Saturday, March 31, 2007

Solidarity Redux?

The Catholic Church spoke truth to power today in Zimbabwe, as the rest of the world hems around, deploring the regime and bemoaning the coming starvation conditions from another failed harvest. Will the Church be able to break the Mugabe regime from within? Zimbabwe's bishops are quoted on AllAfrica:
"Oppression is sin and cannot be compromised with," they say. "It must be overcome. God takes sides with the oppressed."

They suggest that young Zimbabweans see their leaders "habitually engaging in acts and words which are hateful, disrespectful, racist, corrupt, lawless, unjust, greedy, dishonest and violent..."

The language of the letter might have been expected from Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, but is extraordinarily harsh for a formal joint statement from the country's Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The letter says black Zimbabweans are today fighting for the same rights they fought for during the liberation struggle.
They enter the political arena, calling for a new, "people-driven" constitution. Let the revolution begin!

Hostage Crisis Redux, Day 9

The news today is recapitulation on both sides and no capitulation on either side. The BBC reports that the potential for a diplomatic solution, which first offered a glimmer of hope yesterday, remains. The Age reports that "Britain had sent Iran a written reply to its diplomatic note on the detention of the sailors in the Gulf but received no response so far." Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett had conciliatory words to an Iranian TV reporter. Hopefully, this will enter the history books soon.

An opinion article in TIME by Robert Baer says that war between the U.S. and Iran may be inevitable - perhaps only because Iran believes it is. In my view, such a war would be similar in its genesis to the war in Iraq: a war fought late, because sanctions are not enough. One might think that 27 years of sustained sanctions would convince Iran that the U.S. and her allies are not be taken hostage. Apparently they were not; nor were the 11 years of global sanctions against Iraq sufficient proof of commitment to convince Saddam to cooperate with Hans Blix.

A scare headline today, also in TIME and linked by Drudge, reads A Deadly U.S.-Iran Firefight. This is news because it is first being revealed now, but it is cause for breathing easier, not panic: the firefight happened in September, and nothing ensued. Iran is not - or at least, was not - trying to provoke a ground war.

But what if it is trying now? A war in Iran would do far less immediate harm to the U.S. than the war in Iraq, since we would not seek external regime change. Likely, we would implement a blockade and cripple the still-oil-dependent economy. Alternately, a surgical strike against Nanantz could kill two birds with one stone. James Taranto discussed these options in yesterday's BOTWT. However, such a war could do far more long-term harm. Iran, I firmly believe, is in the very long run one of America's best allies in Asia, and it is a nation that will be more powerful (unlike the Arabs) in 50 years than it is today.

If Iran fires first, or tries and hangs the 15 for "spying", then a limited military response is in order. Setting out a clear menu of responses - and following through - might not be a bad idea for the U.K. and U.S. The biggest ticket item on the menu must remain nuke-for-nuke: if Iran nukes a U.S. ally or provides a nuke to Hamas, Hezbollah, or al-Qaeda, then we must nuke an Iranian city of comparable size. It's unsavory. We wouldn't want to do it; but, as the past hundred years have shown, the credible threat of full retaliation is the only way to avoid catastrophic conflict. Show me another means of avoiding conflict, and I'll show you a World War or a modern genocide.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Hostage Crisis Redux, Day 8: A New Hope

The big news today is of a diplomatic note, as well as two more "apologies" from the sailors: yet another letter from Faye Turney, and a new apology from marine Nathan Thomas Summers.

The diplomatic note, from Iran to the UK, is the first written communication in that direction since the crisis began last Friday. Iran has published the contents of the note, which call for a guarantee of no future incursions, but do not appear to call for an apology. Another story claims that the note was written by Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Analytically, perhaps the most telling thing about the latest round of news is the depth of fractures within Iran's government. Writing from Tehran, Angus McDowall of The Independent writes about the divide between the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and the rest of Iran:
Last night the footage of Faye Turney was only being shown on Al Alam, an obscure satellite channel with close links to the Revolutionary Guards. Because it only broadcasts in Arabic rather than Persian, few Iranians would have seen the footage, suggesting there is still much opposition to escalating the crisis.
Likewise, a BBC story notes the silence of the President:
From the Iranian side, the crisis has been managed by the country's Supreme National Security Council, the highest body dealing with such important matters. Its decisions are approved by Ayatollah Khamenei, and all senior officials take part in its meetings.

President Ahmadinejad's silence may suggest that the clerical leadership is deliberately keeping him out of this matter in order to ensure that situation is not inflamed by his usual hardline rhetoric.
An article by McDowall from a few days ago gives the back story on the Revolutionary Guard:
There are 150,000 guards armed with the best weapons the Islamic republic can buy. By comparison, the conventional army has 300,000 troops but is ill-paid and less well-equipped...

A large militia, the Basij, is directed by the revolutionary guards. With several million recruits of all ages and both sexes, it was known in the war for ideological fervour and courage... Iran's special forces, the Qods Brigade, are under the guards' control and have close ties to the intelligence services. The brigade has been inconclusively linked to terrorism and assassinations outside Iran.

Unlike the conventional forces, the revolutionary guards answer to [Khamenei]. The supreme leader appoints top guardsmen, who profess themselves his "devotees".
In today's WaPo, David Ignatius writes an op/ed/spy essay:
BERLIN -- We are in a season of skulduggery in the Middle East, with a strange series of events that all involve the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The murky saga is a reminder that the real power in Iran may lie with this secretive organization, which spawned Iran's firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad... On Feb. 7, a top Revolutionary Guard officer named Brig. Gen. Ali Reza Asgari vanished in Istanbul... Officials in Washington, Paris and Berlin shrug and say, sorry, they just can't be helpful on this one. But a leading Israeli daily, Yedioth Aharonoth, reported soon after Asgari's disappearance that Mossad had organized his defection... His handlers may be Israelis posing as officers of another intelligence service, perhaps even during the debriefing.
The intricate Persian tapestry woven by all these reports ties together every political strand in Iran, with the Revolutionary Guard at the center. But that doesn't mean it makes sense. Riddle me this: if the Guard motivated as well as carried out the kidnapping, why is Guard-boss Khamenei pushing Ahmadinejad aside? Khamenei controls the guard - at least at high levels. And Ahmadinejad is a product of the Guard, both professionally and electorally. Who are the real hard-liners here? Who wanted the kidnapping, and why? Who benefits within Iran from pushing a crisis with the West?

If Khamenei's note is accepted, Britain issues a guarantee, and the hostages are freed, these questions will be swept under the rug, and Iran's Byzantium of ideologues will close ranks again on the nuclear issue and others. But if the crisis continues, it may reveal itself to be more a crisis within Iran than a crisis without.

RedWings Schedule

The Rochester RedWings open their season at home a week from today. For Red Sox and Yankees fans, the home schedule highlights are:
  • PawSox at 'Wings: April 24-25
  • Clippers at 'Wings: June 18-21
  • PawSox at 'Wings: July 6-8
  • PawSox at 'Wings: August 25-27
RedWings to watch this year include reliever Mike Venafro, starters Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey, catcher Matt LeCroy, and Twins top draft pick Chris Parmalee (OF/1B).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Untied for a Fair Economy

A friend of mine sent me, as he often does, a newsletter from an organization that purports to have solved the deep economic question of fairness. United for a Fair Economy had this to say:
Wealthy Taxpayers Still Reaping Huge Tax Cuts

“This president is giving me millions of dollars. Do you think I need that?” ­– Matt Damon, ABC Primetime Live.

“It seems to me that instead of cutting taxes, we ought to be increasing taxes to pay off the deficit….” – Walter Cronkite, CNN NewsNight.

Those quotes are from 2004 and 2003 respectively, but they would be just as true today. Upper-income taxpayers are still pocketing huge Bush and Clinton-era tax cuts while our national debt soars, educational needs are unfunded and New Orleans remains in shambles.

George W. Bush inherited a projected $5.1 trillion, 10-year budget surplus and gave most of it away in tax cuts for the wealthy. Six years later, we face a $237 billion annual deficit and over $8.7 trillion of national debt – and yet wealthy taxpayers are still receiving windfall savings!
I responded: Is the goal of taxes to punish the wealthy, or to raise money for government programs?

If it's the former, then I can't argue with UFE. If it's the latter, then the data shows that Mr. Bush was right: tax receipts have gone up since the tax cuts. I disagreed with the Bush tax cuts when they were passed in 2003, for the same reasons as UFE. But I kept an open mind, and the empirical results have convinced me that it was a Pareto improvement (some people are better off and nobody is worse off). As I've mentioned before, the tax cuts have raised the percentage of all taxes paid by the rich. Cafe Hayek reported new IRS stats that showed an increase in the percentage of income taxes paid by the wealthiest 1% from 34.3 in 2003 to 36.9 in 2004. Most of that change comes from the fact that they got richer. So the tax cuts motivated the wealthy to work even harder, and even with a lower tax rate, they paid more taxes relative to the rest of us. They're happy, we're happy, Uncle Sam is happy. (BTW, the same stats show that the top 1% pays almost double what they would under a flat income tax).

Returning to UFE's argument, I think the deficit is a big problem, too, but raising taxes doesn't help that at all in the long run, since Congress (both parties) stands ready to spend every red cent and then some. The Federal government is a broken cistern: neither pouring more money in nor cutting off the flow is going to fix it. Instead, we should think about:
(1) Not starting expensive foreign wars
(2) Not sweetening every bill with billions of $$ of pork
(3) Not subsidizing favored farmers, unions, and industries
(4) Not making unrealistic promises to retirees

If those things were fixed and we still had a deficit, then I would consider tax policy an area for improvement.

Speaking of which, I need to file my tax return

Hostage Crisis Redux, Day 7

Update: See the news roundup from Friday on the developing crisis.

The excrement has only gotten thicker in the past 24 hours. Today, sailor Faye Turney becomes a pawn, and the two sides ossify in their respective courses.

In the Case of the Manipulated Mother, Iran has been playing cat and mouse on both sides of the game. In the global media, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki promised yesterday on TV to release her. Today, that promise has become conditional, and Ms. Turney's children are being publically disciplined for their government's "incorrect attitude". Specifically, it appears that if the U.K. brings the issue before the UN Security Council, as planned, she will not be released.

On Ms. Turney's side, Iran seems to be playing games as well. The sailor was induced to write two letters - one to the Iranian people, apologizing, and one to her family, published online after release by the Iranians. The spectacle is sickening.

Iran in this sideshow has been too clever by half. While Britons may have agitated for compromise to save Ms. Turney while she was but seen through a TV screen darkly, I think they will toughen in the face of obvious manipulation. Her Majesty's loyal subjects will keep a stiff upper lip and support Her Government's suit to the international community - even if it means keeping Faye Turney in headscarves and Persian prison chow for the duration of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the ongoing posturing and gesturing has left the two sides more firmly committed to their respective trajectories. In the common tongue, they are playing chicken. The U.K. is going before the Security Council, and calling on their allies to present a solid front againt Iran. In this regard, the EU is walking a fine line. Even while a French oil company is facing charges of bribing the Iranians for a big oil deal, EU negotiators are continuing talks with Iran on nukes, Javier Solana issued a condemnation - both of Iran's actions and of any potential use of force, and a French carrier fleet in the region is rumored to have sent a fighter plane on a flyover of the Persian Gulf. In addition, UN chief Ban-Ki Moon met with Mottaki today; the two have become familiar, with frequent meetings lately over the nuclea issue.

The U.S., of course, is as ready as ever to support John Bull. There's a big debt to be paid there, and there are estimates of 10,000 troops on the Iranian border with Iraq, as well as two aircraft carrier groups in the Gulf. However, as a Guardian blog commenter quoted in Slate notes, the U.K. may not be ready for a fight of any kind, and it would be politically humiliating for them to call in U.S. support. I suspect it will be left for Iran to fire the first shot: both the U.K. and U.S. have too little political capital in the region to pull the trigger.

What has changed least throughout the crisis is the inexplicability of Iran's conduct. From the outside, we see a great deal of sound and fury, but what it signifies remains anyone's guess. Much has been made of the arrest of five Iranian operatives in Iraq accused of helping the resistance, but Iran maintains the two events are unconnected. We cannot forget as well that President Mahmood Ahmadinejad (whose blog has been silent so far) was supposed to visit New York City to address the Security Council this week. The visit was canceled on Saturday. The British soldiers had been seized the day before.

If any reader has a reasoned guess to explain Iran's behavior, please comment - or write a more lengthy piece, and Global Review will publish it.

Death and Taxes: a Probabilistic Conundrum

Recently, I mentioned to my father that "taxes are more certain than death" this month. It is, after all, March 29th, and I'm planning to do my taxes today. I could die between now and April 15th, but I'm not counting on it.

The same calculus can be extended year after year. Even when I'm 70 years old, the probability of paying taxes will be well above the probability of dying in the current tax year. So how is it that it the long run, death is more certain than taxes (Keynes, 1923)? That is to say, the probability that one will die (which, as James Taranto loves to point out, is 1), whereas the probability that one will pay taxes is, while close to 1, not quite 1. Why do these compound differently over a lifespan?

Each event need only happen once. Let's consider only working adults; otherwise we have an easy way out. Thus, for a working adult, there is each year a very high probability of paying taxes and a low probability of death. In each year that he does not die, he faces similar probabilities the following year. Aye, there's the rub: we repeat this game - by construction - until he dies, though he may not have paid taxes in that time.

A wholly correct but somewhat unsatisfying answer to an altogether inane question.

Global Review Slated

Slate's Michael Weiss chose Global Review as one of the blogs he quoted in last night's roundup on the new hostage crisis, which he cleverly calls "Persian Roulette". I'll try to provide lots of good content today for visitors from Slate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Hostage Crisis, Redux

Update: See news roundups from Thursday and Friday on the developing crisis.

The news today [March 28] on the Iran hostage crisis, 2007 edition.
The following map was distributed by the Ministry of Defence along with a full explanation of the incident, from the British point of view. Vice Admiral Charles Style was unambiguous (a word much bandied about in this eminently ambiguous crisis):
"Our [routine] boarding [of an Indian merchant vessel] started at 0739 local time and was completed at 0910 with the merchant vessel having been cleared to continue with her business. Communications were lost with the boarding team as the boarding was finishing … at 0910. HMS CORNWALL's Lynx helicopter, which had been covering the initial stages of the boarding, immediately returned to the scene to locate the boarding team.

"The helicopter reported that the two seaboats were being escorted by Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Navy vessels towards the Shatt 'Al Arab Waterway and were now inside Iranian territorial waters. Debriefing of the helicopter crew and a conversation with the master of the merchant ship both indicate that the boarding team were ambushed while disembarking from the merchant vessel."
GPS readings from the seaboats, helicopter, and merchant vessel all confirm that the incident took place at anchor in Iraqi waters, according to Style.

This incident is not so much about who is right as it is about why this is continuing. Would Iran have turned the sailors over if the UK had apologized for an inadvertant mistake? Why is Iran worsening its already tenuous situation in the world community by making a huge stink over what is at worst a marginal infraction? If a military buildup occurs, how quickly will the Iranians snap and fire the first shot? Is a war exactly what they want?

Two things seem clear to me in this mess: Ahmedinejad's regime is willing to take huge risks; the Persian people must be availed of outside information so they know what their government is doing and how the world perceives it. They, not the government, will pay the highest cost for the latter's rash behavior.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What do a Macaca, a Guinea, and a Mohawk have in common?

They all appear in Wikipedia's endlessly diverting list of ethnic slurs. This is a great resource for anyone who has needed a handy insult for a Dutchman living in Australia (Clog wog), an immigrant from England (pom), an American of mixed Asian heritage (Hapa), or someone of Irish descent who goes to Ireland and pretends he belongs (Plastic Paddy).

Guinea? That's a bad name for an Dago Italian-American. Macaca? That's an annoying political intern. And Mohawk? Apparently, it's derived from Algonquin words for "cannibal".

Is Iran Trying To Start a War?

What is it with the Islamic regime and holding Westerners hostage? Do they really think they could possibly profit in the long run from refusing to release 15 British sailors and marines?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fred Who?

Out of nowhere, Fred Thompson has passed all the Republican candidates-wannabe on the outside, and is moving in on Romney and McCain. Tested today, he scores 688 Google Chatter, but the real shocker is that the latest Zogby Poll (March 22-26, 376 likely GOP primary voters) shows him in fourth place with 9% support. So who exactly is this guy?

Fred Dalton Thompson was a senator from Tennessee from 1994-2003. Now he's a star on Law and Order, and covers Paul Harvey's landmark radio show occassionally. More than anything, his poll number reflects the influence of Fox News, where he announced on March 11 that he isn't not running for president.

Mr. Thompson appears to be a pretty standard conservative, cleaving closer to the Bush White House than currently senators are willing or able to. Chris Cillizza at WaPo's 'The Fix' blog gives an argument in favor of Thompson's chances; Elephantbiz has several stories on Thompson, and for the true believers, there's

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Model Congress

The Democratic Congress conforms well to Political Economy models of vote-buying (euphemistically called "bargaining"). In the by-now-well-gone-over war funding/retreat resolution, the minimal Democratic majority was far from resolute. The skinny:
Democratic leaders, short of votes to pass the bill when the week began, loaded it up with what critics described as "pork." Dubbed "retreat and butter," the so-called political sweeteners included $25 million for spinach farms in California, $75 million for peanut storage in Georgia, and $120 million for shrimp and menhaden fishermen.
That's small potatoes. But $75 million here, $75 million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. The bill would:
• Add $1 billion to the president's request to protect against pandemic flu, $1.7 billion for defense health programs and $4 billion for agricultural assistance.
• Include legislation passed by the House this year that would increase the minimum wage and cut some related small business taxes.
I would have hoped the president would veto this bill even if it said nothing about withdrawing from Iraq!

Paps to the 'Pen, and Other Homecomings

Red Sox rookie phenom closer has laid claim to Boston's ninth innings as long as we'll give them to him. The Globe has it:
[Jonathan Papelbon] said he hasn't been able to sleep this spring because he wanted to close and finally told Francona of his desire on the field prior to Tuesday night's exhibition game. "I walked into Tito's office and said, 'If you want to give me the ball in the ninth, I want it,'" Papelbon said today... "This is something I'd like to do the rest of my career. Forget about starting. Go out (as a closer), chase records and hopefully do for the Red Sox what Mariano Rivera does for the Yankees."
This makes the Red Sox bullpen so much better. Julian Tavarez goes to the rotation, with Jon Lester and Kason Gabbard backing him up from Pawtucket, and the bullpen has more flexibility using its stable of arms, including Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly, Mike Timlin (DL for now), Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, J.C. Romero and Kyle Snyder (at least until Timlin comes back).

