Hogan's Alley

Friday, June 29, 2007

Flickr Foto Of The Day

girl with red flowers
Originally uploaded by LindsayStark
This striking photo was taken in Sierra Leone.


Race And Education, America Gets A Fresh Start

Lawyers will analyze deeply the recent Supreme Court decisions eliminating the use of race as the primary determinant of a child's school placement. Pending that final understanding, the cases in Louisville ,KY and Seattle, WA can clearly be said to set a turning point in Americas search for racial equality.

The indisputable fact is that the nation that existed in 1954 when the Court outlawed separate, segregated educational systems has now been radically reformed. The entirety of educational law and spending is geared to the goal of the best possible education for children of all races. The problem is that we have not even gotten close to that dream.

Here is Juan Williams in the Times:

With yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling ending the use of voluntary schemes to create racial balance among students, it is time to acknowledge that Brown’s time has passed. It is worthy of a send-off with fanfare for setting off the civil rights movement and inspiring social progress for women, gays and the poor. But the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities.

Desegregation does not speak to dropout rates that hover near 50 percent for black and Hispanic high school students. It does not equip society to address the so-called achievement gap between black and white students that mocks Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity.

And the fact is, during the last 20 years, with Brown in full force, America’s public schools have been growing more segregated — even as the nation has become more racially diverse. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average white student attends a school that is 80 percent white, while 70 percent of black students attend schools where nearly two-thirds of students are black and Hispanic.

It can even be argued that the unintended consequence of Brown v. Board of Education was to exacerbate the racial separation in our society. Black kids have been all but condemned to struggle in inner city schools, in ghettos where there was no cultural imperative to strive and succeed in school. Meanwhile, white kids largely do well in suburban ghettos where education is perhaps the highest value of that sub-culture.

Maybe, just maybe, now that the Court has forced us to focus our funds and energies away from curing the racial mix in increasingly unmixed communities, we can begin to really deal with the failures of the system to teach black children. Maybe if we solve that problem black and white adults will grow up so closely alike that the rate of integration and intermarriage will accelerate to the point that America will finally look like the nation of its dreams and highest ideals.

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Think Michael Moore Makes Sense?

In case there is anyone out there who has just seen Michael Moore's "Sicko" and is all fired up about the wonders of the kind of single payer medical system he advocates, watch this short film (via Andrew Sullivan). It is one man's story about the waiting periods common to all single payer national health systems. The side of the story Mr. Moore didn't tell you about. Or, you could watch Prime Minister's Questions from Britain each week. Not a week goes by that doesn't include tough questions about the status of the National Health Service "Queues", which can be months long.

Americans won't tolerate such effective denials of service, which arise from the government's need to ration the most expensive procedures and equipment. The only way to avoid delays would be for the system to pay whatever it takes to provide the medical industry with the facilities and staffing they think they need. But at what cost?

If anyone tells you it can be done with just some tinkering with the tax code and budget cuts like the space program, ask them to tell you how much Medicare and Medicaid cost increases have been. And those programs ride on the back of the private insurance system at present. That is why MRI's and operations are available so promptly in the US for publicly supported patients.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Sopranos - The Tony Got Wacked Theory In Detail

The Last Supper of Tony Soprano?

As I wrote right after seeing the final episode of The Sopranos, I believed that David Chase had decided to let us all decide on the ending for our selves. However, the most common theory on the web has been that the one that believes that the final blackout was the moment of Tony Soprano's death.

If you subscribe to that theory or would just like to think about it some, check out Bob Harris' website. Harris is a writer who was also once a Jeopardy champion.

As Harris says, he could be wrong, but he has strung together every possible element of an intricately woven web of references and directorial choices that point to Tony's death. The premise of this theory is the quote by David Chase that the meaning of the final scene is "all there on the screen."

For me, the truth of theories such as this depends entirely on a knowledge of the kind of person and writer that Chase is. None of us have any idea of that. Absent that knowledge, defining the meaning of the ending is very much like most conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theorist first settles on the nature of the conspiracy and then collects facts that fit that theory. Facts that don't fit are either ignored or debunked until only the theorists view is left standing.

As you will see in Harris essay, he views Chase as having made virtually each and every choice in that scene, indeed in the whole episode, provide foreshadowing and references to death, and specifically to the death scene in The Godfather in which Michael emerges from the bathroom and shoots Solazzo and the police Captain.

I have no doubt that the movement of the suspicious "Members Only" guy toward the bathroom is meant to remind us of that reference. But it could be just another means of suggesting a shooting was imminent. After all, the whole scene is full of such foreboding. Chase could have been pointing us in that direction only to pull us up short and make us painfully aware of our own assumptions and expectations. I don't know about you, but I generally don't take a paranoid perspective when public places are portrayed in movies.

So in the end, we would need to know the kind of writer David Chase is. Does he meticulously plan and rework every word he writes or does he go largely on his artistic instinct, taking advantage of events and chance as they occur on the page and on the set? Did he have the actors consume the famous onion rings as if they were communion wafers to mimic a funeral mass, as Harris suggests, or did it just feel right to Chase that the meal become another reference point to the Catholic faith of the Soprano family.

I don't know, but damn, it is still fun to contemplate. That, in the end, is the final test of great art.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Flickr Foto Of The Day

Originally uploaded by SasiShan
Nice composition of the row of birds. In the photographer's caption for this photo, he refers to a "SB600", which is a NIkon flash unit that was used to light the seagulls. The picture was taken at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.


What To Make Of "John From Cincinnati"

First a confession. I was a huge fan of "Deadwood". News of that show's premature demise so that HBO and "Deadwood" producer/writer David Milch (pictured at left) could replace it with a new Milch production has predisposed me to hate the new show. It may very well be that stories about HBO's urgent desire to bring "John From Cincinnati" to its subscribers were cover for "creative differences" behind the scenes or lower than hoped for ratings for "Deadwood". Whatever the case, I have to acknowledge a bias against "John" before I even saw a frame of it.

