Illinois, a link to Justin Raimondo's confession that he may end up rooting for Obama, and some thoughts on where the Ron Paul Revolution goes from here.

Webitorial on Spitzer

Speaking of Spitzer, here's the most recent video Webitorial I did on Eliot Sptzer caught in flagrante.

Spitzer: What goes around . . .

I can't say that I would have predicted just how NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer would get comeuppance, but it seemed likely he would -- he alienated the NY Times in his first few months as governor and had few real friends left. We've been trying to avoid outright Schadenfreude, but there's little doubt we were pleased.

Of course, prostitution ought to be legal and the Mann Act (making it a federal crime to transport people across state lines for prostitution or "immoral purposes") is an abuse of central power. But Spitzer made his reputation as a ruthless enforcer as NY AG, especially going after Wall Street "malefactors," though he stretched laws, cut legal corners, bullied people, and smeared people without ever filing charges against them. He is arrogant and ruthless. It looks as if hubris has brought him low. Check out the Register opinion Web site tomorrow for what I think is a pretty good editorial.

Admiral Fallon out -- Iran next

I don't know if Adm. William Fallon quit or was pushed out as head of the U.S. Central Command, but he left today. Unless he's decided to take his sensible opposition to loose talk of a possible attack on Iran public, it looks like a fairly ominous sign to me. Now it may be that this article in Esquire made the administration think he's already gone too public even though they don't plan to be more active militarily against Iran. But a voice of reason is gone from within the top circles of the military. My strong impression is that most of the military is as opposed to the idea ofg attacking Iran as Adm. Fallon is, but this administration has a record of finding people to promote who will go along with administration plans -- see Petraeus as the savior.

As to Petraeus, although there's little question that violence has declined, although there are reasons to doubt just how responsible the surge has been, that decline leveled off in November and has not declined much since. Today a suicide bomber killed five Americans, another bombing killed three more.

Monday, March 10, 2008

South American crisis handled

Here's a link to the piece I did last week for, explaining that many of the roots of the Colombian/Venezuelan crisis lie very much in the misguided and misbegotten U.S. war on drugs. Since that was written, the crisis seems to have been resolved -- as one would expect, since none of the parties had a real interest in going to the mattresses and spilling actual blood. The significant thing is that there was no need for outside intervention here, by the U.S., Europe or anybody else. People in a region can settle their own disputes? What a concept!

Making health care more expensive

The House has passed the Mental Health Equity Act, which would require health insurance plans to cover mental health equally with physical health. To object to this is not to deny that mental problems can be a serious and sometimes can be treated (though it's worth consulting Thomas Szasz on such matters), but that this is yet another mandate designed to create gold-plated insurance plans. In the real world, the only way health insurance will be affordable to people who aren't affuent is if they allow companies to offer Kias as well as Rolls Royces. Here's the Register's editorial on the topic. You can be sure that if the government were ever to take over health care that it would be rationed, and not everybody would be happy with the formulas.

Bruins still worry me

I'm almost utterly elated that UCLA has won the Pac 10 outright and that most basketball supposed experts think the Pac 10 is the toughest conference in the country this year. And there's little question that these guys know how to fight through adversity. But I'm concerned that they seem to create their own adversity sometimes, and if they continue the pattern they might not get to the Final Four, let alone win it all.

Both of their victories last week were -- not exactly tainted, but at least somewhat questionable. Against Stanford on Thursday, it sure looked in replays as if, while there may have been mild body contact on Collison on the foul with 2.5 seconds left, the block itself was clean, all ball. Collison still had to sink the free throws to tie it, and the Bruins did dominate in overtime, but . . . And against Cal, it was unclear whether Josh Shipp's last shot went over the backboard, but it looked as if it was possible.

