Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scanning 20th century music

I haven't read the book reviewed in this article, but I found it intriguing enough that I plan to get and read "The Rest Is Noise" by Alex Ross. And I thought the review itself provides a reasonably good overview of/introduction to 20th century classical (or "serious" or symphonic or whatever) music for someone who is curious but not very familiar with it. Of course you have to hear music to get an appreciation for it, but if you want a guide to what was significant in the 20th century, the classification of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok as the century's most influential "modernists," with the sometimes really weird Anton Webern as "chief prophet" and John Cage as wild card isn't a bad place to start, though I'd mention Alban Berg as well. As for those who were less musical bombthrowers but significant, Debussy, Shostakovich, Ives and Sibelius, Benjamin Britten and Steve Reich are worthy of consideration, though I find Prokofiev a more appealing Russian than Shostakovich and I have yet to grasp what it is about Steve Reich beyond a certain hypnotic charm. And I'd rank Ravel at least equal with Debussy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Medical marijuana progress

Prop. 5, mentioned in the previous post, is expected to pass. There's also encouraging news from other states on the medical marijuana front. In Michigan, Proposal 1, which would allow patients to use marijuana under the advice of a licensed doctor is favored by a solid majority of 59-37, according to a recent statewide poll. Michigan Technology News, for entrepreneurs, has a favorable interview with one of the proponents.

Meanwhile, in Idaho a Republican legislator, Tom Trail, is working on a medical marijuana proposal he plans to introduce in the legislature in January. I spent a fair amount of time in northern Idaho when I was working on my book, "Ambush at Ruby Ridge," and it is very conservative country. For a Republican to make this proposal is encouraging, although it might be a tough sell with Idaho voters.

Drug use: a more humane approach

Here is the Register's editorial on Proposition 5 on the California ballot, which would build on the success of Prop. 36 (passed in 2000) that mandated more treatment and less incarceration for non-violent drug users. It's another proposal from the Drug Policy Alliance, the most constructive thing billionaire George Soros does with his money.

The Register endorsed this proposal, but I actually have mixed feelings. It would certainly be less inhumane for the state govt. to offer treatment rather than incarceration to drug users, but it reinforces the impression that any use of "illicit" drugs is a problem requiring treatment. Sometimes, especially with (most) marijuana use, it is simply harmless and doesn't require expensive treatment, but the government simply getting out of the way and allowing adults to be treated like adults who can take responsibility for their own actions. I'm inclined to think most meth use is harmful to the person doing it, and cocaine and heroin can cause damage to the user. Whether treatment, especially tax-funded treatment, is the proper approach is not necessarily obvious.

Still, little steps away from criminalization may be the best we can get for now. But total decriminalization is the proper goal.

Blowback from Main Street

One way or another, enough constituents got to enough C0ngresscritters to defeat the $700 billion bailout. It took most of the Beltway crowd by surprise. This piece by Steven Pearlstein of the WaPo, published this morning -- and especially the headline, "Dr. Paulson's Tough Medicine, In a Pill the Public Can Swallow -- exemplifies to me the rather complacent and self-satisfied approach of most Beltway commentators. It wouldn't have cost taxpayers anywhere near the advertised $700 billion, he assured us, because Treasury would be buying troubled mortgages and instruments that would turn out to have some value. The wise rulers in Washington were saving Wall Street from itself and saving Main Street, and Main Street shold be grateful.

Well, Main Street wasn't and isn't grateful. Most Americans still don't fully understand the extent to which this mess was made in Washjington, but they have an inkling, and they're a bit sick of having ever more of their money seized to fix messes created by politicians and their friends. Interestingly, Nina Easton at Fortune caught a bit of the anger in her piece.

The expectation is that they'll tweak it a bit and come back with something essentially similar. Instead, they should hit restart and understand that more government intervention is not the solution for a problem caused by too much government. They could start by repealing "fair-value accounting" or mark-to-market, which I discussed earlier. Then cut Fannie and Freddie into bitty pieces and sell them to the private sector in such a way that they get no access -- zero, zilch, nada -- to taxpayers' funds ever again. That's for starters.

Expect more wars

Here is a link to my most recent column for Antiwar.com. Bouncing off the presidential debate on Friday, I predict that whoever is elected we can expect more wars and more aggressive intervention by the U.S. in the affairs of other countries. Both candidates expressed serene confidence in the mission of the U.S. to set the world right; they simply differed over which conflicts were priorities and what kinds of tactics to use. For someone who believes that the United states needs a new foreign policy -- something akin to the "humbler" policy George W. Bush claimed to espouse when he first ran for office -- this was a most dispiriting debate.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Financial crisis a government failure

Here's a link to the piece I did for the Register Sunday Commentary section on the current financial crisis. I think I make a pretty good case that this crisis was made in Washington (though Wall Street has some culpability, of course). But the government created subprime mortgages and pressured banks and other institutions to offer more and more of them. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were near-perfect examples of moral hazard. Add the mark-to-market accounting rules that the government required, and you have something of a perfect storm. And of course, the government creates a huge crisis and uses it as justification to grabe even more money and power.

Incidentally, I didn't have room for it in this piece, but while I think John McCain was playing irresponsible faux-populist politics in calling for SEC Chairman Chris Cox's head (full disclosure; Chris was Newport Beach's Congressman for years, I've met him many times and like him) as what could only be seen as a symbolic gesture, I thought the SEC's outright ban on short selling was a big mistake

Bruins: more signs of life

Well, it wasn't the result I wanted, but the game today was somewhat heartening anyway. After not scoring an offensive touchdown for two games, to get to 31 wasn't so bad. And I can't help but thinking that if it hadn't been for that headscratcher of a decision to decline a penalty that would have given Fresno State a 4th and 12 -- immediately after which they scored a touchdown -- we might have had a pretty good chance to win this thing. Being competitive all the way through? I'll take it. I think getting Khalil Bell back at RB made a big difference. It almost makes me think that if Ben Olsen comes back, we just might become a really good team by the end of the year. Or am I dreaming?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bruins: not expecting much

I'll watch the game, but I'm afraid I might have to be content if the Bruins just show a few signs of life. Fresno State, ranked 24th in some polls, beat Wisconsin in a game I caught some of, and seems to have a first-rate football team this year. There's just a chance that Kevin Craft will find that swagger (and passing accuracy) he had in the second half of the Tennessee game, and there's just a chance that after three games the offensive line, young as it is, will finally come together. But now Trevor Theriot, the fullback and a pretty good blocker, is down. They expect Khalil Bell, slated to start at tailback, will play some, but he's not 100% yet and probably won't play the full game. I'd love to be surprised, but it's looking like that creature fans hate to acknowledge, a rebuilding year. I still love the Bruins, but I think I'm pretty realistic.

Repeal mark-to-market accounting rules

Here's one way government contributed to the financial crisis that has only been acknowledged briefly.

I’ve been working on a piece for Sunday, and the more I look into the financial crisis the more I’m convinced that one of the chief factors behind the crisis is something nobody is talking about, at least in public, though the WSJ has run a couple of articles. It’s called mark-to-market accounting, embodied in Financial Accounting Standard 157, imposed by the government last November, John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has been raising the hue and cry, as has former FDIC chairman William Isaac, along with academics from Wharton and Yale. Here’s the gist:

As explained by John Berlau, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the free-market-oriented Competitive Enterprise Institute: “[I]f a troubled bank sells a mortgage-backed security at a fire sale, many solvent banks have to take a paper loss on similar assets. This is the case even if the loans are still performing and even if the banks are holding the loans to maturity and simply collecting the payments instead of selling. In a small market such as those for unique securities, one fire sale can set the ‘market price.’

“If all this required was showing a loss to shareholders in annual reports, this would still be bad accounting, but not that much of a contagion problem. But because mark-to-market has been adopted as part of solvency rules, these ‘losses’ contract banks’ ‘regulatory capital’ on paper and mean they can’t make as many loans without being declared technically ‘insolvent.’ So these financial assets become ‘hot potatoes,’ as banks scramble to get them off their books, driving the asset prices down even further. This explains much of the ‘cascading effect’ that has caused the credit crunch.”

Nobody in Washington has been talking about this. I’m convinced that if this rule isn’t repealed we’ll have continuing credit crunches, no matter how much taxpayer money they pour into the system. John Berlau thinks simply repealing the rule would make a taxpayer bailout unnecessary, though there would be some ongoing problems and some bankruptcies arising from people with too much invested in Fannie and Freddie. Here is CEI’s ongoing Bailout Watch blog.

Bailout still not done

The Register decided, while the matter was still under way, to focus on two aspects of the proposed financial bailout: the fact that Treasury Secretary Paulson had asked for unaccountable dictatorial "trust me" powers in the original draft, and the fact that we still have almost no details on just what they really plan to do with all that money. Congress bristled at the unaccountable part (they want their piece of the action and an ability to direct some money to their own preferred interests too. And as of tonight, there's still no agreement. Can't say that I'm terriblyu dispkleased, except that taxpayers will still get nicked and the fact that this thing was made in Washington rather than on Wall Street will never get fully acknowledged.

Live-blogging the debate

My colleagues Steve Greenhut, Mark Landsbaum and I live-blogged the presidential debate tonight at the Register's Orange Punch blog. We didn't score it, as some did, just made comments as it went along. I thought it was fairly even, which probably meant Obama won since foreign policy was supposed to be McCain's turf. As I said at the end, however, it was two imperialists jousting about which parts of the empire they wanted to put resources into, which is hardly satisfying to somebody like me who wants to see a new foreign policy. Ah. well.

A few other comments, based on some channel-switching. Chris Matthews was ballistic wanting Obama to be more populist and talk about the misery of people being laid off and all. But Obama isn't a populist type and never will be. For some liberals, it's always the Great Depression. He also went on and on about how McCain didn't look Obama in the eyes. Big deal, phony issue. David Gergen on CNN scored it for Obama. And Frank Luntz's focus group, composed of undecided independents, he assured us, split 17-10 for Obama

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why should Iowa rebuild Galveston?

This always seems like a tough issue, but the principle is still clear. Galveston got almost flattened by the most recent hurricane, and is asking Congress for $2.2 billion to rebuild. John Stossel has written about and done programs on federal flood insurance (which advertises on TV now). It sounds compassionate, I guess, but providing cut-rate flood insurance in a known flood-prone area or sending federal funds to a place that you know is going to get hit by hurricanes is simply encouraging risky behavior that might or might not be undertaken without subsidies from taxpayers in the rest of the country. Here's the Register's hard-hearted take on Galveston's request, urging Congress to turn it down.

My brother-in-law travels to Texas fairly often and has been to Galveston numerous times. He says, Glen Campbell aside, he can't understand the attraction. Perhaps there's no such thing as a bad beach, but he says Galveston is a long way from being something special in the oceanside department. Yet housing prices are high. Don't know if they would be higher or lower if taxpayers from iowa, Maine and Oregon didn't chip in to rebuiild it from time to time.

I don't think people should be forbidden from living in inherently dangerous places (after all, I live in Southern California, subject to earthquake, fire and even --sometimes -- flood). But people should take responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The economic mess

I haven't written much here about the current crisis in the financial industry, except to refer you to my piece in the Register week before last on Fannie and Freddie. But I have been paying more attention than I might have wanted to. I'm working on a piece for this Sunday's Register Commentary that will, I hope, explain how most of the crisis has a made-in-Washington rather than a "made on Wall Street" character -- not the result of a failure of the free market, but of too much government intervention into the free market. Meantime, here's a good piece that appeared on the Mises Institute Website with more specific numbers than I had on Fannie and Freddie. The WSJ editorial page has had some of the best commentary, from a piece by AEI's Peter Wallison, whome I interviewed, to several outlining the problems with make-to-market accounting, mandated by the government. Other good pieces here, here, and here.

Incidentally, as much as I think a $700 billion bailout is an extraordinarily bad idea, I'me afraid that we have the makings of a real crisis. The government is likely to make it worse.

Dexter Filkins on Iraq

Here's an especially good report on a recent trip to Iraq by Dexter Filkins of the NYT Magazine. He was last there two years ago, and he found the differences striking. It's much more peaceful, parents take their children to parks without apparent fear, businesses have reopened. Things are definitely better. But it's an extrordinarily nuanced article, mostly straight reporting on things he saw and people he talked to. The improvements, as Gen. David Petraeus fully acknowledges, are potentially fragile, especially since the Shia-dominated government is proving reluctant to incorporate the fighters of the Sunni Anbar Awakening into the national security services. He observed a wedding procession of 25 cars in a Sunni neighborhood, for example, and the groom stopped the car and went over to talk to this American. The groom said how wonderful it was, but pointed to a band of plainclothes Iraqi gunmen gathered at the roadside and said, "It's all because of them."

Money quote: "For obvious reasons, almost no one in Baghdad seems willing to predict the future anymore. Ask anyone, and you are likely to get to the all-purpose Arabic expression, “Insha’Allah” — “God willing.” Everyone, it seems, is trying to enjoy the calm while it lasts.

"But if people here do not want to talk about the future, they still have to plan for it."

"White Flight" reversing in NYC

Here's an interesting little article that tends to confirm Alan Ehrenhalt's thesis, about which I wrote previously, that American cities are oh-so-gradually coming to resemble European cities a bit more, in that the city centers are becoming more and more the domain of the affluent, while the poor and minorities are moving more to the near suburbs. Seems that the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in New York City is now increasing. Ever since 1940 the share of non-Hispanic whites has been declining, but since 2000 there's been a noticeable uptick, half of it since 2006. The city is now 35 percent white, 27 percent Hispanic, 23.5 percent black and 12 percent Asian. Census demographers also found a decline in immigration, both legal and illegal -- not surprising during rough economic times, especially in the construction industry.

Coffee with Robert Fisk

I had the opportunity today, along with my colleague at the Register Steve Greenhut, to share a few cups of coffee with Robert Fisk, the celebrated British foreign correspondent who lives in Beirut and has covered 11 wars and numerous minor conflicts, mostly in the Middle East, now working for the London Independent. He was here for a speech last night at Chapman University, which, alas, I did not attend. Some would call Fisk a bit of an Arabist (he speaks fluent Arabic), as he is apt to be more critical than most journalists of Israel, and most people peg him as somewhat left of center. In the two conversations I've had with him, however (he came for an editorial board in 2002, just before the invasion of Iraq), he hasn't said much that gives off an ideological tinge, but rather has spoken from a deep knowledge of recent Middle Eastern history about the likely consequences of various actions. He has been right more than he has been wrong.

