Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The radical aspects of Christmas

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

Register views the year

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

If oil stays low . . .

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah celebrates freedom

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

Detroit's early Christmas

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fed: The smell of panic

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

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

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

Thank goodness it's basketball season

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All our suspicions confirmed

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More vitamin debunking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Second Amendment Book Bomb

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

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

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

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

Keep it up!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blagojevich sleaze only barely slimes Obama

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

Obama team turns left

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

Effects of Mumbai attacks

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

Bush gets the boot

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rotting from the head

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Medical marijuana implementation: no excuses left

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

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

Mumbai attacks: consequential and shrewd

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

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Obama: more of the same

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

Unusually fine Christmas music

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

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

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

From high to low

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Books of the season

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

No Big Three bailout

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

So where was I?

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One more promo piece

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Venezuelan bluster

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

Transportation Secretary choice will reveal much

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let GM (or all three? go bankrupt

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the pleas from the private-jet-setting Detroit automakers pleading for another gift from Uncle Sam. Let them go bankrupt and reorganize!

Obama's mixed economic message

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on Obama's announcement of his economic team. We noted the Tim Geithner is thought to be smart and will provide continuity, but also that it's troubling that he has so much experience at bailouts. We worry that he might think it's a normal thing to do. We cheer the prospect of no new taxes but suggest another "stimulus" is not the way to go.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holder not too bad but terrible on drug war

Considering the universe of politically feasible possibilities, Barack Obama didn't do too badly in picking Eric Holder for attorney general. He doesn't seem like a complete Obama lackey, so he might be able to make the Justice Department a little less politicized and a tad more independent. Sure, he's an old Clintonite, but he doesn't seem to have a lust for injustice. Here's the Register's editorial on his pending appointment. However, as I have noted elsewhere, and as Reason has explored, he is terrible on the drug war. He has favored mandatory minimums in the past, and harsh sentences for marijuana dealers. Obama himself has promised not to keep sending the feds after patients in states with medical marijuana laws, and if he has the gumption to carry it through it should prove to be a popular move. But one doubts if drug law reformers will have a friend in Eric Holder.

Bailout in the dark

Not only has Treasury Secretary pulled a bait-and-switch on the public (though the switch may have been to a less-risky, more potentially productive approach), but the $700 billion (plus another $100-billion in sweet pork to buy votes) financial bailout is essentially being conducted in the dark. Paulson and Bernanke resist giving out details about which banks have gotten capital infusions, the administration didn't appoint an Inspector General until last week, and Congress hasn't yet fully formed oversight committees. It should be an open process, with taxpayers being told who's getting their money. Here's the Register's editorial on the topic, calling for a lot more sunshine.

R.C. Hoiles and the prospects for liberty

Here's a link to the piece I wrote for Sunday's Register, to commemorate what we call Founders Day at Freedom Communications -- R.C. Hoiles was born on Nov. 24. I tried to put the remembrance in reasonably current terms, noting that in part because so many choose to blame the financial crisis on the "deregulated" free market, and an administration explicitly determined to have a more activist government is coming into power, the prospects might seem somewhat bleak. But by comparison to what R.C. faced in the 1930s and 1940s, when there were no libertarian think tanks and precious few academics, our resources are much greater.

Hope you enjoy it and find it informative. Leave comments, here or there.

Singers coming together

I'll shamelessly promote this now and at least one more time before the concerts, on December 5 and December 7. I've begun singing, as I've mentioned previously, with the Don Morris Singers out here in Murrieta. We had a rehearsal Sunday instead of Monday this week. (I was late -- apologies -- because I had it in my head that the Sunday rehearsal was next week.) But I didn't miss too much, and the sound we're getting is starting to be quite excellent. I've sung in reasonably good choruses most of my life, but this may just turn out to be the best one. There were a few rough spots yesterday and Don is a stickler. But when he had us fine-tuned, the sound was good enough that even he had to acknowledge it.

I don't know whether live performances in classical (or at least strictly composed) music are becoming a thing of the past or not. The audience is relatively small, and the exigencies of smaller, even very good amateur groups often mean that those who might be interested never hear about something they would enjoy. I think the urge to perform will remain, combined with intelligent efforts to get better at it guided by people with leadership ability and knowledge, however, is unlikely to disappear entirely. Nonetheless, this kind of serious singing is ever endangered.

All this is to say that if you like choral music at all, or Christmas-themed music, you may be in for something of a peak experience if you come to one of our concerts this December. Here are the details:

December 5, at the Fallbrook Performing Arts Center, at 8:00, with brass choir. We thought it was a closed performance, but apparently they're selling tickets, though it's a little pricey at $30. Then on Sunday, December 7, at Promise Lutheran Church in Murrieta (25664 Madison Ave, behind the Wal-Mart) at 7:30 pm. No brass, but more reasonable prices -- $12 in advance, $15 at the door. E-mail me at if you want tickets.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Cantus" is firmus

I'm ready to make a first recommendation from among the CDs I got from Register music critic Tim Mangan, though there are others I really should mention between now and Christmas, though my tastes are eclectic enough that it might take a rather odd "classical" music fan to appreciate some of these. For example, as a singer myself who considers life rather empty if I'm not singing with at least a very good amateur group, I have an unusual attraction to choral music.

