I've been blogging here at MSNBC for going on four years, but now it's time for me to move on. I've enjoyed my stay, and I've enjoyed the e-mail (well, most of it) from MSNBC readers. But this will be my last post here, except as an occasional columnist.
If you've enjoyed these posts, or at least found them pleasantly irritating, you can find my work elsewhere. I've just become a Contributing Editor on technology at Popular Mechanics, and of course I'm still blogging at my personal blog, InstaPundit.com. And if you've enjoyed the podcasts, you can find a complete archive, which will be updated when new ones come out, right here. And, of course, there's always this. But as I approach my five-year blogging anniversary (InstaPundit started at the beginning of August, 2001), I'm actually taking a week off, so the new stuff will have to wait just a bit.
Meanwhile, here at MSNBC I highly recommend Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log, and of course Will Femia's Clicked . Will's been my editor here for quite a while, and though bloggers say we don't need editors, he's been a good one. I'll miss him.
Check 'em out, and have fun on the Internet!
Terrorism is interested in you
It's not terrorism. And it's certainly not Islamic terrorism. Never mind what it sounds like:
Authorities said a man walked into the Jewish agency on Friday and opened fire, killing one woman and injuring at least five others in what they call a hate crime. Naveed Afzal Haq, 30, was booked into the King County Jail for investigation of homicide and attempted homicide, police said.
The gunman, who employees said claimed to be a Muslim angry at Israel, forced his way through the center's security door after an employee had punched in her security code, said Marla Meislin-Dietrich, a co-worker who was not at the building at the time.
Staff members said they overheard him saying "'I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel,' before opening fire on everyone," Meislin-Dietrich said. "He was randomly shooting at everyone."
Former terror prosecutor Andrew McCarthy is unhappy that the authorities, and media, seem to be downplaying the Islamic-terror angle to this. Before anyone could know anything they were already pronouncing it an isolated incident. "This is militant Islam in action, but we don't want to think or talk about Islam, so we'll pretend that the fact he's a Muslim is irrelevant ('terrorists come in all shapes and sizes' is the official PC postion of government), and if we can't attach a known group to the shooter we'll close our eyes to the fact that he might have reason to understand that his religion impelled him to act." But, of course, all incidents are isolated when looked at in isolation.
Blogger Roger L. Simon quotes Trotsky: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
And so is terrorism.
You can find much more background on the shooter here, and blogger Rusty Shackleford writes: "Me? I'm going to buy a gun. I'm serious." It's certainly too bad that there weren't armed citizens on the scene, as the shooter might have done less damage.
This is certainly a grievous blow to American Muslims, and to American Jews. But it's also a blow to all of us.
Fat kids in America
Are American kids too fat? The consensus seems to be yes, and certainly when I walk around the mall I see plenty of overweight kids. When I was a kid myself, there were a few fat kids, but now there seem to be a lot more. (Though it's now deemed politically incorrect to tell them that they're fat.)
I'm not surprised, really. In her recent book on parenting, Caitlin Flanagan notes that kids of earlier generations enjoyed an independence that kids today seldom get:
My mother was by no means indifferent about me: I was her pet, the baby of the family. But back then children were not under constant adult supervision, even if their mothers were housewives. By the time I was five, I was allowed to wander away from the house as long as I didn't cross any big streets. I had the run of the neighborhood at six.
A nine-year-old could be trusted with a key; a nine-year-old knew how to work a telephone if anything went wrong. Moreover, anxiety as a precondition of the maternal experience had not yet been invented.
Nowadays, though it's probably safer than it was back then, parents are often afraid to let kids roam, as endless alarmist TV programs convince them that kids who leave adult supervision for even a moment will inevitably be snatched. Safer just to let them veg out in front of the TV. It's almost as if the whole fearmongering thing were really about marketing...
Not everyone has given up, though. We spoke with Dr. Michael Zemel, an expert on nutrition and obesity, about why kids -- and adults -- are getting fatter and what to do about it. You can subscribe via iTunes by clicking here. If you'd rather, you can download the file directly here, or get a lo-fi version for dialup here. And there's an archive of all our podcasts here.
I liked Zemel's emphasis on gradual changes in diet and behavior, and his overall sensible tone.
When your city goes dark
Preparing for power failures
It seems like every summer I wind up doing a post on disaster preparedness. But it's an important topic, and it seems to come up a lot during hurricane-and-blackout season.
The fact is that things go wrong, and you need to be ready to look after yourself when they do. Popular Mechanics has published a useful Blackout Survival Guide, with advice on how to prepare, and what to do when the power's out for a long period. (Here's one extra piece of advice -- hook your DSL or Cable modem and your wireless router into an uninterruptible power supply, and if you've got a laptop you'll have hours of internet access even if the power goes down. Even a small UPS will support the small power draw of these devices for hours.) Naturally, you'll also want flashlights, batteries, a portable radio, blankets and -- this is important, but easy to forget -- a stash of cash, in fairly small bills, in case ATMs and credit-card processing are out.
