Archive for December, 2004

Friday, December 31st, 2004

The French (former) Hostages Mystery solved, theory one

Via Eric of ¡No Pasarán!

[Mohamed al-Joundi] forsook Syria for Iraq a short time after Hafez al-Assad’s régime forced the party’s founders, including Michel Aflaq, into exile in 1963. In Baghdad, he became an employee in the party of Saddam Hussein, whom he still calls ‘president’. His contacts at the heart of the fallen régime interested the two French reporters who were investigating ‘the Iraq resistance’.

Theory #1: Two French journalists hire Ba’athist Syrian with “contacts at the heart of the fallen régime”. Said contacts see fund-raising opportunity. Fund-raising delays ensue. The rest is history.

Friday, December 31st, 2004

Social Security

Some of the more annoying arguments against individual investments for Social Security go like this: “It’s too risky. It’s too expensive. It’s too complicated.” Donald Luskin points out in his article, The Lesson of Thrift that Personal accounts already work (which might be why the critics are so scared)

The critics never mention that there’s already a government-administered retirement system that has shown for over 15 years that personal accounts are prudent, inexpensive, and simple. It’s the Thrift Savings Plan of the United States federal government, currently serving 3.3 million government employees.

I wonder why senators and congressmen aren’t being asked why should the public at large be deprived of a benefit good enough for the same congressmen & senators to enjoy. Luskin has a theory,

The Thrift Savings Plan proves that there’s nothing too risky, too expensive, or too complicated about personal accounts for Social Security. So what are the critics really worried about? I think they’re afraid that personal accounts are too empowering. Once a nation of voters becomes a nation of empowered investors — there’s just no telling what kind of empowerment they’ll want next.

José Carlos Rodríguez would probably agree.

Friday, December 31st, 2004

Nice day in NYC, updated

Yesterday we went to New York. Our first stop was Radio City Music Hall. We arrived before 10AM and went to the head of the box office line, to ask if they had any available tickets for the day’s shows. Luckily, there were excellent center-orchestra tickets available for the 1PM show. There are two more days left (nine shows) so if you’re flexible and get to the box office first thing in the morning you might still be able to catch a show.

From there we went to the Museum of Modern Art. The line to buy the admission tickets was long enough you’d thought Cecil B. DeMille was holding an open casting call for one of his biblical epics. I remembered that Roger L. Simon had posted that members don’t have to wait in line, so I left family members waiting in line outside — just in case things had changed since Roger was there — and went in to purchase a membership. A dual membership for two adults is $120, which is not bad considering that each single ticket is $20 (but, whoa! Roger paid only $60?). Children age 16 and under get free admission, but just the fact that you don’t have to stand in line outside is worth the membership price. Membership admission in hand, I went back & retrieved the family from the serpentine waiting line, and went back in. We had a very nice lunch and viewed several of the galleries.

The building is spectacularly good, and even with wall-to-wall crowds you don’t get the claustrophobic feeling one sometimes gets in other museums during high season. Particularly beautiful is the atrium with the Monet water lilies visible from five floors. I also loved the Jason Pollock room. Will have to come back at a quieter time of year and really take a better look. As we left, the people that were in line ahead of us were just coming in.

Back to Radio City, where the Christmas Spectacular had five, count ‘em, five Rockette numbers. The Husband was pleased. This year the choreographers didn’t limit the precision dancing to just Rockettes, they also had precision-dancing Santas. It was a full house, and a great show.

In all, a lovely day in the big city, and just before we arrived to our station on the train back we noticed that the compulsive-talking man in the seat in front of us was not nuts, he had a really tiny cell phone and hadn’t just been talking to himself for an entire hour.

Update: A visitor emailed asking if I’d bring pre-schoolers to the MoMA. Considering the very large numbers of visitors, I’d bring pre-schoolers later in the year, but not now since they’d only be looking at a sea of legs (and bear in mind that all installations are “don’t touch”). Otherwise, for a non-stressful visit, bring along the Olivia books with you and take them to the Pollock room (because of Olivia) and the sculpture garden only, followed by a hot chocolate on the 5th floor.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

Jerry Orbach has died

of prostate cancer. Mr. Orbach was one of the great Broadway artists of our time:

On Broadway, the Bronx-born Orbach starred in hit musicals including “Carnival,” “Promises, Promises” (for which he won a Tony Award), “Chicago” and “42nd Street.” Earlier, he was in the original cast of the off-off-Broadway hit “The Fantasticks,” playing the narrator. The show went on to run for more than 40 years

I first saw Mr. Orbach in the original Chicago, playing the slimy lawyer, where he stripped to the love song in the grand finale. I saw him also in the first stage version of 42d Street. Truly a great performer. People who only know him from Law & Order don’t know what they missed.

The one time I saw Mr. Orbach not on stage was one morning a few years ago here in The Principality, when he was walking down Nassau Street. I recognized him immediately and I whistled a few bars of Razzle Dazzle ‘Em as I walked past him. He was pleased, smiled, and whistled along.

Classy guy.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

Public debt in the USA and the EU

is the subject of Constantin T. Gurdgiev’s article at TCS, A Pivotal Year for the European Left. Prof. Gurdiev looks at three items, finding that:

  • Publicly Held US Debt as percent of GDP: the US debt is less than 66% of GDP (the EU Stability & Growth Pact (SGP) limit is 60%, while current EU15 average is 63.2%)
  • Public Debt, per cent of potential GDP: the real measure of the public debt burden, i.e. the ratio of publicly held government debt to potential GDP is lower in the US than in Canada, France, Italy and Japan<.li>
  • Net Government Lending as percentage of potential GDP: The difference in correlation between the deficit and the private savings rate between the US and the European economies arises from greater capacity of the American economy to absorb added spending into productive economic activity, contrasted by the general inability of the welfare-focused European public spending to generate private sector growth effects.

and states,

“In the debate about debt and deficits, the ultimate determinant of the public acceptance of higher spending is not the amount spent, but the growth opportunities created.”

Richard at EU Referendum asks if the EU’s destructive trade policies towards the third world are Worse than a tsunami?, and also asks, Whose health and whose safety?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

Stein and Hitchens, updated

Two articles at the American Spectator (via Jim), the first one, by Ben Stein, talks about Gratitude

Today and every day, men and women are fighting in Iraq in horrible conditions, with saboteurs and terrorists among them to give that poor nation a chance to live in peace and democracy and to deny it as a haven for terrorism.

How much do we owe them? Far, far more than we can ever pay them. How much do we owe them for spending Christmas so far from their families, so far from safety, so far from comfort? How much do we owe men and women who offer up their very lives for total strangers like the people like me who were strolling up and down Beverly Drive?

The second article’s a book review of Christopher Hitchens’s latest collection of essays Love, Poverty, and War, titled Contrary to Popular Belief by Shawn Macomber. Macomber quotes

“I did not, I wish to state, become a journalist because there was no other ‘profession’ that would have me,” Hitchens writes in the introduction. “I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”

I’ll have to read the book!

Update Mike referred me to Shawn Macomber‘s blog. Thank you Mike!

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

The earthquake in Indonesia

has had unexpected consequences: Earthquake speeds up Earth’s spin

The deadly Asian earthquake may have permanently accelerated the Earth’s rotation — shortening days by a fraction of a second — and caused the planet to wobble on its axis, US scientists say.

Richard Gross, a geophysicist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, theorized that a shift of mass toward the Earth’s center during the quake on Sunday caused the planet to spin 3 microseconds, or one millionth of a second, faster and to tilt about 2.5 cm on its axis.

When one huge tectonic plate beneath the Indian Ocean was forced below the edge of another “it had the effect of making the Earth more compact and spinning faster,” Gross said.

For a change, at the UN, Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland realized that “The international assistance that has come and been pledged from the United States, from Europe and from countries in the region has also been very generous,” after complaining the US & Other developed nations were stingy and should raise their taxes and give that money to the UN. It isn’t the first time someone suggests that the USA raise its taxes to give more money to the UN. Just last September Jacques was suggesting just that.

Back on the subject of the earthquake, Simon Winchester’s article at the NYT, The Year the Earth Fought Back, talks about plate tectonics and Gaia Theory,

In recent decades, thanks largely to the controversial Gaia Theory developed by the British scientists James Lovelock, it has become ever more respectable to consider the planet as one immense and eternally interacting living system – the living planet, floating in space, every part of its great engine affecting every other, for good or for ill.

Mr. Lovelock’s notion, which he named after the earth goddess of the Ancient Greeks, makes much of the delicacy of the balance that mankind’s environmental carelessness increasingly threatens. But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances. The events that this week destroyed the shores of the Indian Ocean, and which leveled the city of Bam a year ago, were of unmitigated horror: but they may also serve some deeper planetary purpose, one quite hidden to our own beliefs.

Mr. Winchester is the author of “Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883″, and “The Professor and the Madman”, books that I highly recommend. Both books are available through Amazon, which has page for donations to the Red Cross. Apropos of Amazon, Prof. Reynolds has a Stinginess Update,

And while amateurs outperform the French government, the United States government is sending $35 million plus two Naval groups. Not that that has stopped people from bitching about the United States’ response. It’s almost as if they’re determined to find fault no matter what.

However, at this rate the Amazon donations will soon pass the German government’s contribution of 2 million Euros (2.7 million dollars), too.

Jack, however, has a comment on Gaia Theory and the NYT readers,

Winchester makes passing reference to the Gaia Theory, which holds that the earth is an eternal living organism, but he never suggests (as Gaia lunatics propose) that the planet has some sort of consciousness that is visiting retaliation for man’s environmental depredations. The idea that the earth “fights back” reflects the liberal guilt of a newspaper that serves the most physically unnatural city on the planet. If the Times readers believe that the earth really does “fight back,” and I do not doubt for an instant that many of them do, why are they living on a densely populated slab of bedrock almost entirely covered in concrete?

Good question.

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Tom Johnson helps out in Sierra Leone

Johnson is a sort of surgery broker and last year arranged operations in Ghana for two little girls suffering from tuberculosis of the spine. The disease paralyzed the girls from the hips down. Johnson has been told that they are now back on their feet and he was hoping to dance with them on Christmas Eve.

Johnson is a college graduate who makes his living as a handyman. He likes to work alone, unbossed and free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He is a little guy, but powerfully built and very strong. He seems to prefer work clothes that most people would have thrown away years ago. A fiddler with the Dicey Riley band, he plays Irish music regularly at the Pub at the Marriott Hotel on Route 10 in Whippany.

Don’t miss the rest of John McLaughlin‘s article.

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Best comment on Bin Laden’s latest:

It is well past time that this moron was on the receiving end of “the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch,” that “thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy…”

said by Michael

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Misinformation today

Manel from Hispalibertas links to a long post by JR at Transatlantic Intelligencer on the Ukraine. JR says that Le Sabot Postmoderne/The Post-modern Clog, a blog that has been following the elections, is a propaganda site:

The friendly but fatuous style of the Postmodern Clog – and it is curious that this same style extends also to a large part of the commentaries on the site – lends itself perfectly to the purposes of propaganda. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the Discoshaman is in fact an English language editor working for the “Orange” youth organization PORA. He himself announces this in a post dated 24 November that is reproduced on Free Republic. Indeed, the title of the original post as reproduced on Free Republic is “Updates from PORA — The Revolution WILL be blogged”. The references to PORA have, however, been removed from the archived version of the post on the Postmodern Clog – as has the cheerful admission “I am writing from HQ”.

To those bloggers who have in good faith adopted the Discoshaman as their authoritative source on the Orange “revolution”, I would suggest the following: you have been used.

It wouldn’t be the first time a political party uses the internet for that purpose.

Hindrocket (via Betsy) writes about Misinformation at The Times, specifically misinformation by Thomas Friedman, who gets it wrong in everything from Pell Grants to military spending:

So, while some of what Friedman says is true, much of it is simply misinformation. But let’s make a more fundamental point: Friedman’s key contention is that America’s priorities are out of whack because we are not spending enough money on education and foreign aid. This claim is absurd. Let’s look at education spending first. Check out the actual data from the Department of Education. The U.S. spends more per capita on secondary education than any country except Switzerland.

. . .

Are there problems with our education system? Sure, but they have nothing to do with “priorities” as Friedman means the term; i.e., budgetary priorities. Our problem stems from the fact that we put the welfare of administrators and teachers’ unions above that of students. But on this topic, Friedman has nothing to say, and his newspaper bitterly opposes the only practical solution on the table, school choice.

while a Powerline reader points out that federal “general science and basic research” budget has risen much faster during the Bush administration than it did during Bill Clinton’s first term.

Dan has some thoughts on the blogosphere:

As much as we celebrate the “birth” of the blogosphere this year, I think we should also be mindful of its infancy and the danger and challenges the future is going to present. How we meet those will determine if, or how quickly this medium becomes a powerful tool for real democracy, as opposed to just another avenue for a pedagogy that purports to instruct and inform but does little more than actually stall the potential growth of a broader democracy in our time. Either way, the greatest laurels for “blogs” most likely rest in their distant future. And that’s a genuinely exciting topic to me.