Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen offers some grim ruminations on the geopolitical implications of the Haiti earthquake:
Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.
In what sense does Haiti still have a government? How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place? How long will this governance last? What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years? What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?
Is there any scenario in which the survivors, twenty years from now, are better off, compared to the quake never having taken place?
Perhaps the president can ponder some of those questions on the plane trip to Massachusetts this weekend.
Jerry Brown, who isn't "officially" running again for governor of California (even though he is), is as corrupt as the next pol. That isn't to say Brown takes bribes, or trades favors for campaign contributions. It is merely to point out the obvious: He is happy to dive into the rough and tumble of politics and he isn't above dishing dirt about his enemies. The difference between Brown and most politicians is that he's so unabashed about it.
As the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci reports:
Bronstein, in the account on Brown's gubernatorial candidacy, reported that "earlier this year Brown himself called me to plant a possible story about Newsom selling a condo for a suspiciously high price in a distressed market."
"I thought, Come on, really?,'' writes Bronstein. "But while to some people a request like that might speak to pettiness and self-absorption, to me it shows he's still got that perfect paradoxical mix: He's a dreamer who knows how to reach for the sky with one hand but who isn't above keeping the other in the deepest political weeds."
Brown didn't deny the allegations, and quipped that one of the numerous books about him was titled, "High Priest and Low Politician."...Read it,'' he told the hosts. "They're trolling for stuff on me all the time. The public record is the public record, and it comes out."
"Some people pretend they don't do that. But they hire their henchmen....and they whisper, whisper into the ear of the various reporters. And you find out that most of these reporters' stories derive from the opposition campaign. That's kind of the dirty little secret of the news media,'' he told KGO.
"Most of the political news is dug up by the oppositon research teams and then handed over to the media, and then put out as though the journalist found it and it's news. When it's really just part of the ongoing war between the candidates,'' he said. "If you're not prepared for it, you gotta get out of it."
Asked if he has "henchmen,'' Brown said, "No, I don't..but the others do....look, anything anybody can say, I'll say it..hopefully with some discretion and some good taste."
The takeaway? Jerry Brown does his own wetwork. Pass it on. And watch your back.
Pat Robertson, televangelist and erstwhile presidential candidate, said something stupid yesterday about the earthquake in Haiti. The press, being lazy and addicted to cheap controversy much the way Joel Mathis is addicted to cheap vodka, breathlessly reported what Robertson said. Then a million pundits and bloggers poured forth with righteous indignation as pundits and bloggers are wont to do.
No, I'm not going to link to any of it. And neither should you.
Let the record show that Infinite Monkeys imposed a media blackout on Pat Robertson before anyone heard of Satan's Caribbean holiday, demonic Halloween candy, or other such rot. You can only do so many Pat-Robertson-is-an-idiot-so-please-shut-up posts before they start to fall flat.
I'm violating our four-year-old ban to remind people of it, and to encourage others to adopt the same policy. Instead of condemning Pat Robertson -- whose influence extends no further than the TV screens of a few hundred thousand dowagers and shut-ins in a vibrant country of 350 million people -- we should be ignoring him.
We used to talk about "public servants" without sneer quotes or sarcasm, but it's hard to do that now. With special privileges and gold-plated retirements, state government employees in California, New York and elsewhere have become a protected class of citizen. Steven Greenhut, late of the Orange County Register, writes in the February issue of Reason how our public servants became our public masters.
Greenhut focuses largely on the massive unfunded liabilities taxpayers are incurring through public employee pensions. (Not surprising, since he has a terrific new book out on the subject.) It's a bipartisan scandal that threatens to bankrupt cities and states. And what's worse, public officials are completely blasé about it.
Here's Greenhut's telling of what happened a couple of years ago in Fullerton, California:
In the midst of California’s 2008–09 fiscal meltdown, with the impact of deluxe public pensions making daily headlines, the city of Fullerton nevertheless sought to retroactively increase the defined-benefit retirement plan for its city employees by a jaw-dropping 25 percent. What’s more, the Fullerton City Council negotiated the increase in closed session, outside public view. Under California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, even legitimate closed-session items such as contract negotiations are supposed to be advertised so that the public has a clear idea of what’s being discussed. But the Fullerton agenda for that night only vaguely referred to labor negotiations.
Four of the five council members—two Republicans and two Democrats—seemed to support the deal. But Republican Shawn Nelson, a principled advocate for limited government, didn’t appreciate the way the council was obscuring not only the legitimately secret details of the negotiations but the basic subject matter. He called me at the Register (where I worked at the time) and, without revealing details of the closed session, shared his concerns about the way the public had not been alerted. After I wrote about the secret, fiscally reckless deal, the recriminations came down in a hurry: on Shawn Nelson.
Not surprisingly, the liberal council members were furious that the public had been informed about what was going on. But some conservative Republicans, including a prominent state senator, Dick Ackerman of Irvine, were angry as well, because Nelson’s willingness to talk embarrassed a Republican councilman whom the GOP was backing for re-election. When I later bumped into Ackerman at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he laid into me about Nelson’s supposed violation of the Brown Act. Some officials and bloggers actually called for Nelson to be prosecuted. Local union mouthpieces and fellow council members portrayed the whistleblower as a common criminal, even though he was merely acting in the spirit of the open meetings law and showing the kind of fiscal responsibility you would hope to see in public officials.
In its embarrassment, the city council voted against the deal at the last minute, but only after council members publicly chastised Nelson, accused me of libel, and vowed to come back for more when the timing was right. One Republican councilman couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about, given that the council enhances public employee pay and pensions all the time.
The anecdote appears early in the piece. The whole story is teeming with such outrages. Take your blood pressure meds before reading.
Greenhut is a diagnostician. He offers little in the way of prescriptions and is coy with his prognosis. "Bigger government means more government employees," he writes. "Those employees then become a permanent lobby for continual government growth. The nation may have reached critical mass; the number of government employees at every level may have gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy, rein in the costs, and restore lost freedoms."
Is there any solution that might be palatable to libertarians? One possible answer appears in a related piece by Bill Eggers and John O'Leary titled "Five Reasons Why Libertarians Shouldn't Hate Government." I found plenty to dislike and disagree with in it, but one point made perfect sense to me: "Until small-government types better master the nuts and bolts of the public sector—how to design policies that work in the real world and how to execute on large public undertakings—their initiatives to downsize government will continue to disappoint."
By the way, just as Dan Weintraub left the Sacramento Bee to start his own Web site with nonprofit foundation support, Greenhut left the Register last autumn to launch an investigative journalism site in Sacramento under the aegis of the Pacific Research Institute. CalWatchdog.com is live and making trouble. Check it out.
Petitions for more than 60 ballot initiatives are circulating in California today, and just about every one of them has no business going before the voters.
About a month ago, I'd mentioned a couple of measures I thought worthy of ridicule. At the time, our friend Khabalox asked in the comments: "What's the problem with (the) proposal to make it illegal for holders of public office to knowingly deceive the public? Seems like a good idea to me."
I replied: "I'm glad you asked! Briefly: Lying to the public is bad, but the title and summary are open to interpretation and there are First Amendment implications that the author clearly hasn't thought through. I'm working on an op-ed on it right now. Not sure where it will appear, but all will be explained in time."
The time is now. The place is the Sacramento Bee. The piece is about the whole farcical initiative process, not just one farcical initiative. Go read it. (But, for the love of God, avert your eyes from the mugshot.)
Gumby creator Art Clokey has died. The animator and filmmaker had a rough childhood but lived a remarkable life and left an indelible legacy for several generations of kids. He was 88.
If you came of age in the 1980s, you will likely remember a short-lived Gumby revival and, of course, Eddie Murphy's take on the character in the Silver Age of Saturday Night Live. This is what I remember most, though...
"If you've got a heart, then Gumby's a part of you." Rest in peace, Art Clokey.
tip o' the cap to the funnily-named Baldilocks. Her blog is consistently good reading, from an interesting perspective (conservative Black woman who happens to share common tribal ancestry with Mr. Obama). But this is what caught my attention just now:
Organizers expect hundreds of local Muslims to join a silent protest Friday in Detroit outside the hearing for Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
"This is people from all over Southeast Michigan coming together and saying we're against terrorism. Our message is going to be louder than the message the terrorists have sent. The masses will be speaking," Majed Moughni [told the local news agency]...
Good luck, Mr. Moughi
SELF-PROMOTION ALERT! Christine Flowers, the Daily News columnist, is substitute hosting the late shift at the Big Talker 1210 this week -- and she's graciously invited me to come on the show during tonight's 10 o'clock hour to discuss our competing views of the indiginities to be suffered in the name of airline security. You already know my take: the TSA can't be trusted not to abuse intrusive powers and there are limits to how much privacy travelers should sacrifice to fly around the country.
Her take? Here's her recent column:
Like mandating full body scans at security checkpoints. Sure, the ACLU (Attempting to Create Loopholes Union) calls it a violation of our "privacy." But terrorists don't have privacy rights, and the rest of us can probably deal with having a snapshot of our undies taken if it saves lives.