Thus it has been hard to leap into an opinion about the show and I have waited until the third episode to write about my initial impressions in order to be fair to the show and its creators. It must also be said that the nature of the show itself has not been helpful.

Milch seems to be going for a kind of magical realism with this show. Although it is ostensibly about the three generations of a family of surfing royalty, their trial and tribulations, friends, hangers on and dysfunctions, it really wants to take us to an entirely other place.

In the pilot episode we are introduced to the title character, John Monad. He is from someplace else. The guy who finds him settles on Cincinnati as as likely a place and any. Although he apparently appears crossing the Mexican border into suburban California, he is clearly not of our planet. He knows nothing, except that "The end is near"and his repetitions of what others say. He has nothing, except that which is desired by others and appears miraculously from his pockets. By the third episode John is helping others "see God" and both a parrot and the young scion of the surfing Yost family have been brought back from the dead or the virtually death of machine sustained neurological flat lining.

John Monad. The John seems to clearly relate to another John (the Baptist) who proclaimed and preceded the coming of Jesus. Is Monad some obscure scrambled reference to Revelation Theology? Does John Monad proclaim the Second Coming? Is David Milch about to attempt a large scale lesson to viewers of the coming of the Revelation and the End of Days? Miracles are surely afoot. The oldest Yost levitates. His son seems to have been mysteriously cured of his heroin addiction. And the youngest Yost has literally been resurrected.

As episode three ends we are clearly moving into peculiar territory. The characters have only been sketched, not fully drawn in any way. They are archetypes, and weird ones at that. The drug dealer who is concerned about the wellbeing of the Yost family while listening to schlock semi-operatic vocals. The ex-cop who raised parrots. The nerdy attorney who is devoted to surfing and the surfing culture. So it is that the mystery of John, who and what he is and what paranormal events he has and is unleashing is clearly at the center of the show. The question is, will we care?

For me, the answer is yes...so far. As the miracles of the show pour forth it seems to be headed quickly for something far beyond the standard Southern California family surf saga it seems to be on the surface. The saga doesn't interest me. But I am interested enough in the imagination of David Milch to see where he is taking us. It is also pleasant to see so many actors from my beloved "Deadwood" figuratively resurrected in this show.

So any final verdict will have to be put on hold for now. Only the ripening of the series will reveal if the story Milch wants to tell is of interest. In the interim he has my attention and we know we will be treated to Ed O'Neill's character, ex-cop Bill Jacks and others, speak the magnificent Milchspeak that we have come to enjoy as it previously tripped from the tongues of Andy Sipowitz and Al Swearengen.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cheney World, Part II

Ed Morrisey has a sound analysis of the silliness of the Cheney/Bush position over the Vice-President's Office and classified material.

The VP has strained credulity by arguing that he doesn't belong to the executive branch at all, and that the order therefore doesn't apply. Of course the VP is a member of the executive branch; he's elected in tandem with the President through the Electoral College. He didn't get elected President of the Senate, a title that springs from the authority of being VP, not the reverse. Arguing otherwise makes Cheney look ridiculous and desperate, begging the question of what has caused the desperation.
What indeed is causing this current outbreak of stupidity.


Friday, June 22, 2007


Here's a video of a particularly good and realistic piece of street art. The variety of reactions is interesting. This one is in Washington, D.C. At the project's website, are photos of more examples of their work.

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Flickr Foto Of The Day

Originally uploaded by gkiran
Apparently taken at an Indian Temple, I love the unexpected face color against the subtle background colors. And also the captured moment of the child's expression.


In CheneyWorld, It Seems There Is No Higher Power

When Vice-President Cheney's office became tired of complying with an Executive Order in place since 1995 that required they report to the National Archives on the classified information in their possession. Believe it or not, but Cheney has apparently concluded that the Executive Order does not apply to him. He asserts that the Vice-President is not part of the Executive Branch and therefore not subject to its directives. Huh?

If he is not subject to the orders of the President, and he is clearly not part of the Judicial Branch, is he then asserting that as the constitutionally designated President of the Senate he is part of the Legislative Branch? I doubt that seriously. That would potentially place him under the authority of a majority of the Senate.

Could it be that Dick Cheney is a power separate and apart from all influences except his own good graces? Was the only valid check on him the 2004 elections and having passed that muster he is now immune and above all control? He has certainly demonstrated in his proclamations about progress in Iraq that he is not bound by any reference to reality. But seriously, who the hell does he think he is?

The same lawyers he uses to justify his every choice will soon be out of work in 2009. They will be the ones then trying to convince a court somewhere that some 50 year smoker was shocked, shocked to learn that cigarettes cause cancer. Maybe if Cheney keeps going and defies all reason we will get to finish the Bush presidency with an impeachment vote in the Congress and not have to wait until 2009.

[Photo: AP]


Speaking Of Cultural Conformity...

Apparently, as pointed out by Ann Althouse, former NY Times writer Judith Miller has recently made an appearance on the BloggingheadsTV site and has generated a fire storm of vituperation in the comments section. Viewers are demanding that BloggingheadsTV establish some kind of criteria for its guests that would eliminate anyone who is seen as having been so outside the pale as to have not written stories for the Times that pointed out what everyone on the upper West side of Manhattan knew at the time were lies about WMD in Iraq.

Here are a few quotes selected by Althouse:

Oh my god! Where do hack NYTimes reporters go to die, figuratively speaking of course! Why it's Blogging Heads TV!!!! Will we be seeing Rick Bragg and Howell Raines here next?

