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The Therapy Sessions
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
 

More views


There are several Iraqi blogs that provide another perspective on the events in their country. Here are a few:

The Messopotamian
Healing Iraq
Hammorabi
Iraq The Model
Fayrouz
Iraq At A Glance

The press isn't all that eager to tell this story, but these Iraqis claim that the sovereignty handover has been well recieved in Iraq. Some are especially happy about it:
Hail our true friends, the Great People of the United States of America; The Freedom giving Republic, the nation of Liberators. Never has the world known such a nation, willing to spill the blood of her children and spend the treasure of her land even for the sake of the freedom and well being of erstwhile enemies. The tree of friendship is going to grow and grow and bear fruit as sure as day follows night. And the people deep down at the bottom of their hearts, they appreciate. Make no mistake about that. The people have voted today, the pulse of the street is clear, without any hesitation I would give 90% of all Iraqis are hopeful and supportive of the new government, and this is a tacit indirect yes to the U.S. which has been the prime mover of all these events. This is what the foolish fail to understand. Why is this a different situation from that for example of a Vietnam? The answer is very simple: Because, the U.S. has achieved something very popular around here; which is the removal of the Saddam regime. Those who are really against the U.S. from amongst the Iraqis have been and remain a small minority; all other forms of resentment are simply disappointment and disgruntlement resulting from the discomfiture of the present situation and will simply disappear with progress and gradual improvement.


From the Messopotamian via A Small Victory.


 

What we can learn from Cuba


I'm often surprised by the depths people will go to portray Cuba as some kind of paradise. It's socialist and anti-American, so it must be a great place. But this from the Minneapolis Star Tribune absolutely took my breath away:
In 1959 the Cuban masses did something that working people have yet to do in this country: They took power out of the hands of a tiny privileged minority and began to exercise it for themselves. They became the makers of their own history. Unlike in the United States, where politics is reduced to a boring spectator sport and working people are treated as mere consumers -- thus, the high abstention rate -- Cubans vote with their feet every day in defense of their revolutionary conquests. More than 1 million took to the streets in Havana May 14 to protest the Bush administration's latest moves. The social gains that the Cuban people enjoy, as in education and health care, are possible because they possess political power -- in other words, real democracy. Precisely because U.S. workers lack such power, their social wages continue to erode.

Unbelievable. No mention of Castro, political dissidents, poverty, malnutrition or refugees desperately trying to reach the US.

Once again, we find that economic "rights" are more important than the Bill of Rights in the hard left's thinking. If it means rewriting history and ignoring modern events to get that belief across, so be it.

The hard left is composed of fanatical devotees to the false religion that Marxism has become. It's got its myths, like the belief that wealth can be created by a confiscatory state that seizes wealth and uses it for the public's benefit. Or the idea that my neighbor's riches must have been taken from my pocket. The Marxist religion has saints who have done no wrong: Castro, Che Guevara, and Trotsky come to mind. And, of course, it calls for the subversion of the individual to the struggle, and it has a promised land of a socialist utopia.

Of course, Marxism has proven unworkable every time it has been tried throughout history and in every region of the world. This does not sway the believers: Marxist economic theory just needs some tinkering to work. The dismal data of the experiments? They can just be written away, as liberal journalists are attempting to do with Cuba.

But Marxism is unworkable because it is the concentration of power in the hands of a centralized state. History is clear that the dilution of power, to more people and to more types of people, is more successful in improving human rights and standards of living.

In any country, there are several different seats of power: political power, economic power, religious power, civic power and the power of the media. In a healthy society, all exist independently. In unhealthy societies, they are mingled. When religious power is merged with political power we have theocracy; when business is merged with government we have communism. In reality, power hungry dictators rarely stop there. The worst dictatorships are chacterized by the absolute concentration of power, and all citizens, at all times, are kept under the state's watchful eye.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Liberals are fond of the saying but they do not understand its meaning. They wish for the government to get more involved in business of medicine or to control political ads in the media, but they fail to realize the corruption that such concentration of power will inevitably cause.

It is only in a healthy society, where all the seats of power are kept as separate as possible, that corruption can be weeded out and destroyed.

 

The importance of perspective


To Saddam's prisoners, US abuse seems 'a joke:
If Idrissi seems a bit callous about the fate of the Iraqis in US-run jails, he has probably earned the right to differ. He recalls a day in 1982, at the General Security prison in Baghdad:

'They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a 'celebration.' We all knew what they meant by 'celebration.' All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn't tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen.'

'This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us.'

'Amer's wife didn't lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer's throat.' There is a moment of silence. Then Idrissi says: 'What we have seen about the recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us.'

The Idrissis, and many families like them, feel that people in Iraq have too quickly relegated the horrors of the old regime to the annals of history. 'But it is not the past to us,' says Idrissi. 'The mother of the person who was killed, his brothers and sisters, they are alive. We are still living the nightmare every day.'


Via Tim Blair.


Monday, June 28, 2004
 

The media and Iraq


Bremer Hands Over Iraqi Sovereignty Two Days Before Deadline

How long will it take before the stories come? Just after the invasion, the media was eager to find Iraqis who said things were better under Saddam. Even though such people were (and still are) a tiny fraction to the population, their views were portrayed as the opinions of Iraqis in general.

I was amazed at how many times reporters violated the basic rules of journalism with phrasing like "Iraqis say" or "Iraqis believe." A reporter could just as easily report this: "Americans say Ralph Nader would make a fine president." No one here would believe a headline like that, mainly because we are here in America and only about 5% of the US likes Nader. But Iraq is far away. We look to reporters to tell us what is going on. The rules of journalism are especially important.

Pretty soon we will hear "Iraqis say" that the sovereignty is a fraud. The press will read George Bush's mind, reporting that sovereignty did not stem the violence like Bush thought it would. They will be forced to say he "thought" because he has never said any such thing. In fact, he has repeatedly stressed the opposite.

It's deplorable journalism, but I'm getting used to such things. (Remember when Bush "claimed" that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger? The press was never troubled by the fact that Bush had claimed no such thing. Bush said that British intelligence believed Iraq had done so, and British intelligence continues to stand behind the story).

Journalists believe they are working for a higher calling than objectivity. So soon the headlines will tell this story: Bush's hope of making this Iraq's conflict has failed because Iraqis distrust the new government, and they are becoming increasingly angry with America and joining the resistance in growing numbers.

All unsubstantiated opinion, dressed up as "The News."

Will it be true? Who knows. I get my news from many sources, and one of the most valuable to me is what many soldiers on the ground say: the situation is unstable, but it is not as bad as the press seems to think. The media is largely concentrated in Baghdad, and many have kept the same Saddam-approved interpreters they had before the war. These Baathists are stillticked that Saddam is gone.

Iraq is an experiment. I'm a scientist, and I do experiments all the time. The only way to know the outcome is to do the experiment. Predictions are interesting, but they are worthless in comparison with data.

If Iraq succeeds, it will probably short-circuit the terrorists with the one thing that is lethal to their cause: the free and open exchange of ideas. It is no accident that most of our terrorist enemies were born in the most repressive societies in the world. These are scoieties where people are only allowed to complain in mosques, and Islamic militancy is attractive for just that reason.

A free Iraq - even one with a democracy as dysfunctional as Turkey's - would be a triumph. One rarely hears of Turks who have joined Al Qeada, and Turkish Muslims are the most progressive in the region. Turkey is much freer than Iraq has ever been, and its proximity to Europe means that its people are exposed to the rest of the world in a way that Saudis or Egyptians are not.

Iraq may fail, though. After all, our fate in Iraq depends on the Iraqi themselves, and if they don't step up the plate, there is little we can do. I can think of no time in the history the US that we have fought a war whose objectives are so dependent on the citizens of another country.

The honest truth is that no one knows what will happen in Iraq. I have backed this war because I see a far worse future if we do not find some way to divert the Middle East death cult from an inevitable nuclear confrontation with the US (and we will win, but only by killing millions of Arabs). These terrorists are in an unstable part of the world, and they have nothing to lose. In the region, there are at least three doomed governments have either nuclear weapons or programs (Pakistan, Syria and Iran). Those governments will fall someday, and those weapons will be up for grabs.

In fighting this war, the terrorists are making a severe tactical blunder. In trying to spark a civil war, they are killing Iraqi civilians in large numbers. As a result, most Iraqis hate them and what they are trying to do (the press has largely missed this story). That it not to say they love us, or that the terrorists won't succeed in creating mayhem, but it makes the people of Iraq our allies.

It is clear that Al Qaeda realizes its peril: forcing Iraq into chaos is now its primary objective. They must not be allowed to succeed. But succeed they do, on the front pages of the newspapers every day.

And most of that success is becuase reporters lack the insight to know the difference between reporting the news and making it.


Saturday, June 26, 2004
 

The drinking age


Coors urges lower drinking age:
Colorado Republican Senate hopeful Pete Coors yesterday criticized the legal drinking age, chiding the federal government for coercing states into raising the age limit from 18 to 21.

Oh, I'll bet he does.

But jokes aside, I think the drinking age is ridiculous, and the way the government has gone about implementing it is heavy handed. The government forced states to raise drinking ages by withholding federal highway funds: we feds think it's a good idea, so we will force you to comply, regardless of what your voters and legislatures say.

I personally believe that people who can vote should be able to drink.

Drinking laws are often the first laws kids break, so they get a nice idea what it feels like to be a criminal. Why, by the age of eighteen, I was both a speeder and a drinker, and I was on my way to a life of "criminal" activity (and then I got married).

Still, drinking laws made college life a lot of fun: alcohol wasn't hard to get, and the illegality of acquiring it made it especially attractive.

I have two internal biases about law:

1. No one should make a law that can't be enforced. What's the point in making law that everyone breaks anyway? Prosecutions are unfair - because you have to target someone (like hapless Martha Stewart). The idea spreads the police are antagonists, not people who work for us.

2. Laws should be as simple as black and white. You should know - with absolute certainity - that you are breaking a law.

Laws should pass both tests.

Laws regarding drinking, speeding and drugs fail number 1.

Laws regrading campign finance and insider trading fail numbers 1 and 2.

All of them should be abolished or completely reworked.

Story via Instapundit.

 

Campaign finance travesty


'Fahrenheit 9/11' ads could be banned:
Michael Moore may be prevented from advertising his controversial new movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," on television or radio after July 30 if the Federal Election Commission (FEC) today accepts the legal advice of its general counsel.

They really have no choice: they must ban ads for this film. Why, the film maker is quite open about the film's intent! He wants to get rid of Bush.

And why stop there? Don't Tom Clancy movies get people thinking about national security? Why, this benefits Republicans. We should ban films with Susan Sarandon or Tim Robbins 60 days before the election too! Both are noted political activists, and their films higlight concerns that benefit Democrats.

I can't stand Michael Moore. He's extremely dishonest and irritatingly biased.

But he has an absolute right to air his views.

This exposes the ridiculous nature of Campaign Finance Reform. In trying to regulate political speech, it obviously tramples the one type of speech that our Founding Fathers explicitly meant to protect: political viewpoints. And political viewpoints are not restricted to one type of media: ban ads and they'll make documentaries, ban documentaries and they'll make movies.



Friday, June 25, 2004
 

French wine out


French wines sales to US are down and the French are very worried.

They think it's a marketing problem. Traditional French ways of labeling their varietals just aren't inspiring Americans to buy.

Yeah, that's it.

Story via Steven Den Beste.

 

No connection! Nada! Zilch! None!


Well, except for that one.

And it's from The New York Times!

Iraqis, Seeking Foes of Saudis, Contacted bin Laden, File Says
ASHINGTON, June 24 — Contacts between Iraqi intelligence agents and Osama bin Laden when he was in Sudan in the mid-1990's were part of a broad effort by Baghdad to work with organizations opposing the Saudi ruling family, according to a newly disclosed document obtained by the Americans in Iraq.

American officials described the document as an internal report by the Iraqi intelligence service detailing efforts to seek cooperation with several Saudi opposition groups, including Mr. bin Laden's organization, before Al Qaeda had become a full-fledged terrorist organization. He was based in Sudan from 1992 to 1996, when that country forced him to leave and he took refuge in Afghanistan.

I've never believed that Saddam Hussein was directly behind the terrorists of 9/11.

But I have always believed that Saddam was behind the terrorism of 9/11. It is no accident that the world's worst terrorists come from the world's most oppressive countries.

And there are two things that are beyond doubt: Saddam Hussein supported terrorists when they shared his goals, and Saddam Hussein had active programs to build very nasty weapons.

Thanks to Jon Henke.




 

Old Bill


It's my dirty secret: I don't think Clinton was all that bad. True, if he were somehow running again for president, I'd vote against him, but not with the same fervor that I will vote against a paleo-liberal like John Kerry.

I thought Clinton's ideas about reforming health care were wacky. After that disaster, I admired the way he just stepped out of the business world and let the '90's boom happen. The economy takes off when the politicians are distracted with other things.

Clinton made two vital things reality: NAFTA and welfare reform. Neither went far enough, but both are steps in the right direction.

This editorial, in my opinion, is too critical. But this story excerpted from it does sum up the Clinton I know and can't quite hate:
I last saw Clinton near my own house in the celebrated Notting Hill district of London in 2002. He decided to do a walkabout, and plunged into the crowd, an activity he enormously and palpably enjoyed, and which delighted everybody. No one ever matched him as a simple campaigner. It was the thing he did best--perhaps the only thing he did well. It might be said, indeed, that he never did anything else.

In Notting Hill he was not running for office. The locals were not his voters. But he behaved as if they were and they loved it. The old con master was in his element. He found himself in a pub and ordered drinks all round. All cheered. The news spread to the vast crowd outside, and it cheered too. Adrenaline racing, fists thumping chests, hugging and handshaking, wisecracking and slogan swapping, Clinton worked that crowd for twenty minutes, leaving it hoarse and exhausted, delighted and deeply impressed when he swept off in his limo. The only unhappy man was the bartender, who was never paid for ol' Bill's round.


 

Minimum intelligence


One of the moldiest ideas in the Democratic playbook is the idea of buying votes by raising the minimum wage. It's supposed to be a real vote getter (at least among people who going vote Democratic anyway), but it never really seems to work. Carter, Mondale and Dukakis all tried it, to no avail. I suspect even socialists aren't that excited by it anymore.

To begin with, only a small number of Americans make minimum wage, and many of those are kids.

Second, it's just dreadful economics: high labor costs mean higher inflation, more jobs disappearing (or going offshore) and less work that will be available. All of these hit the poor disproportionately.

The fact that Kerry has wheeled this rusty cannon is not a good indication of his economic imagination - he can't imagine any policy more serious than attempting to buy votes. I think it just emphasizes a key point about Democratic economic ideas: they think that the American voter is too stupid to see through the transperancy of the ploy.

(This is the point where I say the obligatory: I hate Republicans, but God Almighty, do I ever hate Democrats...)

As usual, the WSJ is all over the story, in a scathing editorial:
John Kerry says he wants to raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour from $5.15, and his proposal has us thinking: Why stop there? Why not $10 an hour, or $20, or for that matter whatever a U.S. Senator makes? If Mr. Kerry thinks government is obliged to guarantee Americans a certain level of income, why not simply elevate everyone at least into the middle class?

The reason, as Mr. Kerry well knows, is that wage floors aren't manna from heaven. Here on Earth, they tend to price certain kinds of labor out of the job market. Businesses hire and pay workers what they think their skills are worth relative to other ways they can spend their capital. Force the price of labor too high, and suddenly businesses hire fewer workers, especially those at the lower rungs of the skill ladder.

This is one of the most settled propositions in economics, second only perhaps to free trade. Sure, Mr. Kerry has found a few economists willing to lend their credibility to his proposal, but even they don't deny that some people may lose their jobs--which is why they don't want to raise the minimum too high. The debate is over how many poor people Mr. Kerry would throw out of work.

To answer this question, you first have to look at who earns the minimum wage. The Labor Department believes that 1.5% of the work force, or 2.1 million people, earn $5.15 an hour or less. More than half of them are under the age of 25, meaning they are likely working a temporary or entry-level job. Three-fifths are in the leisure and hospitality industry, which means in jobs that often come with tips in addition to wages. Studies have also shown that most people earning the minimum wage are not poor--more than one-third live with a parent or relative. Only 15% are the sole breadwinner in a family with children.

These low-paying jobs are important because they are a gateway into the world of work for people who lack experience and skills. One study showed that, of a sample of workers earning minimum wage, fully 63% were already making more a year later...

...The minimum wage gambit sends a bad signal about the direction of Mr. Kerry's economic policy. It is one of the mustier items in the liberal playbook and suggests a candidate who dances to the tune of unions rather than thinks creatively about how to reduce poverty.

 

Continuing denial


Just keep telling yourself: Social Security is fine.... Scoial Security is fine: More Bad News for Social Security:
Denial, as the saying goes, is not just a river in Egypt.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report suggesting that there will be a slightly lower actuarial deficit and a later insolvency date than had been previously estimated by the Social Security Administration (search) itself.

Opponents of Social Security reform immediately seized on the reported improvement in Social Security's finances to argue against taking action to fix the program. Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., said the report proves "radical reforms are unnecessary." Barbara Kennelly of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security (search) said, "It would be absurd for policy-makers to drastically alter the program based on those numbers."

But one wonders if these critics of reform actually bothered to read the report. If they had, they would have seen that CBO's analysis is simply more bad news for the nation's troubled retirement program.

Among the report's findings:

The report, which uses more optimistic technical assumptions than the Social Security Administration, indeed shows a tiny improvement in Social Security's fiscal outlook, albeit at the price of lower benefits. For example, under CBO's assumptions, Social Security will begin running a deficit by 2019, one year later than estimated by SSA. That hardly seems like something worth celebrating.

The CBO estimates that the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2052, 10 years later than the SSA projects. This is largely the result of assuming an increase in the interest rate attributed to the bonds in the trust fund. However, the report notes, "those Trust Funds are mainly accounting mechanisms and contain no economic resources."

In other words, the Trust Fund doesn't actually do anything to help pay Social Security benefits. We could set the interest on the Trust Fund bonds to 100 percent, make the system technically solvent for years, but do nothing in reality to increase funding for the program.

Simply, even using CBO's more optimistic technical assumptions, Social Security remains unsustainable: unable to pay promised future benefits given current levels of tax revenue. The report concludes that "unless taxation reaches levels that are unprecedented in the United States, current spending policies are likely to result in an ever growing burden of federal debt.

It's funny how people who get irate about the idea of businesses auditing themselves are all too eager to trust a government that audits itself. There is just this naive trust in the benign goodness of government that I just can't understand.




Thursday, June 24, 2004
 

Philadelphia freedom


It's amazing hearing the stuff coming out of Philly these days.

After years of wage and business taxes, ballooning social services, a fleeing middle class and a shrinking population, Philadelphia politicans are finally looking around the ruin they have made of a once-beautiful city and coming to their senses.

Philly's problem is obvious to anyone. A quick drive along City Line avenue is all the proof anyone would need to vindicate Reagan:

On the low tax, county side of the street are the high rise office complexes, teeming with well paid workers driving nice cars.

On the high tax, Philly side are where the office workers go to eat: fast food restaurants, staffed by workers who ride the bus to work.

It's apartheid, Pennsylvania style.

Hell, it's so obvious even the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board has noticed, and it is siding against the tax-a-holic Mayor Street: Tax Reform Win one for the city:
Council's robust tax-reform plan would be a strong step toward making the city's taxes-for-services bargain far more competitive, which would help Philadelphia capitalize on its still-impressive economic potential as a center of culture, education, health care, biotechnology and financial services.

The program to phase out the business privilege tax - supported by Street and Council - would take aim at a levy that is almost diabolical in the way it discourages young entrepreneurs.

The mayor declines to believe econometric studies that suggest the tax cuts could encourage development and build the city's job base, in time generating tax revenues to replace those initially forsaken by the tax cuts.

No, there are no guarantees when it comes to such 'supply-side' effects. But ample evidence exists that they would occur in a situation such as Philadelphia's.


Jim McGreevey is going in the ooposite direction in New Jersey.

I don't have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, but a coworker has been nice enough to leave his copy on our lunch table at work, so I get to read it (it is really the finest newspaper in the country).

The McGreevey article was headlined: "On Less Reason To Live In New Jersey."

(Hmmmm. My list of reasons to live in New Jersey was already pretty short. My goodness, I left New Jersey as soon as I could.)

It went on to describe McGreevey's tax hikes and how they were destroying New Jersey's competitive advantage over New York. High taxes are bad for business and growth? Such things used to be considered revolutionary thoughts.

Now this knowledge so abundant that it can even be found inside the heads of Philly's socialist City Council. It must of gotten there by osmosis.


 

Thomas Jefferson, libertarian


Forgotten wisdom from QandO:
"...a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."
----Thomas Jefferson


I wonder how many people actually remember who the founders of the country actually were?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004
 

Real research


It happens periodically at conferences and parties.

A researcher who works for the government or a university says something like this with a look of disappointment:

"Oh, you work for a research company."

There is a sense among government employees and academics (and even doctors) that people who work for pharmaceutical companies are paid to do pseudo-research, where the main motive is profit and not "discovery."

I've never understood the sentiment.

Yes, if a drug doesn't stand a chance of making money, we won't work on it. The prestige of finding a wonderful malaria drug won't pay the salaries of thousands of workers and decades of effort needed to make it a reality.

For that reason, our research is concentrated on "rich people's diseases:" cardiovascular problems, cancer, osteoporosis, depression....

But the research and the therapies are very real.

Why the bias against the fact the that we try to make a living? Don't doctors do the same thing?

Doctors, of course, should know better: if it wasn't for all the miracle pills provided by the greedy pharmaceutical industry, they would still be bleeding people with leeches.

The government researcher bias is more complex: they apparently feel that profit is demeaning and unsavory.

It's ridiculous.

My salary is paid as result of a contractual obligation. Somebody buys the drugs that my company makes. They may grumble about the price (doesn't everyone?), but the transaction is entirely voluntary: they can keep their money and do without the drug, if they wish.

The salary of a government researcher is entirely paid by coercion, and the salary of an academic researcher largely is paid with government funds.

That money has been taken out of my pocket, and if I resist paying it, I will be sent to jail.

What nobility is there in that?

I'm not saying that publicly funded research is bad; I don't feel that way.

I'm just saying that this bias is completely unjustified.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
 

A missed story


This is the impression I've been getting as well: The Western Front:
The story the media seem not to have caught on to is that the insurgency isn't popular in Iraq. American forces have alienated some Iraqis with clumsy raids and shameful treatment of prisoners. But this is not an anti-American war. Rather it is a war between civil society and those who would return Iraq to tyranny. American forces are targeted precisely because they offer Iraq the best hope for entering the modern world.

Monday, June 21, 2004
 

Serendipity


In 1982 in southern California, a man was admitted to a hospital emergency room in a nearly comatose state. His bodily functions appeared normal, and he was conscious, but he was unable to talk. In fact, he was unable to move any part of his body except for his eyes.

The man was brought to Dr. J. William Langston, who was baffled by the man's problems. The patient seemed healthy, young and normal.

Within a few days, several patients with identical symptons were admitted to area hospitals. Dr. Langston was able to communicate with the patients by asking yes/no questions and having them blink their eyes to respond.

He determined that all the victims were heroin addicts. Langston immediately notified the police, suspecting a bad batch of heroin was on the street. Police sent out warnings to the drug community, and their labs did full analyses on all the synthetic heroin the police seized.

They discovered an impurity present in one batch of "China White," a synthetic heroin known as alpha-methyl fentanyl:



The impurity was MPTP:



It is unclear how the street chemists ended up with this MPTP impurity. I can see a clear synthesis from available starting materials in four steps (the synthesis of alpha-methyl fentanyl looks pretty easy). But there is a huge difference between doing chemistry in an industrial laboratory and doing chemistry on the steet.

For one, street chemists have to take materials they can easily get (like those who make amphetamines out of pseudophedrine-containing cold medicines). This often means developing syntheses that are not immediately apparent to the authorities. (I've personally received phone calls from from DEA agents who were curious about materials that I've bought in the course of my research (a 500 ml bottle of piperidine raises eyebrows? Jeez!)).

But it is just as likely that our street chemists might not have even been trying to make alpha-methyl fentanyl itself, but a designer drug derivative. Such experimentation was common in the '80's: it was a method of staying ahead of the authorities because the government couldn't declare unknown compounds illegal (that changed in 1986).

Such experimentation is similar to what drug companies do all the time, except that in this case, the guinea pigs were human. In this case, the effects were disastrous for the victims, but the knowledge gained was a boon for the scientific research of a debilitating disease.

Langston noted that his patients now had a permanent condition that resembled advanced Parkinson's disease. With nothing to lose, Langston tried prescribing a treatment for Parkinson's, a drug known as L-dopa. The patients responded immediately: some of their motor functions were restored. They were not "cured," but the response to the L-dopa made it clear that MPTP had inflicted brain damage very simlar to the damage seen in Parkinson's.

In Europe to discuss his findings at a conference on Parkinson's disease, Langston was on a conference bus that broke down. He began discussing his research with Anders Bjorkland and several other European researchers. In the course of the discussion, it became clear that they each had something that the other needed.

The European researchers were excited that their work was having beneficial effects against Parkinson's, but they could not be sure: the disease was steadily progressing and causing further damage even as the therapies were possibly working. They could not easily tell what effects their compounds were having on Parkinson's because of the disease's progression.

Langston, however, had Parkinson's symptoms without the progressing disease. Langston had discovered the first test model for Parkinson's, and it is still in use today.

He is currently the science director of the Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, California, where he is trying to link environmental chemicals with Parkinson's. The body converts the China White contaminant MPTP to MPP+, a toxin that is strikingly similar to an herbicide called paraquot. The leading chemicals most suspected of playing a role in causing the disease include pesticides, herbicides and metals such as iron, manganese and copper. One suspected pesticide is Rotenon, the chemical of choice for organic farmers because it is derived from naturally occurring compounds in the roots of legumes.

Some scientists have not accepted the hypothesis that environmental chemicals play a major role in causing Parkinson's and instead still think there might be a genetic component to the disease. But Langston is convinced there is an environmental component and cites a study conducted in twins that supports his view.


 

Europe vs. America


From the The Wall Street Journal (suscriber's only):
The growing split between the U.S. and Europe has been much in the news, mostly on foreign policy. But less well understood is the gap in economic growth and standards of living. Now comes a European report that puts the American advantage in surprisingly stark relief.

The study, "The EU vs. USA," was done by a pair of economists --Fredrik Bergstrom and Robert Gidehag -- for the Swedish think tank Timbro. It found that if Europe were part of the U.S., only tiny Luxembourg could rival the richest of the 50 American states in gross domestic product per capita. Most European countries would rank below the U.S. average, as the nearby chart shows.

The authors admit that man doesn't live by GDP alone, and that this measure misses output in the "black" economy, which is significant in Europe's high-tax states. GDP also overlooks "the value of leisure or a good environment" or the way prosperity is spread across a society.

But a rising tide still lifts all boats, and U.S. GDP per capita was a whopping 32% higher than the EU average in 2000, and the gap hasn't closed since.

This is something that is not well understood in America: sluggish European GDP growth is having real effects on relative standards of living. Europe is getting poorer relative to America.

When Europeans are bitter to Americans, the war is only part of the reason. They now doubt the superiority of their economic model, which they have bragged about for decades.

It is suffocating them.
It is so wide that if the U.S. economy had frozen in place at 2000 levels while Europe grew, the Continent would still require years to catch up. Ireland, which has lower tax burdens and fewer regulations than the rest of the EU, would be the first but only by 2005. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, and Britain would get there by 2010. But Germany and Spain would need until 2015, while Italy, Sweden and Portugal would have to wait until 2022.

Higher GDP per capita allows the average American to spend about $9,700 more on consumption every year than the average European. So Yanks have by far more cars, TVs, computers and other modern goods. "Most Americans have a standard of living which the majority of Europeans will never come anywhere near," the Swedish study says.

But what about equality? Well, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line has dropped to 12% from 22% since 1959. In 1999, 25% of American households were considered "low income," meaning they had an annual income of less than $25,000. If Sweden -- the very model of a modern welfare state -- were judged by the same standard, about 40% of its households would be considered low income.

In other words poverty is relative, and in the U.S. a large 45.9% of the "poor" own their homes, 72.8% have a car and almost 77% have air conditioning, which remains a luxury in most of Western Europe. The average living space for poor American households is 1,200 square feet. In Europe, the average space for all households, not just the poor, is 1,000 square feet.

The disease is familiar: advanced socialism.
"The expansion of the public sector into overripe welfare states in large parts of Europe is and remains the best guess as to why our continent cannot measure up to our neighbor in the west," the authors write. In 1999, average EU tax revenues were more than 40% of GDP, and in some countries above 50%, compared with less than 30% for most of the U.S.

We don't report this with any nationalist glee. The world needs a prosperous, growing Europe, and its relative economic decline is one reason for growing EU-American tension. A poorer Europe lacks the wealth to invest in defense, a fact that in turn affects the willingness of Europeans to join America in confronting global security threats. But at least all of this is a warning to U.S. politicians who want this country to go down the same welfare-state road to decline.


 

Very perceptive


Bodies in lake identified as father and two sons:
PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wisconsin (AP) -- A father and two sons missing from Chicago for more than a month were identified Sunday as the bodies that washed ashore on Lake Michigan bound together by nylon rope and tied to bags filled with sand.

'We consider these deaths to be very suspicious and this case is being handled by law enforcement as a homicide,' said Pleasant Prairie Police Chief Brian J. Wagner.

Wow. You can't get anything by Chief Wagner.

Thursday, June 17, 2004
 

The Suicide Girls


The Suicide Girls are a little different: A musical group that plays no instruments (apparently) - their whole act is just one long striptease.

OK, so what?

That's what I thought, until I saw their first names: two of these girls are named after former US presidents.

Stodgy Republican presidents.

Nixon and Reagan?

Oh, their parents must be so proud.

What, no Bush?

 

The Double Standard


By Rabbi David Wolpe:
I know people in Israel whose children have been killed. Not because someone else was the intended target, not because of clumsiness or the heedless use of great force, but because the children were deliberately targeted. After all, the murderers last month of the Hatuel family stopped a pregnant woman and four children in a Jeep, and systematically shot each of them. Neither the mother nor the little children were armed. They were merely Jews. Imagine if it were done on the streets of a major American city. Here such a person is called Charles Manson; in the halls of the Hague, they are fighters for freedom.


From LGF.

 

Interesting Story


Censorship's Trial Balloons:
The censored story was one of World War II's oddest, and it involved a fleet of handmade balloons sent east by the empire of Japan. Improbable though it may sound, from late 1944 through the spring of 1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 balloons from their nation's eastern shores. Filled not with mild-mannered hot air but extremely flammable hydrogen and armed with incendiary and antipersonnel bombs, the balloons rode the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean for several days before landing throughout North America.

No, really. Throughout North America. From Alaska to Mexico and as far east as suburban Detroit. Perhaps even more incredible, the balloons themselves were not made of any high-tech, weather-hardened fabric but simple paper panels held together with potato glue.

An extraordinary story, right? Irresistible to any reporter and not just because of the balloons themselves, but because of their potential: If a balloon could carry incendiary bombs across the Pacific, without detection or advance warning, what else might travel aboard? Saboteurs? Biotoxins?

Sure enough, stories began to appear. The day after New Year's, 1945, for example, the New York Herald-Tribune carried a brief story about one of the first balloons to arrive. After that, however, even as the balloons were crash-landing at the rate of two or three per day, the nation's media remained largely mum. That's because on Jan. 4, two days after the Herald-Tribune ran its story, the Office of Censorship asked the nation's print and broadcast journalists to report absolutely nothing more about the balloon bombs. And no one did.

The way the rest of the story plays out proves problematic for foes and supporters alike of wartime censorship. For those who oppose censorship, it's hard to argue against the outcome: Throughout the spring of 1945, the Japanese carefully monitored the American press for mention of their balloons. They found none. And since supply routes and launch sites were getting hammered by an ever-closer American military, Japanese authorities finally decided they could not keep up their unusual campaign absent any evidence of success.

Yet, unbeknownst to them, or virtually anyone outside the U.S. government, the balloons were proving successful. One balloon, for example, managed to cut through power lines leading from the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. A resulting power outage that was quickly restored may sound insignificant; however, that particular dam provided power to a factory in Hanford, Wash., which was secretly manufacturing plutonium for use in the atomic bombs destined for Japan. When the power went out, the plant's emergency safeguards—which had never been tested—were suddenly called upon to prevent the reactor from melting down. Plant officials held their breath; everything worked as it was supposed to (though it took three days to resume full operations).

In the end, America's best defense may have been the weather. Designed to start fires—which would deplete natural resources and divert human ones—the balloons plummeted into the Pacific Northwest during its wettest months.

On May 22, 1945, the government suddenly changed its mind about the ban on press coverage. The War and Navy departments issued a joint statement announcing, in part, "It is the view of the departments that the possible saving of even one American life through precautionary measures would more than offset any military gain accruing to the enemy from the mere knowledge that some of his balloons actually have arrived on this side of the Pacific."

This sounds reasonable and prudent, if a bit tardy. But there's a reason the departments suddenly came around to this way of thinking, and this is where the balloon campaign becomes a troubling case study for censorship's supporters.

Seventeen days earlier, on May 5, the Rev. Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife, Elsie, took a group of children from his church on an outing to Oregon's Gearhart Mountain. Mitchell let the kids out of the car before he went off to park. His wife got out, too, to supervise. Mitchell found a spot up the road and pulled over. As he was getting out, he saw his charges clustered around a large white object on the forest floor. One of the kids tugged at it.

The bomb exploded, killing all the children and Mrs. Mitchell. They were the only fatalities on the U.S. mainland due to enemy action during World War II, and though a marker remembers them on Gearhart Mountain today, they're mostly overlooked, as they were by the War and Navy departments in that May 22 statement, which made no mention of the fatalities, only that "Japanese free balloons are known to have landed or dropped explosives in isolated localities. No property damage has resulted.

From Burton Terrace.






 

Eewwww!


Iowahawk:
Kerry declared that 'America deserves a White House as cheeky and sexy as itself,' and angrily challenged White House political director Karl Rove to 'stop questioning my sexiness.'

When asked about her husband's remarks during a taped interview for CBS Evening News, Heinz Kerry giggled that 'oh I'm cheeky, I'm sexy, whatever,' and returned the complement to Kerry.

'Oh, you should see John at Baden-Baden or Marienbad, strolling around the spa,' she explained. 'Every countess from Lichtenstein to Monaco is hungrily eyeing his shimmering Speedo, but I know he's coming home -- because only Madame Teresa can give bad little boys like John Kerry the special discipline they need.'

When visibly ill reporter Byron Pitts remarked that 'I mean, like, aren't you like 78 years old or something?' Heinz Kerry replied that 'age is merely a state of mind.'

 

The transfer


Belmont Club:
The June 30 transfer of power is less than a fortnight away and the Iraqis will have to start deciding whether their country is worth fighting for or not. It is the Iraqi half of a coin whose American face will be stamped in November, when the voters will signal whether they want to defeat the terrorist enemy or attempt to coexist with them. It is a transaction with no return, no exchange.

 

Time on blogs


When I want news, I go to the Economist.

When I want to find out all about Yoda, I go read Time.

I rarely read Time.

So I almost missed this: Time Magazine weighs in on blogs.

The article is so full of fluff and anecdotes that it is hard to excerpt some kind of kind of point from it, but the general import is that blogs are fun, delightfully biased and somewhat dangerous because they lecture to the converted. They allow amateurs to become experts (gasp!), Time says. Throughout the article, one gets the impression that they wish reporting to be done by unbiased professionals..ahem..like themselves.

Their concern is genuine: there is a danger in reading blogs only from your viewpoint.

But such tunnel vision nothing new. People have been doing that for years - contrast the readers of the Mother Jones with readers of the WSJ. Hell, my mom been getting her news from the National Catholic Reporter for the last decade, which has a lot to do with her belief that we can just sit down and talk with men like Osama Bin Laden.

It is possible for an entire nation to be mislead by its biased media (Pravda in the USSR, or most of France today).

But I think professional journalists fail to grasp blogs for what they are: a democratization of media. Everybody can post, comment, debate and argue. You fight - sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong - but you learn in the process.

I'm drawn to blogs run by people who know things that I don't. I learn from them.

In TIME's view of the world, bloggers are all set in their ways with rock solid opinions. That's not true. Most bloggers I know change their minds when the facts change. It's discerning fact from perception that is the problem.

Big media might not understand blogs because they represent something frightening: journalists are getting cheaper. When people do your job in their spare time, your job doesn't have much of a future.

Hell, even my township has a blog now, and my neighbor - working through the township blog and e-mail - just forced a judge to admit his corruption: Top judge in Delco pays back state, county
A Delaware County president judge who avoided taxes on a real estate transfer two years ago by claiming he was married has paid the state and county $2,902 in back taxes and interest.

Judge Kenneth A. Clouse signed a transfer in April 2002 that added Arlynne Cohen Clouse as his wife to the deed of his Haverford Township house. Transfer taxes are not levied when a spouse is added to a deed...

...Pat Biswanger, who joined Heilmann in his request to have the Elections Bureau investigate, said residents should not disregard the matter.

"People will say, 'What's the big deal? Why go through all that risk for one vote?' " she said. "These people just don't think rules apply to them."

Biswanger, a Republican committeewoman in Haverford Township, said she and Heilmann filed a complaint yesterday with Delaware County District Attorney G. Michael Green, citing the voter-fraud and tax-evasion allegations. Green's office did not return calls seeking comment.

Haverford Township is too small to support a paper that would report on local issues like this.

In the absence of media oversight, corruption has thrived at the local level.

The Haverford Blog is being used by regular people in the township to expose this corruption.

Thank you, Pat.

Blogs? They are good things, just not for professional journalists.

Viva la Internet.




Wednesday, June 16, 2004
 

Bad TV


Radical Cowboys:
Judging by the annual onslaught of ridiculous shows, it's becoming more and more likely that this unfortunate form of entertainment is here to stay.

If I watched network TV, I'd be pissed. I don't, though, so the omnipresence of shows like 'Who Wants To Sleep With My Dog' doesn't bother me.

My feelings exactly.

 

Here come the worry warts


Europe battles online racism
Officials from more than 60 countries were attending the two-day conference aimed at finding ways to keep racist information off the Web without compromising free speech and freedom of expression.

If they can't undestand how stupid that goal is, what can be done for them?

I'll bet that among those 60 countries there some real shining lights of human freedom.
"We are at a particular, 'hinge' moment in our common fight against intolerance," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said in opening remarks to the conference.

Get that? They are intolerant of intolerance!

 

Fighting fools


From the comments of Tim Blair's site:IRAQ'S FUTURE "FRIGHTENING":

Y'all continue to sell the French short as fighting men. In WWII, the Germans assigned the Vichy government the task of manning the garrison at Madagascar to protect their southern flank. The British showed up, expecting the French to walk over to their side, but the French fought ferociously for 6 months before running out of gas. Give a Frenchman a cause he believes in and you've got a fighting fool!

Posted by: R. Willis Cook at June 16, 2004 at 12:06 AM

 

A US-Iraq Free Trade Pact?


There have been a number of good ideas for helping Iraq along.

The first good one, which I'm afraid has been discounted, was to open up Iraq's oil revenue to general population - handling it in a manner similar to Alaskan Oil Trust.

Every Iraqi adult citizen - male, female, Sunni, Shiite and Kurd - would get a slice of the revenue. The government - with its state-owned oil companies and hungry coffers (with all the attendant corruption) - would be kept out of it. The free enterprise economy would do well with this infusion of cash, and it could have served as a shot in the arm for the Iraqi economy.

The idea that the Iraqi people would all benefit from this national resource would be heresy in the region, and the populations of many of Iraq's neighbors would be jealous (good). Iraqis might well decide that the money in their pockets was more important than OPEC production quotas. It might have doomed the cartel (good).

I'm sad that it is not being considered.

But the second idea is still doable: A US-Iraq Free Trade Pact. All goods produced in Iraq would enter the US tariff free.

Right now, one of the big problems is getting investors to put their money in Iraq is security. That's understandable: security is an investor's first concern.

But having free access to America's economy is a huge incentive. And it may lead many in in Iraq to invest their own money, in their own country.

How come nobody else is talking about this idea?

 

A cure for cocaine addiction?


The vaccine blocks cocaine's 'high'
A vaccine which can help cocaine addicts break their addiction has been developed by a UK pharmaceutical company.

Trials carried out in the US showed almost half of those given the TA-CD vaccine, developed by Xenova, were able to stay off the drug for six months.

The vaccine does not stop the craving for cocaine, but will stop addicts experiencing a high when they take it.

"The vaccine for cocaine addicts works in very much the same way a regular vaccine works.

"The reason cocaine addicts can take the drug for years without mounting any sort of immune response is because the drug has very small molecules."

He explained that the vaccine is created by attaching the cocaine to a large protein molecule which is used to stimulate the body's immune system to produce antibodies that recognise the drug.

Cool! And if they can do it with cocaine, they might be able to do it with herion.

Better living through technology!

Thanks to Christy (again)


 

The way it is...


Succinct wisdom, from Steven Den Beste:
(I)f you want to be free, you have to be tolerant. For some people, tolerance is very difficult. For others, it's heresy. And that's a problem, especially if their intolerance knows no borders or limits.

That's actually one of the big reasons why we're at war. The Islamic extremists consider tolerance to be heresy. They cannot accept us as we are, even though we're quite willing to accept them as they are. They demand that we conform to their view of how we should behave, and we won't do it.

So either they'll force us to conform, or they'll kill us all, or we'll force them to be tolerant, or we'll kill them all. Or maybe everybody will end up dead.

The first of those won't happen. My nation is not going to surrender, and they are not going to convert this nation into an Islamic Republic without exterminating the vast majority of us first. (If they try, they'll discover the true reason for our Second Amendment.)

Each of the others is a distinct possibility, but the third one (us forcing them to be tolerant) is by far the least bloody of those outcomes. That's the basis of the US strategy in the war (though there's much more to it than that).

If it fails, the body count is going to get extremely high. Islamic extremists may eventually gain the means to slaughter large numbers of us, but they won't ever have the ability to wipe us out completely.

On the other hand, we have the ability to wipe them out now, if we're ruthless enough to kill 10,000 innocent civilians for every militant we kill. Burning down the house to kill the roaches is pretty extreme, but there's no doubt it actually would kill almost all the roaches.

If it comes to that, it would be nearly as much of a disaster for us to do that as it would be for them to have that done to them. But if we face the stark choice of surrendering or committing nuclear genocide, then the body count is going to become very large in a very short time.

I'm willing to do almost anything to avoid that.

But I am not willing to surrender in order to avoid that.

I couldn't agree more.


 

DOA foolishness


I'm not a big fan of the Atkins diet. The science behind it (coverting protein to energy via ketosis) had been known for decades, so it was nothing new. It seems kind of nasty to me (though I will defend anyone's right to eat copious amounts of meat)and a little excessive.

But there is a delightful anti-government aspect to it.

The "food pyramid" was a ridiculous exercise of the Department of Agriculture, and the nutritional needs of the nation were subverted to their desire to pay off their various lobbies. Thus, grains (wheat lobby) were over-emphasized, and most notoriously, potato and corn were declared vegetables (they're starches). Good oils like olive oil and meats like fish (in which the DOA had little interest) got short-changed.

The funny aspect was that people tried the Atkins, defying government advice. They were doing everything wrong, according to the pyramid.

But they were right: they lost weight and lowered their cholesterol.

The idea got out: government doesn't know what its talking about.

The DOA still hasn't learned: USDA gives batter-coated fries a fresh category:
Batter-coated french fries are a fresh vegetable, according to the Agriculture Department, which has a federal judge's ruling to back it up.

Sure, they cover themselves, but it still shows the DOA for what it is: a tangle of bureaucratic foolishness with decadent dollop of corruption.

 

Interesting...


Nearby countries back interim rulers in Iraq
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Iraq's new interim government received a solid boost yesterday when it was endorsed by the country's neighbors and Egypt - a move that could help stem an increasingly violent insurgency.

Hours later, the political committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Islamic organization, unanimously approved a resolution backing Iraq's interim government and calling for help in rebuilding the war-shattered nation, said a delegate who attended the discussions...

...The meeting of Iraq's neighbors plus Egypt came on the sidelines of the OIC meeting. Egypt and the neighboring countries - Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria - welcomed the planned transfer of sovereignty and wished the new administration success.

I don't know how I feel about having Iran and Syria on our side.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004
 

The Swedes give in


Little Green Footballs:
The legal age for marriage in Sweden is 18. However, immigrant girls (read: Muslims) have been allowed BY LAW to marry at the age of 15. Some would call that apartheid, but hey, everything for multiculturalism. That's only the beginning, though.

It gets worse: Swedish authorities have allowed that young immigrant girls can be sent off to their parents' country to be married even BEFORE they are 15 years old. If they are pregnant when they return, the father will automatically earn a residency permit to Sweden (and by extension the EU) for family reunion.

All a Muslim male has to do to get into Sweden - legally - is to have sex with a CHILD.

Perverse.

 

Yeah right...


Social Security finances brighten a bit.
A report said the funds would run out in 2052, 10 years later than thought. Democrats assailed Bush's overhaul plan.

Why does anyone take the CBO seriously anymore? A year and half ago, they were saying this:
The difference between the income and expenditures credited to the trust funds of the Social Security and Medicare programs, the nation's two largest social insurance programs, is often viewed as a measure of the impact that those programs have on the financial condition of the federal government. Under the Congressional Budget Office's latest budget projections for the next 10 years, those trust funds are estimated to run sizable surpluses. However, those surpluses reflect more than an excess of dedicated revenues over spending. A substantial portion results from internal transfers between Treasury accounts--credits from the general fund of the Treasury to the trust funds. Thus, although the trust fund surpluses may accurately reflect the programs' spending authority, using them to gauge the programs' budgetary impact distorts their net effects.

That distortion, which is large, obscures the growing strains that the programs are placing on the government's finances. When the intragovernmental transfers are excluded, instead of running a combined surplus of $3.3 trillion over the next 10 years, the two programs are expected to run a deficit of $96 billion. Similarly, from 2003 to 2026, instead of running a cumulative surplus totaling $6.5 trillion, as estimated by the Social Security and Medicare trustees, the programs would run a cumulative deficit totaling $6.6 trillion.

I have simply lost count of how many times the CBO has been wrong. Budget deficits, cost overruns, program growth, budget growth, economic growth - all wrong, repeatedly.

Any economist with their track record would have been fired a long time ago.

The Federal government should have an INDEPENDENT auditor.

I trust the generally more accurate and dispassionate assessments of the Economist, which has a much better track record:
The American government's accounts look about as reliable as Enron's

IN BUSINESS, the penalties for poor book-keeping can be severe. The first principle of accounts is that they should present, as far as possible, a fair and accurate picture of an organisation's financial position. That means not only reporting a year's income and expenditure, and listing current assets and liabilities, but also setting out future obligations and sources of revenue. Executives who ignore these precepts risk being hauled before the courts for deceiving investors. Yet for all the vigour with which America's politicians have denounced the country's recent corporate scandals, it is not clear that the government's books are any fairer or more accurate than Enron's.

Congress had fits that nobody was watching what Enron was doing. But they are doing far worse, with the country's future, using federal money to buy votes.

But the CBO's assessment will be taken as the "last word," and the government will use it as an excuse to whistle while the problem grows worse.

Then they'll be shocked when the situation turns out to be worse than thought.

It is so utterly predictable.

UPDATE: Andrew Cassel weighs in: Social Security's numbers don't lie:

Uh-oh. The latest look at the future of Social Security says we face a looming crisis. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the new report confirms the 'Need for Changes' - and soon, before the baby boomers begin retiring.

No, wait. We can relax. A new study says we're in better shape than we thought. 'Social Security Solvent for Fifty Years,' the Center for Economic and Policy Research proclaims.
How can there be two studies with such contradictory conclusions? There aren't. There's only one. And it's quite clear and straightforward.

It's the spin, coming from both the left and the right, that can give you mental whiplash.


 

A story that won't be on CNN this morning


UPDATE: The AP originally reported that this letter was new. It now appears that it is a new translation of an older letter, written about eight months ago.

It is still worth a look, though.


Iraq Holy War in Danger
CAIRO, Egypt - A leader of militants in Iraq (news - web sites) has purportedly written to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) saying his fighters are being squeezed by U.S.-led coalition troops, according to a statement posted Monday on Islamic Web sites.

It was not possible to authenticate the statement allegedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian whose insurgent group claimed responsibility for the videotaped beheading of American Nicholas Berg.

Titled "The text of al-Zarqawi's message to Osama bin Laden about holy war in Iraq," the statement appeared on Web sites that have recently carried claims of responsibility for attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

"The space of movement is starting to get smaller," it said. "The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors' necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening."

Yes, it is.

Zarqawi sees with clarity something that liberals cannot discern: the free and open exchange of ideas is toxic to the militant Islamic idea of Jihad.

The important question is this: is the Arab world - with its biases, suspicions and ancient loyalties - toxic to the free and open exchange of ideas?

Monday, June 14, 2004
 

The Reagan I never knew


From reading the editorials of liberal columnists over the last few days, it seems that the Reagan I remember has disappeared.

It's funny, but I remember the Reagan who built the MX missile, the B1 bomber, the stealth fighter, the Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, new aircraft carriers and submarines. I remember $350 billion defense budgets and 500 ship navies. I remember Reagan trying to build Star Wars, putting intermediate nuclear missiles in Europe (over massive protests), and preparing US missiles to survive a Soviet first strike (aka "Densepack").