Fisk bemoaned the condition of American journalism, particularly in coverage of the Middle East ("If Tom Friedman is your cutting edge you're in deep trouble"). I can't help but agree. Our paper included, coverage of foreign affairs is generally abysmal. Only a few papers even maintain many foreign correspondents any more. In some ways, that reflects what readers seem to want. Although most Americans can be stirred up reliably to hate the latest foreign dictator our leaders want to demonize this year, few have any real interest in foreign affairs, an interesting situation for a country that has military installations in more than 160 countries. But that's one of the reasons I think the U.S. is ill-suited to be an imperial power, Ah, well.

I took pretty good notes, which I'll use as the basis for this week's Antiwar.com column. A fgew highlights: He thinks the U.S. should disengage militarily from the entire Middle East and South Asia, arguing that our military presence only creates more enemies and people who hate us. He's fascinated that anybody at all was satisfied with the "They hate us for our freedoms" explanation for 9/11. And despite some apparent rumors on the Internet, he's not close to thinking about retirement.

Oh, he has a new book out, "The Age of the Warrior." I have a copy now and will report when I read it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Celebrating Leonard Bernstein

When I started reading this article I didn't notice the byline, figuring it was one of the NYT's music critics. As I got further into it, I wondered how a critic could know so much about how Leonard Bernstein lived, how dedicated he was to the show that was his life, how completely he put himself at the service of music, how frustrating it was for him to think constantly that he wasn't composing enough, and might not leave a real legacy. So I flipped back and saw that it was written by Michael Tilson Thomas, a distinguished conductor himself (I remember when he was a young lion, aware of him being at USC the same time I was at UCLA; he's a year younger than I, so he's not young any more, except perhaps at heart) and one of many musicians Lennie mentored and encouraged and in some ways taught.

Those who have never been into classical music as much as a nut like me, or those who are too young to have experienced through various media the force of Leonard Bernstein's personality and musicality might find here some of the reasons that he loomed so large in American musical life. For those who want a more detailed view, written at something of a low point in his life, I found Meryle Secrest's 1994 book "Leonard Bernstein: A Biography" quite engrossing

The inversion of American cities?

I'm a little late getting to this, but the trend is long-term and may not be fully established yet. Alan Ehrenhalt of Governing magazine had a fascinating article in the New Republic about a month or more ago. It argued, using Chicago as the first example, that it's just possible to discern a trend that rather reverses the U.S. urban pattern of the last half century or more. With suburbanization, we saw middle-class people move out of central cities (white flight, some called it) and the central cities becoming dominated by the poor and minorities. Ehrenhalt sees a pattern that resembles cities in Europe -- the affluent moving back into the central cities (gentrification squared), and the poor and minorities populating the suburbs, which works because that's where many of the blue-collar jobs are anymore. Deindustrialized cities become more attractive to affluent people, and something like the ideal of a lively urban life becomes more likely.

The trend seems most marked in Atlanta, and although Ehrenhalt cautions that the numbers are still relatively small, he thinks he sees a pattern. Maybe Jane Jacobs' ideal of cities that are really alive and people-friendly will happen eventually, years after her death.

I don't know. Urban patterns seem to happen in cycles as neighborhoods deteriorate and are gentrified and back again. But it would be interesting if cities became more vital at their centers. Even aside from the fact that I probably couldn't afford them, I'm not sure how tempted I would be. Maybe it's age, but a small town works nicely for me so long as I have plenty of bookshelves and access to the Internet.

High-speed train boondoggle

This may be of interest mainly to California readers, but there are 11 propositions on the November ballot, only one of which has to do with gay marriage (#8). Here is the Register's take on Prop. 1A, which would authorize the sale of almost $10 billion (well, 9.95) in bonds as a down payment on a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's a marvelous-sounding idea, but like most government-promoted rail plans (this one was put on the ballot by the legislature, not by gathering signatures, it doesn't begin to pencil out. As a Reason "due-diligence" report notes, the projected cost has risen from about $30 billion in 1999 to around $45 billion today for a scaled-back version, and you can be sure the cost would rise further if it were begun. Where would that money come from? The proposal is vague.

I suspect, with the state government having just band-aided a state budget that was $15 billion in the hole, that voters won't go for this kind of increase in bonded indebtedness. But the capacity to believe rosy if unrealistic projectioons is common.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peter Camejo spiced things up

Peter Camejo, who had become a perennial candidate of the Green Party in California for various offices, a long-time acrivist who also ran as a Socialist Workers Party candidate, died last week. I was pleased he got a chance on a larger stage during the 2003 gubernatorial debates, when the requirement of letting all the declared candidates participate made things a lot more interesting than the usual affair with the chosen ones of the two branches of the Government Party spouting poll-tested platitudes and soundbites. Here's the Register's editorial in memory. Almost all his political ideas were dead-wrong as far as I'm concerned, but I'm glad he was around.

Of course with the bailouts of last week and the likely commitment of $700 billion to try to "stabilize" the markets, the U.S. with Republicans at the helm has become more socialist in action than Peter Camejo probably ever dreamed could happen. Well, maybe it will tie the hands of the next president from taking any substantive action, which wouldn't be such a bad thing. Trouble is, as even the linked article acknowledged, state socialism has never been stable for long.

The Bruin gut is soft

Of course I refuse to give up hope for the entire season, but the Bruins' gut-check against Arizona revealed an unfortunately soft one. You might say that the guts of an offense is in the offensive line, and the Bruins don't have a good one just now. There are reasons, of course -- only two of them had ever started a game before this year and senior Micah Kia at center went down with an injury. I sure hope the young guys get better as the season goes on rather than getting all hangdog. I don't think Neuheisel will let that happen, but . . . Maybe a guest appearance by Terry Donahue to talk about the tradition of the "gutty little Bruins" who used to win games like this.

At least there was a semblance of a running game, and the word is that Kahlil Bell will be back soon -- probably not this Saturday but the one after. But Kevin Craft didn't have the second-half swagger he showed against Tennessee, and there were just too many mistakes. I'm just hoping for a modicum of respectability.

Time for a new Pakistan policy

Here's a link to my most recent column for Antiwar.com, arguing that the present U.S. policy toward Pakistan just isn't working for the U.S., and that it's time for reconsidering the relationship from the bottom up. I argue that the possibility of strategic disengagement -- proper diplomatic relations, but no aid, military or economic, except what is needed to help the Pakistani military keep the nukes out of terrorist hands. Those nukes are pretty well protected now, but things could get more unstable in Pakistan in the post-Musharraf era. Some have argued for economic aid, but that's likely to have little effect. It might be well-intentioned, but as Christine Fair of Rand told me, the way it's delivered is a big problem.

The U.S. typically hires contractors who hire sub-contractors and so on, and before you know it the money is eaten up and we're lucky if Pakistan gets ten cents on the dollar in schoolhouses, hospitals or whatever, and the construction usually turns out to be shoddy to boot, sometimes creating resentment rather than gratitude. We can't do much that's effective about al-Qaida in Pakistan with our current approach anyway, so we have to live with the knowledge that they're there and cope with things at the possible-attack end -- and do financial disruption and some real intelligence, which we don't do now.

Of course I would prefer an overall policy of strategic disengagement with the world outside North America -- proper relations, trade, tourism and whatnot unrestricted, but no military aid or meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, no matter how nasty their dictators. Maybe when I finish my book and get it published more people will see it that way.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fixing the financial mess

Well, it has certainly been a week, hasn't it? Here's the Register's take on it in today's editorial, for which I owe a great deal (not everything in it, but a good bit) to Bill Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute. I always find that Bill sees the big picture much more clearly than most, and brings a certain wisdom to his assessment of economic events. He was gracious enough to talk with me while lunch was being served at a Cato donors event, and he laid out his views in the most concise and organized manner possible.

The three big mistakes by government? Keeping Fannnie and Freddie in business with their inherently flawed business model, creating the market for subprime mortgages, which it did with the Community Reinvestment Act, and especially allowing Fannir and Freddie to securitize subprimes, and the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates too low from 2002-2005, creating the bubble that rather pridictably has burst.In the private sector, besides those who gamed the system, the various credit rating agencies failed completely, which has not been widely enough acknowledged, and they have not suffered any consequences for their failure.

Explaining Fannie and Freddie

A great deal has happened since this explanation of how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hit the wall was published, let alone written. The last week's developments challenge the designation as the "mother of all bailouts. But I think (after a whole week) it still stands up as an explanation of how these government-sponsored enterprises got into such serious trouble. I was flattered when I talked to Esmael Adibi, who heads the Anderson Center for economic research and forecasting at Chapman University, and he told me he had made copies for his MBA students to consult.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Some signs of life: 10-17 at halftime

Well, it's disappointing that the Bruins had to settle for a field goal on the last drive, but at least they did drive it down the field, which hadn't happened for most of the half. Hope it's a good portent for the second half. Derrick Coleman, the true freshman from Fullerton's Troy High, looked pretty good at tailback sometimes, and even Chane Moline had a couple of decent runs. So I'm tentatively hopeful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gut-check time for the Bruins

I know it's a long season and there's time for this team to improve on the pattern under Karl Dorrell, which seemed to be to show promise in September and fade badly in November. But I think tomorrow's game with Arizona could be particularly important for this Bruin team, after that debacle in Provo. Of course two more running backs are injured, Khalil Bell is questionable, and Paulsen is still out, as well as the starting center. So it won't be easy. But I think Arizona can be beaten. Even if not, it's important at least to make it respectable and begin to establish some semblance of a running game (0.8 yards per carry in the first two games). And the key to that is the offensive line, which has been questionable from the beginning. Have any of those young kids learned anything from (or been embarrassed enough by) those first two game. Guess we'll find out, beginning about noon tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Worth reading

Steve Coll's piece in the New Yorker on Gen. David Petraeus as he prepares to leave Iraq to head the Central Command, is more reporting than opinion and quite valuable. Petraeus is definitely smart, probably smarter than most of the civilians who nominally supervise him. The piece doesn't offer too many insights as to what he'll do once Afghanistan and Pakistan are in his portfolio; maybe he's smart enough not to know yet.

Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic piece on "The Wars of John McCain" is pretty even-handed but offers what to me is a near-frightening insight into his devotion to war. I'm not sure if he sees it as the highest of human endeavors, as some deluded sols do, but he does see it as a likely solution to problems rather than a last resort to be entered into only reluctantly.

And Leon Aron's piece in the New Republic explains how the Putin regime has introduced new history textbooks into Russian schools that essentially whitewash the brutality of the communist era. Scary stuff.

Pakistan a real problem

There have been developments just since this Register editorial on Pakistan was published, but the fundamentals don't seem to have changed. Following a secret order signed by Bush, the U.S. has decided to conduct cross-border attacks against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Pakistan, including crossing the border from Afghanistan.

A raid Sept. 9 has been acknowledged, but the Pakistani government has said it will forcibly prevent further foreign fighters from coming into its sovereign territory, and there may even have been a shots-in-the-air confrontation between the Paki and U.S. militaries. Joint Chiefs chief Mike Mullen went over to reassure the Pakis, but an attack occurred anyway. We suggest stopping the attacks, and say the next president will have to do a ground-up reassessment of our relationship with Pakistan, with the option of a strategic withdrawal that would include an end to aid on the table. We're unlikely to neutralize al-Qaida the way we're going anyway. It's very complicated, and I'll expand on it for this weeks Antiwar.com column.

I particularly enjoyed talking to Christine Fair of RAND for this piece. She's a pretty clear-eyed realist. Sovereignty, she scoffed, is a concept used only when it's convenient. Is Hamid Karzai really the sovereign ruler of Pakistan when he wouldn't last five minutes without foreign troops to bolster him? No Pakistani government has had effective control over the laughably named Federally Administered Tribal Areas, so is it really sovereign there? The Durand Line that marks the Afghan-Paki border was drawn by a British colonial official who probably didn't know that it ran right through a Pashtun tribal area. It not only might not deserve to be treated as sacred, it almost certainly creates conflict.

When the Sahara was green

I just found this story interesting. Paleontologist Paul Sereno was searching for dinosaur bones in the Sahara Desert eight years ago (he found tons) when he stumbled on some human bones, along with traces of pottery, stone tools and what were obviously burial sites. It took some years to organize expeditions to go back and dig, but eventually they found about 200 graves belonging to two different successive populations.

A group that's been named the Kiffian culture lived there from 9,700 to 8,200 years ago when it was the shore of a large, shallow freshwater lake, where they speared fish and hunted gazelles. Then came a thousand years of extreme dryness, then the lake and vegetation returned, and the site was inhabited by smaller, finer-boned people called the Tenerians.

If you want more info, check out the National Geographic Society, which helped to fund the expeditions (and here's a photo gallery), or a scientific paper here.

This, of course, is an extreme example of the fact that climate change is hardly new. About 100 million years ago the area was forested and inhabited by dinosars and crocodiles, and evidence of people living there about 50,000 years ago has been found. The lakes dried up during the Ice Age, then returned about 12,000 years ago.

I'm a mild skeptic on human-caused climate change, but aware that I haven't studied enough to be cocksure in my opinion. I do note that for committed Goreians it's more like a religion than science.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Jewel of Medina" to be published

I griped a little while ago about the lack of gumption Random House showed in declining to publish a novel, "The Jewel of Medina," a fictionalized treatment of the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest bride -- apparently (it's not out yet, of course) something of a bodice-ripper -- for fear of retaliation by Muslim fanatics. Yes, it was their decision to make, but still . . .

Now the invaluable Alvaro Vargas Llosa has a column with good news, and a sensible analysis of the situation. The British publishing house Gibson Square, has decided to publish the book. I'm glad to see that a publishing house made this decision even in the face of possible threats. It suggests that have a couple. Maybe Hillary lent them hers.

Busting the speculation myth

Just about everyone in Washington, including Barack Obama and John McCain, has rushed to attribute the run-up in gasoline prices to evil speculators, preferring to avoid the simpler explanation of supply-and-demand, especially from rapidly-developing China and India, and to sidestep the many ways government acts to increase petroleum and gasoline prices (including collecting more in taxes than the oil companies get in profit and forbidding drilling in numerous places where we know there's avaialble oil).

After being badgered by politicians looking for a villain, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission did an in-depth study (link here leads to a link to the PDF of the full-length study), scrutinizing millions of transactions involving billions of dollars, of the role of speculators in the oil and gasoline markets that was released last week. It busts the myth completely -- especially since it contains no explanation for the recent fall in crude oil prices to around $90 a barrel, whereas reduced demand in the U.S. due to economic troubles and high prices does so rather handily. But don't expect to stop hearing it voiced.

The CFTC found that index traders and swap dealers actually reduced their stake in crude oil futures as prices spiked. More traders wewre going short than long, which had at least some impact of hiolding prices down. And commodity index funds have only 13 percent of the oil market, not the 70 percent some conspiracists were estimating.

The government still doesn't understand

In my column for Antiwar.com this week, I teed off on the 9/11 anniversary to suggest that the U.S. government still doesn't come close to understanding the threat exemplified by that attack or having a good strategy for countering it. Al-Qaida and related groups are stateless terrorist groups; they can benefit from operating inside a nation-state with the cooperation of the government there, as they did in Afghanistan under the Taliban. But they don't require a state and they don't want to be state-sponsored (as some terrorism was during the communist era). Not only is the military a clumsy and ineffective tool -- at least a military not deeply steeped in counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, as ours wasn't and still isn't, -- it is largely counterproductive in this case.

Al-Qaida, as Rand terrorism expert put it a few years ago, is more like a franchise business than a state or state system. It has a "business" model it likes to teach adherents who can then go out and apply it in their local situation. Even the Rand Corp., hardly a nest of pacifists, issued a recent report saying that police and intelligence work is a better way to approach the terrorism problem than a military approach. Chuck Pena's book, "Winning the Un-War" is the best book-length trreatment of the issue. But to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. (Whether we'll have a hammer-like military when the Iraq misadventure is over (if it ever is) is another question.) So our government fell back on what seemed comfortable and familiar rather than really analyzing the problem and devising effective countermeasures -- not to mention that invading Iraq probably created more jihadist sympathizers than we'll ever be able to kill.

By the way, here's a link to my previous week's column. Sometimes Antiwar uses a generic url the first week a column is up and assigns it a more specific url when the next week's column comes it.

Happy Constitution Day

As I write, it is still Constitution Day, designated to celebrate the day in 1787 that the memebers of the constitutional conventions signed the final document. Now I don't think the U.S. Constitution is a perfect document. Having read pretty deeply in the history, I'm pretty sure I would have been what is now called an "anti-federalist" (inaccurately because the winners usually get to pick the labels; at the time the constitution advocates were the centralists in the argument). I would have been afraid that the constitution, as assiduously as it tried to establish a strictly limited government with only limited enumerated powers, gave the central government more power than is healthy. I think our history has borne this fear out pretty well. They started stretching the limits of legitimate power almost from the first year (but we were fortunate to have Washington, who really did believe in limited government and established some healthy traditions and attitudes).

Still, despite having stretched, tattered and sometimes shredded, the constitution is still a valuable document and still capable of protecting our liberties. I think this Register editorial expresses the pros and cons rather nicely, if I do say so myself.

That Cato Institute for the last several years has chosen Constitution Day to do its annual Supreme Court review and preview. I was fortunate to be able to attend it last year, and found the interchange (they invite lawyers and professors of various persuasions) informative and intellectually stimulating -- and useful, given that I write most of the Supreme Court editorials at the Register.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dick Wallace retiring from Freedom Communications

I didn't blog last night because I was at the surprise retirement party for Dick Wallace, who is sort of retiring after almost 47 years at Freedom. He married into the Hoiles family and has devoted most of his life to working for the company -- at everything from learning at low-level jobs to being general manager of the Register to some sort of executive vice president at corporate.

I got to know Dick reasonably well when he was at the Register, and liked him instantly. He is genuinely devoted to libertarian ideas -- he has donated a huge library of libertarian books to Chapman University and has been the prime mover behind Freedom School, where publishers and editors and editorial writers go to spend several days "thinking about big ideas," as Jonathan Rauch, one of the speakers at the most recent one, put it. Jonathan told me he knows of no other company that does anything remotely similar.

Dick and Pat have three sons, two of whom are very active with the company and the moving force behind the desire to keep the company in the family and keeping it devoted to libertarian principles.

Anyway, it was a great party, at the Balboa Bay Club, and it was a genuine surprise. Tom Palmer sent a video and David Nott of Reason Foundation came. And Scott Flanders, Terry Horne, Dave Threshie, Tibor Machan, Tom Grochow and about 75 others came. It was a well-deserved tribute and sendoff to one of the really good guys.

Dick won't be completely gone. He told me one of the reasons he's "retiring" is so the company can have his salary for other purposes, but he plans to remain active, especially in organizing the Freedom Schools.

Fallout from Heller decision

There is likely to be a vote in the House this week on a bill to liberalize D.C.'s still restrictive gun laws, enacted temporarily in the wake of the D.C. v. Heller decision by the Supreme Court, but it's unlikely to mean very much. A Mississippi Democrat has introduced legislation -- Congress still controls D.C. though there is some limited home rule allowed -- to eliminate the registration requirements and allow semiautomatic weapons. And last week a committee approved a bill to give D.C. 90 days to come up with laws that comply with the Heller decision without specifying what they should be.

But it's political posturing. Certain conservative Democrats want to be able to vote against restrictive gun laws before the election in November, and since they were a key part of the Dem takeover in 2006, Nancy Pelosi will let them. But the Senate is almost certain not to act, so it won't mean much if anything in terms of actual law.

Kim Jong may be ill

I'm much more inclined to believe the South Korean intelligence services on conditions in North Korea, since they have an obvious direct interest and are pretty competent, especially when it comes to assessing their neighbor to the north. So it seems likely to me that North Korean dictator had a mild stroke in mid-August -- enough to keep him away from the 60th anniversary celebration, but apparently not life-threatening. In this Register editorial, we argue from circumstance rather than principle or deep preference, that we actually hope the SOB stays alive (much as kharma might suggest death immediately or sooner) a bit longer -- at least long enough to arrange a transition, if he's so inclined. Without a designated successor things are likely to be more chaotic than with one. Of course the military is likely to be the real ruler in a successor regime, but there are apparently factions within the military that could be sorted out with less danger of violence before Kin dies rather than afterward.

Temporary end of bailouts

I just learned that the Federal Reserve has authorized an $85 billion -- with a b -- loan to insurance giant A.I.G., so the rash of government bailouts of companies that should have been allowed to fail -- Schumpeter and creative destruction and all that -- may not be at an end. To be sure, this is a loan, not a buyout, so there'a at least a chance taxpayers might be paid back. But it's another sign that the U.S. has contracted the Japanese Disease (which Japan might be shedding) of considering certain enterprises "too big to fail, and therefore worthy of injections of taxpayers money. They call it "stability," but it's more like a formula for economic stagnation.

However, Secretary Henry Paulson at least declined to bail out Lehman Brothers over the weekend, for which this Register editorial praised him. As it further argued, we're in for some rough economic times. Esmael Adibi, director of the Anderson Center for economic forecasting at Chapman University (run by Friedmanite disciples) told me he thinks we are in a recession now, which will be declared by the National Bureau of Economic Research (which officially declares such things) in the six months or so it typically takes them to gather and analyze all the relevant data. There's no painless way out of a recession, but the shortest and least painful is to let those who made bad decisions or hit bad luck take their hits and learn (temporarily) to avoid those excesses for a while.

Robert Samuelson at the WaPo argues that the business model the financial markets -- lots of leverage, exotic investments, derivatives -- have developed over the last 20 or so years has failed, and it's time for a new model, more conservative and reality-based. I suspect he's right. But bailing out those who have followed the model will only delay necessary adjustments to reestablish the economy on a sounder basis.

Monday, September 15, 2008

59-0: Aaaarrrggghh!

Sometimes games just get out of hand, so I'll wait at least a week to determine whether I think the Bruins are utterly hopeless this year. But it certainly didn't look good on Saturday. Even losing the top two quarterbacks, one of only 2 guys on the O-line who had started before this year, and our top tight end doesn't provide an excuse for the worst blowout since Hoover was in the White House. I'm hoping it was just one of those games, but who knows.

Hmmmm. I probably have some eligibility left; maybe I should enroll quickly and volunteer to help out. I'm about 30 pounds heavier than when I played Freshman ball, and a good deal meaner. The fact that I'm 47 years older shouldn't matter much from what I saw at Provo.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Down 0-42 at halftime?

I thought I saw some mild signs of offensive life at the end of the half, but m-y-y g--a--w--d. Just hope they get on the board in the second.

L.A. train crash horrific

You'll pardon me if I find the story about the terrible train crash in Chatsworth of more than mere academic interest. I was off work today (routine medical check-up, not sparked by anything except age and the length of time since the last one) but I take the train in to work every day, from Corona (after riding a bus) to Santa Ana. Chatsworth is about as far on the other side of downtown L.A. as Corona is to the east, so it was a long way away and I doubt if it disrupted the schedule of the train I ordinarily take. But a head-on collision with a freight train, apparently both going at a pretty good speed, that injured around 70 and a death toll expected to rise above 20? I already avoid riding in the front car of a train, even if there's an engine in front. I will henceforth avoid complaining about sometimes mysterious stops that mess up the schedule by as much as 5 or even 10 minutes. They're almost always to avoid such collisions, so stop away!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do the Bruins have another miracle in them?

Actually, it might not take another miracle. Brigham Young came within an eyelash -- and a terrible call against the Washington quarterback for "celebrating"-- of losing to lowly Washington last week, and its offense isn't flashy. However, it is efficient and it now has the longest winning streak in Division I football (12) and is a 9-point favorite over UCLA tomorrow at 12:30 PDT. Also, the game is being played at BYU, where the home team usually has an advantage. Tailback Kahlil Bell is out with injury, as are several other starters.

On the other hand substitute QB starter Kevin Craft had a terrific second half in the upset win against Tennessee. The offensive line probably still needs work, especially at run-blocking, but it did OK at pass-blocking. And although he'll deny it, UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow has an incentive to win. He was offensive coordinator at BYU, developing numerous quarterbacks (McMahon, Detmer) but got passed over when the head coaching job came open.

Guacamole and beer are already in the fridge.

Automakers want on the government teat

Of course this was in the works before the unconscionable Fannie/Freddie taxpayer bailout, but it's coming to the fore now. The Big Three Detroit automakers want low-interest loans from the government, ostensibly to help them finance research into high-mileage-low-emission cars, and meet the new CAFE standards. As this Register editorial points out, there's no reason for the taxpayers to do this -- and the most constructive possible course of action would be to repeal the CAFE standards entirely, since they haven't done a thing for emissions or anything except the self-righteousness of politicians since the 1970s.

Lemme see. The newspaper business is in serious trouble right now -- no joke -- and it's more than a little unclear how we'll come out of it , but probably with a lot fewer newspapers. Maybe we should get low-interest repayment-optional loans from the government. After all, how can we continue to have an independent voice to serve as a check on government unless we become dependent on government?

If that makes sense to you you're qualified for a government job.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Off track ever since 9/11

It's popular among the War Party to say that 9/11 "changed everything." Of course it didn't, it simply highlighted new challenges the U.S. had to face. Unfortunately, our government and most of those who babble about changing everything show no sign of learning just what those challenges really are. As this Register editorial points out, to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail, and to a government with a capable military everything looks like something to be handled militarily. There may be some people down at the second, third, or fourth sublevels of some government departments who have given serious thought to how to deal with fanatical stateless terrorist groups, but we've proven pretty conclusively that invading Iraq wasn't the way to do it.

Sarah's appalling ignorance

I just finished the following for the Register's Orange Punch blog and I thought I would cross-post it here. It's almost an understatement. This woman is so ignorant about foreign affairs (which is understandable, to be sure, although sometimes political activists bone up on a variety of issues even if they don't have to deal with them immediately) that she doesn't even seem to know that she doesn't know.

"Well I listened to the first part of Sarah Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson, and since it was focused on foreign affairs, she didn’t come across well at all. Early on in the rollout somebody tried to ask her about the Iraq war and she said she just hadn’t thought about it much. That was obvious. I can understand to some extent. She’s been focused on Wasilla and then what she had to do to get elected governor and then what she wanted to do as governor. And despite some missteps, she doesn’t seem to have done too badly there. But it is simply all too obvious that she hasn’t spent much time at all thinking about foreign affairs. She may have absorbed a few neocon talking points since being selected, but that’s about it.

"Charlie Gibson was extraordinarily forbearing, but I thought he was at times simply appalled at what was coming out of her mouth. Several times I yelled at him (my wife hates when I do that) to do a follow-up to try to pin her down. To talk so casually about possibly going to war with Russia over Ukraine, when Ukraine is not in NATO and neither is Georgia, largely because the Europeans dragged their feet, and in the wake of recent events there’s no chance they’ll be in NATO (which may come apart over Afghanistan, but that’s another issue I’m sure she has no clue about either).

"When Charlie asked about the Bush Doctrine she got that deer-in-the-headlights look and acted as if she had no idea what he was talking about, which she probably doesn’t. Finally Charlie got soft and talked about preemptive war, and she babbled a bit. Charlie didn’t even follow up when she talked about “imminent danger” to ask if there was any imminent danger from Saddam’s Iraq.

"You might have thought, when he asked if she was ready to be president, that she would have had the grace to acknowledge that she didn’t know much about national security now but that she would make sure to learn from top experts between now and January and would continue to learn. But no. She seems to have the same kind of unreflective certainty Bush has, which is a weakness rather than a strength.

"Maybe I’ll have more after I listen to “Nightline” tonight."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Horning in on flat notes

Here's a piece complaining about inferior horn playing (French horn, that is) in New York orchestras this year. The French horn played well is one of the most sublime instruments in the orchestra, able to go from beautifully lyrical (think Brahms 1st) to harsh and biting as the music demands. But it's devilishly difficult to play and to keep in tune, and those are the modern versions. The old Baroque period instruments are notoriously unreliable, prone to crack and slither around the proper intonation of a note.

When a played in a community band a few years ago, one of our hornists had decided to try to move beyond the amateur status we all had (at least at that point; some had played professionally at various times, including in the Metroplitan Opera orchestra) and work at his instrument enough to go professional. I lost track of him so I don't know how it turned out, but it struck me that he figured he would have to practice at least four hours a day to get good enough -- and he was already not bad at all.

Apparently at the Mostly Mozart festival this year, the horns in some of the period instrument bands had trouble, and music critic Allan Kozinn felt obliged to call them on it, suggesting that when people in an audience pay money for a ticket they expect to hear good playing, not excuses. In the process he teaches a bit about just how difficult the instrument is, which he fully appreciates. LIsten to the Mozart horn concerti some time if you want to hear the instrument used skillfully.

