Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The radical aspects of Christmas

It's about a week late, but nonetheless, I thought my editorial on Christmas was pretty interesting. The savior of the world born in a stable? Christianity is more radically positioned against the world as it is than most self-professed Christians ever imagine.

Register views the year

In this Sunday's Register Commentary section we three did our look-back-in-wonder thumbsucking pieces. Mark Landsbaum remembers how badly the state is misgoverned, while Steve Greenhut looked back at some local and county developments -- new sheriff in town and all. I suggested the year of big change was really a year of little change: Barack Obama's campaign most closely resembled George W. Bush's and all. Tell me what you think about 2008 finally fading.

If oil stays low . . .

Here's a link to my recent piece for, suggesting that if the price of oil stays low for the next year or so, it will have mostly a beneficial impact on the United States and to some extent on the prospects for reducing confliuct in the world. Venezuela and Iran will be the biggest losers and Russia will have less flexibility. A fair number of experts think the price of crude will stay below $40 a barrel or even lower and that the run-up earlier this year was the anomaly. Don't know for sure, but I kinda hope so.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

And a Happy New Year! Might blog tomorrow, might not.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah celebrates freedom

Hannukah, which began Sunday evening, is in fact a relatively minor festival in the Jewish year, but it is celebrated more extensively in the U.S. than in most countries, largely because of its proximity to Christmas, when some Jewish children feel a bit left out. I'm rather glad of it. With its backstory of liberation by the Maccabees from foreign domination and repression of religious freedom, it reminds us of the imporytance of religious liberty. Here's the Register's editorial.

Detroit's early Christmas

The most remarkable and in fact rather alarming aspect of the $17.4 billion bailout the Bush administration decided to give to the auto industry (though not to Ford, at least not now) is the utterly arbitrary way the Bushlet decided to do it. The $700 billion was supposed to be to buy toxic securities, then to inject money into banks (apparently with no accountability) and for no other industry. Then Congress declined to bail out the Three. So Bush just did it on his own. Such power is more than almost any absolute monarch ever had -- and on a far grander scale, since the U.S. was free enough long enough to build a far larger economy than any past monarchy could dream of.

That was the emphasis of the Register's editorial on the subject. George Will made note of the phenomenon also, suggesting that Congress is becoming more or less obsolete in the era of the Imperial Presidency.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fed: The smell of panic

The Federal Reserve's decision to cut the interbank loan rate to a "target" of 1/4-to-zero was in one sense simply an acknowledgment of reality and in another a sign of real panic. They've pumped hundreds of billions of funny money into the banks over the last few months, but so far the impact has been slight at best. Esmael Adibi, whom I talked to yesterday, said at the Chapman economic Forecast meeting last week that since the banks have to pay 5% interest (or whatever they're calling it) on much of the bailout money, they'll have to start lending soon. But so far they haven't exactly been eager to lend. In some ways that's not too bad; the trouble started with an orgy of government-mandated and -induced dubious loans, so it's not surprising and probably a good thing that they're tightening up criteria. And the government has been so haphazard, changing approaches every couple of weeks, that the lending environment is more than a little unsettled.

Anyway, here's the Register's editorial on the move, worrying that the government is setting us up for serious inflation is 2010 and 2011, and setting the stage for another boom-bust cycle. If it were up to me I would get rid of the Fed. A central bank is (and has been from the beginning) an instrument for creating inflation to facilitate government growth rather than for promoting genuine monetary and/or economic stability.

Incidentally, Chapman, which called the recession last December (just validated by the NBER) thinks we'll start coming out of it by the end of 2009, but doesn't expect a very robust recovery.

Thank goodness it's basketball season

A few weeks ago, I think during the game UCLA lost to Michigan, Dick Vitale used tentatively used the O-word -- as in overrated -- to describe UCLA's basketball team, which was ranked #4 at the time. I hate to admit it, but he might have had something. Darren Collison is a solid player, and Josh Shipp certainly can be a threat both to shoot the three and to drive, though he can blow hot and cold, and I think has shown some of the same tendencies this year.

