Sunday, September 30, 2007

Light in Burma?

It may be largely because the military and police have "locked down" the country pretty comprehensively, but the fact that long-time democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyii was allowed to leave house arrest for long enough to meet with a U.N. envoy. Nonetheless, it's difficult to see it as other than a hopeful sign that at least the current troubles will be resolved with a lot fewer dead demonstrators than was the case in 1988. It could go badly rather quickly, but even if the government has won this round, I can hardly imagine it will be another 18-19 years before the next serious and visible outbreak of discontent with the government.

Military hospitals still scary

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on a GAO report updating the Walter Reed Army hospital scandal exposed by the WP six or seven months ago. The upshot? Not much has been accomplished toward the goal of making Army hopitals more efficient and less infuriatingly bureaucratic. Unfortunately, bureaucracy in the "reform" pocess is delaying the effort to battle bureaucracy in the milityary hospital system. Bureaucracy, the scourge of modern existence!

Liberal Supremes?

Tomorrow is the First Monday in October (and the first day, this years, which means the beginning of a Supreme Court term. Here's a link to the piece I did for the Register for today's Sunday Commentary section, previewing the upcoming term. I suggested that because of the cases already scheduled -- the Guantanamo detainee cases, the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, others -- this year's session may look a bit more liberal than the 2006 session.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Getting rough in Burma

Here's a somewhat dispiriting but, unfortunately, I think fairly solid analysis of the situation in Burma. The AP writer says the regime has shown it is willing to use force and the democracy movement has yet to produce a leader able to articulate the movement's goals and desires. The only mitigating factor that might keep bloodshed down if the protest forces don't sort of fade away is that the military is said to be better-trained in riot control and the use of non-lethal force to control or disperse crowds than in 1988. Although some might have wondered whether allowing the demonstrations, which began August 13 or 14, to go on so long was a sign of the regime's getting soft, the story suggests that the military's desire to hold onto power at all costs is as strong as ever -- indeed it might be the only thing the regime believes in.

A piece yesterday by TNR's Joshua Kurlantzick, who's done good reporting from several south Asian countries, is likewise discouraging. He explains the parallels between now and 1988, when similar demonstrations led to 3,000 people being slaughtered.

I still think it's possible -- if the media goes into "world-is-watching" mode and focuses intently on Burma for a while, even if Paris or Britney does something flamboyantly stupid -- that the situation can be resolved peacefully with some hope for reform, perhaps based on a pragmatic desire to attract more diverse investors. I doubt the regime will give up power or be toppled, but it might loosen the reins a bit, if it can be convinced that's the best way to hang onto power. Hardly an ideal outcome, but it would be better than a bloodbath, which is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Anti-federalists were prophetic

Here's a link to the piece in the Register today by Gary Galles, who teaches economics at Pepperdine and has made something of a specialty of pieces filled with quotes by libertarian predecessors both well-known and undeservedly obscure. In this piece he argues that the anti-federalists, the Americans who opposed the Constitution because it granted too much power to the central government, which was likely to grow into something oppressive, were modest prophets. They had it right, Prof. Galles contends, except that they couldn't even imagine the reach of today's omnipresent warfare/welfare/nanny state.

Quote of the Day

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences." -- C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Part of Patriot Act ruled unconstitutional

Who knows how the Supreme Court would rule if -- when -- it gets the case? But it's nice to see a federal judge rule that the parts of the Patriot Act authorizing unwarranted search and seizure are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is confused enough that it probably provides precedent for almost any judicial course of action. The Drug War has contributed mightily to the erosion of protection from unwarranted search and seizure, so who knows how the high court might rule in this case, involving Brandon Mayfield who, in a marvelous show of investigative incompetence, was erroneously linked to the Madrid bombings. The court could rule that his rights were violated without necessarily invalidating the NSA surveillance program. At least it's a show of judicial independence at the "lower" levels of the court system.

Eye on the Empire

Here's a link to the Register blog, "Eye on the Empire," which I also write. I comment on Burma, attacks in Iraq, and the announcement by Kuwait that it would not let its territory, which was liberated from Saddam by the U.S. and used as a launching pad for the invasion of Iraq, be used for an attack on Iran. Interesting development, but I don't know if that by itself will prevent a war.

Iraq war and Scottish independence

Here's a piece with an interesting premise. Will the Iraq war lead to Scottish independence? Ben Crair at TNR makes a pretty persuasive case , with tongue hardly ever in cheek, for such a "butterfly effect." In May the pro-independence Scottish National Party, won control of the Scottish parliament. An essentially one-issue party, it promptly called for a referendum on Scottish indedpendnce from Great Britain. The party won, however, because during the election campaign it focused on its opposition to the Blair government and its war in Iraq, which is deeply unpopular throughout the UK, but probably especially so in Scotland. It's not certain that independence would win in a referendum, but it it's not beyond possibility. Maybe it would have happened anyway, maybe it won't ever happen. But the Iraq war does seem to have played a role in pushing the issue up on the agenda at least.

Ahmadinejad's appearances

I was gone and had nothing to do with it, but I was pleased and proud that the Register resisted the urge to participate in the orgy of lamenting that the Iranian leader was given a forum like Columbia University in which to hold forth. We argued that allowing him such a forum was not a sad commentary on America but a happy one, suggesting that this is still a reasonably open society. It's too bad some Americans would like to see it more closed. Columbia being a tax-supported institution, one legislator threatened to cut off funds. The more dictators are exposed to open forums and sharp questioning, as happened at this event, the better.

Iraq bills coming due

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is asking Congress for $190 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, up from a February estimate of just over $140 billion. That's on top of $450 billion already spent on the Iraq war alone. Remember when former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was drummed out of the administration shortly after being so rash as to suggest that the Iraq war might cost as much as -- gasp! -- $100-200 billion? If only.

Antiwar demonstrations

I promised to write more extensively on the antiwar demonstration I observed in D.C. on the 16th. I hope this link to the piece I did for fulfills the promise. I was struck by how blase the tourists on the Mall were about the whole thing. I thought it was refreshing to have interrupted my note-taking with a quick trip to the most recently built wing of the art museum (the Hischhorn, I think) and an exhibit of late 19th-century paintings. I noticed that a number of the demonstrators took time out for a museum break as well. They had to leave their signs outside, but the guards were polite about that.

