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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Sign of the Times

March 22nd, 2011 - 9:22 am

Via Will Collier, who says, “Heh.” It’s really delicious:

The New York Times paywall is costing the newspaper $40-$50 million to design and construct, Bloomberg has reported.

And it can be defeated through four lines of Javascript.

Emphasis in the original.

Best. Sunday. Ever.

March 21st, 2011 - 3:35 pm

Hair of the Dog: Saif Gaddafi passes the buck, Bill Kristol pushes for war, and President Obama works on his push pass.

Bonus: John Kerry and John Kerry’s hair!

More Questions About Libya

March 21st, 2011 - 10:59 am

Smart war:

The Libyan operation, as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday, is not about protecting American interests. This is about Obama’s desire to subordinate American power to the “international community.” He was maneuvered into this action by the Europeans, the Arab League, and the ladies on his national security team led by Hillary Clinton.

Our prestige — assuming this President has any left — was put on the line two weeks ago, after Obama said Gaddafi “must” go. Then he dithered. And now that the shooting has started, Obama’s own hand-picked Joint Chiefs chairman doesn’t know if Gaddafi really “must” go or not. And it’ll all be over in a few days or maybe weeks, presumably regardless of the outcome

Does that mean Libya’s civilians will no longer be deserving of our protection at the end of an arbitrary and as-yet-unannounced deadline? Will the Coalition (of the willing!) pick up our slack? If so, how without American command and control and logistics? Or will we continue to provide those even after we cease combat operations? If our partners can’t keep up the pressure, will we step in?

Roger made a good case last weekend for American intervention (although that jab about “extremist libertarians” hurt a little, boss!), reminding us that “we’re all in this together,” and that “good is what we are supposed to do.” But this Administration is so feckless in the pursuit of its unidentifiable goals, that I honestly don’t see what good we’re supposed to do here.

I guess it’s all just too smart for me.

That’s One Way to Do It

March 20th, 2011 - 4:50 pm

T-Mobile is finally getting the iPhone.

Good Eats with VodkaPundit

March 19th, 2011 - 7:27 pm

Artichokes seem to be back in season already. Ribeyes never left.

RIP

March 19th, 2011 - 11:55 am

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, dead at 85.

Burying the Lede, Good and Deep

March 19th, 2011 - 10:08 am

Back in journalism class — high school journalism — Capt. Scott Spangler taught us about this mysterious item known by journalistic professionals as “the lede.” A tricky thing, this lede. It’s supposed to convey everything a reader needs to understand the gist of the story — and all in the very first sentence! Highly-trained journalistic professionals have sometimes even claimed it must explain the “WWWWH,” or the “Five Double-yous.” That’s the “Who, What, When, Where and hoW” for you non-highly trained journalistic professionals.

With that in mind, let us look now at the “lede” of story making a big splash on the top right corner of the Washington Post:

A Pentagon audit has found that the federal government overpaid a billionaire oilman by as much as $200 million on several military contracts worth nearly $2.7 billion.

Golly. Sounds like quite a scandal. But who is this billionaire oilman? The only billionaire oilman I’ve read about recently in the Post is that sneaky Koch guy — or were there two of them — who give all those millions to racists Tea Party members and union-busting Republican governors. It must be him. Or them. Maybe the next graf (that’s what highly-trained journalistic professional call a “paragraph”) offers a clue to the identity of the robbing oil baron.

The audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general, which was posted on the Pentagon’s Web site this week, estimated that the department paid the oilman “$160 [million] to $204 million more for fuel than could be supported by price or cost analysis.” The study also reported that the three contracts were awarded under conditions that effectively eliminated the other bidders.

Well there’s that word “oilman” again — but still no names have been named. But, really, I know what’s going on. An oilman — probably from Texas — has been robbing us blind. Maybe there’s even collusion between Mr. Koch (and his brother!) and that Pentagon the Republicans love so much. And then the typical reader might go on to the next snappy “lede.”

But we’re made of sturdier stuff. Let us continue:

Harry Sargeant III, a well-connected Florida businessman and once-prominent Republican donor, first faced scrutiny over his defense work in October 2008, when he was accused in a congressional probe of using his close relationship with Jordan’s royal family to secure exclusive rights over supply routes to U.S. bases in western Iraq.

Ah-hah! It wasn’t actually a Koch (or Kochs!), but some other nasty Republican billionaire oilman. Good thing we read three whole “grafs” into the story, unlike many casual readers, or we might have gotten the wrong impression there.

Funny though, you’d think highly-trained journalistic professionals like Penn Bullock and Kimberly Kindy would know to put important information, like the billionaire oilman’s name, right up there in the lede. Anyway, that’s what they taught me in high school.

Being President Is… Kinda Easy, Actually

March 19th, 2011 - 8:17 am

Underpaid nuclear engineers, unions thieves and Harry Reid does his best Carnac the Magnificent impersonation — all on another exciting episode of… The Week in Blogs!

No Ground Forces

March 18th, 2011 - 12:35 pm

Shorter Obama Address: “We have very high aims, but will not provide the means and lack the will to achieve them.”

I miss anything?

You Ask, We Answer

March 18th, 2011 - 10:49 am

Trifecta: It’s another members only grab-bag, as we answer your questions.

Bonus: Monica Lewinsky!

Required Viewing

March 18th, 2011 - 8:46 am

Good lord — Ed Driscoll is doing Bill Whittle-worthy videos now. I forgot to link last week’s, but you’re going to love the sequel.

A Few Thoughts on the War with Libya

March 18th, 2011 - 8:39 am

So — Hillary got her war, and despite early promises it’s a real shooting match.

Sorry, I shouldn’t have led with that. Presidents, secretaries of State — they don’t get wars. America gets wars and now we’re in a third one. We got into this one without a strategy I can discern. A couple weeks ago, the president said Gaddafi “must” go, but then worked behind the scenes to prevent a British-led no-fly zone. And doing nothing seemed to be the preferred method of putting some muscle behind the “must,” right up until it wasn’t.

According to The Daily, Clinton led the effort to get the UN resolution, even though there was zero enthusiasm for action in the White House. There wasn’t any enthusiasm to stay out, either — just a dithering president being led around by his secretary of State.

The UN Resolution “demands the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.” But apparently Gaddafi didn’t get that message, what with the 25 dead civilians after a bombing run earlier today. A no-fly zone might do a good job of preventing more attacks like that one, but it won’t stop the fighting — only boots on the ground can do that. There’s just one little problem:

The Arab League chief told Reuters on Friday that the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya was aimed at protecting civilians without backing any invasion, and said he did not want any side “to go too far”.

Last week, the Arab League provided us with the political cover necessary to impose the NFZ. But now the League doesn’t want anyone going “too far.” However, that doesn’t exactly square with the Resolution’s promise to “take all necessary measures” to protect civilians. Of course, the Resolution doesn’t square with itself because that very same sentence finishes by forbidding any “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

Is an “occupation force” different from a “we’re only here for a little while” force? Will the Arab League back that up? Or will the League do what it usually does, and turn and snarl at the West as soon as anything turns sour?

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Keep Your Laws Off My Kid’s Brain

March 17th, 2011 - 7:43 am

Trifecta: My schooling, my choice!

A Few Thoughts on Libya

March 16th, 2011 - 5:03 pm

If you read Austin Bay’s column this morning, it painted a bleak picture for the Libyan rebels. If Gaddafi takes Tobruk, it’s all over but the mass reprisals — and there’s little reason to think Gaddafi won’t take Tobruk.

Then what?

We’ll have a pariah state with nothing to lose and lots of anger to vent against the US.  But it didn’t have to be quite that way.

Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned. Libya is small and mostly inept and thoroughly corrupt. But two things stand out. First, Gaddafi has a history of terror attacks against American and European targets. Second, President Obama demanded that Gaddafi step down, but then proved feckless when it came to taking any concrete steps to either mortally wound the regime or to materially aid the rebels.

Obama has, through his strong words and weak actions, enraged and emboldened an unstable terrorist sitting on top of vast oil wealth.

It was easy to laugh at Gaddafi’s comic-opera madness, back when we used the occasional airstrikes to keep him in line, and when he was busy taking the example set by initial Iraq invasion very earnestly.

Now, I remain opposed to American involvement in the Libyan Civil War, after some early and short-lived hoo-rah impulses. What happens in Libya does not effect US interests. But if we aren’t concerned, then it is incumbent on the President — follow me closely here — to act as though we are not concerned. If you strike at the king, you must kill him.  Well, Obama struck. Weakly, briefly and hesitantly. And the king of Libya still lives.

The counter-argument is that Obama used strong words in public for domestic (and limited international) consumption, but behind the scenes worked against any strong measures — precisely because he agrees with the non-intervention position. This would be with Gaddafi’s tacit understanding that we mean him no harm, and that we should therefore expect no reprisals. And I suppose that’s fine, so far as it goes.

But others will certainly take note that, yet again, this President talks big, acts small, and can’t help himself but pee in everyone’s soup.

The inescapable conclusion is that this is a tiny man in a big office. The only comfort I can find is that the conclusion was already reached around the world long ago, and that the President’s Libya “policy” is just another confirmation of it.

When You Strike at a King…

March 16th, 2011 - 2:06 pm

Austin Bay:

Crack Tobruk, and the Libyan rebels have three choices: surrender, seek asylum in Egypt or head for the deep southern desert and wage a longshot guerrilla war. Surrender is defeat, followed by mass executions and mass gravesites. Asylum is defeat — as the rebels hole up in Cairo, Gadhafi will launch bloody reprisals against Cyrenaica’s people. As for a guerrilla war waged from the Sahara? Gadhafi will have an air-power advantage. The coastal cities will also provide him with thousands of hostages (the guerrillas’ relatives) to torture and kill.

Read the whole thing.

Old Rock City

March 16th, 2011 - 12:30 pm

Trifecta: Have the Democrats done more to damage to Detroit than the A-bomb did to Hiroshima? And is a new Republican law in Michigan going to improve things — or turn a governor into a dictator?

Politico: “President Obama’s only event at the White House that isn’t closed to the press on Wednesday is a ceremony in which he’ll accept an award for being open to the press.”

I’m hoping that the writers at Saturday Night Live will dispel my conviction that we now have a President beyond parody or satire.

Required Reading

March 16th, 2011 - 9:12 am

Iowahawk: How to feed your family on $10 billion a day.

Now That’s a Good Question

March 16th, 2011 - 8:26 am

PJTV has a good roundtable discussion with Glenn Reynolds and Reason‘s Brian Doherty and Tim Cavanaugh — a couple guys I’ve been reading for what seems like ever. And Glenn’s at the PJ mothership in LA for the first time, which is always a nice improvement from the single-cam, tiny home studio environment.

The question they address is: Is Libertarianism a New Trend or a Passing Fad? Interesting answers all around, but I think the major point might have been missed. Libertarianism is about to become a grim necessity, as we’re simply out of money. We have nothing left to feed the behemoth.

But Brian did get the next part right, and that is we still have the opportunity to wind Washington down in an orderly fashion, rather than waiting for a general economic collapse.

It’s a brief moment, however — and where are the leaders to take us through it?

Talking Sense About Nuclear Risks

March 15th, 2011 - 5:20 pm

Trifecta: The usual suspects go nuclear over the fires in Japan’s nuclear plants.

Bonus: Bill Whittle, prop comic!

UPDATE: Link fixed!

All Too Easy

March 15th, 2011 - 8:42 am

I haven’t even clicked on the link yet, but the headline reads, “Confidence in U.S. Government Hits 35-Year Low.” So let’s do the math.

2011
-35
—-
1976

Mid-Seventies? Watergate, the fall of South Vietnam, inflation, wage and price controls, a newly-all volunteer military with a serious drug problem, the first oil shock, the Soviets mucking around all over Africa and Central America, and the swift rise of a unknown and incompetent Georgia governor to the White House.

Yep. Sounds about right.

You Can’t Do That on Television

March 14th, 2011 - 4:36 pm

Hair of the Dog: Dana Perino was justifiably confused, Chuck Schumer was typically slimy and David Gregory was mercifully absent.

Bonus: Pants-free Newt!

It Was a Mercy Killing

March 14th, 2011 - 2:48 pm

Microsoft, facing grim reality, has cancelled the Zune. It will not be missed by consumers, although my Akismet spam-catcher is going to find oodles of new free time. Anyway, here’s the word from Dan Frommer:

After years of mediocrity and weak sales, Microsoft is finally killing off its Zune media player, Bloomberg reports.

This is the right move. Microsoft should be focusing all of its portable-gadget efforts on Windows Phone 7, to try and compete with Apple and Google there.