Mainly, though the Bruins seem to be counting on four Freshmen, and so far they have validated the observation that Kevin Love was a pretty unique talent as a Freshman. He was obviously the best player on the floor last year from the get-go. Jrue Holliday this year has shown flashes and will no doubt be terrific eventually -- he seems to improve with every game -- but it will take him some time. I'm afraid the Bruins might lose some Pac-10 games, but I expect them to keep improving and to go pretty deep into the tournament, but not to be as dominant as last year.

As for football, I just didn't feel like discussing it after the USC game, although the Bruin defense was reasonably solid. I do think Neuheisel will put together a solid team by next year. The question remains the offensive line, which never came together -- injuries, inexperience, Freshmen thrown in before they were really ready, though it might pay off next year -- this year. I doubt if we'll be ready to challenge USC next year, especially if Mark Sanchez comes back, but we'll beat a lot of people.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All our suspicions confirmed

In a way it's not much of a big deal. VP Cheney tells ABC that the war on Iraq would have happened even if the administration had believed the intelligence (which was there only ignored) suggesting Saddam Hussein had no WMD at all. They were simply determined to go to war. But we knew this at the time. I knew about July 2002 that the administration was going to invade with or without any evidence of a real threat to the U.S., and the trips to the UN, the inspection demands, the inspections (which Bush ended, even though he has repeatedly said, almost never challenged, that Saddam kicked the inspectors out, a lie he has to know is a lie) the scary talk of mushroom clouds, were nothing but pretexts designed to fool the American people. It worked for a while but even with the reduction in violence and the apparent success of the surge, 70-75 percent of the American people think the war was a mistake, which it decidedly was.

And now we have a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee -- with no Republican dissent -- saying that the impulse to torture came from the top, largely from Rumsfeld (though Bush had to be in the loop). It wasn't a few non-com "rogues, and it wasn't interrogators in the field begging to be allowed to use more aggressive methods. It was a bunch of sofa samurai with no practical experience in such matters but with a faux-tough attitude who pushed torture, and it came from the top. Here's my column on the subject.

What's remarkable is that in almost all of the accounts finally coming forth, it is apparent that those who were most skeptical and cynical about the Bush administration turned out to be right, and they (we) may even have understated the venality and dishonesty af this administration.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More vitamin debunking

I cross-posted this at the Orange County Register's Orange Punch Web site a couple of weeks ago, when this study claiming Vitamin Ca and E had no protective effect against heart attacks or stroke received so much publicity. Whenever a flawed study like this claiming to prove taking vitamins is a waste of money, the "mainstream" media seem to cover it heavily and utterly uncritically. They thereby do a great disservice to the cause of good health in America:

A week or so ago most media outlets heavily covered a report that seemed to debunk claims that Vitamin C or Vitamin E offered any significant protection from heart attack or stroke. As this Life Extension Foundation report demonstrates fairly clearly, however, those studies were severely flawed.

A little background. Several large-scale studies in the early 1990s showed significant reduction in such diseases from rather large doses of these vitamins. The most widely reported was done at UCLA and showed that of 11,348 participants, those that took 800 mg of Vitamin C a day (the Orwellian “recommended daily allowance” is 60 mg) lived six years longer than those who took only 60 mg, and this higher intake reduced cardiovascular disease by 42%. A more recent study done at UC Berkeley(hardly reported outside scientific jourrnals) showed much more hopeful results. Other studies show protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

The study widely reported last week had four groups of male doctors take 500 mg a day of C, less than the amount deemed to be efficacious. They also took only 400 I.U. of Vitamin E every other day, whereas most vitamin enthusiasts recommend at least 800 IU (natural rather than the synthetic used in the test) every day. In addition, the subjects’ intake was not monitored; they were told to rely on their memories over eight years as to how religiously they had taken their vitamins.

