Hogan's Alley

Friday, March 31, 2006

Behavior Police Start Actual Arrests In Texas

In case you missed it last week, the State of Texas has empowered its police to enter taverns and arrest any patrons unable to pass a sobriety test. They began in the city of Irving and featured the arrest of a man in the bar of the hotel in which he was a guest. He had gone to the bar for a few drinks before retiring for the night in the same building. He was not going to drive anywhere!

This came as a shock to me because public intoxication laws were eliminated from the books in the northeast decades ago as an unwarranted intrusion on people's liberty. In fact, it was the elimination of those laws that, in part, prompted the need for homeless shelters. Serious alcoholics who could previously be incarcerated, especially in the winter, and be provided three hots and a cot, were now sometimes dying on the street or losing limbs to frostbite.

Apparently in Texas, and probably elsewhere in the Bible Belt, moral approbation of the use of alcohol has continued to be enshrined in the law. Of course, advocates of the law insist it is done to protect the drinker from potentially hurting himself or others. It also is seen as more efficient than having to stop and test erratic drivers once they are actually behind the wheel of a car.

Now apparently the publicity about this new tactic has generated an uproar. Texas state officials are shocked, shocked that they are being called Nazis, Taliban and Gestapo. The legislature will now look into the policy, established by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

As Glenn Reynolds says, "Even though a Senator is not planning on taking bribes from the underage-goat-sex lobby, that could change in an instant. Best we lock them all up now."

Further proof that the best and the brightest among us are not being drawn to serve in politics.

U.S. Intelligence Worse Since Adoption Of 9/11 Commission Findings

Capt. Ed has a giant "told you so" for us today. The House Intelligence Committee, in a bi-partisan vote, has now recommended that funding for the office of the National Intelligence Director, currently John Negroponte. That office, touted by the 9/11 Commission as the solution to the failure of domestic agencies and the overseas agencies to share and coordinate information, has now been seen as simply another large layer of bureaucracy. We're spending more, but there is no sign we are doing better at protecting ourselves.

Scalia's Gesture - Part Deux

Never one to admit they were wrong, the Boston Herald has now sent two of its intrepid reporters, Michele McPhee and David Wedge abroad to locate some actual Italian-Americans to interpret the infamous hand gesture used by Scalia. Instead of consulting the local telephone directory they apparently sought out the only group of Italians they knew would talk to them, some of the supporting cast of the Sopranos.

Of course, the actors in question were divided, three felt it was not obscene and two did. Since it is their ball and they control the game, the Herald places the agreeable Sopranos in the lead paragraphs, probably consigning the actors who disagreed with them to after the jump.

For me the key quote is from Frank Vincent, who plays Phil Leotardo, who has grudgingly accepted temporary peace with Tony Soprano over the murder of Phil's brother by Tony's late cousin. Vincent described the gesture as "dismissive, not obscene." He further said, "That could mean '‘forget about it.'’ It means he just doesn'’t want to even talk about it. He thinks it'’s not worth his time."

Ditto for this whole silly tempest in an expresso cup.

Not Your Grandfather's Immigration

I've been trying to make sense out of the immigration question as the debate in Washington moves forward. Discerning truth in a matter so fraught with emotional and practical political baggage is not easy.

First, let me state my own family's background. This is important, because our views on this topic are deeply colored by our own histories in this nation of immigrants. My grandparents, on both sides, came to the United States in the early years of the 20th century. They did grunt work to raise their children, who in turn did more challenging work so that their children could be the first in the family history to attend college and work in a professional or white collar careers.

I live in the suburbs of New York City. I love the city, in large part because of the vast multitude of accents in which English is spoken there by what is now, and probably always has been, a majority population of people born outside the continental United States. As has always been the case in New York, ethnic groups tend to gather into physical neighborhoods. In those neighborhoods the home language predominates. But outside those neighborhoods, English is the lingua franca, even if spoken haltingly or badly.

It is the very nature of New York that makes it so. Walking any main thoroughfare in Manhattan you will hear companions speaking Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, and on and on. No one foreign language dominates. Official city documents are offered in a multitude of languages. ATM's offer choices often tailored to the specific neighborhood. In this way, among many others, New York different from the rest of the country. But it is similar in that the energy of all these newcomers and their drive to succeed has been the engine of creativity and effort that has made America great.

Still, in New York and across America, immigration in the early 21st century is markedly different than in past centuries.

1. The Air Age - The universality of relatively cheap air travel makes travel to America and periodic return to ones country of origin for holidays or family occasions the norm. In the 19th and early 20th centuries those who emigrated from home spent most of what they had to get here and despaired of ever seeing their relatives and the sights and smells of home again. It was absolutely unaffordable. Only late in their lives, if ever, did most of that generation of immigrants get to return home for a visit and then often with the help and in the company of their now more prosperous children.

The impact of this fact is that the attachment to the home country remains stronger for newer immigrants than in the past. How does this color the effort to fully adapt to the new country? To identify oneself as fully and truly American? I don't know the answer to this question precisely, but I do have a sense of it from my observations of immigrants from countries as diverse and El Salvador, England and India. Human beings are social animals. We have an inherent need to be accepted by others. So the degree of "Americanization" is now probably fractionally less that in prior generations, but now crucially dependent on where one lives and who one associates with. Those who never leave the comfort of an ethnic ghetto will adapt less or more slowly than those whose lives take them out into the wider America. In this, as always, the children of immigrants will outpace their parents.

My favorite story in this regard occurred about twenty years ago when I had the opportunity to meet a large family who had arrived from Ireland the day before. The children were the spitting image of the Irish children then seen on the nightly news from Londonderry or Belfast. Their clothes, haircuts and of course brogues were, as the saying goes, Irish as Paddy's pig. One year later I again met the family at a social event. Mom and Dad were the same. Still wearing clothes purchased before leaving Ireland and still speaking fully accented English. The children, on the other hand, were absolutely indistinguishable from the American-born children also at the party. Their adaptation was staggering.

Those children, of course, had the advantage of English as a first language. All they had to do was to learn to make it sound like the English of their peers. They also had the advantage of being in schools where they were not allowed, or encouraged, to maintain their brogues.

I think this story illustrates why we can continue to hope that the engine of Americanization will do its work on all who come here. It also points out that the immigrant's attachment to the "old country" will now yield more slowly than in the past and that policies that facilitate or encourage retention of old languages or extensive segregation into ethnic enclaves will delay Americanization.

2. The Predominance of Spanish - The second reality that makes modern immigration different from the classic model is the overwhelming predominance of Spanish as the native language of immigrants from all of Central and South America and much of the Caribbean. Make no mistake about it, people from Puerto Rico hold themselves unique and different from those from Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, etc. They are children of their various native lands more than they are speakers of Spanish. Witness the prominence of the flags of the various Latin American countries visible at any public event, or decorating cars and houses.

But to the non-Spanish speaking American, they all seem of one group. To be fair, the immigrant groups themselves have often banded together to form a united front to maximize their political and cultural power. For example, the largest advocacy group for latinos is L.U.L.A.C, the League of United Latin American Citizens, founded in 1929. This tactic has worked.

Everywhere in America the Spanish language is a virtual second language of commerce. ATM's, telephone answering systems, government documents, product packaging and television broadcasts all feature prominent Spanish language options.

Regardless of where one stands on any particular of the current debates, the undeniable fact is that historically no one immigrant language or culture threatened to dominate English. They were too diverse and had no basis for unity. Now however, it is also undeniable that American culture is being Latinized and that this alarms many Americans and is the basis for calls to declare English the official language of the United States. I think these fears are exaggerated and that such legislation would, ironically, formally acknowledge the decline of the prominence of English. At the same time, those who oppose such legislation cannot pretend that the transition for Spanish-speaking immigrants to a full life in English-speaking will occur at the same rate as it does for native speakers of other languages. The critical mass of Spanish speakers has led business and government to accommodate them as it has never done in the past. This is solely due to the numbers and the political clout of Spanish speakers.

In today's Washington Post there is a feature about a Colorado Republican Congressman named Tom Tancredo who has made his political career center on his fight to limit or eliminate illegal immigration. Now there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Tancredo, whose district is only 6 percent Hispanic, knows a hot political issue when he sees one. But listen to Rahm Emanuel in this article. He is the Illinois Democrat who is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I'm all for more and more nuts in their party speaking up. I want more of those guys." You can almost see the sparkle of political avarice in his eyes.

