Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blogging Pause

I'll be off line for about 10 days while I go in for orthopedic surgery and some rehab. I can live without the politics...probably, but, sadly, for tomorrow's final episode of LOST for this season I'll probably be too well under the influence of narcotics to be conscious of it. On the other hand, perhaps the drugs will make for an interesting viewing experience.

Back soon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Sopranos - Brokeback Goomba

Last night's episode of The Sopranos, entitled "Moe 'N Joe", focused to a large extent on Vito's relationship with beloved "Johnny Cakes" in New Hampshire. I must say that this episode had very little to do with the usual focus of the series. Instead of a weekly view of the interactions of outlaws with the issues of normal life, we spent last night mostly seeing the lives of gay men in the macho roles normally regarded as the province of strait men. Interesting, but more suited to the Logo Channel.

Of course, in the end Vito can't stand the hard work and boredom of straight (in the sense of non-Mafia) life and books it back with all deliberate speed, and at the cost of an unfortunate local's life, to North Jersey. Now the usual conflicts can resume in the final two episodes of this season.

One additional small point. Was it a continuity problem or an intentional switch when in Dr. Melfi's office the statue of the dancer on the windowsill behind her changed in the two sessions with Tony? Since the statue is shot against a bright background it really stands out and is, I think, unlikely to be a mistake. In the first, the dancer is delicately balanced on one toe. In the second, she is firmly on both feet. Accident or intentional? In the second session Melfi is gives it straight to Tony regarding the incestuous components of his relationship with Janice. In the first session she rather more delicately dances around the reason for Tony's anger at Janice.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mary McCarthy, Saint In The CIA?

R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post, based entirely on the testimony of Mary McCarthy's anonymous friends in the CIA, would have us understand that her leaking of classified information about CIA mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and their rendition to other countries is deserving of cannonization.

Whether McCarthy's conviction that the CIA was hiding unpleasant truths provoked her to leak sensitive information is known only to her and the journalists she is alleged to have spoken with last year. But the picture of her that emerges from interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues is of an independent-minded analyst who became convinced that on multiple occasions the agency had not given accurate or complete information to its congressional overseers.

McCarthy was not an ideologue, her friends say, but at some point fell into a camp of CIA officers who felt that the Bush administration's venture into Iraq had dangerously diverted U.S. counterterrorism policy. After seeing -- in e-mails, cable traffic, interview transcripts and field reports -- some of the secret fruits of the Iraq intervention, McCarthy became disenchanted, three of her friends say.

The first thing that must be observed is that the initial claims of other "sources" in the agency that McCarthy was innocent of leaking would now seem to be called into question, if not downright disproved.

Secondly, if McCarthy and those in her camp were concerned about the diversion of resources and focus away from anti-terrorism activities, how do those who have now leaked classified information about data mining of phone calls, aimed solely at preventing terrorist activities, justify their disloyalty on patriotic grounds. Perhaps they don't. Maybe leaking has become so endemic in intelligence circles that all that matters is that one feels justified for any reason, secrecy, rules and authority be damned.

This is a genie that can not be put back in the bottle. There will always, in every future administration, be individuals who disagree with particular actions. Under these new rules sanctioned by the media, their consciences are now the only relevant guide to what should be secret in the spy game.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

NSA Phone Call Mining

When the existence of the NSA project for mining millions of phone connections was first revealed in the NY Times last December 24th by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, it went essentially unnoticed. After all, their article clearly stated that no domestic conversations were listened to. There was no "wiretapping" that could scare Americans.

For those unable to access the article behind its TimeSelect wall, here's two key paragraphs:

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.

Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States' communications networks and international networks. The identities of the corporations involved could not be determined.
Does anyone seriously doubt they were describing the program which has now caused what most of the MSM self-describes as a "media firestorm". The only difference between the revelation of this program then and now is that there is a political axe to grind, to wit, the nomination of Gen. Hayden to head the CIA. Someone inside the intelligence community or Congressional committees involved, who doesn't want Hayden at the helm, decided to re-leak the information, this time to USA Today. The rest of the media dutifully proclaimed that they were shocked, shocked to learn that such a program existed.

Last March I posted my view of such efforts and linked to an interesting background article on the theoretical underpinnings of such techniques. My view hasn't changed. A reasonable nation under attack, as we are, would enthusiastically use all available technology in its defense. But a reasonable nation would also find an easy consensus on ways to provide the necessary checks on the potential abuses of such technologies. I'm just not sure we're a reasonable nation any longer.

What has changed is my tolerance for individuals inside the government who take it upon themselves to see to it that classified tactics used against potential terrorists are shared with those terrorists in the name of being shared with all of us. Let us hope that these anonymous patriots will be revealed so that they can take full credit or blame for the outcome of their unilateral declassification of these techniques. Let us all pray that in the course of this process we don't provide those planning the next attack on us with the information they need to hide their activities. Let us also pray that those in the political realm who would strip us naked and undefended do not prevail.

John McCain At Liberty University

Sen. John McCain has gone to Falwell's Liberty University and delivered a commencement speech that will, I hope, form the basis of his campaign for the presidency. It is a great speech. One which calls on us to recognize our shared values as we argue, as we must, over how to achieve the goals we seek. At the same time it is self-deprecating and inspiring. A tough thing to pull off.