"Cantus" is a group of nine men out of Minneapolis, each exceptionally skilled, and together they make, on their new CD, "While You Are Alive," some of the richest, deepest, most sonorous choral sounds I have heard. All-male groups are not to everybody's taste, and this is a pretty modern group of songs (three world premiere recordings here), but while there are some strange harmonies, most of it is quite tonal. I am especially entranced by "Lux Aurumque," by Whitacre, and "Lullaby" by Nelson. The major new piece, "A Sound Like This," by Hill, a series of original songs, has some really nice places and a few I haven't quite warmedup to yet, though I like even the odd places sound better each time I listen. "Things I Didn't Know I Loved," by Takach, is also sonorous and adventurous, but the whole thing is worth listening to and repays repeated listening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friedmans honored at Chapman

I did a couple of posts about this over at the Register's Orange Punch commentary blog, here, and here, but it was such a peak experience for me that I wanted to say a little more. Yesterday Chapman University dedicated the Milton and Rose Friedman Reading Room in its Leatherby Library, and I was honored to be asked to speak both at the dedication and at the lunch that followed. The first talk was about the Friedmans' involvement in education issues, especially school choice and vouchers, to which they dedicated the Friedman Foundation in 1996. It seemed to me that I did rather well, having steeped myself in information and spoken without notes. The university's head librarian told me later that Rose Friedman was nodding and smiling through most of the talk, so that pleases me.

Rose Friedman, now 97, is a phenomenon. She did better with an arm to lean on, but she can still get around, if slowly. She is incredibly tiny. Her mind is still quite sharp. Her mother lived to 103, so I hope the world can enjoy the pleasure of her company for a long time to come. I remember having a fairly lengthy discussion with her, probably in the late 1980s at a Pacific Research Institute function in San Francisco (about what she thought were diminishing prospects for liberty) and thinking that Milton Friedman was a lucky man to have found such an exceptional person as a life partner. The title of their joint autobiography, "Two Lucky People," bore out my intuition.

I first met David Friedman, Milton's son, in 1967, the summer I was a journalism intern at Human Events. One night I went to Dupont Circle, the closest Washington came to having a countercultural gathering place back then, and there was this comnpact, curly-headed young man earnestly explaining to somewhat befuddled but fascinated hippies and longhairs that if they really wanted freedom and self-actualization, they should be fans of free markets. It was David Friedman. I still don't know what he was doing in Washington that summer, but we formed an immediate bond, even though he is one of the few people I have met about whom I think that his brain operates on a rather different and decidedly higher plane than mine. (Among the others are Durk Pearson and Richard Epstein). We haven't been close since then, but run into one another every few years. He at least expressed something like relief in the lobby yesterday at seeing a familar face (though I wouldn't be surprised if he was checking out my name tag to be sure).

The dedication was folowed by a panel discussion, featuring David, Nobel Prize economist Vernon Smith (now at Chapman) , and veteran UCLA profs Harold Demsetz and Arnold Harberger (who told me later that Bill Niskanen was a student of his) on the general topic of "What Would Milton Do?" about the current financial crisis. I'll report further on it in future posts.

Back blogging

I hadn't planned much blogging last night, but then couldn't do any since I got some sort of error message every time I a tried for a Web site, even my home page. So I gave up. It seems to have turned out that my usual remedy for complications in any electronic-type apparatus -- turn it off, then turn it on again and see if it works, which usually does the job for our copier at work too -- was efficacious this time too. So even though we anticipate having a houseful at Thanksgiving and still have some cleaning up/rearranging to do, I'm back at the posting post.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reason's 40th anniversary

I am very much lo0oking forward to the Reason Foundation's 40th anniversary dinner tomorrow night (actually, it's Reason magazine's 40th -- the Foundation wasn't formed until later, 1978 if I'm not mistaken). I broke out my tux tonight to make sure it's in good shape. Bob Poole, Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan, the three who took over the magazine from Lanny Friedlander early on, are all friends of long standing. I've spoken at a couple of Reason events, attended many more, and was the Washington correspondent for a while in the late 1970s. I've never met Jeff Flake, the congressman from Arizona who is the featured speaker, so I'm looking forward to that as well. Of course I'll see a lot of old friends, and look forward to meeting some new ones.

Reason will give a special award to the Dave Threshie and Dick Wallace families, in recognition of the fact that they have kept Freedom Communications in the family and determined to continue propagating libertarian ideas during a really tough time for the newspaper business. Doing so has literally cost them millions of dollars (although they're hardly hurting for money).

It strikes me as a particularly critical time for the freedom movement. Although the financial crisis was sparked almost exclusively by the government, there's a widespread notion out there that it was the result of excessive deregulation; that comes from the Republicans talking incessantly about deregulation but never doing it when they have power; they get the reputation without the reality. We have our work cut out for us reminding peoiple of reality, and the outcome is far from certain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailed-out companies still failing

Here is a Register editorial on the phenomenon that two of the companies presumably "bailed out" by the taxpayers -- AIG Insurance and Fannie Mae -- are doing worse (bigger losses) since the government supposedly "saved" them. The reason is obvious. In a free market companies that waste money and do stupid things face the prospect of losses and going out of business. But if they get an injection of money from the government, the temptation is to postpone necessary restructuring or rethinking. This outcome was almost entirely predictable, as is the certainty that another dose of "stimulus" won't save the economy. There has been malinvestment (mostly but not entirely driven by government mandates and loose money from the Fed). The bad investments need to be worked out of the system, which is what a recession forces -- unless government decides that some firms are "too big to fail."