Politicians of all stripes are presently trying to take advantage of the immigration issue. The only truth about the current debate is that all those taking "anti-illegal immigration" stances can stand to loose the Latino vote in their state or district and those taking the opposite stance believe they will be the beneficiaries of grateful Hispanic voters.

3. Stopping Illegal Immigration - I believe that none of the proposals before Congress will have any substantial impact on the rate of illegal immigration. The border cannot be blocked as long as the potential benefits of working in America vs staying in one's homeland are so great. We have seen the enemy and he is us, as Walt Kelly famously wrote. America is the best place to live and raise one's family. Most of the third world and former Soviet states are not. It's as simple as that. As long as that is the case, people will continue to behave in their own rational self-interest. Coming to America makes sense. A reasonable living can be earned and support for family back home can be sent. In some towns in Latin America U.S. earned dollars represent the majority of the income available.

What then to do? We will obviously not make living in America less desirable at its core. Yes, we may require extra cost and effort to sneak across the border or special "guest worker" status or periodic returns to country of origin or even jail time and fines if caught without the proper papers, but those are only inconveniences in the end. It is still, by far, a better deal to be in America than to remain home.

Like the drug trade, build the demand and they will come to fill it. It can not be stopped by walls or armies of border patrol agents.

4. The Answer - The only viable answer lies in making the economies of Central and South America, and the rest of the world for that matter, fully functional and productive. Only then will people not see the need to uproot themselves. This, of course, is the promise of Globalization. Surely it has not worked visible miracles yet, but there have been signs of improvement. Slowly, but surely, countries like India and China are emerging as major players in the world economy. There are still marked inequalities within countries such as those. The new economic growth has not yet reached massive numbers of people in the rural areas. But it is a start.

The debate we should be having would involve the best methods of developing and encouraging rapid economic growth, especially in Latin America. I am not an economist and I am unfamiliar with the various options and issues. My ignorance is in part due to the absolute lack of focus on these issues in the public debate and the continuing attachment to the more familiar and comfortable issues.

The first step is for voices to emerge that give no credence to any politician or pundit who persists in focusing on the border and legal issues. Those have a place, especially in regard to the security of our ports, airports and borders from incursion by those intent on conducting terrorism. But, the only debate that will have any real impact is about how to transform much of the world into a place where true economic success is possible for most of its citizens. Only if that can be achieved will the tide of immigration slow to a level where we can absorb it and where immigrants can continue to supply their unique contribution to the greatness that is America and make it the beacon of the world.

It's not politically sexy, and, God help us, it focuses on the technicalities of the Dismal Science, but it is the only way to work our way to sanity and justice on this issue.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Affair of the Gesture, Scalia vs. the Boston Herald

In Monday's Boston Herald a reporter named Laurel Sweet wrote that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made an "obscene gesture" in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross following an annual mass for politicians and lawyers. In the piece Sweet describes the allegedly obscene gesture as, "flicking his hand under his chin." She goes on to report that Scalia interpreted the gesture as meaning, "It'’s none of their business," which was his response to her question about whether he fends off much flak for publicly celebrating his Catholic faith.

I grew up in Yonkers, NY in a neighborhood with many Italians. I saw that gesture constantly and use it regularly myself. I always understood it to mean, "who cares."

In today's paper, Scalia himself responds with a very funny letter to the editor in which he explains:

I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said "“That'’s Sicilian,"” and explained its meaning - which was that I could not care less.
That this is in fact the import of the gesture was nicely explained and exemplified in a book that was very popular some years ago, Luigi Barzini'’s The Italians:
"“The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: '‘I couldn'’t care less. It'’s no business of mine. Count me out.'’
You would think that the truth seekers at the Herald would be chastened and apologize to Scalia and to Italians who use the gesture, which is in no way obscene. But no, the Herald is about attacking Scalia period. Along with his letter they print their response, the "last word" their privileged position allows them:

So it was hardly surprising that when a Herald reporter cornered him after Sunday'’s Red Mass and he made a quintessentially Sicilian gesture - also reported - that being a Supreme Court justice he might want to have the last word. So in a letter he explained the origins of the gesture and insisted it wasn'’t obscene.
Maybe so, but it'’s still not something you'’d do to your mother.
The Herald needs to hire some staff of Italian heritage to help the gesturally challenged Sweets and Chandlers (the Executive Editor) of the world to relate to their readers outside their apparently WASP infested newsroom, say for example the North End of Boston itself. This gesture is so un-obscene that I have seen it used countless times by my friends in front of their mothers and often by their mothers.

What a load of crap. Arrogance, thy name is journalism.

New Album From Paul Simon Due May 6

The music I listen to most of the time is broadcast and webcast from WFUV in New York. In recent days they have been playing many of Paul Simon's great songs, which made me wonder if, please God, there might be a new album forthcoming from Simon. His last studio album was released fully six years ago.

Sure enough, Simon's website announces that his new album, titled "Surprise" will be available on May 6. Follow the link for "News". The site reports that the new album:

´Surprise´ is the first album that Paul Simon has worked on in collaboration with legendary producer Brian Eno. The result is a captivating collection of songs captured in mesmerising style by Eno´s inventive production. ´Surprise´, his first album since 2000´s ´You're The One´, is reminiscent of classics from his back catalogue such as ´Paul Simon´, ´There Goes Rhyming Simon´ and ´Still Crazy After All These Years´.

Titles set to rank amongst highlights of the set include ´Outrageous´, ´How Can You Live In The Northeast´ and ´Sons And Daughters´.

For Simon fans, soon will the long winter of our discontent be made glorious Summer by this son of Queens.

Islamist Leaders Waiting Bush Out, Expect Better Deal Under Next President

According to Amir Taheri in today's Wall Street Journal, all across the Middle East they have been paying attention to the constant drum beat of anti-Bush rhetoric in America. They now believe that Bush is an aberration and that their old view of the unwillingness of Americans to stick it out anywhere in the world. Today's release of a foreign policy "strategy" will no doubt provide them further comfort.

As I read Taheri's report I suddenly felt, "My God, he's right."

Here are some key views held in the region:

To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of "the last helicopter." It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein's generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton's helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Taheri reports on states throughout the region from Iran to Morocco where moves toward increased democracy, made under pressure of the current U.S. administration, are being put on hold or reversed. Here is the depressing bottom line:

But how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"? It was to find answers that this writer spent several days in the U.S., especially Washington and New York, meeting ordinary Americans and senior leaders, including potential presidential candidates from both parties. While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.

The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today. (Emphasis added.)

I hope he's right, but I'm not sure that this perception is capable of overcoming Americans' deep seated desire for comfort and dislike of international stress. Much preferred is our traditional clinging to the hopes of isolationism, which we have only been shaken from when great leaders occupied the White House. Bush is surely not the great persuader. Whoever follows him will have had to pass through the swamp that is modern American politics, which will practically assure that they will be far better at pleasing as many people as possible than at inspiring us to take the hard road that the times require.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fukuyama Fuk Up

Francis Fukuyama is the new hero of the anti-war types. He is a certifiable neo-conservative who has now seen the light and what they take to be the massive error that is the Bush policy in Iraq. In a recent book titled, "America at the Crosswords", Fukuyama describes his opposition to the war and highlights his conversion at a presentation in 2004. Here is how Paul Berman describes the moment in Sunday's front page review in the NY Times Book Review:

In February 2004, Francis Fukuyama attended a neoconservative think-tank dinner in Washington and listened aghast as the featured speaker, the columnist Charles Krauthammer, attributed "a virtually unqualified success" to America's efforts in Iraq, and the audience enthusiastically applauded. Fukuyama was aghast partly for the obvious reason, but partly for another reason, too, which, as he explains in the opening pages of his new book, "America at the Crossroads," was entirely personal. In years gone by, Fukuyama would have felt cozily at home among those applauding neoconservatives. He and Krauthammer used to share many a political instinct. It was Krauthammer who wrote the ecstatic topmost blurb ("bold, lucid, scandalously brilliant") for the back jacket of Fukuyama's masterpiece from 1992, "The End of History and the Last Man."

But that was then.