If the years of Clinton and Bush have not torn us irreparably apart, McCain may be the only person in a leadership position who can make us a functional nation again. Key quote:

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Our country doesn'’t depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible. We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend us at the risk and often the cost of their lives. We must love it enough to argue about it, and to serve it, in whatever way our abilities permit and our conscience requires, whether it calls us to arms or to altruism or to politics.

Here is McCain speaking about his youthful passion for speaking his mind, which, he says, would have made him a perfect citizen of the blogosphere:

When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It'’s a pity that there wasn'’t a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.

Sadly, too many of us persist in sharing the insufferable ignorance of the young John McClain. We could all use his maturity and perspective.

Since much of the media has set up today's speech as McCain's kowtowing to the religious right, let's see if they give it the coverage it deserves, now that he has disappointed their facile assumptions.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"LOST" Blogging - The Pearl Hatch, Answers and Questions

Tomorrow we can return to the subject of politics. For today, let's finish with a last item about our culture. Last Wednesday, "LOST" presented and episode entitled "?", a reference to the marking of a site on a map, drawn by person or persons unknown, seen only for a few seconds by one of the characters in this fiction about lost souls on a remote Pacific island.

The fact that I know to what the title referred is a mark of the extraordinary hold of this weekly TV drama on its viewers. I can not remember a show, with the possible exception of the Star Trek franchise, that has so enthralled its viewers (although not your humble servant), making many of us obsessive miners of the internet websites that document all the twists, turns, mysteries and speculations of the world of "LOST". We poor souls are the "Losties", God help us.

It is through such perseveration on the show and its secrets that I found screen captures of a map, drawn in ink only visible in black light and seen only for 15 - 20 seconds by a character trapped under the blast door it was drawn on, which seems to contain all the secret places of the mysterious island of our beloved survivors. The map is replete with obscure labels, mathematical formulas and Latin phrases, which have all been dutifully translated and discussed at the various web sites of the mad followers of this entertainment. At the center of the map is a representation of an underground hatch labeled on the blast door drawing with a "?".

In Wednesday's episode, the "?" hatch was discovered to be an observation site, now designated as, "The Pearl". In it were nine monitors and an orientation tape that directed those manning the hatch to observe and note every activity seen in the other underground hatches of the island. That is if anyone really cared what they observed, as opposed to determining if "subject" would continue to obey directives to conduct meaningless tasks.

In answering the question of what was in the central hatch of the island, the show writers and producers have only generated a dozen new questions. And so it goes. I hope it goes on for a long time, revealing layer after layer of this wonderful artichoke.

The Greatest Novels Of Our Time

While we're in a literary vein, take a look at the Book Review's polling of what are, in the view of the "writers, critics, editors and other literary sages" sampled by the Times, the "Best Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years."

The winner, Tony Morrison's "Beloved". The runners up were Don DeLillo's "Underworld" (which would have gotten my vote), Cormac McCarty's "Blood Meridian", the four Rabbitt Angstrom novels of John Updike and Roth's "American Pastoral". Quite a stunning collection.

The balance of great novels that received multiple votes was also not too shabby. Roth, DeLillo, McCarthy each have several works listed. They are joined by the likes of John Kennedy O'Toole, Marilynne Robinson, Mark Helprin, with his magnificent "A Winter's Tale", Raymond Carver, Tim O'Brien, Norman Rush, Dennis Johnson, Richard Ford and Edward P. Jones.

Plenty to contemplate and argue about over a good scotch.

Philip Roth, "Everyman" - Faithful Chronicler of Life

Speaking of mature American artists, Philip Roth's latest novel, his 27th book and his fifth of the twenty-first century, has been published. I haven't read it, beyond the first ten pages yet, but it looks like a gem. Like Paul Simon, Roth has the incredible ability to speak of life as he lives it. Now, in "Everyman", Roth speaks of the time of Dylan Thomas' "The dying of the light".

For this novel, Roth prefaces the book with a quote from Keats:

Here where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.
In a front page review in last Sunday's NY Times Book Review, the great South African novelist, Nadine Gordimer, absolutely raved about Roth and this novel. Here are two samples:

If Portnoy has never been outgrown, only grown old, he is, in his present avatar, an everyman whose creator makes the term "insight" something to be tossed away as inadequate.
And this:

Another ecstasy. Not to be denied by mortality. Philip Roth is a magnificent victor in attempting to disprove Georg Lukacs's dictum of the impossible aim of the writer to encompass all of life.
One is not likely to find such praise by one writer of another very often. And the novel is apparently full of the politics of our time as well. Gordimer approves.

Roth's people, whether politically activist or not, live in our world — and the bared-teeth decorum of academe is its gowned microcosm — terrorized by fear of the Other abroad and State authoritarianism at the throat at home.
She goes on to draw a far too facile connection between the mythical Charles Lindbergh of Roth's last novel, "The Plot Against America", in which Lucky Lindy is elected President despite his admiration for Hitler, and President Bush and the noisy fundamentalism of some in Republican circles.

Such critical posturings left aside, I look forward to enjoying Roth's latest. Since its subject touches on end of life issues, it is not likely to spring to the top of the best seller lists as bright, easy summer reading. But then, nothing truly great ever does.

Paul Simons "Surprise" - The Return Of The Artist

After a delay of several years, Paul Simon has released a new studio album called "Surprise". Far from providing a surprise, Simon has given his fans yet another in a long series of magnificent musical treats. The kind that have typified his career.

I think it is not overstating Simon's importance in the popular music of our age. He is and has been the voice of his generation for over forty years. At age 64, pater familias of a family of three young children with his wife of 14 years, Edie Brickell, Simon now speaks to us with the voice of a mature artist.

Compare the way Paul Simon deals with the realities of a post-9/11 world with the angry shrieks of Neil Young's latest effort. Here is a passage from "Wartime Prayers":

Prayers offered in times of peace are silent conversations,
Appeals for love or love's release
In private invocations
But all that is changed now,
Gone like a memory from the day before the fires.
People hungry for the voice of God
Hear lunatics and liars
Wartime prayers, wartime prayers
In every language spoken,
For every family scattered and broken.
And here is the closing verse:

Because you cannot walk with the holy,
If you're just a halfway decent man.
I don't pretend that I'm a mastermind
With a genius marketing plan.
I'm trying to tap into some wisdom,
Even a little drop willdo.
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage
Before I'm through.
A mother murmurs in twilight sleep
And draws her babies closer.
With hush-a-byes for sleepy eyes,
And kisses on the shoulder.
To drive away despair
These are lyrics that speak to the quiet center of our souls, scarred as we are by the fear, anger and despair of our times. This is a song that people will recall in times of conflict for decades, if not centuries, to come.

The album is full of such moments of beauty. In "How Can You Live In The Northeast?" he contemplates an America riven by the labels and regions of our lives, no longer, perhaps a nation.

How can you live in the Northeast?
How can you live in the South?
How can you build on the banks of a river
When the flood water pours from the mouth?

How can you be a Christian?
How can you be a Jew?
How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?
How can you?

Weak as the winter sun, we enter life on earth.
Names and religion comes just after date of birth.
Then everybody gets a tongue to speak,
And everyone hears an inner voice,
A day at the end of the week to wonder and rejoice.

If the answer is infinite light
Why do we sleep in the dark?
How do we find a sane place for our lives in the tumult of modern life? In "I Don't Believe" Simon suggests the following:

Oh, guardian angel
Don't taunt me like this, on a clear summer evening as soft as a kiss
My children are laughing, not a whisper of care
My love is brushing her long chestnut hair
I don't believe a heart can be filled to the brim
Then vanish like mist as though life were a whim

Maybe the heart is part of the mist
And that's all that there is or could ever exist
Maybe and maybe and maybe some more
Maybe's the exit that I'm looking for

He continues:

Acts of kindness
Like rain in a draught
Release the spirit with a whoop and a shout
I don't believe we were born to be sheep in a flock
Towards the end of the album, Paul contemplates his, and by extension our, reaction to the inevitable passages of life and death that those of us of a certain age must face and absorb. The song is called, "Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean".

I figure that once upon a time I was an ocean
But now I'm a mountain range
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything's changed
But then comes a letter from home
The handwriting's fragile and strange
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different, but everything's changed

The light through the stained glass was cobalt and red
And the frayed cuffs and collars were mended by haloes of golden thread
The choir sang, "Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean"
And all the old hymns and family names came fluttering down as leaves of emotion
Happily, the album includes as its last track Simon's "Father and Daughter", which he recorded for the soundtrack of the children's movie, "The Wild Thornberrys" and speaks as clearly as any song the devotion of fathers to the happiness of their children. As I said, this is the work of a mature man, not for most kids. The sensitive ones will get it.

Finally, the music. The melodies are beautiful, each fits the lyrical tone of the song. The arrangements are classic, but with a twist. Simon's collaborator on this album is the British electronica veteran, Brian Eno. The pairing works. Eno provides a spark without overwhelming Simon. The instrumentation is simple, featuring Simon on almost all the guitar parts and a small band, which includes the sturdy Simon regular, Steve Gadd, on drums.

Even the art work fits wonderfully. The lyrics for each song are accompanied by a unique photograph. The photos are each wonderful in their own merit, yet each beautifully complements the song illustrated.

Don't count on the kids to push this masterpiece to the top of the charts. If you have ever enjoyed the work of Paul Simon, get out there and buy a copy. But don't just download this album from ITunes or whoever, do your self a favor and pick up a hard copy. You will treasure the experience of holding this one in your hands as you listen again and again.

Spotty Blogging Time

Apologies for the limited blogging over the last week or so. I'm having a number of medical and other appointments in preparation for knee replacement surgery, which is scheduled for next week. After next Tuesday there will be another hiatus of about two weeks before I will be able to sit for any time at the computer. Since I have neither a laptop that I can use anywhere or a stable of pinch bloggers to keep things going there will be another regrettable lull.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Reason For Goss' Departure

The Times website has now posted an authorative story, based on sources in the administration and intelligence community, stating that Gen. Michael Hayden will, indeed, be nominated on Monday to head the CIA. The reason for Goss' departure, according to the reporting by Mark Mazzetti, is that both Hayden and John Negroponte, the new Director of National Security, felt that Goss was standing in the way of their planned reforms which will have the impact of significantly reducing the CIA's premier role in intelligence analysis, refocusing it more on the role of combating terrorism and stealing secrets abroad.

This has the ring of truth, especially given the President's well documented reluctance to fire staff. If it is true that Bush either is incapable of discharging high level staff or values loyalty to his staff over a frank assessment of their performance, then the only scenario in which he would be forced to fire someone would be a situation in which he is forced to choose between two or more competing personalities. If one or the other must go, then Bush must choose.

The article also mentions the connection of Goss' number 3 aide, Kyle Foggo, who is expected to resign "in coming days". His connection to defense contractor Brent Wilkes is mentioned. Wilkes, who is mentioned in the indictment of former Congressman Duke Cunningham, is presumed to have been involved in bribery activity. Contrary to much speculation in blogs, based on a story in the NY Daily News, no mention of any connection of Goss to Wilkes and it is noted that Foggo is a long time CIA employee, not one of the so called "Hitler Youth" brought over by Goss from his congressional staff.

Valerie Plame, One Hell Of A Coming Out Party

Since last year, the fervent prayer emanating from the left side of the blogosphere has been for a Happy Fitzmas. Their dream has been that somebody, anybody, big in the White House would be charged and convicted for the heinous crime of outing CIA employee Valerie Plame. The party line goes as follows: the leaking of Ms. Plame's name to Robert Novak revealed classified information, exposed her to unknown personal dangers and risked exposure of any covert operations she may have been involved in during her time with the Agency.

To date, the spirit of Ebeneezer Scrooge has prevailed. No indictment has been forthcoming. Further, to date, there have been no reports of damage to the intelligence projects she may have been involved with and Ms. Plame has not been endangered.

What has happened is that she has been subjected to assaults by paparazzi whenever she enters one or another of the spiffy events she is now invited to, wearing a designer dress and a lovely smile. And she is now being burdened with a $2.5 million advance for a book about her trials. Think of the book tour and rounds of TV interviews to come. Oh, the horror!

The Merry-Go-Round At CIA

Whatever develops as the cause of Porter Goss' precipitous departure as CIA Director, no American should take any comfort in yet another of a recent history of short term stays in the position. As the Times reports this morning, the total history of CIA has been one of frequent turnover at the helm. There have been 18 directors in the 60 year history of the agency.

In an age of terrorism and real, physical danger for Americans, we are being treated to what will now be the third full-time director since 9/11/01. Goss and his successor's term in office will further be complicated by the still-unsettled restructuring following the findings of the 9/11 Commission that placed John Negroponte as the uber-czar of all American intelligence operations.

Further destabilizing the agency is the recent departure of many senior staff and, if reports of the appointment of Gen. Hayden as the President's next nominee are correct, a long agonizing approval process by the Senate. The Democrats smell blood in the water. They will want to know if there are any connections to the Duke Cunningham scandal and they will grill Hayden over his direction of the NSA data mining program. It will be months until staff at CIA are led by someone who can focus his or her efforts on the job at hand.

The future of our safety does not look promising. Lest we forget, this is the agency that missed the dangers of al Qaeda and blew the facts on WMD in Iraq after then DCI George Tenet had been in office for two years. This is an agency that has not yet found its sea legs in the reconfigured national intelligence superstructure. Even if Bush's new director stays in office for the balance of his term, a new director could be appointed after the next presidential election in two and a half years. This is no way to run an airline, much less an agency crucial to our security.

Patrick Kennedy's Pain Killer Problem?

Much of the coverage of Rep. Patrick Kennedy's early morning wanderings has focused on his use of Ambien, a sleep medication which has had recently reported incidents of sleep walking and sleep eating. But I think most analysts have missed the clues provided in Kennedy's own statement on Friday before he left for treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

The key passages are:

This past Christmas, I realized that I had to seek help again so checked myself into the Mayo Clinic for addiction to prescription pain medication. I was there over the holiday and during the House recess getting well, and I returned to the House of Representatives and to Rhode Island reinvigorated and healthy.

Emphasis added. Here he tells us that as recently as four months ago he was treated for addiction to pain medications. Then he says the following:

The recurrence of an addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in everyday life, such as taking a common treatment for a stomach flu. That's not an excuse for what happened Wednesday evening, but its a reality of fighting a chronic condition for which I'm taking full responsibility.

Here he is trying to imply that his "addiction" was again triggered by his use of Phenergan, which is used for gastroenteritis, the principal symptom of a "stomach flu", among other uses. Phenergan itself is not addictive. Neither, for that matter is Ambien, although it is considered"habit forming", making sleeping without it difficult.

Most importantly, while the use of both drugs could easily have caused Kennedy's behavior on the streets outside the Capitol, there is simply no pattern of such drugs triggering addiction to another drug. That is unless one categorizes it, as Kennedy does, as one of the "things that happen in everyday life." Those things would include stress, depression, boredom, peer pressure, and easy access to the addictive substance.

My reading of Kennedy's statement is that it was a "non-admission admission". He is implying clearly, to my ear, that he has again resumed overuse of a pain medication. Although he doesn't say which pain medication he was having a problem with in December, the most likely candidates in that class of drugs are Vicodin and oxycontin.

So what we see here is yet another person in the public arena who is struggling with a difficult addiction in full view of the media. In Rush Limbaugh's case, he has been subjected to a good deal of gleeful mocking by bloggers and MSM pundits who dislike his politics. Such a reaction to any human being's painful struggle with a difficult addiction is stupid and cruel.