Obama worse than Bush -- on foreign affairs?

Here's an arresting piece by the Cato Institute's Ted Carpenter suggesting that when it comes to foreign policy, Obama might just well turn out to be worse than Bush. Of course he is far from having fleshed out his foreign policy views and the mainstream media have hardly pressed him on the subject. But Ted notes that he shows no signs of challenging the establishment consensus that the U.S. should intervene widely in conflicts around the world, whether any core (or even peripheral) interest of the U.S. is at stake or not. In fact, during the Clinton administration a number of liberal scholars came close to developing the position that it was somehow more noble or desirable for the U.S. to put blood and treasure at risk precisely in places where no U.S. interest was at stake or even implicated. More humanitarian that way, doncha know.

As Ted puts it, "It will not be an improvement if an Obama administration withdraws troops from Iraq only to launch new interventions in such strategically and economically irrelevant snakepits as Darfur or Burma."

Quote of the Day

"An ideal is a vision of the Ought-To-Be --some good to be attained. An ideal is a challenge to a better life. First we must see it in imagination; then we must long to make it a part of ourselves; then we shall guide our conduct by it, we shall live it. An ideal is is both light and power. It is light for conscience and motive-power for will. It is a standard by which we judge between right and wrong." -- G. Walter Fiske, author of "Jesus' Ideals of Living"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama's foreign entanglements

Most of the commentary on the challenges Barack Obama will face as president (I'm getting used to the idea but still as puzzled as most people about how he might operate) have focused on domestic challenges. Toward the end of the campaign foreign policy virtually disappeared from the discourse as the financial crisis dominated attention. There is little question that those challenges will be formidable, and the evidence so far is that most of the initiatives Obama has mentioned as likely are unlikely to alleviate it and might well make it worse. Bailing out the Detroit automakers even more. A "stimulus" package that is unlikely to solve a crisis created in large part by loose funy money. And so on.

However, whetheror not there is a challenge from al-Qaida, some other terrorist organization, or a country bent on undermining the U.S., he will also face a difficult set of foreign challenges, and that was the subject of my column this week for From his determination to ramp up the war in Afghanistan to possible related troubles with Pakistan, to the emergence of Russia as a locally aggressive potential Great Power, to likely complications in winding down the war with Iraq, to Iran, his plate will be full. I suggest his honeymoon will be short.

Voting increased only slightly

The word is that after all the talk about how Obama had gotten so many people excited and this was the most fascinating election in recent history, the percentage of eligible voters who actually got to the polls was only about 61 percent, and the increase was only 1.1% over 2004. I consider that a healthy sign that after saturation coverage and innumerable get-out-the-vote drives almost 40 percent of Americans decided they could live without casting a meanigless ballot to support the status quo.

I don't vote because "democracy" to me is simply this era's version of the Divine Right of Kings, a mechanism whereby the appaling people who rule us can claim a shred of legitimacy. I'm hardly alone. Here's an argument against voting and another and another and another.

Don't bail out the auto companies

The word is that when Barack Obama visited the White House for orientation today (well, yesterday by now I guess, and did they have to wear identical suits and dorky-looking blue ties?) he urged the Bushlet to do something to help the Detroit U.S. automakers. This was hardly a new request in that they've already gotten $25 billion in low-cost loans, ostensibly to develop more fuel-efficient and alt-fuel cars, and visited Congress last Thursday to ask for $25 billion more. They shouldn't get a penny of the taxpayers' money, as this Register editorial argues. They have similar problems to as other manufacturers due to the current financial crisis (should every company in the country get a bailout?) but their most serious problems they brought on themselves by assuming the SUV craze would last forever and being almost immune to innovation. There's been more than enough of rewarding failure and punishing success in this country.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Come hear us sing!

As I mentioned a few weeks again, I have joined a new chorus, the Don Morris Singers, directed by the former director of the Temecula Master Chorale. The master chorale was a large choir that was not hyperselective, and Don, who sang with the Roger Wagner Chorale, taught, and has directed numerous ensembles, wanted a smaller, more selective chorus, in this case of 24 members. We've been holding rehearsals for about six weeks now, and I'm getting excited.

Our major concert this year will be December 7 at 7:30 pm at Promise Lutheran Church in Murrieta, featuring Christmas music from Palestrina to Britten to Frosty the Snowman, including several antiphonal works, and I'll be unashamedly soliciting ticket sales (they're $12 in advance and $15 at the door) several times between now and then. E-mail me at if you're even a bit interested. Tonight's rehearsal was esepcially revealing. We've gotten quite good by now, but a few people haven't quite mastered knowing the music cold and Don was unsparing. He says he's not content with good enough or even very good. He wants people to hear this group and think it's the best choral group they've ever heard. I think we'll be close.

We're also doing a concert in Fallbrook on December 5 that we at first thought was a private one for members of the Fallbrook Music Society (this one with a brass ensemble), but apparently they're selling tickets to the general public at $30 ($10 for students). Check out the Website and listen to some of the past performances. This is an excellent group with which I'm proud to be associated.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Some drug law reform progress

I've mentioned this before, but I had to dig a little more to do this editorial for the Register. The brightest spots in the election results had to do with the passage of a medical marijuana initiative in Michigan and a marijuana decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts. Neither is as liberal as I might prefer (but then if I had my way marijuana would have the same legal status as parsley). Dispensaries aren't authorized in Michigan and a caregiver to grow and provide marijuana can be responsible for only one patient. In Massachusetts someone caught with an ounce or less will have it confiscated, but will only have to pay a $100 fine that doesn't become a criminal record. Still, a huge improvement from sheer mindless prohibitionism.

