Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Daniel Hannan, My New Favorite Brit

Here's the speech that went viral,

and here is his first interview in the aftermath.

I am constantly in awe at the public speakers that the British are able to produce. There must be something in the water at Oxford...

Hat Tip: The Corner

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Geithner's Bank Plan

Timothy Geithner announced his big banking rescue plan. I'm nowhere near qualified to make pronouncements on it, but that's never stopped me before has it? Believe it or not, I really want to like this plan. In fact, I DO like many of it's features. I think there are problems too, and I'm not sure it will work, but I'm definitely rooting for it.

So, what do I like and dislike about it? First of all, I like the free market elements. One of the biggest issues with TARP as it was originally proposed, was the ridiculous idea that the government was capable of intelligently pricing these housing assets, especially with their obviously conflicting priorities. The combination of private investors and government incentives might just allow the assets to be priced in a more meaningful way that would allow banks to salvage some of their investment while not propping up prices in too artificial a manner.

Secondly, this is the first Obama administration proposal that feels like it was created by grownups. The administration's first reaction to the crisis was a ridiculous stimulus bill that degenerated into a free-for-all spendathon with little thought to whether the spending was really stimulative. It was followed up by requesting the rest of the TARP money with, as far as I can tell, little to no consideration about whether the first half was used effectively. And of course, last week, the government decided to turn the printing presses up to maximum, a strategy that any 6 year old could tell you won't work without causing bigger problems down the road. Unlike these prior efforts, this one feels like adults sat down calmly and thought it through. That's obviously no guarantee that it is the right strategy, but it is reassuring nonetheless.

Lastly of course, one is known by their enemies, and Paul Krugman hates it.

On the other side of the ledger, I think Geithner has passed up on one of the most cost-effective things he could do to help banks out, suspending mark-to-market rules, which require banks to value their toxic assets at a big, fat, zero. Doing so would help free up their cash, while acknowledging the reality that these assets are illiquid, not truly worthless. I'm also obviously worried about the price tag. Obama's previous silliness combined with his budget has already put us several trillion deeper into the hole. How much longer is he going to insist that we dig our way out? I'd be much happier with this proposal if it wasn't stacked on top of too much spending already. And finally, I'm worried that Geithner doesn't have the manpower to handle this program. All the reporting says that Treasury is basically a big empty building that Tim is rattling around in all by himself. Would it hurt to get a few undersecretaries confirmed before we get going?

On a note completely unrelated to anything else, earlier today I had to Google Tim Geithner's name in order to get the link to his Wall Street Journal article. When I started to type it into the Google search engine, the auto complete feature suggested "Timothy Geithner Jewish" as the term I might be typing. Does that strike you as odd? What a random thing. I mean, if I started typing "Mitt Romney" and got "Mitt Romney Mormon" I could understand it. After all, there have been about a thousand articles written about how we crazy Bible-thumpers will never vote for a Mormon. But I've never heard word one about Geithner's religion. In fact, I went to Wikipedia, and their article lists no religious affiliation. The only mention religion gets in the article at all is that Geithner was married at his parents' home by a minister in the United Church of Christ. Is this one of those weird, "Jews control the world's money" things? Since he's in charge of the Treasury, he must be Jewish? Or did I miss a story?

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's A Moot Point

I keep hearing people say "mute" point, pronounced like the word meaning inaudible, when they mean to say "moot", a word meaning irrelevant. Today I saw it in written form. The person (a lawyer) in question clearly meant "moot", given the context of the sentence, but typed "mute". Why is this? These words don't sound alike when pronounced properly, and their meanings aren't similar, yet it's a fairly commonplace mistake. Further confusing the issue, no one ever makes the opposite mistake, saying "moot" when they mean "mute". When did they start getting confused, and why?

Holy Cow!

Did you know the ocean was full of giant rock-eating worms with numbness-inducing spines? 'Cuz that's info I'd have liked to have prior to swimming in the freakin' thing!

Flipping The Omlette

No, that's not some crazy new slang the kids are using these days. It's a celebration of personal success. This morning, for the first time, I successfully kept my omelet intact from the moment the egg went into the pan to the moment it arrived on the plate. In case you are unaware of the proper manner for preparing an omelet, it must be turned over to make sure that the egg is cooked thoroughly. Most of the time, I either destroy the omelet in this process, or at best, manage to use the spatula to maneuver it in a pathetic, halfhearted flopping manner. I've always aspired to master the genuine flip, in which one carelessly lobs the omelet in the air and catches it back in the pan, unscathed and glorious in its rotated splendor.

Now, I know there are people out there for whom this is effortless, almost instinctive behavior. They go about flipping omelets, pancakes, and even spinning pizza dough on their knuckles as if it were the easiest thing in the world. For those of us limited to the mortal plane however, such challenges are often beyond our dexterity. Attempts to replicate these carefree folk leave us with spills and empty stomaches more often than not. Not today however! With a confident snap of the wrist, end over end it went! If I die tomorrow, it is enough!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Is this a seriously BAD effort at defending the president, or am I missing some clever satirical point? Cafferty is a liberal, so I can't imagine that he's down on President Obama this early in the new administration, but does he seriously think that the image of Obama throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks is a reassuring one?

Purportedly Peaceful Pluto Planetary Politics

The debate continues. I wonder how much of the debate is motivated by a clear difficulty in defining "planet" and how much of it is motivated by Pluto partisanship. Astronomers used to get along fine without a clear-cut definition of what constituted a planet using an "I'll know it when I see it" attitude. I don't really see why that cannot continue. Definitions are meant to provide clarity and precision, not to intensify disputes. Therefore, if having a definition serves no clarifying purpose because the body of items you are trying to define is too diverse, why attempt to create one?

They cite the existence of "brown dwarfs" as an example of another hard to define case. (Brown dwarfs are essentially large objects that started the star formation process, but didn't have enough mass to jump-start fusion reactions in their core, so the formation stalled. They emit heat and light through other mechanisms, but significantly less of both than a star would.) But I don't see why this is a problem, except maybe for the writers of high school textbooks. Anyone dealing with astronomy at anything beyond a very basic level can understand "brown dwarf" as a self-defining category without recourse to whether it falls within the broader definition of a planet or not. And when dealing with wider data sets (for example if I'm doing an estimation of the number of planetary objects in a particular galaxy cluster), it doesn't seem like it would be all that difficult to simply define your terms for that particular endeavour. A sentence saying, "For the purposes of this study, planetary objects will mean all bodies greater than .005 earth masses and less than 60 Jupiter masses with a fixed orbit around a star" would provide clarity without any need to come up with labels that apply universally throughout...well...the universe.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Defending Hillary Clinton

I know, I know, I threw up in my mouth just a little while typing that title. But, while this post is a little past due, let it never be said that I don't defend those I disagree with on the rare occasions when they actually stumble across an accurate fact. Hillary got the Euro-weenies all tied up in knots when she said that, "It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution, and I say this very respectfully, because I feel the same way about our own democracy, which has been around a lot longer than European democracy."

Of course, Europe likes to trace the origins of it's democratic institutions back to ancient Athens. Fair enough, but lets remember, Athens was a single Greek city-state, and it had democracy for roughly 170 years, ending with the conquest of Alexander the Great. That's 170 years out of the last 2,500 or so (not counting the modern state of Greece, which we'll get to later). Ok Europe, I'll give you Athens, but what have you done for democracy lately?

To keep this simple, all countries with 200+ years of continuous, stable, and democratic political institutions marked by frequent and peaceful transitions of power raise your hand. I see America, England, and the Netherlands. And in all fairness, you two have monarchs, so technically speaking...

Well, maybe I made this too hard. Who can boast of 70 years of uninterrupted democracy? France? No. Germany? Less said there, the better... Spain? No. Italy? Bupkiss between the glory that was Rome and the end of Il Duce? Ouch. Portugal? Only since 1974? Really? What about Greece, the home of Athenian democracy? What? You guys had your last dictatorship end 35 years ago?

I might have missed a few, (But really, who cares about Norway? I mean, have you SEEN their display at EPCOT Center?) but overall, that's not really an impressive record. All of the major European countries together would be hard-pressed to summon up as many years of continuous democracy as America. And frankly, half of the democracies that do exist were set up by America after Germany broke the whole freakin' continent. So how about you cut Hillary a little slack? After all, at the rate you guys are going, she'll be Secretary of State longer than some of your governments will be around.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dick Cheney's Crack Assasins

Keith Olbermann descended further into his own fantasy world on March 12th, alleging that Vice President Cheney ran an assassination ring out of his office. Admittedly, that would be pretty freakin' cool, but let's face facts. If Dick Cheney decided it was time for someone to die, why would he bother calling in a team? The whole point of hiring Cheney was so that the president HAD someone on staff for this sort of thing in the first place!

I wonder if someone on Olbermann's team bothered to look into why no one else was running this story, or even to pull up the Wikipedia page on the Joint Special Operations Command, where their chain of command is clearly detailed.

Too Bad Youtube Wasn't Around In The 90's

Bill Clinton repeatedly assures Dr. Sanjay Gupta (who I would note never bothered to challenge his patently bad information) that none of the embryos that will be used in embryonic stem cell research are fertilized. But you know who’s dumb? George W. Bush! Because saying fundamentally and stupidly wrong things about the basic biology involved in an issue you claim to have thought about as president is far less devastating than poor syntax and the occasional malapropism.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Michael Steele's GQ Interview

All of the commentary on the interview has been focused on whether or not Chairman Steele admitted that he's pro-choice. Reading the article, he seems to be. Listening to his post-facto defense, and then re-reading it, I can see a case to be made that he simply failed to make the point he was trying to make, that "choice" cuts both ways, and that, as a man who was put up for adoption, he owes his life to the choice of his birth mother.

What's unfortunate though, is that a lengthy and interesting interview has been obscured over one or two sentences. I'd encourage anyone who hasn't done so yet to read the whole thing. Steele is an interesting and thoughtful guy. I sometimes wonder however, if he was the right choice for the position. He's charming and winsome, as the interview clearly illustrates, but that only gets you so far. Remember, he's not selling himself, he's selling the GOP's ideas. Especially disturbing is the fact that he seems to be at his best verbally when critiquing president Obama's clothing choices or discussing hip-hop, and at his weakest when discussing policy. Not all of it was bad. Much of what he had to say was very good and very necessary. The real test will be to see how he carries his ideas out in the real world, and how well he puts together the GOP's ground game.

A few people have pointed to the special election in New York as the first test of the Steele reign. I think that's a bad call, whether the Republican candidate wins or loses. A single election can hinge on so many things. The personalities involved, candidate debate flubs, reputations built up over years, etc. Many of these are things an RNC Chair has no control over, especially an RNC Chair who is still hiring staff and unpacking his boxes. All he can do right now is throw money at the race, and while helpful, money is only one piece of a winning formula. We really won't know what Steele is made if until the next real election cycle in 2010, when the aggregate results should give us a picture untainted by the vagaries of any individual race.

Until then, I can't shake the feeling that we may have elected the anti-Dean. Howard Dean was an angry little man who couldn't open his mouth without saying something ugly (not that the media reported it). But, he was GOOD. He rebuilt the Democratic Party's ground game, put money into hot political prospects, and capitalized on the discontent of a party out of power. His role wasn't the only one that led to Democratic victories in the last two cycles, but he made sure that the party was prepared to capitalize on everything else that was going on.

Steele on the other hand, seems chaotic. He got caught by the Limbaugh questions because he didn't prepare beforehand with a press agent. He got hammered over this interview because he didn't sit down and decide how to correctly express what he wanted to say about his birth mother beforehand (or worse, he didn't think through what would happen if a Republican Party chair admitted he was pro-choice for the first time in a GQ interview). Given a choice between a man who sounds angry, but gets the groundwork done, or a man who sounds charming, but seems chaotic, I'd choose the former every time. I hope I'm wrong. The only thing worse than the Republican Party's first black chairman being bad at his job would be the Republican Party FIRING it's first black chairman for being bad at his job.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jindal Tells Peta To Stop Squawking

I grow to love Bobby Jindal more and more every time I hear about him. He even managed to work in a cheesy chicken pun.

Shoe-Thrower Gets 3 Years

Some people are complaining it's unfair. Really? He attempted to physically assault a foreign head of state. Despite my disgust with the Prime Minister of China (who the article notes recieved similar treatment at Cambridge) and his regime's human rights violations, I think his assaulter should be jailed too. You don't commit assault and call it "free speech". My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins and all that. Otherwise, where does it end? Was turning fire hoses on civil rights marchers in the South protected speech just because those who did it disagreed? Obviously not.

Fleischer vs Chris Mattews

They went at it in this interview. Personally, I think Fleischer got the better of the discussion, ("I'm just wondering, do you ever let your guests answer without interrupting Chris?" "What's really troublesome is why you would twist my words. When I said we were 'wrong' you said that I acknowledged we were 'dishonest'. Chris, that reveals a lot about you.") because Chris Matthews was so eager to score points that he misstated Ari's positions in obvious ways, but feel free to judge for yourselves.

One point that I do wish Ari had hit on (not that I could have done any better in a live interview) about Iran is that Iran has no buffer RIGHT NOW (other than 100,000+ American troops, of course), but that's only a short-term situation. The Iraqi military currently numbers about 250,000, with another 340,000 police. Not only are they improving in quality rapidly, but they now have access to modern arms (as opposed to the surplus eastern-bloc crap they had under Saddam). They already got 280 M1 tanks ordered. (For those non-military types, the M1A1 is the world's premier main battle tank. During the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion, we didn't lose a single M1 to Saddam's Soviet-surplus tanks. Their rounds literally BOUNCED OFF in some cases.) Does anyone really believe that over the next couple of years the Iraqi army won't be every bit the match for Iran that they were under Saddam and then some?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chimp Plans Ahead

As terrifying as I find it to learn that chimps are far more organized than I'd previously feared, can you really blame him? I don't like it when people laugh at my dancing either...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

60 Minutes Interview With Bobby Jindal

Watch CBS Videos Online
One bad speech aside, he's still pretty freakin' awesome. I like him so much that I almost hope he never runs for president.

Rush Steele Dustup

It seems that the new RNC Chair decided to tangle with the Maha Rushi on CNN.

Those who consider Rush to be a plague on the Republican Party were delighted...until Steele apologized for his remarks. Of course, that wasn't before Rush milked it for all it was worth by hitting the man of Steele with all of his considerable rhetorical weight. As a fan of both men, I figure, why not throw my two cents in on top of all the other commentary?

I was born, raised, and currently live in Sacramento. This was Rush's home base before going national. He's the reason my dad (who used to be a socialist and voted TWICE for Carter) now calls himself a conservative. I grew up listening to him, constantly amazed by the innovative responses he had to political issues. It used to fascinate me to hear everyone talk about a political problem using the exact same approaches, then turn over to Rush and hear him go off at a completely new and fresh angle. He alternates between insightful and deliberately absurd because THAT'S HOW HE ROLLS and he likes it that way. Most of the people who feel so comfortable criticizing him have never actually sat and listened to a full show. Instead they feel comfortable making judgements based on clips and partial quotes.

Steele on the other hand, is a much more serious man. He's bright, thoughtful, and charismatic in a completely different way than Rush is. He's the kind of person a party needs running it. Rush is no more built to run a national party than William Perry was built to perform ballet. But, by the same token, Steele couldn't do what Rush does. Both men are healthy for the party, as long as they stay in their respective wheelhouses.

The reason I posted the clip is because most news reports only play Steele's more incendiary language, calling Rush an "entertainer" and his comments "ugly". They don't record the earlier defense of Rush's comments, or the fact that Hughley was telling Steele that Rush was the leader of the party (imply that Steele is simply playing second fiddle). First of all, despite what Hughley says, I have never heard ANY Republican leader, INCLUDING RUSH (in his more serious moments) claim that the "harmless, lovable fuzzball" with "talents on loan from God" is or has ever been the leader of the party. Does Rush have a wider audience than most party leaders? Of course. Is he a bright, articulate popularizer of conservative ideas. Yes. But he's no party leader, nor does he seriously think he is. I can guarantee that he loves this attention though. I wonder what the ratings spike over this little flap will be...

Steele knows that, but he also knows that the position of RNC chair is only as big as the man who fills it. Without a Republican president, the leader of the party is the man who takes up that mantle. It could be a Republican governor, the House and Senate Minority leadership, or the RNC Chair. It could even be someone who holds no elected office. Look at the influence Bill Buckley had without ever holding an official position within the party. Steele needs to assert himself in order to fill that vacuum, he cannot just assume the position asserts it's own authority. That's what he was trying to do here. I think he did it poorly, and I think Rush deserved an apology for being called "ugly", but I don't think Steele was wrong to make the point that he did, even if it was somewhat ham-fisted.