Lots of people get home generators, but those can be surprisingly dangerous if not handled properly. (And, if things go wrong, response to your 911 call, if you can even make one, is likely to be slow). So if you have a generator or are considering buying one, you should read these guidelines on safe generator operation.
Finally, be sure to have at least a week's worth of food and water stored, along with any medications you or your family members might need. And consider taking a first aid course, or something like Community Emergency Response Team training. Bad things happen, and it's better to be ready than to be wishing you'd done something when you had the chance.
Things just get worse in Lebanon. Or do they?
Lebanon's Cedar Revolution reduced Syrian influence a bit, but mostly drove it underground. Iran, operating through Syria, operating through Hezbollah, continues a program for control of a large slice of the Mideast as part of its goal of worldwide Islamist empire. This has alarmed a different set of Muslims, the Saudis (some of whom want a different sort of worldwide Islamist empire) and other Arabs, all of whom (with reason) regard Persia as the traditional enemy of Arabs.
As usual, the United Nations is contributing little, and as usual, much of the press is trying to figure out how to blame everything on Bush. But it's interesting how muted the criticism has been, really, as people are waking up to the reality of the Iranian threat, and the terrorist nature of Hezbollah.
John Manchester thinks it's a benefit from the invasion of Iraq:
Far from being a bit of belated triumphalism about the invasion, all of this has immediate and direct consequences. While the success of Iraq's democracy hangs in the balance from an operational perspective, the strategic advantages created by the invasion of Iraq are working very favorably for the US in the current Israeli-Lebanon crisis in very tangible ways.
Were Saddam still in power, the Arab world would not feel nearly as threatened by Hezbollah, the Frankenstein's monster of Iran's creation. Instead, they would have sided with the Syrian foreign minister's strong support for Hezbollah. Saddam himself might even have offered cash rewards to anyone attempting martyrdom against the Jews.
Instead, they came to no consensus. The leading Arab League states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, call Hezbollah's actions "inappropriate and irresponsible." This lessens the urgency of calls from the international community, whether the G8, UN, or EU, for a ceasefire. That lessened urgency creates something very precious indeed: a moment in time and space wherein Israel has the most fleeting of opportunities for decisive action against Hezbollah, an avowed foe, a terrorist organization, and a constant threat to the security of its populace.
Let's hope that things work out well. Me, I'm not quite as confident.
Podcasting is taking off. There's even a Podcasting for Dummies book, and I notice that the latest Musician's Friend catalog is carrying podcasting bundles — hardware and software to make it easier to create your own podcasts.
Our corporate cousins at Slate have their own podcasts, and interestingly they're done by Andy Bowers, an NPR guy who I've known since he and I did radio shows on the Yale undergraduate station back during the Reagan years.
He went on to NPR stardom, while I, er, didn't. But that's okay. Now that the technology has advanced, my wife and I produce our own show, which I've linked here before. (Here's an archive of episodes, which range from reports on diets and divorce to interviews with politicians like John McCain and Harold Ford, Jr.) These things are easy to produce (my setup, which is massive overkill — I already had a basement recording studio — is described here, along with links to cheaper approaches).
Do-it-yourself radio. I like it. You may want to give it a try, too. And if you want to check out some podcasts, you can visit the podcast page at iTunes, or you can check out Podcast Alley.
• July 16, 2006 | 9:21 PM ET
Israel, Lebanon and the widening war
Israel has had enough, and is going after Hezbollah operatives, and Syrian presences, in Lebanon. The blogosphere is all over this story. You can read an aggregator that collects all sorts of posts from bloggers in the mideast, and other blogs covering the topic, right here. As Mickey Kaus notes, it's surprisingly compelling stuff.
Plus, podcasting from the war zone.
Let's hope this ends in a way that lays the foundation for a lasting peace.
Is Iran crumbling?
Are the mullahs losing their grip in Iran? I keep hearing things to that effect, but I'm skeptical. I'd certainly like for it to be the case, of course, but it's notoriously hard to know what's going on inside a dictatorship. Still, here's an interesting report from StrategyPage:
Although "Supreme Leader" the Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khameini has basically told the world to buzz off regarding the country's nuclear ambitions, relations between him and radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be deteriorating. Apparently, Ahmadinejad's frequent arch-conservative ranting on foreign policy and domestic issues runs contrary to a more nuanced, pragmatic approach favored by Khameini and the circle of conservative clerics who are his principal advisors. Khameini has on several recent occasions spoken far more moderately on certain issues than has Ahmadinejad. As a result, Ahmadinejad reportedly has recently told Khameini to button his lip about certain diplomatic matters, as an intrusion on the president's authority. In a sense, this can be likened to the complexities of the "Red Guards" phase in Maoist China during the 1960s, when various factions in the Communist leadership tried to out-do each other in radicalism in order to firm up their control. How such a scenario might unfold in Iran will be interesting to see. Iranian politics is considered a blood sport, with the losers getting themselves dead. Unrest among the nations minorities (Azeris, Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchis), continues, with evidence of insurgent activity by some groups (Kurds and Baluchs). More importantly, however, is that there appears to be growing unrest among the country's Iranian majority population.
I hope that's right. Iran is trouble, and a democratic revolution there would be good for Iran, and for the world, if it happened.
We talked to Jim Dunnigan, publisher of StrategyPage, and military blogger Austin Bay about North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran. You can listen directly by clicking here or get it via iTunes here. There's a lo-fi version for dialup users here. The world, alas, remains a dangerous place.
But not as dangerous as it used to be, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: "The institute's recently released Yearbook 2006, drawing from data maintained by Sweden's Uppsala University, reports that the number of active, major armed conflicts worldwide stood at 17 in 2005, the lowest point in a steep slide from a high of 31 in 1991."
You wouldn't know that from watching the news. Let's hope the trend continues.
Congress: Not above the law
It's a big loss for members of Congress — like Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. William Jefferson — who thought they were above the law:
A federal judge on Monday upheld the FBI's unprecedented raid of a congressional office, saying that barring searches of lawmakers' offices would turn Capitol Hill into "a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime."
Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan rejected requests from lawmakers and Rep. William Jefferson to return material seized by the FBI in a May 20-21 search of Jefferson's office.
The overnight search was part of a 17-month bribery investigation of Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat.
In a 28-page opinion, Hogan dismissed arguments by Jefferson and a bipartisan group of House leaders that the raid violated the Constitution's protections against intimidation of elected officials.
Hogan acknowledged the "unprecedented" nature of the case. But he said the lawmakers' "sweeping" theory of legislative privilege "would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime."
A member of Congress is bound by the same laws as ordinary citizens, said the judge, who had approved the FBI's request to conduct the overnight search of Jefferson's office.
Judge Hogan is right. There's nothing in the Constitution — or common sense — that would give members of Congress the kind of special immunities they were trying to claim. (In fact, the Constitution specifically forbids "titles of nobility," though many members of Congress seem to feel that their job should guarantee them all kinds of privileges that ordinary mortals lack.)
What's unfortunate is that they had to go to court to be reminded of something that should have been obvious all along.
What threatens marriage?
Yesterday's post on marriage gay and straight brought a lot of e-mail. A few samples:
Name: C. Weidnen
We are looking at the whole gay marriage thing in the wrong light. Suppose I am in a social gathering with a movie star on his 4th marriage and a young basketball star on his first marriage. Neither of these guys plans on being forever faithful and each has a prenuptial agreement the size of a phone book. Then there is a gay couple who met two weeks ago in a bath house and a couple who was so busy with lifestyle and career that they married at age 55 just prior to retirement so they could travel together. Also present would be a gay couple committed to each other and who had raised 3 adopted children. I have been married 44 years and we have 3 kids who married people whose parents are still married and each has 2 or 3 children. Of this group who has the most in common culturally and who has the partner bond most in common? Who should be considered married and who should be considered merely coupled and how would you rate the bond of each couple?
Glenn writes: Yes, that's the Britney Spears / Kevin Federline point.
On the other hand, there's this:
why take a swipe at britney spears? her marriage has lasted almost 2 years, which is better then a lot of people i know. your petty snippy remark ruined your ultimate point - that marriage(whether hetero or homo) is tough and requires work.
Glenn Reynolds: Two years, with one kid and one on the way: That's defining marital success pretty far down, isn't it?
I give Britney and Kevin credit for at least seeming to try, but they're certainly not the poster children for responsible marriage.
Name: Tim Fergus
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
The real goal of gay activists is the destruction of marriage. Gays do not want to marry. For proof, just look at Europe, most notably Holland, where gay marriage activists were right out front about it. Since Holland legalized gay marriage, very few Dutch gays have married, and the out of wedlock birth rate has climbed steadily. This fits right in with leftists' plans for national day care. Harvard PHD Stanley Kurtz covers this issue in great detail in numerous articles at National Review Online. The divorce rate skyrocketed with the advent of no-fault divorce, which was another high water mark for those seeking to destroy marriage. When marriage is ultimately destroyed the family unit will also cease to exist as the foundation of our civilization. That is what the leftists want: children raised collectively, with the state as their collective parent.
Glenn writes: Hmm. I've heard this argument before, but I don't buy it. What's going on with the Dutch isn't caused by gay marriage.
Name: Jack Schidorff
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Typical of people who are - strangely - 'pro' gay marriage, you decide to avoid arguing the fact that 'gay marriage' is not a right and instead decide to knock down the traditional institution of marriage in this country. The ridiculousness of your argument astounds me. Because many marraiges fail, there is something wrong with marriage as an institution? Does this mean that if your kids don't turn out to be millionaires, they were a waste of time? That we should stop having kids because obviously the whole process is flawed? Marriage, as an institution, works. Except when it doesn't. And that's to be expected of just about any real-world system. Remember that some of the best hitters in baseball struck out 2 out of 3 times at the plate.
Glenn writes: I thought that was my point.
Name: Thom Benedict
This comment in your commentary caught my eye: "...gays will learn what straights have always known, though not always practiced: It takes a fair amount of self-discipline and work to keep a marriage going well." Not meaning to be too flippant, but...duh. I think gay people are well-aware of the difficulties of maintaining a marriage, and perhaps, even more so than straight folks. A couple in the gay community faces enormous obstacles. Much of the gay community's activities are tailored to the twentysomething crowd who parade their latest designer clothes snuggly attired to the perfect gym-shaped body at nightclubs and "circut parties." Suffice it to say that those community activities do not help a gay couple flourish. In addition to that lack of support within the gay community, American society in the last few years has gone out of its way to demonize gay couples who want to make a life-long commitment. Imagine how those couples feel when "love thy neighbor" Christians suggest that gay marriage will destroy the very fabric of our society. Or how they feel when our exalted President carts out gay marriage as an issue whenever his poll numbers fall or the country is actually thinking about its mistakes in Iraq. Nothing quite like having your love for another turned into a convenient political issue. Ironically, judging by the recent rhetoric in our country, it seems that it's okay to be gay and single and promiscuous, but for heaven's sake, don't ask us to support you being in love and committed - that is simply too much to ask. With that backdrop, the fact that any gay couples maintain their committed relationship is a miracle indeed. And perhaps it's straight people who have the lessons to learn about staying with someone you love.
Glenn writes: "Much of the gay community's activities are tailored to the twentysomething crowd who parade their latest designer clothes snuggly attired to the perfect gym-shaped body at nightclubs." If you watch TV -- beyond Jim and The King of Queens, anyway, you'll see that the straight community isn't much different.
And lots of people liked the podcast I mention below. Thanks!
D-I-V-O-R-C-E -- and gay marriage
I favor gay marriage, though I do think as a practical matter that it's probably better to achieve this goal through the political process than by judicial action. (Here's a longer treatment of that topic.) But while we're worrying about gay marriage, it's worth noting that straight marriage isn't in the best shape, either.
Divorce rates are down, and I think people are more realistic, overall, in their expectations of both marriage and divorce than they were in the 1970s. But there are still a lot of problems. (The obligatory mention of the Britney Spears / Kevin Federline marriage goes here, I guess).
We did a podcast interview on this topic a couple of years ago, with expert family lawyer Lauren Strange-Boston. As she notes, a lot of divorces stem from problems during the marriage —or even before the marriage— that could be avoided by thinking things through. You can listen directly by clicking here, or you can subscribe via iTunes by going here. There's a lo-fi version for dialup here, and an archive of past podcasts is here.
Whenever gay marriage becomes widely accepted —and I think that's just a matter of time— gays will learn what straights have always known, though not always practiced: It takes a fair amount of self-discipline and work to keep a marriage going well.
Happy Fourth of July, or what's more properly termed Independence Day.
I plan to shoot off some fireworks tonight, along with many other Americans — and judging by the noise outside my windows right now, some people have gotten an early start.
In other parts of America, creeping nanny-statism has made fireworks illegal. Reason notes that New York is going crazy about citizens who purchase fireworks out of state:
Staten Island's thunderous tribute to America's independence was not, however, provided by a professional crew. The aerial displays were produced by dozens of amateur pyrotechnic afficianados—"pyros," they call themselves—using consumer fireworks that are illegal in New York.
Far from appreciating the free show, many Staten Islanders spent last Fourth of July furiously phoning 911. The Staten Island Advance reported that 14 residents were arrested for fireworks violations, but that wasn't enough for the complainers. "That's nothing. That's absolutely nothing," one angry resident told the local newspaper. "They needed three times as many cops out there."
Thanks to the variations encouraged by our system of federalism, states like New York are free to be variably more asinine than others. As everyone now knows on Staten Island, pretty much all fireworks are illegal in New York unless you have a permit—and just try getting one of those.
Most New Yorkers don't even bother. Instead, they drive to Pennsylvania, a state where the spark of freedom still gets a spark now and then. Freighted with fireworks, these New Yorkers then return home to blast away.
Mayor Bloomberg isn't happy about it. As we discovered from his smoking ban, if it burns, he spurns. So to prevent the sparkler smugglers, the NYPD is now dispatching undercover cops into Pennsylvania to stake out firework vendors, as New York magazine recently reported. When they see a NY license plate, they snap a photo and prepare for the bust back home.
So far, the NYPD claims more than 60 arrests and a record number of seizures, more than 1,000 cases of fireworks. They're even seizing cars now, at least 30 so far. What's really ridiculous (and outrageous) is when you look at what is legal in Pennsylvania, these folks are losing their cars for stuff like fountains and spinners.
This draconian enforcement policy rests on the idea that fireworks are simply too dangerous for amateurs. "You could lose an eye, a hand, or something worse," says Bloomberg spokesperson Virginia Lam.
But as Robert Stacy McCain notes in Reason, it's just not true:
As a safety measure, anti-fireworks laws have no discernible benefit. In recent years, sales of consumer fireworks have skyrocketed, even as injury rates have fizzled.
According to federal data compiled by the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), while U.S. fireworks sales increased roughly eight-fold from 1976 to 2004—from 29 million pounds to over 236 million pounds per year—estimates of annual fireworks-related injuries decreased from 11,100 in 1976 to 9,600 in 2004.
Fireworks injuries are relatively rare, accounting for an estimated 0.01 percent of annual U.S. injuries, according to an APA analysis which found that injuries from cooking ranges are four times as common as fireworks injuries. APA officials point out that all consumer fireworks sold in the United States—most are imported from China—must meet safety standards enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The APA, the National Fireworks Safety Council (NFSC) and retailers have also engaged in extensive safety education efforts. In addition to safety labels on each product ( e.g., "Place on ground, light fuse, get away") fireworks buyers now usually receive safety pamphlets with each retail purchase.
It's as if the likes of Mayor Bloomberg just don't favor the idea of Americans celebrating their independence. The good news, as, er, skyrocketing fireworks sales demonstrate, is that Americans aren't listening. I think that's a hopeful sign, and a change.
When I was a kid, I read Keith Robertson's book, Henry Reed's Journey. It was written before I was born, but it was already a cautionary tale of creeping nanny-statism. Reed, who is about 14, journeys across America in search of fireworks, but finds that they're illegal almost everywhere. Having lived abroad, he's appalled at what's happened in America.
Now it seems as if the trend has reversed itself, and that's a very good thing. Celebrate your independence — and pay no attention to the folks who don't want you to.
The mommy wars - And are Dads Missing in Action?
Stay at home, or work? Feminism was supposed to be about freedom for women to do what they found most fulfilling — but it seems that people (mostly women) are still telling women what to do.
Caitlin Flanagan's book, To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, is a full-time mom's complaint about not getting the respect that working moms get. On the other hand, Linda Hirshman recently wrote an article in The American Prospect complaining that too many women are staying home with the kids.
Hirshman then wrote in the Washington Post that she was overwhelmed by the wrath of stay-at-home moms. It seems that nobody gets a break, here.
Meanwhile, what about dads? I'm not a stay-at-home dad — I work full-time — but I work as a professor, and I spend a lot more time parenting than my dad did. And as I look around in my world, I see a lot of men spending a lot more time at home, and with kids, than our fathers' generation did. But you don't hear as much about them, somehow.
In a podcast interview recently, we talked with stay-at-home dad James Lileks, author of Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice, and Cathy Seipp, columnist, single mom, and frequent author on the Mommy Wars. (You can listen directly by clicking here — no iPod needed — or get it via iTunes by clicking here. There's a lo-fi version for dialup here, and a complete podcast archive here.) They had a lot of interesting things to say, both about contemporary parenting and about how things have changed since our parents were on the front lines.
Things in people's actual lives don't seem quite as dire as the parenting pundits make it, which just proves that the Golden Age of bad advice continues into the present.
Flag-burning takes a fall —and so does Congress
The flag-burning amendment — an election-year perennial — failed to pass the Senate by a single vote, leading one blogger to comment: "Now Congress can get back to the important stuff. Like catching pimps." Or at least taxing them.
Actually, pimps may be more popular than Congress these days. It's a race for the bottom: "Congressional Democrats have an approval rating of just 38%, one percentage point above Bush and five above congressional Republicans."
And it gets worse: "By 50% to 39%, those surveyed say most members of Congress don't deserve re-election."
The other news is that a majority of Americans actually favors a third political party, a possibility that I've written about here before. The two parties have each tried to gain votes mostly by arguing that the other is worse. Perhaps enough people will come to agree that we'll wind up with third -- and fourth -- parties. It might not be such a bad thing.
Strong new medicine: Bring it on!
Right now, medical treatment isn't what it ought to be. Doctors don't communicate well, patient records and x-rays are often handled using 1950s technology, and there's often not much of a basis for determining which treatments work best. But costs keep going up.
Compare this state of affairs with what we see in the area of electronics, where things get better and cheaper at an ever-increasing rate. Wouldn't it be nice to see that happen in the area of medicine?
I think so, and what's better, Andy Kessler thinks it's on the way. His new book, The End of Medicine: How Silicon Valley (and Naked Mice) will Reboot Your Doctor, argues that increasingly, medicine will be taken over (and to some degree, already is being taken over) by machines, and that the result will be costs dropping, and performance improving, in the same sort of way that it has happened in the electronics industry.
I certainly hope he's right. We talked with him in our podcast interview this week. You can listen directly (no iPod needed) by clicking right here, or you can subscribe via iTunes by clicking right here. There's a lo-fi version for dialup here, and there's a complete podcast archive here.
I think the biggest barriers to the realization of Kessler's predictions will be organizational, not technical — slowness, bureaucracy and self-serving obstructionism at the FDA, Medicare, and in particular insurance companies. We may overcome that, but I hope that patients, and well people who'd like to stay well, will do their best to discourage any foot-dragging.
Congress goes for the show
Well, the House has passed a watered-down line item veto.
I'm not against it, exactly, but I don't think it will make much difference. It's not that there isn't a problem with Congressional spending. There is, and it's bipartisan. Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert is in trouble for earmarks that seem to have benefitted him personally. So is Democrat John Murtha, who's attracting unfavorable attention for some rather shady-looking earmarks.
Lots of news about Congressional misbehavior is collected at PorkBusters.org, and the Sunlight Foundation — which has been on top of the Hastert story — is looking for citizen volunteers to investigate their own members of Congress.
We need real reform, not window-dressing. We're not likely to get it unless members of Congress think their jobs are at stake.
Porn: Good for America!
The number of rapes per capita in the United States has plunged by more than 85 percent since the 1970s, and reported rape fell last year even while other violent offenses increased, according to federal crime data.
This seemingly stunning reduction in sexual violence has been so consistent over the past two decades that some experts say they have started to believe it is accurate, even if they cannot fully explain why it is occurring.
Hmm. What's different since 1970? Lots of things, of course, though bared midriffs and short-shorts are back. But probably the most relevant difference is porn. In 1970, some people argued that porn caused rape. Since 1970, though, porn has exploded. In 1970 you had to work pretty hard to find porn. Now you have to work nearly as hard to avoid it.
But rape has gone down 85%. So much for the notion that pornography causes rape — or, at least, if it did have much effect in that direction, it would be hard to explain how rape rates could have declined so dramatically while porn expanded so explosively.
So while I won't go so far as to argue that porn actually prevents rape, it seems clear that the claims of some people — including a commission headed by former Attorney General Ed Meese back in the 1980s — that pornography promotes rape are, at best, overstated. I suspect, though, that anti-pornography crusaders are unlikely to heed this lesson.
Voting on abortion
South Dakota is trying something novel on abortion -- asking the voters what they think.
South Dakota's legislators voted an extensive ban on abortions, one sure to be unconstitutional under current Supreme Court caselaw. Their hope was to provoke a challenge in the United States Supreme Court, which they thought might overturn Roe v. Wade.
Pro-choice activists then tried something different. Instead of going to court, they got the issue put to a referendum, and South Dakota's voters will get a chance to weigh in come November.
I think Roe v. Wade was properly decided -- though, like most law professors, it's a matter of professional pride with me to say that I could have done a better job writing the opinion, but I also think that it's too bad the Supreme Court visited the issue so soon. States were overturning old anti-abortion laws already, and the Roe decision had the effect of shutting down the political process before it reached a solution.
That's too bad, and I'm kind of glad to see the issue go to a vote in South Dakota. The outcome may just surprise those legislators.
Guest blogging for Glenn this week is law professor and blogger Ann Althouse.
Don't inspire me with movies
The American Film Institute has manufactured another one of its lists of 100 films that obviously belong in an obvious category. This year's choice of obvious category is "inspiring." The point is not to surprise us or challenge us, but to reinforce what we already know and to upload the conventional wisdom into the mind of the next generation.
The top 10:
- "It's a Wonderful Life"
- "To Kill a Mockingbird"
- "Schindler's List"
- "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
- "The Grapes of Wrath"
- "Breaking Away"
- "Miracle on 34th Street"
- "Saving Private Ryan"
Of course, everything political is safely embalmed in the past, preferably by Steven Spielberg. An underdog athlete is suitable. And two Christmas movies in the the top 10? "The Passion of the Christ," I note, was considered and rejected. We all know how much religion inspires people, but we want family-Christmas-style religion, not that other kind.
"Inspiring" is a somewhat creative idea for a list, by AFI standards. In the past, they've given us the top 100 based on very standard categories: comedies and love stories. "Inspiring" movies, even more than comedies and love stories, must do something specific to our emotions. But why has the AFI chosen this year to concentrate on the way movies can manipulate us into having feelings of elevated hopefulness?
With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the war in Iraq and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the group wanted to examine films that offer hope.
"This was kind of an interesting moment in American history, coming off Sept. 11, being at war, having natural disasters of such tremendous impact. What role do the movies play at times of really emotional turmoil?" said Jean Picker Firstenberg, AFI director. "I think the movies are fundamentally a very inspirational way we communicate, and we thought this was an exciting opportunity to recognize those films."
So we're shaky and wounded and need Hollywood to soothe us and make us feel that life is good and people are worthy? Did you think of September 11th in terms of your own "emotional turmoil" and turn to the movies? Movies aren't a way for us to "communicate." Filmmakers speak to us. That's why we're called the audience. People are talking back to the screen more these days, but in most theaters, that still gets you dirty looks and shushing.
The AFI should compile a list of films about the delusional self-regard of filmmakers.
Guest blogging for Glenn this week is law professor and blogger Ann Althouse.
Loving the large... and also the small
We Americans seem to like oversized, exaggerated characters. Look at our beloved reality TV shows. We adored the twitchy, frenetic Taylor Hicks who won "American Idol" and Sean Yazbeck, the effusive, gesturing Brit who got the job -- and fell conspicuously in love -- on "The Apprentice."