Happy ending after Duke

Sometimes you discover a story that is simply heartwarming. You probably remember the Duke lacrosse team case, where a non-credible accusation of rape was made against practically the entire team but the local DA (looking at a reelection campaign, natch) decided to pursue it aggressively anyway. Eventually the boys were exonerated and Nifong disciplined by the Bar.

But what of the team's coach, one Mike Pressler. During the scandal the athletic director demanded his resignation, despite his 16 years building the team into a national championship contender. He got death threats. And he was virtually unemployable. No Division I school would touch him despite his being one of the top coaches in the country.

Finally, as William Anderson, who followed the case assiduously reports, Bryant University, a Division II school in Rhode Island, took a chance on him in late 2006. The school had had only losing seasons, but within a year Bryant had the team winning the league and in two years making the lacrosse "final four." It isn't as prestigious as Duke, but he's appreciated and just got a new contract. Nice to see a decent man reconstitute his life after being treated so shabbily.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fannie and Freddie need to be disassembled

Well, the stock market went up dramatically the day after the government announced the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, then plunged almost the same amount the next day. Gerald O'Driscoll, former chief economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, whom I talked to for an article I'm writing for Sunday, told me it was the typical pattern after a bailout -- elation for a day, then sobriety as the implications sink in. He doesn't know why investors are so naive as to repeat the pattern again and again.

Anyway, here's the Register's take on it (at least initially, we'll have more to say on Sunday), recommending that the two be disassembled and sold to the private sector in small chunks. Having the GSEs be so predominant in the secondary mortgage market was never intended, and the result is that financial markets all over the world are at risk because the two have so much debt going sour and lots of institutions holding shares. The notion that only a government agency can handle this chore is a myth. After the recent accounting scandal, Fannie and Freddie's share of the market plunged to 14 percent in 2005 (it's about 42 now) and the mortgage market didn't even notice. Plenty of private companies are performing the same insurance and securitization functions, but more responsibly.

The worst opera ever?

My colleague at the Register, Matt Leone, and his wife, are big opera buffs and get out to see more of them than I do. Monday morning he came in and said he had seen a terrible opera, simply boring and of very little interest, especially in the music, at the LA Opera on Sunday. It turned out the be "The Fly," music by Howard Shore ("Lord of the Rings," "Silence of the Lambs," "Eastern Promises") based on the 1986 David Cronenberg film, libretto by playwtight David Henry Hwang.

Later the Register's music critic Timothy Mangan (who's quite perceptive and a musician in his own right; we played together in a band for a company event) described it as the worst opera he had ever seen (only later slightly qualifying his comment. He pointed out the "Opera is hard work" and just because you're an accomplished composer doesn't mean you know how to do it.

Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times critic, was
only slightly less dismissive, calling it "a ponderous and enervating opera, and the problem is Mr. Shore's music." The AP also panned it.

If all this is true, it's too bad. I have really liked Howard Shore's film music (and Tommasini said there were moments, even though overall it was a failure) but opera is a discipline all its own. As Tim said, if you want to start you write one act for an opera workshop and listen to feedback from singers and other musicians. Of course, some critics panned Beethoven when he was alive, so maybe these judgments are harsh. I trust Matt's taste, however. Looks like an interesting try -- and one hopes it doesn't discourage other composers -- but a failure. Too bad.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Japan's gridlock -- and the U.S. gets the disease

Wouldn't you know it! Last Friday, on the heels of the news that Japanese prime minister Fukuda was retiring, I did an editorial decrying the gridlock in Japanese politics and the fact that the cozy relationship between the government and big businesses leads to the "too big to fail" psychology when it would be a good idea to let some of those Japanese enterprises, especially a bank or two, fail. So over the weekend U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson demonstrates that the U.S. has the disease too, with the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I'll have more on this as the week goes on and I have a chance to talk to a few more people, but it demonstrates just how socialized our economy has become, under both parties (remember Bush grew the government -- discretionary domestic spending, not just the war --faster than since the Great Society and maybe since the New Deal). The best bet now would be to break up these two mortgage buyers and fully privatize them, but the temptation of privatizing profits and socializing losses may still be just too tempting.

Anthrax in perspective

Here's a link to this week's column for Antiwar.com, in which I took advantage of the publicity over Bruce Ivins -- I'm still skeptical he was the sole perpetrator or even the perpetrator at all, though he does seem to have been a very strange duck -- to offer a little perspective on anthrax as a big threat and in fact on chemical and biological weapons as a real threat. There's no question both chemical and biological weapons are scary, but when it comes to actually killing large numbers of people, they really don't deserve to be classified along with nukes as Weapons of Mass Destruction. Theoretically enough anthrax was distributed in 2001 (based on what a lethal dose is) to kill most of the U.S. population, but just five people were killed -- not that each of those deaths wasn't a tragedy. Yet the anthrax scare, and the fairly commonplace suggestion at the time that Saddam Hussein was the most likely mastermind, had a great deal to do with preparing the American people for an invasion of Iraq.

For a little more detail specifically on anthrax, here's Stratfor.com's valuable recent piece.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Revolutionizing football or ruining it?

Now for something quite different. I've been mulling this concept since I first read about it, but I guess I'll have to see a game before I form a strong opinion. A couple of football coaches at Piedmont High in Northern California have come up with an offensive scheme called A-11, so named because all 11 players appear to be eligible for a pass. The base sets "use two quarterbacks lined up at least seven yads behind center. There are only three on the offensive line, with six receivers split wide. It's said to work for smaller schools who don't have many behemoths for the offensive line but plenty of "skill" players. I will have to see it played before forming a judgment, but it sounds innovative enough that it might just stick around. The T-formation was revolutionary when it first began; so was the forward pass. Maybe it has staying power.

Leaving St. Paul as an ex-Republican

Here's a link to Steve Greenhut's column written after spending a week with the official Republicans in St. Paul. He's been moving in that directions for some time, but it loo0ks as if he's leaving the Republicans behind, at least unless they reform themselves in the kinds of directions a Ron Paul might take them. It's been interesting to watch Steve's evolution. He's been a pretty strong libertarian since he came to the Register but believed that the best way to express his beliefs politically was within the Republican Party. Now the party has drifted so far in a statist direction -- accelerated when it had control of both the legislative and executive branches -- and become so fixated on cultural issues that are simply none of the government's business, that he's had enough.

Sense on immigration: let them in

Here's a link to the review I did for this Sunday's Register on Jason Riley's recent book on immigration: "Let Them In." Jason, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, did an excellent job with this short book, making the case for open borders largely by confronting six of the most common arguments against more extensive immigration head-on, with logical arguments backed up by facts. You know the arguments, and some readers may have used them:

The country is already overpopulated and more people will degrade the quality of life; more immigration is dangerous to the environment; immigrants take jobs that "belong" to native-born; this wave of immigrants is dangerous to American culture; opposing immigration is a good "wedge issue for Republicans; unrestricted immigration is a danger to national security. All of these arguments, I'm afraid, are poppycock.

