Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

As the old year passes away and the new one comes into sight, it is time to pass warm greetings to all.

I took my wife out to dinner this evening, after Mass (don't people know the First of January is a Holy Day of Obligation?).

While we where at dinner, and as we contemplated desert, we got a phone call on our cell phone from a friend of ours who is going overseas in a few days to be part of the Army's involvement in the Long War. She is going as a civilian, but she is taking body armor. One of the things we don't often think about is that we have a lot of civilians involved in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere, I am sure). These are not just people from the Foreign Service. There are DoD civilians and civilians from other Government agencies and there are tens of thousands of contractor personnel. All helping with the Long War, all working in some way to reduce the threat of terrorism and to help other nations that are having their problems, some worse than others. So here is best wishes for the new year to our friend S. And, yes, I ordered the book you recommended.

And, I notice that Alyssa has signed up as a follower. She is doing what I should have done years ago--gone to law school at night. I wish her the best of luck in the new year.

In fact, the best of luck to all of us.

Happy New Year

Regards -- Cliff

Outback Question of the Week

To quote Lowell Democrat Dick Howe from his eponymously named blog:  "Yesterday’s appointment of ____________ started a firestorm of controversy that will surely not end without an interpretation of our constitution."

Yes, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has appointed someone to completed President Elect Barack Obama's term as the Junior Senator from Illinois.

So, who is this mystery man, this formed Attorney General for the Great State of Illinois, who has been appointed to the US Senate?

And, what does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say about this appointment? Will it stand?

And, what was the last US Supreme Court ruling in this area?

We will be looking for an answer on Saturday evening, but everyone is free to provide hints, comments or the actual answers in the comments section, below, when they read this post (That is to say, this is an "open book" test and hints to the target audience are allowed.).

Regards -- Cliff

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hoping for Respect

It is tough to get respect. Here cartoonist Scott Stantis takes a whack at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

It is possible that Mr Stantis is a bit unfair to our fair Commonwealth, in that the recent and infamous Eminent Domain ruling, Kelo v. City of New London, was decided by the US Supreme Court. Homes were taken by the government to support a development effort that included "a resort hotel and conference center, a new state park, 80–100 new residences (which is now down to a mix of 14 rental townhouses and 66 apartments in a three-story building), and various research, office, and retail space." (Wikipedia, already linked) The Supreme Court vote was 5 to 4, with the dissent being O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas.

But, our own Supreme Judicial Court has given us some interesting rulings and the latest nominee (who is called independent by The Boston Globe) is said to be of the same cloth as the others on the court. That said, the Globe does have this paragraph
But some of Gants's rulings have been controversial, including a case in Lowell when he allowed a man who had been convicted four times on drunken-driving charges to get behind the wheel for medical appointments.
This seems seems a poor decision when we are trying to get people who drive under the influence off the roads. Toward the end of my previous incarnation a DWI was the end of your career as an Air Force Officer.

Back to Prickly City, the young girl is Carmen and the coyote pup is Winslow. One of the part time characters in this strip is Kevin, the Lost Bunny of the Apocalypse. This is an interesting and funny cartoon strip--although it might be a bit to the right for some.

Regards -- Cliff

The Tragedy of War

There is no doubt that there is tragedy in war. With over 4,000 US dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have paid a price. And so has our enemies. And so have the bystanders--the civilians caught in the crossfire, including those killed by roadside and market place bombs, often suicide bombs.

But, war is but one alternative available to the policy makers of a nation's government. Reporter Helen Thomas mentions another alternative in her column "Clinton Could Be A Peacemaker," that appeared on Boston Channel 5 website, in early December.
Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, supported the ruthless international sanctions against Iraq, depriving Iraqi children of needed medicine. According to the World Health Organization some 250,000 children died as a result of the U.S. restrictions.
First off, I thought they were UN sanctions, not just US sanctions.

The number 250,000 dead due to an embargo in the 1990s seems like a large number. But, if that many children died due to lack of medicine (and, one suspects, clean water, etc), then it is likely that a fairly large number of older people succumbed also. And then there were those President Hussein personally killed or ordered killed for his own purposes.

This raises a question. The embargo was in place because, supposedly, people in that period (the 1990s) thought that President Saddam Hussein posed a risk to peace by the possession or development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

So, what do you think about this 1990s solution to the supposed threat from Iraq? I offer some options:
  1. The embargo was painful, but necessary--WMD are a danger to the survival of mankind
  2. I never believe anything Helen Thomas says--these numbers are bogus
  3. What happens in other countries is not of concern to me--they need to learn to conform to agreed international norms
  4. We will just deal with the use of WMD on the day--and it may never happen
  5. Going to war might not have been such a bad idea after all--but then I am a Neocon
Sometimes there just aren't any good alternatives. We credit an embargo with regime change in South Africa. The North's Blockade of the Confederacy helped win the US Civil War. The British Blockade of Germany in WWI was key to winning the war (along with the US entry, after Russia dropped out).

I am one of those who questions Ms Thomas' numbers. On the other hand, embargoes are a slow and painful way of creating change inside the embargoed nation. They are not, as some would suggest, a painless way of making a nation change its policies--otherwise it wouldn't work. The British blockage of Germany reduce the people to thin rations and probably led to hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in Germany during the influenza epidemic in 1918/1919, due to the induced malnutrition.

Taking policy decisions is hard business. So is finding the truth about them.

Regards  --  Cliff

Holidays Continue

Sunday was the last day of Hanukkah and today, Monday, was the first day of the new Islamic Year. And, Monday, the 26th of January, is the Chinese New Year, ushering in the year of the Ox.

And, of course, on Wednesday evening, the 31st of December, we ring out the old year in our Western tradition, with January First being the first day of the new year.

In the mean time, Kwanza continues its march across the calendar.

So, many traditions are melding together and we are in the enviable position of being able to enjoy them all. I thought this article, by Professor I. J. Singh, a Sikh teaching anatomical sciences at New York University, gives us an nice view of this diversity.

At the same time, we must realize and accept that not all traditions are equally valued in this great nation of ours, and not all traditions need to be honored. For example, there are honor killings. This is a custom that should not be allowed to implant itself on our soil, and in our soul.

Diversity with responsibility.

Regards -- Cliff

PS And then there is this from The International Herald Tribune, one of my favorite newspapers from my time in Europe. The article, by John Vinocur, is "From the left, a call to end the current Dutch notion of tolerance." In sum, "if you come here, become a Dutchman and take responsibility for what it means to be a Dutchman." Diversity with responsibility.

Monday, December 29, 2008

President Bush Leaving

One of the problems with being a blogger is that if opens up new avenues to respond to OpEd pieces one does not agree with. In the past, if I didn’t agree with Ms Eileen McNamara, I would EMail her and it would go into some mysterious process. I might even get a response.

Now it is different. I can put out my comments for all the world to see, and mail her, or some other OpEd writer, the appropriate URL. But, then there is the courtesy angle. Is it impolite to object to someone’s OpEd piece in a public forum without having the courtesy to send them your opinion first? Balanced against that is the fact that if I write a letter to the editor it is like doing a blog post, but with less probability of the thoughts appearing in public.

In this case I have decided to go the blog route, since I have been thinking about the larger subject of President Bush's last days in office for a couple of weeks.

On Sunday Ms McNamara's piece, "Bush's No Regrets Tour," was published in The Boston Globe.

Ms McNamara second paragraph asks:
So when the president - he's still the president? -popped up on television, I would repeat what Republicans told Democrats in 2000 after the Supreme Court ruling made George W. Bush president: Get Over It. Snap Out Of It. When he made a cameo appearance to socialize another piece of the economy, I silently counted the days of his tenure, backward.
Of course he is still there. He is our President until noon on the 20th of January. And, perhaps, as Ms McNamara says, he is our worst President ever—although I tend to think that he is not the worst and that James Buchannan and Andrew Johnston are strong competitors for that honor. On the other hand, Ms McNamara does cite a source (Princeton historian Sean Wilentz) and there is also the opinion of Polly Toynbee, a fellow Column writer, from the Manchester Guardian. Further, Ms Toynbee holds that Richard Nixon loses the “honor” in that while he had personal failings, he was a follower and reinforcer of FDR’s economic and social policies for the American People.

Like everyone else, "I blame George Bush" for all that has gone wrong over the last eight years. But, I also realize that after the 2000 election he was never going to be able to play the role of “uniter.” While not as bad as 1860, the bitterness after 2000 was very strong. And, President Bush did some things that I strongly disagreed with, starting with his selection of his running mate.