So: That should be fun!
Wry Mouth posts a short screed on the Obama Administration's alleged support of taxing "Cadillac" health insurance plans, catty-corner from Joel's blog.
The key seems to be this: to provide for the General Welfare of the people, it is important to strike a balance in insurance options for the general public. There is such a thing, you see, as having too much healthcare coverage, just as there is such a thing as having too little. The surest course to general contentment, goes the reasoning, is to make some options less desirable. That way (I guess), everyone picks the one or two options the government is prepared to support. It makes things less confusing.
Call it the "Fast Food Menu" approach to governance. So long as you stick with the numbered Meal Plans, you can get by fairly easily.
The petty humiliations, the routine deceptions from airline employees desperate to rid themselves of troublesome travelers (“Oh, they can definitely help you at the gate!”), the stress-position seats, the ever-changing rules for what can and cannot be in your carry-on, being charged for food that the Red Cross would condemn if it were served at Gitmo: Air travel is the most expensive unpleasant experience in everyday life outside the realm of words ending in -oscopy.
All Internet lists exist to prompt arguments, spark controversies, share a bit of knowledge, and generate lots of links. Ken Denmead -- a.k.a. GeekDad at Wired -- has contributed the best and the worst of the new decade with his "100 Quotes Every Geek Should Know," a document that at once delights and appalls. I mean, he includes Roy Batty's last three words in Blade Runner but not the immortal lines that precede them? Seriously? And he will rue the day he chose a couple of pedestrian lines from Real Genius.
I would note, too, that not all of Denmead's selections are from sci-fi or fantasy films. There are even a couple of song lyrics. Fine. But with such a broad criteria, where's Apocalypse Now? No, not the obvious one. Any self-respecting geek ought to know you can't land on one-quarter or three-eighths of Venus. That's dialectic physics!
The comments on the piece are lively and there are some excellent suggestions. (And it's really not such a bad list... I guess. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that.) One I would have liked to have seen from the endlessly quotable Army of Darkness: "It's a trap, get an axe!" I use that one all the time.
Well... what say you?
I confess that after the (successfully thwarted) Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, I intentionally avoided reading anything about it - particularly after I heard rumors of new rules being proposed by the TSA. You see, I travel a LOT for my job and didn't need my holiday ruined thinking about how much more miserable my next trip was going to be. Further, my family is getting ready to take an international vacation in a few weeks, increasing my potential travel-related anxiety considerably.
But a few days ago Assignment Editor Ben, knowing how much I travel, asked that I write a post about how a libertarian with anarchist sympathies deals (copes?) with significant amounts of air travel in a post-9/11 world. Several others have written posts and articles about the new policies, how we should react, how we shouldn't react, who's to blame, etc. There have been several posts on this very blog (and on Joel's) analyzing the event and its aftermath from various angles. I'm going to try not to retread most of that analysis. Rather, I'm going to write two posts that focus on my personal experiences - this one, the first, describing my experiences from September 11, 2001 through my last trip just a couple of weeks ago, and the second after my family and I return from Europe describing what, if anything, has changed. Throughout, I will try to explain how someone (myself) who is so rigid in his beliefs about liberty can endure constant government manhandling without going completely insane.
Please click read more below for the first portion of my story.
With apologies to James Taranto: Life imitates South Park! The AP reports that a Japanese whaler plowed into the Bob Barker, part of the growing fleet of vessels operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You know, the Whale Wars people. This wouldn't have happened if Stan Marsh had been at the helm, you may rest assured. Besides, how do we know it was a really whaling ship and not those scurvy dogs from The Deadliest Catch?
(Warning: The clip contains language commonly heard among sailors and is not safe for work.)
"Ain't nothin' gonna stop us!" Although it's mighty tempting to crow about this week's high-profile Democratic departures (including Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter), I hope John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership have seen "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...
Barack Obama's health care "reform" is on the cusp of passing. It is, as more than one pundit has proclaimed, "the greatest social achievement of our time." And what are the Democrats who fought hard for this historic legislative triumph doing? They're making a hasty retreat for their ships standing by, that's what.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced Tuesday he would retire rather than seek a fourth term in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Dorgan had planned to run again, you understand. But then a publisher offered him a two-book deal and there is a fortune to be made lobbying for energy interests -- or, as Dorgan put it, "I would like... to work on energy policy in the private sector" -- that he decided it was in everyone's best interest that he bow out. And the likelihood that Dorgan would be trounced by more than 20 points at the hands of a Republican candidate not even officially in the race? That had nothing to do with it. Nope. No sir. Besides, he also wants to teach. So there's that.
Sure enough, the Washington Post is reporting that five-term Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut will announce his retirement on Wednesday.
As the Post's Chris Cilizza notes, Dodd's departure, although highly satisfying to people like me, is not necessarily good news for Republicans. "Without Dodd as a foil, Republicans chances of taking over a seat in this solidly blue state are considerably diminished," Cilizza writes. "Former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling it out for the Republican nod but either would start as an underdog in a general election matchup with (State Attorney General Richard) Blumenthal."
I missed this item, which dropped on New Year's Eve while everyone else was chugging bubbly, awaiting the big disco ball to drop in Times Square and anticipating Kathy Griffin to drop the F-Bomb on CNN again. According to the AP: "The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday dropped its subpoenas it had issued to two Internet writers in its effort to find the leaker of an airline security directive.... The TSA said the investigation is 'nearing a successful conclusion and the subpoenas are no longer in effect.'" Background here and here. I guess this means the TSA can go back to dropping the ball on airline security now.
All travelers flying into the U.S. from foreign countries will receive tightened random screening, and 100 percent of passengers from seven terrorism-prone countries will be patted down and have their carry-ons searched, the Obama administration was notifying airlines on Sunday.
All passengers from countries on the State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list – plus all passengers from Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen, will receive “full body pat-down and physical inspection of property,” the official said.
The countries on the State Department list are Cuban, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
“All international passengers will be screened and the majority of passengers will be screened using threat-based or random measures, the official said. “ These are designed to be sustainable measures that are a significant increase in our security posture.
This isn't racial profiling as such -- not all brown people will be stopped and patted down before getting on a plane to America -- but it does appear to be an intermediate step toward the kind of profiling that conservatives have been demanding for a long time. If you're Pakistani (or a Nigerian or Yemeni, etc.) you're getting patted down no matter what happens. I need more time to reflect and read before posting a more complete response, but I'm not sure that this intermediate profiling step is all bad. "State sponsor of terrorism" of list is more solid -- and specific, and narrow -- a criteria than "all dark-skinned people are scary." Still, it is a step and we should be aware of the road we're on. (And we should note the irony that our first black president is taking that step when George W. Bush didn't.)
Unless I'm missing something, though, it's kind of difficult not to notice that Saudi Arabia isn't on the list of countries isn't it? Seems like an enterprising reporter ought to be asking questions about that.
Still, there does to be some "fighting the last war" thinking going on here. It's true that the failed Christmas Day Crotch Bombing was almost-committed by a Nigerian coming to the United States on an overseas flight. But the planes that hit us on 9/11, lest we forget, all originated from domestic airports. And the stringent security measures now being announced don't seem to take that into consideration. I suspect there's some political weighing of the scales going on here.
I don't think we'll get all the way to full racial profiling during the presidency of Barack Obama. But I do predict that before his first term is over, we'll see these measures used domestically -- and on a wider array of foreign-born residents. I'm just not an optimist.
*UPDATE: The NYT reports that Saudi Arabia is on the list. Makes sense.
Well, that guy has nothing on the poor bastard in Illinois that police Tasered not once, not twice, but 11 times. While he was having a seizure.
Police officers from two Chicago suburbs are being sued after one of them allegedly Tasered a man having a diabetic seizure because the diabetic involuntarily hit the officer while being taken to an ambulance.
Prospero Lassi, a 40-year-old employee of Southwest Airlines, filed the lawsuit (PDF) with a federal court in Chicago last week, following an April 9, 2009, incident in which Lassi was taken to hospital following a violent diabetic seizure -- and being Tasered 11 times while unconscious.
That day, Lassi's roommate found the man on the floor of his apartment having a seizure and foaming at the mouth, according to the statement filed with the court. The roommate called 911 for help, and police officers from the Brookfield and LaGrange Park police departments arrived to help with the situation.
As police officers were helping the paramedics move Lassi to an ambulance, Lassi -- still in the midst of the seizure and described as "unresponsive" -- involuntarily smacked one of the officers with his arm.
"Reacting to Mr. Lassi’s involuntary movement, one or more of the [officers] pushed Mr. Lassi to the ground, forcibly restraining him there," the complaint states. "[LaGrange Park Officer Darren] Pedota then withdrew his Taser, an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt a person’s control over his muscles, and electrocuted Mr. Lassi eleven times.
As I wrote in response to Joel's post, I hope the federal court ruling doesn’t lend credence to the effort to ban law enforcement from using Tasers altogether. I don’t dispute for a moment that police have abused Tasers. But I worry that in their absence, police would be even more inclined to use their nightsticks and guns.