I'm home in Boston, and enjoyed running up and down the Great Blue Hill looking for my absent-minded little sister, who had drifted off the trail to muck around in a stream. That's my sis!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Boston for the Weekend

I'm going back to Boston with some swing dancers later today. Email or call me if you're in Beantown and want to hang out this weekend.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

VE-Day Plus One

Today's the first day of spring - the vernal equinox graced us at 8:07 pm EDT last night. And in Rochester, the weather's actually following form. It warmed from 12 F overnight to 48 F outside now. Praise God! The siege is over!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Minority Report

The annual report by Minority Rights Group Int'l lists the Top 20 offenders of minority rights. For all the haranguing that the U.S., U.K. and other western countries receive for violating minority rights, they aren't even close to appearing on this list. The most western country on the list is Russia at #10. The Top 20:
  1. Somalia
  2. Iraq
  3. Sudan
  4. Afghanistan
  5. Burma
  6. DR Congo
  7. Nigeria
  8. Pakistan
  9. Angola
  10. Russia
  11. Burundi
  12. Uganda
  13. Ethiopia
  14. Sri Lanka
  15. Haiti
  16. Cote D'Ivoire
  17. Rwanda
  18. Nepal
  19. Phillipines
  20. Iran
Ten of the countries are African; six are Muslim; Muslim minorities are principal victims in four other countries; five are in South and Southeast Asia; one is in the G8; one is in the Western Hemisphere; none are in North America.

Hat tip to AllAfrica.

Name of the Year

Thanks to Soxaholix for pointing out the 21st Name of the Year balloting. Download, fill out, and email in your bracket from here.

I sent Zaire Kitchen, Quantum McDonald, Phyre Quickly Burns, and tourney favorite Vanilla Dong to the Final Four. Giving more weight to first names (since they're more subject to choice), I have LeQuantum losing to Phyre Quickly in the final. In earlier rounds, Zaire had knocked out top-seeded Intelligent Infinite Botts and Gertrude Nipple in the tough Bulltron Region, while Vanilla Dong skated through an easy Chrotchtangle Region and Phyre Quickly iced 1-seed Yourhighness Morgan and dark horse Leftonred Atanycorner to emerge from Dragonwagon Region. My biggest upset has 16th-seed Eugene Heavy Runner knocking off Mario Hilario in the Sithole Region. Eugene is promptly unseated by Wisdom Bleboo, who I have losing to LeQuantum in the regional final.

Disagree with my picks? Make your own! All the names come from news articles culled by the NOTY people throughout the year. Past winners, from Hector Macho Camacho (1983) to Princess Nocandy (2006) are here. Check back on April Fools Day for this year's winner!

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Emperor's Threads Are Thinning

China is fighting the inevitable: the Middle Kingdom sacked a university dean, Zhang Ming, for fisking government policies on his blog.
"Universities have become an officialdom ... The over-intervention and manipulation of academia by power definitely fetters its growth," Zhang was quoted as saying.

"How is China's academia doing now? Does anybody overseas read papers written by Chinese scholars? Plagiarism and theft are rampant ... Obedient kids are being taught to be minions."
Once people start speaking truth to power, the tide has already turned. The CCP has been fighting a delaying action since before Tianenmen Square, and the fact that this dean only lost his administrative position (not his professorship) bespeaks the inroads western ideas and open information have already made, at least among the intelligentsia.
"They told me that I should be punished for ... breaking the 'hidden rules'," the 50-year-old was quoted as saying.
Hat tip to Drudge.

Democrats Yielding High Ground

As predicted, the new Democratic majority is in a bind. With a variety of bills and proposals on Iraq, they have taken to infighting. In the meantime President Bush is starting to reclaim some high ground, appealing to virtue over interest:
On the fourth anniversary of the day Bush directed the invasion to begin, the president made a televised statement from the White House Roosevelt Room to defend continued U.S. involvement. He said his plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Iraq's troubled Anbar Province "will need more time to take effect," especially since fewer than half of the troop reinforcements have yet arrived in the capital. Bush added: "There will be good days and bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds."

Democrats are bringing up this week in the House a war spending bill that would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, on top of providing funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year. The White House has been pushing aggressively against this legislation, and Bush did so again on Monday.

"It can be tempting to look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude our best option is to pack up and go home," he said. "That may be satisfying in the short run. But I believe the consequences for America's security would be devastating."
That's an AP article linked by Drudge, for those of you scoring at home.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Free-For-All 2008: The Terminator

Today's big news: Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill moving up California's primary to February 5th, 2008. The Governator has never been afraid to shake up the status quo and this move, coupled with similar steps by many other states, could single-handedly bring down the primary system as we know it.

Primary reform has long been overdue: in an age of national media, it doesn't make sense to have a system that assumes states are choosing candidates independently. Several proposals have been floated, some preserving the places of New Hampshire and Iowa, some not. Most proposals call for rotation, at least among the other 48 states, so that late-voting states aren't entirely excluded. This won't fix the inequities of early primaries, but at least it will distribute them more widely.

In the long run, California's move may force reform, but only if it truly destroys the current election. The AP story notes:
California joins a handful of other states that have already scheduled Feb. 5 primaries. But 15 other states – including Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas – are considering moving their contests to the same day
Imagine if competitors had to buy serious time in the NYC, LA, Chicago, Bay Area, San Diego, Detroit, Houston, Dallas and several smaller markets to seriously compete for the election!

This brave new primary world will have one of two effects. First, a single well-funded candidate could sweep most of the 2/5/08 states. Second, two well-funded candidates could split those states. That would unleash the biggest primary battle of all time. If that happened in both parties... wow. The election of 2008 could be one of the biggest events in American political history, if only for magnitude (rather than substance).

The California move obviously benefits the leftward candidates more. It raises Duncan Hunter's stock. And if California doesn't amend its system to allow proportional delegate selection, it's going to be a huge, enormous winner-take-all mess in the Golden State.

The monthly prediction...
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Sep '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 6,1330
R.2 Rudy Giuliani 5,3000
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,8670
R.4 Newt Gingrich 1,629+4
R.5 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 1,252+2
R.6 Sen. Sam Brownback 1,176-2
R.7 Gov. Mike Huckabee 902-1
R.8 Sen. Chuck Hagel 838-3
R.9 Rep. Duncan Hunter 694+1
R.10 Gov. Jeb Bush 360+1
R.11 Tommy Thompson 350+3
R.12 Sen. George Allen 3120
R.13 Rep. Tom Tancredo 271-4
R.14 Gov. George Pataki 247-1
D.1 Sen. Barack Obama 7,1850
D.2 Sen. Hillary Clinton 6,8580
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 5,255
D.4 Al Gore 2,570+6
D.5 Gov. Bill Richardson 2,283+1
D.6 Sen. John Kerry 2,247-2
D.7 Sen. Joseph Biden 2,221+1
D.8 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,688-1
D.9 Gov. Tom Vilsack 1,3470
D.10 Howard Dean 943+2
D.11 (new) Rep. Dennis Kucinich 665-6
D.12 Sen. Russ Feingold 239+1
D.13 Wesley Clark 267+1
D.14 Gov. Mark Warner 223+1

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month tested but not qualifying are Ron Paul (536), Al Sharpton (117), Jim Gilmore (258) and Mike Gravel (397). To qualify, a candidate should separate himself from the just-hanging-on types of his own party. Non-contenders are kept on the rolls as Vice-Presidential possibilities (e.g. Rice) and benchmarks (e.g. Dean). This month, I purged Harry Reid, who is making news as Senate Majority leader and interfering with real rankings here.

See the most recent graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

Setting the Noose

The U.S. commanders in Iraq are following the advice of Global Review from Feb. 20th. According to a front-page WaPo article today, the noose is slowly tightening on Sadr City and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Of course, the noose hasn't been pulled tight yet. But Sadr himself is still in hiding. The U.S. claims he is in Iran; he claims he is in Iraq. If the U.S. is right, then he's probably losing respect day by day as word leaks down his chain of command. If the U.S. is wrong, we look stupid. Meanwhile, his orders to the Mahdi Army to stand down throughout the surge are largely being followed. For the first time in years the U.S. is patrolling and arresting militants in Sadr City.

The U.S. can go on like this for a long time - at least 20 months. The task now is to keep disarming and splintering the Mahdi Army, seizing contraband and arresting its most violent members, until it no longer qualifies as the second-largest military force in Iraq. The analogy that comes to mind is boiling a frog.

Ultimately, it would be nice to go all Louis-Napoleon on the Sadrists, and turn their warren of alleys into a wide, spacious grid of boulevards which, like modern Paris, would be easily accessible to tanks and afford outsiders wide firing angles and easy tracking.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad

Mr. "KSM" confessed to a Federal tribunal that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. And the East Africa bombings. And the King David Hotel bombing. And the conquest of Spain. And the fall of the Roman Empire. OK, not quite, but Mohammad did confess to planning 31 terror attacks, many of which never happened. James Taranto has the littany at BOTWT.

Do we believe this guy? The Feds are (wisely) staying mum. But, even if he wasn't tortured, coerced, or tricked into making these confessions, do we really believe he's all that he says he is? As an enemy combatant, he's looking at the U.S. as a mortal, cosmic evil. That is, he's not trying to plea bargain. So if you have to be hanged as a terrorist, why be hanged as a second-tier terrorist? Heck, if you're gonna string me up, KSM might be thinking, string me up for a fantastic (and possibly fantastical) string of crimes!

Of course, this doesn't mean KSM is just a delusional nutcase. He has some proof of his own 'terror cred':
I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, [Wall Street Journal reporter] Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.
I'm glad the U.S. has captured this guy: he hates us and claims he has murdered many, one even with his own hand, and he seems to pose a high risk for recidivism. So fry him, string him up, or whatever they do these days. But let's not swallow his 'confessions' whole; he has no incentive to tell us the truth, and plenty of incentive to lie.

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

You're all familiar with the play and film Six Degrees of Separation, and the Hollywood world trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, right? If not: the first is based on a loose empirical hypothesis in network theory that everyone in the world is connected by - at most - 6 or less friendship links. The second is based on the theory that Kevin Bacon is at the center of the film universe, and any actor or director can be connected to him by 6 or less film links.

What about a similar game for us nerds? Who is at the center of the scholarly universe - which, I might add, is a bit more extensive than Hollywood? Another Bacon: Francis. So, Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. Let's see what we can do.

Here are a few all-time superstars: Isaac Newton, Socrates, Albert Einstein, Confucius.
  • Isaac Newton applied the scientific method to religious texts; the scientific method was first fully propounded by Rene Descartes in his Discourse on Method; the Discourse built upon the work in logic in Bacon's Novum Organum.
  • Socrates was the teacher of Plato, Plato the teacher of Aristotle; Aristotle wrote Organon, which was what Bacon set out to improve upon in Novum Organum.
  • Einstein said he believed in "Spinoza's God"; Spinoza's Ethics are an application of Francis Bacon's logical methods.
  • Confucius' philosophy was adopted by Emperor Wu; Wu also sponsored advances in gunpowder and alchemy; one of the first Europeans to credit gunpowder to the Chinese (and also an avid alchemist) was Francis Bacon.
Too easy.

(Hmm, I guess I'm not the first one to have this idea; there's already a DVD, and 6,000 exact Google matches. Geez. I wrote this post because I was getting frustrated trying to find an original research idea. I can't even find an original blog idea!).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lord of the Bling

My housemates and I last night decided that when we find a willing director, we're going to produce an interpretation of the Lord of the Rings epic that would be more, well, accessible to "urban" American moviegoers.

Preliminary casting for Lord of the Bling:
Frodo Baggins...Chris Rock
Gandalf the Gray (later Black)...Morgan Freeman
Samwise Gamgee...Cedric the Entertainer
Aragorn...Jamie Foxx
Tom Bombodil...Bill Cosby
Arwen...Jennifer Hudson
Eowen...Halle Barry
Galadriel...Oprah Winfrey
Theoden King...James Earl Jones
King of the Undead...Tupac Shakur
Saruman the White...Anthony Hopkins
Uruk-hai leader...Vin Diesel
Gimli...Eddie Murphy
Elrond...Denzel Washington
Sauron's voice...Robert Duvall
Denethor...Jesse Jackson
Boromir...Samuel L. Jackson
Faramir...Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Gollum...Dave Chappelle
Apologies to all our black, white, elvish, dwarf and hobbit readers for the shameless stereotyping. And if anyone can photoshop one of these actors into his role, please do!

Other casting nominations?

Surge Working?

Drudge links to a Kuwait News Agency wire report on the success of the new security measures in Baghdad:
BAGHDAD, March 14 (KUNA) -- The rate of killings of US troops in Iraq has been on the decline, down by 60 percent, since the launch of the new security measures in Baghdad, according to statistics revealed by the Multi-National Force -Iraq Combined Press Information Centre.

Only 17 members of the US military in Iraq have been killed since February 14 till March 13, compared to 42 from January 13 to February 13; the rate was on the decline during the first month of the security crackdown, compared to a month before...

The remarkable decrease in killings among the US troops came at a time when more of these troops were deployed in the Iraqi capital, especially in districts previously regarded as extremely hazardous for them such as Al-Sadr City, Al-Azamiyah, and Al-Doura...

The US army in Iraq had earlier said that sectarian fighting and violence in Baghdad had dropped sharply, by about 80 percent, since the launch of the plan.
That's good. Let's see if it can be maintained.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Good Is Happiness If It Doesn't Make You Rich?

Link of the day: Peter Your one-stop shop for philosophical readings and listenings from the greatest living English-speaking Christian philosopher. I'm listening to a lecture on "Happiness" presently. Also, check out the culture war. There are few authors or speakers who can use the English language with such devastating humor. For instance, on his sixth point in the modern anatomy of happiness, he manages to imply that surfers prefer surfing to sex - all in an unperturbed formal voice.

Introducing a talk on suffering several years ago in "The City" - New York - he says:
I am here because I am from Boston. Boston has more philosophers than any other city in the world per capita. This is because philosophy is the love of wisdom; wisdom comes through suffering; we have the Red Sox.

Steve Jobs for President?

Not quite. But this campaign spot by a Barack Obama supporter uses the famous Apple ad to 'explode' Hillary's YouTube "conversation". Hat tip to Brownpau.

Monday, March 12, 2007

West Bank Story

The first four minutes of the Academy Award winning short film "West Bank Story" is online. Get your peeks before somebody cracks down. Seriously, watch it: this takes "so bad it's good" to a whole new level.

Back from Break

I enjoyed the sunny, balmy glories of the Old People State this weekend. Actually, I spent most of my time with old friends, not old people, so that was good.

Nature highlight: Fort De Soto State Park at daybreak. I was tired after a 1-hour-of-sleep night in airports, but there's nothing like a quiet waterfront and a sunrise to help you wake up (also, a nap on the beach helped).

Baseball highlight: The inexplicable Red Sox - Tigers almost brawl. That crowd was totally into the game, and apparently the players were too. Sox won, 7-6.

Beach highlight: Awesome sandcastle on Clearwater Beach. Big group effort; great result.

Randomness highlight: Being mistaken for a homeless guy in the airport by some Canuck kids. They gave me 23 cents (Canadian) while I tried to nap on the floor at 3am. I ended up playing frisbee with them in the deserted baggage claim.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Introducing: Curt Schilling

Not to be outdone by Rob Bradford for putting inside access into the blogosphere, Boston's own Curt Schilling has a blog: 38 Pitches. I'm hoping that signifies only the number on his back, not his opening day pitchcount in a few weeks.

Schill is not a man of few words, but there's plenty of interest to the news-hungry fan. From his first two posts:
On throwing the change-up: Things go well through the first three innings, and I throw ten changeups in that time. I literally feel like I’m throwing the first two left-handed. This is such a different pitch for me, and it’s taken three years to convince my body and arm to sync up. It’s still a work in progress, but after the first two changeups I feel as if the next five or six are very good. I even get a swing and a miss. Twenty-one years into my professional career, and I get my first swing and miss at a changeup in spring training. It feels like a national holiday.
It looks like he'll mostly write about baseball and online gaming (for his company, 38 Studios). But he's leaving other avenues open:
That’s not to say I’ll be preaching from the pulpit–far from it. Being a major league baseball player does not give me keen insight into politics, education, or anything else for that matter. It does give me insight and knowledge about baseball, about being part of a team, about excelling at something not many people can. Beyond that my thoughts and beliefs are my own and for the most part pretty normal.
This should be an interesting ride. Hat tip to Dirt Dogs.

Chops sues LaBan

That's a Philadelphia Daily News headline from a couple weeks ago, hat tip to Drudge. Apparently, I was accused of being "tough and fatty". I resemble that remark!

"The Sound of Whiff"

Today's Soxaholix strip sent tingles down my spine. Does Daisuke Matsuzaka (aka Mothra, aka Dice-K, aka Kaibatsu, aka The Monster, aka #18) have the gyroball? Maybe. But he definitely has a phantom pitch. Listen to these Florida Marlins, quoted by Michael Silverman in the Herald:
Two Marlins - Jason Stokes and Jeremy Hermida - said they saw a pitch that had movement and action unlike any other pitch they had ever seen before. Hermida saw it three times, Stokes once and the UFO broke down and away to the left-handed hitting Hermida and in on the hands of Stokes.

The ball spun in a clock-wise direction, or reverse to what they are used to. It had a screwball-like rotation that left them shaking their heads. Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Matsuzaka's changeup was the pitch they actually saw but that was not what the Marlins called it.

"It's a pitch that's somewhere between a changeup and a splitter but it’s got a sideways spin," said Stokes. "It's like a split, but it's slower, more movement... He threw four different pitches to me - a fastball, slider, gyro and curve." On the gyro, "He threw it up and in. I could see it was obviously a ball right away. I'm thinking 'Get out of the way.' It kind of backs up on you."

Hermida encountered the pitch three times. He affirmed Stokes' version that it was a gyroball, saying it was somewhere between a changeup and split-fingered fastball. "It looks like a split, but it's slower," said Hermida. "It didn't have the same spin as a split. It had its own unique character." Hermida saw Matsuzaka turn his wrist over in a screwball-like manner, which gives the ball its reverse spin. "It's got a good, hard and downward break but comes out with more speed than a changeup," he said. "It comes out of the hand good and then it just dies on you."
Major leaguers will figure out how to hit the gyro - or when to let it go - but only if they really know what it is. As long as Dice-K has batters guessing at his arsenal, he'll be way ahead of them in the mind game that is pitching.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Obama Preaches The Faith

Barack Obama used the pulpit in Selma, Alabama, today, at an event marking the 52nd anniversary of the march on Montgomery. His sermon established that he's willing to move beyond generalities in racial issues. The full text is here (along with a sermon by Hillary Clinton), but here are what I consider the highlights:
On his heritage: You see, my Grandfather was a cook to the British in Kenya. Grew up in a small village and all his life, that's all he was -- a cook and a house boy. And that's what they called him, even when he was 60 years old. They called him a house boy. They wouldn't call him by his last name. Sound familiar? ...So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama. Don't tell me I'm not coming home to Selma, Alabama.

On black attitudes: One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can't say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation. Bishop, sometimes I feel like we've lost it a little bit.

...if parents don't turn off the television set when the child comes home from school and make sure they sit down and do their homework and go talk to the teachers and find out how they're doing, and if we don't start instilling a sense in our young children that there is nothing to be ashamed about in educational achievement, I don't know who taught them that reading and writing and conjugating your verbs was something white.

...We have too many children in poverty in this country and everybody should be ashamed, but don't tell me it doesn't have a little to do with the fact that we got too many daddies not acting like daddies. Don't think that fatherhood ends at conception. I know something about that because my father wasn't around when I was young and I struggled.
This is a lot more interesting than the usual campaign trope. Wouldn't it be wonderful if candidates actually had a "brains race", instead of the usual pandering?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Power Plants

The CS Monitor has an article about the revival of nuclear power in 'green' Europe. While waste disposal remains something of an issue, the demonstrated safety and cleanliness of the process makes this the best option for humanity's next few decades. So stop worrying about oil dependency, and learn to love the nuclear option.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

CPAC: Somewhat Duped

The mainstream media dropped the ball on an important aspect of the CPAC poll that just catapulted Mitt Romney into the spotlight: 64% of the registrants were under age 25.

AP called them "GOP activists"; Robert Novak calls them "right-wingers from across the nation". Another WaPo story talks about "right wing icons" in the first graf, and doesn't mention a college kid until the end of the second page. The clear message in these and other stories is that the conference represents key GOP activists. That may be true, and it may be an important conference (after all, several hundred over-25's were there as well), but the poll results should surely note the source.

FLASH: Romney Wins CPAC Straw Poll

Drudge notes and the AP reports in full (on the LA Times website) that Mitt Romney won the straw poll at the influential Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention this afternoon.

From Drudge:
  1. Mitt Romney 21%
  2. Rudy Giuliani 17%
  3. Sam Brownback 15%
  4. Newt Gingrich 14%
  5. John McCain, 12%
Update: Full results are available from in Powerpoint format. Some further results:
  • 79% would support a candidate who called himself a "Reagan Republican" over a "GW Bush Republican" (3%)
  • Core ideology: 50% say government size, 30% say social issues, 18% say security.
A total of 1,705 votes were cast: this is a significant sample of Republican movers and shakers of conservative 18-25 year olds (that age group accounted for 62% of the votes). McCain skipped the event, so his support may be lower than otherwise. AP notes that last year's results had George Allen leading with 22%, and "McCain had 20 percent, Giuliani had 12 percent, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had 10 percent, and Gingrich had 5 percent."

This confirms another poll reported by the LA Times today that shows Romney leading among party insiders. There's an essay I've been planning to write on this topic; now's as good a time as any.

Why Christian Conservatives Will Love Mitt Romney

Much has been made of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith. Polling Report today notes that only 40% of registered voters believe America is ready for a Mormon president, as compared to a woman (60%), twice-divorced (65%), or Black (69%) president. In particular, will Romney be able to find any GOP primary voters in the space between Christian conservatives on the right and security-first moderates on the left? I think he will, because he's the best choice available for Christian conservatives.

Mitt Romney is not a Christian. That's Fact #1 from the perspective of the 'Religious Right'. If he ever claims to be one, his candidacy is over. But he does believe in one God, he supports family values, he's not afraid to fight culture wars, and he's supportive of people of faith in politics. And that's all that conservative Christians want.

Contrary to liberal fear-mongering, Christians do not want a theocratic state. With myriad divisions in theology and policy, no politician could get more than a small minority behind any really "faith-based" policy. Rather, Christians want fair treatment from the government (which accepts de facto the theology of secular humanism) and conservative social policies.

Romney supports all the key Christian-conservative stances, but without the identity crisis that an overtly Christian (Brownback and Huckabee come to mind) president would precipitate. By voting for Romney, Christians can convince themselves and others that they really are policy-driven, not just a tribal group pushing its own members. This is the same impulse that made Joe Lieberman popular nationally. Americans are people of civic as well as personal faith, and they want to be represented by someone who shares their civic faith. They'd like to be led by someone who represents their personal faith as well, presumably, but with the range of personal beliefs within American Christianity, this is never going to push a candidate over the top. In fact, Romney's Mormonism could help him, since he's got the civic faith down pat, and America's Mormons will be working overtime for their man.

What about that great hope of conservative Christianity, Sam Brownback? He polled well today, too. And no-one can take Senator Brownback's accomplishments away from him: he has spearheaded AIDS victim relief (not just prevention) in Africa, and been very thoughtful in domestic policy as well. But that's not enough. He lacks experience outside the Senate, and senators in general make poor candidates. Also, placing his candidacy in the same rubric as Romney's, he has failed to separate his personal faith from his civic faith. For him, as for me, faith is absolute, and cannot be compartmentalized. Neither of us will be president.

The other candidate who could draw votes away from Romney is Newt Gingrich. He's not particularly religious, but he occupies the same policy-space and will attract the kind of voters who want a proven fiscal conservative. But Newt isn't going to decide on the race until the fall, and by then it will be too late. He has huge negatives (64% in a Feb 13-14 poll), and the other candidates are going to be millions deep by summer.

As for the concern that Romney will do the bidding of the prophets in Utah, the same concern didn't stop Jack Kennedy, and it doesn't hurt that the leader of the loyal opposition - Sen. Harry Reid - is also a Mormon, and disagrees with Romney on most issues.

Early primary voters will decide the Republican nomination even more than they do the Democratic nomination. Republicans are running scared, and thinking about electability; the alternative is a unified Democratic government. The early voters - in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina - will take their responsibility very seriously and do a lot of research. Sophisticated voters are good for sophisticated candidates; and they're going to give the kiss of death to unelectables like Gingrich and Brownback long before the elections take place.

The Arms Buildup Continues

Firebrand reports on today's game, which featured Manny Delcarmen (lost), Joel Pineiro (miserable), Tim Wakefield (OK) and Jon Papelbon (I'll let him tell it):
Papelbon was the most impressive pitcher I’ve seen this spring. He came out guns blazing and struck out the first three batters he faced; Greg Dobbs, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. In the second inning he got a pop up, ground out and then ended the inning by striking out Aaron Rowand just for good measure. Papelbon was getting the ball up to around 95, and got all his outs on his fastball. He pitched a perfect 2 innings. Only 18 of his 26 pitches for strikes though. I would have liked to have seen him attack the hitters a little more but he was softening the hitters up for the strikeout. At the same time he wasn’t running up his pitch count either. At that rate he could have pitched through the 7th inning comfortably.
The box score is available to complete today's fix.

Introducing: Bradford on Baseball

In time for the new Red Sox season, here's an addition to the blogs of summer: Bradford on Baseball. Rob Bradford is the Sox beat writer for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, and combines a journalist's access, a fan's enthusiasm, and a blogger's obsession with detail to deliver the hottest new Sox-blog of the year.

If you doubt, read rave reviews from Beth ('I have been starved for a source of information of the kind Bradford delivers') and Over the Monster ('It's been pimped before, but I'll say it again: Rob Bradford is THE source for Sox news'). Better still, read some of Bradford's latest: The Sox play Philadelphia in Ft. Myers this afternoon.

Red Sox required reading of the day: Pitching coach John Farrell gives Gordon Edes the skinny on Matsuzaka's repertoire, adjustments, and the look of his pitches. If this doesn't make your spine tingle, talk to your physician.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Other John

I was planning to write a post asking why anyone at all supports John Edwards - seriously, what does this guy have to offer? But now I know. This video explains all. Hat tip to WaPo.


This was a good week for hypocrisy: Al Gore's carbon footprint is 10 times the U.S. average and Prince Charles hawks a pasty unhealthier than the Big Macs he wants to ban.

While the royal family has yet to explain why unhealthy, expensive traditional English food is good for the country while unhealthy, cheap American food is bad for it, the Gore's have quickly moved to explain why their 221 MWH: they purchase "carbon offsets", paying twice for their extravagance in order to subsidize more environmentally-friendly power sources. Blogger Bill Hobbs (hat tip to James Taranto) points out that not all is as it seems: Gore runs the company he's buying carbon offsets from.

But this is not really an argument about profit or payment - it's about the future of the earth. If global warming really is a threat, it's worth it to turn off the AC. Al Gore is the world's primary spokesman for the threat of global warming, and if it is not worth it to him personally to curtail his lifestyle, how can he ask his disciples to do so?

Of course, the hypocrisy of the leader does not negate the validity of the movement. Carbon offsets and other market-based environmental reforms are a very good idea, especially when contrasted to the command-economy alternatives. Fully implemented, offsets put a price on the externalities imposed on society by carbon users. Of course, the current carbon offsets are just indulgences for a guilty conscience: since they are not fully implemented, they have no effect on the externalities, and instead function as a consumer good. You can purchase a clean conscience through Generation Investment Management for a few dollars per metric ton of CO2 If the Gore's really cared about the environment, they would curtail their energy use but keep buying the indulgences: then they might even be a net benefit to the environment!

For citizens, there's an alternative way to preserve the environment: live conservatively. As Tree Hugger reports (again, hat tip to Taranto) there is a U.S. politician who maintains a low impact on his land. But you won't find President Bush trumpeting his conservationism.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Spring Training

AP AP reports on the Red Sox v. Toronto spring training game today:
The game's ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by 87-year old Mickey Carroll who was a Munchkin in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz."
Remind me again why I'm paying several hundred dollars to go to Florida for a weekend?

Hillary v. Obama

The Hillary camp has come out swinging against Barack Obama. It's rare to see vitriol this early in the campaign; after all, candidates are going for name recognition now, not differentiation. But when Barack Obama arrived on the scene, the Hillaryites had to fight back.

Why? Because Obama is blacker than Hillary.

Bill Clinton was so in tune with Black America that he was half-jokingly called the 'first black president'. Hillary has the same team and the same connections, but she doesn't have the same persona as Bill nor the ability to connect with voters. And now, she doesn't have the luxury of facing a field with only token black opposition.

The CS Monitor records that blacks are warming to Obama. That's a big chunk of primary voters, especially in South Carolina and Florida (both scheduled for January 29th). Of course, blacks alone can't swing an election, but they may be able to sway others to their candidate.

Consider that the other big, motivated chunk of Democratic primary voters is the anti-war crowd. Hillary's calibrated triangulation on the war has been aimed at the general election from the start; she did not count on a serious primary threat from an anti-war candidate. Obama, however, arrived late enough in the Senate to know the smart position on the war - and is black, so his opposition is all the more believable. With favorite Russ Feingold out of the running, these primary voters will go with the anti-war candidate they consider most likely to defeat Hillary. And Obama is poised to be that man.

Still, blacks and anti-war voters may not be enough. Primaries put a premium on momentum, and Hillary is likely to sweep Iowa and New Hampshire convincingly. To stay in the running, Obama will have to keep himself far enough above Edwards and the rest of the pack to be seen as the clear alternative to Hillary in Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida.