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January 07, 2006

A COURTHOUSE SUICIDE BOMBING in China. It's not the first.

MAYBE THE ARMY is catching on to this whole blog thing after all.

LOTS OF BAD PRESS FOR MICROSOFT over its shutdown of a Chinese blogger.

AVIAN FLU UPDATE:

THE number of Turkish people thought to be infected with avian flu rose to more than 50 this weekend, prompting concern that the disease may be about to spread into Europe.

Yesterday a British laboratory confirmed that a Turkish brother and sister who died last week had the feared H5N1 strain of avian flu.

A third child from the same family in Dogubayazit, in eastern Turkey, has now died of avian flu and dozens more suspected cases have emerged.

“The laboratory in the UK said that they have detected H5N1 in samples of the two fatal cases,” said Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation. They are the first fatalities outside East Asia.

Read the whole thing. There's this, too: "Professor John Oxford, an expert on flu at Queen Mary’s medical school, London, said the most worrying aspect of the deaths in Turkey was the large number of human cases resulting from exposure to a small number of birds."

JAMES LILEKS: "I do not worry about libertinism. I worry about libertines who think the greatest threat to the imminent Utopia is a Wal-Mart exec who refuses to stock a CD because the lyrics celebrate shooting cops in the head, or who think that uptight repressed Christers are six inches and five days away from replacing the Constitution with the plot of 'A Handmaiden’s Tale.'"

This thinking betrays a certain lack of perspective.

UPDATE: Hey, look who else is worried about "extremist Christians" -- like Hugh Hewitt!

ANN ALTHOUSE: "The question is: Are you concerned, in a politically neutral way, about national security?"

AUSTIN BAY has more thoughts on Stephen Hayes' report about Saddam and terrorist training.

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldstein has thoughts on postmodernism and the media.

And this seems related, somehow.

UPDATE: Postmodernism is busting out all over.

TED KENNEDY REMEMBERS "the Goldwater Presidency."

Funny, I don't -- but I was pretty young then.

TENNCARE BUZZ: A three-year-old song on TennCare by my friend (and former bandmate) Todd Steed is getting some airplay and ruffling some feathers: Story (and TV report) here -- hear the song online here.

UPDATE: You can get the song on iTunes, too, along with the whole album "Knoxville Tells." And the new one, "Heartbreak and Duct Tape."

TOM DELAY will quit his post as Majority Leader, according to the AP. I think that's good for the GOP, and for the country.

UPDATE: The Hotline Blog is asking for your thoughts on who should replace DeLay.

STEPHEN SPRUIELL at the National Review Media blog wonders if Bill Roggio's mistreatment by the Washington Post wasn't part of a trend:

The theme here, if you haven't already picked up on it, is that two major papers have used recent news reports about U.S. military information operations to try to discredit a pro-U.S. analyst and a pro-U.S. blogger. Both Rubin and Roggio write from a standpoint that is generally supportive of the U.S. mission in Iraq, and the NY Times and the Washington Post have attempted to portray their writings as untrustworthy and potentially motivated by financial considerations.

I think this has something to do with the fear and contempt some newspaper reporters feel towards online analysts and bloggers who don't buy into the objective model of journalism and are nevertheless taking a growing share of the news and analysis market. Writers like Rubin and Roggio, who have both traveled to Iraq and used the Internet to report their findings, are challenging the traditional gatekeeper role of papers like the Times and the Post, and some at those institutions don't like it. As true believers in the old school of objective reporting, they're seeking to discredit this new school of journalism — which has a clear point of view about its subject matter — as nothing but pro-U.S. propaganda.

But accuracy, fairness and honesty should count for a lot more than "objectivity," to the extent that the latter is even possible.

I'm glad that the folks at the Times and the Post are "true believers" in objective reporting.

Now if they'd just become true practitioners thereof. . . . But the shabby misrepresentations we've seen suggest that they're not even up to the "accuracy, fairness and honesty" part. Which is why, of course, they're losing readers to people like Roggio.

UPDATE: Michael Yon is calling for volunteers to do something about this problem:

One year ago, the gap between the ground reports from Iraq from military friends prompted my travel to Iraq to see for myself just what was happening. The dispatches posted to these pages over the ensuing months were an attempt to bridge that gap. Now that I’m back in the United States for a time, trying wring every bit of information of the war out of the news, only to come up dry most days, it’s become clear that in just under a year, the media gap has morphed into a chasm. Before this thing becomes a black hole, it’s time for a few good men and women to put their military experience and expertise to use in an operation that can create an alternative channel that will allow frontline information to break through and be heard.

Read the whole thing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Pentagon isn't helping, something I've noted here before. Here's an email from a Colonel recently back from Iraq -- he'd probably rather I not use his name:

The Department of Defense and the services are not keeping abreast of changing times and are therefore failing the strategic communications mission. By failing to engage "blogs" they are not reaching an outlet that itself has millions of "hits" a year. As you are well aware Blogs have had a tremendous impact on the media mainly due to the unfettered ability to reach out and touch just about everyone. Blogs are quickly gaining more and more credibility and will soon be the source of information, and analysis for millions of Americans and others around the world.

The MSM does not support the war and their reporting is slanted and one sided. Basically 3 TV stations and several newspapers decide what the American people should listen to and read. Why does the White House and DoD continually go back to the same outlets that twist stories to meet their ideological goals.

I think DoD and the services should include bloggers as part of their distribution lists and include them in the regular press conferences and press releases. If this requires issuing credentials then do it. The Bush administration has said that the support of the American people is a strategic center of gravity in winning the war. and I believe the best method today is the use of blogs to meet that end. DoD need to use the best means possible to reach the American people and blogs are it.

I advocated this idea while serving in Iraq, but the people who were in charge of the Strategic Communications did not understand the impact that bloggers have. Or they immediately said we cannot do that, but could not explain why. I agree that the Army does not understand the impact of blogs and they are "blowing it with bloggers," and they need to analyze the issue further and think forwardly.

It's a big mistake, and I hope the Pentagon will rethink it.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt, on a different subject, makes a point that's relevant here: "We are now in the second of five stages of old media death. First there was denial, and now there is anger."

STEPHEN F. HAYES reports on a Saddam-terror connection that hasn't gotten much attention up to now:

Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.

The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak--and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis.

I hope we're killing a lot of them now.

UPDATE: Jason van Steenwyk isn't fully persuaded.

AT LEAST IT'S NOT THE NSA:

The Chicago Police Department is warning officers their cell phone records are available to anyone -- for a price. Dozens of online services are selling lists of cell phone calls, raising security concerns among law enforcement and privacy experts.


Criminals can use such records to expose a government informant who regularly calls a law enforcement official.

Suspicious spouses can see if their husband or wife is calling a certain someone a bit too often.

And employers can check whether a worker is regularly calling a psychologist -- or a competing company.

Some online services might be skirting the law to obtain these phone lists, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for legislation to criminalize phone record theft and use.

Meanwhile, Generation Why? notes an ironic twist.

January 06, 2006

COLOR PHOTOS OF A WAR we remember in black-and-white: The Officers' Club has some color photos of World War II from the Library of Congress's big exhibit of color photos by the famous FSA photographers from 1939-1943.

UPDATE: And here are color photos from the First World War.

ANOTHER UPDATE: David Lee, who runs the WWI site, is soliciting donations for bandwidth. Apparently my link hit him pretty hard.

MORE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW BLOGGING at Engadget, YPulse, GeekNewsCentral (podcast), and PaidContent. Plus the CES Blog, and, of course, Popular Mechanics.

Sigh. This just makes me feel more left out.

CHESTER LOOKS AT IRAN and doesn't like what he sees: "Pundits are all worked up debating whether 2006 will be like 1994. Perhaps a better comparison might be 1914."

DUKE CUNNINGHAM wore a wire.

FIREFLY UPDATE: Reader Nathan Hall emails: "Thought some of your readers might be interested to know there's a Firefly marathon in progress on the Sci-fi channel."

BYRON YORK ON ABRAMOFF AND "REFORM:"

The one sure bet in all this is that lobbying reform laws are going to pass. Even before Mr. Abramoff, the public thought the influence-buying game was sleazy. Now, well, who would oppose reform? Mr. McCain, who faced years of opposition to campaign finance reform, knows this one will be much easier. "I don't think it would offend very many people except those in the lobbying community," he told me in November.

Senator McCain was right; just look at who is already on the reform bandwagon. The first senator to sign on as a co-sponsor to Mr. McCain's bill was none other than Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, who is also the senator most frequently linked to the Abramoff matter. When it comes to lobbying in this post-Abramoff world, everyone's a reformer - and that could be a problem.

I think that every member of Congress and the press should have to read and understand this vital book before opining on the subject. And in making this assertion, I'm just as unbiased and disinterested as everyone else making proposals for reform . . . .

THE RAW STORY has a long piece on blogger Bill Roggio's rather unfair treatment at the hands of the Washington Post:

Multiple calls and emails to Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck went unreturned. Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell told RAW STORY by email that she was “looking into it,” though it's unknown whether she'll be tackling the controversy in print.

I hope she will, as I don't think the Post has come off very well in this matter so far.

THE CIRCUIT CITY FOLKS are blogging (and videoblogging) from the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. How did I figure this out -- from some fancy PR package? Nope. Noticed it on the ad that sometimes runs to the right. I think we'll see more of this sort of thing from tech-related businesses, since they're well set up to do it.

I'm still bummed that I wasn't able to go. If I had, you'd be seeing this sort of thing right here. Maybe next year.

BANKS AND TERROR: An interesting article (subscription only) in today's Wall Street Journal:

Three years ago, Tzvi Weiss, an American, was badly injured in Israel by a suicide bomber on a mission from Palestinian terror group Hamas. Now, he and his family are seeking damages from a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, one of the world's biggest banks, for what he alleges is the bank's liability for his wounds.

Mr. Weiss's case, in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., raises the prospect that the world's biggest banks -- which have paid heavily for their alleged involvement in frauds at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. (the current MCI Inc.) -- could now find themselves under attack by the victims of terrorism for wittingly or unwittingly acting as conduits for terrorist funds. Mr. Weiss and his family are one of many affected by some 10 terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2003 who are bringing the claim.

The complaint alleges that a London-based charity that had accounts at Royal Bank of Scotland's National Westminster Bank unit acted as a fund-raising arm for Hamas. The complaint, which lists Mr. Weiss and five family members as plaintiffs, was filed in September; NatWest filed for dismissal late last month. According to court documents, an amended complaint is expected to be filed soon.

The London-based charity in question, called Interpal, was named by U.S. authorities as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist after the 2003 bombing that injured Mr. Weiss. . . .

Banking and regulatory lawyers said big banks should prepare for further potential suits as the number of terrorist atrocities increases and victims look for potential culprits from which to claim compensation. "The banks are the target," said Rodgin Cohen, chairman of New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. "That's where the money is."

Added Douglas Greenburg, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., office of Latham & Watkins: "The specter of civil litigation for financing terrorism is something that [banks] should be aware of."

Get the trial lawyers on their case, and these guys will never know what hit 'em -- when Mao used the term "paper tiger" to refer to something that shouldn't be feared, it was only because he'd never been served with a discovery order. . . .

MERYL YOURISH has much more on happenings in Israel.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS: A look at the latest Brookings Institution figures from Iraq.

I REALLY LIKED JOHN SCALZI'S GHOST BRIGADES. Stephen Bainbridge has read it, too, and he's also a big fan: "If you're a science fiction fan, you've got to add Scalzi to your reading list. If you're not a science fiction fan, you ought to give Scalzi a try - he might just convert you."

I WAS KIND OF BUSY YESTERDAY, and I neglected to mention this piece by Peggy Noonan on Abramoff and the big-government Republicans. If you haven't read it, don't miss it.

This WSJ editorial from today is also worth reading, and offers this excellent advice: "Banish the Abramoff crowd from polite Republican society, and start remembering why you were elected in the first place."

CATHY YOUNG:

We've heard it over and over again: Hurricane Katrina was not just a natural disaster, and not just a tragic case of government bungling, but a searing indictment of American racism and social injustice.

Apparently, this conventional wisdom is completely wrong.

Read the whole thing.

HEH: "Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, who yesterday told viewers that God’s wrath spurred Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, today said his own 'ignorant remarks are another manifestation of God’s anger.'"

AUSTIN BAY looks at the fallout from Sharon's stroke. And check out IsraPundit for much more.

UPDATE: Fred Lapides recommends this Sharon piece by Christopher Hitchens.

PATTERICO: "You know you’ve arrived when an L.A. Times columnist compares you to a dishonest, totalitarian Stalinist apparatchik." Oh, come on. That's so 2002.

Tom Maguire observes: "Ironists will applaud Mr. Hiltzik's effort."

REGULATING ROCKET RIDES: An interesting look at ongoing FAA proposals for regulating space tourism.

CHINESE BLOGGERS RESPOND to Microsoft censorship: Rebecca MacKinnon has roundup posts here and here.

BARRELFISHING: Kling on Kuttner.

JAMES WATERTON: "I believe that the Chinese banking sector's dire straits constitute the gravest threat to global stability in the coming years."

JEEZ: "So let's see, 114 + 191 = $305 million dollars spent ridding the services of linguists who understand arabic, etc., and now having to lure replacements. Your money well spent!" Even a bridge in Alaska is less wasteful. And I agree with this, too: "I think it's time our armed forces and intelligence services got over this whole stupid 'gay' thing. How about a 'don't ask, don't care' policy?"

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Professor, I spent 6 years in the navy during the 80's ( I was signing the enlistment papers when Reagan got shot ). During my six years I knew of at least 6 gay members of the navy (one I knew before the navy ). Not once did we, the enlisted members make an issue of the gays nor did we care as long as they did their job. It was an unofficial policy before it became an official policy. My feeling is that the vast majority of service personnel could care less as long as they do their jobs, because most of the service realizes that they are all in this together and that the team comes before the sexual orientation of someone.

Makes sense to me.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Brandon Bigelow emails:

I'll second the input from your correspondent who served in the Navy during the 80's. I served for four years active duty in the Navy during the 90's, and saw the transition to "don't ask, don't tell." The transition was transparent, because the chain of command didn't care whether a member was homosexual before "don't ask, don't tell," and the chain of command didn't care whether a member was homosexual after "don't ask, don't tell." In my (admittedly limited) experience, the only members who were separated from the Navy during that period because they were homosexual were members who wanted to get out of their contracts early, and saw the Navy's policy as a convenient means of getting discharged without suffering the inconvenience of a less than honorable discharge.