That said, those two cops in Illinois shouldn't just be fired and sued for what little they have. They should go to jail for assault. They give good officers a bad name.
I've seen Death Cab For Cutie's "I Will Possess Your Heart" video before. And it's pretty old. Hardly "New Year." But I've never seen it in its full long form until tonight. It's beautifully shot, and I can't believe the band had the budget for this at the time.
Even if you're not a fan, this is still a sight to see (for a music video).
To call Patterico a thorn in the paw of the LA Times is to say that "paw" means the whole body and "thorn" means flesh-eating disease. He's been running his annual "Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review" for the last seven years, and his 2009 run-down of bias, willful distortion and general stupidity at the LA Times is quite comprehensive. I recommend reading the whole thing if you're interested in a detailed breakdown of the meltdown of one MSM lion.
Here are a few highlights ...
On "WHITEWASHING THE ACORN SCANDAL":
Peter Dreier wrote a fact-challenged op-ed claiming that Giles and O’Keefe had received assistance at only two ACORN offices. (The documented number was at least five at the time the op-ed appeared.) Dreier also incorrectly claimed that “not a single person who signed a phony name on a registration form ever actually voted” — although one person who did was later convicted only of false registration and not voter fraud.
On the "SYCOPHANTIC COVERAGE OF OUR HERO BARACK OBAMA":
- The paper uncritically reported that opposition to Obama’s health care plan was fueled by angry mobs of right-wing extremists. Typical of editors’ attitude was this strawman from a front-page “news analysis” which claimed Obama “has seen the healthcare debate sidetracked by false warnings that government ‘death panels’ would be employed to snuff out Grandma.” Naturally, genuine concerns about rationing of health care were not discussed in this polemic.
- When Obama held a town hall meeting on health care, he declared: “I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter.” This was an easily provable lie, and editors failed to tell readers about it.
- The paper dutifully ran a picture of doctors in white coats — an image designed to lend credibility to Obama’s health care plan — and didn’t tell readers that the White House had passed out the coats beforehand to any doctor not already wearing one
On "ANTI-REPUBLICAN BIAS AND ANTI-TEA PARTY SENTIMENT":
- Stimulus plan good . . . tea parties bad. And inconsequential. When KFI’s John and Ken hosted a taxpayer revolt that drew 8000-15,000 people, the paper refused to cover it, for transparently phony reasons. Editor David Lauter responded to hundreds of angry readers in one e-mail — and failed to use a “bcc” line, meaning he shared each angry reader’s e-mail address with all the others. If you’re thinking: “What a moron!” then you have plenty of company.
- They did, however, find space to cover one tea party . . . a toddler tea party given by Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie. The paper later did a fact-challenged hit piece on John and Ken.
Editors acted as stenographers for Ahmadinejad after his dubious re-election.
On "THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY:"
Editors claimed that Sen. John Cornyn said he “would probe deeply into Sotomayor’s past comments and rulings to see if her heritage colors her ability to make fair decisions.” This was a lie, as Cornyn said no such thing. Editors then sent the false claim down the memory hole.
And on, and on, and on ...
As a former newspaperman who now edits an online publication (and writes for several), reading Patterico's take-down of the LA Times makes me think: I can no longer rely on the MSM standard as "good enough" for publication. My standards must be (and are) way higher.
Police went to a southwest Houston apartment to break up a disturbance but ended up finding something else, KPRC Local 2 reported Wednesday.
A woman called police on Monday and said a man was forcing his way into her apartment in the 5300 block of Elm Street.
When officers went inside, they found something that made them concerned enough to call the bomb squad.
They found an AT-4 shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. It can shoot a missile nearly 1,000 feet through buildings and tanks.
"It gives infantrymen the advantage with an ultra-light weapon that can stop vehicles, armored vehicles as well as main battle tanks and fortifications," said Oscar Saldivar of Top Brass Military and Tactical on the North Freeway.
That type of rocket launcher has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The man reportedly had jihadi literature, too. Robert Spencer finds these details alarming: "Rocket launcher? Check. Jihadist writings? Check. But no worries -- the Feds found no ties to terrorism!"
Well, that's typical. And it's hardly a crime to possess jihadist propaganda. But wait... what? How is it the man won't be charged with a crime for having a battlefield weapon in his apartment?
Because it was disarmed and deactivated, of course -- a detail we learn four paragraphs from the end of the story. I really hate it when the media buries inconvenient information like that. And this is one case where I think Spencer may have gotten a bit caught up in the TV report's sensationalism.
Believe me, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to disarmed rocket launchers. I read recently that the spent LAW tube I had when I was a kid has since been outlawed. I got rid of mine years ago in a move. But what a stupid law. The only thing dangerous about it was the fiberglass lining the inside!
Update: Confederate Yankee echoes my point above. His headline is perfect: "Houston Wets Itself Over Glorified Pipe."
Xeni Jardin has an update on the two bloggers being hassled by the Transportation Security Administration for posting the new airline security directive following the attempted Christmas Day terrorist bombing in Detroit. Go read it.
Update: Oh, and while you're at it, you might as well read Annie Jacobson's story, which includes an interview with Steven Frischling. (He sure seems accessible!) Jacobson wrote the book on TSA incompetence.
Our friends at Lake Superior State University have released this year's list of 15 overused words and phrases that should be banished from our beleaguered public discourse. Although it's difficult to argue with the vast majority of the school's picks, last year's list was notable for including "monkey," which drove Dr. Zaius into a poo-throwing frenzy. Nevertheless, Lake Superior has established a pretty good track record over 35 years, and the 2009 list features only one word -- app -- with which I would quibble.
The 2009 lexicographical legion of dishonor features:
• Shovel-ready: "A relatively new term already overused by media and politicians."
• Transparent/transparency: "In reality, political transparency is more invisible than obvious!"
• Czar: "First it was a 'drug czar' [banished in 1990]. This year gave us a 'car czar.' What's next? A 'banished words czar'?"
• Tweet (and all variations): "Pointless…yet has somehow managed to take the nation by storm. I'm tired of hearing about celebrity X's new tweet, and how great of a tweeter he or she is."
• App: "Is there an 'app' for making this annoying word go away? Why can't we just call them 'programs' again?"
• Sexting: "Any dangerous new trend that also happens to have a clever mash-up of words, involves teens, and gets television talk show hosts interested must be banished."
• Friend (as verb): "'Befriend' is much more pleasant to the human ear and a perfectly useful word in the dictionary."
• Teachable moment: "What might otherwise be known as 'a lesson.'"
• In these economic times: "Overused and redundant. Aren't ALL times 'these economic times'?"
• Stimulus: "It is no longer a grant, it's stimulus money, stimulus checks, etc."
• Toxic assets: "Whatever happened to simply 'bad stocks,' 'debts,' or 'loans'?"
• Too big to fail: "Just for the record, nothing's too big to fail unless the government lets it."
• Bromance: "Have we really reached the point where being friends has to be described in a pseudo-romantic context? Just stop it already!" (Not soon enough for me!)
• Chillaxin': "It should receive bonus points for its ability to exhort the opposite reaction from the receiver."
• Obama (as prefix or root): "Obamanomics, Obamanation, Obamafication, Obamacare, Obamalicious, Obamaland... We say Obamanough already."
Any other nominees?
Here's the last Scripps-Howard column of 2009: Is America successfully deterring terrorism?
Joel says: "A state-centric solution to disrupting and defeating non-state actors is doomed to fail because terrorists don't need the state. Like the crazy new airline rules, the war in Afghanistan amounts to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly that's not even in the same room."
I say: "What we have is a massive federal government that does a great job of wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to maintain the illusion of security. What we need is a government that worries less about treating every airline passenger as a suspect or offending the sensibilities of foreigners and concentrates more on saying no to people from countries that would do us harm."
Thanks to everyone who actually read the column this year. Joel and I enjoy writing it, and we get a kick out of seeing it appear in papers all over the country. (We're also big in South Korea.) We're thinking about trying some different things in 2010, and we're likely to tie the column in more closely with the podcast. We're more blessed than cursed to live in such interesting times.
Let me be clear here: These aren't necessarily the 10 best books of the aughts. Just the 10 best books that I read. I tried to figure out if I should split into fiction-nonfiction categories, but that didn't really suss out very nicely. I spent the first half of the decade immersing myself in novels and the second half in essays and long-form reporting. We all go through phases, I guess, and my Top 10 list reflects mine.
• White Teeth, Zadie Smith: Smith has proven to be a prodigious talent, and her novel On Beauty is probably more complete in its artistic expression. But this first novel -- set among an interracial British family -- was imperfect but oh so damned interesting.
• The Road, Cormac McCarthy: I know, Oprah, blah blah. Like Smith's White Teeth, maybe this isn't the "best" of McCarthy's novels -- but it is his most accessible: Written less baroquely than some of his other works. I finished it in one weekend. But it stayed with me since then.
• Fiasco, Tom Ricks: The Iraq War has produced a ton of finely reported and written books. But this piece by then-Washington Post reporter Ricks did more, probably, to document and define how the early years of the war had gone so devastatingly wrong -- from the decision to invade to a host of post-invasion decisions that exacerbated a tense situation.
• Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace: Wallace was probably best-known as a novelist: His 1,000-page Infinite Jest is a required lit-hipster endurance test. But it was in his non-fiction that Wallace -- freed from the demands of experimentation -- really shined, and this collection of essays proves it. Covering everything from porn to meat-eating ethics to talk radio, Wallace still dropped plenty of five-dollar words. But he did so in the service of smartly entertaining and informing his audience.
• The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Robert Caro: If you want to know what power looks like -- how it's accumulated, how it corrupts, how big Texas businesses behind George W. Bush have always been around -- this volume of Caro's indispensible and ongoing biography of LBJ is a great place to start.
• Saturday, Ian McEwan: Atonement was his most celebrated work of the decade, but this novel -- set in one day of the life of a London doctor shortly before the invasion of Iraq -- has stuck with me longer. I think it's because -- unlike many people who took stark positions for or against the invasion -- Dr. Henry Perowne is honestly conflicted: He knows the regime of Saddam Hussein to be terrible, but he also knows the war might well end up being terrible. This novel isn't about Iraq, but it's not not about Iraq, either. And in Perowne's wrestling, McEwan articulated the not-quite-sure attitude that many people felt before the war.
• Pastoralia, George Saunders: I don't know what to call this collection of short stories. Meta science fiction, maybe? It's dyspeptic and cynical -- and it's darkest story, "Sea Oak," about a woman who returns from the dead ready to start doing all the fornicating she'd never done in life, might well be its most inspiring.
• Gilead, Marilynne Robinson: I'll say the same thing I did about Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album: I’m not a Christian, but this novel comes as close as any sermon or piece of art ever has to making me reconsider.
• The 9/11 Commission Report: Not only well-reported -- as it should be, given that the resources of government were at its disposal -- it's also surprisingly well-written.
• The Dark Side, Jane Mayer: There are many accounts of how the Bush Administration took us down the road to torture in the War on Terror. This is the most definitive.
...from bloggers who post information about the agency's latest hamfisted security measures.
Travel blogger Chris Elliott on Sunday posted the full text of "SD 1544-09-06 authorizing pat-downs, physical inspections" in the wake of the failed Christmas Day crotchbombing. On Tuesday, Elliott was paid a visit by Special Agent Robert Flaherty of the TSA, who served him with a subpoena. Elliott dutifully posted the full text of the subpoena on his blog as well.
"So if I’m reading this correctly, the TSA wants me to tell them who gave me the security directive," Elliott wrote on his blog Tuesday. "I told Flaherty I’d call my attorney and get back to him.
"What would you do?"
I'd do what Elliott did: Lawyer up, and disclose as much as I safely could to shame the powers-that-be into dropping this preposterous investigation.
The feds, naturally, are acting deadly serious with the bloggers even as they bungle national security in the wake of a near-catastrophe in Detroit. "Security Directives are not for public disclosure," a TSA spokesman said in a statement published by TPMmuckraker. "TSA's Office of Inspections is currently investigating how the recent Security Directives were acquired and published by parties who should not have been privy to this information."
TSA agents also visited Steven Frischling, who blogs for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and who posted the same directive Sunday around the same time as Elliott. Frischling described his experience to Wired magazine:
"They’re saying it’s a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline... It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can’t have a right to expect privacy after that.”
Frischling... said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also threatened to get him fired from his KLM job and indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.
“They were indicating there would be significant ramifications if I didn’t cooperate,” said Frischling, who was home alone with his three children when the agents arrived. “It’s not hard to intimidate someone when they’re holding a 3-year-old [child] in their hands. My wife works at night. I go to jail, and my kids are here with nobody.”
Frischling, who described some of the details of the visit on his personal blog, told Threat Level that the two agents drove to his house in Connecticut from DHS offices in Massachusetts and New Jersey and didn’t mention a subpoena until an hour into their visit.
“They came to the door and immediately were asking, ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’ It was very much a hardball tactic,” he says.
For anyone who questions whether these two bloggers stupidly helped terrorists obtain sensitive security information, read that first Frischling quote one more time. We're sharing security directives with countries that either harbor or finance our enemies.
Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin recounts her own experience on an international flight over Christmas weekend and points out: "As soon as airlines and airports began implementing the directive—and that began before the bloggers posted their copies—the contents of the directive were no secret. So why the strong-arm tactics?" To which Glenn Reynolds answers: "They’re sending a message, the way the Bush Administration didn’t with other leaks."
I would note, too, that as the TSA was playing "hardball" with an American blogger, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, was cooling his heels, licking his wounds, and happily exercising his "right to remain silent" in a federal prison cell. Prudence might dictate interrogating Abdulmutallab to learn more about other would-be bombers who were training alongside him in Yemen or perhaps glean information about his handlers in London and Amsterdam.
Or maybe it's no big deal? That's probably it. No doubt there is plenty of time for the feds to get to the bottom of all that after they plug this embarrassing leak at the TSA.
(Hat tip: Ed Carson at Investor's Business Daily.)
Another reason to put this year behind us? Mullah Omar and co. says 2009 was a "successful" year. "The enemy does not have a constant policy," an unsigned statement said, according to CNN. "Sometimes they talk about sending more soldiers and other times they speak of an early withdrawal. Their thinking is irrational."
Oh, yeah? Well, tell it to the Marines.
Hawaii's ABC affiliate, KITV, reported a few hours ago that conservative radio talk show giant Rush Limbaugh "was rushed to a Honolulu hospital on Wednesday afternoon with chest pains."
According to the story:
Paramedics responded to the call at 2:41 p.m. at the Kahala Hotel and Resort.
Limbaugh suffered from chest pains, sources said. Paramedics treated him and took him to Queen's Medical Center in serious condition.
He was seen golfing at Waialae Country Club earlier this week. The country club is next to the Kahala Hotel and Resort.
The radio show host had been in the islands during the holidays. Coincidentally, his visit comes at a time when two of the nation's most powerful Democrats, President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are also staying in Hawaii.
So this is the way we do business now. (And it should go without saying that Atrios was right.) Limbaugh has said some terrible, terrible things over the years. Heretical things. Perhaps even -- quelle horreur -- seditious things! He wants Obama to fail, you know. What was interesting about the blow up that followed his remarks earlier this year was the way in which Limbaugh's critics conflated and confused the president of the United States with the country as a whole. Despite what some enlightened minds might think, we really haven't come so far in 200-plus years. There are more than a few Americans who wouldn't object to resurrecting the old English offense of "imagining the King's death."
I'm a conservative, but I'm not as much of a Limbaugh fan as I used to be. I hardly begrudge him his success and I surely respect his influence and reach. On balance, it's probably a good thing that Limbaugh is still on the air.
He'll be fine, in all likelihood. But let us not feign shock and amazement at the boorishness of people who hoped Limbaugh dropped dead on the links this afternoon. I'm not going to lie: I neither mourned nor toasted the death of Senator Ted Kennedy earlier this year, but I'm plenty glad he's gone. Kennedy was an enemy of constitutional government and a menace to liberty. I've no doubt there are many Americans who feel the same way about Rush Limbaugh. They're wrong, of course, but there's really no argument one way or the other. We don't argue anything anymore. We shout, bleat, blort, feel, assert, assume, fulminate, snark, sneer, denounce, declaim and flame.
But argue? No, sir. Argument has long since gone out of style.
I suggested yesterday that the failed Christmas Day Crotch Bombing indicates the bankruptcy of trying to defeat Al Qaeda by occupying Afghanistan. A look at Umar Abdulmutallab's history suggests more along these lines, indicating that his radicalization began ... in Britain. John Burns writes in the Times:
In recent days, officials in Washington and London have said they are focusing on the possibility that his London years, including his possible contacts with radical Muslim groups then, were decisive in turning him toward Islamic extremism.
That view, if confirmed, would offer a stark reaffirmation that Britain, the United States’ closest ally, poses a major threat to American security. Critics say the British security forces have failed to adequately monitor and restrain the Islamic militancy that thrives in the vast network of mosques that serve the nation’s 1.5 million Muslims, and on university campuses across the country where nearly 100,000 of the 500,000 students are Muslims, including many, like Mr. Abdulmutallab, from overseas.
I think it's safe to say we won't be invading and occupying Britain. Nor should we.
There's no silver bullet that will win the "War on Terror." Truth is, it can't be won -- at least, not in the sense that we'll completely deter every radical Muslim who dreams of inflicting damage on the United States. Which is why our investment in fighting that war should be proportionate to what's possible -- and directed toward efforts that have maximum effectiveness. The war in Afghanistan fails the test: tens of thousands of troops spending billions of dollars in a country where fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives are thought to be located. And it's doing nothing to keep Al Qaeda from attempting attacks on America. It's time to bring the troops home and focus on sustainable efforts to reduce and manage the risk of terrorism.