January 31, 2006 | 1:12 PM ET

MORE ON GOOGLE

Over at TCS Daily, James DeLong is defending Google, arguing that economic development and access to more (even if filtered) information will do more to promote freedom over time than anything else.

Andy Kessler, on the other hand, writes in the Wall Street Journal today (he's posted a copy on his blog that non-subscribers can read) thinks Google has blown it:

Users in the West may not desert them, but a billion soon-to-be-online Chinese will forever associate Google with lame and censored search results - tools of the state. That just dumb. And totally uncool.

I think he's likely to be right. There's lots more on this subject at the China Syndrome blog.

MORE ON BOYS AND GIRLS

Last week's stuff on Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man interested a lot of people, so you may also be interested in this podcast interview with Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life.  (Gurian was also part of this cover story from Newsweek last week.)  You can hear the interview directly by clicking here, or via iTunes.

January 29, 2006 | 11:07 PM ET

Google disappoints its fans

Google is getting a lot of flak for caving to China on Internet censorship.

I suppose I should be embarrassed to even raise that subject here on a Microsoft Web site, since Microsoft's role has been, if anything, even more compliant than Google's.  But heck, people have called Microsoft an "Evil Empire" for a couple of decades now, while Google has gotten a lot of mileage out of its corporate slogan, "Don't be evil."

Now they seem to have compromised.  (One parodist rewrites Google's slogan this way:  " Be semi-evil. Be quasi-evil. Be the margarine of evil. Be the Diet Coke of evil — just one calorie; not evil enough.")  Funny, but all too close to the truth.  The strongest defense of Google I could find that didn't come from Google itself -- or Bill Gates -- was this:  "Google seems to be trying to minimize its evilness in several ways."  Just one evil calorie!

There are arguments for "constructive engagement" with China, of course, just as there were arguments for "constructive engagement" with South Africa's Apartheid regime.  Those generally got short shrift, and it will be interesting to see whether Google is cut any more slack.  Meanwhile, other commentators note that Google is more willing to cooperate with the Chinese government in its effort to suppress political dissent than with the United States in its efforts to protect children from pornography.  That's not going to play well either.  I think this event marks a watershed in Google's public reputation.  From now on, they'll enjoy the same universal adulaton as Microsoft.

No wonder Bill was defending them.  Misery loves company!

January 27, 2006 | 4:27 AM ET

It's hard to be a man

So I wrote last week about Norah Vincent's new book, Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back, and now this week it's looking like a bestseller -- it's currently #6 on Amazon.

Having read the book, I can see why.  It's a terrific, and very sensitive, look at the world of men from a woman who bothered to pay attention.  It really is a 21st Century Black Like Me.

We did a podcast interview with Vincent yesterday, in which she talked about her experience, what it was like dating women as a man, and why she now thinks fathers are more important than she had realized.

You can listen to the audio by clicking here (no iPod required), or get it on iTunes here. The podcast archive is here.  And there's more on her story, and her book, here .

I think this book will play a very constructive role in starting a new conversation about gender relations.  If you read it, or listen, I imagine you'll probably agree.

January 24, 2006 | 12:30 PM ET

Warning shot for GOP
The Canadian example

Not long ago, Canada's Conservative Party looked to be irretrievably on the ropes. Today, the Conservative Leader, Stephen Harper, will become the country's next Prime Minister.

How did this happen? Basically, Canadian voters got tired of the corruption, pork-barreling, and smugness of the entrenched Liberal Party.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, it's the entrenched Republicans, who control all three branches of government, who are facing these problems.

Corruption? We've got the Abramoff scandal . It may not amount to as much as Democrats hope, but it's not good, and there are probably more scandals waiting in the wings. (There always are.)

Pork-barreling? Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal:

"When President Bush reveals his budget request in two weeks, he likely will repeat a boast from recent speeches: "We've now cut the rate of growth in nonsecurity discretionary spending each year since I've been in office."

But such spending — for everything from air-traffic control to education and prisons — amounts to one-sixth of a $2.5 trillion budget. And it is the only piece that isn't ballooning.

What are mounting are the political untouchables: defense and the so-called mandatory entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The bottom line? Total spending this year and for fiscal 2007, which starts Oct. 1, is heading in the same direction it has since the start of the Bush administration: up.

Conservatives are fuming because this is occurring when Republicans control both the White House and Congress. "The White House always says it's [due to] defense and homeland security...but even without defense and homeland security it's record spending," says Brian Riedl, budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The brakes are off everywhere."

Smugness? Well, we'll see. The Republicans may be encouraged to clean up their act by this Gallup Poll. If not, well, the smugness is likely to prove fatal.

The biggest test for the GOP's ability to focus on what it was elected for is the ongoing House leadership race, in which three candidates, Roy Blunt, John Boehner, and John Shadegg, are vying to replace former Majority Leader Tom Delay -- himself out because of scandal.

One positive sign is that this has been the most open and transparent race in Congressional history, with the candidates taking questions from bloggers, and responding on the Internet (here's a big roundup of questions, answers, and positions from the three.)

If a reformist candidate -- Shadegg, or maybe Boehner -- wins, there's hope for the GOP. Blunt, on the other hand, looks to be the candidate of business-as-usual. Perhaps I'm wrong, and he's committed to reform too. All I can say is that unless the GOP gets its act together soon, it may join the Canadian Liberals on the outside.

January 22, 2006 | 10:13 PM ET

Iran's growing nuclear program is causing some people to worry.  Rep. Tom Lantos says it's now or never to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  Sen. Hillary Clinton is calling for sanctions.  And Daniel Drezner says that the Bush Administration is being awfully multilateral:

The approach the Bush administration has pursued towards Iran -- multilateralism, private and public diplomacy, occasionally deferring to allies -- is besotted with the very tropes that liberals like to see in their American foreign policy. I'm still not sure what the end game will be with regard to Iran , but to date I can't see how a Kerry administration would have played its cards any differently than the Bush team.

Fred Kaplan isn't sure that there's any solution:  "What's the next step?  At this point, I must confess:  I don't know.  Neither, it seems, does anybody else."

Joe Katzmann is pretty depressed, too.  And Tom Holsinger thinks the only answer is to invade Iran.  (Conveniently enough, we have troops in countries on three sides, already).

And Jonathan Gewirtz offers a more positive view, suggesting that it's mostly posturing on the Iranians' part.  I'd like to believe that, but...

We did a podcast interview with Jim Dunnigan, publisher of StrategyPage, a popular open source intelligence and military affairs site, and author/blogger/military reservist Austin Bay, who blogs at AustinBay.net.  You can hear what they think is happening, and what they think the United States should do about it, by clicking right here.

January 19, 2006 | 12:54 PM ET

Osama bin Losin'

No successful terror attacks against the United States since 9/11, but Osama (or whoever is playing him on the Al Qaeda audiotapes) wants us to believe that this was because of his forbearance.  And to prove how well they're doing, they're asking for a truce:

The voice in the tape said heightened security measures in the United States are not the reason there have been no attacks there since the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide hijackings. Instead, the reason is "because there are operations that need preparations, and you will see them," he said.

"Based on what I have said, it is better not to fight the Muslims on their land," he said. "We do not mind offering you a truce that is fair and long-term. ... So we can build Iraq and Afghanistan ... there is no shame in this solution because it prevents wasting of billions of dollars ... to merchants of war."

Riiight.

The truth — though this is a disappointment to some —  is that we're winning.  It's easy to spot the loser in a war:  The loser is the one asking for a truce on smuggled audiotapes recorded in a cave somewhere.

The Muslim-on-Muslim attacks that al Qaeda has resorted to in Iraq have been devastating for its image:  Contrary to popular belief, invading Iraq didn't make Islamic terrorism a bigger problem for the United States, it just made it a problem for a lot of people who suddenly started minding once it wasn't just a problem for the United States.  Iraqis — even anti-American Sunni Ba'athists — are sick of Al Qaeda, and hunting them down.  And the missile strike in Pakistan, denounced by some as an "intelligence failure," appears to have been rather more successful than that.

Yeah, Osama's guys can probably still manage to blow something up — that's not so hard, after all, as Timothy McVeigh proved.  But as a movement, Al Qaeda is on the ropes, and this request for a truce demonstrates it.

January 18, 2006 | 12:11 PM ET

It's a man's world...

Well, it may be a man's world if you're a man -- but Norah Vincent tried it out for a few months and decided that being a man isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I got a copy of her new book, Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back in the mail yesterday.  I opened it up to a passage on her experience dating women while disguised as a man, and I was hooked.

Vincent has the build to carry off a male impersonation with some cosmetic help that she describes in some detail in places.  Learning how to act like a man was harder, and despite acting coaches and observation it took her a while to get in character.  But once she succeeded, she infiltrated various male preserves -- a bowling team, a hard-charging sales force, a "men's movement" retreat, and even a monastery -- and found that manhood wasn't the picnic of empowerment she had expected:

Somebody is always evaluating your manhood.  Whether it's other men, other women, even children.  And everybody is always on the lookout for your weakness or inadequacy, as if it's some kind of plague they're terrified of catching, or, more importantly, of other men catching.
...
Women were hard to please in this respect.  They wanted me to be in control, baroquely big and strong both in spirit and in body, but also tender and vulnerable at the same time, subservient to their whims and bunny soft.  They wanted someone to lean on and to hold on to, to look up to and collapse beside, but someone who knew his reduced place in the postfeminist world nonetheless.  They held their presumed moral and sexual superiority over me and at times tried to manipulate me.

It's impossible to do justice to this book with an excerpt.  Vincent found herself confronting her perceptions in all sorts of ways.  Men, she writes, tend to come off better than women in her recountings, but that's because she expected men to be pigs all the time, and was pleasantly surprised when they weren't; women, on the other hand, turned out to be pigs a lot more often than she had thought possible.  That shouldn't be a surprise -- we're all human beings first, after all.  But people tend to forget that as they view the world through a haze of gender stereotypes, past romantic hurts, and wishful thinking.

I think that if Vincent had spent more time among geeks, she might have found things more pleasant -- there's geek masculinity, too, but it tends to be a bit less judgmental, and geek women tend to be nicer as well -- but that wasn't really the point of her book.  Self-Made Man is likely to make a very big splash, and I think the world will be a better place if a lot of people read it.

January 16, 2006 | 11:47 PM ET

The world of film is opening

Last week I posted on the American Film Renaissance festival in Hollywood.  It went on this weekend, with showings of several documentaries, including Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's film on Islam in Europe, Submission, which led to van Gogh's murder at the hands of a terrorist.

The Pajamas Media blog collective -- of which I'm a part -- was there, and has posted lots of coverage of the festival at its Mondo Hollywood site, including video interviews with Gary Sinise, who has a charity underway to help Iraqi kids, Patricia Heaton, who showed a documentary of her own, and festival founder Jim Hubbard.  Blogger Roger Simon was there, too, and has posted reports of his own.

The barriers are coming down, and the world of film is opening up.  I think that people will have a lot more choices in the near future.  Technology, the Internet, and market forces are opening up a lot of worlds that used to be closed.

January 12, 2006 | 11:08 PM ET

Film -- and in particular documentary film -- has long been the domain of Hollywood and the Left.  But that may be changing.  The American Film Renaissance festival meets in Los Angeles this weekend, with an eye toward opening things up.  That's part of a general trend, with new technology leading to new competition that's breaking up old entrenched monopolies, something that I've written about before.

As part of the podcast project I mentioned earlier, we talked the other day to Evan Coyne Maloney and Stuart Browning of On the Fence Films about their new documentaries Indoctrinate U. and Dead Meat, covering campus political correctness and the Canadian health system, respectively.  You can listen to the interview by clicking here, or via iTunes.

Evan & Stuart talked about the importance of inexpensive and easily accessible technology to their success:  Evan shot the first documentary on a rented camera, edited it on the free iMovie software that came with his laptop, uploaded it to the Web and had an instant viral hit -- with the video broadcast on network TV the next day.  A few years ago, it would have taken lots of money, and experience, to accomplish the same kind of thing -- nothing a beginner could do. But now the barriers are much lower.

It's another example of how the Army of Davids is threatening Goliaths left and right.  I think we'll see a lot more of that sort of thing in coming years.

January 12, 2006 | 12:08 PM ET

Alito's way

I still find it hard to get excited about Alito one way or another.  Blogger Stephen Green seems to have it about right:

I was never that in love with Alito, but he's about as good as we're going to get from the President Bush.
...
[Democrats'] opposition is based on the fact that Alito is the wrong kind of Big Government Booster.  The Left wants the federal government powerful enough to keep abortions legal until just before labor begins, but too weak to eavesdrop on telephone conversations between American citizens and known bad guys.  The Right wants it the other way around.

Heads, big government wins - tails, big government wins.

And that's why Corn and the Democrats don't stand a chance of keeping Alito off the court. The only way to defeat a principled big-government guy is to wage a principled campaign of limited government against him.  The Democrats are in no position to even consider such a fight.