In my memory, Reagan rejected "no first strike" pledges and the nuclear freeze. He mined the harbors of Nicaragua, supported the Contras and the Afghan mujaheddin, and ignored the World Court and all the "human rights" groups. I remember the Reagan who broke off negiotiations rather than give ground. I remember a man who wouldn't trust anything the Soviets did unless it could be independantly verified. I remember a man who was characterized as a raving lunatic, a narcoleptic dullard with a silver tongue, and a dangerous, unilateral militarist.

All at the same time.

Liberal columnists have discovered a Reagan I don't recall. He worked with our allies, strengthened international institutions, bowed to the UN, and worked alongside Gorbachev to end the Cold War.

Funny, these things you learn.

 

Just who is an insider?


At a lunch party recently:

Me: "I hate Martha Stewart as much the next person, but sending her to jail is ridiculous."

Someone else: "But she broke the law!"

Well, true. But the law is silly. It is a well-intentioned, but ineffective piece of legislation that attempts to give the common investor the dumb - and dangerous - idea that he is on the same plane as Warren Buffett when it comes to trading stocks.

A better apporach would be for the feds post signs all around Wall Street stating the obvious: LET THE BUYER BEWARE.

The stock trading world is filled with tips and rumors, some true, some false. That is what markets are, and it is what they always will be. As a practical matter, there is no way to clamp down on all this information and make its distribution "fair." Most people recognize this, and this is why they entrust the their money to mutual fund managers, who are more likely to plugged into the Wall Street noise.

But certain people believe that laws like this are justified merely becuase they are well-intentioned, not because they solve anything. It is legislation for the sake of legislation, fertile ground for lawyers.

I believe bad laws are worse than no laws at all. Laws that attempt to impose order on chaos only increase the unfairness of it all.

Martha Stewart will be going to jail because she is Martha Stewart. There is no way around that simple fact. Enforcement of this law is arbitrary, and because the problem is so widespread, it is similar to trying to extinguish a forest fire with a garden hose.

If they feds need to "make an example of someone," why not make someone as obnoxious as Martha Stewart? This gives the government a dangerous amount of leeway: they can concentrate their efforts on rich and unlikeable celebrities for doing what everyone else does as a matter of routine.

Justice shouldn't make such distinctions: it wears a blindfold.

Yes, she lied in an effort to save her own skin. It's not admirable, but it is understandable. Bill Clinton committed purjury, but the questions he was being asked under oath were unreasonable. Putting people in a position where they will almost certainly squirm and lie counts in my eyes as a form of entrapment - and a prosecutor better have a damn good reason to do it. I believe they didn't have a good case for doing it with Clinton, and with Stewart they had even less of one.

To make matters worse, the laws are unclear: if Waksal had told a friend who, in turn, told Martha Stewart of the impending diaster at Imclone, she would be guilty of nothing more than a well-timed stock sale. She would have been acting on a rumor, which is perfectly legal.

If Waksal had just mentioned it to some guy he met on the street, no one ever would have cared.

If Waksal had not told a single soul, but had directed his company to cease work on marketing their future drug, the message to "insiders" would have been as clear as if he had shouted it in their ears. But Waksal would only have been looking out for the interests of his company, which was his job.

Who's an "insider?" What counts as "illegal inside information?" Nobody really knows. Politicians fudge the issue in impenetrable legalese that even they don't fully understand, but questions of right and wrong should be as clear as black and white. In the haze of uncertainty, more power is transferred to zealous prosecutors who use the law to bludgeon the unpopular.

I saw it in Sierra Leone, where ridiculous laws on price controls are violated by everyone; but enforcement is left up to the police, who use the laws to pick on people they don't like.

Government's best approach to "the problem" is to recognize that it can't solve it. "Insider trading" laws are really well-intentioned attempts to control information and who has access to it.

Controlling information is a goal of totalitarian states, not capitalist ones.

It rarely works, and in a free society, it should not be attempted.

Saturday, June 12, 2004
 

The skeleton dance


This is the most funny, masterful thing I have seen in a long time. It is also, unfortunately, a little long, but the best part is at the end.

Thanks again to All Things Christie, where Christie has been on quite a roll lately.

 

A true shame


Teacher suspended for washing student's mouth out with soap

Hell, if my sons were in the school where this teacher worked, I would request that they be moved into her class.

Soap is harmless, but the message is vital.

School discipline works best using a "bottom up" approach, similar to "broken windows" method of policing that has worked in New York.

Cracking down on little infractions(like a student calling a classmate "a cunt")conveys an invaluable sense of order. The sense of order is conducive to learning, and it discourages students from contemplating more serious offenses.

Tolerating an environment where students throw vulgar insults at each other leads naturally to other things. Students are likely to test the limits. They will probe, trying to see if teachers are serious with rules forbidding eating in class and being late. Will fights be ignored? Will there be any penalty if I refuse to do homework? What happens if I skip school altogether?

I fear that we, as a society, are too concerned about students' feelings to crack down on the little things that matter.

 

On second thought


UN changes its story:
The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.

Well duh. Did anybody honestly believe Saddam unilaterally disarmed and kept it a secret?

 

Not a joke name


This woman's name is not funny! Do not laugh!

Thanks to All Things Christie.


Friday, June 11, 2004
 

Two words, simple truth


From Best of the Web Today:
Natan Sharansky (né Anatoly Shcharansky), the Soviet dissident turned Israeli official, tells a story of Reagan in today's Jerusalem Post:

In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan's "provocation" quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth--a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.


Let's remember that Reagan took a lot of flak for that statement--from many of the same people who now criticize President Bush for, among other things, identifying the axis of evil. In 1983 they agreed with Pravda rather than Sharansky. Apparently they are condemned to repeat history.


 

Bush = antichrist?


From the Radical Cowboys

Wayne Madsen, a Washington-based writer and columnist: "people close to the pope claim that amid these concerns, the pontiff wishes he was younger and in better health to confront the possibility that Bush may represent the person prophesized in Revelations. John Paul II has always believed the world was on the precipice of the final confrontation between Good and Evil as foretold in the New Testament."


Bush is the anti-Christ, but Saddam and Osama? They're just misguided souls.

Thursday, June 10, 2004
 

The new evil


Spyware
VIRUSES and spam get all the attention, but there is another, less visible, threat to internet users that may already be lurking on your computer without your knowledge. “Spyware”, as it is known, is software that sneaks on to your PC, tracks your online activities, and occasionally splashes pop-up advertisements across the screen. It is more than a nuisance: such software is, in effect, hijacking your PC, monitoring your internet use and unilaterally opening browser windows. Some spyware also harvests personal information, such as your e-mail address and location—or even your credit-card details....

The rapid growth of spyware over the past year, and the legal ambiguity surrounding it, has brought it to the attention of regulators and lawyers in America and Europe. This month, a court in Utah will hear a case challenging the first state law that would ban it. Unless the software is stamped out, it could do to the web what spam has done to e-mail: create an annoyance of such magnitude that the internet may become less useful.

The practice is widespread. Spyware that monitors a user's online activities and triggers advertisements in response is present on over 4% of computers, according to one study. The top three spyware firms claim their software is installed on around 100m PCs. Yet most users are unaware it is there. That is because the software is usually installed in a “bundle” with other programs, such as the peer-to-peer file-trading software with which many internet users swap music. Another kind of spyware automatically installs itself when a user merely visits a particular site, a trick known as “drive-by downloading”. Having sneaked on to a PC, spyware applications can severely degrade its performance. Mostly, it is very difficult to remove; some programs are even designed to make removal as hard as possible....

...The analogy with spam is informative. If legislators had acted sooner, it might have been possible to prevent spam from spiralling out of control. Does that suggest that legislation against spyware will also prove ineffective? Not necessarily, because the people behind spyware are a centralised and traceable group of companies, unlike spammers. Lawmakers have an opportunity to nip spyware in the bud, and help to ensure the integrity of the internet. They should take it.

Let's hope they do. This shit is ruining the internet.







 

Strange people in France


French lay to rest heart of 1795 boy heir
SAINT-DENIS, France - French royalists staged a pageant-filled funeral yesterday for a tiny, rock-hard relic they hailed as the heart cut from Louis XVII, who died at age 10 in a filthy revolutionary prison.

A hearse brimming with lilies - symbol of the French crown - delivered a crystal vase containing the heart to the Saint-Denis Basilica. It was placed in a crypt containing the remains of Louis XVII's parents, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.

After centuries of mystery surrounding the boy's fate, DNA tests have convinced many historians that the relic passed secretly from person to person was truly the royal heart.

A faction of royalists - who want to restore France's monarchy - seized on the DNA tests to press the government to allow the funeral at the Gothic basilica north of Paris, resting place of France's kings.

Trumpets sounded as a small boy marched up the aisle with the vase. Outside, a crowd followed the Roman Catholic Mass on a huge screen.

Afterward, cries of "Long live the king!" greeted the Duke of Anjou, Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, one of several pretenders to the throne. The Bourbons dispute the rights of succession with the Orleans dynasty that followed.

Weird.

 

Great tourism promoter


What a great town name! Fucking, Austria

Apparently people keep stealing any signs with their town name on it. I wonder why.

And get this:
See also
Pussy, France The small village of Pussy, is located in the commune of La Léchère in the Savoie département of France, not far from Moûtiers.
The name derives from the Gallo-Roman name Pusiacum, from pusus meaning little boy.

Lying near the Isère River and the mountain of Mont Bellachat, the village boundary covers 1755 hectares (6.8 square miles). The local church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was rebuilt in 1669.

Condom, France Condom is a village in the French département of Gers, of which it is a sous-préfectures. Interestingly, it is located on the river Baïse; baise (without the diaeresis) is a French vulgarism for a sex act.
See also:

Lost, Scotland Lost (population: less than two dozen)
The tiny hamlet lies 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Aberdeen in the Cairngorm mountains of northeast Scotland, near the village of Bellabeg where the Water of Nochty feeds into the River Don.

The name comes from a Celtic word meaning inn; today the hamlet has a few houses, a war memorial and a farm.

Due to its unusual name the hamlet has suffered a serious problem ever since it was mentioned in guidebooks several years ago. Signs with its name disappear on a regular basis (see street sign theft). This is a problem as the signs cost around 100 pounds (US$185) each to replace.


 

Meat eaters strike back


Meat-eaters dig in at school
Jad Carson felt oppressed.

It's tough, he says, to be a right-leaning, meat-munching student at George School, where lefties are the majority and vegetarians a vocal and sizable force.

That is why a whimsical thought of like-minded fellow senior Barry Gessner grew into a mutual goal:

The duo decided their Quaker school in Newtown Township needed a support group for those who see cows as feasts, not friends.

And so, earlier this school year, MEAT was born. That's short for Mammals Eating Animals Today.

At a recent meeting, or "meating" as members call them, participants gnawed babyback ribs. After a hand-washing break, they discussed the differences between the pro-protein Atkins and South Beach diets and passed around articles supporting their view that eating animals is natural and healthy.

Natural. Haealthy. And YUMMY!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004
 

Dumb, tasteless plagiarist


Unbelievable:
School's Out for Summer

And possibly forever for the Orange County, NC school board chairman. Keith Cook delivered a commencement speech to high school students, plagiarizing parts of it from the internet without attribution. He's now being pressured to resign.

Granted it's not a good thing to do (we try to limit our stolen blog posts without attribution to one or two a day). But worse, he ripped off a commencement speech given by Donna Shalala. You remember her? The Clinton Cabinet member who banned hate speech at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; the ban later being ruled unconstitutional.

The real irony of this is that Shalala's speech was 'ten deep thoughts from the movie, Titanic.' Not exactly groundbreaking originality there.


From Norman.

 

The putt


A nun was sitting with her Mother Superior chatting.

"Mother Superior, I used some horrible language this week and feel
absolutely terrible about it."

"When did you use this awful language?" asked the elder.

"Well, I was golfing and hit an incredible drive that was going to go
280 yards, but it struck a phone line over the fairway and straight
down to the ground after only 100 yards."

"And that's when you swore?"

"No, Mother," says the nun. After that, a squirrel ran out of the
bushes and grabbed my ball in its mouth and began to run away."

"And THAT'S when you swore?" asked the Mother Superior.

"Well, no," says the nun. "You see, as the squirrel was running, an
eagle came down out of the sky, grabbed the squirrel in his talons
and began to fly away!"

"Is THAT when you swore?" asked the amazed elder nun.

"No. As the eagle carried the squirrel away in its claws, it flew
near the green and the squirrel dropped my ball."

"Did you swear THEN?" asked Mother Superior impatiently.

"No, because the ball fell on a big rock, bounced over the sand trap,
rolled onto the green and stopped about six inches from the hole."

The two nuns were silent for a moment. Mother Superior sighed and
said,"You missed the fucking putt, didn't you?"



 

Interesting


John Fund on the Trail:
A new book by former Air Force secretary Thomas Reed reveals that the Reagan administration allowed a Soviet agent to steal gas-pipeline software that had been secretly designed to go haywire on a catastrophic scale. The ruse led to a June 1982 explosion in the Siberian wilderness that Mr. Reed says was 'the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space.' It crippled the Soviet's secret techno-piracy operation because they could longer be sure if what they were buying or stealing was similarly booby-trapped. They had reason to worry: Contrived computer chips found their way into Soviet military equipment, flawed turbines were installed on a gas pipeline, and defective plans disrupted chemical plants and tractor factories.

Reagan's arms buildup also unhinged the Kremlin. His clarion call for a missile-based defense system against nuclear weapons in 1983 helped convince the Politburo to select Mikhail Gorbachev as a less hard-line Soviet leader in 1985. 'Reagan's SDI was a very successful blackmail,' says Gennady Gerasimov, the Soviet Foreign Ministry's top spokesman during the 1980s. 'The Soviet economy couldn't endure such competition.' Mr. Gorbachev himself agrees the U.S. exhausted his country economically and acknowledges Reagan's place in history. 'Who knows what would have happened if he wasn't there?' he told the History Channel in 2002.


From Tom.

 

Somebody's in trouble


Woman's clothes taken during park sex
A couple having sex in an Aberdeen city park, had to walk home naked after their clothes were stolen by a thief.

The man involved is said to have run off after his clothes were taken during the incident at Bon Accord Terrace Gardens.

The 23-year-old woman was left to walk half a mile home through Aberdeen city centre. The Daily Record says she had only three sheets of newspaper to cover herself.

The paper says when she got to her flat she found her flatmate had locked her out, and her keys were in her stolen jacket.

A neighbour had to call police, who arrived to let the woman in. The paper says it's thought the woman's flatmate is also her boyfriend.

Wow. I wouldn't want to be that dude.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
 

It's funny because its true


Why I like PJ O'Rourke: I Agree with Me:
Last year, on a long car trip, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh shout. I usually agree with Rush Limbaugh; therefore I usually don't listen to him. I listen to NPR: 'World to end! Poor and minorities hardest hit!' I like to argue with the radio. Of course, if I had kept listening to Limbaugh, whose OxyContin addiction was about to be revealed, I could have argued with him about drugs. I don't think drugs are bad. I used to be a hippie. I think drugs are fun. Now I'm a conservative. I think fun is bad. I would agree all the more with Limbaugh if, after he returned from rehab, he'd shouted (as most Americans ought to), 'I'm sorry I had fun! I promise not to have any more!'

 

For God's sake, man! Take a bath!


Like many Frenchmen, Jacques Chirac doesn't use deodorant.

How did I come by this piece of information?



Oh, just a guess.

From QandO.

 

Atlantis?


It sounds like one scietist's wishful thinking to me, but it would be interesting if it proves to be true: Satellite images 'show Atlantis'

 

No Ritalin = child abuse?


This is getting a little intrusive of the nanny state. These medicines are so overprescribed, for afflictions that are often matters of opinion: Dad Investigated for Taking Son Off Meds.

What's next? Mother investigated because she doesn't want her son taking Claritin?

 

Those Danes


Now that's progressive: Danes permit office porn

(I'm not all that sure about the veracity of the source)

Monday, June 07, 2004
 

Reagan's legacy is safe


Even his bitterest enemies agree on it: Republicans, Democrats Hail Reagan's Optimism:
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who since 1962 from his seat in the Senate watched the rise of Reagan and with him the Republican resurgence, said: 'We often disagreed on issues of the day, but I had immense respect and admiration for his leadership and his extraordinary ability to inspire the nation to live up to its high ideals.'

Departing from the Democratic pattern, Kennedy went on to say that Reagan 'will be honored as the president who won the Cold War.' He also drew a direct connection between Reagan's handling of the Soviet Union and his brother's, saying that 'his 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' will be linked forever with President Kennedy's 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' '


As it already is.

I don't think conservatives will line up to say such things about Jimmy Carter when he dies. His legacy is the weakness of a failed ideology: he was Neville Chamberlain without World War II.

 

Thank you, Reagan


I hated him at the time, but now I respect what he did.

I always thought Reagan had some great quotes:
Inflation is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose your job. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.


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