Angry gays: Where were they when it counted?

I just cross-posted this at the Register's Orange Punch blog and thought it might be of interest here also:

We’ll have a piece in either Sunday’s or Monday’s opinion section (I read so many proofs today I’m a bit bleary-eyed), but it echoes some of my thoughts. We’ve seen all these angry demonstrations organized (and/or arising spontaneously) by gays in Los Angeles (and in San Francisco and Long Beach), including one centered on the Mormon Temple in West L.A. It’s not that it isn’t legitimate to criticize the Mormon church, whose members (not all of them, of course) reportedly kicked in about $20 million of the $30-million-plus the Yes on 8 side raised, some in huge quantities from out of state (yes, I recognize contributions for the No campaign came from out of state, and it’s not illegal or fundamentally illegitimate, just interesting). All this was well known before Tuesday. Where were these protesters before Tuesday? I’ll wager they weren’t out walking precincts or making phone calls or donating money or stuffing envelopes. This was a close race. If there had been this kind of enthusiasm — a little more controlled and a little less angry, to be sure — shown before the election I suspect Prop. 8 would not have passed. As it is these after-the-fact demonstrations look a bit like childish rants and I suspect are more likely to discredit the cause than to advance it.

I have a few more criticisms of the No on 8 campaign — from somebody who wanted that side to win. I think it was too timid, hardly ever (at least in the TV ads) uttering the words “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage,” which to my mind conceded the moral high ground to the other side and made it seem as if the proponents of gay marriage were ashamed of it and maybe even figured others would find it shameful. I think the “teach gay marriage in school” issue could have been confronted more straightforwardly too, conceding that if Prop. 8 were defeated those schools that had marriage in the curriculum would probably have to mention the fact that gay marriage is legal in California, but this wouldn’t be “indoctrination” or “recruitment” or propaganda about how kids had to approve it and love it. Not doig so left the campaign open to charges of being dishonest.

There was no way to get rid of the footage of Moron Mayor Gavin “whether you like it or not” Newsome of San Francisco, which I think was the single most effective thing the Yes on 8 people had going for them. But all those “taking away a right” commercials without mentioning what the right was confused people, I suspect. It might not have been a bad idea to have a few couples interviewed on just what marriage meant to them. I think the No campaign underestimated the tolerance of the people of California and that’s part of the reason it lost — besides the fact that a lot of gays who could have been involved sat on the sidelines until it was over.

Bruins: Time to get serious

Oregon State beat USC, a team it really had no business beating, so it would be poetic justice for the Bruins to beat the Beavers tomorrow. Actually, if you just look at the history, it shoudl be almost a foregone conclusion; UCLA has beaten Oregon State the last 10 times the two teams have met in the Rose Bowl. Looking at this season, however, it's got to be something of a longshot, and the Beavers are favored by 8 points. Add in the fact that 3 of UCLA's already-shaky offensive line have been suspended for this game -- breaking team rules, the unconfirmed rumor having to do with drugs -- and it could be a long afternoon.

However, I have my guacamole and my UCLA T-shirt and cap ready. I'm hoping the Bruins -- perhaps jolted by the suspensions? -- have made good use of the bye week and settled down to some serious work on avoiding careless mistakes. And it might just be that this is the week Kahlil Bell, who has shown signs of being a really good back but has been sadly hampered by injuries (as well as bad offensive line play) this year, is ready to break out and show that he's more than just potential. It is his senior year and he still does, despite all the tough luck he's experienced, have NFL dreams.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bushes Doles and Clintons out

My old colleague John Seiler makes the point that at least the election result means that after 28 years there's no Clinton or Dole as either president or vice president -- though Hillary, of course, is still in the Senate and probably planning for 2016 as we speak. Another interesting point several others have made is that with the defeat of Liddy Dole in the North Carolina senate race, this is the first time since 1948 -- 1948! -- that there hasn't been either a Bush or a Dole (or both much of the time) serving in an important position in the U.S. government.

And we thought we were getting away from dynasties and monarchical tendencies when we broke with Old Blighty!

So much for the Bradley Effect

Before the election there was a great deal of talk about the so-called Bradley Effect, referring to the fact that former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, a moderate black Democrat, ran for governor in 1982 (against George Deukmejian) and the polls showed him ahead up until the day before the election, but he lost. The Bradley Effect is supposed to bne white voters telling pollsters they support a black candidate so they won't sound bigoted, then going out and voting against him.

I was in California, writing editorials for the Register in 1982, and I remember a few things some have forgotten. Also on the ballot that year was Prop. 15, a gun-control measure whose details I have forgotten, but I'm about 98% sure Bradley supported it. Anyway, it brought out the pro-gun people in more force than usual to defeat it (I think it was leading in the polls too) and while they were at it they voted against Bradley. I'm reasonably sure race had little or nothing to do with it. Jerry Brown was running for the Senate that year and leading in the polls, and he lost also.

Political Class Dismissed

I can't know everything going on out there in the blogosphere, but I should have surmised that James Ostrowski, veteran libertarian attorney in Buffalo, would have a blog with lots of interesting stuff on it. Found out because he linked to one of our items on the Register's Orange Punch blog. And what a wonderful title: "Political Class Dismissed" If only! Check it out.