But, that said, he has done some good things in the last eight years. On balance, I do not see him as our worst president ever.

Ms McNamara quotes President Bush as saying "this isn't one of the presidencies where you ride off into the sunset, you know, kind of waving goodbye."

I think that is correct. He will not be missed by large numbers as he leaves the Nation’s Capital. I think that as a symbolic act he should forego the usual helicopter ride to Andrews and the flight home on the Presidential Airplane.

Rather, he should have his pickup truck brought up from Crawford and parked on the East side of the Capital. He could pay some young man from St Aloysius Church to keep an eye on it Inauguration Day. When the ceremony is over and President Obama is on his way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, President Bush would escort Laura Bush to the pickup and help her into the passenger seat. He would then walk around to the driver side and thank the young man for watching the pickup and hand him a twenty, or maybe more. Then he would open the door, reach into his breast pocket with his right hand, withdrawing a tin badge, which he would drop onto the rode. Then he would swing up into the driver’s seat, close the door, start the engine and drive off, heading south, across the Frederick Douglass bridge, onto I-295, then on to I-495, over to I-66 and then on down to Texas.

It would be good symbolism.

For a slightly different view, here is the Blog Post of military historian Mark Grimsley, an avowed Democrat and someone who did not vote for Governor Bush in 2000. He starts out saying: "I’ve never been a fan of President George W. Bush. I don’t expect ever to be." But, he is not a bitter as Ms McNamara appears to be.

Regards -- Cliff

Israel vs Hamas

How can we not talk about this ongoing tragedy? On the other hand, is there anything new and relevant to say?

The cease fire came to an end and Hamas resumed firing rockets into Israel. Israel responded with major air attacks and the threat of a ground invasion.

Even if we agree that Israel was in the right to respond, there is the question of proportionality.

But, in the end, it gets down to the question of whether a "two-state" solution will work in that part of the world. Can an independent Israel and an independent Palestine exist side by side. We have been heading in this direction for years. President Clinton thought it was at hand by the end of his presidency. It didn't happen. President Bush specifically made the "two-state" solution US policy and then tried benign neglect for a while. That didn't do it.

The Washington Post gives us two headlines this afternoon, "Israeli Defense Minister Refers to 'All-Out War'" and "Food and Medical Supplies Grow Scarce in the Gaza Strip." The growing shortage of supplies should not be a surprise to us.

This may be an opportune time for the Israelis to act--it is in the interregnum between the US election and the US inauguration. On the other hand, for Hamas it might be opportune also, in that they might hope that the incoming President, seeing the human disaster that is unfolding, will put pressure on Israel to concede more. But surely they don't believe that the new President will pressure Israel to fold and go elsewhere? That would seem to be a non-starter. Yet, the disestablishment of Israel does seem to be the Hamas position.

And maybe this isn't about us at all. Elections are coming up in Israel in February. Hamas is in a constant struggle with the official President of Palestine. If all politics is local, per the late Speaker, Tip O'Neill, then maybe this is just a local squabble.

However, the reverberations of the rockets and bombs being exchanged can be felt in faraway places.

For the rest of us, in those faraway places, right now there is only prayer.

Regards -- Cliff

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sam Huntington, RIP

I missed this over Christmas. Professor Sam Huntington passed away on the 24th of December, on Martha's Vineyard.

I learned about Professor Huntington when I took a course on Civil Military Relations from the History Department, when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. The two texts were Sam Huntington's The Soldier and the State: %nbsp:the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations and Morris Janowitz'The Professional Soldier:  A Social and Political Portrait.

The Harvard University Gazette Online report on Professor Huntington's passing away includes this:
Huntington's first book, "The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations," published to great controversy in 1957 and now in its 15th printing, is today still considered a standard title on the topic of how military affairs intersect with the political realm. It was the subject of a West Point symposium last year, on the 50th anniversary of its publication.
When I was a cadet, taking the Civil Military Relations course in about 1963 my two professors--they were team teaching--told us that the publication of The Soldier and the State was the reason Professor Huntington went to Columbia University's Institute of War and Peace Studies in late 1959. He had been denied tenure at Harvard due to the book.

But, to Harvard's credit, they did realize the talent and did grant him tenure and there he remained from the late 1960s until his retirement last year.

I still have my copy of The Soldier and the State.

The issue of Civil Military relations is still a hot topic. Today I would look to Dr Richard Kohn, a Harvard Graduate, with a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, for authoritative commentary. A contribution co-written with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers is here. A more recent contribution can be found here.

In a way this brings us to President Elect Obama and about how he will interact with his military. I don't see a coup in the offing--far from it. But a wrong footed start could make the relationship difficult. After an unfortunate incident in the White House with General Barry McCaffrey, early in the Clinton Administration, where a staffer dismissed the General as unworthy of being talked to, there was a feeling in the Pentagon that the military was in for a rough time. President Clinton, to his credit, reached out to the military and to General McCaffrey in particular, to correct that mistaken impression. General McCaffrey was called by President Clinton's Chief of Staff, Mack McLarty, to assure General McCaffrey that he was respected. Writer Jay Nordlinger quotes the President as saying: "We weren't raised in Hope, Arkansas, to disrespect the military."

And, General McCaffrey reached back. Civil Military relations in the United States are a two-way street. Both sides have to work at it.

General McCaffrey went from two stars to four and then retired from the Army to become President Clinton's Drug Czar.

I can't help but think that scholars like Sam Huntington and Morris Janowitz have helped the military have a better understanding of Civil Military relations and thus helped us better deal with the frictions that are bound to occur.

And this doesn't even talk to the contributions Professor Huntington made with regard to the discussion about what is happening in our current world and the possible "Clash of Civilizations" that is occurring at this very time. Professor Huntington will be missed, by those who know his works and by those whose national security is a little better off because of those works and the discussions they fostered.

Regards  --  Cliff

Friday, December 26, 2008

Before we Leave this Topic

Before we leave the topic of Art, Artists and the People, today's Boston Globe had an OpEd, titled "How the arts can nourish a struggling nation." The author, Thor Steingraber, is an opera director and Harvard University's Hauser Center Fellow for Arts, Culture, and Media.

The issue was the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The writer wondered who President Elect Obama would select to replace Mr Dana Gioia as Chairman of the NEA.

Mr Steingraber, while pointing out the good that Mr Gioia has done, tells us that the NEA needs a strategic plan (who doesn't) and that we don't spend enough on the NEA:
The Endowment's annual budget is less than the Pentagon's cost for a single fighter plane. And for every per-capita dollar the NEA spends, France's Ministry of Culture spends more than $13,000.
What he doesn't tell us is that for this current fiscal year, Fiscal Year 2008, the NEA budget is $144.7 million. The New York Times has a single F-22, coming off the production line at just under the cost of the NEA. Others quote a higher cost. On the other hand, the F-18, being produced for the Navy and Marine Corps costs, about $60 million a piece, so you could get two for the price of the NEA. I will point out, the F-22 is a thing of beauty.

The thing that I thought was most interesting was the comparison based on population. If I understand Mr Steingraber correctly, France spends about 380 Billion US dollars a year on the Arts. That is, in the US the NEA budget works out to about 47 cents per person. Thus, if the French spend $13,000 per capita more than the US spends per capita, then in France they spend about $6147 per person on the arts. With a Metropolitan France population of about 62 million people, that comes out to $380 Billion, which is about half the size of the US Defense Budget. With a French GDP of just over $2.5 Trillion dollars, the Ministry of Culture must be controling over 14% of the GDP. By comparison, the French Defense Budget is 2.4%.

I am of two minds about the National Endowment for the Arts, but it has been around for a while and I am dubious about killing it outright. On the other hand, I am not prepared to give it the cost of a Squadron of F-22s each year.

However, where I take issue with Mr Steingraber, is when he says:
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a handful of artists were accused of subverting American culture. Robert Mapplethorpe became the cause celebre, and so began the "culture wars." Social conservatives and fiscal watchdogs joined forces in an offensive against the arts. Their battle cry: Art was responsible for the decay of American values, and why should American tax dollars pay for it?
I am not so sure that the "culture wars" began with the reaction to Mr Mapplethorpe's sexually explicit photos or photographer Andres Serrano's infamous crucifix in a jar. I think that such artistic artifacts were another offensive in the "culture wars" and finally the other side woke up and realized they were under attack.