Hmm. I don't think that's the case with these linguists, though. Meanwhile, Major Paul Landry emails:

'm a military linguist and an army officer. For years I've been informing pundits and reporters on the homosexual soldiers issue, including being interviewed (but not quoted) in a big Wash Post article a few years back.

The important points briefly:
a. Homosexual military members who keep their private life to themselves are never bothered. The only homosexual members discharged are those that walk in and "confess" so they can get out of their contract with the military and avoid deployments.

b. If you disagree with the law, blame Congress not the military. Congress created this. Congress can change it. The military is simply enforcing laws created by Congress. Pointing fingers at the military in this area is like blaming the police officer for enforcing the law on a parking ticket. You're blaming the wrong guy.

I certainly agree that Congress is ultimately responsible here. Another reader, though, says the quote above is unfair:

I'm a former (career) Air Force linguist, so I'm familiar with the problem. But the first quote is terribly misleading... First, the 114 million is being spent to create more linguists, not "rid" the services of linguists. Second, the 191 million cited in the GAO report was an estimate of the costs associated with recruiting / training replacements for the 10,000 discharged under "Don't ask, don't tell" since 1993, of whom only 332 were linguists. Linguists are more expensive to train that most other specialties, but the amount of money spent "ridding the services of linguists" is closer to $20 million than the $305M cited - quite a difference. Is it still wasteful? Yes. Is "Don't ask, don't tell" bad policy? In my opinion, yes. Can it cause a disproportionate hit to military capability? Absolutely. Should it be revisited? Yes, but I'm not sure I'd take it on at the moment when 1) we're still at war and 2) the political environment has never been more toxic. I just hate to see sound policy arguments undermined by "hyping" the evidence and distorting facts, which is what Alphecca has done. It's an attention-getting line; it's also not true.

Military linguists have been under-resourced for decades. The discharges under "Don't ask, Don't tell" haven't helped, but they're only one factor (and a relatively minor one) in the shortfall of military linguists (although it's not minor to the guy that has to go into combat without one). The biggest problem we've had (pre-9/11) was that everyone agreed it was a critical capability, but they got a lot less serious about it when it came time to pony up the money. Linguists simply lost out to competing budget priorities. 9/11 brought clarity to many long-standing problems in the intel world, and the DoD has begun to put serious money behind its linguist shortfall rhetoric.

It's certainly true that the government is pushing linguistic capabilities now, which is clearly a good thing. It seems clear to me, too, that the current gays in the military policy is a dumb idea and needs to be changed.

MORE: The above reader sends a correction: "In my earlier email, I ballparked the cost of training ~300 linguists at $20M. I did some research and a better number is closer to $50M, at $150k per linguist. I see the topic has generated some interest.... just want to offer a better number to correct the record, as future posts might note my original figure as off the mark."

MORE STILL: Tom Bell emails:

It *cannot* be the case that the military never went after closeted gays; see McVeigh v. Cohen, 983 F. Supp. 215 (D.D.C. 1998) (finding ECPA bars government from obtaining a user's private information from an online service provider absent a warrant, subpoena, or court order). The facts of that case show quite clearly that government officials went after a fellow who was not seeking a discharge. Indeed, the plaintiff successfully enjoined his discharge on grounds the government violated his ECPA rights during its investigation of his online persona. One case hardly proves that a culture of prosecuting homosexuality did or does exist in the U.S. military, of course, but it still proves troubling.

Yeah, the McVeigh case is one I teach in Internet Law. Poor guy -- a gay sailor named "Timothy McVeigh." And the Navy's behavior in that case was atrocious, though to be fair it's a post "don't ask don't tell" phenomenon. And Major Russell Meyer emails:

I want to echo what some of your readers have said. I have been an officer for almost 11 years and commanded a company for just over two of those years. I don't care if a person is gay or not - contrary to what gay activists say, I don't have the time or inclination to pursue whether a serviceman is homosexual. It's not that big of a deal and we have many more important things to spend our time on.

That being said, I discharged 8 people under Chapter 15(homosexual conduct), all of whom came to me, and by that I mean sought a private appointment in my office in order to make the statement, "Sir, I'm gay." I believe that out of those 8, only two were actually gay - one guy was always suspect, but we never pried, and the other guy brought me pictures. The other six saw an easy way out. The upsurge usually began after either we were announced for deployment or the soldier was in trouble for another offense(like being drunk on duty), and they wanted to try an avoid trouble. The story usually morphed from, "Sir, I'm gay," to "Sir, I'm bi-sexual" within a few days. And since most civilians don't know what a Chapter 15 discharge is, and it is almost always honorable, a lot of soldiers have no qualms about using it to leave service quickly.

Bottom line - the only ones kicked out for homosexual behavior are either those who are looking for a quick out or those who come forward because they want to make a political statement. It's time people knew that.

I should make a "Russ Meyer" joke here, but I'll bet he's heard 'em all. Meanwhile, reader Jim Hogue emails:

I was a career criminal investigator in the USAF from 1971 – 1995. “Don’t ask…period” was pretty much the unofficial policy of the USAF criminal investigators on the street even though under the UCMJ homosexuality was a “crime” and had to be investigated. So was adultery and I don’t recall spending much time on those cases either (unless they were compounded by fraternization or violence).

I detested those investigations and so did most of the investigators I knew. To mirror the comments above, it was only the self proclaiming “walk ins” or egregious homosexual activities (that couldn’t be ignored by command) that resulted in investigations and even those, absent other compounding events, (again, fraternization, etc) hardly led to anything other than administrative discharges.

We had a saying in the Air Force, probably mirrored in the other services, that if you’re going to do something “Don’t do it in the shadow of the flag pole.”

In other words, be discreet in your indiscretions.

Yeah. The behavior in the McVeigh case could fairly be described as a "witch hunt" -- my students always laugh at the don't-ask-don't-tell reference, since there was rather a lot of asking going on -- but I don't think it was typical. Regardless, I think we'd be better off with a more sensible rule.

THE CARNIVAL OF THE CARS IS UP: Also the Tangled Bank science carnival, the Carnival of the Vanities, the Carnival of Education, and a lot of other new carnivals that you can see over at BlogCarnival.com.

January 05, 2006

SOME MAJOR PROGRESS in defending an important international human right.

THE JULIE MYERS APPOINTMENT: Put me down as another member of the Kos-Malkin-National Review convergence.

UPDATE: Reader Mark Hessey emails: "Hard to argue with the 'anti' position, but it's a done deal now, so let's try to evaluate her future perfomance on its merits without applying past baggage up front. She may just surprise us all."

Let's hope.

ABRAMOFF UPDATE: Remembering Roger Tamraz. Everything old is new again. Or maybe the other way around. . . .

THIS SEEMS LIKE GOOD NEWS: "The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in more than five years last week, providing strong evidence that the labor market is shaking off the effects of a string of devastating hurricanes."

PAT ROBERTSON OFFERS US ANOTHER REMINDER of why he was one of the original models for the term "idiotarian:"

Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."