You get your bags searched going into a museum in this post-9/11 world, at least in the heart of democracy that is our nation's capital. It's not a major problem -- I wouldn't be tempted to carry firearms and contraband on a touristy venture anyway -- but at a deeper level it's discomfiting that such minor invasions of privacy are accepted as normal in "free"America. Once such intrusions are in place, they are seldom lessened, even if the justification for the original decision disappears into the mists of history. It has to be expensive. Will the expense lead to elimination in 20 years or so? Or will it still be considered vital to national security?

Back at the old stand

We got back from our trip to Buffalo late last night, dog-tired after a two-stop flight from Buffalo that kept us engaged in traveling for about nine hours. Even though lengthy, the Soutwest flight was almost pleasant. The flight attendants have a sense of humor and almost make it fun to fly. Even the TSA folks weren't especially surly.

Anyway, we got the last (I think) of Jen's cousins likely to demand our attendance at a wedding properly and I think and hope, happily, married. As our present Jen did the wedding cake, which was an all-day proposition involving me and some other drafted assistants. It turned out nicely. We also spent a day traipsing through the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, including lunch overlooking the river at, as I remember, the Queen's Landing Hotel, and of course the Falls, close-up. Wonderful day.

Enough of the travelogue, events demand attention

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Analyzing Petraeus

Here's a link to the piece I did for this last Sunday's Commentary section in the Register on Gen. Petraeus's presentations and the prospects in Iraq. I am still one of the few to have wondered whether this reliance on a (up until now) widely respected general to sell policy (rather than to implement the president's plan) could mark a further erosion of the tradition of civilian control of the military. Because his credibility is so close to non-existent, President Bush needed Gen. Petraeus more than the good general needed him. He didn't stage a coup or anything, but he was certainly elevated in status.

It's inevitable, of course, that when you start wars generals are going to become more prominent than, say, microbiolgists or ordinary members of Congress -- though not more so than Britney or Paris. But it's worthwhile keeping the principle of civilian control in mind as we go forward, and copmmenting when it seems to erode.

A long haul coming

Here's a link to the Register editorial responding to Gen. David Petraeus's appearances before Congress. We don't see much likelihood of getting out of Iraq soon. Will anybody remember, next time some morons beat the war drums, how much differently this war turned out than advertised? Wars are messy and unpredictable, although in a general way it wasn't that hard to predict that this one would turn out badly. When you do something aggressive and unjustified the world -- by which I don't mean the vaunted "international community" but the way the world works, with effect following cause and all that -- exacts a price,

More trouble in Baghdad

So the president and the general say that things are starting to improve in Iraq, and what happens? The civilian security contractor Blackwater gets into a firefight and a bunch of Iraqi civilians are killed and Iraqis get so restive that all U.S. personnel are ordered not to venture out of the infamous Green Zone, which is heavily but not perfectly fortified. That's not exactly huge progress in the winning hearts and minds department.

I don't know more than what has been in the news about the incident, which means I don't know very much for sure. I have a book about Blackwater I've been meaning to get around to, but several other books have managed to get ahead of it in the queue.

I'm not saying the president and the general were necessarily lying, but they certainly put a more optimistic spin on things than was likely warranted. It's nice to hear that they didn't move opinion polls, but it's hard to see how the numbers in Congress are likely to create the possibility of doing anything other than what the Bushlet decides to do.

Travelin' man

Didn't have computer access (I could have brought a laptop, I suppose, but I didn't) but I had a wonderful time. Perhaps the two are not unrelated?

I got back late, late last night -- past midnight at LAX and then an almost two-hour drive home -- and had to spend much of the day today doing errands and getting ready to leave again. We're going to Buffalo for my wife's cousins' wedding, and she's making the cake, so it's going to be a busy time too. But I think I'll be able to blog from there.

I was in Washington, DC for a seminar put on by the Institute for Humane Studies and Liberty Fund on world trade and globalization. I think I have more good reasons to favor both, but we didn't find the "killer" argument that would make resistance melt away. It would have to be a nuanced one, unfortunately; no phenomenon doesn't have costs as well as benefits, but the benefits (to me) so outweigh the costs that it's difficult to see why more people don't agree.

I also observed the antiwar march Saturday afternoon down Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House to the Capitol, and I'll have a more detailed report in a separate post. The policemen I talked to estimated the crowd at 10,000-15,000. It was mostly well run, though a few were arrested (probably on purpose). Sadly, I have a hard time seeing it make any difference when it comes to U.S. policy.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bush just pathetic

I probably shouldn't admit it, but there's something about watching President Bush deliver a speech these days that just sets my teeth on edge. He really should have let this be "Petraeus week," given his overreliance on the general to give his administration a modicum of credibility. But apparently, like any number of mediocrities who at some below-conscious level are afraid others will outshine them, he had to have his moment in the spotlight, to assert that he is the Decider.

He told us nothing we didn't know tonight. We'll be in Baghdad at least as long as he is president, and he explicitly talked about the commitment going into the next administration. He mentioned nothing about anything resembling diplomatic efforts. And he has that almost patronizing way about him, a bit like your worst caricature of some third-grade teacher who feels he/she has to talk down and stretch out the words so the poor little dears will grasp the complex concepts being presented.

Setback in Anbar?

Waiting for my ride to the airport so I might as well post some.

It's tragic, but probably not all that surprising, that Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the sheik in Anbar who had taken a leading role in organizing tribal groups against al-Qaida in Iraq and appeared with Bush during his Labor Day stopover in Anbar, was killed at his home today. It happened the same day another news story said al-Qaida in Iraq took heavy losses in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid north of Baghdad, but also the same day it appeared that a compromise on a law to share oil revenues in Iraq appeared to be falling apart.

Abu Risha looked like your classic handsome Sheik of Araby. A junior member of the anti-Qaida coalition did say the group will strike back, persevere and not be deterred. But it will be a while before we know whether this is really true or not. I have little doubt that al-Qaida, especially if its backs are to the wall, is prepared to be quite ruthless.

President Bush may be able to sustain optimism, but it's difficult for some of us who believe our perspective is more reality-based, to expect even a modicum of stability, let alone an ally in the "war on terror." I would like to be wrong, but I don't think so.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Intermittent at best

I will probably be away from this for a while. Can you stand it? I'm going to Washington -- Babylon-on-the-Potomac -- tomorrow night for a weekend Institute for Humane Studies seminar/discussion on free trade and globalization. I'm not sure just what kind of computer access I'll have back there, though I'm equipped with the access codes if I get access. I should come back loaded for bear on those topics -- with any luck having learned some things I didn't know before. After that we're headed to Buffalo for a wedding of -- I think it's Jen's neice, but maybe second cousin? I'll be home Tuesday and Wednesday, and maybe will be able to blog from Buffalo, but I can't promise just yet.

Better Bush ratings

I was afraid of this. Bush's approval rating on the conduct of the war has increased somewhat. 30 percent is still pretty pitiful, but it's better than the 22 percent he had last month. There are still substantial majorities who think the war was not worth the price and who want U.S. troops out within a year, which I don't think will happen. But this could give Bush just enough of a bump that he can sell the Petraeus plan in his talk tomorrow night -- though I have one friend, a war supporter, who's decided he's so pathetic he'll manage to screw that up too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Disappointment in Petraeus

Perhaps it is unfair to be disappointed in Gen. David Petraeus; he is, after all under the command of the commander-in-chief, who doesn't exactly have a tight grip on reality. Nonetheless, as fierce a critic of the war as Juan Cole thinks he and Crocker are decent American civil-servant types trying to salvage something out of the mess Bush has made. At any rate, here's a link to the Register's editorial on the first day of the Petraeus testimony.

In for the long haul

I don't want to burst anybody's bubble, but however dissatisfied Nancy Pelosi might be, it looks as if the U.S. is going to have considerable numbers of troops in Iraq at least until January 2009. Gen Petraeus accentuated the postive in his congressional appearances, but he did it in the kind of nuanced way Bush doesn't seem to be capable of, thus appearing reasonably credible. Whether he should be considered credible is another story I hope to do a few posts on soon, but unless I'm a poor judge I suspect he was credible to the Bush base and even to most Americans -- or at least credible enough to buy some more time, which may be all the administration really wanted.

If that's the case, the numbers are too much for Congress to overcome. Any resolution setting a date to begin withdrawal, for example, would need to be able muster two-thirds in the House to override a certain presidential veto. In the Senate a resolution would need to muster 60 votes, and I can't see 11 Republicans crossing over, unless polling closer to the election shows supporting the war will lose them their cushy seats. Even then maybe not.

Most Americans now think the war was a mistake and want out, but many are vulnerable to arguments against a "precipitous" withdrawal and the war is a primary driving issue for only a few. If that changes the political equation could change. But I see Bush getting another six months, and then another (to draw down the 30,000) and then he can hand off the mess to Hillary -- or maybe Ron Paul.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep making the case for immediate withdrawal, or for accelerated withdrawal/transition plans. We need to keep the pressure on and perhaps win over enough more Americans to force the politicians' hands. But we should approach the mission with realism.

One plan for Iraq

Darn! I was afraid this article by Dennis Ross had gone subscribers-only at TNR so I'll have to quote more extensively. I'm not crazy about the surtitle former Middle East envoy extraordinaire has chosen for a regular column he is doing for the New Republic: Statecraft. The fact that I am an avowed enemy of the State as an institution might have something to do with my chagrin at the fact that the term "statecraft" has a positive connotation for most people, and in a world (sigh!) of established states maybe it should. Surtitle or not, I have to admit that Dennis, who as I interpret it sees statecraft as the use of intelligence and experience to get what you want without resorting to force more than absolutely necessary, Dennis has done some insightful and provocative pieces on various crises and international problems.

Here he bounces of Bush's VFW speech, where el presidente proclaimed that a "free Iraq" will be "an important ally in the iedological struggle of the twenty-first century," finding such a flight of fancy "troubling." By his actions, Iranian PM Maliki has demonstrated "that he does not seek trouble with Syria or Iran," so he is hardly likely to help the U.S. try to change their behavior. But Ross says there is no Iraqi likely Shia leader who would seek to alienate Iran. And the perception among Sunnis that any Shia leader is likely to be a tool of Iran is a major stumbling-block.

Ross proposes one of the Iraq Study Groups's recommendations: tie assistance money to performance on benchmarks, and really do it. Money is leverage the U.S. isn't using. So in the interest of a stable Iraq whose troubles don't spill over into its neighbors, he proposes three things:

"First, we should declare the surge a success and announce that we will negotiate a timetable for our withdrawal with the Iraqi government. This would give Iraqis input into the timing and shape of the withdrawal and doesn't simply impose it on them. Second, we should set a date for the convening of a national reconciliation conference. Unlike previous such conferences, it should not be permitted to disband until agreement is reached." He suggests French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to "play a brokering role in setting the agenda of the conference and its ongoing negotiations."

"Finally, we should talk to Iraq's neighbors about how to contain the conflict. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey all have little desire to see Iraq either fragmented or be convulsed to the point where they get increasingly sucked into the conflict." So the U.S., instead of trying to talk with Iran bilaterally (at a time when Iran thinks it holds all the cards), should be brokering agreements between Iran and the Saudis, for example, on how to contain Iraqi conflicts.

Dennis Ross has more confidence in diplomacy and negotiations than I do, but he has more experience than I do as well, and he's brokered a few deals over the years. I doubt seriously if the Bush administration has anywhere near the sophistication to pull off something like this, but the thinking behind it is serious.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Overestimating al-Qaida in Iraq

Gen. Petraeus characterized al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) as a major adversary whose potential neutralization through opposition by tribal leaders in Anbar province is viewed as one of the true successes of the "surge" (though the surge per se seems to have had little to do with it). In recent speeches President Bush spoken of little else when speaking of Iraq. But this article, by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, raises serious questions about just how significant AQI really is.

Tighman notes the military spokesmaen have been known to attribute about 15 percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq to AQI. The first reports about the bombing of the "Golden Mosque" in 2006, generally credited with sparking much of the violence of that sad year attributed it to AQI, though later evidence calls the claim into question.

A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty analysis of who took "credit" for terrorist attacks found AQI claiming 10 percent (probably inflated). The highest estimate of AQI membership is "more than 1,000," which is less than 5 percent of the estimated 20,000-30,000 Sunni insurgent fighters. One knowledgeable author gives AQI 2 percent to percent of the Sunni insurgents.