Small wonder that the result was little or no difference between those who had taken the vitamins and those who had received a placebo. It raises a real question as to whether this test was designed to fail. The question was why the media so aggressively reported this study.

I still resist the dark conspiracy theory that the big pharmacuetical companies constantly try to debunk regular vitamin usage so people will develop diseases that require enormously more expensive prescription drugs. Much can be attributed, of course, to the enormous scientific ignorance of most journalists. But there’s something going on, and it isn’t constructive.

(Full disclosure: While in college I met and became friends with Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, who went on to write “Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach,” which had a flurry of popularity in the 1970s. Knowing that they were both trained as scientists, having talked extensively with them when they were doing their preliminary research, and having stayed in touch with them over the years, I’m convinced they’re onto something. Consequently I take what most people consider a ridiculous amount of vitamins, including 5,000 mg daily of Vitamin C. Having reached an age when such things are not a bad idea — 65 next month, but you’ll have to put up with me for a few more years before I retire — I recently had a complete physical and came out with virtually perfect health. I’m healthier than most people I know 15 years younger than I am. I’m well aware that genetics and the fact that I generally refrain from doing physically really dangerous things play an important role, and I obviously haven’t been able to do a double-blind test on myself. But I strongly recommend that anybody who wants to live long and avoid debilitating disease get a copy of Durk and Sandy’s book (it’s practically free at now) and take their findings into consideration.

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Second Amendment Book Bomb

I cross-posted this at the Register's Orange Punch blog. David Theroux at the Independent Institute is trying to create special interest in Stephen Halbrook's new book, "The Founders' Second Amendment. A worthy cause:

Got another e-mail from the inimitable and invaluable David Theroux of the Independent Institute noting remarkable progress on their goal of making a thoughtful and scholarly book on individual rights, constitutionalism and the Second Amendment an unlikely best-seller during the Christmas season, the heaviest book-buying time of the year. I read Stephen Halbrook’s earlier book, “That Every Man Be Armed” on the historical relationship between true citizenship and the right to bear arms, which is enough for me to recommend “The Founders’ Second Amendment.”
The idea is to highlight, as an administration not inclined to be friendly to an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment comes into power, the fact that a lot of Americans think that what until the Supreme Court’s Heller decision had been the neglected ugly stepsister of the Bill Of Rights is pretty important. Not that gun rights (excuse me, human rights to keep and bear arms) are the whole of the Bill of Rights, just that they’re important. So you can go to the Website here and pledge to buy one for yourself and perhaps as gifts for your parents, children and Aunt Mildred.

It’s working. When the campaign started the book was at around 200,000 on Amazon’s list, and it’s now at 140. In different categories the result is even more impressive, as David notes:

#1: Law #1: Civil Rights and Liberties #1: Constitutions #1: Constitutional Law #1: Revolutionary and Founding History #12: History #11: Professional and Technical #26: Nonfiction (all)

Keep it up!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blagojevich sleaze only barely slimes Obama

Here is the Register's first-impression take on the scandals erupting from Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich apparently trying to "sell" the appointment to replace Obama as Illinois' U.S. Senator. Notice from the comments that some people are still actiung as if it is mid-campaign, interpreting even the most obvious observation -- some of the slime will affect Obama -- as an unfair and biased attack. If that's the attitude, I guess we'll be getting plenty of snarky comments, given that we consider whoever has power at a given time to be the biggest immediate danger to freedom.

Obama team turns left

Here's a link to the Register's editorial Sunday noting that with his energy and environmental picks Barack Obama is doing a good deal to dispel the image that emerged after his foreign and economic policy picks -- that he plans to govern as a centrist. Stephen Chu (out of his field of physics with his concern about climate change), Carol Browner and the others are hardly centrists. Carol Browner, who headed EPA during Clinton's terms, emerged with a reputation as the farthest left of the Clintonistas -- and on a personal level she has a reputation for being a thoroughly nasty person. Maybe she's grown up a little.