The only problem is that, according to Charles Krauthammer's well documented piece in the Washington Post today, he never said anything remotely like calling the war in Iraq a "virtually unqualified success". Krauthammer even includes a link to the transcript of the speech at the site of the American Enterprise Institute, which had hosted the speech in question. He also notes that the speech was broadcast by C-Span which could, if necessary settle the matter by rebroadcasting the event.

What is really curious is why Fukuyama would dissemble about an event so easily verifiable and make it, as Krauthammer says, his Road to Damascus moment.

Online Jeopardy Contestant Quiz Bombs

I waited impatiently for the online 50-question test the folks at Jeopardy relentlessly flogged on the air and via the internet only to be disappointed. As suggested I pre-registered and signed on tonight at about ten minutes to eight, the prescribed time for those of us in the Eastern Time Zone.

The website opened a pop-up window with a countdown clock which played the famous Final Jeopardy theme for the last ten seconds. Then the window changed to a small TV screen with the words "Test Loading", a place to enter one's answers and buttons to "Skip Question" and "Submit Answer". And there its sat, endlessly. Initially I calculated that they had so many test takers logged in that it would take a while to feed the test to each computer, but after a half hour I finally realized that it would be counterproductive for Jeopardy to allow some to take the ten minute test at 8:03 and others to take the same test a half hour or even a full hour later. Information on the test and its answers would have flown all over the net by then.

I am curious to see if the problem only happened to a few of us or whether it was widespread. If it was the fault of the producers to provide sufficient bandwith and computer power to accommodate the volume, will they admit it publicly? Hopefully those of us on the blogosphere will publicize the non-event so that its full scope becomes apparent.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Further Anecdotal Evidence On Cultural Changes

Joy Jones writes a length in yesterday's Washington Post about the growing trend toward an absence of marriage among African Americans. As one of her students tells her, "Marriage is for white people." But as her piece points out, it is also declining for whites. Wasup?

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for pointing to this article.

Apparent Release Of Afghan Christian

One of the exchanges between Tim Russert and Condoleza Rice on yesterday's Meet the Press that I found particularly arresting was about the probable release of Abdur Rahman, who was under trial and a probable death penalty for conversion to Christianity. In a post on this topic the other day I was possibly overly dramatic about the stakes of this case. Rice reminded me, based on the example of our own, that democracies do not spring full formed from the void. Rather it takes many decades or longer to reach the state of democracy that now exists in North America and Western Europe. Further, democracy in each state is refined and defined by the culture in which it rises. So democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq will perforce be different from the brand we practice in the United States. It could not be otherwise.

Here is a key section of Rice's wisdom on this topic:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Afghanistan. There’s a story moving on the wires that the Afghan court has just dismissed the charges against this gentleman who had converted to Christianity. Are you aware that was going to happen?

SEC’Y RICE: I can’t confirm that particular report, Tim. I know that the Afghans are working on it. They’ve been very aware of the issue and of the concerns about the issue. This is a young democracy that is working with a Constitution that, like many constitutions when they’re first born, that the conflicts have to be worked out. We have our own history of conflicts that had to be worked out after a new Constitution. And so, the Afghans are working, working on it, but America has stood solidly for religious freedom as a bedrock, the bedrock of, of democracy. And we’ll see, but I can’t confirm that specifically.

MR. RUSSERT: Should American Christian missionaries be encouraged to go to Afghanistan?

SEC’Y RICE: Well, I think that Afghans are pleased to get the help that they can get. We need to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty.

MR. RUSSERT: Including Christian missionaries?

SEC’Y RICE: We have to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty. And, Tim, respectful of the fact that this is a country that is coming out of 25 years of civil war, a country that’s going to have to find its own way, and a country that is going through one of the most difficult debates that any society goes through, and that is the proper role of religion in the politics of the state. It’s a debate, by the way, that all of us went through at some point in our history.

MR. RUSSERT: But Madame Secretary, we talk all the time about spreading democracy, and your own State Department report on human rights abuses said Afghanistan says that Christianity is punishable by death, that missionaries, Christian missionaries, are not welcome, that women cannot get a passport or leave the country without permission of a man. This is a far cry from the responsibilities and rights given to most people who live in a democracy.

SEC’Y RICE: And it’s also a far cry from the Taliban. This is a country that has come an enormous way in four years, where, yes, the issues of the Constitution are going to be debated in this very traditional society that is trying now to move to a modern political system. I would just ask people to remember how hard this was for us.

Tim, I am, I hate to say, 51 years old, but it’s in my lifetime that black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote. Who are we to be so, so insistent that people must do this overnight? We’re working with the Afghan government. They’re moving in a democratic fashion. It’s going to be hard. But when something arises, as with Mr. Rahman, it is the obligation of the international community and of the United States—and there has been support across Europe for this—that the Afghans be reminded that in their own Constitution they have enshrined the universal declaration on human rights which guarantees certain religious freedoms. We didn’t have that Constitution with the Taliban to work with.

MR. RUSSERT: So Christians should be able to worship. People should be able to convert to Christianity in Afghanistan.

SEC’Y RICE: Of course, Tim. That our—the universal declaration of human rights is, is clear on this. But I would be the first to say that Afghans are going to have to work through some of the difficulties and contradictions.

MR. RUSSERT: But it can’t be done on a case-by-case basis. It has to be ensured.

SEC’Y RICE: They will have to work through court cases, as we have, to interpret the Constitution. They will have to work through individual cases, and I’m quite certain that the evolution of Afghan democracy is going in the right direction. But I would just remind people that four years ago the Taliban was executing people wantonly in stadiums for playing music. This is a country that has come a very, very long way, and women were not being educated at all. It was punishable to educate women. This is a place that has come a long, long way. Let’s support them in their quest to become a modern democracy.

Rice On Meet The Press

Secretary of State Rice was on all the morning talk shows yesterday. I caught her on Meet the Press. Under Tim Russert's usual close questioning I thought she did a brilliant job of stating her views. If you missed it, the video and transcript are available here.

Culture Has Consequences

Orlando Patterson, of Harvard, has a fascinating op ed piece in yesterday's NY Times in which he decries the reluctance of social scientists to look beyond the economic and historical factors that impact persistent poverty among African Americans. The field has, what Patterson calls, a "relentless preference" for focusing only on such factors as low incomes, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing in its attempts to explain the persistence of poverty among the "The disconnected fifth languishing in the ghettos," again in Patterson's words.

This is all standard explanatory fare. And, as usual, it fails to answer the important questions. Why are young black men doing so poorly in school that they lack basic literacy and math skills? These scholars must know that countless studies by educational experts, going all the way back to the landmark report by James Coleman of Johns Hopkins University in 1966, have found that poor schools, per se, do not explain why after 10 years of education a young man remains illiterate.

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children — several of them — which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

What's most interesting about the recent spate of studies is that analysts seem at last to be recognizing what has long been obvious to anyone who takes culture seriously: socioeconomic factors are of limited explanatory power. Thus it's doubly depressing that the conclusions they draw and the prescriptions they recommend remain mired in traditional socioeconomic thinking.

Patterson continues:

What has happened, I think, is that the economic boom years of the 90's and one of the most successful policy initiatives in memory — welfare reform — have made it impossible to ignore the effects of culture. The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

One oft-repeated excuse for the failure of black Americans to take these jobs — that they did not offer a living wage — turned out to be irrelevant. The sociologist Roger Waldinger of the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, has shown that in New York such jobs offered an opportunity to the chronically unemployed to join the market and to acquire basic work skills that they later transferred to better jobs, but that the takers were predominantly immigrants.

He eloquentlyequently to disprove the usual assumptions about theeconomicecomomic factors and to show that cultural factors do in fact impact group outcomes. In the end, Patterson posits one possible cultural explanation for the persistent poverty of black men:

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.
As Patterson says, this is based only on anecdotal evidence and requires rigorous scientific follow up.

Of course, such attitudes explain only a part of the problem. In academia, we need a new, multidisciplinary approach toward understanding what makes young black men behave so self-destructively. Collecting transcripts of their views and rationalizations is a useful first step, but won't help nearly as much as the recent rash of scholars with tape-recorders seem to think. Getting the facts straight is important, but for decades we have been overwhelmed with statistics on black youths, and running more statistical regressions is beginning to approach the point of diminishing returns to knowledge.