But both Bush -- who can claim an Iraqi connection to the overall Global War on Terror -- and Osama bin Laden -- who is made to look more important and influential -- benefit from having the importance of AQI overestimated, underlining their curiously symbiotic relationship.

Much ado about . . . ?

Just a few thoughts from watching most of the Petraeus-Crocker show on television so I could write about it for the Register -- too briefly, but . . .

There was nothing much there to surprise anyone who has been paying attention. The Petraeus troop withdrawal proposal is simply what has to happen for personpower/logistical reasons. It would still leave 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- the pre-surge level -- with not much of an idea of what constitutes victory. Not that dumbing victory down is such a bad idea when your idea is to bring a quasi-dignified end to a mistaken intervention. It ain't a democratic model to which the rest of the Middle East will gravitate as a moth to a flame, but I would take a fond long-shot hope of relative stability after some steps to reinforce the chances.

I'm afraid what we're hearing, however, is not a strategy for winding the war down, but for keeping it going forever -- or at least until it becomes the next president's problem, and Bush's court biographers will be able to say he did his level best to confront al-Qaida and spread democracy and while the excecution may have been flawed the intention was good.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New blog at the Register

We've launched a new blog at the Register, with me as the principal writer. It's called Eye on the Empire, and it will deal mostly with the foreign-policy activities of the U.S., and developments in the rest of the world that affect U.S. interests or perceived interests. It will also discuss domestic-policy developments with roots in foreign policy and perceived threats, like the Patriot Act, surveillance programs, and decisions about where to store and how to treat captives. This is an unabashed plea to visit it, bookmark it, come often, and tell your friends. It will sometimes treat topics similar to what I discuss here, but it will be both more narrowly focused and more comprehensive than what I do here.

Saying good bye to Pavarotti

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the life and influence of Pavarotti. I think it's pretty even-handed for an essentially laudatory funeral sermon. See if you think the musical references are accurate and/or helpful.

War and liberty

Here's a link to the piece my colleague Steve Greenhut did as we approach the anniversary of 9/11, in Sunday's Register Commentary section. He emphasizes the freedom we have lost, the ways the government has used the fear arising from 9/11 to expand its power, partricularly its power to keep watch on Americans. And as usual in time of war, most of the people have not protested, ready to trade liberty for safety, when it's not a trade-off at all. It will be interesting to see what kinds of phone calls and e-mails he gets in response.

War with Iran?

Here's a link to the piece I did last week for It explains why after a couple of years of discounting the likelihood, I have a certain amount of trepidation that the Bush administration just might start launching military attacks on Iran. I still think the military will dissuade them -- though it's worth thinking about that the Navy and Air Force have not been especially taxed by Iraq, and that's who would launch an attack (at least the beginning), if one were to be launched.

Weekend in Vegas

Haven't been at this because we've been away since Friday night. Jen and I went to Las Vegas for the wedding of a daughter of our former next-door neighbor. We stayed at our nephew Tom's place, where our son Steve is living also. Their business is going very well, and Jen did some more training with them for the aspects of the business with which she helps out. Didn't really get the combination of compter access and time to do blogging from there -- although part of the reason was watching sports when we weren't partying, I must admit.

Interesting terrorism choice

It sounds as if it was intentional for the Homeland Security honcho (female) to refer to Osama bin Laden as "virtually impotent." It's intended, I suspect, as an insult -- especially coming from a woman. But was it wise? Is it intended to get Osama to step up a plan or do something that might make him more liable to be capturable or killable? If so, it doesn't seem likely that it would work. In action (as distinguished from words) Osama has been quite methodical and not especially emotional. Maybe it's intended to stir up others already under surveillance to start a plan to restore the honor of their leader, whether he really is or not.

It might have been a mistake, but although I might have a chance to taslk with proplrewho know more than I do just now, I don't have enough information to make an assessment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Muravchik's Saudi sojourn

Here's a link to an interesting piece by Joshua Muravchik on a trip he just took to Saudi Arabia to give some lectures. Josh, of course, is at the American Enterprise Institute and a (generally) neocon advocate of promoting democracy worldwide. (I don't think that's such a terrible aspiration, but I would focus on freedom and civil societies rather than democracy per se, and would do it by example rather than through force.)

Anyway, he's not a bad reporter -- and he was one of the few neocons I interviewed prior to the Iraq invasion who acknowledged that establishing a working democracy in Iraq would be no easy task, perhaps because he's been genuinely interested in promoting democracy for at least 20 years and has actually studied a bit what works and what doesn't. Anyway, no earthshattering revelations here, but good information and some fascinating local color.

Why immigration enforcement won't work

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the fascinating phenomenon of California (and Texas and Arizona) farmers who fear immigration raids disrupting their operations are starting to rent land in Mexico and simply grow their crops there. The marketplace responds; when the government tries to squeeze out productive activity in one place it pops up elsewhere.

We also note that there are almost twice as many illegals working in California as there are unemployed native-born Californians (few of whom are interested in picking crops), so if the Social Security "matching" enforcement scheme actually started driving illegals out of employment, those jobs would simply go begging.

Here's a link to the original story about U.S. farmers moving operations to Mexico, and to the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy study that pinpointed the unemployment and "unauthorized" numbers, nationwide and in Texas and California.

Medical marijuana victory

We go back and forth on the medical marijuana front. It seems pretty apparent now that the DEA is on a concerted mission to undermine and in effect nullify the laws of states that have passed maedical marijuana.

No opponent of medical marijuana has won a court battle to declare that federal "supremacy" prevents states from passing medical marijuana laws (or, presumably, full legalization if one wanted to do that (I was in the Supreme Court chambers when the government attorney affirmed that they weren't invoking supremacy in the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative case). But in the Gonzales v. Raich case, the high court str-e-e-e-t-c-h-ed the interstate commerce clause to cover medical marijuana produced and used exclusively in California with no money changing hands to declare that federal prohibition laws covered it, giving the DEA authority t0 go after patients or providers.

In California, of course, the DEA has been going after medical dispensaries with a vengeance and threatening landlords that they could have their property forfeited and be charged as accessories to federal crimes if they didn't evict dispensaries in L.A. county. And even though, right after the Raich decision a DEA spokeswoman said "We don't go after sick and dying people," in New Mexico, which just passed a law, they have done just that, arresting a patient. Suprised that a federal agent would lie?

In Oregon, however, they've been turned back slightly. A federal grand jury in Washington state subpoenaed medical records of 17 patients (presumably lawyers and grand jurors know better then mere doctors about acceptable medical uses?). But this week a federal judge quashed the subpoena, noting that Oregan's law, passed in 1998, calls for complete protection of patient privacy. (The linked story, by the way, is incorrect about the feds prosecuting doctors in California; an earlier federal court decision barred them from that.)

I'll take any victory I see, and be grateful there are some decent federal judges. We'll win eventually, however, by sheer numbers rather than in court. Even though the DEA closed and threatened a bunch of L.A. dispensaries, dozens are still open, and the DEA just doesn't have the resources to go after all of them, and the medical marijuana movement is simply not going away..

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Arrivederci, Luciano

I know I'm far from the only one who felt a special connection to Luciano Pavarotti, who just died at his home in Modena from a long bout with pancreatic cancer. But he gave me so much pleasure over so many years -- in addition to all the opera I love an album of Neopolitan songs he did, though I only heard him once in person -- that I long ago forgave him for having the voice I didn't have. It's probably just as well -- maybe God doesn't make mistakes in such matters. I have a decent voice and I'm an accomplished choral musician -- I've been in choirs or choruses since I was 8 and I directed our church choir for 8 years -- who can take a solo now and then. But an operatic-quality voice is not just a gift, it's a responsibility, and my interests are so wide-ranging I don't know if I would have concentrated on music to the extent required to make the most of it.

Luciano did. He had that beautiful, lyric voice, of course, and an abundance of natural talent and charisma. But it took more than natural talent to become Pavarotti. He loved to sing as a youngster, of course, but when he was 19 he decided to try for a career and began taking serious lessons, which meant vocalizing for hours, day after day. You have to do that to be able to make it sound easy and effortless.

As Pavarotti put it in his 1981 book "Pavarotti: My Own Story:" "While studying with Pola, I became fascinated by the voice and the way it responded to different vocval techniques. Many singers find studying voice -- the solfeggio, the endless vocalizing, the exercises -- very boring. I didn't. I became intrigued with the entire process. I was interested from the detached point of view of an experimenter as well as from the point of view of one who stood to profit from the lessons' progress." His teacher discovered that he had perfect pitch -- I've met a few people over the years who do, and it's also a gift, not something you can acquire, though you can have a good ear without it -- which was a help.

When he started taking lessons, in 1954, he had to teach school and sell insurance to pay for them. He didn't start getting concert engagements until almost seven years later, and then he sang in the provincial opera circuit for several years before starting to get big-time engagements. He seemed like all natural talent, a singer who burst onto the international scene as an instant phenomenon. But he sang a lot of exercises and paid a lot of dues before that.

Pavarotti lived life to the full like a proper Italian -- I married into an Italian family and think I know a little about them -- and probably didn't take care of his health as well as he should have. He was only 71 when he died. Some people are still able to sing quite well at that age.

Placido Domingo (whom I heard in person last year at the opening of the new Segerstrom music hall in Orange County) is probably a more accomplished and complete musician than Pavarotti ever was, and Giuseppe Di Stefano (I especially love an old vinyl Otello I still have) and Jussi Bjoerling might have had finer voices. But there was a sweetness and charisma about Pavarotti that was simply irresistible. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

The importance of Steve Fossett

I very much hope I'm wrong, but it's not looking good for Steve Fossett, the "millionaire adventurer" (as the news stories always put it) who has been missing in the Nevada back country since Monday. And even though friends and relatives are staying optimistic, news stories are starting to talk about the treacherous and sudden winds that can spring up in the mountainous areas where Fossett was flying. I have friends who live nearby and have been through the area a number of times. It is rugged country.

Steve Fossett is most famous for finally making it around the world in a hot-air balloon and for going around the world non-stop in an experimental astoundingly light and ingenious airplane, but he was also an avid auto racer and sailor. At one time I thought of his quests as a rich man's stunts, but I changed my attitude some time ago (and not just because he grew up in Garden Grove, which is in the Register's circulation area).

I think a world with people in it who are constantly looking for new challenges, new paths to take and records to break is a lot healthier than one without such people in it. It's certainly healthier to seek to prove oneself to oneself by setting a world record, even a somewhat artificial one, than by going to war to prove you are brave and resolute. And if some of humankind's vicarious enjoyment of those who seek out and conquer challenges can be sated by feats like those Steve Fossett undertook, that's downright healthy for society. He's more of a hero than any warrior.

I sure hope he's alive.

Ron Paul breaking through

Well, at least in some stories, what should be the newsworthy fact that there is one principled antiwar candidate in the Republican field is beginning to break through. Ron Paul even got a headline here, for sparring with all the other candidates on the issue of the war, reminding them that a majority of Americans oppose the war, and warning them that the Republican Party faces the prospect of a long losing streak over foreign policy. He told me after the Reagan Library debate much earlier that he is convinced a pro-war candidate, or at least a "stay the course" and don't question the policy candidate simply can't win in 2008. McCain has tried to separate himself from the conduct of the war, as has Romney but only to advocate more aggressive policies.

I'm watching the Hannity-Colmes post-debate wrap-up out of curiosity. Fox News Channel has tried until tonight to ignore the fact that Ron Paul even exists, but it's become impossible, so Hannity, warmongering thug that he is, has decided to attack. The anti-Paul advocates got a boost from a Frank Luntz analyisis of focus group response to his exchange with "we're one nation, no dissent allowed" Huckabee, with Huckabee getting the more positive response. But then they announce the results of the phone texting poll (I don't even know how to do that) and Ron has 33 percent or 35 percent, about twice as many as whoever is in second place at the time, and Hannity scoffs with a "here we go again," as if he thinks by scoffing and implying that it's some kind of fix he can deny it. But these are Fox News viewers.

I noticed that Fox News didn't have one of those "instant polls" on its Web site whose results one can see almost in real time, just a place to e-mail a vote and maybe they'll post responses.

Just watched the interchange between Ron and Sean, and Ron more than held his own. Sean is so invincibly ignorant I don't even think he knew he was beaten. Ron wasn't quite as strong on Reagan's foreign policy as he might have been (see "America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order" by a couple of old Reagan hands for details and documentation), but did reasonably well even there.

What I don't get is the utter devotion of Hannity and so many others to war as the most sacred and wonderful thing the United States can do. Will somebody please explain that to me?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Celebrating catastrophe and failure

It looks as if we are going to have annual celebrations for some time to come of the disaster of Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They may become, for a time unofficial national holidays. I use the word "celebration" advisedly, although I know there will be emphasis on the human tragedies, the unfortunate failure to bring New Orleans back to what it was, the way 9/11 "changed everything" and alerted us to dangers we had overlooked before. But as much as they might say all the right things, there is an unmistakable air that comes very close to outright celebration in these commemorations. It's not quite that our superiors in the media and the political class think we deserved these human tragedies, though there's a faint whiff of that. No, while there will be emphasis on the capacity to survive devastation and come back from it determined, there is something very close to celebration in the refusal to let us forget.

Unless I am mistaken, this is a big change in the way America operates. Our official national holidays, most of them instituted before America became the "indispensable nation," celebrated things worth celebrating: the end of wars, the Declaration of Independence, acknowledgment of sacrifices in unavoidable wars, Flag Day, Law Day, birthdays of important leaders. Now we seem to want to remember the fact that we were attacked, the fact that our institutions failed to take preventive measures that might have avoided catastrophic damage. If these remembrances were accompanied or preceded by concrete steps to prevent future catastrophes it might be one thing. But the levees in New Orleans haven't been rebuilt to the point that they would hold back another storm just like Katrina, and instead of going after the perpetrators or those who led them and diagnosing the real problems associated with Islamist terrorism, we plunged into a war in Iraq that has strengthened rather than weakened the terrorists.

At a superficial level there are reasons to celebrate that few will admit openly. The neoconservatives who were itching for a reason to go to war with Iraq and certain elements of the Bush administration (still, I think) have reason to celebrate 9/11. It gave them the opportunity for the war they craved and license to go about it with few checks or balances. And for those who despise Bush, for whatever combination of reasons, Katrina is a constant reminder to the American people of his administration's failure and indifference and ineffectuality, cutting him down to size just when he was looking to be a popular wartime president. For certain groups of Americans, then, these catastyrophes are the gifts that keep on giving.

There may be another set of reason, outlined by the New Republic's John Judis in the August 27 issue. A Democrat partisan, he claims to have been baffled by working-class support for President Bush's ability to keep us feeling safe from threats like gay marriage and terrorists. He thinks he's found part of the answer in the emerging field of political psychology -- see Drew Westen's recent book, "The Political Brain," and research conducted by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski, who have conducted experiemnts dealing with how we "cope with the terrifying and potentially paralyzing realization that, as human beings, we are destined to die." They have buiilt on the work of anthropologist Ernest Becker and his 1974 book "Denial of Death."

As Judis puts it, "Becker described how human beings defend themselves against this fundamental anxiety [knowledge of death] by constructing cultures that promise symbolic or literal immortality to those who live up to established standards. Among other things, we practice religions that promise immortality; produce children and works of art that we hope will outlive us; seek to submerge our own individualism in a larger, enduring community of race or nation; and look to heroic leaders not only to fend off death, but to endow us with the courage to defy it. We also react with hostility toward individuals and rival cultures that threaten to undermine the integrity of our own."

The three political psychologists conducted experiments that seem to show the only thing that brings out this primal, tribal, turn-to-the-leader-and-reject-alien-cultures response is the fear of death, not less fundamental fears. There is little question that the neocons and the Bush administration have exploited the fears aroused by 9/11, but Judis suspects they didn't know just how primal were the emotions into which they tapped. He also thinks that 9/11 is now far enough in the past that -- barring another attack -- that it doesn't have the same primal power it once did.

There's food for thought there. I think another possibility is at play. We are reaching what may well be the end of America's imperial moment, the effective end of what Henry Luce dubbed the American Century -- a time when imperial overstretch and the inherent inefficiencies of governmental structures that have become not just overbearing but too muscle-bound and clumsy to operate effectively are making it clear to Americans that our time as competent leader of the world is petering out. We no longer believe in our competence or our special mission to set an example of freedom without bullying others into following our example. So we celebrate the fact that we were attacked -- that must make us special -- but we even want to celebrate our failures, because, just perhaps, many Americans no longer expect success and competence and ability in our leaders -- and perhaps, just perhaps, in ourselves.

Whatever the reasons, there is something perverse in the determination of our elites to engage in what seems to me more like celebration than simple commemoration of recent catastrophes and failures.

Coming clean on immigration

I guess it's as good a time as any to let whoever reads this find out where I really stand on immigration, one of the issues on which I don't agree with Ron Paul

Commenter "daveg" writes:

"Alan, when illegal aliens are not allowed to send their kids to school receive medical care, and their offspring are not entitled to citizen ship and therefore all these benefits are no more, and when they pay full restitution for any crimes they commit we can talk. Until that time we need to control our borders. Even Ron Paul agrees with that. "

There's little question that the 12 million or so illegal aliens now in this country pose serious social problems that will plague us for some time to come. And it is also true that the fact that most of them come from an adjacent country rather than from across a wide ocean means that this wave of immigration is different from what the country took in from about the late 1800s until the 1920s or so, in that the earlier wave had to make a large commitment to leave the old country behind and "become Americans" to a greater extent than the current wave -- or than the current political culture is willing to demand. There were enclaves of German-speaking or Italian-speaking neighborhoods back then, but the pressure to learn English and become "Americanized" was greater (and not always in a kindly way).

But we have to ask why -- beyond the obvious complaints about incompetent enforcement and lukewarm attitudes -- there are so many illegals in this country. The core reason is that the quotas for legal immigrants have been dramatically lower than the economy can absorb. We may be moving into a slump right now that could effect construction seriously before long, but for the last decade or so unemployment has hovered at near-record lows and the economy has been humming along. So it's hard to argue that the illegals are taking many jobs from Americans that Americans really want (though they may have had the effect of reducing wages at the lower end of the scale, though I'm convinced it's been only a marginal effect).

Since it takes decades, literally, standing in line to arrive here legally (and ICE, formerly the INS, is notoriously inefficient), and the opportunities in the U.S. are so much greater (even in jobs most native-born U.S. citizens would consider low-end), people come here illegally. It's what happens whenever government intervenes in the economy to limit supply -- in this case of legal immigration slots. A black market develops. I don't think the economy is "dependent" on illegal aliens as some advocates claim, but there's little question that they fill slots that employers are willing to pay for, and many employers would be notably less profitable without them. Some -- who knows how many? -- would go out of business. And there's little question most of the illegals come here to work, rather than to suck up welfare, although some get involved in crime (perhaps more so than if they had legal status) and welfare is marketed shamelessly to them.

I think those are pretty indisputable facts.

To me, the obvious solution is to increase or even eliminate the quotas on legal immigration. Let the marketp[lace decide how many immigrants we "need." You can increase enforcement all you want, and while it might have a marginal effect, it wouldn't eliminate the problem any more than decades of conspicuous enforcement have seriously reduced the usage or trafficking in illicit drugs. The only other way to reduce illegal immigration seriously is to have a depression, thus eliminating the jobs magnet.

If it were up to me, we would have welcome stations along the border at which authorities would check for communicable diseases and membership in terrorist organizations -- real ones, not being part of a democratic opposition in authoritarian regimes. That might require detention for a few days while such things are checked out. Then immigrants would be asked to sign a form promising not to apply for any government benefit for a reasonable period of time -- five years, 10 years, 50 years, I'm open -- on pain of instant deportation.

The Supreme Court decided back in the 1980s that illegal immigrants' children were entitled to go to government schools on equal-protection grounds, but both states and the federal government have limited other government benefits without successful legal challenges. In my utopia, of course, we would have separation of school and state, so the issue wouldn't arise, but I don't expect to get to that utopia soon.

If we didn't have such an extensive welfare state there would be much less resentment of immigrants, legal or otherwise. A good deal of the resentment Americans feel should be directed at the welfare state rather than at illegal immigrants -- I think Ron Paul would agree with that -- but the conservative movement (and all too many libertarians) have come to terms with the apparent inevitability of the welfare state or don't want to be considered "mean-spirited."

I have nothing against restitution or even deportation for criminals. I'm agnostic on automatic citizenship for those born here; I think under my preferred policy it wouldn't be a big problem. While there's little question illegals have put a strain on emergency rooms, the medical "crisis" as supposedly caused by illegals is overblown, and the best way to approach what's real about it would be to legalize them.

There's more, but that's enough for now. Have at me.

Bush's trip to Iraq

President Bush’s surprise visit to Anbar province in Iraq , leading him to hold out the possibility -- perhaps reinforced by recent news from Gen. David Petraeus -- that further successes in the security situation inIraq could lead to an unspecified reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, can easily be viewed as a political success, if a qualified one. With an eight-hour visit to a military base and meetings not only with his own chief counselors but with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and representatives of most Iraqi factions, he just might have seized the initiative in the contentiousdebate that is sure to follow reports from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S.ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker later this month.

However, the visit, at which the president rather pointedly prodded Maliki to come up with political progress comparable to the military progress Gen Petraeus and U.S. forces have managed to eke out -- at great cost in American and Iraqi blood and treasure -- pinpointed how disappointing the progress toward the more important goals of political reconciliation – or at least a situation in which Sunni and Shia factions are not actively plotting against one another – has been.

Just my opinion? Here's Admiral Michael Mullen, the president’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Unless the Iraqi government takes advantage of the ‘breathing space’ that U.S. forces are providing, no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference.”

As the great Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz famously put, it, war is politics carried out by different means. Unless political objectives are achieved, military activity can often be little more than killing people and breaking things, as infantry-level soldiers sometimes irreverently put it.

Here's the key issue. Stand-patters say they're afraid there will be a bloodbath in Iraq when the U.S. leaves. Maybe so. But will the chances of such a bloodbath be notably diminished in six months, or a year? What is the U.S. doing to diminish such chances? And how many American lives are we willing to sacrifice to delay an inevitable bloodbath if one is inevitable?

Iraq war hurts local police

Here's a story outlining the problem of shortages of ammunition due to the demands of the war in Iraq that is starting impact local police agencies, It isn't that police have to go out on the streets with unloaded guns, but numerous police agencies are cutting back on weapons training. Montgomery County, MD police have cut back on the number of cases officers can use during a firing range training session from 10 to three. The Loudon County (VA) sheriffs' property manager says lag time on ordering ammunition was three to four months before the war; now it's six months to a year. Gene Voegelin of the International Association of Chiefs of Police says that "dozens of chiefs at a meeting of the organization two weeks ago agreed that scarcity of ammunition is a widespread problem."

Perhaps police will find they didn't really need all that much weapons training, though some agencies expressed concern about an eventual effect on officer competence as marksmen. And this alone isn't a sufficient reason to end the war in Iraq. But it's an example of how the war -- which in truth hasn't yet had all that dramatic impact on the home front -- is starting to have a deleterious effect at least on the police.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ron Paul solid in Texas

Rep. Ron Paul did surprisingly well in the Texas straw poll held this weekend. He came in third, with 16 percent of the vote. To be sure, Ron is a Texan, but the only people who could vote in the straw poll were recent delegates to GOP national conventions. That means most of the voters were certified members of the party establishment, which by and large has not looked kindly on Dr. Paul. In fact the Texas Republican establishment has tried several times to oust him in the congressional primary and will undoubtedly make another concerted effort to do so next year.

Deception on eminent domain

Here's a link to the Register's editorial criticizing ACA 8, an initiative constitutional amendment sponsored by the California League of Cities. It claims to be eminent domain reform, in response to the notorious Supreme Court Kelo decision a couple of years ago, but in fact it would permit most of the abuses allowed under current law. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has a better plan.

Bush immigration crackdown a lousy idea

Here's a link to the Register's Labor Day editorial, which unusually deals with current events rather than history and aspirations. It criticizes the Bush administration plan to do a major crackdown on employers suspected of having illegal immigrants on the payroll through matching Social Security numbers -- right when the harvest in several states is due. Interesting, the Chamber of Commerc and the AFL-CIO, which hardly ever agree on anything, are both opposed to this scheme.

Bush getting ready to pin blame

Here's a link to the piece I did last week for In it I contend that President Bush's invocation of Vietnam in a recent speech is not scholarly history, but preparatory work to pinning the blame for "losing" Iraq on antiwar activists and the Democrats. I also explain why the analogies are mostly bogus.

It might seem astounding that they think that the people who started the war, based on faulty (probably cherry-picked) intelligance and had no plan for the occupation and continued doing things that were demonstrable failures think they can put the blame elsewhere -- most especially on those who were right from the beginning about the wisdom of war with Iraq -- when it becomes ever more apparent that Iraq was a mistake and carried out incompetently. But they think they can.

North Korea gets less frightening

It's hard not to understand why the United States wouldn't try pretty much the same approach with Iran that it has with North Korea. As the last reclusive communist state, and apparent intentions to acquire a nuclear weapon (although some doubt that the explosion last October was really a nuke, or if it was whether it worked), North Korea is plenty strange, and has sold weapons (perhaps the only things it does well) to other countries. But despite a certain amount of Bushian bluster, the U.S. has been working fairly steadily with NK's neighbors to try to neutralize the dangers. And now Pyongyang has agreed to disable all its nukes by the end of the year, and claims the U.S. plans to take it off the terrorist list.

Of course North Korea hasn't been a real danger to the United States since the Korean war, and hasn't been a serious danger to South Korea for decades. It has been trying to rejoin the world for some years now, but our neocons would rather pick a fight. The tendency to create demons out of admittedly lousy governments around the world mainly serves to frighten the children and bolster the military-industrial complex.

The next logical step would be to remove the 30,000-plus U.S. troops in South Korea, which used to serve mainly as a tripwire, but now serve no strategic function at all. Say they're being redeployed to fight real terrorism threats, or just bring them home and don't replace them when they retire.

To be sure, Iran isn't the same as North Korea, but the best intelligence is that if they're seeking a nuclear weapon they won't have one for years, so there should be time to try negotiating instead of trying to find a justification to start the bombing.

Pool-floating music

Ordinarily my floating in the pool music runs to Vivaldi or Sinatra, though once in a great while I like Jimmy Buffet. But I've discovered a couple of CDs that just seem to go nicely with leisurely swimming and playing.

Even if Oprah likes him, I discovered trumpeter Chris Botti before she did. His 2005 album, "To Love Again," with guest singers ranging from Sting to Michael Buble to Gladys Knight to Paula Cole to Steven Tyler, is relaxing yet imaginative enough to hold your attention. Chris's treatment of "Embraceable You" and "What's New" may be my new favorite versions. Sting does quite well with "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and Rosa Passos puts a lot of emotion into "Here's That Rainy Day." Perfect for floating and weatching clouds and trees.

Until I picked up "The Brandenburgs" on a whim I hadn't heard of Jacques Loussier, but judging by the liner notes he's done quite a bit of Bach fairly straight. This version, however is done by a piano-bass-drums jazz trio, and it's marvelous. All six of the Brandenburg concerti are here, in abbreviated versions. He usually starts playing it pretty much the way Bach wrote it, but with a bit of swing in the bass and drums, and then improvises nicely off the basic melodies, throwing in nice blue notes and ninth chords at just the right places. I've played it for several people who claim not to like classical music at all, and they've all loved it. It shows you just how susceptible Bach is to being tinkered with -- and I suspect ol Johann would have gotten a kick out of this version.

Strange weather

I'm not sure to what extent the strange weather in Southern California contributed to my being without connectivity most of the weekend -- or whether it was a probem Time-Warner didn't diagnose or something with our Linksys wireless transmitter. At any rate we've jury-rigged it so I'm back up and blogging.

Of course it's been hot. It's the first week of September. And when it's been 7 or 8 straight days of 100+, figure at least 108 here in Lake Elsinore. So naturally my lovely wife made sure we honored Labor Day weekend by working outside in the heat -- cutting down a couple of trees (! ) that, ironically enough, were damaged by cold weather last winter and planting some new ones we'll like better. Ah, well.

But the kicker was the humidity and the rain. Ordinarily we don't get rain in Southern California until late October and sometimes not until November. But we've had at least a little bit the last three days, along with copious thunder and lightning. And today, right after we had had lunch and were thinking about taking a dip, for about half an hour it came down in sheets. We know it's tropical strom Henriette off Baja, but it still felt ridiculous to have to come inside at 2:30 for something other than heat exhaustion. And while it cooled things down a bit, by late afternoon it was still well above 90. After the rain, however, it was a lovely day. And we gardened until after dark.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bruins look pretty good

Those who weren't with us last fall can be warned; I'll be blogging about football, especially UCLA football. I played Freshman football at UCLA 'way back when they had Freshman teams and if you stuck it out through three weeks of pre-school-starting practices, they issued you a uniform and (in my case) a seat on the bench for most of the time. If you want a hint as to just how long ago it was, we were still playing single-wing back then.

Anyway, our guards coach told us before the Stanford game that through our college careers, if we were at all human, we would come to hate Stanford with a passion. They called themselves the Harvard of the West, had a superior air and thought their shit didn't stink-- so I want you guys to go out and kick their patrician asses. It was a tough game, in fact, but we (our team, that is, I got in just at the tail end) did so. I never did develop a hatred for Stanford, however. In fact, with the time I've spent at the Hoover Institution and other seminars and conferences, I've developed a certain affection for the place.

That doesn't mean I ever want anything but a UCLA victory in a football game against them, however, so today's 45-17 pasting was quite satisfactory, thank you. During training camp reporters and coaches have raised questions about whether UCLA's offense, working with a new offensive coordinator, was going to catch on and be up to snuff by the time real games started. Ben Olsen, the quarterback, had been injured last year, so he wasn't as experienced as one might like. UCLA has a good defense, and playing against it in scrimmages the offense sometimes seemed shaky, able to gain yards but not always able to push it into the end zone.

They answered a lot of those questions today. Olsen had five TD passes and Kahlil Bell ran for 195 yards. And just from the look of them, Stanford, under new coach Jim Harbaugh, is likely to be much better this year than last. They never let up, and their quarterback, T.J. Ostrander, did a lot of good things, and the offensive line protected him pretty well, something of a surprise. But UCLA was just better today -- and probably would be most days these two teams played.