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.

McChrystal's blueprint for nation-building

I cross-posted this to the Orange County Register's Orange Punch blog, but I thought it was important enough to put up wherever I had access. Stanley McChrystal's plan for Afghanistan is almost breathtaking in its nation-building ambition, and apparently leaked by the Pentagon it has apparently caused some consternation at the White House:

I have finished reading Afghan Gen.-in-charge Stanley McChrystal’s “assessment” on the Afghan war and am somewhat blown away by how thoroughly nation-building it is. I probably shouldn’t be surprised. McChrystal was chosen because he’s supposed to be an expert on counterinsurgency, and this assessment basically consists of plugging what can be garnered from the facts on the ground into classic counterinsurgency doctrine. The trouble is that while the doctrine is well-established among military intellectuals (if that isn’t an oxymoron) it has hardly ever worked in the real world. Basically, it involves winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace first by protecting them and offering economic development (roads, infrastructure projects, etc.) and effective, credible governance, thus neutralizing the appeal of the insurgents — as opposed to seeking out and killing the insurgents. The traditional doctrine, however, dictates force levels that would transfer to something like 500,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan (there are 68,000 now) and at least 10 years of patient nation-building.

Herewith a few key excerpts:

“To execute the strategy we must grow and improve the effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and elevate the importance of governance.”

“Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying ninsurgent forces; our objective must be the population.” [an admission that neither the government nor the coalition forces "have" the population now]

“the objective is the will of the people, our conventional warfare culture is part of the problem”

“resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.”

“the international community must provide substantial assistance to Afghanistan until the ASfghan people make the decision to support their government and are capable of providing for their own security.”

“The second threat [the first is the existence of the insurgency] … is the crisi8s of popular confidence that springs from the weakness of GIRoA [Afghan govt.] institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement, and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity.” In McChrystal’s view, the US must fix all this — good luck — for success to be achieved.

“There are no clear lines separating insurgent groups, criminal networks (including the narcotics networks) and corrupt GIRoA officials. Malign actors within GIRoA support insurgent groups directly, support criminal networks that are linked to insurgents, and support corruption that helps feed the insurgency.”“Hard-earned credibility and face-to-face relationships, rather than close combat, will achieve success. This requires enabling Afghan counterparts to meet the needs of the people at the community level thrugh dynamic partnership, engaged leadership, de-centralized decisin-making, and a fundamental shift in priorities.

“Success will be achieved when GIRoA has earned the support of the powerful Aghan people and effectively controls its own territory. This will not come easily or quickly. It is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase until GIRoA and ISAF [international forces] regain the initiative.”

“GIRoA cannot fund its operations because of its inability to raise revenue, a situation made worse by the illicit economy. Poorly paid officials may resort to petty corruption, contributing to the peoples’ crisis in confidence. The international community [us taxpayers] must appropriately supplerment revenues until these problems are addressed.” The fact that foreign aid usually increases corruption rather than reduces it isn’t addressed.

And so on. It’s a heck of commitment. No wonder Obama is trying to buy time before he makes a decision. I’m guessing it will be a commitment to 2-3 years to make Obama appear serious before starting to withdrawal. If McChrystal is right, that’s just a half-hearted commitment enough to guarantee failure, with serious loss of U.S. lives and treasure.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Twitter opera? I'd have to hear it

When it comes to classical music and opera, I'm temperamentally a traditionalist, still prefering concerts where people don't clap between movements and listen attentively and (maybe because like most men I look better in one) prefer tuxedos. But I know art forms have to reinvent themselves, so I'm fascinated by efforts to make the old music seem more relevant or to refasion old forms in the face of changing tastes.

Thus I don't know exactly what to make of the fact that the Royal Opera in London presenting the first "Twitter opera." The libretto was composed through Twitter feeds (140 characters) from 900 people. And "Twitterdamerung: The Twitter Opera," surprised some critics who found themselves rather liking it.

I'd have to hear it. But efforts to get more people involved with and interested in opera are always welcome. Most such efforts fail, of course, but you have to keep trying.

Obama shows ugly roots on trade

It is beginning to look as if the Obama of the campaign -- I will renegotiate NAFTA -- rather than the more pragmatic Obama is coming the the fore. I know the International Trade Commission (which wouldn't exist if I had my druthers, even though a close friend worked there a long time) makes recommendations, and has a bias toward recommending sanctions against other countries -- that's the reason it exists. But the president doesn't have to take its advice. In deciding to slap a tariff on Chinese tires, I'm afraid he showed his true anti-trade (actually utter ignorance on economics period, based on the rest of his record) colors. Only one party, the United Steelworkers, wanted those tariffs. The domestic tire industry didn't. But Obama preferred to throw a bone to the union.

Even though the U.S. and China are remarkably intertwined economically and have no reason to upset one another in potentially harmful ways, this could set of a trade war. Perhaps more significant, as this Register editorial notes, it sends a message to the other G-20 countries, meeting in Pittsburgh this weekend, that a few little tariffs here and there are just fine with the U.S. I think most countries understand the benefits of trade, but a bit of proetctionism here and there always seems to play well with the rubes, always the majority in any country.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bruins: Nice victory

Well, it looks as if the offensive line, an almost fatal weakness last year, could turn out to be a strength. It has now helped two quarterbacks, Kevin Prince and Kevin Craft, win ballgames -- and believe me, no quarterback without a solid offensive line in front of him is going to look very good for very long. The defense is rounding into shape too -- bent a few times but didn't break

Jack Herer gravely ill

There was a time there Friday when almost everybody thought Jack Herer, tireless cannabis activist and author of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes," had died. He didn't, but he's an pretty serious medical condition. He had a stroke -- maybe a heart attack too, I'm still not clear and is in hospital. As of noon today, the medicines used to induce a coma were starting to wear off (as planned). His heart and body appear strong. Tomorrow they will do EEG tests to determine his brain functions.

As I noted in this post (written when I though he had died), Jack Herer taught me a lot about the potentially beneficial uses of hemp, the world's strongest natural fiber. I'm praying for a full recovery, but if it was a stroke (again) recovery could take a while. I visited him shortly after his first stroke, and whiule his brain seemed to functioning quite actively, it was a struggle to get his mouth to say anything other than the most simple phrases, somewhat distorted.

I am praying hard for his recovery.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Medical marijuana: so much work left to do

It is mostly discouraging to go through daily feeds of news on medical marijuana, though there are bright notes, such as what appears to be progress in Colorado because of cooperative city governments.

In California, 13 years after the passage of Prop. 215, there are still cities openly (and perhaps illegally, given the cities are legally subdivisions of the state and obligated to follow state law) seeking ways to subvert the establishment of legal sources where patients can acquire the cannabis to which they are legally entitled. I'm ashamed to say that in Orange County, the Register's circulation area, where we have published more reliable information on medical marijuana, I daresay, than in any other newspaper circulation area, city governments, far from having absorbed the information, are using incredibly dishonest and unreliable information to close medical cannabis facilities or to prevent them from opening.

Dana Point, which at least has some existing facilities, is investigating them in response to a request from a would-be entrant to change zoning laws to cement the legality of its status. Laguna Beach, which has a reputation for being liberal and is decidely one of the most gay-friendly towns in the country, has just banned dispensary facilities in response to a school principal peddling the usual stuff about "sending the wrong message" (discredited in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine report) and fearing that children would have unlimited access to marijuana -- as if they can't get it more easily than tobacco now.

Laguna Woods, formerly Leisure World, is trying to close the 15 facilities it has now. And Fresno's city paternalists are scrambling depsperately to get a law banning medical cannbis facilities validated.

Quote of the Day

H/T to Jane Mayer at The New Yorker, who retrieved this quote from Hannah Arendt. from 1968, that seems appropriate as the Obama administration considers whether, and how, to try to hold anybody accountable for the torture and (let's use the word) criminality during the Bush administration:

"These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been use to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man -- of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy or democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one not the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed,, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which isd among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious arrest." -- Hannah Arendt

Or have we just become so numbed that we don't have the heart or the will or even any faint hope of success in holding government accountable?

Photo of the Day

Well, this is National Geographics' Photo of the Month: Sunset at Baker National Park

Bruins playing Kansas State tomorrow

As usual, I don't trust the oddsmakers but still hope for the best. The Bruins are now 12-1/2-point favorites over Kansas State tomorrow. With Kevin Prince out, however, it's still not known whether Neuheisel wioll start Kevin Craft or true Freshman Richard Brehaut, though he says there's a chance both will play even though Norm Chow doesn't generally like operating with two QBs in a single game. Also, Neuheisel suspended four players four undisclosed violations of team rules. I hope it's the kind of disciplinary move that reminds everybody of the seriousness of some rules rather than an action that turns out to be demoralizing. The evidence (not much of it to date) suggests the former.

Do I really have to wait until 7:15 pm tomorrow to watch it? Guess that gives me plenty of time for yardwork and cleaning the pool and filter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Medical marijuana federal action still needed

I'm afraid that drug "czar" Gil Kerlikowske is reverting to his cop self after having been cooperative with the medical marijuana law and the hemp festival as Seattle police chief. There was his comment in Fresno and support of CAMP, and so far there's no evidence that he's interested in doing things any differently than the Bushies did, especially regarding marijuana, even medical marijuana. If he wanted to indicate a different tack, he could move to take marijuana off Schedule I under the (unconstitutional, but oh, well) Controlled Substances Act. It's been more obvious than before since the 1998 Institute of Medicine report that there's no legal (let alone medical) justification for keeping it there.

The importance of reformn at the federal level is highlighted by the case of a man in Niles, Mich. living in public housing. Now that Michigan has a medical marijuana law, his decision to grow for his personal medical use is legal under state law. But the feds oversee his public housing project and have a zero tolerance policy, so the authorities have moved to evict him. The legal brouhaha has finally led him to decide to move out. The continuing DEA participation in raids on medical cannabis facilities in California, despite federal promises to stop them, not only suggests Obama didn't take his promise very seriously, but that he has shown to date no intention to push for reform. It would certainly be more popular than his health insurance efforts.

California legalization confusion

Sometimes a little healthy competition improves the prospects for advancement of a cause. In politics, however, it might not always pan out that way. In California at present there are now four different efforts to promote marijuana legalization, one put forward by Oaksterdam University head and medical marijuana entrepreneur Rich Lee (whom I guess I should be calling again soon), one by another by a couple of lawyers who had been allied with Lee but split off from him, another by a guy in Long Beach who doesn't have much more thgan the $200 filing fee, and a legislative effort sponsored by SF Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who told me earlier that he expects to have significant co-sponsorship and will hold hearings come January.

Rich Lee has already raised the money to gather signatures so he appears to be ahead of the game. Whether the presence of other efforts will create an inevitability effect or create confusion is just too difficult to tell just now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On respecting politicians

You never know what will stir up a reaction from readers. After more than 25 years in the newspaper business I am still surprised fairly often -- no reaction to something I though would be of particular interest and heavy reaction to things I thought were of marginal interest. Ah, well.

The thought is prompted by a couple of blog posts I did for the Register's Orange Punch blog last week. First I quoted a letter by George Mason U economist Don Boudreaux about whether the office of the presidency inherently deserves respect. Then I did my own piece suggesting that institutionally speaking, politicians are a parasite class. Lots of reaction, most of it negative.

Nice victory, but what a price!

It was gratifying and a lot of fun to watch UCLA grab a lead and hold onto it against Tennessee in a hostile environment, with the goal-line stand by the defense indicating that what was expected to be a strength of the team may have come of age, Unfortunately part of the price was the quarterback Kevin Prince came away with a broken jaw that had to be wired shut -- can you imagine a quarterback unable to talk? -- and he will be out 3-4 weeks. Guess that means Kevin Craft, who was sometimes quite good but consistently inconsistent as the starter last year, will start. Maybe with an improved offensive line he will be less prone to throwing interceptions.

It would be nice if UCLA could rent USC third-stringer Mitch Mustain, who started as a freshman in Arkansas but is unlikely to play more than a few meaningless series, for a few weeks. I suspect he's better than any of UCLA's options. Ah well, Kansas State is next and UCLA is favored. Hope we live up to it. Could be that the setback will serve to unify the team.

Friday, September 11, 2009

DEA raids in San Diego -- another broken Obama promise?

I haven't gotten to the raids on medicinal marijuana facilities in San Diego Wednesday on this blog. but I covered them to some extent on the Register's Orange Punch blog as they happened and as I got information. Here, here, here, and here.

To be sure, SD law enforcement people say none of the 15 or so facilities busted was operating legally under the state AG guidelines. I doubt that, but maybe. Don't know yet if arrests have led to charges so maybe a court can decide, or whether the raids were sheer harassment.

Fire on the mountain -- way too close

I came home tonight to the dulcet sounds of chainsaws on the hill above our house and the acrid smell of burned chapparal, but the fire Jen had called me about while I was riding the train home was out. We live on the Ortega side of Lake Elsinore, with the first couple of Ortega Highway switchbacks as it climbs the steep hill above us just above our house. Jen said that the entire crown of the mountain burned, then the fire jumped the upper stretch of road. The firefighters attacked it with three helicopters and three planes, one the water-scooper that sits on Lake Elsinore during fire season, the other two with retardant. By the time I got home they were looking for embers or sparks and cutting -- well, I don't know exactly, guess we'll be able to see in the morning, but it went on for quite some time.

I don't know the acreage yet, but it seems to have been a relatively small one and out quickly. Still, and the height the flames were incredibly high. I remember about 15 years ago I was home when a fire came bursting over the crest of the hill and down over the upper stretch of road. It was impressive and hot and more than a little frightening. That was closer -- they sprayed retardant all over everybody's yard and remnants were around for months, but we didn't mind. All the neighbors were out wetting foliage (fortunately we have tile roofs) and we had then car loaded and ready to flee, but we didn't have to then either.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Liberals love government -- and that's pretty much it

It is fascinating to see, some of it in the reaction to Obama's speech. Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic is grateful to Obama for saying that government is good, that fears about bigger government are strictly for yahoos. E.J. Dionne at the WaPo had a similar reaction: "By joining specifics, a powerful moral argument and an unapologetic defense of government's role in promoting social justice, the president sought to rescue the health-care debate from the mire of a congressional system that has encouraged delay and obstruction."

When I was younger self-styled liberals were not quite so tightly wedded to government and all its works (but of course those works included the Vietnam war). Few bowed mindlessly before the great god of government. Some even cherished civil liberties and dissent, had respect for independent thinkers and had a soft spot for troublemakers. But now faith in government is just about all they have, and it's fascinating to see it so consistently displayed. Sure, it's not quite as intense when there's a Republican in the White House, but even then it doesn't go away. Dozens of liberals said the only good thing to come from 9/11 was renewed faith in government, and they lamented copiously when it didn't last long. How sad to be so wedded to an institution whose only tool is the use of force.

Bruins' next test likely tougher

As pleased as I am at UCLA winning its first game, I'm a bit concerned about Tennessee on Saturday. UCLA upset Tennessee in the opener last year, and the Vols will be out for revenge. Of course it turned out last year that Tennessee wasn't as good as preaseason pickers had thought (and the Bruins didn't do much the rest of the season to validate the initial optimism that first win brought). But although the Bruins finally handled San Diego State nicely, the defense did give up two quick touchdowns and it took the offense more than a quarter to get untracked -- and after that it wasn't as consistent as you might have liked.

I know, I know, lots of young players, first-game jitters, they have a game under their belts now, they understand Tennessee will be gunning for them. But I think they'll have to play well -- not necessarily dominant but close to it -- from the outset to beat Tennessee.

Obama speech not a game-changer

It was a good speech, one in which Obama showed some emotion instead of the detached professorial manner he so often displays. But I suspect some of what some commentators viewed as anger also reflected frustration. He has to know that what he decided would be the signature achievement of his administration hangs by a thread, and that it is unlikely that the best speech in the world will, as this Register editorial noted, give him what he wants -- though Congress might pass a modified, incremental version. Probably the best development from Obama's perspective, was that South Carolina congresscritter blurting out "you lie." It made him look like a yahoo at a town hall and allowed people to tut-tut. I think some are engaging in wishful thinking about it unifying the Democrats, but it made Republicans look bad.

To be sure, the protocol is a bit arcane and more than a bit hypocritical. After all, Obama had used the word "lie" in his prepared text. But Joe Wilson blurting out like that was a stupid thing to do.

Even that doesn't change the fact that Obama's main problem -- besides wanting to impose tight rules on a process (improving health care) that should be open-ended and experimental, with all parties encourage to try different things, see what works, and all concerned try to copy or emulate what works with local/institutional variations -- is not with the Republicans but the Democrats. There are 70 Democrats from districts that McCain won in 2008 or Bush won in 2004, and most of them have heard from constituents that they don't want much to do with ObamaCare and they surely don't want a government-run "public option."

The Dems may still be able to get a majority in the House, but in the Senate 60 votes is out of the question and even 51 might not be doable with the government option in there. Obama may have jollied the Blue Dogs along, but it's far from too early for them -- especially the first-termers -- to be thinking about reelection prospects. When I worked in the House reelection was pretty much all the congressional staffs thought about, and though it was actually illegal, almost every staff worked on the next campaign a good deal of the time. I'll be amazed if this speech, even if the initial impression is positive and it's followed by a draft bill and intense White House lobbying, does much.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Another pol bites the dust

As if Obama's speech weren't enough, we had the resignation of a Family Values Republican state legislator exposed as fooling around with a couple of female lobbyists. Mike Duvall, 54, represents Brea, Yorba Linda, Placentia and parts of Anaheim, right in the Register's circulation area. And he did score 100% voting from some family-values outfit. Chennel 9 did a story after unearthing the fact that during a break during a committee hearing, Duvall was bragging to the guy next to him about the great sex he has -- including spanking, which he was coming to love -- with a female lobbyist 19 years his junior. Then bragged about doing another woman. He didn't realize the microphone was on. He resigned today.

I blogged about it here and Steve broke some news here, and Steve wrote the editorial for tomorrow's paper.

Loving my job

I feel fortunate to have the job I do at the newspaper. I like what I'm doing -- writing opinions that I hope make the case for liberty -- I think I'm pretty good at it, and every so often I think I have some minor impact on events. Then there are days like today, that push me and let me have the illusion that I've still got it.

Obama gave his speech today, of course. My assignment was to stay late and live-blog the speech for the Register's Orange Punch blog, then write an editorial for tomorrow. He started talking about 5:15, finished a few minutes after 6:00 and I had until 6:30 to get the editorial done lest I miss my train. It was a chore, but I did it, and I'm not sure the adrenaline has stopped pumping yet.

Anyway, the blog items are here, here and here, done while he was speaking. I think it's a nice combination of summary and commentary, but you be the judge. Editorial tomorrow, when they post it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

ObamaCare keeps taking hits

President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night -- I'll be staying late and live-blogging for Orange Punch -- is an admission of near-defeat. It's not a matter of a poor message but of a growing recognition that there's just no way to extend health insurance coverage to 47 million more people and reduce the overall cost. Ordinarily, when government gets involved in something it doesn't bring costs down but increases them, and that's the way it's been with health care since Medicare was passed in 1965. The more government involvement the higher the costs. So in a recession we want to commit to another trillion (over 10 years) that will undoubtedly turn out to be a lowball figure? A lot of Americans just aren't buying it.

To complicate matters for The One, various government entities keep coming up with quasi-realistic cost estimates that give the lie to the preposterous notion that more government will mean less cost. As this Register editorial explains, the Congressional Budget Office determined that electromic record-keeping, while not necessarily a bad idea, wouldn't save an appreciable amount of money. And now a group studying preventive care for diabetics has determined that while (again) it's not a bad idea at all, it will cost more money over 10 years, and the only patients for whom a lifetime saving can be predicted are those diagnosed between ages 24-30, and only after about 25 years.

The core problem is third-party payment, which means consumers have no incentive to look for better, lower-cost care or procedures. I know it goes against the grain, but the best approach is to re-establish the tie between paying for medical services and the consumer of services.

Laboring over Labor Day

The Register's editorial for Labor Day stressed that all kinds of labor, decidedly including intellectual labor, is worthy of honor on a day originally designed with the rather sectarian purpose of celebrating and encouraging the union movement. However Jen and I honored it by doing nothing but physical labor around the house, including putting up a shade on the outside to keep the afternoon sun off the living room window and putting up rope lights along the inside of the facia board. That and various puttering -- watering plants, pulling weeds, trimming oleanders, repairing some faucets and hoses, a little modest construction work -- was our weekend. Oh, and watching football and maybe some other games as well. Didn't go near a computer.

Jen came up with the idea and we implemented it together -- putting curtains (made of canvas dropcloth) -- on the outside of windows that get the morning sun. It's made a big difference as to the coolness of the house, and we figure it will help to insulate better come winter as well. And it actually looks rather nice. We'll probably put some up on the afternoon-sun side also.

Bruins looking . . . improved

Well, it didn't start encouragingly, with a defense touted to be maybe the best in the Pac 10 giving up two quick touchdowns, but it looks as if we have an offense this year -- largely because we seem to have an offensive line. It might not be as deep or as experienced as one might like, but at least against San Diego State -- which does have a pretty good defense -- it got the job done.

Kevin Prince at quarterback sometimes looked polished and sometimes looked like a redshirt Freshman who hadn't been in a live game in a couple of years. But he did enough. 33-14 -- right on the point spread, so somebody somewhere must have known something -- was quite satisfying.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Bruin football starts tomorrow -- er today, I guess

I don't know whether to be elated or trepidatious that the Bruins are favored by 19 points over San Diego State tomorrow. (Since both my parents went to San Diego State I want to beat them but perhaps not humiliate them.) Sure SD State was 2-10 last year and has a new coach and has no reason to be good enough to beat UCLA. But while the sports writers all say the Bruins have a great defense, we're starting freshmen on the offensive line and Kevin Prince at quarterback is essentially untested. I'll be watching with great interest.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Quote of the Day

From "The Anatomy of Bibliomania" by Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948):

"Some have been afflicted by bibliomania through idleness, and for them there is small hope of cure; ­others, I count myself among them, from excess of ­affairs. Many, like asses that wear out their time for provender, are so buried in the minor and immediate tasks of earning a living as to get confounded promptly and permanently with the victims of commercial ­ambition, whence it comes to pass that, slily and ­insensibly perverted, nerves frayed and brains dulled, they take to books as sick souls take to drugs. They hoard at first against a time of leisure when they may perchance read, and end by hoarding for the sake of hoarding, thus allying themselves with those dizzards who wallow among possessions which they cannot use, and who die before they have lived."

Thanks to the WSJ for digging this one up, which cuts a little close to the bone for me.

Avoiding the obvious re: Afghan opium and heroin

It is amazing to me how studiously most news reports on the Afghan opium poppy trade avoid any discussion at all of the most obvious approach to minimizing the extent to which the trade subsidizes the Taliban -- and has subsidized all manner of violent political groups around the world for decades. The best way to undermine these groups is to legalize heroin. The price will plummet as the prohibition premium declines, drug problems will become easier to manage at both the individual and societal level, and lifewill be less violent, a little simpler, and a little freer.

What kind of profit? According the the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2004 a kilogram of heroin no. 4 in Pakistan sold for $4,027, and in Afghanistan for $4,000. In the U.S. in 2004 the price for a kilo of No. 4 was about $66,250.

But check these stories from the NYT and the WaPo on the same office's recent report on opium in Afghanistan. One headline writer (WaPo) tried a positive spin, and it's true the report said opium production fell 10% and the amount of land used to cultivate it fell 22%. No discussion of the fact that this means cultivation has become more efficient. And deeper in the story is the news that the Taliban has enough to supply the world demand for two years hidden away. Why not reduce the value of the stockpile to next to nothing?

Freedom bankruptcy reverberations

It's been fascinating and a bit heartwarming to get an indication of how many people around the country know about Freedom Communications and the Register and have expressed concern at the news of the parent company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy. My former colleague John Seiler did a piece for, as did Butler Shaffer, who did columns for us for years and is one of the good guys, and Eric Garris at asked me to write something for the blog. Here it is, with some introductory remarks by Eric. And here's the latest piece from the Register. (Poor Mary Ann Milbourn who's done most of these stories, was apparently the only person in the room who didn't say no fast enough early on when they were asking which business writer would write about the company's bankruptcy. It's got to be terrible -- she's told me it's not a lot of fun -- to have to write business stories about your own company, balancing the need to serve readers with accurate information and the sensibilities of people who are your bosses' bosses. Fortunately the company has told her to write the stories honestly, and I think she's done a pretty good job.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Evil arsonists

I am among the least punitive persons I know. I just did an editorial chiding California Republicans, who didn't provide a single vote for some modest prison reform in the face of a budget meltdown and federal judges on the verge of taking over the prison system. I have opposed California's Three Strikes law -- not necessarily a terrible idea in conception but ours is the most Draconian in the country -- from the beginning and tried to help each time there was an initiative on the ballot to modify it. And I have certainly been an active opponent of torture in the cloak of "enhanced interrogation."

Having heard on the news, however, that the Station fire, now apparently the largest wildfire in L.A. history, was deliberately set, I want that arsonist, if he (almost always a he) is ever caught, to be drawn and quartered after having his fingernails removed with a pair of rusty pliers. Can you think of anything else brutal? I'll go for it. To me, an arsonist in a Southern California tinderbox is one of the worst of creatures on the planet. The scum who do this can never repay the millions it costs to fight the fire -- let alone the agony of people who have lost their homes. In this fire, of course, two firemen lost their lives, so if caught the perp could be subject to the death penalty -- although California hardly ever actually executes people. That's too kind.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fires and government mismagaement

It's hard sometimes --hell, almost always -- to push people out of ideological boxes and try to induce independent thinking. An example can be seen in the comments to this Register editorial on federal land management and the current Southern California Station fire. It's in a national forest, and the point of the argument was that the feds are notoriously poor stewards of the lands they have imperialistically laid claim to in the U.S. This area hadn't had underbrush cleared in at least 40 years, a clear invitation, despite wide acknowledgment that it should be done periodically for the sake of the ecosystem, which is not improved much by being reduced to ashes (though some seeds of some plants do lie dormant until heated by fire, so some fires are natural). But the comments devolved into a discussion of development, an issue on which ideologists have already developed their knee-jerk positions. Is the government a good steward of land? We've never given it much thought and don't care to, thhank you. Ah, well.

Real debate possible over Afghanistan

I think it's important that conservative columnist George Will has come out against the Afghan war, and making essentially the same recommendations I made back in December and subsequently, though I seriously doubt I had anything to do with his conclusions. I'm not sure just what kind of influence Will has anymore. The times I've met and talked with him -- a couple, we're hardly close friends -- he has been extremely cordial and interesting. But in today's rightward political world, I get the impression he's sort of a lone wolf, and would be happy to be considered such. He doesn't seem closely associated with the NR crowd any more, and he figured out long before most conservatives would admit it that the Iraq war was a huge mistake and that George W. was not very -- let's say informed or insightful to be kind. So he may not carry a lot of conservatives with him. But he's still got to have some influence.

Will's column may be, I hope, a harbinger that we just might have a serious debate about Afghanistan, perhaps even before Obama commits a lot more troops there. The polls show more Americans believing the war is not worth fighting than believing it is -- and 70 percent of Democrats ready to wind down the war. Obama may have taken office without owing much to the the Democratic establishment, but a president whose own party opposes his signature foreign-policy promise and initiative at such a level is in a ticklish position. We may see, as Congress returns, discover whether that rank-and-file opposition gets translated into a willingness among congresscritters to ask pertinent and impertinent questions.

Presidents can act almost unilaterally and without much oversight in foreign affairs, as Bush did so often, but while I can't imagine a serious threat to cut off funds, which Congress could do constitutionally if it wanted, I can imagine hearings, sharp questions to guys like Gates McChrystal and perhaps even Petraeus. After a period of dormancy the antiwar left is stirring a bit. Escalating the war could create a serious rift in the Democratic party, and it's tough to imagine, after 8 years already, that many Americans will approve of another 10 years, what McChrystal reportedly estimates it would take for Afghanistan to have a "proper" set of thugs and enforcers -- er, police and army security forces at our expense, in a country that has never had a strong central government and doesn't seem to want one.

There really ought to be a debate before another escalation, a debate that includes the serious option of ending military activity on the ground in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida isn't in Afghanistan now. Let's declare victory and get out.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Signs of the high times

The very fact that this story explaining how marijuana is going mainstream appeared in the LA Times is itself a sign of going mainstream. But it's fascinating to be reminded that Cheech and Chong are back (yes, I knew that)and to find out that Barney's New York is selling $78 "hashish" candles with a leaf in bas relief as a remembrance of Woodstock, while French designer Lucien Pellat-Finet has a pot-leaf-emblazoned watch for $49,000.

When marijuana is legal -- I'm about ready to start peddling my book outline -- it will be amazingly cheap, although certain strains will no doubt still be high-end. It will be interesting to see how much of a market there is for high-end items when the forbiddenfruit allure is gone. I suspect it will still be popular for a long time to come.

Freedom Communications files Chapter 11

Freedom Communications, the parent company of the Orange County Register, where I've worked for the last eon or so, has formally filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11, which means reorganization, not liquidation. This stems from all the money borrowed 5 or 6 years ago during the family feud, when certain members of the company-owning Hoiles family asked to put the company up for sale or be bought out because they said they had no real say in running the company. Investment bankers Providence and Blackstone were brought in and given equity to raise the money to buy them out -- and then the Perfect Storm hit and revenues went into the crapper. Now revenues aren't close to being enough to pay the debts and the banks will take ownership.

Just got back from a company meeting with Terry Horne, our publisher. He emphasized that it is a pre-agreed bankruptcy plan (after tough negotiations with the banks) and it should take 120-180 days to work through the formalities, at which point Chase, Union Bank and some bank in Atlanta will own us. Terry thinks the only way the banks get their money back is to wait until there is a history of improved revenue and profitability and a market develops for newspapers and other media companies -- a possibility if the recession turns around. At this point nobody wants to buy newspapers, so they'll just have to ride out the storm with us. At least the Register is still profitable and never did lose money, though the profits are precipitously below what they were in the salad days.

So no substantive changes for at least 6 months, and then probably nothing that will affect me or the libertarian nature of the Register editorial pages. But it's a long way from being fun.

People used to laugh at the old man, R.C. Hoiles, for his refusal to take on any debt, but to grow the company through revenues and buy new properties only when we could pay cash. If his offspring had followed that philosophy the company would not be in this position.