Oh God. Bloggingheads has stooped pretty low in the past, but really - Judith Miller? A dishonest hack and a proud purveyor of pre-war propaganda, one of the chief vehicles for the lies the Bush administration used to sell its phony war? Why is she being given a platform here? Could Bob not find anyone more intellectually dishonest - the festering corpse of Richard Nixon, perhaps?...

Why bother watching this? How would it be possible to guess when she's lying and when she isn't? There ought to be some minimal standards for who appears on bloggingheads.

Next up on Bloggingheads - Jayson Blair and Steven Glass...

Jayson Blair and the resurrected corpse of Spiro Agnew would be a great diavlog.
Those who have derided the claims by the Right of a widespread cultural Liberalism in the MSM should witness the enforcement of conformity that is ongoing in the Judith Miller case. Oh, I forgot, rational humanists are not subject to the baser instincts of lesser humanity. Never mind.

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Muslim Dress, Is It A Threat To Western Society?

Photo credit: Hazel Thompson for the NY Times

The NY Times would have us believe that the issue of Muslim women wearing the niqab, the head to toe covering favored in certain Islamic countries, is a major disruptive debate in Britain at present. Like all stories that assert the existence of a social trend or problem, there is probably much less to the story than meets the eye.

But, whether a widespread issue or not, the story does raise the question of assimilation in Western societies. Is there some danger that in our age of over-deification of the concept of "diversity" we have now begun down the road towards multi-cultural societies in which each group or tribe maintains its own customs and language to such an extent that the term "nation" no longer has any meaning? In the face of a globalized world, will Islamic, or Asian, or European, or African culture become disconnected from geography and persist wherever found? In the end, I think that this is unlikely.

To the extent that the Times' story is factual, it suggests that two factors of social psychology are at play. First, human cultures value conformity. We like, trust and feel more comfortable with other people if they are like us. Conversely, we are distrustful of those who are different. It doesn't matter if the difference is marked or more subtle. Any sign of "otherness" in language, dress or behavior is suspect to some degree. This is not a reasoned reaction. It comes from something very deep and ancient in our nature. It is an echo of our need to group into families and tribes and the long-ago dangers from other tribes to our scarce resources and lives. All cultures have thus traditionally enforced social norms of behavior in order to provide for a feeling of comfort and security.

Cultures enforce conformity in different ways. In some societies, people who behave differently, say women who appear in public without covering their hair and/or faces, risk beatings, incarceration and even death. In other places, such differences elicit the kind of looks and comments that the British Muslim women report. It is beyond ironic that the relatively gentle social sanctions that are reported in Brittan are decried by people from cultures where nonconformity can result in stoning or other forms of physical coercion.

In fact, as the story indicates, the second major psychological phenomenon apparent in this kind of behavior is the defensive assertion of culture by some who regard the larger society as being dismissive or hostile to the cultural part of who they are. As one of the women in the story says,
“For me it is not just a piece of clothing, it’s an act of faith, it’s solidarity,” said a 24-year-old program scheduler at a broadcasting company in London, who would allow only her last name, al-Shaikh, to be printed, saying she wanted to protect her privacy. “9/11 was a wake-up call for young Muslims,” she said.
So, in the end, I viscerally understand the distrust of the niqab. But I also have faith in the power of societies to enforce and, in the end, secure conformity. There will come a time when there is a break from the geopolitical conflict between Islamic culture and the West. It may be years or even decades away, but it will come. At that point, when there is no longer any need for defensiveness, Muslim women in England will no longer feel the urge to assert their culture, and non-Muslims will not seek comfort in pressing them to conform. Visitors to England will have the same difficulty understanding the accent and references of those from east London, of whatever ethnic background. It will all be Cockney garble to foreigners. Their similarities will be more striking than their differences.

In America, with its current fear of the rise of Latino culture and language, one need only look at second and third generation Latinos. Does Presidential candidate Bill Richardson seem unassimilated to anyone? Where it not for his need to attract Latino voters, would we even know of his Hispanic heritage?

In fact, in the larger scheme of things, the globalization of the world and the ubiquity of mass communications has and, in future, will lead to the spread of Western culture. It is, after all, rock and roll, Coca Cola and Levi's that are conquering the world. For whatever reason, Western values and lifestyle seem to come to dominate wherever they are allowed and experienced. That is surely not always a good thing, but it does seem to be an ineluctable force.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Times Declares The Trend That Ate The Internet

I don't know about you, but when I was scanning the Times this weekend, their story that shouted, "Online Sales Lose Steam", rang false. My gut and personal experience of web shopping told me they couldn't be right.

Now, thanks to Andrew Sullivan, we have Jack Shafer at Slate declaring the story bogus and providing chapter and verse.

The bottom line: while internet sales are dropping from their former growth rate of 25% each year, they are settling in at about a 9% growth rate. Given that brick and mortar sales grow at about 2 - 3%, 9% is still pretty damn good.

While you are checking out the Times' story, be sure to follow the chart shown under the heading "Multimedia". It shows that when looked at by type of product bought, online sales are showing an average growth rate this year of 18.5%. That is stupendous growth by any measure.

It must have been a slow news weekend for the Times editors to have drafted a fiction writer to fill some space.

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Rosie, Don't Look!

Scientific studies have never had any impact on conspiracy theories. Explain the physics of the "single bullet theory" to an aficionado the Oliver Stone view of the Kennedy assassination and their eyes glaze over. After all, any scientist can be bought or intimidated into finding evidence for the conspirators. No need to even think about their studies. With a little "thought" some question can be raised about the study. Any question, even tiny ones, will do to discredit the work to the believers.

So it will be with the latest study by engineers at Purdue University, as reported by the AP. Their findings, accompanied by computer video simulations of the event, is that the initial impacts and the explosion of the jet fuel stripped away the crucial fireproofing material, allowing the heat of the fire to soften the connecting points of the steel frame.