The really bothersome thing is that they were behind two teams they should have dominated -- well, maybe not dominated in the case of Stanford -- until the last few seconds. They played sloppily against Stanford in the first half and lethargically against Cal. I know this is nitpicking about a superb team, but if they don't see these games as a wake-up call they could come up very short of achieving their potential in the tournament.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Iraq costs $12 billion a month

The Iraq war now costs about three times as much as it did during the early days -- around $12 billion a month -- according to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, who has tried to keep track, and now argues that the cost of the war, which will at least $3 trillion before long, has contributed to the U.S. economic downturn. Even if we started withdrawing troops today, many of the costs would continue. Remember when poor old Larry Lindsey got fired for estimating that it might cost several hundred billion overall? The amazing thing is that those who were so wrong about Iraq are still listened to at all -- Bill Kristol got the plum New York Times columnist slot once occupied by William Safire.

Why Iraq could blow

Here's a piece by Patrick Cockburn, the conservative Cockburn who was an opponent of the Iraq invasion from the beginning and has spent considerable time reporting from Iraq for various British newspapers. He notes that while things are better in Baghdad compared to the really violent period in 2006. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, for example, visited an ice cream parlor recently to show how safe the neighborhood is. But before he made the little visit, a horde of soldiers, including colonels and generals, swept the neighnorhood and checked all the shops within proximity.

Thanks to the U.S. and its subsidies, the Sunnit now have armed, trained and "blooded" militias, to match those of the Shia and the Kurds. One may certainly hope the place stabilizes, but it's a long way from being a certainty. John McCain had better hope his prayers work.

Kenya: back from the brink?

Here's the Register's editorial on the tentative and tenuous truce in Kenya. The troubles there demonstrate that democracy is not always a good way to bring stability to a country. It also shows just how deep the roots of ethnic and tribal identity go. Almost everybody thought Kenya was reasonably stable and something of a success story. But the dominance of the Kikuyu over the Luo and other tribes, with roots in the colonial era, turned out to be much more widely resented than almost anybody realized. When the Kikuyu president stole an election, the place erupted in violence, and now hundreds of thousands of people have moved to tribal areas (some of whom have never actually lived there) to get away from it.

There's no core U.S. interest in Kenya, and U.S. activity has been pretty minimal. People of good will hope the truce holds and there's a modicum of reconciliation, but it will be up to Kenyans to figure it out.

Privacy in (more) danger

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the latest abuses of the Patriot Act. The act allows National Security Letters, a non-warranted demand the FBI can issue without judicial oversight, demanding bank records, phone records and the like on suspected terrorists. But FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that a new report will show that FBI agents used them improperly again in 2006, after having done so in 2004 and 2005. Mueller says new controls are in place to make sure it doesn't happen again. I'm skeptical. When people have power, some of them will abuse it. Wouldn't be a bad idea to junk the Patriot Act, or at least modify it to reduce temptation. Suppose the Democratic Congress will do anything constructive? Wouldn't bet on it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Democrats not much help beyond Iraq

Here's a link to the piece I did for last week, complaining (as usual) that while either of the Democratic candididates might get us out of Iraq reasonably soon (though I'm not sure I'd even count on that), neither shows much inclination to rethink a U.S. foreign policy that sees the rest of the world as provinces of the U.S. that occasionally require intensive attention.

Venezuela and Colombia on the brink

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the trouble brewing between Venezuela and Colombia, following a raid by Colombian forces into Ecuadoran territory to bomb a FARC guerrilla camp. What there wasn't space to discuss was the extent to which troubles in Colombia are exacerbated by the drug war. The 40-year civil war/insurrection/whatever was relatively quiescent until the drug war was ramped up following "success" in drug suppression in Peru and Bolivia, which shifted more coca production to Colombia. Both the FARC and the right-wing paramilitaries found they could finance their activities by protecting narcotraffickers and growers and taking a cut of the huge prohibition premiums.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ironies in Turkey

Here's the Register's editorial on the end of the Turkish military boots-on-the-ground incursion into northern Iraq. Its's good that it was ended, but there are rich ironies, including having the power occupying Iraq and thereby thinning Iraqi sovereignty calling on Turkey to respect that pseudo-sovereignty.

Putin's successor anointed

Here is the Register's editorial on the Russian election, with Putin's anointed successor, Dmitri Medvedev, winning handily. The government probably didn't have to cheat and intimidate so blatantly to win this one, but it did so anyway. Really clumsy. After griping about the election irregularities a bit, the U.S. should accept the results and shut up for a while, then quietly start asking how Russia intends to see to it that Iran doesn't get nukes, and can we cooperate.

Recent blogging elsewhere

I've been blogging quite a bit the last few days on the Register's Orange Punch blog, discussing Putin, Pakistan, the stalled Israeli/Palestinian peace process (there's an evergreen headline) and the eco-terrorism in Seattle.

Big night for Hillary

I spent most of the evening blogging for the Register's Horserace'08 election blog, so if you're interested in my at-the-time thoughts, feel free to go there. But there's little question this was a big night for Hillary. Because of Texas' convooluted delegate allocation system she might not gain any ground in the delegate count (might even lose a couple). But she has plenty of reason to stay in it to the end now.

Hillary miscellaneous

I didn't see the original "60 Minutes" piece, but I finally saw a clip of Hillary Clinton saying "as far as I know" in response to a weird question about whether Barack Obama was a Muslim. It looked worse in print. In conversation it seemed more like an offhand, almost unconscious throw-in, after saying repeatedly that she had no reason to think he was Muslim. Seems like an innocent comment to me rather than some kind of sneaky calculation to keep the issue alive.

But Gloria Steinem really should be checked for operating brain cells. It wasn't just the implicit attack on McCain's POW experience (and in fact, though it was said more snarkily than you might like, it's true that being a POW is hardly a qualification for being president). But what kind of thinking is behind the suggestion that if it had been "Joan McCain" she would have been questioned and denigrated rather than being lauded? What universe does she live in?

One more thing. Andrew Sullivan pointed it out before I did, but I noticed too. In Jack Nicholson's ad for Hillary Clinton, every character shown in the clips from his old movies is a psychopath. I know that's the kind of character he plays best, but did he think about the subliminal message that might be sent?

Stupidity reigns on NAFTA

Hillary is going after Barack Obama on the rumor/story that Barack Obama's top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, visited the Canadian consulate and said, in effect, you might hear a lot of NAFTA-bashing on the campaign trail, but don't worry, it's only politics. Interesting in that the first couple of stories on Canadian TV, which they still defend as sourced from top people in the Canadian government, said some of Hillary's people had done something similar.

What's really appalling, however, is the fact that both candidates are peddling such an ignorant position, arguing in effect, that only bad things come of expanded trade. Anybody with an IQ in double digits knows this is false, and every study shows that NAFTA (which can be legitimately criticized as more like managed trade then genuinely free trade) has had a positive impact on the U.S., even in Ohio. But the two main Democratic candidates are engaged in an unrelenting pander-fest, catering to ignorance and jingoism.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ahmadinejad in Baghdad

The visit to Iraq by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad highlights yet another bit of blowback from the Iraq war. I did a piece before the war that sketched Mesopotamian history and explained the ethnic/religious landscape, noting that the majority Shia had an affinity for and connections with Iran. Shortly thereafter any number of commentators noted that one impact of removing Saddam Hussein, Iran's mortal enemy, from power, was to increase the regional power and influence of Iran.

I don't think it's helpful to analysis to label certain regimes as "devil states." Every government has more than a bit of the devil in it. The Iranian regime is much more complicated than simply being an anti-American machine. But if one is concerned about Iran's growing regional influence, as is not unseemly, one would have hoped somebody among the geniuses touting war with Iraq in 2002 would have considered the likely impact of enhancing Iran's influence and power.

Dog over a cliff

Curious priorities we Americans have. The local L.A. news tonight (ABC affiliate) led with excerpts from this disturbing video of a couple of U.S. servicemen throwing a little puppy over a cliff (don't watch it if you're sqeamish about sudden puppy death). Not that I would minimize the needless cruelty here, but all the needless cruelty to human beings during the Iraq war doesn't seem to have inspired anything like such attention and outrage.

War, an enterprise that has as its purpose killing human beings, is an inherently coarsening activity. Should it surprise anybody that people who have killed others and seen their buddies die might get a bit casual about the value of life, perhaps even joking and lautghing about it?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

McCain's real vulnerabilities

The New York Times may have done John McCain a favor with its Feb. 21 piece that led with the story about his campaign workers being worried that he might have been having an affair with an attractive young lobbyist (well, 30 years younger than he) back in 2000. That part of the story was thinly sourced, and the fact that it was the NYT caused numerous conservative knees to jerk and defend him. And hardly anybody has commented on the ambivalent relationship he has with lobbyists that was described in the rest of the long artricle.

The basic narrative is that after the Keating Five scandal back in 1989 he decided to reinvent himself as the soul of integrity, expressed in support for things like campaign finance deform, opposition to earmarks, and talk about the evil of special interests. But his self-confidence is such that he seems to think nothing he does could possibly be corrupt even though there may an appearance of conflct of interest. For example, in 2001 he founded the nonprofit Reform Institute and collected hundreds of thousands from companies with issues before the Commerce Committee, which he chaired at the time. His campaign manager is Rick Davis, who as a lobbyist represented companies before McCain's Senate panel and then went months without collecting a salary, which amounts to a gift from a lobbyist.

This Washington Post article, which ran the 22nd, got little publicity, but has more about McCain's close relationship with lobbyists. When he huddled with his top advisers at his cabin in Arizona, all four of them -- Charles Black, Rick Davis, Steve Schmidt, Mark McKinnon -- were lobbyists, some of them still active as lobbyists.

Soros bankrolls new drug law reform initiative

Liberal billionaire George Soros has given a million dollars toward a new ballot measure in California that would relax penalties for nonviolent drug offenses. The measure, which is already in circulatio, must collect 433,971 valid signatures by April 21 to qualify for thre November ballot. It would expand drug treatment programs for offenders who qualify, modify the parole system, and change possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket.

I'm not much of a fan of George Soros' general political philosophy. To be sure, he's made a ton of money, so he must have some understanding of at least some markets, but I tried to read his major book, then had to read some other of his writings to be prepared for a seminar, and I found them somewhat incoherent. However, he understands the drug laws are unenforceable and socially corrosive, and he has put his money where his convictions are, for which I will always be grateful.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Virtual fence is virtually absurd

Wouldn't you know it? The first 28-mile experimental section of the "virtual fence" slated to be put together (I guess "built" isn't quite the right word) along the US-Mexican border, has run into glitches and has been delayed -- and of course it is over budget. The section in question is south of Phoenix, and has already cost $85 million. But more than halfway through they figured out they were using the wrong software. In 2006 the estimated the whole project would cost $7.6 billion, but you can bet it will be at least three times that if it ever gets done.

The whole idea of the fence is absurd, of course. Maybe it's cursed by the ghost of Emma Lazarus. Will it ever lead to figuring out that the problem is quotas that are too low, not a lack of fences?

Getting deeply into Beethoven

The Curtis Institute of Music is doing a fascinating bit of innovation this term. They have decided to build the curriculum around a single work: Beethoven's 11th string quartet in F minor (Op. 95). All the string players are playing it solo and in every kind of ensemble. History and literature are centered around biographies that mention the work and Beethoven's and others' letters written about it or at the time it was written. There's a strong effort to get all the students immersed into Vienna at that moment, to understand the cultural, political and musical scenes. The finale will be a string orchestra performance (there are several transcriptions extant). Most of the students are thrilled with the innovation -- though the wind players are feeling a little left out.