Obama's plate

When Joe Biden said that Barack Obama would likely be confronted with some sort of international crisis within months of assuming office it was widely treated as a gaffe, but it more closely resembled the usual statement the political class regards as a gaffe: an inadvertent piece of truth most people in the ruling class would rather didn't get out. Of course Obama would be challeneged. McCain would have been too.

Few expected, however, that reminders of the messiness of the world outside our borders would come so quickly, long before he even took office, with Russia announcing it would plant some missiles near Poland if the U.S. went ahead with putting anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, Afghan puppet Hamid Karzai trying to break his strings by protesting about the U.S. bombing weddings (the nerve!) and North Korea releasing photos purporting to show that Kim Jong-Il is really alive and well. Heaven knows what will be in the cards when he actually takes office.

OK, those aren't really major crises, and they're not Obama's to deal with yet. But one dubts that the timing was strictly coincidental. Here's the Register's editorial today on some of the things we already knew the new president would have to face: two wars, a financial crisis, a Democratic Congress eager to tax and regulate, and other aftermaths of the years of a dysfunctional administration. He may have little choice but to have a modest agenda and govern "from the center," whatever that means.

Quote of the Day

"I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse. It is, paradoxically, dangerous to draw nearer to God. Doesn't one find in one's own experience that every advance (if one ever has advances) in the spiritual life opens to one the possibility of blacker sins as well as brighter virtues? Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil. Satan was an angel."
C.S. Lewis

Drug reform: two steps forward . . .

One of the more disappointing aspects of election night in California was the defeat of Proposition 5, the incarceration reform measure put together by the Drug Policy Alliance, which would have offered treatment instead of incarceration to most non-violent drug offenders and according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst saved the state $2.5 billion in prison construction costs. The prison guards union donated $1 million to defeating it.

It was especially disappointing since, on the same night, Michigan passed a medical marijuana initiative and Massachusetts passed what was essentially decriminalization of marijuana -- a $100 fine and no criminal record for simple possession of an ounce or less. (Here's a link to the Register's editorial on various state initiatives across the country.) The sentiment for drug law reform is out there, but we couldn't get it done in California (the Register was the only major newspaper to endorse Prop. 5).

Tuesday night's results make me wonder if working for simple decriminalization might be a more productive path. Prop. 5 was carefully, almost exquisitely crafted, with carefully balanced criteria for which offenders would be eligible for treatment. But it would have earmarked money fro treatment programs and it was long and fairly complex. It's not unusual for voters simply to vote No on propositions they don't quite understand, especially if some valid-sounding doubts have been raised (Dianne Feinstein did commercial against it). But the Massachusetts result suggests that voters might be ready for simple decriminalization, at least of marijuana. That would ease a host of law-induced social problems.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Which Obama will we see?

I don't think Barack Obama is a closet radical, I think he's a shrewd politician who knew how to use people on his way up -- perhaps the most intelligent and calculating politician to occupy the Oval Office since Richard Nixon, for whatever that might be worth. But his resume is thin and he has downplayed his associations with Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers and their ilk, so it's legitimate to wonder how he will operate in office. Here's the Register's editorial from today asking the question. Obviously, given his background and his party it would be unrealistic to expect him to govern as a laissez-faire free marketeer, but he did campaign as a pragmatic centrist and we hoped that's the way he will govern. In some sense his vagueness about what "change we can believe in meant during the campaign, which drove some of us inclined to be wonkish crazy, gives him great flexibility once he assumes office. It will be fascinating to see how he operates. He's disciplined and his campaign indicated some organizational skills, but the federal government is a more unruly beast.

No new foreign policy

Here's a link to my most recent column for, written before the election, in which I doubted whether the next president, whoever he might be, would have a more modest foreign policy than we have now. I hold to the idea. If anything, Barack was more militant than McCain on doing raids inside Pakistan with or without the Pakistani government's permission or foreknowledge, and on ramping up the war in Afghanistan, the graveyard of several empires. It's time for a new foreign policy of strategic disengagement, but it doesn't look as if we'll get it anytime spoon. You're invited to nag me about progress on the book I'm writing on the subject. I haven't been as diligent as I might be.

Obama torpedoed gay marriage in California?

If you have any fondness for irony, this should appeal to you. It looks as if Barack Obama's campaign was a big key to the (apparent) success of Proposition 8 in California, which eliminated the right of same-sex marriage to be recognized by the state, even though Barack Obama himself late in the day said he was against it.. It seems blacks supported Prop. 8 by a 69-31 margin according to exit polls (whites opposed it 55-45 and Hispanics were evenly divided) and an unusually high number of blacks voted on Tuesday because Obama was running for president. If that hadn't been the case Prop. 8 would probably have lost.

I'm sad that this is a political issue at all. If I had my way the State would not be involved in marriage at all, but it is, at many levels. I do wish Prop. 8 had been defeated.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Live-blogging the election results

Along with my colleagues Mark Landsbaum and Steve Greenhut, I will be live-blogging election results tonight over that the Register's Orange Punch blog. Tun in if you want to see how premature our judgments are.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Drug czar endorses decriminalization -- in Mexico

US "drug czar John Walters has endorsed a proposal by Mexican president Felipe Calderon to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those caught with such awful contraband would not get a jail sentence or even have to pay a fine, and would not have a criminal record if they complete a drug education or drug treatment program.