Effects of Mumbai attacks

Here's the column I did for this Sunday's Register Commentary section on (some of) the impacts of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai Nov. 26. The upshot? Barack Obama, who a few weeks ago looked to becoming into office with foreign crises relatively quiescent, or at least capable of holding for a bit while he and his people figured out what to do about them, could facde a full-blown foreign crisis on his first day or two in office. It's certainly not what he had in mind. Krauthammer thinks he picked the foreign policy team he did to handle things in ways that didn't require his full-time attention, as his main ambition is to be a transoformative figure in domestic policy. Since I disagree with most of his domestic agenda, I would hardly welcome this, though it would certainly give me a target-rich environment for editorials and articles. Whatever, it looks as if he'll have foreign-policy problems that will demand something close to immediate attention.

Bush gets the boot

Well, not the boot, actually, but a couple of shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist during a joint press conference with Iraqi prime minister Maliki during a surprise visit to Baghdad. In Arab culture throwing one's shoes at somebody is a sign of utmost disrespect, disgust, disapproval, disagreement and downright contempt. I remember when I was in Jerusalem an incident in the Al Aqsa Mosque where dozens of people threw their shoes at (I think I remember correctly) somebody threatening to do some kind of vandalism to the mosque.

I suspect the incident shows more about how most Iraqis view Bush than the polite words of support and courtesy coming from peoiple in the near-puppet Baghdad government.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rotting from the head

Maybe it's because the Bush administration is so thoroughly discredited and such a short-timer that it doesn't have carrots or sticks sufficient to keep Republican senators in line. But the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report earlier this week on "aggressive interrogation" (much of it plain and simple torture. It concluded rather specifically that far from Abu Ghraib being the work of a few "bad apples," that the impulse to torture came right from the top. Many committee reports include minority reports, but not a single Republican senator dissented from these conclusions. The report fingers Don Rumsfeld as being most directly responsible, but there are plenty of people responsible who have not been held to account(and most likely never will be). Still, it's nice to know that the cynics/skeptics about the administration cover story were right all along. Here's my column on the subject.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Medical marijuana implementation: no excuses left

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Orange County city of Garden Grove's appeal of a California appellate court decision ordering it to return marijuana it had confiscated from a patient with a physician's recommendation, in accordance with California law. I don't expect that this will be the end of official foot-dragging in implementing a law passed by the voters 12 years (!) ago, but it eliminates virtually the last excuse these cops and thugs have. The cops and Garden Grove pretended to be concerned that by returning the guy's medicine they would be violating federal law against distribution. But the appellate court told them that when a court orders return of property they are simply creatures of the court; their duty is to follow its orders. If the feds want to try to arrest a judge, let them have at it.

The duty of state and local authorities when there is a question about whether state law conflicts with federal law is to enforce California law unless and until a federal court issues a ruling that federal law supersedes state law. That hasn't happened and it isn't going to happen. It's long past time for those sworn to uphold the law to start doing it instead of trying to undermine it. Here's the Register's editorial on the subject.

Mumbai attacks: consequential and shrewd

The more I think about them (and write about them, which to me is a bit like breathing for normal people) the more I think the terrorist attacks in Mumbai Nov. 28 were the most consequential and shrewd actions by the jihadist movement (whatever the true perpetrators turn out to be) since the 9/11 attacks in the United States. Pakistan and India had been edging toward something approaching a rapprochement, but that's off the table for quite a while. It will intensify Indian-Pakistani hostility, always bubbling under the surface, introduce or intensify divisions in India and perhaps destabilize the shaky Pakistani civilian government, such as it is. And it complicates things in Afghanistan.