The Republicans once were - but haven't been since about 1998.

And that's why I support Bush on the war, where the Democrats have pretty much abdicated responsibility, but don't support the Republicans in general.  The Democrats look terrible in the hearings -- as one blogger notes:  "From a tactical point of view, this has been the Democrats' worst week since John Kerry saluted and said 'Reporting for duty'" -- but the Republicans don't look much better when it comes to actually, you know, governing.  More people are noticing this.  Here's what George Will wrote about the corruption scandals:

The way to reduce rent-seeking is to reduce the government's role in the allocation of wealth and opportunity.  People serious about reducing the role of money in politics should be serious about reducing the role of politics in distributing money. But those most eager to do the former -- liberals, generally -- are the least eager to do the latter.
...
Roy Blunt of Missouri, the man who was selected, not elected, to replace DeLay, is a champion of earmarks as a form of constituent service. If, as one member says, "the problem is not just DeLay but 'DeLay Inc.'"  Blunt is not the solution.  So far -- the field may expand -- the choice for majority leader is between Blunt and John Boehner of Ohio. A salient fact: In 15 years in the House, Boehner has never put an earmark in an appropriations or transportation bill.

Naturally, Blunt appears to be ahead at the moment.  There's some resistance to this phenomenon in Congress -- read this from Senator Tom Coburn's office -- but not enough.

January 10, 2006 | 11:05 PM ET

Avian flu:  Don't count on the government

I didn't have much to say about Alito, but I have a lot to say about the threat of Avian Flu.

It may well turn out, of course, that avian flu never turns into a real threat.  Experts worry that the current virus, which mainly infects birds but occasionally jumps to humans, will mutate sufficiently to jump directly from humans to humans.  That wouldn't be shocking -- it's how all human flu strains emerge, more or less -- but it's by no means guaranteed, and nobody can tell whether it will happen today or in a year or never.

But the avian flu scare has -- as I've noted elsewhere -- served to point up inadequacies in our current capabilities to respond to epidemic disease.  The Washington Post had more on that topic today:

Few states are equipped to handle emergency medical crises such as a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or an influenza outbreak, according to an analysis being released today by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
...
"A C-minus is horrible," said Angela Gardner, chair of the task force that prepared the first-ever analysis of emergency medical systems. "When my children come home with a C-minus, they get grounded."

Emergency care specialists such as Gardner said they expected to find some deficiencies in a field that has seen budget cuts and rising demand. But the panel was startled at how poorly prepared the nation is as a whole to manage trauma, whether in individual patients or in the event of a large-scale disaster.

"We have no capacity to handle a Hurricane Katrina or an avian flu outbreak," Gardner said in an interview yesterday. "We can barely handle a regular flu outbreak."

That's right, and in fact we're already seeing reports of hospitals being overwhelmed by ordinary flu.  A major epidemic of avian flu would be a disaster.

We should be doing what we can to get ready -- Dr. Henry Miller has some thoughts on that -- but we're clearly nowhere near getting there.  And this advice from the HHS, while good in itself, isn't exactly comforting:

There is no vaccine and drugs are in short supply, but Americans may be able to ride out any pandemic of bird flu if they stock up on supplies and keep their children clean, the government said yesterday.
...
Experts say the best way to wait out a pandemic, which could last months, is to stay away from other people and keep close to home.

"During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters," the HHS guide says.

I'm a big believer in disaster preparedness, and I encourage you to follow this advice.  But if the best the government can offer is advice to stockpile canned goods and toilet paper, well, we're not likely to get much help from Washington in the event of a major epidemic.  Keep that in mind.

January 10, 2006 | 10:43 AM ET

Nothing much about Alito

I'm sorry.  I know I'm supposed to have an opinion on Sam Alito, but I don't, really.  Unlike Harriet Miers, I think he's qualified.  But he's nowhere near my first choice (which would be someone like Alex Kozinski or Eugene Volokh) and I just can't get very excited about the whole thing.  The Senators will blather, he'll duck and weave, and he'll probably be confirmed.  It won't even be as interesting as the Roberts confirmation.   SCOTUSBlog has been liveblogging the hearings, if you want more.

Meanwhile, I've been more interested in podcasting lately.  My first effort is here (or, if you have iTunes, here), and there's some additional background here.  I think that podcasting is about to take off the way that blogs did a few years ago.

Stay tuned.  Politics may be predictable, but at least the technology keeps getting better.

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