Don’t worry — Microsoft is hard at work on a brand new music service, and they’re dead certain it will do better than Zune. And better than Plays-for-Sure. It certainly couldn’t do any worse.

Stay on the Sidelines Already

March 14th, 2011 - 12:55 pm

The Gulf War gave us President Clinton. People forget that, but it’s true. By the summer of 1992, President Bush had alienated his base (and become something of a joke to the middle) to the point where most any politically-competent Democrat could beat him.

But why was that Democrat a relatively unknown governor from a small southern state?

Because the year before, in the wake of the Gulf War, Bush’s popularity soared to 91% — and all the Brand Name Democrats said “no thanks” to running against him.

Today something similar might be going on. President Obama looked weak after the midterms, but he has very quickly reestablished his “relevance” in Washington. From here, the 2012 electoral math looks daunting — which might well be why the GOP field is notable for its emptiness. Newt Gingrich put a toe in the water last week, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Gingrich will never be President, not even if he ran against the decayed corpse of Andrew Johnson.

But next year there might also be a similar dynamic to 1992 at work. I doubt Obama will ever alienate his base — for the same reason that eight-year-old girls never fall out of love with unicorns: They’re magical! But without significant improvement (or at least the expectation of improvement) in the jobs picture and with continued flaccidity on the international scene, America could sour on the President, and quickly, too.

That said, the current Brand Name Republicans are almost all dismally unappealing, each uniquely so. So the idea of the party producing its own Clinton next year might be its best idea in ages.

UPDATE: Mark Sanford for President!

iPad 2: First Impressions

March 14th, 2011 - 11:20 am

Apple reports “amazing” demand for the new iPad and some analysts think consumers might have bought one million of them over the weekend. At an average selling price of about $600, that’s a $600,000,000 weekend — not including sales of Smart Covers, which I imagine have a markup big enough to make Steve Jobs blush. Almost.

My son and I were at an Apple Store briefly on Saturday on unrelated business. The store was no more full than it usually is on the weekend, which is to say: Very. But the front-right corner — the iPad 2 corner — was packed together asses and elbows. We avoided that mess on our way to the Genius Bar. But on our way out, a gentleman abandoned his demo iPad just as we walked by. So I sat my son down on a stool* so he could play. OK, OK — Dad got in a little playtime, too.

First impression: My iPad 1 looks and feels thick and ugly and heavy compared to the new model. The tapered edges fit the hand much more comfortably. Apple somehow shaved off about one-seventh of the original weight, but made it feel like they copped it in half. The new razor-thin aluminum bezel is a tiny fraction of the thickness of the old one, and really makes the device disappear into your hand. There’s barely any there there — just that gorgeous screen.

We played a quick round of Age of Zombies, which was new to both of us. Had so much fun, I launched the App Store when we got home and installed it on my iPad. And on my iPad, the thing took seemingly forever to load and the controls weren’t as responsive. GarageBand is such a marvel that I didn’t even consider buying it — I think it’s going to need that dual-core processor and new graphics subsystem to really shine. And it does shine.

Didn’t get a chance to try out the camera, but it’s been universally panned. That said, taking pictures with a tablet looks and feels more than a little goofy, and I was half-surprised Apple included one. The front camera, however, for FaceTime calls, is drool-worthy in the extreme. I want that.

The Smart Covers? The polyurethane ones aren’t exactly easy on the eyes, but the leather ones are gorgeous and all of them make you gasp with a little delight when you see how well and easily (and smart!) they function.

I’m still waiting for iPad 3 next year before I upgrade. Melissa and I are on an every-other-year upgrade cycle for our iPhones and iPads — and iPhones get the odd-numbered years. But after playing with the new 2 on Saturday, it’s not going to be easy to stick to the plan.

Gizmodo Explains It All

March 14th, 2011 - 10:33 am

How bad is the nuclear reactor situation in Japan? Bad, but not that bad:

Friday’s tsunami easily overcame sea walls at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and flooded the diesel generators that power the plant’s cooling systems. Operators have been using sea water to cool the nuclear fuel, though this has resulted in a build-up of pressure that’s required operators to vent the reactors’ cooling vessels by releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The radiation in the steam is, at this point, relatively modest, and the most highly radioactive material remains contained in the reactors’ cores. The two explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were the byproduct of hydrogen build-up, and neither is thought to have released significant amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

So far, so good. But:

While it could get really bad really fast if one of the reactors themselves were to crack open—a full meltdown would release significant amounts of radioactive elements like iodine-131 that disperse rapidly in air and water, greatly increasing the chances for birth defects, thyroid cancer, and other problems—health experts are currently cautiously optimistic. As of this weekend, radiation levels in the plant’s control room were 1,000 times higher than normal but only eight times above normal in areas surrounding the plant. According to Ron Chesser, director of the Center for Environmental Radiation Studies at Texas Tech University, both of those levels are technically safe for humans, who absorb an average of 360 millirems of radiation per year from cosmic rays and manmade sources. Still, three elements in particular— iodine-131, strontium-90 and cesium-137—are worrisome because they mimic substances found naturally in the body.

I know a little something about iodine-131 — I’ve done my research because someday I’ll probably need to drink a little to nuke my overeager thyroid gland. Iodine collects in the thyroid and nowhere else, which is why drinking an irradiated dose of it kills off the gland but leaves you otherwise unharmed. And surviving without a thyroid is no big deal; just take your synthroid and watch your diet.

But strontium-90 and cesium-137? I get the feeling you really don’t want to have to mess with those.

First in Harm’s Way

March 14th, 2011 - 9:24 am

Click to embiggen and for the full details from StrategyPage.

It’s the Best Show in the Solar System

March 14th, 2011 - 8:49 am

Mercury is about to get a whole lot less mysterious, as NASA’s MESSENGER (get it?) probe prepares to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet. Read:

At about 8:45 pm Eastern Daylight Time on March 17, the MESSENGER spacecraft will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place it into orbit around Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet.

Mercury is an extreme among the rocky planets in our solar system: It is the smallest, the densest (after correcting for self-compression) and the one with the oldest surface and largest daily variations in surface temperature and the least explored.

Understanding this “end member” among the terrestrial planets is crucial to developing a better understanding of how the planets in our solar system formed and evolved.

Mercury is a strange one — it has a cratered surface like our moon, but like a McBLT, the hot side stays hot and the cool side stays cool. Can’t wait to see the pictures.

Apple iBooks Horror Stories

March 12th, 2011 - 9:23 am

From an interview with publisher Adam Engst:

Apple’s iBooks store still has many fewer titles than Amazon’s Kindle store. I think you also said that the process of getting books into iBooks is a hassle… can you explain?

Not in a family publication.

Seriously, I can’t say that working with Amazon has ever been easy for publishers (and we haven’t done much with it), but working with the iBookstore has been the most amazingly horrible, opaque, and frustrating experience I’ve had. Apple’s software is terrible, the iTunes Connect Web site is lousy, and support questions often aren’t answered for – and I’m not kidding here – months. It’s gotten a little better over time, but mostly it makes my stomach hurt.

I had no idea Apple’s backend software for iBooks publishers was so bad, but it doesn’t surprise me as a very unsatisfied user of the iBooks Store.

Reading using iBooks is a joy in that way Apple does so well. Everything just works, and the polish and the little details are — and I sound like an Apple PR person when I use this word, but it’s the right word — magical. But after about a month, I stopped reading books using iBooks, and switched exclusively to Amazon’s Kindle for iPad.

Because the iBooks Store sucks. Selection is limited compared with Amazon, but the real problem is finding the stuff you want that is for sale. I’m convinced that whatever lessons Apple learned from running the iTunes Store (a joy) and the App Store (another joy) were tossed out the window when they were devising the iBooks Store. It’s clunky, slow, difficult to navigate, uninformative and generally bad.

It’s just awful.

Meanwhile, Amazon lets me shop on Amazon.com, which I’ve been doing for a dozen years, and which knows all my likes and dislikes, and which downloads all my purchases to my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad. And starting next month, to my new Kindle, too.

It’s usually Apple’s policy to screw their content providers to provide maximum benefit to their users. With iBooks, Apple’s screwing everybody. They need to shape up to win back this book buyer.

(Hat tip, Gruber.)

They’re Not Gonna See This Coming

March 12th, 2011 - 8:12 am

Union thugs, liberal airheads, my ultimate geek-out and Miracle Max — all on another exciting episode of… The Week in Blogs!