The report concludes that the weight of the aircraft's fuel, when ignited, produced "a flash flood of flaming liquid" that knocked out a number of structural columns within the building and removed the fireproofing insulation from other support structures, Hoffmann said.

The simulation also found that the airplane's metal skin peeled away shortly after impact and shows how the titanium jet engine shafts flew through the building like bullets.

Ayhan Irfanoglu, a Purdue professor of civil engineering, said half of the building's weight-bearing columns were concentrated at the cores of the towers.

"When that part is wiped out, the structure comes down," Irfanoglu said. "We design structures with some extra capacity to cover some uncertainties, but we never anticipate such heavy demand coming from an aircraft impact. If the columns were distributed, maybe, the fire could not take them out so easily."

The video is available at the AP link above.

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Hillary Clinton Sopranos Spoof.

Well, it is now clear that the Sopranos series, and especially its finale, have entered the lexicon of cultural cliches. Here we have Hillary and Bill strolling into the Mt. Kisco Diner for supper, complete with references to the onion rings, the Journey music, parallel parking, threatening characters and a final blackout. In case the references were not clear enough, we have the actor who portrayed Johnnie Sack giving his best cold-eyed stare at the Clintons.

Ann Althouse has pointed out the problems for Hillary with all the associations imbeded in this video. But perhaps she is putting too fine a point on the event. After all, it does show that the Clintons can appear to have a sense of humor. Yes, I know that the likelihood is that the writer and director had to explain the context to them. It is also impossible to envision Hill and Bill strolling into a diner on Main St., even with the Secret Service entourage in tow.

At the end of the day the video is a Rorschach test of our preconceptions about America's most focused and driven couple.

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Flickr Foto Of The Day

Originally uploaded by Tarlyn
The wonder of mother and child conveyed by only hands and feet.


Does Diversity Have Unintended Consequences?

It is a cardinal principle of our modern liberal society that diversity is a good thing. It surely seems to be. Most people have experienced the opportunity to come to know people outside their own ethnic, religious and cultural group and, to their wonder and excitement, discovered that our similarities are more than the sum of our differences. Thus, it makes sense that more diversity will produce even deeper levels of the experience of the oneness of humanity. That is, indeed, a very good thing.

But what if human beings don't always react that way in the real world. How inconvenient.

Erica Goode reports in the Times about the research of Robert Putnam and colleagues. To the researchers' surprise they found that:

“Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation,” Putnam writes in the June issue of the journal Scandinavian Political Studies. “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

In highly diverse cities and towns like Los Angeles, Houston and Yakima, Wash., the survey found, the residents were about half as likely to trust people of other races as in homogenous places like Fremont, Mich., or rural South Dakota, where, Putnam noted, “diversity means inviting a few Norwegians to the annual Swedish picnic.”

It would seem possible then, that humans are wired to some degree to experience anxiety in the face of the "other", however that is defined. The more "others" in the environment, the greater the likelihood that people will scurry into our own isolated burrows.

More significant, they were also half as likely to trust people of their own race. They claimed fewer close friends. They were more apt to agree that “television is my most important form of entertainment.” They had less confidence in local government and less confidence in their own ability to exert political influence. They were more likely to join protest marches but less likely to register to vote. They rated their happiness as generally lower. And this diversity effect continued to show up even when a community’s population density, average income, crime levels, rates of home ownership and a host of other factors were taken into account.
So here we are glued to our TV's, vicariously fanticizing about how "others" should be dealt with via the characters of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley and the rest in our weekly dose of "Lost". Admit it, it was satisfying to finally have our hero Jack beat the crap out of the manipulative troll, Ben.

This doesn't mean that diversity is not a goal we should persue. Its benefits far outweigh its negatives. But it does mean that we must recognize the nature of the beasts we are seeking to tame here. Human beings, despite all our vaunted claims of high intellectual functioning, are still very much influenced by the instincts, primitive or otherwise, that inhabit our brains and genes. These realities must be recognized and accounted for as we seek to open our society to free social migration. In this, the key is time.

As Goode points out,

Still, in Putnam’s view, the findings are neither cause for despair nor a brief against diversity. If this country’s history is any guide, what people perceive as unfamiliar and disturbing — what they see as “other” — can and does change over time. Seemingly intractable group divisions can give way to a larger, overarching identity. When he was in high school in the 1950s, Putnam notes, he knew the religion of almost every one of the 150 students in his class. At the time, religious intermarriage was uncommon, and knowing whether a potential mate was a Methodist, a Catholic or a Jew was crucial information. Half a century later, for most Americans, the importance of religion as a mating test has dwindled to near irrelevance, “hardly more important than left- or right-handedness to romance.”

The rising marriage rates across racial and ethnic lines in a younger generation, raised in a more diverse world, suggest the current markers of difference can also fade in salience. In some places, they already have: soldiers have more interracial friendships than civilians, Putnam’s research finds, and evangelical churches in the South show high rates of racial integration. “If you’re asking me if, in the long run, I’m optimistic,” Putnam says, “the answer is yes.”

What needs to increase is gentle habituation to our differences, not the forced assertion of moral superiority by those who regard themselves as a superior brand of human with a great tolerance for differences. Let us remember that many of those who proclaim as weak and evil anyone ill at ease among diversity often live in the most diverse places in our society, like New York City.

You can see them any day, walking the streets, iPods firmly in place, eyes firmly glued to the sidewalk, headed for their small apartments, where they will lock and latch three or four safety devices before settling down to a meal of delivered Lebanese food in front of the TV, where they will celebrate their enlightened status.