Kennedy, as does Limbaugh, deserves our respect for the courage it takes to face one's demons head on. Let us hope that the right will not now emulate the worst behavior of the left. The man should, in the end, be judged by his constituents on the basis of his ability to perform his job. If and when they judge that his problem with addiction is interfering with his ability to do that job they will let him know. The rest of us should keep our mouths shut. There but for the grace of God go I.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Immigration, A Rational Democratic Position

Thanks to Mickey Kaus for linking to an essay at Real Clear Politics by former Democratic Congressman from Oklahoma, Brad Carson. The piece is entitled, "Democrats Must Fight Illegal Immigration". Key quote:

For Democrats, fighting illegal immigration would not only be good policy, but would have the welcome effect of being good politics, too. Democrats' major political obstacle is the increasingly intractable opposition of the non-union working and middle class, exactly the groups who most fervently oppose illegal immigration. While the opponents of immigration no doubt include nativists and xenophobes, the vast majority of those who oppose illegal immigration do so on sound public policy grounds. Illegal immigration is seen rightly as a threat to their economic livelihood. So when the Republican Party offers a platform that not only comports with their social and religious beliefs, but also addresses the one economic threat that is open to government solution, is there any wonder that the working and middle classes find solace in the GOP? Democrats should find a way to bust up this alliance between economic populists and social conservatives, and make many current Republican voters choose which of these movements matters most.

Carson also wonders why Democrats cannot bring themselves to demand an end to illegal entry in to our country, but has no answer for his question. I would suggest that the reason lies in the white guilt posited by Shelby Steele which I linked to two days ago.

Democratic elites of the highly privileged and educated overclass highlighted by Carson are the very people who are most plagued by guilt over America's terrible treatment of brown and black people in the past. It is the very presence of a few xenophobes in the close-our-borders movement that is quickly smelled out by these Democrats' finely attuned political noses. Many of these Democrats had their political adolescence in the era of Bull Connor and George Wallace. That experience taught them the central equation in their political calculus: if someone hateful is in favor of a given position, the opposite position must therefore be the one a good, tolerant, liberal person should support. Facts and reality be damned.

The second essential for this group is to isulate themselves in the enclaves of their type, the better neighborhoods of Manhattan, Cambridge, Scarsdale, Madison, Berkeley, etc. The only "thinking" from the conservative side of the world they allow themselves to be exposed to comes from loud mouthed idiots like Bill O'Reilly and George Bush, the king of butchered English, whose arguments, such as they are, are easily refuted by this better educated priestly class. Their only goal is to improve the lot of those whom life has handicapped with the inability to truly understand the nuanced arguments that only this class can comprehend. After all nobility does have its obligations.

Animal Rights Screwballs Know No Limits

Police in Britain have recovered the body of a woman which was stolen from her grave a year and a half ago. According to the Times in London, it seems that three animal rights activists stole the woman's body in order to blackmail her family into stopping their heinous activities. What were those activities you ask? They ran a guinea pig breeding farm. The family's name is Hall.

The Hall family and their employees, friends and neighbours were subjected to a smear campaign, hoax bombs, hate mail, malicious phone calls and graffiti. Staffordshire Police responded to more than 450 incidents relating to the farm in two years.
All things are permissable when one has had a higher truth revealed to them. Just ask the al Qaeda types.

Wednesday Evening TV Update

It turns out that the DialIdol site and I were right. Paris was bumped and Elliot was second from the bottom, both of which facts I know only from Ann Althouse's regular blogging of American Idol.
I didn't watch the results show, preferring to watch LOST, which provided a shocker of an ending. Michael shot Ana Lucia and Libby and let Henry go and then shot himself in the shoulder. Only fellow junkies will understand that last sentence.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

LOST- The Hanso Foundation Website Reappears

While I'm on a television meme, my current absolute favorite show is LOST. It returns tonight with a new episode called, "Two For The Road". Can't wait.

If you're a LOST junkie as well, be sure to check out the redesigned Hanso Foundation website that just came back to life. It is full of pages and links that I'm just beginning to explore.

If all of this is new to you, the Hanso Foundation is the fictional organization that is responsible for funding the Dharma Project, the fictional project whose infrastructure has been discovered on the south sea island where our cast of characters crashed, or, more ominously, were brought, and have been surviving and learning about their new surroundings. The Hanso website is actually the product of ABC-TV or the LOST production company. They have also created a website for the fictional Oceanic Airlines, which is full of Easter eggs and hints if you click around.

LOST is unique in that it's plot and the way the "truth" is slowly revealed is different from anything on TV in recent years. It is rather like a long extended version of Serling's "Twilight Zone" and it has engendered a cult following and proliferation of websites unlike any previously seen. See LOST - The Tail Section for example. Now, off to the Hanso website.

American Idol - OK, I Give In

I have a confession to make. I have been silently watching American Idol all season this year. There, I've said it.

In previous years I have usually not paid attention until the season was winding down. The music I prefer involves artists who write and play their own compositions. My tastes run to what is called AAA (Adult Alternative Album-oriented) artists, jazz, traditional American songbook pop and classical. In spite of American Idol's focus on top 40 songs and singing covers of other performer's hits, somehow the tension and drama of the contest is engaging enough to tune in.

Tonight they will announce who will be dropped, bringing the contest down to the final four hopefuls. Of this year's crop, my favorite, from the moment I heard her voice during the 20 second renditions that makeup the regional auditions has been Katherine McPhee. Yes, the fact that she is beautiful as well didn't hurt. But I have also greatly admired the work of Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks. My early admiration for the extraordinarily young Paris Bennett has diminished as the weeks have gone by.

Who will leave tonight? My personal opinion of last night's performances is that Elliot Yamin and Paris were the worst. They both seemed to have mailed it in. The tension may have mounted so much that they are choosing safe renditions over riskier options. The other three did a great job on at least one of the two songs performed.

