Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health care ideology wins Pyrhhic victory

It seems likely now that congressional Democrats will eventually pass some kind of bill they can call health care reform, although while Senate passage seems greased, there are still some barriers to House-Senate reconciliation -- different methods of financing, the abortion issue still unresolved, lefties upset there's no public option, burgeoning costs and higher taxes, etc. Getting it this far is a triumph of ideology over reality and perhaps even smart politics. Public opinion polls still show substantial majorities against ObamaCare, and while some of those may be Dem "base" voters upset at it being "watered down," I suspect that's a sliver. Supporting health care deform will send substantial numbers of elected Dems into retirement next year, and they know it.

But those who describe themselves as "liberal" or"progressive" ion America have long coveted nationalized health care for ideological rather than practical reasons, and Obama is much more iedological than advertised or widely recognized yet. They see jamming more government control of health care down our throats as an obviously desirable and historic achievement that will eventually be recognized as beneficent and important.

Just what does it mean to "give back"?

Saw another one of those commercials that get so annoying this time of year about how good it feels to "give back." The term is incoherent. If those who have had some success were to "give back" to those responsible in some measure for their success, they would be giving back to parents, decent teachers, customers, fans, mentors, good bosses, etc. But that is of course not what is meant. They're talking about giving to help those less fortunate or talented. Giving to people in need is commendable, and we always do some of it, but it isn't "giving back" but simply giving, unless you treat the entire community/nation/world as responsible for you having something above and beyond bare necessities to use to help others. But while it might make sense, to urge, as has been done, black pro athletes to "give back" to the communities they grew up in, even that seldom really makes sense. Few successful athletes have been nurtured by entire communities; indeed, many achieved success by being careful not to be shaped by their communities. It might be commendable for them to give to help disadvantaged kids in those communities, but this is still hardly ever really giving back.

Can we retire this tired term?

Christmas is coming

Jen's cousin Frank came today to spend Christmas with us, so I'm finally believing that Christmas is really almost here. Looking forward to it very much this year for some reason. Hope you and yours have the best one yet, and if you can give a thought to the idea that if we lived in the spirit of the Jesus who appears in the Gospels we would have a lot more peace and a lot less demand for coercion and protection from bogus threats. Merry Christmas.

Bruin basketball: not too discouraging

Most of the sportswriters seemed to think that the Bruins' performance against Notre Dame last Saturday showed that this year's UCLA basketball team is in serious trouble. While I've certainly beeen disappointed by their performance so far, I watched the game and I'm not sure I agree. Of course it was disappointing that they couldn't hold their early lead, and they made a lot of mistakes and turnovers and took some ill-considered shots. But while early in the second quarter I had pretty much abandoned a realistic hope they they might win, even though I put my hat on in several different rally configurations (though my ugly old baby-blue corduroy UCLA cap, which I didn't wear, might have done the trick.

Still, they never gave up, and they kept whittling the lead down to single digits (eventually losing by 11). Notre Dame was obviously the better and more experienced team, but the Bruins didn't let them make it a complete blowout. I still think they have the potential to be a decent team this year. The proof will be in the playing and in the W-L stats, of course. But I'm holding onto hope.

I'm thinking tonight's game (not on TV so I didn't see it) helps to make my case. They came back after a sloppy performance for most of the game and beat Colorado State

Monday, December 21, 2009

Iranian regime in more trouble

In Iran the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, known as perhaps the most erudite of Iran's Islamic scholars and a recent critic of the current regime, has sparked another round of massive protests by regime opponents, followed by another vicious crackdown by the forces of phony but brutal authority. The fact that almost any event can set off anti-regime protests suggests that the regime is at least a bit more vulnerable than it might seem, although the mullahs who rule in the name of religion are clever and pragmatic wielders of power who have so far managed t0 keep the oppositioon under control with fairly carefully calibrated violence.

Next Sunday is Ashura, the emotionally charged last day of Muharram, the commemoration of themmarftyrdom of Muhammad's grandson, whom Shia consider the rightful successor, the main thing that differentiates Shia from Sunni. It will fall 0n the seventh day after Montazeri's death and will not doubt be marked by more protests from Inran's Green M0vement, whose slogans (Montazeri is not dead, the government is dead) have become bolder.

Whether this latest protest is a precursor of eventual regime change is difficult to tell, but some of the conditions that might lead to such cvhange are clearly present. About half of Iran's population was born after the mullah's took over 30 years ago and many view the theocracy as the ancien regime, the old guard clinging to power and suppressing their various aspirations. Iran's population has long been well-educated with a tendency toward cosmopolitanism.

One hopes this article by Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project, wiull get some play inside Iran. It questions one of the founding myths of the labeling of the U.S. as the Great Satan. Most people believe now that the CIA was the key to the coup that toppled Mohammed Mossadegh from power in 1953. Milaniu argues that the CIA was a late entry in the game and probably had little or nothing to do with the success of the coup, which was already underway -- but Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson later wrote a self-serving memoir claiming full credit, but its claims are dubious. Interestingly, my friend former British parliamentarian with extensive personal experience in Iran and the region, Sir Eldon Griffiths, in his book, "Turbulent Iran," also raises serious doubts as to whether the U.S. was the key to the coup's success or was even a serious player. If the U.S. didn't engineer the coup, the regime's labelinmg of the U.S. as the Great Satan is suspect by Iranian and Shia lights. Yet another regime vulnerability.

This may be just the beginning. And it's been precipitated internally, not by the U.S.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The inevitability of rationing

Well, it looks as if passing some kind of health bill is closer to reality than a few days ago. Hardly anybody, however, noticed this story about kidney treatment, let alone its implications. There are apparently new post-transplant kidney drugs available and people are lobbying to get Medicare to pay for them. However, the dialysis industry, guardians of a much more costly procedure, aren't sure they want their method of reimbursement change. So the various kinds of kidney treatments will be rationed by politics, with the best lobbyists winning. Not exactly optimal if quality care is the goal.

Roy Disney's death a bittersweet milestone

The NYT obit said that with Roy Disney, Walt's nephew, dead, there is nobody named Disney working at the Disney Co. In the Register's editorial we fudged that a tiny bit to say nobody in a leadership position, which is definitely true. That strikes me as something of a shame. There was a time when the company very much reflected Walt's personality, and while it has a personality now (if a corporate entity can be said to have a personality) I don't think it's Walt's.

Over the years the Register ed board has met with most of the Disney top leadership, but we never met with Roy. While it seems he was fairly easy to underestimate, he turned out to be quite formidable, leading a couple of shareholder revolts that got CEOs booted, and heading the animation division during its rebirth ("Little Mermaid, "Lion King," Aladdin," etc.).

I know Disney can do corny stuff and "Disneyfy" or dumb down somne classice stories. But you know, they've done educational stuff they didn't have to ("Living Desert" et. al.) and have had a nice American middlebrow impulse to want to improve the world with more high-toned stuff -- classical music and all. And Disneyland is still one of the best places ever to spend a day and a night, especially with kinds, but pretty nice without kids as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Health care deform stalled but . . .

Well, the public option and Medicare expansion now seem to be off the table, but as I suggested a couple of days ago, getting some kind of bill passed by the senate is still not a done deal. It's hard to imagine the Obama administration, which has plenty riding on being able to sign something, will allow the bill to die completely. Too bad.

As this Register editorial explains, what's left in the bills being considered now is still plenty bad. The major reason is the individual mandate, which Obama claimed to be against during the campaign, but force is the only thing government knows (indeed, the use of force pretty much defines government), so . . . With an individual mandate, however, as the editorial explains:

An individual mandate allows the government to control what kind of insurance you can buy, how much you will pay, how insurers pay doctors, how doctors work, how doctors practice medicine, and ultimately what kind of medical care you receive. It is a giant step toward complete government control over medical care.

Could it fail ignominiously? As time passes the polls turn more and more against it, which may explain some of the trouble in Congress, and the closer Democrats in normally Republican-leaning districts get to November the more reluctant they will be to back Obama on something that is becoming increasingly controversial. Abortion continues to be a sticky issue.

Still if I were a betting man I wouldn't bet against something getting passed.

Bruin basketball righting itself?

Well that was more like it! In the game against New Mexico State the Bruins looked much more like a Ben Howland team, playing pretty good team defense and -- wonder of wonders! -- making open shots when they had them.

I know NM State might not be much of a test, but the Bruins looked like a different team than the one that was blown out by Mississippi State. And they played somewhat competitively against Kansas, now the #1 team in the country. So there's a chance that by the time the real Pac 10 season rolls around, the Bruins will competitive, especially since it's supposed to be a down year for the league. We'll have a better idea after Saturday, when they play Notre Dame at South Bend. It's still a young team full of frosh and sophs, with Michael Roll, who had been a substitute the last couple of years, expected to be the stabilizer. Having James Keefe out for a few weeks with a shoulder separaion also won't help. More mistakes and probably a few more bad games are virtually inevitable, but I have a modicum of hope now.

Banks getting out from under the federal thumb

All 9 of the major banks that took money from the federal government under the initial TARP under Bush and Paulsen -- have now either paid the money back or announced plans to do so over the next couple of months. The media have focused on the issue of CEO pay, which the government has vowed to reduce, as a main reason, but that's far from the only reason the banks (some of which never wanted to take the money but were pressured into it by Paulsen) wanted to get out from under direct federal investment and part-ownership. (It's probably unconstitutional as well, but who pays attento to that old scrap opf paper these days?) There was pesky micromanagement and the attitude on the part of government overseers that they could dictate policy in all kinds of areas.

This makes it all the more absurd -- or grandstanding -- that Obama summoned the heads of major financial intitutions Monday and urged them to get busy lending more money. Since the payback the government has little or no leverage over the banks, and bankers are by and large a fairly arrogant bunch. Besides, lending money, especiallynmortgages, to people who were'nt really qualified (under pressure from govt., of course) was one of the major causes of the financial fiasco. Government never learsn, and almost always has a short-range vision, wanting to fix every problem -- or pretend to have taken steps, however unlikely to work -- right now.

Getting all Christmas-y

I had to see the dentist yesterday -- routine cleaning, nothing unusual or especially painful -- so I had a day off work -- a day when somehow I assiduously avoided paying attention to the news (until my 11 pm fix) or commenting on the great issues of the day. Instead, I put up some Christmas lights on the front of the garage that faces the street. It is fewer than I have put up in some years past, partly because I also installed sensor/controllers on the front two lights (from one of which I pirated electricity for the strings of lights) so they would automatically go on at dusk and off at dawn.

It's not all that much -- though we do have a small artificial Christmas tree all lighted up on the front porch as well, which is new -- but it somehow makes it feel like almost Christmas. If I hadn't done it we wouldn't have been the only house in the neighborhood without lights, but one of the few. Couldn't have that!

We used the LED lights Costco has in stock -- fortunately already on sale -- which use so little electricity you could almost use them all year. Maybe we will put some in the apple tree along the front walk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Health bill still not a done deal

Events of the past few days have made it seem as if passage of the bulk of some version (no doubt hammered out in a conference committee) of ObamaCare will be passed by early next year at the latest. Joe Lieberman's concerns about a "public option" and expansion of Medicare to certain 55-year-olds has been handled -- they're out of the Senate version.

However, I talked to Mike Cannon at Cato today, and he emphasized that it is still not quite a done deal. News stories have mentioned that Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson still has concerns about abortion. If he gets what he wants abortion activists will believe they have lost -- they went apoplectic over the Stupak amendment in the House, and if there's anything ideologues are more passionate about than health care, it's abortion. In addition, there are a number of hidden potential deal-breakers lurking, and stuff senators haven't heard about yet, in part because the dealing is still going on.

Tomorrow's Register editorial details a good deal of what's wrong with what's left in the bill(s). Short version: an individual mandate essentially gives government control over almost every aspect of health care delivery.

The debt limit about to soar

As this Register editorial notes (I hadn't known this before I researched it), the practice of setting a limit on the national debt began in World War I, when the government took on serious debt with war bonds. I'm sure that if they thought they could do it without consequence the present Congress would prefer to do away with the debt limit altogether. It always gets raised enough to accommodate the latest borrowing binge, but it serves as a reminder of just how profligate the government is being. It was raised seven times during Bush's 8 years, and again when they passed the "stimulus" in January. But Obama's (and Congress's) spending binge requires that it be done again, and this time it's the Democrats who want to make sure it's done as far away from the November election as possible. So they're attaching it to a defense appropriations bill in the hope of spinning any opposition as reluctance to "support the troops," that sacred mantra in America's degraded political discourse.

Anyway, it will soon be around $14 trillion. Hope your grandchildren aren't planning to grow up to be slackers. They're on the hook for their forebears' profligacy.

How museum-going has changed

Why do I keep old newspapers and printouts around for so long that OSHA wants to declare my cubicle a disaster area? Because sometimes I refind something that sparked an interest and didn't gel for a while. Here's an NYT piece based on a writer's morning at the Louvre and some reflection on how people experience museums these days. The headline says much: "At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus." He goes way back, noting that before cameras people used to sketch to preserve their trips and experiences, and therefore went through museums more slowly. These days it's more like an effort to get an entire art appreciation course into a couple of hours, and most people zip right through, perhaps pausing a little longer at certain recognized masterpieces, but basically wanting to see as many things as possible in the time allotted instead of looking at anything intensely. After all, you can always buy a postcard in the museum shop if you want to study something. There's probably something to the observation, based on my recent experiences in museums.

It reminds me of an experience many years ago -- in 1967 -- the first summer I spent in Washington, DC. One day I spent quite a bit of time in the big art museum on the mall. As I passed him, one of the uniformed guards said to me "You never took an art appreciation class, did you?" He was right, I hadn't. He explained to me that to maintain interest in the job (he was retired army and had spent some time as an ROTC instructor at UCLA) he looked at the patterns people dispayed in looking at the pictures. He said that certain pictures were generally featured in art appreciation classes, and those who had taken them would spend time on those paintings, sometimes obviously looking at something in the corner or checking for little-seen patterns as they had been taught. He claimed he could tell from the way people looked at paintings and the features of certain paintings they focused on, whether they had taken art apprciation at Vassar, Yale, Harvard, or several other schools. And he could tell by the somewhat random things that caught my attention and made me stop a while, that I hadn't taken a formal class.

The experience struck me as an example of how an active mind could find interest and some semblance of meaning in even the most mundane and boring activities -- I suspect for most of them being a museum guard is supremely boring. But there's something to observe, something to learn, something to discover, wherever you are in life or wherever you look. You just have to be alert to it.

Obama in denial

Do you suppose Obama has the slightest idea how absurd he looks calling the CEOs into the White House woodshed and administering a verbal spanking? Yeah, that'll get them to lend more money.

Even beyond the fact that what Obama says he wants --more lending -- was just what led to the financial fiasco, the idea of any president of the United Snakes trying to place sole blame on the bankers and such -- sort of like a dimestore FDR, suggesting that to American "progressives" (do you suppose they'll let us have "liberal" back, or have they besmirched that brand so badly that nobody would want it anymore?) it is always the 1930s.

Sure, a lot of bankers made some bad loans, but they were responding to an environment created by the government, with the Fed's loose-money policies, the Community Reinvestment Act and all the regulators threatening to make lenders' lives miserable if they didn't give more mortgages to people who were obviously not qualified for them. Everybody knows this -- especially those who have read or read about Tom Woods' "Meltdown" or Tom Sowell's "The Housing Boom and Bust" (incidentally, he's coming out with a revised and updated version) -- except, apparently, the president and most of the MSM. Being in government means never taking responsibility but instead shoving it off on someone you're in the mood to demonize.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bruins going bowling

Well, it's not exactly the top bowl in the world, but the UCLA football team is going bowling, to the EagleBank Bowl in Wash, DC on Dec. 29, against 9-3 Temple. Guess that means we'll have Bill Cosby rooting against us. It's a definite improvement on last year's 4-8 record, but still hardly what I (and Neuheisel) had hoped for. It looks as if tthey're pumped, so perhaps they'lkl play close to their potential. They lost a couple of games they really might have won this year.

Meantime, the basketball team is really struggling, losing to Mississippi State for its fifth straight loss. I can understand a lot of it -- losing sterling players to the NBA (I guess I support the right of underclassmen to go pro but most of the time I don't like to see it happen), having almost all freshmen and sophomores, losing Drew Gordon after he butted heads with Coach Howland. I think Howland can get them respectable in time for Pac-10 play, but I just don't know.

Sole source for the Sowell authority

Because of our visit to the Hoover Institution at Stanford U., the Register opinion page is the first place with fairly complete information on Thomas Sowell's new book, "Intellectuals and Society." He argues that those we think of as intellectuals -- people who deal in ideas, with ideas the end product of their work (rather than, say, an engineering design, a piece of surgery or a bridge) -- have by and large not been a good influence. Here's my column on the book and on our hour-plus interview, and here is Mark Landsbaum's column. Here is a gallery of photos, and here are some video excerpts of the interview.

Although he certainly values freedom, I've come to think that Tom Sowell is more conservative than libertarian in his orientation. Ah, well. Though I might disagree with him on certaion issues -- minly to do with war and foreign policy -- I have to acknowledge he is one of the foremost intellects of our time. And he's better in person than in print.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peace Prize to a warmaker

I'll give Obama some credit for trying to square the circle of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize a few days after ordering a heavy-duty escalation of the useless and strategically indefensible Afghan war of choice (not necessity). As this Register editorial notes, the Nobel Committee would do well to stop giving it to heads of state, leaders of institutions grounded in the use of force.

Quote of the Day

"The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth -- that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first." -- H.L. Mencken

It seems somewhat likely that the global warming hysteria is at something close to a peak and perhaps already on the decline. What silliness will follow it? Unfortunately, probably not something closer to truth. As Mencken also noted, truth is almost never welcome among the supposedly wise.

Happy Hanukkah or Cheerful Chanukah

Yesterday was Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. As this Register editorial notes, it is largely a festival of religious freedom, commemorating the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Seleucid empire, which tried to stamp out traditional Jewish religious expression -- replacing it with Greek customs and gods the conquerors no doubt believed were more sophisticated and enlightened. Funny how conquerors, who generally conquer by the most primitive, basic and brutal of means -- the use of force -- almost always consider themselves more enlightened than those they have conquered. To the victor goes the hubris.

Small progress on the Fed

It is appropriate, as this Register editorial does, to take note of the fact that Ron Paul's bill to audit the Federal Reserve system, which he has introduced since the 1980s, finally got House approval this week. I have often thought that when the founders contemplated the Congress they were establishing that they hoped for a Congress full of people like Ron Paul --devoted to the Constitution and thinking first and foremost of making sure the government abides by its strictures. Instead, we have Congress with one Ron Paul and a few others with something 9of a passing knowledge of the Constitution. Ah, well.

Of course it would be nice if this were a serious preparatory step toward abolishing the Fed instead of something of a symbolic gesture fueled mostly by uncomprehending populist anger at a powerful and mysterious institution. But I'm afraid Jefferson was right when he said the natural order of things is for government to grow and liberty to retreat. We get a little pushback now and then -- this vote, a growing sense of unease with Obama and his kneejerk efforts to expand government in every sphere of life -- and sometimes a little advance for liberty. But even hanging on to the oiberty we have, I'm afraid, is the work of a lifetime.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Talking with Thomas Sowell

Yesterday was a red-letter one. Almost our whole editorial board went up to the Hoover Institution at Stanford to talk with Thomas Sowell. He has a new book coming out in January, "Intellectuals and Society," so the normally fairly reclusive one has agreed to do some publicity work, and he agreed to have us be the first group to interview him. I figure he must have enjoyed the editorial board meeting he had with us at our office seven or eight years ago -- he acted as if he did -- and he acted as if he enjoyed this session too.

There will be video on the Register opinion page around midnight Saturday, for Sunday, along with pieces Mark Landsbaum and I wrote, which will also be in the Sunday Commentary print edition. So I'll leave details for later.

We also had a substantial talk with Martin Anderson, who with his wife Anneliese has just put out "Reagan's Secret War." Fascinating. And more on that later.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Obama the cold one

For the most part I can take Maureen Dowd or leave her alone (in fact, it's remarkable that almost all of the regular NYT regular opinion columnists are such mediocrities -- they chose pretentious duds for their token conservatives as well). But she can be clever when she's biting -- she took Clinton's measure pretty well but was sometimes so angry at the Bushlet that she sputtered, which doesn't usually make for good writing. Still she's capable of seeing presidents fairly plainly, and I suspect she's starting to take Barack Obama's measure.

This column notes just how coldly Obama dealt with Gregory Craig, the frozen-out White House Counsel. Maureen would remember better than I just how much of a Clinton loyalist -- he honchoed the impeachment defense and had been friends since Yale Law -- Craig had been before he came out for Obama last year. Once on Obama's team, however, he savaged Hillary's claim to have significant foreign policy experience as a former Clinton insider. Put himself on the line for Barack. When he ran into trouble handling the Guantanamo situation, however, Obama simply froze him out further. Cold as could be. Maureen also notes that he did nothing to help Caroline Kennedy, who also put herself out for him during the campaign, when she was floundering around wondering whether or not to run for the senate.

Most politicians are loyal only to themselves, of course, but they usually try to be somewhat graceful. (My old UCLA prof Charles Titus defined politics as the art of getting what you want and making people like it). Obama has no grace.

No make-work government jobs

President Obama did his obligatory speech on jobs-jobs-jobs today and offered mostly the predictable: converting some of the TARP money to spending on public works, some tax breaks for small businesses, rebates to people who weatherize their homes ("cash for caulkers"), and even suspending capital gains taxation for small businesses for a year. In this piece Tyler Cowen (part of a larger NYT "room for debate" feature) makes a strong case that emphasizing infrastructure projects is a lousy way to increase the number of jobs. He doesn't emphasize, as I might, that public-sector jobs all have a parasitic relationship to the real economy, but notes that in our current legalistic climate, projects will take a long time to be approved and will end up employing relatively fewer people at higher wages. Back in the 1930s FDR could hire lots and lots of people quickly at low wages for WPA projects, a few worthy but mostly make-work. Can't happen now. I think he's right.

I am pleased to see Tyler, whom I've known since he started teaching at UCI years ago, included in these debates. Plenty of people think the MSM is so hopeless that it should be boycotted and never taken seriously. There's truth there, but I think the view is shortsighted. For all its many faults the NYT still, for the most part, does the best reporting in the country (perhaps not a high compliment), and it's much better to worm one's way into the paper than to disdain it. Tyler may not be as strong a libertarian as I am -- he doesn't mention the inconvenient and sometimes too harsh to be uttered truth that extending unemployment benefits subsidizes unemployment and reduces the incentive to search hard for another job. It might be that the government has so screwed up the economy that there just won't be jobs to be had for another year or so, however, so subsidizing unemployment may be the lesser of evils.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Republicans defending socialism

I understand (I think) most of the series of political calculations that got them there, but this is just too rich anyway. The only way the Obama/Reid/Pelosi/Baucus approach to health care doesn't bust the budget dramatically is by including some $4-5 hundred billion in cutbacks in Medicare over the next 10 years (they won't make those cuts anyway, but that's a tale for another day). So the Republicans are now defending every penny spent on Medicare as if it were sacred. Medicare is as close as anything in our current system to a pure socialist approach to medicine. So that's what Republicans defend if they think it leads to blowing up plans for the next phase ogf government takeover. I sympathiz3, and it just might work. But the irony/hypocrisy deserves a mention.

Coping with China and India

Here's the review I did for Sunday's Register Commentary section on Martin Sieff's new book, Shifting Superpowers, on the rise of China and India to the status of economic superpowers with the capacity to become at least increasingly important regional powers -- which they are now -- if not necessarily global powers. Martin reminds us that far from being Gandhi-style pacifistic, India has had and still has one of the world's more effective militaries. By going into history of the last 100 years ago, he demonstrates that the Bush administration's idea of cozying up to India as a counterbalance to China was a pipedream; India had been suspicious of/antagonistic to China earlier on, but it's now in a phase of getting along, even cooperation.

I remember sitting with Martin Sieff in a bar in Korea, drinking many scotches into the wee hours and trading stories. We were at the same conference. Of course he had more stories to tell than I, having lived a more adventurous life, and he was only too happy to tell them; he's a delightful raconteur. He also wrote a darn good book.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dump the spy powers

Not that I think it will happen really, but I thought it was important for the Register to be on record saying it wouldn't be a bad thing if the Senate got so obsessed or bogged down on health care this month that it just didn't get around to renewing three spying powers of the lamentable Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year. As a senator and candidate Obama criticized the PA, but now that the power is in his hands he doesn't want to give it up, as he announced last summer. Funny how those civil libertarian pretensions melt when it's a matter of the "right people" having the legal ability to, respectively, get a "roving wiretap" without identifying the suspected "terrorist," snoop into business records including library activity or medical records, or follow a suspected "lone wolf," which they say they haven't done but they still want the power. Jim Carrey in "Bruce Almighty" comes to mind.

Those are not the worst provisions of the Patriot Act, which were already renewed last year (with Obama's vote).

Puncturing journalistic pretensions

For my money the best media critic -- fascinating concept -- holding forth these days is Jack Shafer, who has written for a Washington alternative newspaper in the past and is now writing at Slate.com. I don't think it's necessary to have committed daily journalism to be able to criticize media effectively -- I certainly did it in print before I worked for a daily newspaper -- but I think it helps to have spent time in a newsroom of some sort just to soak up attitudes and mores. I love daily journalism, whose challenges seem to fit my proclivities pretty well, but I think it's important to be able to maintain a certain psychic distance from the trade to be able to view it as an objective lover. I like much of what Howie Kurtz does at the WashPost, but he is still more reportorial. Jack is analytical and fair enough to do representative excerpts of writers he is criticizing; he is especially good at identifying cliches in selection of stories and their presentation.

This time he's having a good time with the NYT's James Traub, who wrote the predictable "most powerful veep in history" story about -- ta dah! -- Joe Biden. Here's a taste:

The Nov. 29 New York Times Magazine bestows the "most powerful vice president in history" accolade on Joe Biden with the qualifier that he's the most powerful vice president in history after that Cheney guy. Written by James Traub, who scampers around the globe and down the White House's halls with the logorrheic 47th vice president, the piece conforms to all the clich├ęs of most-powerful-veep genre. It catalogs the size of his staff, the number of meetings he has with the president, the number of important presidential briefings he attends, the number of private lunches he has with the president, the breadth of his policy portfolio, the air miles he's flown on diplomatic missions as "Obama's fire chief and ambassador without portfolio," and the frequency of his impromptu sessions with the president ("Very seldom a week goes by that he doesn't call me down to his office, or wander in here and close the door and say, 'Wait a minute, what about this?' " Biden tells Traub).

Jack documents that pretty much every vice president in recent history -- including Dan Quayle! -- has had this story written about him. For good measure, here's his take on Tiger. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The UCLA-USC travesty

The trouble with the kind of stunt Pete Carroll pulled at the end of the UCLA-USC game -- a Hail Mary pass that succeeded after taking a knee at 55 second and Neuheisel calling a timeout -- is that nothing can be done to counter it for a full year, and while it will probably provide motivation next year, next year is a long way off.

I don't condemn Carroll. Both coaches, who don't seem to0 like one another at all, kind of made the game about their egos rather than their teams. I didn't think Neiheisel's timeout call was all that outrageous; he had three left, his team had just finally marched down the field and scored a touchdown, and while at 21-7 they weren't going to win it, if they got the ball back and scored again -- or even mounted a respectable drive -- it would have ended the season on a high note. But there was ego involved, and definitely in-your-face-sucker ego on Carroll's part.

I wonder if Pete Carroll's ego hasn't begun to get in the way of his judgment. The Hail Mary was defensible but still bad judgment. Competitors, especially athletic competitors, tend to be impulsive, and the call was just that. I think he also fell in love with Matt Barkley, his Freshman QB, which led him not to give others a shot when Barkley, after a first few really nice games, started playing like a Freshman. He used to make good half-time adjustments but lately (except against UCLA) USC has fallen apart in second halfs. He may be reluctant or too proud to change things when change might have been called for. This season -- especially if Arizona beats the Trojans Saturday, which is possible -- should have been a blow to Pete's ego. We'll see how he responds next year. If they return to dominance I may reconsider.

Obama's sorry speech

I'll know it's almost time to retire when a situation like last night doesn't get the adrenaline flowing and stir the creative juices. Obama gave his speech at 5:00 PST, and the last train leaves at 6:50, so I had to listen to the speech, check my notes, and write this editorial by about 6:20 to have time for Cathy to read it, ask a few questions, change a few things and get it ready for the next day's paper. It went on the Web site right away, and also onto the FreedomPolitics.com site.

It wasn't that hard to write. We have been urging military disengagement in Afghanistan for at least a year, for reasons we think are sound and that haven't changed much. There is no significant al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan, so the main thing we're accomplishing by keeping troops there is fueling the Taliban insurgency and acting as a crutch for the corrupt and ineffectual Karzai regime. Obama's "surge" (greater in percentage terms than Bush's 2007 Iraq surge) is unlikely to achieve much of anything for reasons the editorial explains.

In a later posting on the Register's Orange Punch blog, I played with the idea that this might have been as shrewd a course as Obama could have charted given the bad options facing him and assuming he wasn't going to begin an Afghan pull-out or even a military de-emphasis. He's letting the military throw a Hail Mary, giving it 18 months (ior 12 after the build-up is completed) to do serious damage to the Taliban. Then he'lkl be able to say he gave it his best shot (and maybve even cite some signs of progress) and it's time to begin the pull-out. Don't know if that's his game, but if it is it just might be the least-worst of what was feasible.

Of course there's some gross cynicism involved; he's sending X number of Americans to their deaths -- surely the death toll will rise with more troops and m,ore active engagement, unless the Taliban just plays possum, and those people will have died for nothing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Global warming and corrupted science

I have long been only a mild skeptic of the received wisdom on global warming/climate change, largely because I simply haven't taken the time to delve very deeply into the science, although Pat Michael's latest book seems pretty sound to me. As Mark Landsbaum notes in this post on the Register's Orange Punch blog, what seems fairly certain in the wake of the leaked/stolen material from East Anglia's climate gurus, is that there was pretty active work to cement an orthodoxy -- the virtual opposite of real science -- by climate change believers. I'm not sure whether data was manipulated in truly egregious ways, but there's little doubt it was manipulated to some extent. That's not the kind of thing people utterly secure in their acceptance of the "scientific consensus" should feel impelled to do.

Anthroprogenic global warming theory in some form may turn out to have some validity. But the revelations in the various e-mails undermine its credibility a lot more than most of the MSM is prepared to admit -- yet.

Health care uncertainty

Harry Reid rounded up 60 votes for the Senate to open consideration of his awful health-care proposal, but final passage is still a long way off. As this Register editorial explains (and as has been in the news for days), Sens. Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, Landrieu and others are unlikely to approve a public option. Whether they can win other retrenchment I don't know for sure. But even if something passes, it could well be a little less awful than what a full-force Obama/Pelosi/ReidCare would have inflicted on us. And there's just a chance gridlock will doom it.

I did a piece for Sunday's register Commentary section that is mostly constructive -- what might be an acceptable fallback position if ObamaCare fails and Congress gets an uncharacteristic urge to pass something that might actually help. I warrant that the Register has offered more constuctive ideas on health care over the past few months (accompanied by vigorous criticism of various pending proposals) than any other mass medium. Not that we seem to have had any influence.

Soft-pedaling George Shultz and the drug war

I've been meaning to get to this piece by the WSJ's Mary Anastasia O'Grady for some time. I'm not sure whether to be amused, dismayed or encouraged. She interviewed George Shultz, Reagan's Secretary of State, a longtime Hoover fellow and now co-chair of something called the North American Forum. Much of the column discussed the problem of violence in Mexico related to Mexican president Calderon's decisions to take the drug-war rhetoric seriously and use the military to make war on the cartels. Mary introduces Shultz's perspective:

"He has long harbored skepticism about interdiction as a solution to drug abuse in the U.S."

"Long harbored skepticism about interdiction"???!!! He has been on the record for about 20 years as opposing the drug war -- all of it, including heroin and the hard drugs -- as staunchly as Milton Friedman did (I'm sure Milton influenced him, as he did almost everyone he had even a passing acquaintance with). The drug war has failed because it tried to repeal the laws of supply and demand. It's time to end it -- perhaps gradually, accompanied by honest dissuasives about the dangers of certain drugs -- but with its utter elimination as the goal. I quizzed Shultz about some of these issues when I spent my week as a Hoover media fellow. And surely Mary Anastasia O'Grady knows this.

Yet newspaper opinion pages have their cultures, and I suspect the Journal's is not quite ready for a full-fledged denunciation of the drug war by one of their own -- a guest column, perhaps, "balanced" by a screed from a drug warrior, but not by one of their own. The tender eyes of Journal readers are presumably only ready for gentle hints regarding "skepticism about interdiction," not for being reminded that the sainted President Reagan's trusted Secretary of State, one of Reaganite conservatism's revered Wise Men, would end the drug war tomorrow (or at least institute liberalizations leading to that end.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Mary herself is as ready to end the drug war as any rabid libertarian, but is trying to introduce the idea indirectly and obliquely, doing as much as the Journal will let her get way with. I don't know this, but I wouldn't be surprised.

The culture is shifting on this issue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Global warming cooling off?

The big news over the weekend was that a bunch of e-mails and other material from the UK's East Anglia University's climate change department were leaked/stolen/whatever. Mark Landsbaum, who follows this issue much more closely than I do, thinks they're extremely significant, telling me today there's evidence of conspiring to make sure non-enthusiasts of warming didn't get published, and evidence of data that didn't fit the hypothesis being suppressed or simply ignored. Was AGW (anthropogenic global warming) a scam from the get-go, or did it seem true until the data stopped supporting it and other theories (sunspots?) came to seem more plausible? Pat Michaels of Cato, says it's not a smoking gun, it's a mushroom cloud.

Anyway, Mark wrote this editorial for the Register, calling for more complete analysis of the data released and a full investigation into how it came to seem all right to suppress information and the implications for the underlying science -- and for confidence in the integrity of scientists. The unraveling may be only beginning.

Interesting times indeed!

Rivalry week underway in SoCal

Somewhere I have a book on college sports rivalries that doesn't even include UCLA-USC. Whoever wrote it must not have been in Southern California during the week the two schools meet for football. Those with an actual connection to one or the other school -- I attended UCLA off and on '61-'67, didn't get a degree but learned a lot -- get a little crazy, and locals without a real tie tend to choose up sides as well. During the 1960s -- Zeno, Beban, Prothro, O.J., John McKay -- you really could throw the record away -- it was going to be a tough, hard-fought game decided at the end. Maybe it's not a "great" rivalry because it goes through periods of one-sidedness -- UCLA has won only once during the Pete Carroll era, a win that shocked everybody.

This year I'm trying not to set myself up, but I'm hardly the only one who thinks UCLA has a solid chance. At USC, losing 8 defensemen to the first two rounds of the NFL draft and having a true freshman querterback finally took their toll, most recently in those embarrassing losses to Oregon and Stanford. They had a bye week last weekend and I'm sure Carroll will have them prepared to see beating the Bruins as redemption, and they probably have the raw talent to do it, if Barkley is on.

However, after a miserable middle with 5 Pac-10 losses, the Bruins have regrouped and won their last three games. I'm still concerned that we can't seem to score a touchdown in the red zone -- the two touchdowns against Arizona State both came from defensive takeaways -- but the defense is playing very well, and Prince at least seems able to get the offense within field goal range. We're remembering the Neuheisel has built winners wherever he has coached. I'm wearing the colors all week and looking forward to a good game.

Founders Day at Freedom, Inc.

I'm pretty sure it was Cathy Taylor's idea for Freedom Communications to mark R.C. Hoiles's birthday, Nov. 24, as Founders Day (though it might have come from somebody in corporate). I can't remember when we first did it -- 5-6 years ago? Anyway, we try to highlight some aspect of R.C.'s life and ideas, and their importance to the larger freedom movement (R.C. was never quite satisfied with the term "libertarian," though I suspect he would eventually have acquiesced to using it more often. He died in 1970, just as the modern libertarian movement was starting to define itself -- having libertarians kicked out of YAF in 1969 was a key moment, leading Don Ernsberger to found Students for Individual Liberty (SIL) and marking something of a divorce from the conservative movement.

Founders Day is whyI did the piece on R.C. for Sunday, and this editorial that ran today. The little pamphlet from which I extracted quotes (intro and transitions written by D.R. Segal, I'm pretty sure -- gee, he was a fun guy yet unquestionably sharp as an executive) said that if journalism were a person R.C. was its hair shirt.

This is a bittersweet Founders Day for us, and not just because of the sorry state of the newspaper business just now. Sometime early next year Freedom Inc., family-held for so long, will be officially owned by a consortium of banks, having emerged from Chapter 11. We don't expect they'll want to change editorial policies at the Register, but will hang onto properties that are at least modestly profitable until there's a decent market for them. But we don't know. I understand why "may you live in interesting times" is a Chinese curse. But I'll continue to interpret it as at least part blessing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Celebrating R.C. Hoiles

Here's the piece I referenced in a previous post about Phebe Adams, R.C. Hoiles's last secretary, who offered us some insights we had not had into just what kind of a person R.C. Hoiles was. I still find his personality a bit elusive. He was undoubtedly somewhat crusty; that much we get from any number of people who knew him. Yet he inspired tremendous loyalty, though he never paid worth a hoot (though he apparently also had soft spots and/or loyalty went two ways.

At any rate, as the piece argues, he was not only influential insofar as the Register and other freedon newspapers carried libertarian stuff, but he had a considerable impact on the then-tiny libertarian movement in the 1940s and 1950s and on into the 1060s (he died in 1970). I didn't iknow him, but I'm proud to be at an insitution he established.

Marijuana reform progressing

As I predicted in a Register article six months ago or more, the concept of marijuana legalization continues to gain ground. Today's Washington Post has a piece noting the AMA's recent reversal to support medical marijuana, various polls -- 44% in favor and gaining according to Gallup -- and the changed attitude of activists, who actually see light at the end of the tunnel. And here's a piece on Michael Patrick Carroll, so far the only Republican in the New Jersey legislature to support legalization of medical marijuana. Apparently his experience with sick relatives has had an impact on him. He also doesn't get apoplectic at the idea of legalization for adults. Would that there were more Republicans like him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peter Drucker's 100th birthday

Cathy Taylor, our opinion editor and my boss, made a point of attending classes with the great management pioneer Peter Drucker when she was the Register's business editor. Today would have been Drucker's 100th birthday. In commemoration the Register reprinted a piece Cathy did in 1992 just after completing Drucker's class. The fact that Peter Drucker taught for many year's at Claremont is an example of the cultural and intellectual resources available in Southern California that are not often appreciated when people think of the area as la-la land (which it is also, to some extent). I'm quite appreciative of New York City and much of what it has to offer, and would not want to be without the NYT. But SoCal has much to offer as well.

Obama's dud of a trip

I suspect that if in some alternative universe I were ever elected president I would take as many foreign trips as possible, as quickly as possible, just for the experience. While some of his earlier trips seemed to have objectives, or at least events that could be spun as creating a new tone (e.g., the Cairo speech), Obama's Asia trip seemed more like a get-acquainted or even a tourist excursion. He certainly didn't break any ground; if anything he reinforced longstanding U.S. policy, which is to keep an inordinate number of troops in Japan and South Korea long past their due date. Doug Bandow wrote a piece suggesting some real changes that could be made in Asian policy, starting with withdrawing troops that have little or no function with the Cold War over, and firming up economic relations with China, with which there's little or no reason to be confrontational. I linked to it in a post I did for the Register's Orange Punch blog, and we actually got some fairly thoughtful comments back and forth. Take a look.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Kelo postscript: from tragedy to farce

It is almost too rich. New London CT, wanted to please Pfizer, which it had induced to build a facility in town, in part through corporate welfare (not sure whether it was tax forgiveness or what), so they condemned a modest-income neighborhood after getting a fancy-schmancy proposal from a developer. Susette Kelo fought this obvious abuse of eminent domain but the Supremes said it was just fine to push people out of their homes for the promise of a public "benefit" (the Constitution says "public use") in the form of more tax revenue for the city misrulers. Well, the development plan fell through some years ago so the land is lying there unused, most of the houses torn down. And now Pfizer has announced it's closing the plant.

Why can't cities just have low taxes and reasonable regulations (not that I wouldn't prefer zero of each) and let businesses develop in response to consumer/business demand? Why the urge these petty tyrants have to micromanage and direct everything, with taxpayers money? Oh, maybe that's why. Other peoples' money, no downside risk to them. We should at least ridicule them regularly, however.

Meeting Phebe Adams

Had a marvelously fascinating day at work today. R.C. Hoiles's last secretary, who worked for him from 1966 to 1970, when he died, came in for lunch and she and Cathy and Mark and I talked extensively about the old days, giving us, I believe a more rounded picture of what R.C. was like. Phebe would be about 84 now, but she's quite spry and her mind and memories functioning well. We mentioned there was still something a little remote about R.C.'s personality or persona to those of us who had not known him (he died in 1970, I came to the Register in 1980, and had only seen him at a conference briefly before (in 1969 I think) and didn't know anything about him then.

Phebe said she thought that he was basically shy, though he was always ready to talk about freedom, and that may have given people the impression he was a little distant. But he was warm and humorous with the people he knew and felt comfortable with.

It was Cathy (Taylor's) idea to ask her in. We're writing on Founder's Day, near his birthday, when we remind people of aspects of his legacy, for Sunday. I'll link to it when it goes online.

Samuel Adams -- getting his due?

I just finished reading Ira Stoll's biography of Samuel Adams, and here's my review in the Register. I found it fascinating. I've always had the impression Samuel, John's older cousin, was a key figure, maybe even central, in the American revolutionary period. But there's been the impression that he was a bit too much of a firebrand, maybe not quite respectable, perhaps a bit fringey compared to some of the now-better-known founders. He did come early to a conviction that independence was the necessary step, but aside from not being rich, as many of the founders wwre, he was viewed as a solid citizen, being elected and reelected to positions of responsibility, fromn the Boston Meeting to the Massacusetts legislature to the Continental Congress to lt. gov. and gov. of Massachusetts. I also hadn't known how deeply religious he was -- the last of the Puritans perhaps, embodying the best of that tradition, which was fading during his lifetime.

I noticed that the book was on sale at my local Costco for about ten bucks. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bruin football better, basketball not so much

In our department at work almost everybody but me went to USC, so there were some long faces this morning. When I suggested that the USC-UCLA game just might be competitive this year, it was almost too much for them to bear. But the Trojans have obviously been operating on fumes the last few weeks while the Bruins just might be shaping up into a real team. Certainly the Washington State win was impressive -- though WSU unfortunately this year is a doormat for just about everybody. As to USC, we need to think about Arizona State first, while USC has a bye week. I suspect they'll be fired up for the UCLA game, but UCLA could be pretty fired up too.

I just watched the UCLA basketball team lose in double overtime to Cal State Fullerton, breaking a 37-game winning streak against non-conference non-ranked at Pauley (boy is that an ESPN geek type statistic). Having lost four starters and having to rely on a bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and having a bunch of injuries, which made for disjointed practices, it is perhaps to be expected that it will take a while for this team to gel. I suspect Fullerton will turn out to be pretty good from the way they played (especially if they stop blowing easy layups). I don't know what to expect from the Bruins. They did come back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime, but all those missed threes and free throws! The sportswriters say there's talent there. I hope so.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

PelosiCare could lead to fewer insured

Here's the editorial the Register ran after the House passed PelosiCare last Saturday. It focuses on the likely perverse effects of an individual mandate enforced by a modest fine combined with a mandate that people with preexisting conditions be accepted without a financial penalty. Significant numbers of healthy people would choose to pay the fine and not get health insurance until they came down with something or developed a condition likely to require pricey treatment. The pool would be mostly high-risk patients so premiums would have to rise.

Other shortcomings of the bill, likely to be treated in more detail later include a virtual band on Health Savings Accounts, a hefty tax increase on capital gains, and a thoroughly phony approach to "tort reform" likely to empower trial lawyers even more. Not to mention the new flap over abortion. Whee! I'm pretty sure this version doesn't pass and there's a chance (though slim I think) that nothing will pass.

Gridlock is our friend.

Can Cannabis improve autism?

Here's a thoughtful article from the UK's The Independent centered on a woman in Rhode Island, where medical marijuana is legal whose 9-year-old kid has autism and to whom he gave a "special tea," achieving remarkably positive calming results. Not a cure, but helped the kid function more normally, with fewer side effects than the prescription drugs they had used previously. A follow-on raises thoughtful questions civilly.

How 'bout them Bruins?

I haven't exulted yet over the fact that my Bruins finally won a football game in the Pac 10, narrowly defeating Washington (which beat USC earlier!) 24-23. It wasn't a pretty game, but it had its consolations. Kevin Prince, our redshirt Freshman quarterback who has shown flashes of competence but not enough, was injured toward the end of the second quarter, suffering a concussion that has the coaches still pampering/protecting him in practice. He's expected to start this week, but given things we have learned about concussions in recent years they may be ultra-cautious.

That left the game in the hands of Kevin Craft, last year's 20-interception goat and this year's third-stringer. He wasn't brilliant, but he was good enough to get the job done. The offensive line even did a fairly good job of protecting him much of the time, though there's still plenty of room for improvement there.

So it's Washington State this weekend, now the lone cellar-dweller. The Bruins are favored by 17 or so, but bad things tend to happen to UCLA in Pullman. Washington State will be desperate to get its first win, so it's as well to take nothing for granted. Beer and guacamole are already laid in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Iraqi election agreement not a bad sign

I've noted elsewhere the irony that just now the U.S., in the form of Ambassador Christopher Hill, has been manically trying to micromanage the parliamentary process ion Iraq to produce the agreement just reached on an election law to govern the elections scheduled for January -- to some extent trying to create or coax along a process that should lead to scheduled troop withdrawals and the eventual abandonment not just of micromanaging but managing Iraq at all. Even now, Hill is less like an overlord and more like a lobbyist; U.S. influence is still pervasive but not necessarily decisive. That's not a bad situation as the Register opined; assuming there's not massive violence during the period surrounding the election (not necessarily an entirely safe assumption) we should have "only" about 50,000 troops in Iraq by next August or so, and virtually none a year after that. I hope it works out that way.

I suspect most Americans see the Iraq war as a disaster from which we were lucky to escape without more lasting damage -- though there are still war enthusiasts out there convinced we acted wisely and are succeeding. It is difficult to understand why so much of the political class works so hard to avoid seeing that further escalation in Afghanistan is likely to be even less satisfactory than Iraq has been. It smells of an empire in decline with a sadly out-of-touch aristocracy in charge. It's just sad so many decent Americans in the military will have to be sacrificed to the delusions of old men.

Berlin Wall ironies

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I did a piece for the Register Sunday Commentary section pondering why our political culture doesn't make a bigger deal of the event that triggered perhaps the greatest episode of political liberation at least in modern history, the gradual collapse of the communist enterprise in Russia, its satellites and its disappearance as a factor in geopolitics. I argue that we haven't yet as a culture come to grips with the shortcomings of communist theory, in part because it has implications for the shortcomings of soft socialism, with which right and left seem to be contented insofar as it is in place (Medicare, etc.) though disagreeing on how quickly it should be expanded.

When I was in Berlin in 1999 we stayed in a fairly new hotel in the former eastern sector, just a few blocks from Brandenburg Gate. Sections of the wall had been kept in place as a reminder, along with Checkpoint Charlie. But the remarkable thing was the lack of any sense of division, though there were differences. A new friend and I went barhopping almost 'til dawn one night, checking out perhaps a dozen hard by Humboldt University. Walking down Unter den Linden one saw fashionable shops, embassies, restaurants, some with sidewalk service -- a pleasant promenade. Further on were Humboldt U., museums, churches, a synagogue and opera houses, and that bizarre radio/TV tower, which we explored fairly thoroughly. The joke was that the national bird was now the crane, there were so many construction cranes all over Berlin. You could still see bullet-made pockmarks on museums and Humboldt U. buildings in the eastern sector, but the atmosphere was one of building, growth and optimism.

So where have I been?

I can offer some reasons for not entering more posts on this blog, all of which make some sense and are valid, but there may be a whole greater than the sum of the parts. I followed the World Series and have been watching a lot of football. The ranks at work have thinned out, at least temporarily for various periods of time, due to Steve Greenhut leaving, having a week or so before Brian Calle came on, then some Mark Landsbaum time off and Brian's trip to India -- 10 days, expected back tomorrow. I've done the Sunday Commentary cover piece the last five weeks in a row; when the department is in sync it's more like every third week. After that much writing involved with gainful employment, I haven't necessarily had that much new to say or felt like writing at all.

Aspects of this blog vacation have been nice; I've spent more time just talking or sitting with Jen of an evening, and I think it's been good for us. We'll have a gang over for Thanksgiving (don't know how we got suckered into that) and some housecleaning/pickup/minor projects will be and has been needed. So I've not been idle.

Anyway, I'm at it tonight and expect to be so more in coming weeks.

Monday, November 02, 2009

At least they showed signs of life

I guess I'm a hopeless homer, but I choose to take a certain comfort from the fact that the Bruins were able to score two touchdowns and successfully go for two on both in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Getting into the end zone when in the red zone has been a problem all year. Nice that Kai Forbath is a terrific placekicker, but we need to score touchdowns.

Of course it's disappointing that they then let OSU score a touchdown to win. But given a bit more time I wouldn't have been surprised if they had come back and scored again. I'm still hoping for better than 4-8 this year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parole and Pat Nolan

This article on prisoners and parole for the Register's Sunday Commentary section came out of a certain amount of reporting and a little bit of research. Sitting in on Parole and Community PACT meetings was not exactly eye-opening -- I've had contact with parolees and the enforcement system, especially during Three Strikes campaigns. Nonetheless, some people surprised me -- not that what they did at one meeting necessarily predicts how they will handle parole or whether they will take advantage of the opportunities various volunteers offer them.

It was good to see Pat Nolan, now with Chuck Colson's Justice Fellowship. He and I go back a long way -- probably to '67 or '68 -- but I hadn't seen him in about 20 years. He seems happy, doing something he believes is worthwhile and designed to bring a bit of benefit to the world -- probably much more constructive than anything he did as an elected official.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What gets reactions

After almost 30 years in the newspaper business, I still find myself surprised at what gets reactions from readers. Last Friday I did what struck me as a fairly innocent post for the Register's Orange Punch blog on Rush Limbaugh, suggesting that he got a fairly raw deal from the NFL in response to his desire to be a minority owner of the St. Louis Lambs, while noting that while I don't think he's a racist, he does indulge in race-baiting. It got more than 100 comments and they're still coming. Of course several readers got on their own hobbyhorses instead of staying on-topic, but that's fine.

Quote of the Day

"If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, if any such is possible." -- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Can the Bruins bite the Bears?

It was too painful to write about last week's game with Oregon because the lapses just put it out of reach and the offense was so ineffective. I hope it was just Kevin Prince being rusty and that he'll come out of his funk on Saturday. Richard Brehaut, the true freshman, had some good sequences and showed that he has a pretty good arm, and the defense actually held Oregon's effective offense to 10 points, but they just couldn't get into the end zone.

I don't know what to make of Cal. Were they overrated early, or did they have lapses? I suspect they'll be eager for redemption after the embarrassing loss to USC. and Jahvid Best is a helluva running back, though the record shows he can be kept in check. So I just don't know how the Bruins, a 3-point underdog, will do on Saturday. I'm hoping they come into their own.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jack Herer released from hospital

The most recent news I have of my old friend Jack Herer, the "Emperor of Hemp," who had a serious heart attack mid-September, is that he is out of the hospital in Portland, seems alert from what his eyes follow, but isn't speaking yet. He's scheduled for therapy. Will update when I find out where he is staying, whether in Portland or going home.

Bach celebrates Obama's Nobel

Courtesy of "A Tiny Revolution," here's a YouTube of Bach's BWV 13, with the text going on about "groaning and weeping" and the Bass selling the idea. There's also a nice little essay from Bernard Chazelle on the improbability of a provincial German musician turning out to be such a towering genius whose greatest music was consciously written to glorify God. Whence comes such genius? A lot of us have some talent for music, and some composers (think of Schubert) must have had melodies running through their heads pretty much all the time. But somehow Bach towers over them all, as geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven acknowledged.

ObamaCare not a done deal

Most of the media are treating Senate Finance Committee passage of the Baucus bill as a sure sign that some sort of bill Obama can sign and embrace as real hopeychange will be passed by Congress this year. Naturally the Register had to beg to differ. Our editorial suggested that some of the most divisive and contentious days are yet to come.

The most prominent (or at least numerous) holders of the "Cadillac" health insurance policies Baucus wants to tax (at 40%!), for example, are union workers, though I imagine some fatcats have them as well. Will left-Democrats actually vote against a bill that doesn't include the sacred "public option," or will they grumble and vote for something they think is a half-measure they see as a giveaway to evil insurance companies? How Blue will the Blue Dogs be with an election staring them in the face in a year or less?

Pray for gridlock. Only if the gumbo that emerges from the legislative back kitchen doesn't make it to the table (or is sent back indignantly by customers) will there be a chance for real cost-cutting or even (dare we even imagine?) consumer- and patient-oriented reform.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The degradation of the Nobel Peace Prize

Perhaps it is just as well that the Nobel Peace Prize, in the wake of the award to Obama, has become more widely perceived as a bit of a joke, a source of punchlines. Here's the Register's take, written that day and rather restrained, I thought. I don't think enough people, in all the bursts of jokes, blogs and editorials, noted the irony of receiving the Peace Prize at a time when one is considering how to ramp up an utterly unnecessary and ill-fated war in Afghanistan. Ah, well.

Can the U.S. accept a victory?

I would like to hope that this article in the WaPo represents a possible administration trial balloon or preparation for significantly reducing the military footprint of the U.S. in Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan as well. Karen De Young and Walter Pincus (one of the people in the world I'm glad I took the initiative to meet) provide information, largely overlooked, to my knowledge, that certainly could provide a rationale for such a sensible step.

The word from the intelligence officials they interviewed is that various techniques -- "improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with the increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorists organization's effectiveness." Indeed, "Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks."

This jibes with what Stratfor.com and some other intelligence-oriented outfits (and I) have been saying for years -- that al-Qaeda Central, so to speak, has been seriously degraded. It doesn't seem to have had a hand, let alone a coordinating role, in attacks such the Madrid and London train bombings and other attacks. It no doubt has some value to the terrorist cause as an inspirer of would-be terrorists or as a label for already-existing local groups to assume. But it has little operational ability.

Well, isn't that what the U.S. has said is the central goal -- disabling al-Qaeda? It seems to have been largely accomplished (though continued vigilance is no doubt warranted), and not through conventional military means or classic counterinsurgency methods, but through a combination of intelligence, which helped to identify drone targets with increasing effectiveness, collaboration with others, and police-like work. How a classic counterinsurgency campaign that would first have to legitimize the pathetic Karzai regime, in Afghanistan would contribute to further success is unclear, to say the least. By extending the unpopular de facto U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, it might even aid terrorist recruitment.

I hate to think that the U.S. has evolved into a regime that must have constant wars, regimes designated as pariahs to justify constant hostility, and leaders inflating threats to justify its military-industrial establishment. But if we can't accept victory over al-Qaeda, or at least decide to keep doing what's working and abandon the military-centered actions that aren't, one wonders.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Private schools and the poor

It's not just Facebook, though you can waste a lot of time there, but especially busy times at work and in-laws coming for a few days that have kept me from my appointed blogging rounds. Part of it was reading the entirety of James Tooley's extraordinary book, "The Beautiful Tree," about his discoveries of private schools serving the poor throughout the Third World -- in India, Africa and even in China. I did this piece for the Register's Sunday Commentary section, and judging by the comments it stirred a certain amount of interest (although asd is often the case with commenters they addressed the article only glancingly before climbing on their personal hobbyhorses -- but better that than no response at all). I wish hundreds of thousands of people would read this remarkable book.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jack Herer out of intensive care

I haven't been able to get the link to work, but CannabisCulture is reporting that Jack Herer is out of intensive care now. He still isn't talking, but seems increasingly conscious and aware. Is scheduled to begin physical therapy. I hope this is an accurate report. IU'll keep checking and see what else I can find, perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow.

Celebrating James P. Johnson

It's encouraging to know that in the midst of living in the "interesting times" the Chinese viewed as a curse, some heartwarmingly positive things are happening as well. One of the more encouraging I have encountered recently was a concert in a West Village club celebrating and raising money for James P. Johnson (he wrote "Charleston"), the leading exponent of "stride" piano (perhaps along with Willie "The Lion" Smith), a style developed in the 1920s featuring a strong rhythmic left hand giving impetus to sometimes delicate melodies and elaborate riffs in the right hand. Stride was in many ways the transtion between ragtime and jazz as it came to be known in the 1930s and 1940s and beyond. YouTube examples here, here, here and here.

Anyway, it turns that Johnson died in 1955 and while people knew his grave was in Queens somewhere, nobody knew exactly where it was. Recently Scott Brown, a Johnson scholar, found it, and the club Smalls hosted a gathering of a dozen pianists on Sunday,playing and riffing on Johnson classics, to raise money for a headestone. Nice to see an American innovator is still remembered and celebrated.

Did U.S. bugging out really create the Taliban?

Bruce Cameron over at consortiumnews.com has an interesting piece that makes a fairly decent case that the conventional wisdom -- the U.S. losing interest in Afghanistan after the Soviets left was responsible for the Taliban coming to power (with the implication being that we can't afford to "bug out" again) -- is not quite right -- thought the presentation is a little convoluted for my taste.

Cameron does point out that far from losing interest, the U.S., thought the CIA, pursued an active intervention in Afghanistan after the Soviets left, operating mainly through the Pakistani ISI, figuring the Soviet-backed Najibullah government would fall quickly. But Najubullah held on until 1992. He was replaced by a moderate Islamist, Ahmad Shah Massoud, but Pakistan's ISI, and therefore the U.S., kept funding other contendors, notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The scramble for power, aggravated by CIA-ISI funding for anti-government forces, paved the way for the ISI to groom the Taliban to take power in 1996. The U.S., far from being inattentive, worked with the ISI, hoping the Taliban would at least bring stability (and cement Pakistani influence, not necessarily the U.S. goal).

There's more to what is really a convoluted history, but in essence a case can be made that U.S. attention rather than inattention contributed to the rise of the Taliban -- which didn't come until seven years after the Soviets left.

If there's a lesson for now it is that the U.S. doesn't have a history of diagnosing Afghani politics accurately and influencing them in a democratic or even a modestly tolerant direction. Hamid Karzai, our chosen vessel (or the one we're stuck with) may have less legitimacy now than Najibullah did then, and certainly less than Massoud. Without a respected central government to defend -- which may never be in the cards for Afghanistan, which might not be a tragedy -- the kind of counterinsurgency program McChrystal is proposing has precious little chance of success.

Bruins come back to earh

It was rather painful to watch the UCLA-Stanford game Saturday. This blog post from Adam Maya at the Register tells a good bit. UCLA's defense was supposed to be its strong point, but the combination of Toby Gerhart, the stanford offensive line and some boneheaded mistakes led to Stanford dominance. It was nice to score some points in the fourth quarter, but aside from a few brief moments of hope the outcome was not really in doubt from early on.

I'm not sure what to make of the season so far. I guess SD State, Tennessee and Kansas State are rather inferior teams, but it was not nothing to beat them, especially Tennessee. The Pac 10 could be wiuld. USC has taken its annual dive to a low-ranked team, this time Washington, and Cal lost to Oregon. Then Stanford beat Washington. Kevin Prince has been out for UCLA and the coaches don't seem to trust Kevin Craft to try to stretch the field. Whether that would have made a difference against Stanford is difficult to guess.

I don't have a good feeling about playing Oregon on Saturday. I'd love for Prince and the Bruins to surprise me and everybody else. It's at least possible.

Supreme Court term could be interesting

I doubt that the presence of Sonia Sotomayor will make much difference in the way the Supremes decide things this term -- although news reports say she was active in questioning on the first day the court heard cases yesterday. Kennedy will continue to be the justice to whom lawyers direct their arguments and he will likely continue to side with the "liberal" bloc sometimes and the "conservative" bloc more often.

As this Register editorial explains in truncated form, however, it should be an intersting term. The Hillary Movie case, with the potential to disassemble a good deal of the restrictions on the practice of democracy known as "campaign finance reform," has been argued. There's a cross on federal land in the Mojave Desert likely to further confuse church-state jurisprudence. There will be a couple of terrorism-related cases, one involving designating a "humanitarian" organiuzation as providing "material support" to a terrorist organization. And perhaps most interesting, Maloney v. Chicago, which challenges Chicago's strict gun laws in the wake of Heller, which pronounced the right to bear arms an individual, not a collective, militia-conditioned right. Heller applied to the District of Columbia, a federal enclave. The question is whether that right will be "incoporated," as most of the Bill of Rights have been by the courts, to apply to states and municipalities. Don't look to me for predictions. Not yet. Maybe I'll get foolish as I read reports on oral arguments.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Bill Safire one of the best

One way or another I never did meet Bill Safire, but the Register ran his column for years and I really enjoyed his "On Language" pieces. He took such obvious delight in the written word and in playing with language, coining neologisms that it was difficult not to share his enthusiasm. Here's the Register's appreciation.

Here's an appreciation from Maureen Dowd, and another from Howell Raines (and a criticism thereof), neither of whom shared Bill's political convictions, but both of whom appreciated the man. Also some words from Rich Richman and from John Podhoretz.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

No stake through the heart of the public option

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday rejected two amendments to the Max Baucus version of health care deform, but as this Register editorial explains, that's probably not the end of the matter. Four of the five versions that have made it through various committees have the government-run insurance "company" in them, and there's little doubt it's a stalking-horse for single-payer.

If I do say so, I was rather pleased with the phrase "politicians who see the essence of progressivism as making the U.S. more like the Europe of yesteryear." It's fascinating how backward-looking most American "progressives" are. The landmark era is the Great Depression and the avatar is the cheerful rogue Roosevelt. Oh, for a return to those Glory Days! That would be progress! Wow.

Jack Herer still in hospital

The most recent news I have on Jack Herer is from Saturday. Paul Stanford says he opened his eyes and seemed to follow people in the room. But still not communicative. I will e-mail Paul tomorrow (later today I guess) to see if I can get a more recent update.

Iran: all choices bad so go for the symbolic

Although I am nowhere near so frightened about Iran eventually getting a nuclear weapon as almost everybody else feigns to be, there is little question that the Iranian regime knows how to push buttons and create tensions. The problem from the U.S./West perspective is that there are no good options. People thrust their chests out and say Israel will bomb them, but not only would Israel have to cross Iraqi airspace (which would mean explicit U.S. approval/cooperation), there's little likelihood that it would locate and damage all or even most of Iran's secret nuclear facilities. If the Iranians have any ambivalence -- several Iranian experts I talked to said it was quite possible they're enriching right up to the point of having the components of a bomb that they could then finish like a "turnkey" operation whenever they decided, but might not build it as soon as it was technologically possible, rather wait until a propitious moment to announce it. Diplomacy might work, but it's hardly guaranteed and would take a long time.

So the feel-good option of imposing economic sanctions is the fallback position. But such sanctions seldom harm the regime that inspired them; indeed, they're more likely to hurt the people who are already oppressed but reinforce the rulers' power. And besides the fact that China is likely to cast a Security Council veto and Russia is hardoly a sure thing, it shouldn't be hard for Iran to beat a sanctions regime with smuggling, probably fuirther enrichjing the Revolutionary Guard along the way.

Perhaps the best choice is to quit meddling and quit paying attention to Ahmadinejad's rants?

Foreign crises enfolding Obama

No wonder Obama wants to run to Copenhagen and talk about the Olympics and act like a Chicago wardheeler. He's discovering that giving speeches is not the same thing as actually governing, that selling policies few who are not hopeless ideologues feel any sense of urgency about (health care) is not easy, especially when your method is to repeat the same vague assurances over and over and over and over again. And now he's getting a taste of making decisions about foreign policy that are likely to have actual consequences. I pointed out some of the difficulties with the counterinsurgency idea in Afghanistan in this article for the Register's Sunday Commentary section. Aside from the smart-ass remark about military intellectuals, which alienated some readers and kept some from reading the piece dispassionately and considering its arguments, I think it holds up pretty well. And now Iran rears its ugly head with ugly promises (though I suspect not all that much progress toward a weapon). I'd run off to Copenhagen too.

Couldn't happen to a more deserving fella.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

"There ought to be moments of tranquility in great works, as in life after the experience of passions, but not moments of disgust." -- Voltaire, The Piccini Notebooks

About last night . . .

If the choice was making love with a spouse with whom you're still in love or blogging, what would you do?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Just because they could (they thought)

When I think of the examples of overreach that have embarrassed the Obama administration and occasionally even led to pullbacks -- that green-jobs czar, the NEA at least blessing asking artists to be regime propagandists, and this recent one, where an obscure bureaucracy put a gag orderon the Hunmana health insurance outfit, at Sen. Baucus's instigation -- I think of an olod Jium Carrey movie I never saw but did see countless commercials advertising it. It was "Bruce Almighty" I think, and if I'm not mistaken the conceit was that he had somehow been endowed with godly powers. In the commercial he was sauntering down the street and casually zapping things, like care, I believe -- just because he could! My guess is the scene was early in the movie when he was testing to see if he really did have the powers, and so casually detsroyed things.

That just might be the case with these cheeky Obamaites. They're just getting used to the idea that they have the power, so they're bound to misuse it from time to time. It's healthy that at least some Americans have some capacity for outrage.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jack Herer still alive but not conscious

As of today Jack Herer, author of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" and probably the most dynamic marijuana legalization advocate of recent times, was still in the hospital in Oregon and had not regained consciousness after a heart attack and a medically-induced coma. In the link Dr. Phil Leveque talks about his long friendship with Jack.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The American Evolution

I've recently finished reading a fascinating book. "The American Evolution, " by Matt Harrison, analogizes societal evolution to biological evolution, suggesting the the same or similar mechanisms are at work. The takeaway: evolution operates through differentiation, selection and amplification and includes lots of false starts. So we need a society with lots of variety and plenty of free choices if we are to experience beneficial evolution.

I talked to Matt Harrison, who has also founded the Prometheus Institute to help refine and promote these and similar ideas. It's funded at six figures. Seems like a long-term constructive development in the midst of plenty of short-term bad news.

Quote of the Day

"There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly." -- Henry David Thoreau

I suspect Thoreau might not have shrunk from the inference that this means there will never be a free and enlightened state.