"I don't think that's decriminalization," Walters said. Yet he actively (and unethically and probably illegally) inserts himself on the wrong side in the campaign to medicalize marijuana (a much more modest proposal) in Michigan. And while I haven't heard of activism on his part, I would be amazed if he doesn't oppose an initiative in Massachusetts to eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana possession,l making it simply a civil offense. And he opposes Prop. 5, which would offer drug treatment instead of jail to certain nonviolent drug offenders in California.

Mexico, of course, is experiencing significant violence as a result of the government's efforts to break up drug cartels. It's ruined the tourist industry in Baja. Obviously the government thinks limited decriminalization might help to reduce violence. It would work in this country too. Too bad John Walters can't see that.

Which Obama

I cross-posted the following at the Register's Orange Punch blog today. It bounces off an interesting piece by Stuart Taylor of the National Journal:

It’s not utterly impossible that John McCain could pull off an historic upset, and I’ll suggest some ways in future posts. But for those who see most polls as imperfect but reasonably genuine attempts to discern the mood of the public rather than as pieces of a gigantic liberal conspiracy to dupe the public into thinking there’s a landslide and going along with it, the smart money has to be on Obama.

So what kind of president might he be. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, a self-described centrist, has a remarkably thoughtful article in the current issue. He doesn’t see Obama as a sinister terrorist-loving extremist, but looking judiciously at the evidence, he sees a fairly dogmatic, even radical leftist, largely on the evidence of his associations and his 1995 autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” who since becoming a candidate for public office (especially the presidency) has carefully cultivated an image as a pragmatic, cool, calm moderate capable of listening to all sides and bringing people together.

Doubt the radical aspect? He spent his teenage years searching for his black identity, in part mentored in Hawaii by Frank Marshall Davis, “a black-power activist who had once been a member of the Communist Party” who had moved from Chicago. During his first years in college, here at Occidental, he tells us, he chose his friends carefully so he wouldn’t appear to be a sellout, preferring politically active blacks, foreign students, “The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.” After college he became a community organizer and met and was inspired by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. After law school he returned to Chicago to do socially-conscious law and had a much closer association with Bill Ayers than he has since acknowledged.

During the campaign he has appeared much more pragmatic, and he has won support from moderates and even some conservatives. He has acknowledged that “America’s free market has been the engine of America’s great progress” and said he doesn’t want to return to tax rates of 60 or 70 percent. He has glancingly talked about charter schools and merit pay for teachers and even questioned whether affluent blacks like his children need preferences.

If he governs as a left-liberal ideologue, Taylor asserts, he will be a failure. If he governs as a pragmatic centrist he could be successful. There will be forces pulling him both ways. I suspect we’ll find out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How fiscally responsible will California voters be?

Here's a link to the column I wrote for last Sunday's Register Commentary section, on the relationship between California government's fiscal crisis -- it's become a little worse since I wrote, with Ahnold acknowledging at least a $10 billion deficit a few weeks after the budget was "fixed" -- and the propositions on the ballot. There are $16 billion worth of general-obligation bonds on the ballot next Tuesday, the worst being Prop. 1A, a down payment on a high-speed train boondoggle. The only Prop. that promises to save taxpayers money is Prop. 5, the drug law reform measure. Will voters take the fiscal crisis into account and vote down all the bonds and the big-spending proposals and support Prop. 5? I think I made a decent case for it, but we'll see.

As conservatism implodes

Even as the Republican Party seems poised to suffer a defeat of post-Watergate-like proportions on Tuesday, I was amazed to find a recent poll to the effect that 59 percent of Republicans still think highly of George W. Bush. That suggests to me that 59 percent of Republicans have virtually no discernment or a death wish. George W. Bush has taken the Republican Party and strangled it with his bare hands, abandoning every limited-government principle along the way. My old friend and former colleague Harold Johnson used to say the Republicans love to "touch the purple," meaning they have what seems a natural urge to dote on and be impressed by those in power.Can it be that, or is it enough that Dubya once said he had a conversion experience and really loves Jesus?

Thank goodness there are still a few conservative commentators with a sense of proportion and a certain respect for principle, like George Will and to some extent Peggy Noonan. I don't know if I want the modern conservative movement to reconstitute itself on somewhat more sophisticated principles or just disappear into the mist, which just might leave an opening for libertarians, constitutionalists, Paulistas and genuine devotees of limited government. Obama will surely do many stupid things that have dire consequences, but who will be there to point them out in a coherent way?

I take some comfort from Adam Smith's admonition that there's a great deal of ruin in a country. But I fear we may have to endure a good deal of it.

Quote of the Day

"Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."

-- Susan B. Anthony

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Silver lining to the financial crisis?

Here's a link to my most recent piece for It argues that if there is a bright side to the world financial crisis, it is the falling price of oil, which means that several countries that have amassed petrodollars and used them to make mischief in the world at large -- notably Iran, Russia and Venezuela -- will have less money available and thus less capacity to create problems for others.

The Register ran an editorial today that made a similar argument. Coincidence? I think not. I'm afraid my former colleague John Seiler misunderstood the import of the editorial and attacked it in his own blog. We ran the editorial in part to undercut the idea that the United States needs to be actively interventionist overseas to counter these countries, because the threats are petering out of their own accord -- not only because of the falling price of oil but because that falling price exposes some inherent weaknesses in the economies of those countries. I agree with almost everything John wrote, in fact, except for the part where he said the Register had become economic nationalists, for heaven's sake. John and I will remain friends, of course.

Impressive medical marijuana video from Michigan

Here's a link to a video produced for the Proposal 1 campaign, to permit medical use of marijuana in Michigan, from a medical doctor whose wife contracted cancer. This conveys information in a way that is simply not possible in a 30-second spot. Please take a few minutes to look at it.

Lakers ridiculously good

To be sure, they haven't really been tested yet in two regular-season games. But the Lakers looked remarkably good tonight against the Clippers. I am subject to the ongoing hope that the Clippers will be respectable, and there's a chance they will be this year, with Baron Davis at the point and some other acquisitions. But the Lakers just pounded them tonight, 117-79, and Kobe didn't even play in the fourth quarter. The story is team defense and defensive intensity, and the second unit, with Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza (two UCLA boys), and Lamar Odom bringing extra speed and skill. Even Chris Mihm, who's had injury issues, got some time and 10 points. Seven players in double figures.

As for the Clips, in addition to Baron, I expect Al Thornton and Thomas to have good years. But after the first quarter tonight, the Lakers were just too good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Marijuana may help stave off Alzheimer's

Researchers at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla have discovered that use of marijuana may help stave off Alzheimer's more effectively than many prescription drugs. Yet another possible medical use for medical marijuana, and yet the "drug zcar" uses our tax money to campaign in vartious states claiming marijuana has no documented medical uses. What it apparently does is to prevent an enzyme called acetlycholinesterase from accelerating the formation of "Alzheimer's plaques" in the brain. Of course it's only research with mice at this stage.

I'm sad that drug law reform has not been an issue at all in the presidential campaign. Early on various advocates got most of the Democratic candidates, including Obama, to vow not to use the feds to go after patients and dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws. McCain, of course, took exactly the wrong position on the issue. But it really hasn't come up since. I remember 1992, when Clinton won, going to a Drug Policy Alliance convention and finding most reformers ecstatic, convinced real reform was on the way. But Clinton soon set new records for marijuana arrests. Never underestimate the capacity for hypocrisy of a politician.

San Diego County keeps wasting taxpayer money

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on San Diego County's decision to continue its court case against California's medical marijuana law all the way to the U.S. Syupreme Court, after being denied in district court, in the California appellate court, and having review denied by the California Supreme Court. It's hard to imagine the county, which doesn't want to implement the legislation requiring counties to do the screening for a voluntary ID card for patrients, will meet with better success there. There's no conflict among federal circuits for the high court to resolve and so little compelling reason to take the case.

I was in the Supreme Court chambers when the court heard the original medical marijuana case, the request by the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club to have a "necessity" defense recognized for certain medical marijuana users under federal law. The court denied that, but during the course of oral argument Justice Ginsberg asked the government attorney why the government wasn't invoking the "supremacy clause" to invalidate California's medical marijuana law. The government attorney replied that this was simply one of those instances where, given the federalist nature of our constitutional structure, some states would simply have different laws regarding the medical use of cannabis than federal law, and it would be up to federal agents to enforce federal law and state agents to enforce state law. That was a welcome recognition of federalism by the Bush Justice Dept., which hardly did so consistently. The likelihood that the government would try to invoke the supremeacy clause now, after all these years, seems low.

End of public financing can't come soon enough

John McCain is said to be sad that the fundraising prowess of Barack Obama may put an end to the practice of having presidential candidates' campaigns funded by taxpayers -- that's what "public financing" is. It can't happen too soon for me. I have never understoof why it was supposed to be more moral or upright or noble to take money by force from people, half of whom typically don't bother to vote, to finance the ambitions of those who aspire to be themost powerful scoundrel in the world. I'm sure Barack Obama, who appears to be poised to win the presidency fairly handily, will do many more things to displease me than to please me once in office; every president in my lifetime has. But if he is the proximate cause of ending taxpayer funding of presidential campaigns, he will have done one good thing.

Here's the Register's editorial on the subject.

Quote of the Day

"The marks of that glorious bloody day are yet recent, the field being strewed with the skulls and carcasses of unburied men, horses and camels. I could not look without horror on such numbers of mangled human bodies, and reflect on the injustice of war that makes murder not only necessary but meritorious. Nothing seems to me a plainer proof of the irrationality of mankind, whatever fine claims we pretend to reason, than the rage with which they contested for a small spot of ground, when such large parts of the fruitful earth lie quite uninhabited. 'Tis truer, custom has now made it unavoidable, but can there be a greater demonstration of want of reason than a custom being firmly established so plainly contrary to the interest of man in general?"

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: letter to Alexander Pope, from the field of Karlowitz, Prince Eugene's victory over the Turks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Except for Bruins, a great sports day

Did I say this was going to be a terrific World Series? I love a game that comes down to the 9th inning and could go either way. I also love it that 45-year-old junk-ball pitcher Jamie Moyer had a good game for the Phillies, and, I guess, even if he didn't get the win, his team did, 5-4, with a run in the bottom of the 9th.

The Penn State-Ohio State game was similarly interesting until very late, but even though an Ohio State win would have benefited USC (I'm West Coast-centric even when it's USC, though I'll have a different attitude in early December) I was kinda glad to see old Joe Pa's team doing so well this year. And the USC-Arizona game, finally won by USC, was hard-fought and could have gone the other way with some different breaks, even though I think USC is better talent-wise.

As of the UCLA-Cal game, what can I say? at the start of the 4th quarter I thought the Bruins had a chance, but they came up a yard short on the 3rd-and-forever and things just fell apart. I don't know if Kevin Craft will start the next game or not.

10-17 at halftime -- within reach?

It's almost a miracle that the score is so close. The offense hasn't done anything but throw interceptions -- and one field goal from a short field. But the defense has been solid, except for that one exceptional run by best. Here's hoping . . .

TV ads for medical marijuana in Michigan

As Bruce Mirken of MPP mentioned when he sent me this link, there's little attention being paid by the national media, but if the medical marijuana initiative in Michigan passes (despite the unethical and probably illegal participation of taxpayer-salaried "drug czar" John Walters in the No campaign), then 1 in 4 Americans will live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bruins: looking for a miracle -- or at least a solid game

On strict talent Cal probably has the better team this year, and they're like 17-point favorites in tomorrow's game against the Bruins. And they'll be motivated after losing to Arizona last week. But I'm hoping this is the week Kevin Craft is solid for an entire game and we get something of a running game going. Of course the offensive line, the major problem all season, is even more beat up than usual. But it's time to win one in Berkeley.

Lakers looking good

I had not had a chance to see any of the Lakers' preseason games until the second half tonight, after they had taken Kobe out, but what I saw looked very encouraging. It looks as if Andrew Bynum is going to be the player everybody thought he could be, and Jordan Farmar looks to be ready to have a breakout season; he's figured out that he can drive on just about anybody.

Russell Westbrook, who was at UCLA last year and with Oklahoma City this year, also looks good, especially for a rookie. Will he and Kevin Love be competing for Rookie of the Year.

It looks like another deep-into-the-playoffs and quite likely more season fro the Lakers this year -- if they can stay healthy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Jewel of Medina" delayed again

I've mentioned the new novel about Aisha, Muhammad's third and perhaps favorite wife, "The Jewel of Medina," by American author Sherry Jones, a couple of times before. Random House had given her a nice advance, then canceled publication after a couple of academics objected, perhaps fearing a reaction similar to what greeted Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," or those Danish cartoons. A British publisher picked it up and was supposed to put it out October 15, but has now delayed publication indefinitely. I suppose one can understand some reluctance, as this Stratfor piece suggests, it could spark a very negative reaction. Interestingly, it has been published in Serbia, and despite some threats no violence has ensued. I hope it's published soon and doesn't occasion protests, but while it is certainly a decision for a publisher to make, I'd hope it can be published even if some goons are making threats.

Quote of the Day

"I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more -- the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to joys, to perils, to love, to vain effort -- to death; the triumphant conviction of strength, the heat of life in the handful of dust, the glow in the heart that with every year grows dim, grows cold, grows cold, grows small, and expires -- and expires too soon, too soon -- before life itself." -- Joseph Conrad

That's eloquent, but I'm not sure it's true. Though I know at some level I am almost ready to admit that I am closer to death than to birth that deceitful feeling, the heat of life, is almost as strong as when I was 18. I'm convinced that Eric Hoffer had it right when he commented that what the Greeks meant by the saying that the good die young, was that the good (viewed expansively, perhaps meaning those who are good at life) is that the good are young at heart and in seizing the joy of life to the end of their lives.

Candidates curiously reticent on medical records

It is really a strange development in this election. After years of candidates being progressively more open about their medical histories -- in part in response to the fact that the public knew nothing about JFK's Addison's Disease or Tom Eagleton's, McGovern's first veep choice, history of treatment for depression -- the major-party candidates have been curiously reluctant on this subject this year.

As this Register editorial outlines, based on various news reports, John McCain, who has survived both torture and melanoma, allowed some pool reporters to look over 1,200 pages of medical records for three hours, but not to make copies or take notes. Joe Biden had emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1988, and he released some info, but nothing on whether he had recently had neurologicalo tests. Obama at first released a single-page lettter from a doctor saying he was in excellent health but no details, and finally, under pressure, results of some routine lab tests. Sarah Palin has released nothing, and although she said she would in her interview with Briabn Williams, it apparently took the campaign completely by surprise.

Is wanting such information an invasion of privacy? These people are seeking positions of awesome (even excessive) power over the rest of us. Knowing whether they're likely to keel over under stress is the least we should expect.

Prison guards, beer distributors and casinos opposing California's Prop. 5

I posted the following today at the Register's Orange Punch blog:

Talked to Ethan Nadelman, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, today, about Prop. 5, which would replace incarceration with treatment for most nonviolent drug offenders. He noted that almost none of the news stories mention that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that it would save taxpayers around $2.5 billion over time in the cost of prisons that don’t need to be built, or even that the LAO estimates that the costs of setting up better treatment programs would be offset by the reduction of costs associated with prisons (which is presumably why the prison guards union has donated a million bucks to the No campaign). In fact, the best I can figure it, Prop. 5 is the only proposition on the ballot that the LAO estimates would actually save taxpayers money at a time when the state is in a deep fiscal crisis.

He also noted that beer distributors have donated around $100,000 to the No campaign and various Indian casinos have kicked in around a quarter million. The keepers of the legalized vices apparently have a profound special interest in making sure nonviolent drug offenders go to jail.

Some more interesting comments from Alex Coolman's Drug Law Blog, and another couple here and here.