A website that has had a great deal of success predicting the loser each week is called DialIdol.com. Their method is to provide users with software that dials the Idol number of your chosen singer repeatedly during the two hour call-in period. The software also reports the number of busy signals and successful votes cast for each person. They then apply a mathematical adjustment to account for such factors as time zones and produce a "DialIdol Score" which is used to rank the contestants. The site also has the option of displaying the raw number of busys and votes.

According to their "Score", Paris Bennett will leave tonight, with Katherine McPhee in forth place. However, Katherine is, by far, the highest recipient of busys and votes, while Paris is at the bottom of the raw numbers. I'm afraid that it is the 17 year old and cute as a button Paris' last dance tonight.

Alternative Fuels - The Lowdown

There is almost universal agreement that the future of a petroleum-based world is not pretty. The massively increasing demand from China and India will make the competition for available oil resources the central factor in international affairs for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the cost, as demand approaches 100% of supply, will continue to move higher and higher.

Nearly everyone who has thought about this issue, from the President to the environmentalists has touted alternative fuels as the means of weaning ourselves from our dependence on oil. But which alternative fuel should we focus on? There seems to be no clear single alternative.

Popular Mechanics has an excellent summary of the pros and cons of each altfuel option. It is a veritable primer on the subject and is must-see reading for anyone interested in the topic.

Their bottom line:

Today, many families have several cars--often more cars than they have drivers. So before we see our national fleet running on hydrogen, we believe that many households might have an electric or plug-in hybrid for short trips, an E85/electric hybrid sedan, SUV or minivan to squire the whole team, and a diesel pickup fueled by B30 or B50 to haul most anything else. All will reduce greenhouse gases and use renewable resources that come from inside our borders. By pursuing these multiple pathways, we can reduce our dependence on any single energy source--something we haven't achieved with petroleum.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Shelby Steele, How White Guilt Impacts All Our Policy Choices

As a tie in to the publication of his new book, "White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era", Shelby Steele has a very interesting opinion piece on the WSJ website.

The gist of his idea is that our guilt over our racist and imperialist past colors all our policy choices from Donald Rumsfeld's limited force in Iraq to the half measures now under discussion to solve the immigration issue. Guilt makes us avoid any policy choice that smacks of our former sins and at the same time empowers those who don't like us to raise the accusation of racist behavior to win arguments they couldn't win with logic alone.

While Steele may be too certain that the war in Iraq is directly aimed at our Islamofascist enemies, he is nevertheless a unique and thought provoking thinker. Key quote:

The collapse of white supremacy--and the resulting white guilt--introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal. If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation's legitimacy. Europe's halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.

Because dissociation from the racist and imperialist stigma is so tied to legitimacy in this age of white guilt, America's act of going to war can have legitimacy only if it seems to be an act of social work--something that uplifts and transforms the poor brown nation (thus dissociating us from the white exploitations of old). So our war effort in Iraq is shrouded in a new language of social work in which democracy is cast as an instrument of social transformation bringing new institutions, new relations between men and women, new ideas of individual autonomy, new and more open forms of education, new ways of overcoming poverty--war as the Great Society.

The Immigration Marches

We have now seen that massive demonstrations can be mobilized by immigrant advocacy groups. Some of the feelings and views expressed in these demonstrations are profound reminders of the nature of the American experiment.

We truly are all the children of immigrants. The recurring process of people bravely leaving the comfortable, if impoverished, surroundings of home to venture to a foreign land has defined our culture. The contributions of these adventurers and their progeny are undeniable. As someone in a TV news clip of a demonstration said, "Even the Mayflower transported immigrants."

I also believe that fears of the massive number of immigrants who speak Spanish leading to a bi-lingual America are vastly exaggerated. Yes, those whose families speak Spanish at home do use their first language as the fallback choice anglos hear on the street. We forget that the same was also true of those whose first language was Italian or Polish. Unfortunately, because of the political power of immigrants from so many countries who all speak Spanish, school systems allowed the process of teaching English to newcomers to be highjacked into a Spanish-first environment that, it has now been shown, in fact inhibited the learning of English. That is now changing.

Years of interacting with Spanish-speaking families has demonstrated to me that the children, no matter what their educational environment, universally learn English. They often serve as translators for their parents, for whom adoption of English come more slowly. Further, since the Spanish used by these by these children is purely conversational, they rarely become highly proficient in Spanish. English, the language of the school, the job, the university, the literature, becomes the focus of their growing language proficiency.

The other truism expressed by the demonstrators is that significant sectors of the American economy could not function with out the presence of illegal immigrants. This is the source of the support by many business interests for some form of amnesty or guest worker program.

However, the apparent demand of many, if not most, of the demonstrators was for an amnesty that would make those here illegally citizens. Supporters of this view would have the United States essentially abandon immigration rules and procedures that are as open and liberal as any nation's in history. They seem to favor of a de facto "system" in which immigration laws are essentially unenforced and that every 15-20 years or so, anyone found inside our borders will be granted citizenship.

Either the borders must actually, for the first time in our history, be real barriers to illegal entry, or they might as well not exist. If the later is our choice, then it would be much more rational and sane to simply abandon immigration laws and criteria all together and throw open the borders to all comers. Anyone found in the territory of the United States would be granted the full rights of citizenship. This, of course, would be an insane abandonment of our claim to statehood and total folly in the age of jet-setting terrorism.

Once the borders are truly protected and illegal entry is a minor occurrence, then the use of a final amnesty to avoid the tearing apart of families who entered under the understood reality of the old rules would be absolutely appropriate and just. As for "guest-worker" programs, I can't imagine how the INS would actually be able to enforce the required periodic return to the home country that is a part of all such proposals. They haven't done an effective job in the current environment. The only feasible approach would be the creation of a national identity card and the requirement that all employers be able to show copies of their workers' cards or face serious criminal penalties. The usual civil liberties objections to such required "paper", best said with a German accent, will make that solution difficult to achieve.

Any legislation that doesn't include national identity cards will be nothing more that a faux solution to the problem. Civil liberty advocates would best be advised to surrender on this issue and focus their energies on preventing and ferreting out truly anti-liberty uses of the ID cards by the government. Such cards are not an inevitable slippery slope.

Will The Web Produce Politicians Who Must Actually Express Genuinely Held Opinions?

Mickey Kaus has a piece in Slate that reports on a theory of Joe Klein, expressed at L.A. party for his new book, "Politics Lost". Kaus summarizes as follows:

Joe Klein advanced an intriguing, optimistic thesis relating 1) the need for a candidate who exhibits humanity and competence, in part by expressing occasional deeply-felt heterodox, inconvenient, authentic views (as opposed to safe poll-tested views); 2) the rise of the interactive, 24/7 Web. ...

Mickey then goes on to discuss McCain as the prime example of a politician whose recent career has featured his ability to be immediate, clear and direct. But, as Mickey notes, now that McCain is running for the nomination of the Republican Party, he must, as do Democrats, pass the muster of the polarized interest groups that hold power in the respective parties.

Mickey's conclusion:

If the Web is going to fix our politics, it might have to undermine the two-party system first.

Let Us Now Praise Reasonable Men (And Women)

Capt. Ed has a very sweet piece today decrying bloggers who, incapable of crafting rational argument, prefer to engage in juvenile name-calling. Morons such as these are found across the political spectrum, as are those who use logic and thoughtful argument.

Unfortunately, middle school name-calling that passes for political discussion is not restricted to the Blogosphere. Read any column of Maureen Dodd's for a glimpse of the MSM using their space to mock those not part of their self-designated in crowd.

What We Have Here Is...Failure To Communicate

Video tape surfaced yesterday of a group of Iraqi Army recruits at a graduation ceremony. When they are told they are not going to be assigned to their home towns Anbar province, the hot spot of Sunni insurgents. They break ranks, begin shouting and a few tear off their uniforms.

The WAPO reports that:

Iraqi soldiers and local authorities said the problem that surfaced in Sunday's ceremony has not yet been solved. A mediator, Brig. Salah Khalil al-Ani, said the soldiers were angry because they believed they would be assigned to serve in their province and home towns according to an agreement worked out by tribal and religious leaders in Anbar with Defense Ministry officers.
But according to a spokesman for the Multi-National Military Transition Command:

But Negard said the soldiers knew what they were getting into when they enlisted. "They're recruited for national service, and they know this," he said. "They're prepared from the beginning to serve where the needs of the Iraqi army go."

"Diversity is good for the force," he said. "The bottom line is, when they're under fire and they're training, there are no signs of sectarianism."

The Post reports that the soldiers did not mutiny and after blowing off steam had a planned meal together and they agreed to a four day period of discussion with officers before they make a final decision to stay or leave the army.

All signs are that this is an isolated incident caused by a major disconnect between the expectations of the soldiers and the standing policy of the army. It wouldn't be the first time military recruiters let prospective recruits hear what they wanted to hear in order to meet recruitment target goals.

What is perhaps more upsetting is that those running this end-of-training ceremony invited cameras in and were blind-sided by the reaction of the soldiers. Is there no communication in the new Iraq Army? How about the US officers involved? Where they asleep at the switch? I guess this kind of thing is why words like SNAFU and FUBAR became standard parts of a soldiers' vocabulary.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

On my trip this weekend to the Washington DC area I caught on TV, several times, a commercial for Kaiser-Permanente Health. Since there is no Kaiser facility in the NY area the commercial has never appeared here.

The commercial shows a middle aged man struggling to accomplish physical tasks, he then begins to work out and improvement is seen. The jarring thing for me was the sound track. It was Bob Dylan singing his 60's anthem, "The Times They Are A-Changin'".

I don't begrudge any artist making a buck from his creative fruits. I have enjoyed commercials featuring the music of the Stones, the Who, etc. Yet somehow hearing this particular song in a commercial was a bit of a shock. After all, this song was arguably the central protest hymn of the 60's. It energized me and many of my generation to take action on the civil rights front and in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

I couldn't locate a copy of the ad on the web, but my research did show that this pairing of Dylan and Kaiser first appeared in 2004. At that time it was noted by several commentators. I just missed it since it apparently wasn't covered in the national media, except for Time.

The most humorous comment was made in Time by Albert Brooks in 2005 when a second campaign using the song was launched. Speaking about his generation, his key quote:

I was feeling OK about us, I really was, that is until Madison Avenue stepped in and told me the truth. Aging is like going through a funnel. You start out with so much room, spinning so fast, wondering just how far you can go, but in the end you wind up going through that hole. That little hole. And since you can't take it with you, Kaiser Permanente wants it. I just wish Bob Dylan had held out a bit longer. I don't think Kaiser deserved that song. I think he should have saved "The Times They Are A-Changin' " for Depends.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Saddest Sopranos Episode Yet

Last night's Sopranos episode, "Johnny Cakes", was sad to the point of moving me almost to tears, which has not previously happened. Vito's call to his wife, his inability to even speak to his son without breaking up, and the hopelessness of any return to the "normalcy" of his criminal life were poignant. But the most moving was poor AJ. His hapless attempt to play Michael Corleone and revenge his father's shooting against the now doddering Uncle Junior was hard to watch. Tony's anger, then tears, as he realized the terrible bind his life has placed on his son were palpable. However, Tony's conclusion that AJ is too nice a guy for the mob must be based on evidence we have not yet seen. AJ has always been presented as a wise ass kid. He seems barely able to function on any level and he has yet to find any pursuit in life that he loves, beyond clubbing and getting high.

As of this morning's light I am choosing to take the ending of last night's show as the hopeful sign of a turning point in the lives of AJ, Vito and Tony. Has AJ finally realized that he cannot handle the stress of being the Soprano heir apparent? Has Vito finally accepted who he is and begun a new life in New Hampshire? Has Tony finally made a moral choice in his life with his determination, at least for the moment, to remain faithful to Carmella? Only time will tell, and I can't wait for next Sunday.

Justice For Anna Nicole

In the most widely covered case on this year's Supreme Court docket, the Court has ruled that the curvaceous Anna Nicole Smith can pursue her claim for a share of her late husband's estate, said to be worth $1.6 billion, in the Federal courts.

The folks over at Court TV and the cable news outfits must be jumping up and down with joy. Now there promises to be a Federal trial and countless appeals over this matter. All of which will feature, at a minimum, Ms. Smith's splendid walks into and out of more courthouses. If we're lucky, some of these trials will even be televised. All Anna Nicole, all the time. OJ redux, but with boobs. Stupid is as stupid does.

Iraq's Pres. Amadinejad Thanks You For Driving That Gas Sucking SUV

Iraq's deputy oil minister has now said it as clearly as it can be said. They believe the West's dependence on oil will limit our options in the use of sanctions to persuade them to halt their nuclear development:

Any action like that will increase oil prices very high. And I believe that the U.N. or its bodies will not put any sanctions on oil or the oil industry," M.H. Nejad Hosseinian told reporters after talks in Islamabad with Pakistani officials over a proposed pipeline to transport Iranian gas to Pakistan and India.

This is just further proof that in an increasingly dangerous world we in the West, but especially Americans, are harming our ability to take steps in our own self interest because of our insatiable consumption of oil. So far, higher gasoline prices have only produced a rage that will, to misquote Quentin Tarantino, smote with furious anger those that harm our ability to pig out as we choose. The most predictable outcome of current and future price hikes will be the political deaths of countless incumbents, who are all now engaged in a race to see who can best sell the American people a bill of goods that promises to secure the impossible dream of lower prices ASAP.

Perhaps what we need is a cultural turnaround. We should create bumper stickers and other forms of expression that begin to point out to Americans that their consumption habits have direct consequences. Thus I offer the headline of this post as a first suggestion for what I hope will be a growing wave of visible social disapproval that will hopefully drive some folks to make better choices about what they drive and how they drive. Any other suggestions would be welcome.

We all have to make changes and demand improvements, or they will never happen.

Darfur Demonstrators, Let's Do Something, As Long As It's Not Too Effective

There was a demonstration in Washington yesterday during which a number of celebrities and some of the usual suspects, eg. Al Sharpton, George Clooney, called for the US to do more to end what is clearly a genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. The question is, what exactly do the organizers want the Bush administration to do? Nothing in the NY Times article linked to above provides a clue.

Save Darfur, the organization that organized the march clearly wants visitors to its website to write the White House to insist the President, "support a stronger multi-national force to protect the civilians of Darfur."

At a website called Darfur: A Genocide We Can Stop, they are more specific. They want Bush to:

Send a high-level envoy to broker a just peace accord between the Sudanese government and rebels;
Support an international peacekeeping effort in Darfur;
Increase pressure on the Sudanese government through economic sanctions, including a ban on oil exports until the crisis is solved.
What clearly emerges from both sites is that there is clear dissatisfaction with the inept UN "peacekeeping" efforts now in place. But beyond that one senses a certain level of ambiguity.

Surely the most effective way to stop the killing would be for a robust NATO force, probably led or heavily supported by the US to insert itself on the ground in Darfur at once. While there, the military pressure on the Sudanese government would surely be enough to force a settlement. But this direct, effective approach would not fit in with the same crowd's isolationist dislike of the projection of American/Western force into foreign entanglements.

In the meantime, they seem to be reduced to expressing their fury and impotence. They question the pay grade of the diplomats engaged in the crisis and to urge the same economic sanctions which proved so marvelously successful with Sadam's government in Iraq. The human stakes in Darfur are too enormous for such pussyfooting around.

Friday's Web Attack Apparently Real

Last Friday I wondered if some sort of denial of service attack had disabled both Instapundit and Captains Quarters. Capt. Ed has confirmed that his server was indeed down last Friday. His server is provided by Hosting Matters, which suffered an attack by Saudis, who were apparently concerned that some of the speech being displayed by their users was too free. He also links to Michele Malkin who has further details.