Of course, as some of the comments on the OCR Website illustrate, some people seem immune to reasoned argument, rejecting the book's argument without reading it. How sad that so many political positions are the result of emotion rather than reason or anything approaching weighing the evidence -- or even giving it a moment's consideration.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Georgia on our . . . tab

President Bush has vowed to send $1 billion in disaster-relief and economic aid to the small country of Georgia, showing once again his tendency to conduct foreign policy by emotion and puffing up his chest (with our money; the deficits are apparently not big enough), even when it is painfully apparent that there is really not much at all that he can do to protect Georgia if Russia is truly determined to dominate it, as it has for most of the time since about 1800. Here's the Register's editorial arguing that it's not our fight, that a smart country picks fights it has a chance of winning instead of money pits. Probably the best we can hope for is is that Russia will be content to neutralize Georgia (that's why it destroyed or immobilized so much of its military equipment). The best way to get there is through quiet diplomacy, not courting confrontation.

Ants, ants, ants!

At least they're not the big red ones that bite; rather the tiny black ones that seem to be able to get through cracks that are invisible to the naked eye. I'm pretty much convinced our house was built on an ant hill, and rather then moving on the ants thought it was a bit of an upgrade to the neighborhood loaded with enticing things to eat. Until the last week or so the ants weren't that big a factor, though Jen gets freaked when she sees a couple. We've vacuumed a zillion or so and they keep on coming. We heard that cinnamon repelled them, and for a while it seemed to work, but now they just walk across the trails bold as can be. Ah, well!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Blogging McCain et. al.

As mentioned before, the Register's Steve Greenhut is at the convention in St. Paul and has sent back interesting observations, as well as a lot of pictures today, to the Register's Orange Punch blog. I've been contributing observations based on watching the speeches and the coverage from home, and Mark Landsbaum, who was in Denver, has recovered enough to offer pithy contributions. Check it out.

Iraq: fragile progress

Here's a link to the Register's editorial on the U.S. turning over security control of Anbar Province to the Iraqi government. While speakers at the Republican convention were exulting that we are on the verge of victory thanks to the "surge," we made clear that things are a bit more complicated than that. Not only did the Anbar Awakening precede the surge by several months, there's a pretty serious danger, as noted previously, that the Shia-dominated Iraqi government just might mess the whole thing up. It's got a bunch oif Awakening leaders on a to-be-arrested list and has taken hardly any of the Awakening fighters (who are Sunni) into the government security forces.

Interestingly, as this article makes clear, Gen. Petraeus, hailed as the genius behind the turnaround, is much more circumspect about claiming that victory is around the corner. And even if the U.S. does find a reasonably graceful way out, that doesn't mean the war was worth starting, if only because the most significant result is to have made Iran stronger as a regional power and given it m0ore incentive to acquire nukes.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The big Georgia-Kosovo picture

Here's a link to my most recent column for Antiwar.com. With some bows to George Friedman at Stratfor.com, it notes that the roots of the Georgian-Russian conflict lie to a great extent in Kosovo -- not so much that western recognition of Kosovo as independent(though it really isn't) gave Putin a justification for recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but the original US-NATO decision to intervene over Kosovo with a brutal bombing campaign to stop a "genocide" that never was. That decision was taken over the objections of a Russia that was weak in the 1990s, but now that Russia is stronger it's determined to "get a bit of its own back." Intervention leaves a long trail, and we don't know the ultimate outcome for years, but in this era it usually involves blowback. Bomb Kosovo, get an anti-American-inclined new Russian empire. Invade Iraq, get a stronger Iran. And so it goes.

Producer of edible medical marijuana products faces prison

I posted this on the Register's Orange Punch blog today, and am cross-posting it here:

Michael Martin, 34, who produced edible items containing marijuana for the use of patients who prefer not to smoke, will be sentenced tomorrow at the Oakland Federal Courthouse (1301 Clay St.). At 2 p.m. his lawyers, Tony Serra and Sara Zalkin, along with Americans for Safe Access attorney Joe Elford, will hold a press conference to highlight the injustice of the situation.

After California passed Prop. 215 in 1996, then-drug “czar” Gen. Barry McCaffrey commissioned the Institute of Medicine to study the medicinal use of marijuana. After the book summarizing the results was published, Gen. McCaffrey ignored the findings documenting numerous medicinal uses and recommending that all forms of marijuana be allowed under a physician’s supervision until better forms of the medications could be developed, and quoted only one line: “The future of medicinal marijuana does not lie in the smoked product.”

Well, Michael Martin tried to provide an alternative to the smoked product, and because federal law still stupidly (and criminally? unconsitutionally?) criminalizes any and all use of marijuana, he faces a stiff federal sentence. Because federal trials do not allow even the whispering of the term “medical” in the courtroom in the presence of a jury, let the jury get the idea that the defendant was doing something perfectly legal under state law and the 70-80 percent of Americans approve, he didn’t go to trial.

Obama has said he will end the practice of sending DEA agents after patients and caregivers in states with medical marijuana laws. Will anybody hold his feet to the fire on this one?

Labor Day: Big whoop

Here's the Register's Labor Day editorial for this year. It notes that the holiday was promoted by organized labor but has transmogrified into a celebration of the dignity of all work to the unofficial last holiday of summer, tracing the decline in union membership among American workers --although interestingly as membership has declined organized labor's vice-grip on the Democratic Party has increased. Hope you had a happy one, whatever you did. I did projects and really enjoyed watching the Bruins.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Alvaro Vargas-Llosa on Olympic individualistm

As dispiriting as certain aspects of the Beijing Olympics were (though it's hard to deny it was quite a show), Alvaro Vargas Llosa, son of the great Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a sometime not-so-successful politician (though he's an admirable political writer) found some encouraging signs of individualism-cum-internationalism to admire. He cited Becky Hammon, "as American as they come, winning a bronze medal witht eh Russian women's basketball team; Liang Chow, the Chinese coach of the U.S.women's gymnastics team, embracing his pupil Shawn Johnson, who won a gold medal for her performance on the balance beam after defeating a Chinese competitor; and Kobe Bryant, ther NBA star, speaking to European TV crews in Italian and Spanish."

All these, Vargas Llosa contends, were "heir to America's grandest tradition: the right to the pursuit of happiness," and affirmed that "individual sovereignty ... is a space that no collective force should violate."

Alvaro, whom I met some seven years ago in a location I was asked not to reveal, has developed into one of our more valuable individualist writers, spewing good sense at least once a week at The New Republic, which has a weakness for individualists who write really well.

Bruins! Just enough offense, 27-24

Wow! That game was fun to watch, especially since it turned out the way it did. No way UCLA should have beaten Tennessee, especially with Kevin Craft throwing four (4!) interceptions in the first hald, the last one returned for a touchdown to put Tennessee up 14-7, seemingly wasting a good defensive effort. But it was close enough, and as bad as Kevin was the first half (though one could discern moments of competence) he was terrific in the second half. Hardly overwhelming, but when they had to do it they did, and he made hardly any more poor decisions. You have to feel badly for the Tennessee place-kicker who missed a chip-shot field goal in overtime, but . . .

One top-25 team down, five to go.

Of course it was the defense that made it possible -- unless it was me turning my UCLA cap around rally-style at the beginning of the second half -- stymieing what I think will be a good Tennessee offense. And Neuheisel wins his first game as UCLA coach. All in all, a satisfactory bout of couch-potatoing. And we even got some work done around the house before the game started. You won't recognize the place, Frank. Your mother says hi.

Greenhut in St. Paul

Not to be too repetitive, but my colleague Steve Greenhut is in St. Paul for the Republican convention (Mark Landsbaum just got back from Denver) and is posting fairly frequently on the Register's Orange Punch blog. I'll chip in too from time to time. Check it out.