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Israel and Palestine - No Clear Villian

In the midst of the Hamas/Fatah battle that has split the Palestinian territories in two, at least for now, Tom Friedman offered a more nuanced view of conditions on the ground in last Sunday's NY Times.

I know, Friedman is regarded as persona non grata by "progressives". Hopefully there are some, however, that will at least take his reporting in with open minds.

Friedman reports on the graduation ceremonies for graduate students at Hebrew University. His context for this report is the recent vote by British academics to boycott Israeli universities on the ground that Israel is purely the oppressor in this conflict.

Because of the TimesSelect barracade, I will quote Friedman extensively.

Anyway, as the Hebrew U. doctoral candidates each had their names called out and rose to receive their diplomas from the university’s leadership, I followed along in the program. The Israeli names rolled by: “Moshe Nahmany, Irit Nowik, Yuval Ofir. But then every so often I heard an Arab name, like Nuha Hijazi or Rifat Azam or Taleb Mokari.

Since the program listed everyone’s degrees and advisers, I looked them up. Rifat got his doctorate in law. His thesis was about “International Taxation of Electronic Commerce.” His adviser was “Prof. D. Gliksberg.” Nuha got her doctorate in biochemistry. Her adviser was “Prof. R. Gabizon.” Taleb had an asterisk by his name. So I looked at the bottom of the page. It said: “Summa Cum Laude.” His chemistry thesis was about “Semiconductor-Metal Interfaces,” and his adviser was “Prof. U. Banin.”

These were Israeli Arab doctoral students — many of them women and one of whom accepted her degree wearing a tight veil over her head. Funny — she could receive her degree wearing a veil from the Hebrew University, but could not do so in France, where the veil is banned in public schools. Arab families cheered unabashedly when their sons and daughters received their Hebrew U. Ph.D. diplomas, just like the Jewish parents.

So here we have clear evidence of the integrated state of higher education in Israel. Friedman then calls it as he sees it regarding the boycott:

I tell this story to underscore the obvious : that the reality here is so much more morally complex than the outside meddlers present it. Have no doubt, I have long opposed Israel’s post-1967 settlements. They have squandered billions and degraded the Israeli Army by making it an army of occupation to protect the settlers and their roads. And that web of settlements and roads has carved up the West Bank in an ugly and brutal manner — much uglier than Israel’s friends abroad ever admit. Indeed, their silence, particularly American Jewish leaders, enabled the settlement lunacy.

But you’d have to be a blind, deaf and dumb visitor to Israel today not to see that the vast majority of Israelis recognize this historic mistake, and they not only approved Ariel Sharon’s unilateral uprooting of Israeli settlements in Gaza to help remedy it, but elected Ehud Olmert precisely to do the same in the West Bank. The fact that it is not happening now is hardly Israel’s fault alone. The Palestinians are in turmoil.

So to single out Israeli universities alone for a punitive boycott is rank anti-Semitism. Let’s see, Syria is being investigated by the United Nations for murdering Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Syrian agents are suspected of killing the finest freedom-loving Lebanese journalists, Gibran Tueni and Samir Kassir. But none of that moves the far left to call for a boycott of Syrian universities. Why? Sudan is engaged in genocide in Darfur. Why no boycott of Sudan? Why?

Anti-semitism is the answer, plain and simple.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Flickr Foto Of The Day

finestra con sedile
Originally uploaded by mluisa_
A window seat in Rome. As one commenter at Flickr noted, it brings to mind the work of Vermeer. The light is just beautiful.


Nothing Sadder Than A Former American Idol

The first American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, has announced that she is canceling her summer tour of large arenas across America. Ticket sales were reported as "disappointing."

A quick check at Ticketmaster revealed that the ticket price for Clarkson's tour was more than reasonable for such tours, at $45 - $90 a ticket. A big arena show is very expensive to bring out. At those ticket prices a sell out everywhere was almost essential if profits were to be made. Clarkson's new management indicates that they will reorganize for a tour in smaller venues.

The fact is that Clarkson, a great singer, is not the compelling performer today's audiences demand. She is not one of the blonde hotties prancing about in limited clothing. She does not do a show the focuses on dance and special effects. She sings and sings well. But she sings mostly new songs tailored and focus-grouped to death in an effort to avoid real art and create only that which, it is hoped, will sell. As the sinking of the music industry in general demonstrates, people are not moved by that kind of music by committee. Certainly, the combination is no longer enough to fill America's arenas.

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Strategic Diplomacy Played Out In The NY Times

The lead article in today's print editions of the NY Times is headlined, "Iran Strategy Stirs Debate at White House." The article, by Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, reports that a debate is ongoing in Administration circles between those who favor a push for firm diplomatic pressure on the Iranian government to end its development of fissionable material and those who favor a military strike on those nuclear facilities.

Cooper and Sanger report that their sources are "officials at the State Department, White House and the Pentagon who are on both sides of the debate, as well as people who have spoken with members of Mr. Cheney’s staff and with Ms. Rice. The officials said they were willing to explain the thinking behind their positions, but would do so only on condition of anonymity."

The core of the debate is between those in the Cheney camp who want to establish a "red line" beyond which the Iranians would not be allowed to proceed, even if military action is the only way of interfering with their progress. The Rice camp want to press the European nations to increase the economic pressures on Iran, hoping that sufficient pressure will encourage the Iranians to come to the table with an offer that would assure no development of nuclear weapons.

I find it difficult to read this article without wondering aloud if the editors and writers at the Times weren't certain that they were being used as a conduit to ratchet up the drumbeat of the hawks as a means of motivating the Europeans to act in order to avoid an American or Israeli air strike. There seems to be "managed coincidence" of public debate over this issue.

As the Times piece mentions, Norman Podhoretz in the current Commentary, features a lead piece entitled, "The Case For Bombing Iran." His conclusion is that Iran's intentions are nothing less than the building of a nuclear arsenal to wipe out Israel, dominate the Middle East and its oil resources, and extending the power and influence into Europe. In Podhoretz' view, the only means of stopping this important front in what he views and World War IV is military action.

Leaving aside the very important question of the likelihood of the success of such military action and our ability to counter any Iranian counter moves, Podhoretz and other hawks like William Kristol and John Bolton are raising a chorus of cries for armed steps against Iran. At the same time State Department and Treasury officials, according to the Times, "...have been trying to use the mounting conservative calls for a military strike to press Europe and Russia to expand economic sanctions against Iran."

In fact, in this weeks US News and World Report, Dennis Ross, former mideast negotiator for both the Clinton and first Bush Administrations, argues that:

It's time to go outside the Security Council and persuade our European allies to move beyond incremental pressures and actually cut their economic lifeline to Iran such as the billions of dollars in credit guarantees to companies doing business with Tehran.

How to convince the European Union? Statecraft. Convey to the Europeans that unless economic pressure is dramatically increased now, the use of force to stop the Iranian nuclear program will become more, not less, likely. To make economic pressure more palatable to the Europeans, let them know that once the new penalties are in place, we will join them in direct negotiations with Iran—something they believe is the key to overcoming the crisis with Iran.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it.

The real question for this period in world communications and diplomacy is whether or not such plain ploys, conducted in the open, can be effective. On the left, some have focused on the threat of military action as another looming error of the Bushies. They want any such threats taken absolutely off the table. In truth, they should be rooting for Cheney and company's sabre rattling. Only if they are believed are the sanctions likely to be enacted that might stand a realistic chance of getting the attention of the Mullahs and Pres. Ahmadinejad.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Flickr Foto Of The Day

Originally uploaded by liveforphotos
The wonders of Tuscany and the telephoto lens.


Al Is Gored By Paglia

Camille Paglia begs Al Gore not to run for President again and lays out her case as only she can. Key quote:

"As a global warming agnostic, I dislike the way that Gore's preachy, apocalyptic fundamentalism has fomented an atmosphere of hysteria around this issue and potentially compromised the long-term credibility of environmentalism. Democrats who long for his return as the anti-Hillary may not realize how Gore has become a risible cartoon character for much of the country at large. Anyone who listens to talk radio has been repeatedly regaled by clips of Gore bizarrely going off the deep end at one speech or another. And Gore, far worse than Hillary, is the Phantom of a Thousand Accents -- telegraphing his supercilious condescension to whatever audience he's trying to manipulate."
That pretty much says it for me as well.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Just Plain Silliness

MEMEorandum has picked up a release by something called the Campaign For America's Future, a self-identified "progressive" advocacy organization, founded by a panoply of big names on the left. These folks claim that all the polling data from ,"the most respected and non-partisan public opinion researchers", proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Americans are solidly in the "progressive" camp. Their hope is that wimpy liberal politicians will accept this and have the nerve to act accordingly and immediately install the full array of "progressive" remedies.

The notion is so self-serving that I don't intend to read the full report, but just look at two of the five highlights they emphasize:

On Energy Policy: 52 percent of Americans believe "the best way for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil" is to "have the government invest in alternative energy sources"; 64 percent are willing to pay a higher energy tax to pay for renewable energy research; 68 percent of the public thinks U.S. energy policy is better solved by conservation than production.
This is a "progressive" issue? Do they truly believe that none of the people who want US energy independence are motivated by dislike of the Arab states' and Venezuela's ability to jerk America around by our gasoline hoses? Surely some of that feeling is good old fashioned America first xenophobia, even by a isolationist wish to cut off all ties with the middle east, come what may in Israel and Palestine.

And then there is this:

On Immigration: 62 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be given a chance to "keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status." 49 percent believe the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico is to penalize employers, not more border control.
Aside from the obvious point that 49% is not quite a majority, the rest of the polling sounds suspiciously like the currently challenged grand immigration compromise, championed by such "progressives" as Sens. Kyl and McCain. Since when was this purely an idea of the left? You really need a set of large blinders (not to mention balls) to look at what has been happening in the Senate and only see Teddy Kennedy.

Of course there is also the tiny little problem of who people actually vote for in national elections. After all, Bush was the most recently re-elected President and Dennis Kucinich's chances still don't look so promising. Just look at the dancing around issues being done by Hillary and Obama. They must be reading a different set of polls in their misguided focus on trying to actually win one in '08.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

David Chase On The Soprano's Ending

Alan Sepinwall has posted an interview with David Chase, who is vacationing in France in part to escape the rush of judgments and questions about the choices he made for his final episode. I wouldn't be surprised if this is Chase's final word on the Sopranos. It may also be mine.

It contains some very interesting stuff. Key quote:

"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he says of the final scene.

"No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he adds. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them."

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Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranos - You Keep Me Hangin' On

The tension was building to a fever pitch. One by one the Soprano nuclear family gathered in the diner. One by one possible hit men came in while we all waited for Meadow to park her damn car. One last communion-like ingestion of onion rings by all and....black!

Like many, I feared that Comcast had screwed up and dropped the signal at the crucial moment, then, after five seconds, the credits began to roll. Silently, with none of the usual musical overlay.

I began to laugh my ass off. Chase had consumed the seemingly endless speculation from far and wide. He broke the fourth wall and said, screw it, you guys make up your own ending. It was perfect.

Along the way he showed us the total devastation of Uncle Junior, Janice's bottomless focus on getting other people's money, and we were left to imagine the squashing of Phil Leotardo's scull, seen only in the nearly comic take reaction of the bystanders. We also saw the FBI trying to influence the office pool on who would whack who, AJ's salvation from his depression and scattered dreams of saving the world and Meadow's future practicing law in her soon-to-be-husband's firm.

All in all a very satisfying finale featuring a great song by the Vanilla Fudge, one of the preeminent New York bar bands of Chase's and my youth. "You Keep Me Hangin' On" indeed.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Photography - Henri Cartier-Bresson

Today's Flickr photo (below) called to mind the beautiful black and white photography of Cartier-Bresson. Working in Paris in the years before and after World War II, he produced work that emphasized the captured moment. It was called, famously in the title of a book and an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the "decisive moment".

It still represents the essence of the medium, its ability to freeze an instant of life.

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Flickr Foto Of The Day

Originally uploaded by Bolivar Trindade
A decisive moment captured on a Brazilian beach. Very reminiscent of the famous picture by Henri Cartier-Bresson. See the post above for a glimpse of that gem.


Those Who Live By Publicity Die By Publicity

The spectacle of the teary Paris Hilton being hauled back to jail in the back of a police car has prompted many to suggest that she has now received a negative kind of special treatment. The argument of Sheriff Boca and others is that whereas, under a Federal Court order to reduce overcrowding in its jails, LA County routinely requires inmates to serve only 10% of their sentences, Hilton has been singled out to serve her full 45 days.

That is certainly true now, in no small way thanks to Sheriff Boca and Hilton's lawyers' manipulation of the system to assure that the heiress served even less that the four and a half days that would have been her 10% debt. It must also be said that the brave front she displayed before her initial entry into jail is at sharp contrast to the latest spectacle of tears and cries for her mommy. One can only assume that the former bravery and civic responsibility was a well-rehearsed farce, played out in full prior knowledge of the extended weekend she would actually spend in the slammer.

What finally condemned Hilton to serve the longer term was her fame, which she has cultured and fertilized with great gusto. After all, she does nothing. She is the epitome of a person who is famous purely for being famous. She is the poster child for our celebrity obsessed culture. When she came before a judge, having flaunted his prior orders, it was totally predictable that he would throw the book at her. To do less would be to kowtow to her status as a celebrity in a town full of such vermin. So in a real way her fame forced the judge to specifically order no early release, no house arrest, etc. Why Sheriff Boca thought he could ignore that order in the glare of publicity is a mystery.

The problem with such intense publicity is that it is an uncontrollable beast. As a prime example, see the front page review of Tina Brown's new book on the former queen of the paparazzi, Princess Diana:

Yet Diana’s savvy had its limits. For although her public-relations wizardry enabled her repeatedly to upstage and — with the tell-all interviews she did in 1992 and 1995 — humiliate the Windsors, it did more than just give the monarchy an appealing, “human” face. By inviting the press to share in her most intimate experiences, the princess abolished every last vestige of celebrity privacy. And by providing the press with picture after dazzling, salable picture, she stoked “the media’s inexhaustible appetite for celebrity images.” In an extended meteorological conceit, Brown observes: “The sunshine of publicity in which Diana would at first be happy to bask, posing and smiling for the cameras, grew steadily hotter and harsher. As the superheated imperatives of an invasive press bumped up increasingly against the milder human necessity of privacy, scattered rains gave way to drenching gales and then to spectacular and finally lethal hurricanes. ... Diana herself had accelerated the climate change that ended up making her life literally impossible.” Mistakenly, she thought she could “control the genie she had released.”
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If Paris Hilton doesn't wise up, she too will be devoured by the vultures of the press. Imagine how much would be paid for a shot of her funeral.

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The Internet Giveth And The Internet Taketh Away

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

I trust the boys and girls over at Daily Kos and the other "Netroots" sites are paying some attention to today's NY Times. According to the Times, an explosion of resentment about that part of the grand immigration deal that opponents call "amnesty" for the undocumented already in the country was fired up by the internet and talk radio. The result was a deluge of calls, emails and letters to Senators that scared the be'jesus out of many Republicans.

The truth is that the medium is irrelevant to a large extent. Yes, it is now very easy to email a long list of people at one keystroke, but their rate of response is still determined by the oldest political motivator in the book, anger.

The Kosacks have mistaken their recent successes (we won't bring up the Lamont failure) to some quality of truth in their views. In fact, they failed to note the widespread atmosphere of fury throughout the society directed at Bush. They have just been picking the low hanging fruit of that fury.

The immigration deal provided some fuel that fired up the right. They may appear older and less hip, but they can still get just as angry. Maybe more so. Doesn't the word crotchety sort of belong to those of a certain age?

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Reason Apparently Guided Al To False Lincoln Quote

A little research reported in the Washington Post demonstrates that a quote used by Al Gore in his new book, "The Assault On Reason", is a fiction. The quote, alleged to by Pres. Abe Lincoln, seems tailor made for the "progressives" of our age. In fact it seems too good to be true, casting The Great Emancipator as the Nostradamus of the 19th century.

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

The all too perfect sound of this quote, which Al proceeds to declare speaks perfectly of our own Bushian times, also contains a false ring for those of us who have read much of Lincoln's writings. In fact we learn that the quote, which has been debunked by historians and denied by Lincoln's former secretaries and his son Robert. "The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln", now searchable via the internet, also fails to produce this quote.

Gore isn't the first politician to claim a kinship with Lincoln. Reagan also misquoted the man to fit his view of the world. In fact, one could spit in a room full of politicians of all political stripes and be sure of hitting one who claims Lincoln as his or her philosophical or temperamental hero. It is a symptom of Lincoln's position as our most admired and respected President.

One would have hoped that Gore's publisher, handling a man who aspires to appear as an intellectual, driven purely by his reason, would employ better fact checkers.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sara Silverman Provides Final Word On Paris Hilton!

Here, from a few days ago, is Sarah Silverman giving Ms. Hilton what she so richly deserves. And...right to her face. Hey, Jack loved it.

Flickr Foto Of The Day

People in Dust
Originally uploaded by amirphotography
This photograph captures my impression of crowded South Asia. Taken in Pakistan following a bull race of some kind, the dust, density and subtle tones are beautiful.


Recall LA County Sheriff Boca Now!

This is a plea with the people of Los Angeles County not to accept the disgrace that has been visited upon them by their elected Sheriff, Leroy D. Baca. His action in releasing Paris Hilton is a disgrace to all of America. But only those who live in LA County can properly punish the Sheriff by immediately recalling him from office at once.

Sheriff Baca was first elected in 1998. That is long enough. It will not be easy. Recall petitions must be signed by 10% of the number of registered voters in the county. That is a sizable number, but not impossible in the current circumstance.

Here is a handy guide to the California recall process as it applies to local officials. See particularly pages 14 - 27.

As soon as a recall effort is organized let us know. I, for one, will be more than willing to make a contribution.

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Paris Hilton, Some Pigs Are More Equal Than Other Pigs

The next time you hear a impoverished resident of your local ghetto complain that justice is doled out more harshly in their neighborhood than it is for the rich, agree with them. It has now been irrevocably proven true.

Paris Hilton, after about 72 hours in the hoosegow, has been released for "medical reasons", which must conveniently be kept confidential. In the process she was credited with a full five days of service of her original 45 day sentence. Wise in the ways of the penal system, her lawyers obviously counseled her to enter the jail just before midnight, there by accruing one full day. She was released just after midnight to accrue an additional full day. That is how three days are morphed into five days through the application of lawyerly magic.

TMZ.com is now further reporting that Paris was released for psychiatric reasons, not physical health issues.

Normally, I would avoid blogging about America's greatest pathological fame chaser at all cost. But this event reaches across the line from the swamps of celebrity shenanigans into the health of the body politic.

How, in the name of God, can the LA County Sheriff and his minions condone such hanky panky? There is no fable they can construe that allows Paris' tears or depression to merit a get-out-of-jail-free-card. It is inconceivable that she is the first person in their jail who was miserable there. That is why the term "suicide watch" was invented. Further, there is no excuse related to post-traumatic stress that could have or should have required the obviation of her sentence. She, more that almost anyone, would be able to afford the finest mental health treatment available after she served her sentence. Jail is supposed to hurt.

So she is now free to relax at home with family and friends for 40 days, (or 38 in the counting method of the Sheriff). Party on dudes!

If I were a resident of LA County I would be ashamed of the Sheriff and in such a state of fury that I would immediately join with anyone available to assure that the Sheriff, Leroy D. Baca, is recalled from his elected office at the earliest opportunity. He is a national disgrace and and a menace to our aspirations to equal justice.

I want to also say that before surrendering to the Sheriff, Hilton made statements that were the most intelligent, adult and responsible of her "career". I was impressed. Now I just think that it was all part of the game. She previously had seemed to believe herself above the law. She was right all along.

Her lawyers will now be able to advertise their new practice specialty. No Hollywood celebrity will ever need to suffer the indignities of the pokey again, almost regardless of their crime.

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Joe Klein On Attacks By The Leftie Blogosphere

Joe Klein blogs today about the ongoing attacks on him by the "progressive" blogosphere following his posting about the votes of Rep. Jane Harman and Hillary and Barrack on the Iraq funding bill. He had the temerity to, "post(ed) what Harman said on Swampland, the political blog at Time.com, along with my opinion that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had changed their positions and voted against the funding for the worst possible reason: presidential politics."

This is not the first time this kind of free-range lunacy has been visited upon me. Indeed, it happens, oh, once a week to each of us who post on Swampland (Karen Tumulty, Jay Carney and Ana Marie Cox are the others). A reasonable reader might ask, Why are the left-wing bloggers attacking you? Aren't you pretty tough on the Bush Administration? Didn't you write a few months ago that George W. Bush would be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in history? And why on earth does any of this matter?
Klein celebrates the wisdom and potential of much of the blogosphere, but:

... the smart stuff is being drowned out by a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesn't move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed—especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable. Some of this is understandable: the left-liberals in the blogosphere are merely aping the odious, disdainful—and politically successful—tone that right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh pioneered. They are also justifiably furious at a Bush White House that has specialized in big lies and smear tactics.

The intolerance is not reserved only for those who take any nuanced view of politics, but progressives seem to want to assign a special place in hell for those they think of as reachable via appeals to the catechism of liberal ideology. It is rather like the vehemence of Scientologists toward those who leave the flock.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Court FCC Ruling - Oh, The Horror!

This is FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin reacting to the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit of New York:

"I completely disagree with the court’s ruling and am disappointed for American families,” he said. “The court says the commission is ‘divorced from reality.’ It is the New York court, not the commission, that is divorced from reality.”

He said that if the agency was unable to prohibit some vulgarities during prime time, “Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want.”

Heaven protect us. Note the invocation of those two modern equivalents of Soddam and Gomorrah.

Martin bemoans the fact that the families of America will now be able to hear characters such as U2's Bono say fuck during the Grammy Awards. Somewhere in this great nation there may be a youngster who has not heard his or her parents, siblings, peers, neighbors, passing strangers, movie actors or any other human being utter our language's primal curse. If they exist, their keepers are highly unlikely to permit them to watch TV programs emanating from the dreaded bastions of sin on both coasts of this continent.

I think the nation will survive.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Women in Art

Thanks to Ann Althouse for showing us this video. It is almost three minutes of morphed artists' renderings of the female face over the centuries.

Hopeless heterosexual that I am, I found myself siting in front of the screen and returning the slight smile many of the faces project. What a happy way to spend a few minutes.