The tragedy unfolding in our inner cities is a time-slice of a deep historical process that runs far back through the cataracts and deluge of our racist past. Most black Americans have by now, miraculously, escaped its consequences. The disconnected fifth languishing in the ghettos is the remains. Too much is at stake for us to fail to understand the plight of these young men. For them, and for the rest of us.

This article is an important challenge to the social sciences and deserves a wide circulation and discussion.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Two Buzzer Beaters In NCAA Tournament

It doesn't get any better than this. First we have the decisive defeat of the top rated team in the country, Duke by LSU. Do the events of Katrina make them the emotional favorite of the tournament? Then the University of Texas beats West Virginia with a three point shot that drops in just after the clock has expired. Barely recovered from that excitement, CBS switches the venue to the UCLA- Gonzaga game, which Gonzaga has led all night. Unbelievably, UCLA pulls this one out with a three pointer with a little over one second on the clock and wins by two points, leaving Gonzaga's star player and leading scorer in the nation, Adam Morrison in tears in the middle of the court. This is the reason that March Madness has become one of the biggest events in sport.

More of the same on Friday night? Designated Cinderella teams George Mason and Wichita State could easily go down to the wire. In Villanova vs Boston College this match of two former rivals in the Big East Conference is practically guaranteed to be exciting. Finally, if Georgetown plays up to the peak of its ability, Florida could face a very tough game. The only probable laugher of tomorrow's schedule will be in UConn's likely win over Washington. But one never knows, do one?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Example Of American's Deep Belief In Freedom

As I said in the previous post, Americans hold a deep emotional and intellectual affection for freedom of religion. They hold an equally strong belief in freedom of speech. For anyone who requires further proof, I offer Christopher Hitchens piece in the Wall Street Journal attacking the arrest in Austria of one David Irving for the crime of having denied the holocaust.

This case is especially illustrative of the principle precisely because Mr. Irving's ideas, both written and spoken are so repulsive and plainly wrong. As Hitchens eloquently puts it:

...the provincial police of Styria were only doing their statutory job when they detained Mr. Irving under the terms of a very broadly drawn Austrian law that criminalizes even "gross understatement" (however that might be phrased) of the Nazi campaign against European Jewry. But it is somehow unfortunate that a small European country with a very bad record from the Nazi period should be jailing an eccentric Englishman at the precise moment when a small European country with a much better record is the object of an orchestrated campaign of lies, blackmail and violence. Those who jump for joy when the embassies of European democracies are immolated in the capital cities of squalid dictatorships have decided to announce their own game of moral equivalence. What of your precious free speech, they say, when the Holocaust is immune from criticism on your own soil? Austrian bureaucracy -- never at its best with this thorny question: how embarrassing that the prison library contained several Irving hardbacks -- could almost have set out to try and prove the Islamist demagogues' "point."
To be sure, Hitchens takes a very Hitchscentric view of the entire matter, but he has attacked Irving viciously in print in the past, which is the forum in which such debate belongs, not the legal system. He is in no way defending the man's views, simply his right to hold and express them, no matter how silly they are. That, dear friends, is the core of belief in freedom of speech.

Afghan Trial Of Christian Convert, The Entire Bush Policy Hangs In The Balance

In spite of considerable pressure from the Bush Administration, the trial judge in Kabul claims he will not bow to any pressure he receives in the case of Abdul Rahman, who has admittedly converted to Christianity from Islam. Apparently this is worthy of death under Islamic law and apparently under civil legislation still effectively in force in Afghanistan, even though the new constitution adopted since the American ousting of the Taliban guarantees freedom of religion.

The outcome of this case could not be more important to the future America's efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. If this man dies, thereby proving to most Americans that there is no true freedom in that part of the world, what little support for continued sacrifices by our troops that remains will dry up an wither away. To be sure, Americans will be especially concerned because the man is a Christian. But those in the middle east should be assured that we in America care more about freedom of religion, which is a unifying and deeply held core value of our nation. We will not accept less for democracies that we midwife into existence with the blood of our young people.

Leaders in Washington, Kabul and Baghdad must understand the importance of this case. The future of the region is on the line.

American Idol Dumps Little Kevin

Final post for the day on pop culture items. Despite an attempt by some websites to organize a perverse call-in campaign on behalf of young Kevin Corvais as a means of embarrassing the Idol producers, America apparently saw the light and voted him off. This website has, by the way, now turned their tender efforts on Kelly Pickler, who I also believe has overstayed her welcome.

The truth about success in pop music is that most recording stars have true musical talent, not just pleasant voices. Since the time of the Beatles, most have also written their own material and played their instrument(s) creditably. There are exceptions of course, Sinatra, Ella and Mariah Carey leap to mind, but they have been widely acknowledged by their peers as possessing real musicianship to accompany their vocal chops.

The problem with the American Idol machine is that it is a singing only contest. If contestants play and instrument or write original material, they are not permitted to display those talents on performance night. This year the grey haired contestant, Taylor Hicks, was shown during the tryouts playing a mean blues harmonica. Regardless of their ability to play instruments, it seems clear to my music lover's ears that Hicks, as well as Katherine McPhee, Paris Bennett, Elliot Yamin, Mandisa and Chris Daughtry are all musicians with a future.

Who would I like to see win, Katherine, but I could live with any of them. Who will win? Looks play in important part in TV contests like this, so Katherine, Paris or Mr. Hunk, Ace Young seem the likeliest. But lets remember that this audience chose the super sized Ruben Studdard and the less than beautiful Fantasia and Kelly Clarkson in the past. In the end I think that America will go with the performer who consistently moves them. Whichever singer produces the most goose bumps will win.

Sully On Beards

Andrew Sullivan is perseverating today about the reemergence of beards on men. He claims that they are the latest trend in the gay community and that straight men are dutifully letting their facial hair grow far and wide in order to be hip.

For the record I have worn a beard for so long that my soon-to-be 34 year old son has never seen me without one. I know Andrew has worn a beard for many years and it is natural for him to assume that the gay community sets most fashion trends. I would propose that the main source of trendy fashion over many decades has been the black community. From zoot suits to baggy pants, gold chains and shaved heads, African Americans have been the most influential on men's style. Significant numbers of Black men have always worn beards.

As for me, no one who knows me would ever accuse me of being a fashionista. I just prefer to not have to scrape my entire face daily. Beards are easier to maintain and I've had no complaints from the wife.

Chef Returns A Changed Man

Chef returned to South Park last night and the phrase "Hello children" took on a whole new meaning. Having been brainwashed by a "fruity little club" called the Super Adventurers Club, he morphed into a pederast. All the club's members were overly fond of children.

While I can't imagine which group Matt and Trey were attacking they did have neat little machines used to coerce recalcitrant members and the worst threat they could make was to throw such members out of the club. Oh the horror!

The bottom line is that much of the script was very respectful of Chef, read Isaac Hayes, believing him to be a victim of the cult he joined. It was not, however respectful at all of any hopes by the "Church" of Scientology to suppress their satirical attacks on that entity. They even provided for future press releases by Hayes himself in support of Scientology by showing him rescued from certain death by the Club and placed in a kind of robotic Darth Vader suit so he could be kept alive for their uses.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer the IRS published a proposed regulation change back in December that would permit accountants and other tax preparers (read H&R Block) to sell taxpayer data. The regulation would require the specific written consent of the taxpayer, but as is pointed out in the piece, most people simply sign whatever the preparer puts in front of them and often at the last minute. Have you filed your taxes yet?

And what about returns filed electronically via the medium of Turbo Tax or other tax prep software? Does the software company have the right to sell your information if you affirmatively give permission? Will the permission box be checked yes as the default? Will they be permitted to sell specific identifying information like names, addresses or phone numbers so that sales pitches and mailings can be tailored to specific income groups or people with certain types of income? Will purchased data migrate to the already uncomfortably personal credit bureaus?

Many questions, but no answers...yet.

A Reasoned Assessment On Iraq's Future From Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria has another in a long series of well reasoned, thoughtful pieces on his Newsweek site. This one, entitled, "Appalling - But Not Hopeless" is particularly sound. It expresses the frustrations and hopes of those of us who supported the invasion but have been dismayed by the administration's conduct of the post-invasion process.