Art should sometimes just give us enjoyment. Visiting a display of Impressionist paintings is very pleasurable for me. On the other hand, Art should sometimes challenge. But, when those challenged push back, that should be expected and accepted also. Not everything done in the name of art is makes good sense. Not everything lampooned by art deserves protection from lampooning. Let there be a free and open discussion and let us not hide this cultural conflict by suggesting that it is merely "Self-appointed censors like Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan." A lot of us reacted to Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe by saying that they did not represent the culture that we loved and wanted to support.

Artists should have the freedom to express their art. The voters should have the freedom, through their elected representatives, to curtail payment to those who have gone too far--not a little too far but a big step too far. The best is when art competes freely in the market place and the people vote with their wallets.

Regarding art causing us to think, that is happening this week with the movie, The Reader. Both Ann Althouse, Law Professor, and Eugune Volokh, Law Professor, have been blogging about Ms Kate Winslet's interview with a movie flogging site.

I wrote several inches on the "interesting" part of the Winslet interview, but then cut it. Professor Althouse and Professor Volokh did a good job with the issue. And, the part I had written constituted TMA. I will say that I am with those who think Ms Winslet is wrong in her views on one of the issues that come up in the movie--and issue she believes does not exist. And, I will be skipping the movie.

Regards -- Cliff

Art and Artists

This mornings Boston Globe told us that Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter had passed away.  On page A-1 Mr Pinter got the bigger splash, but Ms Kitt came back in the Obits, as my wife pointed out to me.

Fortunately, my wife pointed it out to me, because I was in high dungeon about Mr Pinter, who, as Roger Simon says, "hated us," getting the big billing. I was going to write to the editor. One of the great things about having freedom of speech and freedom of the press is I can write a letter to the editor--and in the case of The Boston Globe even get it recorded in their weekly chart of letters. That said, I am still not sure what the horizontal axis on the Globe weekly letter chart means. I think it needs to be explained.

I have liked Eartha Kitt ever since my parents bought the record of "New Faces of 1952." On it Eartha Kitt was a terrific singer. If I had never heard Edith Piaf, it would have been enough to have heard Eartha Kitt.

But, back to Roger Simon, his Christmas post on Pajamas Media explores the question of art and politics. Having been taken to the woodshed early in my blogging career (last month, I think) for panning a show before I saw it, I am using Mr Simon as my point man on Pinter. The original post is here and below is a fairly extensive quote from Mr Simon.

What we are facing here, I submit, is what we might call the Ezra Pound Perplex or, alternatively, the Leni Riefenstahl Dilemma? Forget the Nobel Prize, which has indeed become a racket, assuming it was ever anything else. Pinter’s death raises a more important question. What do we do with great artists whose political ideas are anathema to us? How do we regard their work?

I don’t think we have much choice but to take it on a case-by-case basis. Riefenstahl is easy. She put her immense cinematic talent (her gifts were larger, I think, than either Pound’s or Pinter’s) at the behest of the most heinous of genocidal dictators. She deserves consignment to the Ninth Ring of Artistic Hell. Of course, Pound was to some extent similar, enamored as he apparently was with Italian fascism. But, perhaps because I always found his poetry too prolix for my taste (or intelligence), I remain somewhat agnostic on his confusing politics. Nevertheless, they leave a distinct distaste in my mouth that has prevented me from delving into Pound further.

Pinter is many degrees different. His politics, I think, was mostly governed by chic, veering as he did to the left in the 1980s to be part of the typical London theater crowd (cf. Vanessa Redgrave). It’s not surprising really that his work was already declining at that point. I would imagine that he was tremendously frustrated by that decline. Pinter was a minimalist and it’s hard for minimalists to evolve without eradicating what they do. So he became something of a crotchety old political man, attacking Thatcher, Blair or whoever else he could blame. But does that invalidate his previous work? Not for me. Art is a larger tent than that. I will forgive Harold Pinter his political excrescences on his death.
So, I give due respect to Mr Pinter for his talent, but the truth is, I like Eartha Kitt so much more.

As an aside, Harold Pinter's widow is Lady Antonia Fraser. To quote a commenter on Roger Simon's blog: "there is a wonderful, interesting historian. I love her books and recommend them highly."

Regards : -- : Cliff

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good King Wenceslaus

The 26th of December is "Boxing Day" in many English Speaking nations, like our neighbors to the North, Canada. That said, if, in some areas, the 26th falls on the weekend, the day may be shifted to Monday.

The 26th is also feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. (In the Eastern Church, the date is the 27th of December.)

What sticks in my mind is that this is the day when Good King Wenceslaus looked out and saw a poor man gathering winter fuel. The story was put to music. This is a very nice rendition, although some of the pictures look more Dutch than Czech.

I found the lyrics here, and copied them below:

Good King Wenceslaus

Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen.
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

Hither page and stand by me if thou knowst it telling
Yonder peasant, who is he, where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain.

Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pinelogs hither
Thou and I will see him dine when we bear them thither
Page and monarch forth they went, forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament, and the bitter weather.

Sire the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps my good page, tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master's steps he trod where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed
Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Regards   --   Cliff

Christmas Cheer

Not everyone enjoys pictures at Christmas. As the image below shows, these two would obviously rather be doing something else with their time.

Are they maybe thinking about Santa arriving during the night?

Regards -- Cliff


I got an EMail from my Brother Lance yesterday in which he asked me, amongst other things, "Where is the Christmas blog?" At least he checks in on the blog once in a while.

I EMailed back that I had done a Christmas Eve post, but, in truth, that is not a Christmas post. So, here is my Christmas post.

It goes back to yesterday and playing poke. As I mentioned, Bob D, who left the firm for new challenges, was on vacation and came in with his wife, Lori, who still works with us. At one point in the game it was down to Bob and Lori, the rest of us having folded. I mentioned a story about a couple a Bitburg AB, back in about 1968 or so, who had been in a group of married couples, playing Risk. One spouse made an alliance with his wife so she would not attack him and then when his turn came he wiped her out. This resulted in a very strained relationship for a while--and probably something that still comes up from time to time, assuming they are still married.

This AM, up before my wife, who played for three long Masses yesterday, I went to check the five comics I read on line. The first is always User Friendly, about some folks in a high tech company. This cartoon, pointing to the association of peace and Christmas, caused me to laught out loud.

It is interesting how much the Authorized Version (King James Bible) influences our speech and thinking.

Luke 2:14

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Peace -- Cliff

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Outback Question of the Week

The Question of the week is going to be a little obscure, but it is an interesting and important topic.

And congratulations to those who had the answer on Saturday evening. And congratulations to the "Flying Dutchman" for also knowing the answer--but he has an advantage. He had to do some studying to get his US Citizenship. Most of us were just born here.

The New York Times Science Writer, Mr John Tierney, wrote a (second) piece on President Elect Obama's choice for Science Advisor, in which he noted that the presumptive Science Advisor, Dr John P Holdren, had once made a bet with Economist Julian Simon:
My post on John P. Holdren’s appointment as presidential science advisor prompted complaints that I was making too much of Dr. Holdren’s loss of a bet to the economist Julian Simon about the price of some metals. But that bet wasn’t just about metals. It was about a fundamental view of how adaptable and innovative humans are, and whether a rich modern society is “sustainable.” Dr. Holdren and his collaborator, Paul Ehrlich, were the pessimists.
A discussion of the bet can be found in Wikipedia, of course.

Mr Tierney took the mickey out of Dr Holdren over being on the losing side of this bet on the price of metals. The question is, did losing change Dr Holdren's understanding of economics and sustainability. That may be too hard to figure out, so the real question is, what is the implication of the bet for Dr Holdren's views on what science can accomplish and where scientific investment should go over the next four years.

This is an open ended question and there is no "correct" answer, but it should be part of our general conversation about the future of "Planet Earth."

One side of this is the change in oil prices. The price of crude oil and gasoline were going through the roof and then people decided they didn't need to travel as much and the price has dropped remarkably. Oil is in the mid $30s (down from $147.27 a barrel on 11 July 2008) and gasoline is down in the $1.60s (The Getty Station in Tewksbury is reported to be selling at $1.559 a gallon).

Put another way (per Wired Magazine), the Government in the Netherlands is betting $US 1.5 billion a year for the next 100 years, that it can build up the dikes sufficiently to hold back a 1 in 100,000 chance of a breach of their water control system in some areas. Is this a reasonable bet? Is this a case of humans being adaptable or humans being arrogant?