But there's an emerging taste for subtlety. Just as we're starting to crack down on restaurants for those oversized portions we've been wolfing down so much of, we've also embraced a couple of the most low key reality show characters. Look at Harold Dieterle on "Top Chef," beating out the much more colorful Stephen and Tiffani. And look at Chloe Dao on "Project Runway," beating out the demonic Santino. Harold and Chloe were stunningly modest characters, and yet, we figured out how to love them.
In the legal sphere -- where, being a law professor, I try to hang out at least some of the time -- we've still got the highly expressive Antonin Scalia, complete with Italian gesturing, but we've been charmed by the understated new Chief Justice, John Roberts, whose most exaggerated characteristic is his tendency to talk about "humility" a bit too often.
For reading, don't you like those short, punchy blog posts? But if you're willing to sink deeply into a long, long newspaper article, let me point you to this oversized Washington Post piece, about a dancer Alice Alyse, who lost her role in the Broadway show "Movin' Out," she says, because her already ample breasts got larger. She quotes the stage manager: "We hired you at a size C and now you're a [expletive] D!... You need to lose those boobs now!"
Didn't you think we Americans loved large breasts? But, no, not always:
[B]ig breasts cannot truly be said to be a virtue for a dancer, unless her routine includes thigh-high boots and a pole. The Ziegfeldian hourglass shape has flattened out over time. On current stages, in the view of many directors and choreographers, a B cup might be just sexy enough, while a D may be too much. From ballet companies to Broadway, the preferred look is slender, long-stemmed and minimally jiggly. Especially when we're talking about fitting into a group, whether a kick line or the corps de ballet.
Alyse is suing, asking for $100 million. There's that love of the large. We can expect the defendants to prefer something smaller scale, not only in breasts, but in damages.
Can liberals get tough?
It's possible to be a Democrat and still be tough on America's enemies. There was a time, in fact — as illustrated by Humphrey Bogart's remark in Casablanca that he was a card-carrying Democrat — when Democrats were the people that voters looked to for that kind of toughness.
It hasn't been that way since the 1960s, when the New Left crushed the old anti-communist liberal establishment, and when Viet Cong flags became a staple of "anti-war" rallies. But things don't have to stay in a 1960s mold forever. Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic argues in his new book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War On Terror and Make America Great Again, that Democrats need to get over the 1960s and take a tough, 21st Century approach to matters of national security and defense.
Beinart's book is a good effort -- you can hear him expand on his views in this podcast interview, too (direct link here, lo-fi link here, iTunes link here) -- but I have to say I'm skeptical. It seems to me that the Democrats who favor a strong national defense have mostly decamped to the Republican Party already. In fact, much of Beinart's book is devoted to recounting just how that happened, as the old Democratic Party structures were taken over by elites who didn't think much of blue-collar politics. Now, pro-war Democrats like Sen. Joe Lieberman are reviled -- and opposed -- by true-believing Dems. Even Hillary Clinton is getting flak from anti-war types.
So though I'd certainly like to see the Democratic Party move in the direction that Beinart recommends, I don't think it's very likely. That's too bad for the Democrats, and for America.
Hey, maybe they're noticing. Listen to what Google founder Sergey Brin is saying:
Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged Tuesday the dominant Internet company has compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google is wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course.
Meeting with reporters near Capitol Hill, Brin said Google had agreed to the censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service in that country. Google's rivals accommodated the same demands -- which Brin described as "a set of rules that we weren't comfortable with" -- without international criticism, he said.
"We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference," Brin said.
It's true that Google has gotten more flak than its competitors. But then, its "progressive" image and "don't be evil" slogan are a bit different than, say, Microsoft's public profile. Still it's nice to hear that somebody's noticing the criticism. And it would be great if Google wound up undermining Chinese censorship, instead of assisting it.
Readers on Google's fading star
Yesterdays' post on Google's vulnerability generated a lot of reader e-mail. Some doubted whether Google is really vulnerable to shfiting consumer sentiments. Others wrote to say that they had already switched to other search engines. Here are some examples:
Name: Lucia Hennen
Hometown: Frazier Park, CA
Dear Glenn: I like Google, but use it mostly for my business e-mail address. I would add my dismay that they are censoring conservative news because I happen to be a conservative in my views and while I don't always agree with all the "conservative viewpoint", I thought that we allowed all kinds of viewpoints in the USA. So how can I let Google know about my objection to censorship of any kind?
Glenn writes: That's probably done the trick.
Name: Linda Fox
Hometown: Varnville, SC
I would not have a problem using other search engines, but I have not found one that does as good a job of finding images. I create interactive lessons for my science students, and there is, as far as I have found, no substitute that is as efficient as Google in tracking down pertinent pictures, graphs, and charts.
Glenn writes: I've been experimenting with the Ask.com image search and it seems to work pretty well. Your results may differ, I suppose.