David Corn isn't sure what to make of this: "So God visited a stroke upon Sharon because God is opposed to the Middle East peace process? That's what Robertson is saying. (But if God didn't want progress in the Middle East, why did God let Arafat die? I'm confused.)"

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman notes a Robertson soul brother.

MARK STEYN ON DEMOGRAPHY ON HUGH HEWITT: The transcript is here.

BRING IT ON:

AN EXTRAORDINARY "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated by the United States government.

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a report in today's New Scientist magazine.

The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

Color me skeptical, but in a wanting-it-to-be-true kind of way. (Via Bainbridge).

IT'S BAA-AAA-AACK: "Zeta again strengthened into a tropical storm Thursday and could break the record for the storm lasting the longest into January since record keeping began in 1851."

THOUGHTS ON THE SINGULARITY, from Dean Esmay.

WARD CHURCHILL UPDATE: A reader emailed to ask what was going on, and I referred him to PirateBallerina.com, which has been on top of this story from the beginning. Check it out for all your Ward Churchill needs.

LAST NIGHT, HUGH HEWITT discussed George Bush's crimes with Professor Rosa Brooks of the University of Virginia law school. There's a transcript online here.

REDSTATE LAUNCHES SWANNBLOG: Mike Krempasky emails "Why? Because it's Lynn-Frickin'-Swann, that's why!"

IN THE MAIL: Dorian Greyhound : A Novel, by Sheryl Longin -- who happens to be married to Roger Simon. According to the Amazon page, revenues are going to greyhound rescue.

MICHAEL TOTTEN LOOKS AT the slow rot of Hosni Mubarak. I'm not sure it was all that slow, actually.

REBECCA MACKINNON: "Why Microsoft's China censorship matters to everybody."

HERE'S A LOOK at coming attractions in space law.

THE POPULAR MECHANICS PEOPLE were nice enough to invite me to go along to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, but I wasn't able to make it, alas. They're blogging what they've found, though, and it looks like an interesting new wave of gadgets. Editor Jim Meigs emails: "My takeaway after a few hours is that while last year they showed a lot of high def stuff that didn't materialize (like DVRs) this year it looks like it will really arrive."

SHE'S EVERYWHERE: Ana Marie Cox on the Abramoff scandal, in the NYT: "Sad to admit it, but most of what Jack Abramoff did with politicians (as opposed to his outright fraud with Indian tribes) wasn't criminal so much as extreme. The Hollywood arc would have a chain-gang of Congressmen breaking rocks by the final reel, but we are unlikely to get such satisfaction outside of celluloid."

TOM MAGUIRE: "I don't want the Times deciding, in wartime, just what information I "deserve to have", thank you very much - they are not elected,they are not accountable, and frankly, I do not trust their politics. But rather than abandon my fellow citizens to the mercies or depredations of the Bush Administration, let me offer a constructive suggestion - since we have a representative democracy, complete with institutional checks and balances and two parties, how about if the purveyors of classifed info, when troubled by their consciences, take their troubles to a Congressional oversight committee rather than the NY Times?"

DANIEL GLOVER has been looking at 2006 candidate blogs. So far he's covered Texas and Illinois. Only 48 more states to go!

MORE ON ABRAMOFF: "One of the crimes was bribing “Staffer A” to oppose a postal rate increase. What? That’s a crime? I think it is a public service we should all be thankful for." Heh. There's a suggestion for PorkBusters, too.

January 04, 2006

MEGAN MCARDLE has more on the FDA and Cyalert matter mentioned by Teresa Nielsen Hayden below.

JEFF JARVIS: "One terrible lesson of the West Virginia mine tragedy is that you can’t trust the news. You never could; it has always taken time to see whether stories pan out, to get all the facts, to find out the truth. But now, in our age of instant news and ubiquitous communication, the public sees this process as it occurs. It’s not the news that’s live; it’s the process of figuring out what to believe that’s live."

Yes. As I noted in my earlier post, it's not so much that I blame them for getting the story wrong -- everybody makes mistakes -- it's that I know that if a blogger made a similar error, with similar consequences, Anderson Cooper would be among those blaming the "undisciplined, editor-free" blogosphere. In fact, we saw a bit of that last year when bloggers were blamed for talking about news organizations' own -- wrong -- leaked exit polls.

Meanwhile, here's a blogger's firsthand report. "Be careful, though, trying to pin the blame for this fiasco on the media. There is a difference between spreading a rumor and reporting that a rumor is spreading. Don’t think so? Try to imagine a scenario where live cameras pointing at the church could have avoided showing the jubilation that erupted there when the despicable rumor began that the twelve were alive." Well, yes. But again, I don't think they'd cut non-traditional media the same slack. They certainly haven't done so in the past.

JOHN TAMMES: "Edward Gibbon, or Douglas MacArthur?"

AVIAN FLU UPDATE: "Turkey said on Wednesday two people had been diagnosed with bird flu — the first human cases outside Southeast Asia and China — and a doctor said one of them, a 14-year-old boy, had died from the killer H5N1 strain." Meanwhile, Roche is sending more Tamiflu to the United States, though that's in response to an outbreak of ordinary, non-avian flu.

UPDATE: More bad news: "Bird flu killed a second teenager in eastern Turkey early Thursday, one day after health officials confirmed her brother as the first fatality by the virus outside of East Asia." Exposure to poultry seems to have been involved, though.

JIM PINKERTON writes on technological threats and the need for space colonization.

That theme gets a chapter in An Army of Davids, along with a discussion of how small-scale private efforts might make it happen.

Kaus is skeptical, although Greg Egan wrote a fine novel based on staying ahead of the posse.

UPDATE: Reader David McCune emails:

One thing that Pinkerton didn’t mention about Heinlein’s alternate future was that mankind had reached and colonized the stars much earlier precisely because space flight had been a private, for-profit venture form the beginning. Between gray goo catastrophes, terrorists of all stripes, and an ever-growing government, it’s hard to be long-term optimistic without invoking space colonization.

Indeed. Something else that Heinlein said was that the Earth is too fragile a basket to hold all of our eggs.

ORIN KERR has more thoughts on the NSA interception program: "Based on what I have read from Risen's book, it seems less likely to me than it did before that this is a TIA-like data-mining program. . . . For those with criminal law experience, this was basically a large-scale pen regsister/trap-and-trace or wiretap, depending on how the filters are configured. (I'm not sure how different telephone traffic is these days, at least inside the provider switches.) This is different from a data-mining program."

If it's a pen-register type program, of course, no warrant is required, as it's pretty well established that there's no expectation of privacy in "envelope" type information, even if it's normally read only by machines, not human beings. Orin also has some thoughts on why the disclosure of this information might be damaging to national security.

OMRI CEREN is liveblogging Sharon's medical situation.

2005: NOT SUCH A BAD YEAR AFTER ALL, says Amir Taheri. (Via Gateway Pundit).

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: You can vote for the Porker of the Year in a contest sponsored by Citizens Against Government Waste.

I'LL BE ON NPR'S TALK OF THE NATION in just a minute, talking about the Abramoff case.

UPDATE: The audio is up, with me, Jeralyn Merritt, and Matt Lewis.

FIRST THE KATRINA REPORTING fell apart. Then there was the whole wolf fiasco. Now there's the misreporting of the trapped-miners story.

If bloggers had made these kinds of mistakes, Big-Media folks would be pointing them out as evidence that the blogosphere can't be trusted. But where were all those editors, filters, and fact-checkers?

MORE ON ABRAMOFF over at GlennReynolds.com.

UPDATE: Bruce Reed observes: "Ironically, the Contract With America included lobbying reform and a gift ban, along with other institutional changes that Republicans have since left behind." As I've suggested, they'd better rediscover the reasons people sent them in the first place.

Meanwhile, Marc Cooper looks at the Democrats' role in Indian gaming and finds little to admire.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Tim Chapman has an interview with Mike Pence about budget-cutting efforts in Congress. Pence looks at how the GOP Congress has lost its way:

TC: I just read a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, and I think it was Dick Armey actually who wrote it and calling for another Republican revolution. It almost sounds like that’s what you’re talking about there—a complete reversion, not reversion in a negative way, but a reversion to conservative ideals that brought a bunch of people to the Republicans in 1994.


Pence: Well, I’ll always believe that the experience of November 2003, where this majority allowed for and supported the creation of the first new entitlement since the Great Society in the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, that we reached something of a turning point. It was in that three-hour vote, the longest vote in Congressional history that many of the relationships that have now become the foundation of the Republican study Committee and its effectiveness were forged during that legislative battle. And if there is any silver lining to Medicare bill and the No Child Left Behind bill was in those defeats. House conservatives were reinvigorated and renewed in their commitment to be more effective in limited government and fiscal discipline. And the successes, however modest, of this year are a direct result of dozens upon dozens members being unwilling to allow government to expand under Republican control.

The Congressional Republicans certainly need to remember why they were sent there. And, as I noted on January 1, there's a connection between pork and corruption that they would do well to keep in mind. Maybe we should send them all a copy of Size Matters.

IN RESPONSE TO THE NIELSEN HAYDEN POST BELOW, Kevin Menard emails that the problem is more general:

Killing the sales of Vioxx has screwed me and a lot of others. My misspent youth left me with a lot of joint pain and Vioxx made it go away. Period. None of the others seem to work as well. Would I trade increasing risk of heart disease to be able to run with my kids? You bet, especially when you look at the studies and see the odds for those of us otherwise healthy.

A meteorite would be too quick...

Yeah. I'm all for drug safety but I really worry that relatively minor risks are being inflated to kill off important drugs, and that that will chill research into new medicines. And I wonder how Public Citizen would fare if they were held as accountable for their statements and actions as the pharmaceutical companies are for theirs.

MORE ON MICROSOFT AND CHINA, via Forbes.com: "Microsoft is again facing a public relations backlash after a Chinese web blog hosted on its MSN Spaces service was allegedly shut down."

TERESA NIELSEN HAYDEN: "If Ralph Nader is run over by a beer truck and killed, if a very large meteorite falls on the offices of Public Citizen and vaporizes the lot of them, I won’t feel sorry. Not the least little bit."

She's upset because a medicine she depends on to lead a normal life has been taken off the market at their behest. I understand how she feels. My wife's response to Tikosyn has been something close to a miracle, and if it were taken off the market, I'd wish those responsible dead, too. Though perhaps more slowly and painfully.

UPDATE: Eric S. Raymond is defending Ralph Nader. Well, sort of.

And Derek Lowe weighs in, too.

FASHION ADVICE for Jack Abramoff.

UPDATE: More on Abramoff's attire from John Podhoretz. It's the ill-fitting black trenchcoat that does it for me, though.

KEVIN JOHNSON looks at Africans in America, and how they differ from "African-Americans."

CHRISTINE HURT on the wildfires:

I find it interesting that the media seems so uninterested in the cause of the fires. The media focuses on the high winds, low humidity, drought conditions, and high temperatures, but these are factors that lead to the rapid spread of the fire and the difficulty of containing the fire, not the factors that caused these fires. During Hurricane Katrina, questions were swirling in the media -- Why didn't people evacuate? Why weren't they forced to evacuate? Who decided to have inferior levees? Who could have prevented this? Why isn't anyone asking these questions about the Texas fires?

I'm guessing it's because they can't see a way to turn it into a partisan political issue.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Sissy Willis looks at who fanned the fires in a different conflagration.

MELANA ZYLE VICKERS:

Like a flashy celebrity caught smacking his ex-girlfriend in public, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has had to retreat from his decision Sunday to blackmail Ukraine by cutting off the country’s natural gas supplies. Following an outcry from West Europeans, Russia resumed piping 100 percent of the required gas through Ukraine on Tuesday.

The lesson? Length of time autocratic Russia could put the screws to a neighbor in the imperial and Soviet era: decades. Length of time autocratic Russia can put the screws to that neighbor in an era of globalization: three days.

Just as Russia last year discovered it couldn’t hand-pick a communist to serve as the Ukrainian president, it cannot now use gas prices to punish Ukraine for asserting its political independence. The broader lesson for Russia’s neighbors -- or any expansionist bully’s neighbors -- is that you must integrate in the region beyond you, economically and politically, so that you spend as little time as possible with the bully behind closed doors.

Let's hope it works out that way in the future.

UGH. School starts back today, which means so does having to get up at 6:30. As one of my colleagues says, the public schools are an evil conspiracy of morning people.

January 03, 2006

PROF. APPIAH MAKES THE CASE FOR CONTAMINATION:

"They have no real choice," the cultural preservationists say. "We've dumped cheap Western clothes into their markets, and they can no longer afford the silk they used to wear. If they had what they really wanted, they'd still be dressed traditionally." But this is no longer an argument about authenticity. The claim is that they can't afford to do something that they'd really like to do, something that is expressive of an identity they care about and want to sustain. This is a genuine problem, one that afflicts people in many communities: they're too poor to live the life they want to lead. But if they do get richer, and they still run around in T-shirts, that's their choice. Talk of authenticity now just amounts to telling other people what they ought to value in their own traditions.

Read the whole thing. (Via Ralph Luker).

OKAY, so I've been reading Wonkette's new novel, Dog Days, and so far I like it pretty well. I was never a cute Washington woman having an affair with a major cable pundit, but I did work in a Presidential campaign (Gore, '88) and much of that stuff rings true. The reviews say that the characterization is thin, and it is, but that may be to illustrate a point: What strikes me so far is that the strongest relationships the characters have are not with each other, but with their electronics: Their laptops, their TiVos, their Blackberries (especially their BlackBerries), etc. Is that contrived? I don't know. I was talking on the phone today to an attractive 20-something publishing PR woman who's pretty close to the demographic of the novel's main character, and she exclaimed: "My laptop is like my lover! I couldn't imagine living without it!"

Then again, maybe that attitude is explained by this passage: "During an election year, D.C.'s standards of attractiveness -- already graded on a generous curve -- tracked to availability and not physical beauty. It's like the Special Olympics of sex, Melanie thought. Everyone's a winner!"

Unlike the lovers, the laptops get better every year . . . .

UPDATE: And the entire Plame affair is explained by this passage:

"Is it plausible, though?" Melanie twirled a strand of hair, examined it for split ends. "I mean, anything this hot, would there be talk floating around by now?"

"Yes and no." Julie took on the aspect of a schoolteacher, her syllables clear and slow. "You have to remember, no one here will ever admit that they don't know something. It's considered a major faux pas to admit to being uninformed. You tell anyone here the hottest, freshest gossip you have and only the most green intern will say that it's news. Everyone else is all 'Oh, right, I heard that, too.'"

Heh. Meanwhile, Wonkette has already got a second book under contract.

MARTIN PERETZ ON GAZA:

You don't hear much about these bewildering social formations until a long-festering inter-family (or intra-family) feud suddenly erupts and blood is shed, as it has recently with special regularity in Gaza. Journalists and academics somehow think it patronizing to recognize these antiquarian kinship groups with their raw emotions as political actors when their rhetoric strains so pompously to modernity. It would be especially insulting since their Jewish antagonists are the quintessential carriers of progress in the Middle East, those damned Zionists with their advanced science-based economy, independent judiciary, free press, hi-tech military in which individual soldiers still take responsibility and command respect, and promotion in the ranks by competence and ingenuity in the defense activities of the state.

Damn them!

THE CARNIVAL OF HOMESCHOOLING IS UP: (Via who else?)

TOM MAGUIRE HAS a question for James Risen.

THE WSJ LAW BLOG has an Abramoff guilty plea roundup.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has much, much more, with this bottom line: "Abramoff spread his stench across both parties. But principled conservatives must call Abramoff what he is--a sleazebag plain and simple, as I've noted before--and condemn his criminal activities unequivocally."

DAN GILLMOR'S CITIZEN MEDIA CENTER now has a blog, which lists the members of an advisory board that contains numerous eminent and thoughtful people, and me.

THERE'S LOTS OF BLOGOSPHERIC BITCHING about tech-stuff that doesn't work right, which is why I think it's important to give credit where credit's due. I bought a telephone interface box from JK Audio, (it was this one) and when I hooked it up it worked fine except that there was a persistent low-level buzz that I found irritating. I could filter it out (mostly) with the noise-reduction feature on Audition, but that's a kludge. I tried checking for groundloops, replacing all the cords, isolating the box, etc., but it was still there. I called the company's number, the woman who answered (on the second ring) told me how to fix it (with a counterintuitive level change), and the problem went away.

If only everything were that easy.

UPDATE: Reader Barry Pike emails:

I'm a JK Audio dealer and you are correct, they are an excellent company. More than once I've had Joe Klinger (JK) himself return a call to one of my customers with a timely solution to some bizarre problem or other. He's a very clever man, to say the least, and his products and customer service are excellent.

You gotta love that. And it deserves praise as much as the problems deserve complaint.

"DESPICABLE, BUT PREDICTABLE:" Greg Djerejian has more on the Gerhard Schroeder deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom.

BILL ROGGIO has a piece in National Review on the Washington Post article that misrepresented his blogging from Iraq.

UPDATE: Some related thoughts from Frank Wilson:

I have myself heard in the newsroom comments about blogs that actually did sound, in Michelle Malkin’s phrase, “thoroughly unhinged.”

But it really isn’t blogging in general that bothers the MSM. It’s only the political blogs. The MSM doesn’t care about lit blogs or cooking blogs or knitting blogs — or even tech blogs or science blogs (except to the extent they might be useful in advancing some editorial viewpoint).

Blogs have challenged the MSM’s self-designated right to shape political debate by choosing what to cover and how to cover it. The MSM claims it has resources not available to bloggers — and it does. So how explain the disparity between what was reported in the papers and on TV during Hurricane Katrina and what we have since determined was actually the case? This was, after all, the demonstration case for the superiority of the MSM.

Yes. And the Roggio case isn't helping either.

LIFE EXTENSION UPDATE: I've got a TCS Daily column following up on the 60 Minutes interview with Aubrey de Grey; it also responds, in passing, to something Mark Steyn has said about demography. Also check out this article by Henry Miller on the pharmaceutical industry's problems and how that may harm older people.

MICROSOFT TAKES DOWN A CHINESE BLOGGER: Rebecca MacKinnon has the scoop. "Note, his blog was TAKEN DOWN by MSN people. Not blocked by the Chinese government."

JOEL MILLER'S Size Matters: How Big Government Puts the Squeeze on America's Families, Finances, and Freedom, is out today: As I say in the blurb, it ought to be a political call to arms. You can read a review here ("Although the subject matter in other hands can be depressing, Miller manages to keep his arguments lucid, smart and just light enough to be read at bedtime") and Ralph Reiland, in The American Spectator, notes another observation on the book: "Size Matters, says Instapundit.com, 'is a virtual manifesto for the PorkBusters movement.'"

JIM GERAGHTY has much more on the Ukrainian / Russian natural gas imbroglio. I agree that this only makes Gerhard Schroeder look worse.

STEVEN LANDSBURG: "Here, for the edification of bloggers everywhere, is an example of an economic consideration: If you ask people—and especially poor people—what their most dire needs are, you'll find that 'guaranteed ventilator support' ranks pretty low on the list. . . . It's one thing to say we should spend more to help the poor, but quite another to say that what we're currently spending should be spent ineffectively."

THE CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS IS UP: And so is law-blog carnival The Blawg Review. And there are lots more blog carnivals here.

MAN BITES DOG: "MSNBC's Hardball show actually delivered some interesting news for once tonight."

RON ROTUNDA ON GUANTANAMO.

PHIL BOWERMASTER writes on God and the Singularity. They're not the same thing, he notes.

I've heard talk about the Singularity dismissed as "the rapture for nerds," but I think that's mere dismissal, and not very persuasive. It is, instead, an illustration of Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I wrote a song about that, too, once but it wasn't a hymn!

UPDATE: Frank Tipler emails:

I beg to differ with:

"PHIL BOWERMASTER writes on God and the Singularity. They're not the same thing, he notes."

The word "singularity" has several distinct meanings. P.B. is referring to a sudden and radical change in technology. But "singularity" also has a precise mathematical meaning" "points" where quantities diverge to infinity (or are otherwise not defined). The laws of physics tell us that the universe began in a singularity in this precise mathematical sense 13.7 billion years ago. This initial singularity is the Uncaused First Cause. Maimonides and Aquinas defined "God" to be the Uncaused First Cause. Hence, by definition, the Cosmological Singularity is God!

Frank J. Tipler
Professor of Mathematical Physics
Tulane University

And yet when I note that most arguments come down to definitions, people accuse me of being too much of a lawyer . . . .

LEBANON THE MODEL: Writing over at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal site, Michael Totten has thoughts on Arab democracy.

January 02, 2006

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL has a new law blog. Among other things, we're told that Article III Groupie will become the new Wonkette.

Current Wonkette Ana Marie Cox will, I guess, be busy promoting her new novel, Dog Days.

UPDATE: Janet Maslin reviews Dog Days in the Times.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a USA Today review, too.

THE ANSWER, OF COURSE, IS "BETTER-LOOKING." With my brother, there's room for dispute. Here, well, . . . not really. I don't think that the matter is worthy of so much attention, though.

DIPTI VAIDYA picks up the white courtesy phone. She makes videoblogging look pretty appealing.

STUART BUCK on the novelization of the Narnia movie: "If you make a movie out of a classic and beloved children's book that has sold millions of copies, why on earth would you want to have someone write a book based on the movie?"

I remember when they made the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula, they hired Fred Saberhagen to write the novelization of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which I had previously thought was, you know, Bram Stoker's Dracula. Silly me.

But at least they had the good taste to hire Saberhagen. However, his own Dracula novels -- starting with The Dracula Tape -- are undoubtedly better than the novelization of a bad movie based on Stoker's novel.

UPDATE: Reader Mark Beadle writes that it's not really a novelization: "[I]t is a 48-page story book featuring pictures from the movie. This changes the view entirely, I believe." Yes, it does, and I stand corrected.

The Saberhagen / Dracula point still holds, though.

ACCORDING TO BLOGPULSE, this Instapundit flood aid post was #2 in the blogosphere for 2005. #1 was a LiveJournal post that was removed by its author. I don't know what it was about, but I'm guessing it was something sexy; sex usually outsells charity.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Amazingly enough, the post has nothing to do with sex. It was a script that allowed a LJ user to see who's reading their journal without commenting (can you imagine how many bloggers would kill for something like that). It was an online flash mob that Russian LJists are famous for.

Russian Internet is a phenomenon in its own right, with the LiveJournal being analogous to the blogosphere in English. I think the post's #1 ranking is the biggest achievement of the Russian people since the cosmonauts (I mean, it beats Kournikova).

Ah. Well, ego often beats even sex.

AVIAN FLU UPDATE:

The U.S. is making fast progress in preparations for a bird flu pandemic, including measures to close down schools and quarantine the sick, but vaccine supplies remain inadequate, health officials said Sunday.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said Julie Gerberding, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing "bottlenecks" in vaccine production and the delivery of health care if there's an outbreak.

"We've got to get more and better anti-viral drugs. And we've got to have every single link in our public health system as strong as it can be so it can detect this problem," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

With luck, we'll make it through this year without problems, though there's evidence that regular flu is already overstressing some hospitals out west. If hospitals are having trouble handling ordinary flu, that's a good sign that we're not ready for a major epidemic of any kind.

DEATH PENALTY UPDATE:

With less than two weeks left in Gov. Mark R. Warner's term, time is running out for him to arrange DNA testing that could determine whether Virginia sent an innocent man to the electric chair in 1992.

If the tests show Roger Keith Coleman did not rape and murder his sister-in-law in 1981, it will mark the first time in the United States an executed person has been scientifically proved innocent, say death penalty opponents, who are keenly aware that such a result could have a powerful effect on public opinion.

I'd be more interested, of course, in having states fund DNA testing before executions, instead of afterward.

UPDATE: Jon Henke has a related post that's worth your time.

TIGERHAWK is (re)thinking about the ethics of journalism.

THEY GROW UP SO FAST: Ralph Luker contrasts these photos of my nephew William from just over a year ago with this one from last week. At almost 14 months, he's three feet tall and weighs 42 pounds. NFL scouts will no doubt be appearing shortly.

THE MUDVILLE GAZETTE looks at terrorists in Iraq in 2005. Meanwhile, Gateway Pundit crunches some numbers and comes up with some interesting charts and graphs, here and here.

UPDATE: Gerard van der Leun is running some stats of his own.

PATRICK HYNES ON ABRAMOFF: "Time to throw bad Republicans under the bus."

My earlier thoughts are here.

THE BLOGOSPHERIC ATKINS-DIET ENTHUSIASM seems to have faded from previous years, but here's some post-holiday weight-loss advice. Of course, if you exercise and eat right year-round, you won't need to worry about that. Here's some CDC advice on exercise.

THIS WEEK'S DIGITAL CAMERA CARNIVAL is up. And, BTW, you can get double and triple rebates on Canon cameras and printers bought between 10/15/05 and 1/15/06, so if you've recently bought one, check it out.

Meanwhile, David Bernstein is grumbling about Kodak. "Your crappy camera gave out after 150 pictures, you won't fix it even though it's apparently a widespread flaw, and you're offering me the opportunity to buy a reconditioned Kodak camera for $50 less than I could get a brand new one."

LIFE EXTENSION UPDATE: Here's a transcript of the 60 Minutes show with Aubrey de Grey. Highlights (and a roundup of some blog reactions) can be found here.

UPDATE: Ian Schwartz has the video.

MICKEY KAUS looks at Hillary vs. the blogs.

IT LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER BIG YEAR FOR ONLINE SHOPPING:

Online holiday spending rose 25 percent to 30 percent from a year ago, with hot items being computer hardware, consumer electronics and clothing, according to two reports released on Thursday.

A report from Goldman Sachs, Nielsen/NetRatings and Harris Interactive found that between Oct. 29 and Dec. 23 retail shoppers in the U.S. spent $30.1 billion online, up 30 percent from the same period a year ago.

Good. It's the environmentally friendly way to shop!

January 01, 2006

UNDERNEATH THEIR ROBES is back! Backstory here from the AP, though it says you need a username and password to access the site, which doesn't seem to be the case. At least, I didn't need one.

BUSH AND CONGRESS: What went wrong? "His fundamental mistake, I think, was that he failed to appreciate the nature of Congress."

INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS IN SYRIA:

Syria's ruling Baath Party has expelled former Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam - a day after parliament voted to bring treason charges against him. The moves follow remarks by Mr Khaddam implicating President Bashar al-Assad in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

The remarks in an Arabic TV interview have caused outrage in mainstream political circles in Damascus.

A UN-led inquiry implicated Syria in the murder, but Damascus denies blame.

(Via Tom Elia).

THE CARNIVAL OF THE RECIPES is up!

AN ANNIVERSARY for the blogosphere.

NEW YEAR, NEW GOVERNMENT: More on Iraqi politics at Iraq the Model.

60 MINUTES will have stories on both private space travel and life extension tonight, featuring interviews, respectively, with Burt Rutan and Aubrey de Grey. More here.

NO, I DON'T HAVE ANY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS. Given how badly last year's resolution ("to spend less time at the computer") turned out, it just seems pointless, you know?

I MENTIONED Chris Dolley's book Resonance the other day, and it turns out that he's yet another science fiction author with a blog.

Don't miss his advice on how to create your own (fictitious) nation-state.

porkbustersnewsm.jpgPORKBUSTERS UPDATE: I'm offering only one prediction for 2006. It's that pork, and corruption, will be big issues. (In this, I actually agree with Kos).

The Abramoff story, though made awkward for Democrats by the fact that it involves a lot of Democrats, too, is still bad for the Republicans. And the pork issue continues to resonate -- and the pork/corruption connection is pretty clear. The Wall Street Journal was editorializing on that Friday (subscription only):

Alaska's junta of leading politicians is determined to have their bridges. Earlier this month Governor Murkowski proposed a downpayment of $91 million on the project -- to be built with federal, albeit non-earmarked, dollars of course. Some $94 million was allocated for another bridge to be called Don Young's Way, after the state's only Congressman.

What's especially suspicious here is that Governor Murkowski's wife Nancy and three of her siblings own 33 acres of land on the island that would benefit from the first bridge. A relative of Mr. Young's, meanwhile, owns land that would benefit from the second.

But as the Journal notes, though this case is especially egregious, it's emblematic of deeper systemic failures, not just a few crooked politicians. The Washington Post was editorializing on this issue, too, and I think that it will heat up this year.

Republicans need to be worried about this. The temptation will be to try to shore up their position by buying votes, but the GOP base is offended by this stuff and may be motivated to stay home. As always, the GOP's best hope lies in the Democrats doing something stupid. But that's a hope, not a strategy, notwithstanding how well it's worked in the past.

Limiting pork -- which will require structural changes in the House and Senate -- is not only a good political move. It's the right thing to do. The question is whether the GOP will be smart enough, and principled enough, to do something that's both smart, and right. I'm not overly optimistic about that. But who knows? Maybe enough members of Congress will read Joel Miller's book!

UPDATE: I just noticed that the page for Joel Miller's book has a review by Patrick Hynes of AnkleBitingPundits.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Tapscott comments: "Barring something momentous happening on the terrorism front that makes domestic issues pale in significance, 2006 looks to me to be the year the GOP gets a hard lesson in why telling the truth is vastly more important than getting re-elected."

THE NEW YORK TIMES' PUBLIC EDITOR, Byron Calame, criticizes the Times' handling of the NSA story. Jeff Jarvis calls Calame's column "almost tough," and points to this post by Jay Rosen.

The Times' behavior on this story, and the Plame story, has undermined the unwritten "National Security Constitution" regarding leaks and classified information. Since the Pentagon Papers, at least, the rule has been that papers could publish classified information in a whistleblowing mode, but that they would be sensitive to national security concerns. In return, the federal government would tread lightly in investigating where the leaks came from. But the politicization of the coverage, and the outright partisanship of the Times, has put paid to that arrangement. It's not clear to me that the country is better served by the new arrangement, but unwritten constitutions require a lot of self-discipline on the part of the various players, and that sort of discipline is no longer to be found in America's leadership circles.

If the Times decided that its job was to tell its readers everything it knew, when it knew it, then it would have a good argument for publishing this sort of thing. But since the Times has made clear that it's happy to keep its readers in the dark when doing so serves its institutional interests, it doesn't have that defense for publishing stuff that's bad for national security.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg joins others in wondering why the NYT didn't release this story during the campaign, and opines:

At first glance, given their partisan behavior in general at least since the beginning of the Bush administration, one would have thought that it would be a slam-dunk decision, just as Dan Rather and Mary Mapes' tilting at the AWOL windmill occurred a few weeks before the election.

But perhaps they had the political acumen to realize that it might backfire on them. Consider--the Democrats were trying (however pathetically), by nominating an anti-war (and anti-military) protestor who picked up some medals in Vietnam for three months, to indicate that they were finally serious about national security, an issue that has dogged them since the era of said protestor--1972. Did they really want, in wartime, to be seen as criticizing the president for intercepting enemy communications, warrantless or otherwise? Was there someone in charge then who was prescient as to the potential backfire of this story, who is no longer?

If so, he (or, of course, she) has certainly been shown to be right in retrospect, and if they had pulled this stunt during the campaign, given his recent surge in approval and the Dems corresponding drop, Bush's victory margin would likely have been even larger.

Hmm. I'm not sure they're that (successfully) calculating. Meanwhile, isn't this exactly what critics were complaining that the government didn't do before 9/11?

MORE: Bill Quick hopes for a broad and deep investigation.

And Joe Gandelman has a big roundup. Check it out.

STILL MORE: Andrew Sullivan seems to think that I'm blaming the NYT editors for everything. No. If, in fact, the Administration broke the law, then there's a story here, though that remains a pretty big "if" at this point. But he goes on to ask the same question I did, and everyone else has: Why did they wait for a year if it was such a big deal? And if reporting the story a year ago would have been too damaging to national security, why isn't it too damaging now?

And there's another point: A few years ago, I'd have given the NYT the benefit of the doubt. Now -- because of the paper's bad behavior of the past few years, which Andrew played a major role in pointing out -- I don't. That absolutely is the fault of the Times' editors.

NEW YEAR'S IN NEW ORLEANS: "This weekend, New Orleans got what it has been missing since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city four months ago: tourists."

I've heard some people suggest that this sort of thing is inappropriate, and that we shouldn't encourage crass capitalism at the scene of such a disaster (we heard similar sentiments after the Indian Ocean tsunami), but that seems like a terrible argument to me. You can't do much without an economy, and staying away out of "respect" is the surest way to kill the place off.

The Association of American Law Schools had to move its conference (which is this week) from New Orleans to D.C., but to its credit the AALS only did so after making sure that there was just no way to hold it at its planned venue. Me, I'm glad the New Year's celebrations went smoothly, and I wish 'em well for Mardi Gras.

UPDATE: New Orleans reader Beth Blankenship emails:

Thanks for your item on New Year's in New Orleans. My partner and I, along with two other couples, spent the night in the Quarter, paid way too much for a very nice meal at a verrrrrry nice restaurant (Susan Spicer's Bayona), and we're locals. I can testify that there were indeed tourists in town, but lots of local accents filled the air as we crossed Bourbon Street after midnight.

Yes, we need tourists. It's our main business. It's important, too, that people see what has happened here, that we are resiliant and determined to endure, and that New Orleans is a place worth saving.

Mardi Gras will be strange, but I'm looking forward to it. I know of many expatriate New Orleanians planning to come for at least part of it. The good thing is we expect there'll be less of the "Girls Gone Wild!" aspect and more of the old-fashioned family party.

And come Spring, be on the lookout for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It's much better than Mardi Gras.

Indeed. And Barry Dauphin emails:

Thanks for the comment about people visiting New Orleans. I was just in again at Christmas. Disaster tourism is good for the economy and a good way for people to see up close what happened. Of course, there
is something mildly creepy about it, but I think its advantages far outweigh the downsides. I think they should keep the disaster tours going until there's no more disaster remnants left to see. If people want to help New Orleans, they should make a trip down there, stay in a hotel, take a disaster tour, eat, drink, shop, frolic, have fun and spend money. Ultimately that is what the area needs, i.e., more economic activity. Let the market work.

Free minds and free markets, that's my motto. And, just to show that silliness knows no bounds, reader Alan Martin reaches into the past:

IIRC, during the peak of the famines in the Horn of Africa, the sensitives of Boston avoided the few local Ethopian/Eritrean restaurants, out of ``respect''.

As the story goes, restaurateurs' pocketbooks were not amused.

We can all do without that kind of respect.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader David Dayen points out that the Democrats are holding their spring meeting in New Orleans. Hardly an act of disinterested generosity, but praiseworthy nonetheless.

DAVE KOPEL notes a happy anniversary: "On this date in 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist."

DAVID KASPAR: "This much is clear: If George W. Bush or Tony Blair ever pulled a similar stunt and took a job at Halliburton just weeks after leaving office, they'd be in hot water with the German media for years and the talk of scandal would have no end. They would be under even more 'massive pressure' in the German media than they already are. But this is Gerhard Schroeder folks."

Everybody knows that if you're anti-American, you can't be corrupt.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: For me personally, and for the world in general, I think, 2005 was a decidedly mixed year. Let's hope that 2006 is more uniformly positive.

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