As an aside, the area to be filled in by the new Dutch system seems to include the south side of Vlieland Island, which is the home of the Vliehors Bombing Range, where I have dropped a number of practice bombs. Below is a photo of someone making a low pass over the range. It is not me--I think I only went to Vliehors in the F-4 Phantom. Some day I may tell my story about flying up to that range with "Wayne the Whale," when our unit was being subjected to a "higher headquarters" inspection. Ah, to do it one more time...

Regards -- Cliff


Christmas Eve

There are those saying there is a war against Christmas, and in some manner there probably is, but on this Christmas Eve it seems that the spirit of Christmas is alive and well.

I stopped by the Rite Aid at about 1115 this morning and there was a lot of "Merry Christmas" and "Thank You" and "After You" going on. It was a pleasure to be out and amongst the folks and see the sharing of the spirit of the time.

When I got to work I found that one of our former employees, Bob D., a software engineer who has moved on to new challenges, had indeed come back for our weekly Texas Hold'em game at lunch time. And, he was in a giving mood--giving up more chips that he took in. But, the point is that it was a real pleasure to see him and find out how he is directly, and not just through his wife, who is also a software engineer (and poker player) and still works for our company.

And, I understand, the Immaculate Conception Church was full for the 1600 (4:00 PM) Christmas Vigil Mass--the Mass geared to the children. That would be almost 2000 folks participating. I had the honor to be the reader at the 1800 (6:00 PM) Mass and I guesstimate that there were 400 to 500 there for that Service. So, a lot of people who might not otherwise make it to Mass every Sunday still honor this feast of the Nativity.

I would say that Christmas is alive and well and likely to survive at least another 12 months.

Merry Christmas to all.

Regards -- Cliff

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Future of Newspapers

Marie Sweeney posted to the Richard Howe Blog Tuesday AM, talking about the situation in Denver with the Rocky Mountain News. (As an aside, when I lived in Colorado the newspaper was known as the Rocky Mountain Spotted Rag, after the disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). There are three comments to the post. The first and third is by someone who calls himself "Prince Charming." The middle (second) one is by yours truly. (The author of the post, Marie Sweeney, who often publishes at the Blog. Marie lives in Tewksbury and is active in Democratic Party Politics.)

Then Richard Howe comes up with a discussion of if a focus on local news is the hope of newspapers. He does this by talking about a new Boston Globe web site, "Your Town," which is currently limited to Newton, Waltham and Needham. And, there is the whiff of a law suit by someone who thinks they are being ripped off by The Globe.

For sure, someone needs to be thinking about the future of news. My understanding is that The Sun is doing some thinking.

Regards -- Cliff

Living with Chaos

As my friend who sent this out said--if it isn't true, it should be. (He claims his source is probably Reader's Digest, from many years ago.)

My friend wrote:
I have to wonder, if you "crashproof" your life, what are you missing out on?

There was a (probably apocryphal) story about Alexander Fleming being taken on a tour of a modern research lab in the 1940s. The young man who was escorting him around pointed out the cleanliness of the facilities, the extent of the facilities, the super-organization.

"Think of all that you might have discovered, if you'd had a place like this!" he gushed.

"Probably not penicillin," was Fleming's dry reply.

There are two ways to deal with chaos. One is to try to prevent it, and limit it when it occurs. The other is to recognize its inevitability and ride it. There was the German general who observed that Americans made war well, because we are accustomed to, and comfortable with, chaos.*
I couldn't have said it better. And, I think it applies to families as well. Sure, there is the chaos of the children (and the spouse), but there is also the serendipity and what comes out of that chaos can often be turned to good. If you have everything under control and don't allow for spontaneity, you might well miss some good things in your life.

Good luck with your personal chaos over Christmas.

Regards -- Cliff

* I wonder if he is confusing that with the "German General" who said Americans are hard to fight since they neither know their own doctrine nor follow it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

NYT RIP '09?

Richard Howe has a related post on his Blog.

If true, this is not good news.

I found this little item at "Riehl World View" (Hat Tip to Instapundit). The key point is that a financial web site, 24/7 Wall Street, says that the New York Times is likely to disappear in 2009, with the assets going to News Corp (Rupert Murdoch). Here is the gist of it, via Pundita (who may be going into hiatus) to Reihl:
24/7 Wall St. looked at some of the largest and most well-known companies, reviewed their SEC filings if they are public, analyst reports, and media observations about their businesses and picked ten that probably won’t be around at the end of next year.

6) The New York Times (NYT) has to repay $400 million in debt in the first half of 2009. It does not have the money. It plans to mortgage its headquarters, but it is uncertain what that will bring in an uncertain real estate market. The firm’s Boston Globe and regional newspaper operations lose money, so they will be hard to sell. NYT is controlled by the Sulzberger family which has super-majority voting shares. That won’t matter much when the company runs out of money. Another big media operation, perhaps News Corp (NWS) which owns The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, will come in and auction off what it can and keep the flagship New York Times newspaper and website.
It is just analysis, and not truth. Maybe they read the public statements wrong, or the financial statements are wrong, or some luck will come the way of the NYT.

The problem is that if worst comes to worst we will be faced with the lost of the "newspaper of record" for the United States and the home for some very valuable writers, such as William Safire, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd and David Brooks. The New York Times is not just a newspaper. Founded in 1851, it has become a standard bearer. Its motto, "All the news that's fit to print," is an ideal for all newspapers. The loss of the New York Times would be like West Point closing. Sure, there are other sources of officers, but West Point provides the Army with an ideal that officers from ROTC and OCS can look up to and emulate. All adopt the motto--"Duty, Honor, Country." So it is with the New York Times. "All the News That's Fit to Print."

The Reihl site linked to Ed Driscoll, who had the following episode of "Silicon Graffiti, "The Red Queen's Race." This talks to how media has changed since the 1920s, back when the world was in black and white.

Much as I like the Drudge Report, I know there have to be solid news gathering institutions for Matt Drudge to link to. I worry about them going away. But, I would not put any limits on the Internet just because I couldn't see the future clearly. I have a certain amount of faith in the market place, notwithstanding the current recession.

Regards -- Cliff

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter

With Christmas approaching I thought I would share this hymn, out of the UK. It is the Gloucester Cathedral choir and congregation, and my source, "The Anchoress," notes "The Anglicans know how to do this…". For sure we couldn't match this at the Immaculate Conception Parish at this time.

And, frankly, never could I match it. My wife's words to me are something like "Sing sweet and low, far, far away."

Here it is on YOUTUBE. With subtitles in English.

The Anchoress' post is here.

I will be looking for a rendition of Good King Wenceslaus for Boxing Day.

Regards -- Cliff

Auto Bailout

There are two points about the auto bailout that I have not seen well discussed in our regional paper.

On the one hand, we are not talking about the fact that the people in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee have forgone tax revenue to attract auto manufacturing, albeit from foreign owned nations. The gave up additional tax revenues in terms of lower pay scales for the workers in those plants. Now they are asked to give up additional monies to pay for a bailout of the US big three. I am not saying we shouldn't bail out the big three (although a majority of those surveyed say we shouldn't), but I am saying that not everyone sees it the same way.

The other thing is that this is not just about us. President Bush gave GM and Chrysler $ Billion. What I hadn't noticed as that a day later Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced, along with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, loans of C$4 Billion ($US 3.3 Billion) to GM and Chrysler from Canada and the province of Ontario.
"In Ontario, we've got thousands of people and their families who rely on the auto industry to be on firm ground, so they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. ... No state or province employs more workers, and we're not going to give that up," said Premier Dalton McGuinty, speaking alongside Harper Saturday.
And then Ontario Premier McGuinty goes on:
McGuinty warned that the money will only be delivered after auto companies agree to meet conditions set by the federal and Ontario governments.

"Those conditions include limits on executive compensations. The loans will only stay in place beyond March 31, 2009 if our governments are satisfied there are solid restructuring plans in place and under way," said McGuinty.
It turns out it is not always about us

Regards -- Cliff

O Tannenbaum

Michael, from work, has been on me about "Christmas Trees." First he send me an EMail with a link to the "official" Boston Calendar. I think he got the link from the Desk of the Poker Philosopher. For sure the link he sent me several days ago has gone away. At any rate, this is what the Boston Calendar was "supposed" to have said:
Join the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) to kick off the start of the city’s holiday season! The singers will join Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino for one of the city’s most cherished events- the lighting of Boston’s official non-denominational holiday shrub, and trees throughout Boston Common, The Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The BCC is an accomplished children’s singing group with nine choirs and 300 singers ranging from ages seven to eighteen years old. BCC has performed at the Democratic National Convention, Governor Deval Patrick’s Inauguration, and with the Boston Pops. (My highlighting)
But, Michael was not done with me. He then asked our Admin Assistant to ask me if our little artificial tree in the office was to be called a Christmas Tree.

So, I figured I was being put to the test on this issue. Where would I stand?

We conferred (The Admin Assistant and yours truly) and the result was a sign proclaiming our Christmas Tree. Then George, from Marketing, wandered by and stuck his head in my office and asked about the feelings of others, who might be offended by a Christmas Tree. (Why do they come to me--I have been a lowly analyst for almost a year now.) I told George to think up a sign and I would put it up outside my office.

So, the answer is, I am for "Christmas Tree." I am for Christmas Tree even if Christopher Hitchens doesn't like it.

And, if one goes to the Boston Calendar today it talks to the "Globe Santa" and the lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah.

There was a time that Christmas was a banned holiday down in Boston (1659-1681). I am sure the folks thought, at the time, that they were doing the right and proper thing. But, today it is not banned and we are the better for that.

Frankly, I enjoy the fact of the various observances this time of year. I like buying some Hanukkah Gelt to give to those I know who are Jewish. While I don't know anything about Kwanzaa, I look forward to Ray Billingsley turning his comic strip, "Curtis," over to giving me a Kwanzaa story each year.

But, in celebrating our diversity, we should not look away from those traditions that allow other traditions to create that diversity.

All of this is not to say that if you asked me about my faith I won't tell you. But, it also means I may ask you about yours, or your reason for not having a "Faith."

And more important, I don't think it would be good for the Republic to have a government composed of Mandarins who shun religious expression while the vast majority of the citizens believe in a higher power, in one form or another.

This brings us back to Christopher Hitchens. On this issue, I think President Elect Obama made an interesting and acceptable choice.

Regards -- Cliff

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Proposed Director of National Intelligence

I am trying to beat the New Englander to the punch here. A sort of scoop.

Dana Priest of The Washington Post has an interesting article on Admiral Dennis Blair, who is rumored to be President Elect Obama's choice for Director of National Intelligence (the head guy in the labyrinth of intelligence agencies and bureaus in the Federal Government--even higher that the Director of the CIA). The web site for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is here. Incidentally, if you go to the site you will see a bluish rectangle with a stylized globe floating over a body of water. Click on it and you have the synopsis of the latest view of the world in 2025, including four possible futures. Clicking here takes you directly to the report.

Dana Priest is a reliable reporter on military affairs, so I assume this is the nominee.

Admiral Blair has held responsible positions on active duty and in retirement. His last job in uniform, as a four star admiral, was as the Commander of the US Pacific Command, with responsibility from our West Coast around into the Indian Ocean.

In retirement he went to a think tank--the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA). IDA is like the Rand Corporation or the Center for Naval Analysis--a place where the Department of Defense, and other government agencies, can obtain high powered analysis and sometimes "out of the box" thinking.

While on active duty, per the article, Admiral Blair served for a time as a liaison to the CIA, where he developed a dislike for "hidden agendas."

Intelligence is an interesting and frustrating area. With the many different intelligence organizations in the Federal Government, it is always easy to find one that was right about any given event. On the other hand, building a consensus makes for squeezing out the outliers, where truth may be hiding. I kid my oldest son, who has time as an Imagery Analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, that an Intelligence Analyst is someone with two points and a straight edge. That works until it doesn't. Knowing when the world changes is hard.

On top of knowing when the world changes, Admiral Blair will have to herd a lot of cats and those cats leak like a sieve when there is media around.

I wish the Admiral luck.

And, I note, I am, so far, fairly impressed with President Elect Obama's choices for important appointments in his Administration.

Regards -- Cliff

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Christmas Shoe

Friday was the office Christmas Party--that is to say the annual gathering of about 25 folks who are part of the Readiness and Training Division (about 80% of the folks are actually spread out across the fruited plain--Norfolk, VA; Radcliff, KY; Leavenworth, KS; Oklahoma City, OK; and back to Enterprise, AL and then down toward Clearwater, FL). It is pot-luck lunch and then a Yankee Gift Swap. I am now in the tradition of bringing a stapler. It is a long story, but one year I brought one and got a terrible ribbing and so have brought one ever since. People know it is coming. The trick is to know which gift is the stapler. This year I bought two mini-staplers and threw in a $10 scratch ticket that turned out to be worth $20.

After the lunch our VP said a few words and then it was over to the "Flying Dutchman," who runs the Yankee Gift Swap. Of course you would pick a Dutchman to be in charge of such an event.

Backing up a bit, I had earlier noted that Michael, who was at the table next to me, had pretty much slipped off his right shoe. I didn't make anything of it at the time, but did note it. As our Director started his review of the Yankee Gift Swap rules, Michael stood up and hurled his shoe at the boss. Missed him by just a little bit. Just like in the video we have seen out of Iraq, of an event The Boston Glob can't seem to get enough of, where Reporter Muntader al-Zaidi lobs two shoes at President Bush.

Our local rendition was met with laughter and clapping and everyone enjoyed the jest. Later, Michael assured me that where he comes from it is an act of honor to throw a shoe at someone. (Note that Michael is basically from Cambridge, where he went from to school from undergraduate education through PhD.) We are a group that is attuned to political events and enjoy a good jest and riposte. It is like being back in a Fighter Squadron. (And, for all I know, the whole thing might have been a staged prank. At any rate, it was great.)

The stapler went early and was never claimed by another. The small package, wrapped and stuffed in a nice Barmakian bag, was good camouflage. Just by happenstance, last year I fooled the same chap with a stapler inside a wine bottle.

The Boston Globe reports that the real shoe thrower has apologized and asked for a pardon. But, then, halfway through the article the reporter quotes the Brother, Dhargham al-Zaidi, as saying he doesn't believe it.

One wonders if reporter Muntader al-Zaidi would have thrown a shoe at President Saddam Hussein?

One also wonders if the trajectory of reporting is from being supportive of one's nation (think Edward R Murrow during the Blitz*) to being explicitly neutral** to now being explicitly political again?

Regards -- Cliff

* Sure, the Blitz was before we got into WWII, but he picked the "good guys" and told their story and I bet FDR loved it.
** Just the first part, about the Roundtable discussion that included Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace, as well as some Army officers, including General William Westmoreland.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oil and Security

As a follow-up to my previous post, I found this article in my EMail in-basket.

The source is the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), out of Philadelphia. It has been around since 1955.

The author of this article, Dr Bernard Munk, argues for three points:
  1. keep the price of oil high to the users of oil products!
  2. national energy policy should have a lockbox concept so that it is not abused by the “pet projects” of earmarking Congresspersons
  3. the policy needs to be implemented now and it must include a plan that forces rising taxes far into the indefinite future.
This is a pretty radical approach, but it makes important points that need to be considered.

For example, Dr Munk suggests that the T Boone Pickens Wind Farm proposal for West Texas is now in limbo due to the recent continuing drop in oil prices.

Remember, whether you believe in climate change or not, our large dependence on oil is a national security issue of great importance. Oil will not go on for ever.

Regards -- Cliff

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Outback Question of the Week

Congratulations on last week's question.

But this is this week and over the past weekend there was a small dust-up about when President Elect Barak Obama and his family could move into Blair House, the official guest house for the White House.

The normal date for the new President to move to Blair House would be 15 January. The Obamas wanted to move in two weeks early to accommodate their two daughters going to their new schools beginning in January.

The question is, who was the US President temporarily living at Blair House while the White House was being renovated and was the subject of an assassination attempt by a "nationalist" or "terrorist" (your choice) group.

The supplemental question is, what did said President do upon hearing gun shots outside his window (It should remind you of a Christmas Poem)?

Regards -- Cliff

Transportation--Not Yet an Emergency

Our Speaker of the House, Salvatore F DiMasi, has an OpEd in today's Boston Globe, in which he states that the problem is so vast and complex that it "could be solved only by breaking the traditional political mold." Then he goes on to sticking with the current mold.

The OpEd has a nice graphic next to it, with cars, minivans, taxis and buses falling off a cliff and getting all jumbled up. Sometimes I feel like we have been jumbled up by the legislature.

The problem with Speaker DeMasi's idea is that it is about reshuffling the transportation organizational boxes and cutting pensions. It is not about what is behind our transportation situation.

There are short range actions that need to be taken. But, there are also long term actions that need to be taken. The time for using the excuse about roads following the cow paths of centuries ago is now past.


We have a crumbling infrastructure and a huge debt. Thing will not be helped by the fact that the Commonwealth's Secretary of Transportation, Bernard Cohen, just tendered his resignation. Planning requires a certain degree of continuity. Changing masters means new ideas and new imprints. That delays planning.

For sure taxes are going to have to go up to pay down the bills. It is unlikely that in this Commonwealth, at this time, we are going to find the money elsewhere. We are talking billions.

I favor a gas tax, but one where those earning less than the median wage get it rebated. The fact is that people making less than the median wage have to get to work and those driving cars are likely to live further from work than those making above the median wage. The mechanism for the rebate should not be complicated or it becomes a tax in its own right. Thus, there will be some inequity. Squeezing out the last ounce of inequity will mean that the system is complicated and that will create an inequity all of its own. I realize that with all the competing interests on Beacon Hill it will be difficult to keep it simple, but the motto should be KISS--keep it simple, stupid.

Why not tolls, especially at the borders?
  • Tolls cost money to collect.
  • Tolls slow traffic (and that increases pollution).
  • Tolls make you believe you are taxing those who live elsewhere, but use our road. In fact, tolls at the border are just an additional tax on folks who don't live here but already pay income tax for the privilege of working here.
When we think about the Turnpike and the Big Dig we need to remember that any improvement ripples out to help traffic across the region. The Turnpike means that traffic on Route 20 is less than it might otherwise be.


The fact that the mixing bowl at I-93 and I-95 is a mess is not about cars. It is about jobs and housing. Transportation is merely the blood flow.

Back, before I was born, street cars were the thing and they worked. They worked because of the relationship between where people lived and where they worked. That relationship changed. I have lived in Lowell 14 years and a little bit and have worked for the same company, but in Wilmington, Andover, Sudbury and then again in Andover. That meant commuting and it meant commuting by auto.

Down at our Andover facility, near I-93 Exits 42 and 42, there are a number of major employers, including Raytheon and the IRS. While the LRTC has a route that goes past the Raytheon Andover facility and goes as far as the IRS, it does not drive by the DRC Andover facility. Thus, the people I work with drive to work.

Another problem we face is that work is not for a lifetime. In my Fathers time people tended to stay with the same firm until retirement. That is no longer the case. I am unusual for having worked for only two employers--the Air Force and DRC. Such is not the case anymore.

So, the average worker needs to consider that he or she is going to work for a variety of firms and in a variety of locations, some of which will not be accessible by public transportation.

Then there is the question of where to live. For many in Boston, attempting to upgrade from what they may see as less desirable housing to more desirable, there is the need to leapfrog the people who have already moved to the suburbs. Those places are taken and expensive. And the exurbs are populated, per the dictionary, by the affluent. So, this new group of people are finding themselves out beyond where the post-World War II infrastructure exists. For people working jobs in Eastern Massachusetts their homes may be in New Hampshire.


We are going to run out of oil at some point, probably within 100 years. That impacts my great-grandchildren--and maybe your grandchildren. We need to be asking about what our transportation will be like in 100 years. When we ask that we need to ask about land use and zoning. What will industry be like in 100 years? Will there be any manufacturing? Will there be any need to go to the office? I would like to think that someone in State Government is thinking about this. But, then, there are a lot of things I would like and am not going to get in this lifetime.


If Mr DiMasi wishes to break the mold he is going to have to think about a whole lot more than the Commonwealth's transportation organizational chart. And, he is correct in saying we are going to have to break the mold to fix this problem.

Regards -- Cliff

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Ice Storm

Our Ice Storm, which began Thursday night and was in full swing by Friday morning, is long gone, but the impact is still with us. My part of Lowell never lost power, but a few blocks from me they did. A number of my fellow workers are without electricity or are using a backup generator or just staying with family or friends or at some motel. Marie, over at the Richard Howe Blog, lost electricity and found refuge in Burlington. Some businesses are losing money--two 99 Restaurants I drive past in the Lowell area were shuttered for at least two days. On the other hand, when my wife and I had dinner at the Outback on Saturday we were told there was a long waiting line on Friday evening.

Ron Smits blogged about it here. He lost electricity and he thought about the folks working to restore it.

We don't think about it, but in conditions like Friday and Saturday the utility workers are at increased risk. They have to bundled against the cold or they will get hypothermia and not be able to work. That extra clothing is clumsy and they are still wet and cold and tired and it is dark. It would be easy for any of them to make a mistake and they are dealing with high voltage. We should respect their courage and dedication. And maybe say thanks some day when we get a chance.

Our City Manager here in Lowell, Bernie Lynch, blogged about the ice storm here. There is some good information in his post.

I hope we are all back on the grid by Tuesday.

Regards -- Cliff

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gov Blagojevich

The situation in Illinois calls for comment. I have three points.
  1. Prosecutors should never be out trash talking.

  2. The idea of the Illinois AG going to the State Supreme Court is a bad idea.

  3. While there is a lot of corruption in Illinois, appointments always include a certain amount of log rolling, and that should not be criminalized.
Going to the first point, I find myself going to The New York Times, where Barry Coburn talks about US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's strong comments about indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich. (A hat tip to Dan Kennedy of Media Nation.) Mr Coburn then goes on to say:
Any prosecutor at the center of a firestorm of publicity may find the temptation to grandstand hard to resist, but these comments are, to put it mildly, remarkably inflammatory. Mr. Fitzgerald’s expressions of revulsion, use of hyperbolic rhetoric and implicit assertion of his personal belief that the charges have merit clearly run afoul of the rules. It is one thing for a prosecutor to publicly condemn a defendant’s actions and assert a belief that he did what he is charged with doing after a trial and conviction, but another to do so before he is indicted by a grand jury.
I think that Mr Coburn is correct and Mr Fitzgerald was out of line. If Mr Fitzgerald can't stop trash talking, maybe he should switch to some sport--maybe find an adult soccer team to play on.

Regarding the second point, why is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan going to the State Supreme Court, asking the Justices to declare:
Blagojevich unfit to serve, likening the corruption scandal to a debilitating illness as she ramped up pressure on the governor to resign. The move seeks to hand power over to the lieutenant governor.
We leave too much in the hands of judges and justices and this shouldn't be added to it. Remember how many were outraged at what they thought was the US Supreme Court giving the 2000 election to Governor Bush? Here is a case of a cabinet member trying to bypass the State Legislature to remove a sitting Governor. Removal is the job of the State Legislature--period. Her argument that this is a "debilitating illness" would work if Illinois has a procedure for dealing with "debilitating illness," but this isn't an illness. It is an accusation of a crime.

For those interested in more details on the Illinois AG's actions, here is something from Professor Eugene Volokh.

Third, we have the question of if exchanging favors for the now empty Senate Seat is a crime. In raising this issue, I am not suggesting that Governor Blagojevich is not guilty of other high crimes and misdemeanors. But, back to Professor Volokh we have this very issue raised. The good Professor quotes this from the Prosecution:
Rod Blagojevich has been intercepted conspiring to trade [his decision to appoint someone to] the senate seat [vacated by the President-elect] for particular positions that the President-elect has the power to appoint (e.g. the Secretary of Health and Human Services).
He then goes on to note:
But my sense is that political deals of the "I appoint your political ally to X and you appoint me to Y" variety are pretty commonplace, though perhaps done with more subtlety than seemed to be contemplated here. Should these deals indeed be treated as criminal bribery? Have they generally been so treated? What if the deal didn't involve appointment-for-appointment swaps but vote-for-vote swaps or vote-for-appointment swaps — e.g., "if you vote the way I want you to vote, I'll vote the way you want me to vote" or "if you vote the way I want you to vote, I, the Speaker of the House, will make sure that you're appointed to the committee chairmanship you always wanted" or "if you solidly support me during this Congress, I'll appoint you to the Cabinet"?
This is a serious question. I wouldn't wish to see the ability of government officials to cut deals criminalized. We need to draw a line or we won't get the People's business accomplished.

Finally, there is this point. I don't often find reason to praise Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but this is one such moment. It was assert in The Washington Post that Senator Reid, in a letter to Governor Blagojevich said:
Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated.
Let us all hope it all turns out well.

Regards -- Cliff

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Obama the Reader

I found this from someone. CNN's Fareed Zakaria, on his show "GPS," talked about a book that President Elect Obama is reading. This is a month old program, but still of value. To quote Mr Zakaria:
Now, my book recommendation for this week is the book Obama was said to be reading over the last two weeks. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner, "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001."

Steve Coll, the author, is an extraordinary writer and journalist. And the book really explains how U.S. policies and actions going back decades helped give rise to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and explains the many problems in Afghanistan today that go much deeper and are much more complex than anything you would really recognize.

It's a great read and is really important to understanding how to approach this very complicated society.
And, CNN asked that we credit all usage to CNN's Fareed Zakaria--GPS and you can always contact: Carolyn Disbrow, (917) 575-5121 / Megan Grant, (202) 515-2920 / Meryl Conant, (202) 515-2950 or their web page.

The other thing about this program is that it includes an interview with David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army Officer and a Special Advisor to the US Secretary of State on Counterinsurgency. Lt-Col Kilcullen is very experienced and very smart. His views are worth listening to.

Regards -- Cliff

Climate Change and Fossil Fuel

Aware of the danger of quoting from blogs of friends, I offer up this item from Ron Smits' Blog, titled "then there is this..." which leads into a very nice evening shot of two F-16s. Ron and I share the experience of having flow the Lawn Dart, and a great experience it was.

Ron has strong views on Climate Change, views I don't exactly share (I am in the "jury is still out" mode). However, where we are in agreement is that we need to be changing our energy sources, to move away from fossil fuels, especially oil, which we import at a horrendous rate.

However, even if I am still waiting to see about climate change and whether or not it is bad, we all need to look at all sides of this issue.

I will say that I am very encouraged by President Elect Obama's selection of Nobel Laureate Dr Steven Chu as the Secretary of Energy designate. I don't know Dr Chu, although I would know to differentiate him from Dr David Chu, the current U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Readiness. Thanks to Instapundit I caught a video on line of a talk Dr Steven Chu gave this year on energy and climate change. It was excellent. Here it is on You Tube. I caught it at the "Classical Values" Blog, where the issue was Bussard Fusion.

In my humble opinion, once newly Inaugurated President Obama has worked the short term issues--Treasury, State, Defense--the long term issue of Energy will be the most important area for his focus. I hope that Dr Chu finds an open door and a receptive mind with our new President. This issue could not be more important for the long run, as a minimum in terms of our economy (we can't keep importing oil for ever) and maybe in terms of climate change.

Regards -- Cliff

Passing of Avery Cardinal Dulles

I ventured over to the blog of the local Ordinary, Seán Cardinal O'Malley, OFM Cap, to see what pictures he posted from his visit to the Immaculate Conception Parish this last Saturday. But, I found that the top post was on the passing of Avery Cardinal Dulles.

I don't know the Cardinal and have read only one of his books and a couple of articles, but I appreciated him from what little I sampled. I thought this quote from Cardinal O'Malley's blog shows that Cardinal Dulles understood the Lord and set a good example for the rest of us:
Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence,” he said. “As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
May he rest in peace.

Regards -- Cliff

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wall Street

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal today about the Recession, by John Izzo. The rather long title was "Outlook Darkens as Recession Deepens: Economists Forecast Lengthiest Downturn Since Great Depression."

I did not find this myself, but someone I know sent it out to me and 300 of his favorite friends.

The title gets one's attention. The good news is that "the latest Wall Street Journal economic-forecasting survey" shows that the consensus of 54 economists is that the Recession will end in June of 2009. That is good news for President Elect Obama, and for us, if it is true. Remember, it is the consensus of economists. And, it is about economics.

The other problem is that the economy is not expected to get well immediately. It will take a while for it to get back to where it was. This is projected to be the longest recession since the end of World War II, which most of us don't remember. For most of us VJ-Day is "time out of memory."

The question of how we got here will be kicking around for a long time. There is the question of what was going on on Wall Street. This longish article talks about the piling up of greed and the piling up of empty assets. The author, Michael Lewis, is also the author of Liar's Poker, a memoir of his time on Wall Street in the 1980s.

But, to understand what went wrong, aside from the fact that greed is inherent in many people, we need to ask why the regulators of Capitalism--who were supposed to protect us from ourselves, failed. As Mr Lewis points out, the bond rating agencies failed. As Mr Izzo points out, the 54 economists in the Wall Street Journal poll gave Treasury Secretary Henry Poulson a rating of:
60, the lowest level during his tenure. More than half of respondents gave the Treasury secretary a grade equivalent to a D or F. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's average grade rose slightly to a 72, but 26% gave him the equivalent of a D or F. More than half of economists put his grade in the A or B range.
I wonder what they thought of Senator Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank? I wonder how long it will take to fully understand their roles with Freddie and Franny? Only when we understand that will we begin to understand what went wrong.

Regards -- Cliff

New Movie on Argentinean Ernesto Guevara

Mr Terrence Rafferty, writing in the weekend edition of The International Herald Tribute, comments on the new film being released on 12 December of this year, "Che." Given to us by Steven Soderbergh, it tells the story of Mr Guevara in both Cuba and Bolivia, where he was killed by the Bolivian Army.

Mr Rafferty gives us a quick tour of films on revolutions, going back to "Sergei Eisenstein's first two films, "Strike" (1924) and "The Battleship Potemkin" (1925)," which is interesting.

But, back to Mr Guevara, one wonders why he is so glamorized by the youth, given the fact that he is (a) a sociopath and (b) a homophobe. In fact, for the first time in my life the idea of picketing a moving past through my mind.

My recommendation is: have a protest of your own. Avoid the movie and skip the T-shirts. There are a lot of estimable heroes out there. Ernesto Guevara is not one of them.

Regards -- Cliff


For the left in the Bush era, America's two wars have long been divided into the good and the bad. Iraq was the moral and strategic catastrophe, while Afghanistan--home base for the September 11 attacks--was a righteous fight.
In a fairly interesting article, republished by CBS here Michael Crowley of The New Republic interviews retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl about Afghanistan and asks us to think about what we are doing there. John Nagl is one of those experienced combat veterans of the US Army who helped write the Army/Marine Corps Counter Insurgency Manual.

So, now, before President Elect Obama is inaugurated, is when we should ask ourselves one last time--what is our goal in Afghanistan?

Karl von Clausewitz, author of On War, tells us that the first and most important duty of the statesman is to understand the kind of war he is engaged in. Julian Corbett quotes Clausewitz
Hence, says Clausewitz, the first, the greatest and most critical decision upon which the Statesman and the General have to exercise their judgment is to determine the nature of the war, to be sure they do not mistake it for something nor seek to make of it something which from its inherent conditions it can never be. "This," he declares, "is the first and the most far-reaching of all strategical questions."
Once we understand the war, we then have to ask ourselves what we are looking for. That is to say, what is our definition of victory. As the title of a recent book about GEN David Petraeus puts it Tell Me How This Ends.

  • Is it all about catching Osama bin Laden? If he dies of natural causes, can we go home?
  • Is it about destroying al Qaeda? Should we not be following AQ to ghettos of Manchester, England and the Banlieues of Paris and the Southern Islands of the Philippines?
  • Is it about preventing the Taliban from re-establishing a regime that blows up cultural icons and squirts battery acid at teenage girls to keep them from going to school? How much security is enough, and can we negotiate it?
  • Is it about democracy in Afghanistan? How stable will that democracy have to be?
  • Is it about eradicating the opium crops? For how long will Afghanistan have to be opium free before we can go home?
  • We pilot reconnaissance drones over Afghanistan from just north of Vegas. Can't we just police that area with airpower?
I don't know the answer to all those questions, although I think the answer to the first and last bullets is no. I have seen strong arguments pro and con on staying in Afghanistan. I am still turning it over in my mind. For sure, in this period between the Election and the Inauguration, we should all be thinking about what we are looking for in Afghanistan. Come 21 January we will start to get locked in.

If we accept that Iraq is now pretty much a success, what does that mean for Afghanistan? In the linked article above John Nagl estimates, based on classic Counter Insurgency (COIN) doctrine, winning will require 600,000 troops (that is Afghani and NATO and some others--we are part of the NATO contingent and are also there independent of NATO). That is a lot of people and a lot of them are going to have to come from the US.

But, we are unlikely to put a couple hundred thousand more troops into Afghanistan to get to the 600,000 number. Further, unless something happens that changes President Elect Obama's mind, we are not pulling out any time soon. In this I agree with the President Elect. So, we need an "end state" and a strategy that allows us to achieve that desirable end state without dedicating the deployable part of our military to Afghanistan. I believe that is possible. For me the key question is, are the American People prepared to follow President Obama into this territory?

Regards -- Cliff

Right Wing?

Early this morning I was described by a very nice person I know to one of her colleagues as the writer of a "right wing" blog.* I am a person my wife describes as a RINO--Republican in Name Only. And maybe she is correct--my wife, not the other lady. And, if that wasn't enough, I arrived at work and one of my compatriots commented that she had read my post on the cost of a college education and thought that I had failed to take a strong stand--wishy washy is what I heard her saying, although she was too nice to use those words.

I see myself as being a middle of the road kind of person who is interested in what is a problem, what is causing the problem and what are the consequences of any proposed solutions. When I say consequences, I am talking not only immediate consequences, but second and third order consequences. I once read somewhere that the solution to any problem contains the seeds of a new problem. I believe that.

One of my hero's is Dorothy Day. But, so is Ronald Reagan. And Will Kane--the Marshall, not the blogger.

OK, I will try to put a little starch into the Blog.

Regards -- Cliff

* I did take advantage of the opportunity to pass out my URL.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Outback Question of the Week

This is a targeted question and the target knows who he or she is.

Which sitting US Governor was just indicted for corruption by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald?

For bonus points, of what kind of corruption has this Governor been accused?

For bonus points, what is a "Fitzmas"?

But, speaking of targets, I was thinking, driving home from work, that this week is a target rich environment, only to find that Professor Glenn Reynolds used the same phrase to describe the situation. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Regards -- Cliff

I Am Shocked, Shocked...

With due nod to Captain Louis Renault.

Corruption in Illinois? I remember someone quipping that when the Chicago machine stole the 1960 Presidential Election for Senator Kennedy they felt they were merely stealing it back from the southern part of the state, which was, they claimed, in the process of stealing it for Vice President Nixon.

So, I was not surprised to hear that the Illinois Governor and his Chief of Staff had been indicted on corruption charges.

Professor Glenn Reynolds notes we have "Another chance to play Name That Party!" One would think that the MSM would have learned by now that there is a belief out there on the right side of the Blogosphere that they are not even handed in naming the party affiliation of corrupt or allegedly corrupt politicians.

The Lowell Sun mentioned it in the third paragraph. The Boston Globe's latest web article on the issue not only does not mention that he is a Democratic Party member, it treats it like the Governor was just being a silly school boy, a la Presidential Candidate Gary Hart, rather than being corrupt. The WashPost nailed it in the first sentence.

The criminal complaint, as published in The Chicago Tribute is here.

And at the center of this is the US Attorney, Patrick J Fitzgerald. Mr Fitzgerald is one of the few who has his own feast day--Fitzmas. It is sort of like Christmas, with lots of surprises, but it is a movable feast. It could come at any time. The first Fitzmas was 28 October 2005, when Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald brought a five count indictment against I Lewis (Scooter) Libby. It is to be noted that US Attorney Fitzgerald is an equal opportunity law enforcer. He went after Illinois Republican Governor George Ryan soon after he (the US Attorney) was sworn in.

But, the important point is that we have the sitting governor of a major state trying to make profit off of appointing someone for two years to serve out Senator Obama's term. This should be an indictable offense and thank you to US Attorney Fitzgerald for making it so. Merry Fitzmas!

Maybe President Obama will nominate Mr Fitzgerald to be the US Attorney in Boston. We can always hope and pray.

On a side note, I pray that this investigation does not extend too far.

Regards -- Cliff

Monday, December 8, 2008

Our Southern Border

Retired Army Colonel Robert Killebrew is a smart cookie and has a lot of insight. This article in Armed Forces Journal International should not give us pause, but should galvanize us to action--to write our Congresswoman and our two Senators.

The title is "Terror at the border A new terrorist threat is closer than you think." The lead paragraph is:
With American attention diverted to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis and a hard-fought national election, national security experts have largely overlooked the bitter countercartel war in Mexico. But that war, which is beginning to overlap the U.S. border, is only the forerunner of an even more serious threat. Sometime in the near future a lethal combination of transnational terrorism and criminal gangs is going to cross the U.S. border in force. According to some, it already has, and we haven’t even noticed.
This is not a new insight, but a restatement of what is already out there.

Colonel Killebrew finishes up with these two paragraphs
Beyond police work, though, U.S. lawmakers must begin to address social and domestic issues that support the gang and drug culture — and thus provide ungoverned space for terrorism — as a matter of national security. Immigration reform is an excellent example of a national domestic issue intrinsically involved in international gang culture that must be addressed. Prison reform is another — overcrowded prisons that warehouse minor offenders next to hardened gang members have become gang universities that take in amateurs and produce hard cases. Improvements in education, work-force development and other social priorities are no longer stovepiped issues, but have become part of the challenge of isolating and eliminating a drug and crime culture that has become a national security challenge.

None of this is easy, and all of it is “irregular.” The enemy follows no rules, wears no identifiable markings — except perhaps gang tattoos — and attacks his objectives only indirectly, by undermining the opponent’s will to prevail. There is no single enemy network to attack, or hostile command and control system. In many cases, American security experts continue to be unaware of the threat posed by the axis of international gangs and terrorists, overseas and within America’s own borders. Much more can be said. But the challenge now is to recognize the threat, comprehend its many dimensions and better coordinate the counterattack.
We, as the citizens, need to recognize that this is a large, complex and very mixed problem. We can't move to fight narcotics trafficking and not work to fight guerrillas in Latin America. We can't call for judicial reform in Mexico without understanding that our demand for drugs in this nation is undermining judicial officials in Mexico.

To quote someone I know, "I hope people are paying attention." Our response is known as the Merida Initiative. Funding for the immediate phase was included in the Supplemental Budget, PL 110-252, signed by President Bush on 30 June 2008. On the 3rd of December Mexico and the US signed a Letter of Agreement, that resulted in the release of $197 million in funds.

The US Congress has placed multiple restrictions on the funding and reporting, many of which had nothing to do with combating lawless gangs or narco-terrorists. I have been told by people who know that "It is intended to please everyone, but falls short." Part of the problem is that the US Congress has tried to get down in the weeds, drawing lines separating counter-narcotics, organized crime, and terrorism and mixing all with human rights, judicial reform, etc. These lines do not exist and judicial reform will only occur when judges and prosecutors are not in constant fear for their lives. Think back to a previous post, where I noted 4,000 deaths in Mexico related to drugs. In 2008 to date, 4,000 deaths.

In my humble opinion, we should be careful about how we encourage others to conform to our ideals. Here is a quote from an OAS broadsheet on the Merida Initiative:
Mexico – After vocal opposition to language in the original bill that required that all cases of Mexican soldiers accused of human rights violations be referred to civilian courts (in violation of Mexican constitutional provisions) as a condition for assistance, Mexican officials and lawmakers are satisfied with the wording of the bill as passed in the House and referred to the Senate.
I don't know the details. Did we promise a "wink and a nod"? When we put language in our bills that encourage other nations to violate their own Constitutions we are encouraging a lack of respect for not only Constitutions, but for the rule of law in general and that is not a good thing.

Regards -- Cliff

Cardinal Seán Visits Lowell

Seán Cardinal O'Malley, OFM Cap, paid a visit to our Parish on Saturday. I was in charge of taking photographs of the Kiddie Choir. None of the photos turned out. The lady shooting pictures for the Lowell Sun got at least one great picture, which ran on Sunday. Unfortunately, the web version of Robert Mills' article does not include the picture. However, you can view a bunch of shots here.

One of the things that was interesting was that Father Nicholas Sanella told us, in introducing Cardinal O'Malley, that he was called and told he was going to the Immaculate Conception Parish on 6 December, which is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas. And, then the Cardinal's delayed visit--delayed by several months--was on 6 December, the same Feast Day. To that Cardinal O'Malley noted that "Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous." That is an old saying, but it is a good one.

I expect that there will be something about the visit in Cardinal Seán's Blog.

If I figure out the legalities of including the Lowell Sun photos, I will append them to this post.

For those following Feast Days, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, after which our Parish is named. The phrase "Immaculate Conception" is not to be confused with the phrase "Virgin Birth." They are two very different things.

Regards -- Cliff