Google is a fad *and* a brand. But they haven't peaked and aren't going anywhere - they've just gotten started. Google is actually very analogous to Microsoft in the late 80's. Faced with an embryonic and highly fragmented industry - personal computing - Microsoft opened up their hardware platform, sought to integrate the most commonly used tools (which evolved into Office), wooed developers by providing API's and platforms for writing integrated code...and then gradually snowballing every new thing that came along into a big glob of Borg-like goodness. Microsoft almost single-handedly created the PC revolution, nearly destroying all their competitors along the way due to their vastly superior vision and delivery. Google is doing exactly the same thing. They've opened their API's, are adding (free) product after product, and are staying in the black along the way. Maybe 1/10th of their offerings will prove useful or have staying power, but those products will shape and define the next 10 or 20 years of human-computer interaction. Sure I could easily type in 'ask.com', but I could easily switch from Coke to Pepsi too...how many people do that?
Glenn writes: I may not be representative, as I prefer RC.
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
In my opinion, Google has over extended itself. I also believe that its stock prices are base on flawed assumptions. (... like too many firms back in like 1999.) Personally, some of its strategic and policy moves have also disheartened me. Very soon, I believe that the word "Googled" will be added to the dictionary. (Googled: "Great start with good intentions, but failed to live up to potential"...or "deceived.")
Hometown: Tampa, FL
It's a fad. They are going down. Dot com is Dot Junk unless you're on the board of directors.
Glenn writes: That's going a bit too far, I think. Dot-coms can be profitable, or not, just like other businesses. As always, it depends on fundamentals, not handwaving.
Name: Leonid Ardov
Yesterday I reset my homepage from Google to Ask. The Memorial Day failure was the last straw.
Name: Matt Redmond
Hometown: Greenwood, MS
I have been usiing Alta Vista for over a month now and I canot tell a difference...except a lack of guilt.
Glenn writes: The Memorial Day thing wasn't really that big a deal, but it seems to have been the last straw for a lot of people. As for the switch to Alta Vista, I think that at one point Google had a commanding technological lead, but I think that search engines have turned into commodity products -- there's not much difference anymore as all the competitors have caught up. Google, of course, has branched out into ads, etc., but I'm not sure how well they can do if their main business stagnates. And, of course, if people don't like them it could hurt their ad business, too.
Has Google peaked?
Google has been a huge deal — its founders have become rich, its name has become a verb, and its influence is international.
Lately, though, I've been wondering if Google has peaked. The reason is that, for lots of different groups of people, Google's reputation as good guys has been stained. And I'm not sure what Google really has to bank on, besides a good reputation.
Google has come under criticism from people on the left — and right — for its cave-in to Chinese demands for censorship. From "don't be evil," Google's motto has seemed to be "don't be evil unless there's a really big market at stake."
They've also come in for criticism from people on the right for alleged censorship in Google News, with charges that Google is purging itself of conservative news sites. And many people complained that Google, which puts up special logos for all sorts of other holidays, didn't do anything to recognize Memorial Day.
That last point seems minor, but for some people it seems to have been the last straw. And it made me wonder if Google's position isn't rather vulnerable. People like Google and use it, but its competition — sites like Ask.com, Dogpile.com, and Clusty.com — is just a mouseclick away. Ask.com even has a pretty good substitute for Google News.
Lots of people don't like Microsoft — I like 'em fine, but then, I get a check from them every month — but if you want to switch from Microsoft to OSX or Linux you need a bunch of new software, and maybe a new computer. To switch from Google to Ask, you just type different letters (and fewer!).
Of course, it's not just search engines. Jeff Jarvis notes that Google's ad business isn't doing especially well, and says that the reason is trust. So what, exactly, does Google have that will protect it from a sudden shift in consumer sentiments? Is it a brand, or a fad?
The weakness of Mubarak
Time Magazine reports on why Egypt is cracking down on bloggers. The answer is fear -- and the lack thereof:
Three days before he was arrested at an anti-regime protest in downtown Cairo, award-winning Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah told TIME he knew he might pay a price for speaking out, but said he had developed a taste for freedom of speech and would not give up so easily.
"For the core group of activists, which is growing, there is absolutely no fear anymore," said the 24-year-old activist. "I mean, there is of course fear when the moment happens, but its not the fear that makes you stay home — you go back again." Almost a month later, Abdel Fatah is still in jail — and still blogging. "Today it hit me, I am really in prison," he wrote in a note smuggled out of jail and posted by his wife on the couple's blog," Manal and Alaa's Bit Bucket." "I'm not sure how I feel."
The Mubarak regime wants to be sure people are afraid, up-front where it does some good, to challenge his rule. Writing in the Washington Post, Jefferson Morley observes: "The Bush administration's campaign for democracy in the Arab world is facing its toughest test yet in Egypt."
That's right. I understand that the Bush Administration has its hands full with Iraq and, especially, Iran. But Mubarak isn't really our friend, and he's certainly no friend to democracy. His rule is unlikely to last -- this crackdown is a sign of his regime's weakness, not strength -- and we'd be better off if the people who overthrow him remember us as friends of freedom, not friends of Mubarak's thuggish kleptocracy.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive