Monthly Archives: February 2010

Okay, just this once, I’ll acknowledge Frank Rich’s existence

The man is so deranged that he’s just not worth wasting brain space on, but the dozen or so remaining Times’ readers have elevated his latest hallucinations to the top of the “most emailed to Eskimos” category, so here’s Powerline’s rebuttal:

Rich suggests that the answer lies in Stack’s online political screed:

“But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner.”

No, it doesn’t. Stack’s essay is left-wing, not right-wing; it ends with a denunciation of capitalism and a quote from the Communist Manifesto. The Tea Party is a highly diverse movement, but you will find very few Communists in it.

[CF ]: You literally have to be a Times’ employee or devoted Times’ reader to believe this shit. Amazingly, Frank’s followers currently occupy Washington, D.C. and are trying to run the country. Pray for our nation.


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Jews attack curlers!

Out of the West Bank!

Oh, the humanity! Israeli police go after stone throwers.

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Good heavens, Nicholas Kristof discovers evangelicals

They’re doing more to aid the afflicted than anyone else – I have my reservations about some of these groups but Kristof is absolutely right: they’re putting their money and effort where my mouth is  – good for them.

A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?

It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.

World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.

A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time?

Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”

Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.)Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!

One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.

Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.

Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensable networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.

A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.

UPDATE: on the other hand, here’s an unabashed Rand follower who sees this activity as folly. I don’t agree, but I see her point.


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SWAT teams – the revolution can’t come too soon.

SWAT team busts into house, shoots the family dogs (including the 12″ Corgi) and charges parents for endangering the welfare of a child. This has to stop, now.

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The lights are going out all over Europe

Instapundit links to a distressing article from London: the Muslims are taking over the Labor Party. Viscount Grey would not be surprised.

  • Moderate Muslims in London told how the IFE and its allies were enforcing their hardline views on the rest of the local community, curbing behaviour they deemed “un-Islamic”. The owner of a dating agency received a threatening email from an IFE activist, warning her to close it.
  • George Galloway, a London MP, admitted in recordings obtained by this newspaper that his surprise victory in the 2005 election owed more to the IFE “than it would be wise – for them – for me to say, adding that they played a “decisive role” in his triumph at the polls.

Mr Galloway now says they were one of many groups which supported his anti-war stance and had never sought to influence him.

No, Galloway is a traitor to his country in his own right – no bribes necessary.


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Bummer: Canada 3, USA 2, OT (don’t tell Walt)

Great game, and someone had to lose, but another 24 seconds and it would have gone to a shoot out. Dang.


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I hate to pick on a kid but really ….

Greenwich Time is running a series of articles by a young nitwit named Sarah Lipman who is touring Asia on the cheap and, while I admire her free-spirited adventourousness, I’m appalled at her ignorance.

The Hao Lo Prison is more famously known for the inmates American POWs it held during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and the United State’s first ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson. Known by them as the Hanoi Hilton, it displays how American POWs — while prisoners — were still treated fairly, with access to packages from home and Christmas dinners.

What interested me most about the prison, and will continue to interest me throughout my stay in Vietnam, is the stark contrast between how as a U.S. student I learned about the war in Vietnam and how the “American War” will be portrayed in museums throughout the country.

Uh huh – great education you got there, Sarah.

There’s this, for instance:

Torture began in earnest the following day, when he was brought before three interrogators and about a dozen soldiers. He initially tried to stick to the textbook answers: name, rank, serial number, date of birth. But then the real pain was applied.

In a steady voice, Swindle described his torturers applying tourniquets to his arms with parachute cord. “They took the cord and cinched it so tightly above my elbows that it literally caused my hands to contract because of the pressure on the ligaments,” he said.

And that was only the beginning. Next they tied his arms behind his back with three men applying pressure on each side. “(They) pulled against each other until my arms, they folded them up my back and my hands went back to my neck,” he said.

Next the torturers wrapped cord around his body so it looked like he had no arms. They tied parachute cord around his thumbs, which were at the back of his head, and hoisted his body off the ground by throwing the cord over the rafters. Swindle said the technique pulled his shoulders out of socket.

“And it’s about that point where you think you’re insane, ’cause this is hurting quite badly, and there’s not a soul in the world that can help me,” he said.

That’s when he learned to lie, figuring he could give them just enough truth to make his lies believable. When the interrogators wanted Swindle to name the men in his squadron, he told them he couldn’t think in such pain. They’d have to loosen the ropes to get anything out of him. When they started to loosen his bindings, he gave them the names of his high-school football coach and assistant coach, saying that was is squadron commander and executive officer.

When they loosened the ropes some more, he gave them the names of his entire high-school football team as his squadron’s pilots. Swindle chuckled as he recalled a welcome-home gala several years later in his small south-Georgia hometown. “All those guys were in the audience,” he said. “And I said, ‘You better not ever go to North Vietnam, because they’re looking for you.'”

Swindle said the experience with the ropes from his second day in captivity was repeated four or five times before he was moved to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp in late December of that year. The lies were all about coping. Prisoners learned many different ways to cope in their tortured captivity. “You give in,” he said. “So don’t think you don’t give in. But it’s how you do it and what you give them.

Or John McCane’s own experience at Hanoi Hilton:

In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain.[45] He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery.[33][45] Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, stopped by guards.[33] After four days, McCain made an anti-American propaganda “confession”.[33] He has always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he later wrote, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”[46][47] Many American POWs were tortured and maltreated in order to extract “confessions” and propaganda statements, with many enduring even longer and worse treatment;[48]virtually all of them eventually yielded something to their captors.[49] McCain subsequently received two to three beatings weekly because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements.[50]

McCain refused to meet with various anti-war groups seeking peace in Hanoi, wanting to give neither them nor the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory.[51] From late 1969 onward, treatment of McCain and many of the other POWs became more tolerable,[52] while McCain continued actively to resist the camp authorities.[53] McCain and other prisoners cheered the U.S. “Christmas Bombing” campaign of December 1972, viewing it as a forceful measure to push North Vietnam to terms.[47][54]

Altogether, McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years. He was released on March 14, 1973.[55] His wartime injuries left McCain permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head.[56]

But they got Christmas cards from their families!


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Uncle Ugly reports in from Maine – bad GPS data sinks ships.

People were quick to ridicule the Portland Fire Department after the city’s new $3.2 million fireboat ran aground Nov. 7 in the passage between Cushing and Peaks islands. The grounding caused $90,000 in damage, and sarcastic mariners said it was unlikely that the fireboat had hit a ledge that had gone unnoticed in Casco Bay for the past 300 years.

Some, however, were less quick to judge.Phineas Sprague, owner of Portland Yacht Services, has spent his life on the water off Maine’s coast, particularly in Portland Harbor. He was so shocked when his sailboat hit bottom in Whitehead Passage in 2007 that he hired a diver to investigate.

“I’ve been going through that all my life, and it’s like my home harbor had jumped up and bit me,” he said, recalling the incident and the embarrassment.The diver found a sharp spine of ledge that protruded from the shore of Cushing Island beyond any marker, then dropped off suddenly.

“The diver told me there was red paint all over it, bottom paint from different boats,” Sprague said.

On Nov. 7, Portland firefighters were trying to rescue an elderly man who had fallen into frigid water off Jewell Island and then made it to shore.The Coast Guard had already grounded one of its rescue boats during the astronomically low tide, and firefighters had intentionally grounded a skiff on the island’s shore.The fireboat crew faced a challenging technical rescue that required more personnel to get the man from the rocky shore to the boat, so firefighter-paramedic Richard Wurfel, a licensed captain, headed back to Portland for more firefighters.

Maneuvering the two-month-old boat by instruments in the dark, Wurfel entered the passage just north of the fixed green daymark that denotes the southern side of the channel. He was in a hurry. The boat hit hard.Chunks were taken out of the propellers, supports broke, and a softball-sized hole was punched in the hull. Skeptical sailors assumed that the grounding had occurred outside the channel, and scoffed at the assertion that the fireboat was inside the marked waterway.

But Roger Long, a naval architect and harbor master for Cape Elizabeth, wrote an article for Points East sailing magazine revealing how the phantom ledge is not so far-fetched after all, and is in fact noted on some charts.“I’ve been all over the coast of Maine, and that’s one of the biggest discrepancies I’ve seen,” Long said. Long has seen the rock around the green marker at low tide, but never thought to compare its location with the chart.“I always thought electronic charts and paper charts were exactly the same,” he said. He learned they’re not.

As it turns out, the information loaded into Global Positioning System navigation aids isn’t necessarily the most recent, detailed information available, he said. All but the most up-to-date electronic charts show a 29-foot drop-off at the site of the marker, rather than the ledge extending into the channel just 5 feet below the surface at low tide.Long said it’s not unreasonable to think that the protrusion of ledge would get little notice.

Whitehead Passage is used by far fewer large boats than the main channel into Portland, and the fireboat would rarely pass through it. But on Nov. 7, the passage was the quickest way for the fireboat to get back to the city’s waterfront from uninhabited Jewell Island. Long said that while he doesn’t know specifics about the fireboat grounding, the presence of unmarked ledge doesn’t fully excuse the pilot.

“Going through (a) channel that fast at night … he was on the wrong side of the channel. As a sailor, I’d say you screwed up,” Long said. “You’re not supposed to be following the little cursor around the GPS like a video game.

”Sprague said that when his boat hit the ledge, he was paying attention to his surroundings and was perhaps 4 to 5 feet inside his usual course through the passage.“I don’t think I was being sloppy by the chart, but it didn’t occur to me the harbor that was the center of the North Atlantic fleet in World War II wouldn’t have the correct markings,” he said.“We tend to blindly believe all of the stuff we’ve got in front of us and trust other people that, when they made the charts, they didn’t make an error,” he said.

Sprague alerted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about the discrepancy in 2007. The marker was moved, though only slightly, and the latest charts more accurately describe the bottom there, he said.The Coast Guard checked the navigational markers after the fireboat’s accident and determined they were all in the correct locations.Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne said he plans to meet with the Coast Guard to discuss improvements to the markers in that area.“Individuals navigating inside a channel have a reasonable expectation that it will be hazard-free,” he said.


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Where all the children are above average

In the D.C. area they’ve tossed out IQ tests so up to 72% of all children are “gifted and talented”. Going on IQ, I could have been considered gifted and talented, yet never amounted to much, so I’m not saying that these tests are the beginning and end of child evaluations but a 72% ratio would seem to dilute the brand remarkably.


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I don’t see that they have anything to be defensive about

Oceanographers defend their tsunami warning.

Scientists use an earthquake’s magnitude and location as the basis for their predictions and then refine it constantly with data from more than 30 deep-water sensors stationed across the Pacific as the shock wavesweeps across the ocean floor.

The sensors, located at 15,000 to 20,000 feet beneath the surface, measure the weight of the water and beam it to buoys floating on the surface. Scientists then use the data to pinpoint where the surge is and when it will make landfall.

Coastal inundation models based on topographic mapping add another layer of analysis, helping scientists make assumptions about how the surge will behave in shallower waters and how it might affect shoreline communities.

“There are all sorts of assumptions that we make in trying to figure out how big the waves are going to be. If we can avoid some of those assumptions, maybe we can do a better job,” said Fryer.

“If this event happened tomorrow, even with this knowledge, we would be forced to do the exact same thing.”

Those models could be more accurate if scientists had more deep-water sensors and could build coastal inundation models for vast parts of the Pacific Rim where the topography hasn’t yet been well-surveyed, Wang said.

Because complete data doesn’t exist for every coastal area, scientists must play it safe in their wave predictions, he said.

“Even for Hawaii, we only have a forecast for less than 10 locations, we don’t have inundation models for every coastal point in Hawaii and it’s the same story for the U.S. mainland,” Wang said. “We’ve got to be a little conservative. One point doesn’t tell you that’s going to be the maximum everywhere else.”

In areas were inundation models exist, scientists’ predictions were close to accurate, Wang said.

Residents and tourists alike in Hawaii said they weren’t bothered by the evacuation and supported the scientists’ actions—even though the waves never showed up.

Eugene Okamoto, 33, said he came to Honolulu from Hilo to visit some tourist attractions with his father and was disappointed the two had to cancel their plans because of the evacuation orders.

But Okamoto said his family understands the tsunami threat better than most because some of his relatives lived through the tidal surge in 1960. They remember how the water was sucked down the beach moments before the wave hit.

“My uncle was on the top floor when all the water washed away and all the kids ran out to grab the fish and before they could get back, the wave came. He was way up top, he saw all his friends get washed away and none of them were found, ever,” Okamoto said, as he sat with his father in a hotel lobby. “They did the right thing.”

I’m with Mr. Okamoto.


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USA vs. Canada

Where are you?

Should be a good game but  for sheer poignancy,will anything ever top USA goalie Jim Craig, after the win against the USSR in 1980, carrying our flag and searching the stands for his father? Not in my lifetime. A bunch of college kids defeating professional, older, better (?)  Soviet players? An amazing day.

Hard to work up much of a dislike for a band of Canadians, for crimminy’s sake, eh?

BUMMER: 2nd period, Canada 2, US 0. No miracle on ice this year, looks like.


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Hey, it could have been worse

My neighbors had a Toyota end up in their yard yesterday – this lady had a bull in her parlor. Everyone got away, in the end.


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The law professor masquerading as our President doesn’t understand car insurance

Hmm. I wonder if there’s anything else that’s eluded his wisdom too?


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Walk away from your mortgage?

If you’re deeply underwater, this WSJ columnist says you’d be a chump not to.

How widespread is this? More than 11 million families are in “negative equity”—that is, they owe more on their home than it is worth—according to a report out this week by FirstAmerican Core Logic, a real-estate data firm. That’s a quarter of all families with mortgages. And for more than five million of those borrowers, the crisis is extreme: They are more than 25% underwater—the equivalent of having a $100,000 loan on a property now worth just $75,000 or less. That’s true for a fifth of mortgage holders in California, nearly a third in Florida and an incredible 50% in Nevada.

Are you in this situation? Are you still battling to pay the bills each month, even when it may make little financial sense to do so?

It’s time for some tough talk.

Stop trying to chase your lost equity. That money is gone. Don’t think like the gambler who blows more and more cash trying to win back his losses. That’s how a lot of people turn a small loss into a big one.

And do the math. Even if you hope the real estate market is near the bottom—it’s possible, but by no means certain—it may still take years to see any meaningful recovery. If you are 25% underwater, your home will have to rise by 33% just to get you back to even.

Is that likely? And over what time period? Even if home prices rose by 5% a year from here, that would still take six years. And during that time you could instead be building fresh savings elsewhere.

If you are reluctant to give up on “your” home, realize that it isn’t “yours.” If you are in negative equity, it’s the bank’s home. You’re just renting it. And right now you may be paying way above market rates. You need to be ruthless about your cash flow.

Are you worried about the legal consequences of walking away? Certainly, you should check with a lawyer before doing anything, but the consequences will probably be more limited than you think.

In “non-recourse” states, the mortgage lender may have no right to come after you for any shortfall. They may have no option but to take the home, sell it and eat the loss. According to a survey last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, such states include negative-equity hot spots California and Arizona. Even in “recourse” states, lenders may have limited ability to come after you. Often they’d have to jump a lot of legal hurdles, and it’s just not worth it for them. They’re swamped with cases anyway.

“In my experience, right now they’re not really going after anyone,” says Richard Nemeth, a bankruptcy attorney in Cleveland. “They just don’t have the resources.”

If you’ve taken smart steps to protect your money, you may be safer still. For example, money held in a 401(k), Individual Retirement Account or pension plan is sheltered from creditors.


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Tea for Texas?

Probably not, but this lady seems to be scaring the old guard politicians. I like that she’s read “the Austrians” (Von Hayek and Von Mises, not the little corporal, presumably) not too excited that she may be a Truther but what the hell, she’d sure would make things interesting down in my new favorite state.

The report’s from The Guardian so of course they had to include this interview:

Calvin Jillson, a political scientist at Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, believes the Tea Party can be understood as the latest in a long line of explosions of political rage in America. They include the Populist party that won elections in several states during the 1890s recession and the millions who voted for Ross Perot’s presidential candidacy in the 1980s. “These things happen but they burn out like a prairie fire. We are in the middle of it right now but when the economy picks up it will fade away,” Jillson said.

Jillson has history on his side and that’s a strong argument, but I’m wondering whether this time is different.

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Mark Steyn on Greece

They’re just further down the road to oblivion than us, but we’re both on the same road.

What’s happening in the developed world today isn’t so very hard to understand: The 20th-century Bismarckian welfare state has run out of people to stick it to. In America, the feckless, insatiable boobs in Washington, Sacramento, Albany, and elsewhere are screwing over our kids and grandkids. In Europe, they’ve reached the next stage in social-democratic evolution: There are no kids or grandkids to screw over. The United States has a fertility rate of around 2.1 — or just over two kids per couple. Greece has a fertility rate of about 1.3: Ten grandparents have six kids have four grandkids — ie, the family tree is upside down. Demographers call 1.3 “lowest-low” fertility — the point from which no society has ever recovered. And, compared to Spain and Italy, Greece has the least worst fertility rate in Mediterranean Europe.

So you can’t borrow against the future because, in the most basic sense, you don’t have one. Greeks in the public sector retire at 58, which sounds great. But, when ten grandparents have four grandchildren, who pays for you to spend the last third of your adult life loafing around?


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U.S. Bobsledding

First Gold medal in 62 years, and Sports Illustrated has a good story on the team.


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IOC recovers its senses

Celebration on ice

Canadian Girls hockey celebration is forgotten, quite rightly.

Vancouver organizing chief John Furlong said it was simply a matter of “young kids who were happy.”

“They had a great time,” Furlong said. “They let their hair down. Yes, they said they were sorry, but they’re great ambassadors for hockey, and they shouldn’t regret what they did for a moment.”

Well over an hour after the Canadians beat the Americans 2-0 on Thursday and were given their gold medals, 14 players returned to the ice still in their uniforms. Some wore wacky sunglasses and smoked cigars, while almost all were drinking beer or champagne.

As a third-string athlete growing up, I am awed by kids who have the skill and drive to reach Olympian level, regardless of whether they get a medal. They’re amazing, all of them, and if a team  scores a gold medal after years of training and hard work and wants to cut loose, God bless them.


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Our media

Matt Haughey on the tsunami:

So live news coverage in America is basically staring at webcams and reading wikipedia? Shit, I could be doing this myself.


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Nothing happening in Hawaii

I mean, I’m glad, sort of, but as a disaster buff, just a tad disappointed.

UPDATE: Okay, ain’t nothing happening. I don’t fault the authorities on this in the slightest – if Thailand had had similar notice, thousands of lives could have been saved. There was a massive earthquake, a tsunami was generated and of course  a dire warning should have been issued. But just like hurricane warnings, when they fizzle, people tend to discount the next one. Until it’s too late.

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