Here's the piece I did on the attacks for And here's the Register's editorial on the attacks, which ran yesterday.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Obama: more of the same

Here's a link to the piece I did for this last Sunday's Register, on Obama's foreign policy team and his apparent philosophy on U.S. foreign relations. I conclude that he is a standard-issue liberal interventionist, convinced, as were the Clintonite retreads he's picked, that the U.S. is the indispensable nation that must run the world -- though he might pick different places to intervene than GWB has. During the Clinton era it almost became the case that liberals preferred intervention in countries that had little or no relation to U.S. core national interests, viewing ostensibly "disinterested" or " humanitarian" intervention as somehow more noble or moral. Obama's main thetroical commitment is to escalating the war in Afghanistan, which may be less winnable than Iraq. Not much of a change I can believe in. And the left is getting restive.

Unusually fine Christmas music

I have carousel players for CDs, and at Christmastime I load them and put the Christmas music section on shuffle. Most guests like it, as there's a great deal of variety, from the London Symphony to the Gregg Smith Singers to Bing Crosby, Sinatra, and other pop singers. This year I've found a new one that I find especially appealing.

Karolju is done by David Zinman with the BBC Symphony and the Philharmonia Chorus. There's nothing you're likely to recognize here, though you may think it sounds familiar. The main attraction here is a suite of original carols by American composer Christopher Rouse. They were originally written for the Baltimore Symphony, in a variety of styles, from contemplative to jolly, and a range of languages (Latin, Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian -- very characteristic -- Czech, German and Italian -- especially lovely. It all sounds Christmas-y and much of it as if you think you ought to know it. Imaginative and well-done.

The CD also contains a suite of Polish Christmas songs by Witold Lutoslawski, and three very Spanish-sounding pieces by Joaquin Rodrigo, which are definitely worth your attention. But the Christopher Rouse suite is the highlight.

From high to low

Talk about going from an emotional high approaching ecstasy to a low! Over the weekend the Don Morris Singers, which I joined this fall, gave two Christmas concerts, on Friday in Fallbrook with the Westwind Brass out of San Diego, and in Murrieta on Sunday evening. Both concerts were triumphs. (Although I think I contributed capably, that's far from an egoistic statement. Good choral singing is a matter of blend and cooperation; no single voice should stand out. It's not easy to achieve, especially when you have several very first-rate singers with solo-quality voices, as we do, who have to sublimate their individuality to the overall sound.) If I may say so, we achieved it quite consistently, in a variety of genres, from Palestrina to Britten to traditional carols to Don's "snow medley (Let It Snow, Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, etc.). Shame on you for missing it!

Then on Monday, at our wrap-up meeting, after telling us that even the brass players were impressed (instrumentalists generally don't have a high opinion of choirs, although having done both, I contend, as does Marilyn Horne in this interview piece, that singing is more difficult than playing an instrument) and saying this was the best-sounding group he has assembled in 3-1/2 years of the organization, Don informed us that several key singers are having to leave, which will require recruiting replacements and puts a question mark on the future of the group. In a group of 22, just a few holes can throw the whole balance off.

I think the group will stay together and thrive, but we won't know for sure for a while.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Books of the season

Most years the Register's Commentary pages feature a bunch of books just before the Christmas season, hoping we'll stir a little interest. Here is this year's set of recommendations, from Mark Landsbaum and me. I reviewed John Lukacs' "At the End of an Age," Norman Lebrecht's "The Life and Death of Classical Music" (actually about the recording end and including the 100 best and 20 worst classical recordings of all time), Gwynne Dyers' "After Iraq," and John McWhorter's "All Abut the Beat," about hip-hop, from a realistic fan of the genre. Also a well-done spy novel by first-time author (and Sacramento labor lobbyist) Barry Broad called "The Eve of Destruction." I repeat here that they're all worth reading and/or giving as presents.

No Big Three bailout

Here's the Register's editorial (not written by me) on the latest trip to Capitol Hill by GM, Chrysler and Ford, with corporate hats in hand seeking money (just a loan, of course) to the tune of some $38 billion-with-a-b from the taxpayers. We said Congress should send them away empty-handed to face the music resulting from their own decisions and mismanagement. How many entities will be deemed "too big to fail" before the economy is flat on its back and permanently hogtied by federal command and control?

So where was I?

Actually, during the blogless period last week I was in the house, but I didn't go near the computer more than a couple of times. Too many relatives in the house, from Jen's cousin Frank to her brothers Mike and Joe, Joe's wife Alane and their two kids, Jesse and Mandy, our son Steve, nephew Tom, and a few others who drifted in and out from time to time. We ate too much and drank too much, but generally had a good time. Went to the Chargers game in San Diego on Sunday (they lost ignominiously, 22-16, to an Atlanta team that is pretty good but whom they should have beaten; LT didn't seem himself)

On Thanksgiving Day we went out for dinner, and most of us didn't even order turkey. It was wonderful not to have to spend two hours-plus cleaning up the mess. I think maybe we've had enough Thanksgiving dinners in our house to suit us (last year we lost power and had to take the turkey to Angie's house to finish cooking it and it was overdone; a memorable disaster we can laugh about now).

Just to give this a mildly political/philosophic spin, here's Gary Galles with this year's retelling of the New England pilgrims' story, from

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One more promo piece

One last time. If anyone reading this is within convenient driving distance of the Murrieta area, I really urge you to come to the concert by the Don Morris Singers (check out some of the songs on the Website, here, here and here to get a pale idea of just how good they were without me), which I joined this fall. We had a rehearsal Monday with the brass players, and they are thoroughly professional. The pieces where we sing antiphonally with them are reasonably spectacular. Unfortunately they are only featured in the Friday, Dec. 5 concert in Fallbrook, for which the adult tickets go for $30. But for $12 ($15 at the door) you'll still get a good display of fine choral singing, including several numbers where we're divided into two choirs and will be singing from opposite ends of the room. Surround Sound. That concert is Sunday evening, the 7th, at Promise Lutheran Church on Madison, behind the Wal-Mart off Murrieta Hot Springs Rd. in Murietta.

I don't think I'm just blowing smoke here. I've sung in choruses all my life, including at UCLA under Roger Wagner, and done a good bit of the choral repertoire (though one unfulfilled wish is to sing the Mozart Requiem before it becomes appropriate for me). This is clearly one of the best I've been associated with.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Venezuelan bluster

Russian and Venezuelan naval ships participated in j0oint exercises beginning yesterday, raising concerns about an incipient anti-American alliance. Is a new cold war imminent and is Venezuela this decade's version of Cuba as a Russian ally in the hemisphere. This Register editorial downplays the potential danger. The action is meant to tweak Uncle Sam's nose, to be sure, but both Russia and Venezuela are states with economies reliant to an unhealthy extent on petroleum products, and the global decrease in oil prices has made both of them weaker. Sure, Russia has showed that if the U.S. can play in its back yard( Georgia), Russia can play in ours (the Caribbean). Geopolitically, however, it doesn't mean all that much . . . yet . . . unless the U.S. keeps trying to pretend it's a unipolar world as its own economic underpinning weakens.

Transportation Secretary choice will reveal much

Most of the buzz has revolved around President-elect Obama's choices for his economic and foreign policy "teams." But a great deal about how the new administration is likely to operate on the ground -- where the rubber meets the road, so to speak -- could be revealed by his choice of Transportation Secretary. A good deal of the Obama cheap-money stimulus package, especially given pleas from governors today, is likely to be for infratsructure repair and conbstruction. Much of that will be done under th aeghis of the Dept. of Transportation. The Register's editorial today, after tossing out for unlikely discussion the dream choice of former Reason president and founder Bob poole, suggests that the worst possible choice would be Rep. James Oberstar, who chairs the House transportation committee and the very embodiment of the Iron Triangle among departments, congressional committees and favored constituencies. The current sectretary, MaryPeters, would be a good but unlikely choice. That leaves Mort Downey and former FAA admininstrator Susan Garvey -- imperfect but almost acceptable choices.