What To Do Now In Iraq, Suggestions From The Left

Jeff Jarvis has posted a number of responses to his challenge in the Guardian's Comment Is Free site that leftists opposed to the war have an obligation to deal with the reality of our presence in Iraq and the irresponsibility of simply bugging out. Affirmative policy options are demanded. He has had several interesting responses.

Perhaps some of the professional politicians will now find the courage to step out on this limb, which they have so far avoided.

Google Homepage Now Including Ads Disguised As News Stories

I use Google Homepage as my browser's homepage. It includes, at the users discretion, various news and info sources such as the NY Times, Washington Post, USA Today, etc. What is posted on the homepage is a heading, which is a link to the homepage of each source and a selection of lead stories from each which function as direct links to those stories.

On today's page, for the first time, the following link appears under the list of stories allegedly from the NY Times, "Accounts Payable Clerk, Mentor -4, Inc, - Tacoma, Washington". A curious lede for an story in the Times, no? The link is in fact a help wanted ad at a site called Thingamajob.com.

The question for Google is who was paid to place this ad, Google, the NY Times, or both? More importantly, what makes anyone thing that raw deception is a good or productive tactic for advertising on the web? If any thing, it is surely dishonest and annoying.

Friedman Sees New Hope For Alternative Fuel Coalition

Behind the Great Wall that is TimeSelect, Tom Friedman today has an interesting piece. He sights a March 13 speech by Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which the Senator urges an all out push to end our dependency on fossil fuels and proposes specific legislation to get us there.

A PDF version of the speech by Lugar can be found here. Additional information is available at the Brookings Institute's website.

What Friedman finds interesting is what may be a growing confluence of forces, from across the political spectrum, with a shared goal of freeing America, and the environment, from what Lugar calls this albatross of dependency on oil.

Can you imagine the political momentum on this issue that would emerge if old time conservative Republicans like Lugar, centrist Democrats like Lieberman, and evangelicals like Gary Bauer join together with environmentalists, anti-Big Oil activists and the Hollywood Prius driving crowd? Something good for America and for the America's fractious political landscape might just happen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Charlie Sheen: 9/11 Was Government Plot

Well, I hope the publication, by what appears to be a total nut job website, of the wisdom of Charlie Sheen on 9/11. Apparently Mr. Sheen, according to the website, PrisonPlanet.com, "...has joined a growing army of other highly credible public figures in questioning the official story of 9/11 and calling for a new independent investigation of the attack and the circumstances surrounding it."

Yes, Charlie is one of the first people who come to mind whenever I'm looking for credible political analysis. He certainly is the most famous of the bright lights PrisonPlanet claims also believe that the government itself probably brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. The others are: Ray McGovern, Paul Craig Roberts, Steven Jones, Andreas von Buelow (any relation to Klaus and Sunny?), David Shayler, Michael Meacher and the ever popular Morgan Reynolds.

What, you've never heard of any of these people? Not to fear, PrisonPlanet provides brief descriptions of their cv's.

You really have to read this piece to believe it. A sample of Sheen's analysis:

"It seems to me like 19 amateurs with box cutters taking over four commercial airliners and hitting 75% of their targets, that feels like a conspiracy theory. It raises a lot of questions."

Sheen described the climate of acceptance for serious discussion about 9/11 as being far more fertile than it was a couple of years ago.

"It feels like from the people I talk to in and around my circles, it seems like the worm is turning."

Good God!

Anti-War Protests Fizzle In Face Of Low War Support

Ann Althouse has, I think, hit the nail right on the head when she discusses the apparent disconnect between the almost non-existent anti-war protests this past weekend and the very low polling support for the President's conduct of the war.

Key quote:
When people acknowledge that they disapprove of the President's handling of the war, what does that mean? You might answer that way to say you're unhappy that we haven't yet won decisively. If you think Bush ought to be handling things better, moving us along toward victory along a clearer, more well-defined path, do you feel motivated to go out on the street and protest? What would you chant? I know you're in the middle of a difficult task, but would you please try to figure out a more effective way to complete it?

NCAA On Demand Coverage Via CBS

One note I neglected to post about this past weekend's college basketball experience relates to CBS's marvelous streaming web broadcast of all the games. They call it March Madness On Demand. They streamed the live games being played simultaneously around the country and the viewer could, after registering, view any game he or she chose, not just the one being shown over your local CBS outlet.

It had some problems at startup on Thursday, but sailed along nicely after that. The image was small, about 3 - 4 inches wide, but remarkably clear. There is a wait in an electronic queue before being granted access, but it never lasted more than one minute. True junkie like me could keep one eye on their TV sets and one on their computer screen. Far superior to a simple report of the ongoing scores only. Check it out for yourself Thursday evening.

Where Does Bush Fit As A Wartime President?

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting post from an anonymous reader that compares Bush's conduct, or more particularly misconduct, of the war in Iraq with the wartime performances of two sainted presidents, Lincoln and FDR. In this reader's analysis Bush looks as good, or as bad as his two great predecessors via an accounting of the mistakes made by each in wartime.

The difference for Bush is that we now live in a press environment that brooks no limit on its right to report on and criticize the President's conduct of the war. We are now also a society which wants immediate gratification and has no patience for the long slog through the muck and fog of war. We want results and we want them now.

Another condition of our society that will probably condemn Bush to the ash heap of history is that the academics who will write the history of our time have almost unanimously opposed Bush and the war. There is no way they will acknowledge that they might have been wrong.

Of course, the great unknown is the outcome of the war. If Iraq evolves into a functional democratic society with positive reverberations among its neighbors, then the reader's analysis applies. Unfortunately such success cannot be assumed at present. If a government of national unity is not formed quickly, within the next month or two at the outside, the country may indeed fall into the disarray that the insurgents and many anti-Bush types seem to hope for.

Maybe Isaac Hayes Didn't Quit South Park - Did Someone "Quit" For Him?

Roger Friedman has an interesting article on the Fox News website in which he asserts that Isaac Hayes:
1. Has more of a sense of humor than to be terminally offended when Scientology was criticized on South Park,
2. Suffered a stroke on January 17, from which he is still recovering from at home.

Who then transmitted a resignation to the folks at South Park? Who else had a reason to do so but the "Church" of Scientology, which has a history of "managing" the lives of its members so that no negative reflections on the "Church" appear in public?

Meanwhile, while awaiting further developments as to the truth of this situation, let's all be sure to watch South Park's return to the air with new episodes tomorrow, Wednesday, March 22. The first episode is being advertised as, "The Return of Chef (1001) One of South Park's most beloved characters makes a triumphant return to the show."

Further info from Reuters promises that Matt and Trey are going to take full advantage of the situation to further eviscerate the tender sensibilities of the Scientologists:

...a network synopsis said the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, is "jolted out of a case of the doldrums when Chef suddenly reappears," leading to new antics by the group of foul-mouthed fourth graders who are the show's stars.

"While Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are thrilled to have their old friend back, they notice that something about Chef seems different. When Chef's strange behavior starts getting him in trouble, the boys pull out all the stops to save him."

Thanks to Capt. Ed for alerting us to this latest revoltin' development for L. Ron's minions.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coming Up For Air From The Tournament

Well, my Final Four picks are still alive after the first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. None of them, however, looked dominant. This is a result of the broad equality at the Division I level and of the vagaries of its one-loss-and-you're-out format.

It wil be good to have a break for a time in the real world until the next round resumes next Thursday.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Will The Democrats Blow Their Best Chance To Take Control Of Congress In Decades?

The media are full of comparisons between 2006 and the 1994 assault by the Republicans on the House and Senate via their "Contract With America". In that year the GOP gained 52 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate, giving them control of both houses.

In another excellent piece in the Times' Magazine, James Traub looks at the similarities and the differences. The main difference is, I think the inability of the Democrats so far to clearly state those beliefs and policies they would commit to bring to fruition. They seem caught between their gut feelings, supported passionately by their core constituencies, and their sense of political realism, which tells them that a promise to pull out of Iraq, assure the right of abortion on demand, raise taxes (only on the rich of course) and protect the civil rights of terrorists will assure they will lose.

All they have going for them is that they are the anti-Bush party. It seems unlikely that massive change can come from that position, unless Bush is stupid enough to continue trying to sell a failing policy in Iraq with the same team and fails to create any serious motion towards energy independence or other important domestic issues.

Data Mining and Network Theory

As most of those who are paying attention to the debate over what the MSM gives the short hand appellation of "domestic spying" is actually the use of large scale computing power to try to find patterns in the vast pile of data that is available from the telephone systems, internet and other sources. Data mining is the generic term that has emerged for this effort.

In last Sunday's NY Times Magazine, Patrick Radden Keefe provides the background of this effort in the academic arena. Key quote:

In its simplest form, network theory is about connecting the dots. Stanley Milgram's finding that any two Americans are connected by a mere six intermediaries -— or "degrees of separation" -— is one of the animating ideas behind the science of networks; the Notre Dame physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi studied one obvious network -— the Internet -— and found that any two unrelated Web pages are separated by only 19 links. After Sept. 11, Valdis Krebs, a Cleveland consultant who produces social network "maps" for corporate and nonprofit clients, decided to map the hijackers. He started with two of the plotters, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and, using press accounts, produced a chart of the interconnections -— shared addresses, telephone numbers, even frequent-flier numbers -— within the group. All of the 19 hijackers were tied to one another by just a few links, and a disproportionate number of links converged on the leader, Mohamed Atta. Shortly after posting his map online, Krebs was invited to Washington to brief intelligence contractors.

Keefe presents a balanced analysis of the possibilities and limits of this technique:

The use of such network-based analysis may explain the administration's decision, shortly after 9/11, to circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court grants warrants on a case-by-case basis, authorizing comprehensive surveillance of specific individuals. The N.S.A. program, which enjoys backdoor access to America's major communications switches, appears to do just the opposite: the surveillance is typically much less intrusive than what a FISA warrant would permit, but it involves vast numbers of people.

In some ways, this is much less alarming than old-fashioned wiretapping. A computer that monitors the metadata of your phone calls and e-mail to see if you talk to terrorists will learn less about you than a government agent listening in to the words you speak. The problem is that most of us are connected by two degrees of separation to thousands of people, and by three degrees to hundreds of thousands. This explains reports that the overwhelming number of leads generated by the N.S.A. program have been false positives -— innocent civilians implicated in an ever-expanding associational web.

This has troubling implications for civil liberties. But it also points to a practical obstacle for using link analysis to discover terror networks: information overload. The National Counterterrorism Center's database of suspected terrorists contains 325,000 names; the Congressional Research Service recently found that the N.S.A. is at risk of being drowned in information. Able Danger analysts produced link charts identifying suspected Qaeda figures, but some charts were 20 feet long and covered in small print. If Atta's name was on one of those network maps, it could just as easily illustrate their ineffectiveness as it could their value, because nobody pursued him at the time.

It seems obvious that this technique, especially as it is refined based on experience, has the potential to produce information that could interrupt an al Qaeda network or plot. I'm not sure that I can afford to be absolutist about my civil rights being violated if calls or internet searches of mine go into the pile of data being mined. As a non-terrorist I do not expect to attract more than cursory government attention.

The crucial issue is to assure that no entity of government decides to use these potentially powerful tactics to look into even the most extreme political activity or beliefs, as long as no violent actions are planned. The courts should play an oversight role that requires government proofs of the dangers at play that justify particular search patterns, not individual warrants, which are impossible and largely irrelevant in data mining.

Hopefully, after all the political shouting has died down, a reasonable consensus can emerge in the Congress that would amend the FISA law to this effect.

Oh, I forgot we are already deep into the 2006 election season...never mind.

March Madness Has Begun!

Blogging will be light for the next few days. I'll be spending most of my spare time glued to the tube from 12:00 noon on. Already the tournament has lived up to its reputation for exciting basketball, with Boston College surviving a great effort by Pacific to win in double overtime.

For the record, my final four are: Texas, Memphis, UConn and Florida, with UConn surviving a final game against Memphis.

Let the Games begin.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Report Saddam Not Worried About U.S. Ground Invasion

There was an interesting piece in Sunday's NY Times, part of a series by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, that paints a picture of a pre-war Saddam more worried about a Shia uprising than a ground invasion by American troops. Units of the Iraq Army were left disconnected and underprepared to fight the Americans lest they become effective arms of a Shiite rising, similar to the one that occurred following the 1991 Gulf War. Hussein was apparently convinced by the reluctance of the senior Pres. Bush and his advisors to go into Baghdad, believing that no American President would dare try it.

Of special interest is their assertion that:

The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense.

It appears clear that, with the possible exception of Saddam and his two sons, everyone in the world, both inside and outside Iraq believed there were caches of WMD in Iraq. Not that this will in any way sway the "Bush Lied" crowd. But it should.

In Case We've Forgotten What We Are Trying To Prevent...

Douglas Farah over at the Counterterrorism Blog has a post speculating about the possibility of large strike in America by al Qaeda. Several sources are indicating that the high level of chatter, Bin Laden and Zawahiri's recent tapes and an entry on a website with a history of posting al Q messages in the past may herald an attempt to pull of one or two large scale attacks in the U.S.

I hope that they are wrong, or that we have intercepted their communications, with or without FISA court approval.

Only Daily Kos Doesn't Seem To Get It

Meanwhile over in the peanut gallery, the kids at Daily Kos are continuing this evening to try and rally the troops at the barricades. Righteous certainty is so unbecoming. How long will it be before they are able to see the grays in their black and white world.

Feingold's Censure Motion Dead As A Door Nail

Sen. Russ Feingold's motion to censure Bush for tracking U.S. - overseas phone conversations without prior approval from the FISA court was DOA at the Senate. The grownups in the Democratic Party fully understand that their party's interests are not served by objecting to surveillance of potential terrorist contacts.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sopranos Continued, The Music

One of the great features of the Sopranos has always the unique, yet perfectly appropriate music used in each episode. In last night's opening episode of Season 6, the music may have also been used to signal character and plot development to come. The show opened with a series of disconnected scenes: Meadow dancing for Finn, AJ taking a photo of himself in class, Carmella talking to the spirit of the late Adriana and others I can't remember. The music track is a track called Seven Souls from the album of the same name by a group called Material. The track features the voice of William Burroughs reading an excerpt from his book The Western Lands. Here's a review in the NY Times' archive. I'll leave it to others to search for Sopranos-related meaning from the conjunction of images and words in this show opening, but here are the spoken words:


The ancient Egyptians postulated seven souls, Top soul, and the first to leave at the moment of death, is Ren, the Secret Name. This corresponds to my Director, He directs the film of your life from conception to death. The Secret Name is the title of your film. When you die, that's where Ren came in.

Second soul, and second one off the sinking ship, is Sekem: Energy, Power, Light The Director gives the orders, Sekem presses the right buttons.

Number three is Khu, the Guardian Angel. He, she, or it is third man out . . . depicted as flying away across a full moon, a bird with luminous wings and head of light. Sort of thing you might see on a screen in an Indian restaurant in Panama. The Khu is responsible for the subject and can be injured in his defense- but not permanently, since the first three souls are eternal. They go beck to Heaven for another vessel.

The four remaining souls must take their chances with the subject in the Land of the Dead. Number four is Ba, the heart, often treacherous. This is a hawk's body with your face on it, shrunk down to the size of a fist. Many a hero has been brought down, like Samson, by a perfidious Ba.

Number five is Ka, the Double, most closely associated with the subject. The Ka, which usually reaches adolescence at the time of bodily death, is the only reliable guide through the Land of the Dead to the western Lands.

Number six is Khaibit, the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives.

Number seven is Sekhu, the Remains.

The track that closed the show was The Artie Shaw band, featuring Helen Forrest singing Comes Love.

Southpark: Good Riddance To Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes, who has played the part of Chef on the Southpark show has quit after the show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, had the temerity to satirize Scientology. To their credit, Matt and Trey were quick to point out that Hayes, who now claims no religion should be the subject of satire, participated in any number of satirical attacks on Christianity. He was willing to be a "bigot" until his ox got gored.

If any "religion" deserves a good dose of satire, it is L. Ron Hubbard's con that seems to take in every uneducated show business idiot. Even a cursory reader of Hubbard's core book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, would see that the man took the work of the great psychologists of the 19th century, Freud, Adler, Jung, etc, renamed and amalgamated their key concepts into a new-sounding package. Scientology's adherents get cut rate psychoanalysis, for which they feel better, improved and grateful and remain ignorant of the development and practice of psychotherapy over the last century. Except of course, for the evils of psychopharmacology (witness Tom Cruise's tirade at Matt Laurer last year).

It is the only "religion" I know of that has no reference to any concept of a higher being or central prophet or any explanation for the workings of the universe and the afterlife. Adherents get all the benefit of feeling enlightened and connected to a community, with none of the boring crap about ceremonies or traditions handed down through some collection of wise persons. Most importantly for the Hollywood types, it is, in the end, all about being the best possible them as they always suspected.

For the sake of full disclosure, I have never had any connection to Scientology, nor has any member of my family, nor any friend or acquaintance. I did read Hubbard's book as an undergraduate psychology student in the mid 60's. I just call 'em like I see 'em.

CBS News Hasn't Changed Its Ways

As much as I like Bob Scheiffer, the editors and reporters of CBS News sing the same old cynical anti-government song. On tonight's show the lead story of Bush's first speech in a new series to try to pump up support for the war in Iraq was declared DOA. Barely one sentence on Bush's speech with a immediate declaration that it would fail in the face of a poll taken last week, before today's speech. Also intoned were today's death count in Iraq and the assertion of massively growing pessimism on the part of the American people. In other words, no reporting, all pontificating.

The Sopranos Are Back, With A Bang

After many month's of patient waiting, Sopranos fans, of which I am one, were rewarded last night by the welcome sound of the show's theme over the familiar images of the drive from the exit of the Lincoln Tunnel on the Jersey side to chez Soprano in the tonier precincts of the state. It felt like coming home.

Over a year and a half have passed and we are immediately assured that life has gone on in Soprano-land while we were away. Janice and Bobbie have a daughter. AJ is now "joe college". Meadow and Finn's relationship continues and she is about to begin an internship arranged by Tony's lawyer. Artie and Charmane are reconciled. Carmela's spec house is under construction, not without difficulties, and Uncle Junior has sunk further into dementia. It was like a visit to distant family members one hasn't seen in a while.

And they're off and running. Mystical Egyptian musings about the seven souls that migrate from a person at death accompany a montage of remembered characters in their current incarnations. I won't detail the plot that emerges, except to say that no good deed or legally earned money goes unpunished.

As for the future, the newly svelte Vito has delusions of future grandeur and it cannot be a good omen for Finn that his accidental discovery of Vito's homosexuality last year was included in the "Previously on the Sopranos" segment before the start of last night's show. I can't wait to see what happens.

World War II Monument In Washington A Disappointment

During our trip to Washington I was able to get over to the Mall to see the World War II Memorial that went up since my last tourist venture to The District. It is such a disappointment.

Most of Washington's great monuments are moving tributes to their subjects. Anyone who has stood beneath the statues of Jefferson or Lincoln and read the words carved in their temples has certainly felt the majesty of those places. As for the war memorials, on my first visit to the Vietnam Memorial I was moved to tears by its power and simplicity and by the sacrifice of the thousands represented by the carved names. It is the work of a great artist, Maya Lin. The Korean War Memorial has the power to make those men's sacrifices real in the individual faces of the soldiers sculpted by artist Frank Gaylord.

The World War II Memorial site is enormous compared to the other 20th Century war memorials. It is essentially a grand granite plaza surrounded by stone columns represented all the states and territories whose soldiers died during the war. All are noted as are all the battles or campaigns of the war in both the Atlantic and Pacific segments of the war. It appears that unit, no branch of service, no interest group was left out. A wall of 4,000 simple brass stars represents a hundred deaths for each star. There is, in short, nothing human about the place. One can imagine the endless meetings of the veterans involved, each unit demanding that its sacrifice be noted. No artist designed this memorial. It is a classic work of a committee. What a shame. The 400,000 who died deserved better.

A Lovely New Granddaughter

Over the weekend my wife and I went to the Washington D.C. area to meet our new, beautiful granddaughter, Abigail Brooke. Here she is along with a picture from the weekend of her equally charming older sister, Emma. They make for joy in the face of advancing age.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Three Alabama Church Arsonists Arrested

Three morons masquerading as college students were arrested for setting nine churches ablaze in rural Alabama. Two have apparently confessed and the third was arrested after police traced tire tracks found at several of the crime scenes to his mother's truck.

Why did they do it? Apparently just for kicks, and then in another county to try to throw police off their trail.

The Times reports that these idiots came from "upper middle class homes." Proof once again that nature trumps nurture. The appropriate punishment for these three would be lifetime incarceration without possibility of parole. Something has to be done to assure they can't continue poisoning the gene pool.

24 Hours Later, Still Blocked By Blogger

My blog is still blocked due to Blogger's anti-spam algorithms. It is now more that 24 hours since I sent in my request for human review. Blogger promises that a review will take place in less than one "business day". Let's see if I am liberated before close of business today. Saving posts as drafts for future posting is my only current alternative.

Update: At 4:48 this afternoon my blog was verified as non-spam and was "white listed" (their term). As promised, it was accomplished by the end of the next business day. Now all that remains is to publish the posts I had to leave in draft status.

Great Band, Umphrey's McGee

Umphrey's McGee is a great band about to really hit it big when their new album, Safety In Numbers debuts on April 4. The photo is an image of the album cover, designed by the same guy who has done albums for Pink Floyd, Led Zep, etc.

Check out further details, audio and videos at the album's website.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Coffee Causing Heart Attacks?

Just in case you aren't made nervous enough about the world situation, now scientists have provided yet another in a seemingly endless series of foods or behaviors we might need to worry about.

Today it is coffee. They claim that for those with certain patterns in their gene structure, 3 or more cups of coffee per day could be dangerous. Unless you've had your genome studied and registered, how the hell is one to know if one is in danger, assuming of course that the research is valid and is not overturned a few years from now.

It's increasingly hard to live a calm, serene life if you are paying attention.

Hitchens Proposes Alternative Approach To Iran

Up to this point the governments of the U.S. and Europe have been threatening Iran with sanctions and with implications of the use of force. In Slate, America and Britain's favorite contrarian, Christopher Hitchens, proposes a totally different approach. Despairing of the efficacy of sanctions and air strikes, Hitch proposes a "Nixon to China" scenario, which, if accepted, could lead to the gradual opening of that society and engagement with the West. Key quote:

The aging mullahs might claim this as a capitulation, which would be hard to bear. But how right would they be? The pressure for a new constitution and genuine elections is already building. Within less than a decade, we might be negotiating with a whole new generation of Iranians. Iran would have less incentive to disrupt progress in Iraq (and we should not forget that it has been generally not unhelpful in Afghanistan). Eventually, Iran might have a domestic nuclear program (to which it is fully entitled and which would decrease its oil-dependency) and be ready to sign a nonproliferation agreement with enforceable and verifiable provisions. American technical help would be available for this, since it was we who (in a wonderful moment of Kissingerian "realism") helped them build the Bushehr reactor in the first place.

Just a thought.

Certainly a thought worth thinking about and debating. And quickly.

The Threat From Iran

The government of the Mullahs in Tehran is becoming more and more worrisome. It could be that they are just rattling sabers or "selling wolf tickets" as the phrase went "back in the day". In either case, stakes are very high for all involved.

Today, we have them threatening, "harm and pain" to the United States and we have their President Amadinejad asserting that, "Surely, we are not naive about the United States'...intention to flex muscles, but we also see the bone fractures underneath." The gist of the article is that they could withhold their oil and, even though the U.S. buys no oil from them at present, drive up the worldwide price enough to cause economic pain in America.

Here is another option we should be worrying about. Memri has a report about Iran's organizing of a 53,000 member martyr squadron. Presumably these suicide bombers would infiltrate Iraq, the easiest and most convenient site where American citizens and interests can be caused harm and pain.

Big East Basketball Tournament

The Big East Tournament started today. As the Times says, it is clearly the strongest conference overall in the college game this year.

The odds makers would have the final as Connecticut vs Villanova. My gut is that Georgetown, who beat Notre Dame earlier today, could be a spoiler this year in the Conference championship, if not in the Big Dance itself. I will be fun to watch.

What's Up With Blogger?

Blogger was off line this morning for some reason at the time I was trying to do my blog. This afternoon (Wed., 3/8) I am advised when I sign on that their Spam-prevention software has identified my blog as spam and I must re-type a word and send them a request for evaluation by a human. Has there been a widespread issue, or is it just something I wrote yesterday?

In the mean time, all I can do is save posts as drafts and publish them when I am removed from the suspects list.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bluetooth Is Everywhere

Have you recently had the feeling that you have suddenly been dropped in the middle of a world of psychotics, all walking around talking to themselves? Don't fret, it is just that it seems everyone is adopting the bluetooth option for their cell phones. CNET has a story highlighting the headsets they think are the best, in case you are thinking of joining the country of madmen.

Everyone Was Wrong About The Impact On Abortions Of Parental Notification

According to a study by the NY Times, the measurable impact of the laws in several states that require parental notification before teens can have abortions has been non-existent, or in some places produced an anomalous increase in abortions. What this signifies is that the arguments of both sides of the abortion fight have been wrong.

Opponents of parental notification have argued that it would prevent teens from getting necessary abortions and expose some to violent reactions by parents to their pregnancy. It now appears that they fundamentally misunderstood the family dynamic at play. It seems most kids tell their parents anyway, or parents guess they are pregnant. In any case, when parents know they are more likely to encourage abortion than not.

Conversely, the proponents of these notification laws hoped that parents, once notified, would provide the support to their daughters necessary to see the pregnancy to term. They failed to see that, unlike themselves, most Americans are accepting of abortions if they can see the benefit to the young woman involved. When it is their own daughter, the benefit is obvious and much desired.

What this evidence confirms for me is my ongoing belief that if Roe were to be overturned and we were forced to have the full political and moral discussion difficult ethical issues deserve in a democracy, reason and moderation would emerge. Abortions in the earlier stages of pregnancy would be available in most states and abortion advocacy groups could devote their funding and efforts to building support networks and travel assistance for women in states that continued to ban abortion. But would many states ban all abortions? It is easy for South Dakota to pass such legislation in an environment in which they and the citizens of their state know the final decision is up to the Supreme Court. It is not real. How would they react in a world in which they began to hear from constituents who were the parents of young women who were in need of abortions or might be in need? I think the outcome could be quite different.

Blogging The Oscars - Pimp Nation?

For me, the most egregious moment in last night's Oscar award show was the awarding of It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp the Oscar for Best Original Song. Granted none of the three nominated songs will be remembered next week, not to mention next year, and it may be time to recognize the rap genre, but for Hollywood to glamorize pimps is plain wrong.

Do any of the voters know how pimps maintain their incomes and lifestyles? Are they aware of the often brutal manipulation of the women who are, in this very song, referred disdainfully as "ho's" and "bitches"? Has no one in Hollywood met a prostitute or ex-prostitute? Have none of them seen any of the plentiful HBO documentaries about the prostitutes of Hunts Point, Atlantic City, etc.

Pimps are despicable human beings and they deserve nothing but the disdain of their fellow citizens, not the glamorized approbation of the film and music industries. This award sadly perpetuates the continuing marketing of an image of African American culture that misrepresents it as one of thugs, hos, pimps and men who disdain relationships with women and the children they may father. Why must Hollywood be complicit in this further degradation of black Americans? Where are the movies and songs about black men and women who do the non-glamorous work of firemen, carpenters, salespeople, social workers, managers, teachers and who take care of the financial and emotional needs of their families. They are African America in 2006. Their achievement in the face of some still-present discrimination is to be admired.

I suspect this ongoing crime is allowed to continue because, sadly, the decision makers in show business, like many Americans, live largely segregated lives. They only know what sells to the white kids, in their also segregated enclaves, who make up the bulk of the market for music and film. In the film Hustle and Flow, the song in question is created by a pimp with a heart of gold, wonderfully portrayed by Terrence Howard in a performance well deserving of the nomination it received. His character, DJay, does not hurt his women, he charms them. He is barely surviving economically and, as portrayed, is really a decent intelligent person.

But in the end, it is hard out here for this particular pimp, as the song says, because,"bitches be jumping ship," escaping the life he requires them to lead. Not because he has to get up every day and face the boredom of the workaday world. So he dreams, as everyone must, of succeeding as a rap artist. As if rap artist and athlete were the only dreams worth nurturing in African American young people. Dreams of obtaining a college degree, a decent job, a car, a home, these are apparently not sexy enough for the marketers of today's music and movies to waste their time with.

That is as may be, but it is certainly not something to be celebrated or admired.

Blogging The Oscars - The Politics

Considerable press has been given to the political nature of this year's crop of films, especially among the nominees for Best Picture. True to its fascination with itself, Hollywood spent some time last night congratulating itself for its progressive instincts. Documentaries were even touted twice as films that told "The Truth". George Clooney, in his acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actor award went so far as to list the social causes Hollywood has championed in its films over the years.

In truth, Hollywood has been an important source of validating the final stages of changes in the American culture, many of which, like the elimination of discrimination, were good things. However, it is important to note that bravery has not been Hollywood's strong suit. Most of the films that tackled the so called controversial issues have come well after the culture as a whole had already reached a tipping point on the issue. A review of the film represented in the Chuck Workman montage of political films shown during the awards show would reveal that most were produced well after the crucial turning point had been reached.

Let's take this years Best Picture nominees for example. Brokeback Mountain presents a detailed picture of a gay relationship that is set in the 50's and 60's, a time, now well past, in which openly gay relationships were impossible. Every American, either in their family or their workplace knows openly gay people, many of whom are in acknowledged relationships. The closet was thrown open and blown apart following the Stonewall riots in 1969, 37 years ago. The only outstanding issue in America today is whether gay relationships should be accredited full marriage rights or only the status of civil unions. Aside from the religious right, acceptance of gays is a settled issue. No political bravery required.

In Capote, a film also set in the 60's, Truman Capote's obviously fey behavior is only part of the cultural clash between his urbane ways and his misperception of the Kansans he meets as hicks. This is not a political film. It is a brilliant portrait of one of the major fiction writers of the 20th century and his manipulation of all around him in pursuit of his "art".

Good Night and Good Luck tackles, on its face, the horrors of McCartyism. Joe McCarthy has been dead for 49 years, almost half a century. The fear he engendered and the harm he did, directly and indirectly, to people's lives has long since been consigned to the ash heap of history.

Yes, I know, we are supposed to take Ed Murrow and company's heroic confrontation with the Senator as an object lesson for today's press in its supposed failures to confront the Bush Administration in the lead up to the Iraq invasion or the rest of the multitudes of its sins. Does anyone who has seen a recent White House press briefing, especially during the feeding frenzy following the Cheney shooting, really believe the press is fearful of lost careers or other sanctions? It strains credibility and bespeaks a Hollywood culture which is so uniform politically that really vibrant discussion is nonexistent. Who in Hollywood, after all, is going to seriously challenge George Clooney when he pontificates. Thus he is left holding irrational beliefs about the horrors of America from the comfort of his villa in Italy.

In Munich, we have Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner positing that if the Israelis had not retaliated for the massacre of innocent Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Palestinians would, presumably, have been shamed into abandoning their terror tactics and peace would now reign in the middle east. The film is brilliant and is arguably the most disturbing film of the year. Yet, once again we have Hollywood artists devoting their not inconsiderable talents to a discussion of events of 33 years old when this film was produced. If they blame the Israelis for pushing the conflict forward, why not take on Israeli retaliation for more recent terrorist attacks such as bus bombs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv? Why not attack Israel for building the wall? How about Hollywood proposing the correct Israeli response to the recent election of a Hamas government in Palestine? That would require true courage because it would provoke heated counterarguments and avoid the safety of hindsight.

Lastly, we come to the winner of the award for Best Picture, Crash. This one may be the exception that proves the rule. Paul Haggis' script is set in present day Los Angeles and closely examines the racial attitudes of all of its constituent ethnic groups. It is frank, nuanced and truthful in a way that resonates with the viewer's perceptions of the America they inhabit. There are no bad guys or bogeymen as easy targets and there is no self-congratulatory posturing of a Hollywood elite firmly declaring itself has having achieved the moral high ground in the face of a philistine nation of bobos. It may have won the Best Picture award because it is, after all, about Los Angeles, the center of the universe and hometown to the Academy voters, but it deserved it. It is, I predict, the film from 2005 that will be remembered for generations.