January 26, 2015

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Three paragraphs from Jonathan Tobin’s latest post remind us how ideologically blinded and obtuse the president is.

… Mr. Obama was also brainy enough to declare his foreign policy a terrific success on the very day that a Shiite militia group took over the presidential palace in the Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, “sparking fresh concerns about a country that has become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.” Which reminded me of how President Savant held up Yemen as a model of success only last September, telling us, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Which in turn reminded me of Libya.

It was in the fall of 2011 when President Obama, speaking to the United Nations and announcing yet another of his grand achievements, declared, “Forty two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free.” Mr. Obama went on to say, “This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.” And what a success it was. Just last summer, in fact, the United States, because of rising violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias, shut down its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort. Earlier this month King’s College George Joffe wrote, “Libya seems finally to be about to descend into full blown civil war.” Call it another Model of Success during the Obama era.

Our percipient president also declared in his State of the Union speech, “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” That assertion is so reality-based that (a) the Washington Post fact-checker declared “there is little basis” for the president’s claims and (b) the highest ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said the more he hears from Mr. Obama and his administration about Iran, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Oh, and the president made his announcement on the very day that we learned that Russia and Iran are more aligned than ever, having signed an agreement on military cooperation between the two nations. …



And Stephen Hayes writes on Iran nonsense.

When House speaker John Boehner invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in the coming weeks, the reaction from the White House was swift. In background interviews with reporters, top Obama administration officials made clear that they considered the invitation itself an affront and the acceptance of it a breach of protocol.


This is the same White House that last week had British prime minister David Cameron making calls to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers against more sanctions on Iran. It’s the same administration that had to apologize to Senator Marco Rubio and others for violating its pledge to “consult Congress” before making any unilateral changes to U.S. policy on Cuba. This is the same president who has boasted repeatedly of his ability and willingness to ignore the legislative branch and use his “pen and phone” to do what he wants. And this is the same administration that used the cover of anonymity to call Netanyahu “chickenshit” in a recent interview. …



All of the above has led Craig Pirrong of Streetwise Professor to say “we are in the midst of another low and dishonest decade.”

… Indeed, ISIS has been expanding rather dramatically throughout Syria, giving the lie to this SOTU statement: “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.” That’s true to a limited degree in Kobani and Mosul, but flatly wrong elsewhere in Iraq and especially Syria. Don’t even get me started on another Obama delusion: the “success” in Yemen, which has descended into absolute chaos with competing “Death to America” factions, both Shia and Sunni, vying for control.

It’s rather depressing to see the President of the United States do a Baghdad Bob imitation while addressing a joint session of Congress.

In sum, at present it appears that Putin is on the advance in Ukraine and ISIS is at best stalemated in Iraq and Syria. And the West’s leaders, reflecting the indifference of their citizenry, are content to let it happen, or at least do too little to prevent it from happening. In other words, we are in the midst of another low and dishonest decade. …



And has the Editors of Investor’s Business Daily starting to wonder if we have become a “banana republic.”

Yemen’s government fell and Saudi Arabia’s king died. But President Obama busied himself with YouTube stars and some of the lowest characters on the Internet. Is this our descent to a banana republic?

Another week has gone by in which the Free World could have used some leadership and President Obama was found wanting.

First, there were the events in Yemen, an ally that Obama had touted as one of our biggest successes in the war on terror but where the president was driven from office by tribal rebels. The commander in chief said virtually nothing. …



The Editors of IBD also rise to defend the A-10 Warthog.

… As Iraqi News reported last week after an A-10 sortie against IS forces near Mosul: “The aircraft sparked panic in the ranks of ISIS and bombing its elements in spaces close to the ground.” Such strikes also prove the value of such a low-maintenance aircraft built to take the punishment expected in close air support.

“Elements of the terrorist organization targeted the aircraft with 4 Strella missiles, but that did not cause it any damage, prompting the remaining elements of the organization to leave the bodies of the dead and carry the wounded to escape,” according to the Iraqi report.

This is not surprising, since the A-10 can almost hover over a battlefield as it picks out targets for its 20-foot-long, 2.5 ton, seven-barrel Gatling gun that can fire 1,100 of those 30 mm shells. The titanium shell that wraps around the bottom of its cockpit makes it difficult to shoot down.

The U.S. sent the aircraft to the region in late November with the 163rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a unit with the Indiana Air National Guard. The unit also provided close air support for air operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

On Jan. 15, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James pointed out that the A-10 had conducted 11% of all sorties against IS since August, despite the fact it was not deployed to the battlefield until November.

But it may be shot down soon by the budget-cutters. …



The last piece today on this president’s disasters comes from Roger Simon.

… During Obama’s presidency the influence of Ayatollah Khamenei’s Iranian Shiite regime has spread across the world like the proverbial wildfire, reaching from North Africa into Iraq, Lebanon (via Hezbollah), Syria (via Assad whose red line on chemical weapons famously faded into invisibility), Gaza (via improved relations with Hamas) and now into Yemen (via the Houthis) and undoubtedly a number of other places, including Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba.  And our president, consciously or unconsciously or both, has had as much to do as anyone with the creation of this nascent, soon-to-be nuclear armed and missile-ready  fundamentalist “Greater Persia.”  No wonder the Sunni Saudis are alarmed — they have been for a long time — and no wonder Obama suddenly decided to replace Biden in paying a condolence visit to Riyadh for the death of King Abdullah.  He has some powerful fence-mending to do that pretend bowing and scraping may not so easily solve.

Much of this Iran-coddling began back when the Green Movement was in the streets of Tehran seeking the overthrow of the ayatollahs and chanting “Obama, Obama… Are you with us or are you with them?” Our president did not respond.  He was already in private communication with the bizarre Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Obama wanted to be the one who got credit for reining in the excesses of the Islamic Republic, not those unruly student demonstrators who were the ones suffering from the regime in the first place, being murdered, tortured and raped in Evin Prison, often in reverse order.

Indeed, this unconscionable and out-of-control narcissism has been the key to Obama’s foreign policy throughout and accounts for the catastrophic global results we see in front of us now.  The “leading from behind” mantra has always been a fraud, masking what it really means: “I, Barack, know best and manipulate affairs from behind.”  It’s all about me.  (Is it ever!) …



As if by magic, the Washington Post’s business section has an article that could stand as the perfect metaphor for the president. Turns out major auto manufacturers are adding fake engine noise to give their vehicles an undeserved V8 growl. But we all know President Bystander is a three cylinder two-stroke Saab. 

Stomp on the gas in a new Ford Mustang or F-150 and you’ll hear a meaty, throaty rumble — the same style of roar that Americans have associated with auto power and performance for decades.

It’s a sham. The engine growl in some of America’s best-selling cars and trucks is actually a finely tuned bit of lip-syncing, boosted through special pipes or digitally faked altogether. And it’s driving car enthusiasts insane.

Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away. …

… That type of ire has made the auto industry shy about discussing its sound technology. Several attempts to speak with Ford’s sound engineers about the new F-150, a six-cylinder model of America’s best-selling truck that plays a muscular engine note through the speakers, were quietly rebuffed.

Car companies are increasingly wary of alerting buyers that they might not be hearing the real thing, and many automakers have worked with audio and software engineers to make their cars’ synthesized engine melody more realistic.

Volkswagen uses what’s called a “Soundaktor,” a special speaker that looks like a hockey puck and plays sound files in cars such as the GTI and Beetle Turbo. Lexus worked with sound technicians at Yamaha to more loudly amplify the noise of its LFA supercar toward the driver seat.

Some, including Porsche with its “sound symposer,” have used noise-boosting tubes to crank up the engine sound inside the cabin. Others have gone further into digital territory: BMW plays a recording of its motors through the car stereos, a sample of which changes depending on the engine’s load and power. …

January 25, 2015

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In one of our wonderful days with NO selections about Washington miscreants, we start with pictures of an underside of an iceberg. It’s the topside now, since it flipped just before the photos were taken. The article is from the Smithsonian, so we have to be treated to a lecture about how this is happening more often now because of guess what ? ? ? ? ? 

You got it!        Global Warming!

Is there anything it can’t do?

It can flip icebergs. Sorry about the regulation BS, but the photos are stunning and not often seen.

… Cornell’s guide suggested that the iceberg had recently flipped. Icebergs form when chunks of freshwater ice calve—or break off—from glaciers and ice shelves, as well as other icebergs. Because of the varying densities of ice and saltwater, only about 10 percent of an iceberg will ever show at the surface, and that protruding tip will gather dirt and snow. Melting can trigger calving, but it can also change the equilibrium of an iceberg, causing it to flip.

In the case of this jewel-like iceberg, the ice is probably very old. In glaciers, years of compression force out air pockets and gradually make the ice denser, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “When glacier ice becomes extremely dense, the ice absorbs a small amount of red light, leaving a bluish tint in the reflected light, which is what we see.” In addition, minerals and organic matter may have seeped into the underwater part of the iceberg over time, creating its vivid green-blue color. …




Gretchen Reynolds writes on the good that comes from lunch hour walks. 

To combat afternoon slumps in enthusiasm and focus, take a walk during the lunch hour.

A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

It is not news, of course, that walking is healthy and that people who walk or otherwise exercise regularly tend to be more calm, alert and happy than people who are inactive.

But many past studies of the effects of walking and other exercise on mood have focused on somewhat long-term, gradual outcomes, looking at how weeks or months of exercise change people emotionally.

Fewer studies have examined more-abrupt, day-to-day and even hour-by-hour changes in people’s moods, depending on whether they exercise, and even fewer have focused on these effects while people are at work, even though most of us spend a majority of our waking hours in an office.

So, for the new study, which was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports this month, researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities began by recruiting sedentary office workers at the university.

Potential volunteers were told that they would need to be available to walk for 30 minutes during their usual lunch hour three times a week. …


Discover Magazine reports on the exciting future of thorium nuclear energy because it doesn’t use a chain reaction that could go rogue, and the byproducts cannot be used in nuclear weapons.  

Nuclear power has long been a contentious topic. It generates huge amounts of electricity with zero carbon emissions, and thus is held up as a solution to global energy woes. But it also entails several risks, including weapons development, meltdown, and the hazards of disposing of its waste products.

But those risks and benefits all pertain to a very specific kind of nuclear energy: nuclear fission of uranium or plutonium isotopes. There’s another kind of nuclear energy that’s been waiting in the wings for decades – and it may just demand a recalibration of our thoughts on nuclear power.

Nuclear fission using thorium is easily within our reach, and, compared with conventional nuclear energy, the risks are considerably lower. …

… Conventional nuclear power using a fuel cycle involving uranium-235 and/or plutonium-239 was seen as killing two birds with one stone: reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, and creating the fuel needed for nuclear bombs. Thorium power, on the other hand, didn’t have military potential. And by decreasing the need for conventional nuclear power, a potentially successful thorium program would have actually been seen as threatening to U.S. interests in the Cold War environment.

Today, however, the situation is very different. Rather than wanting to make weapons, many global leaders are worried about proliferating nuclear technology. And that has led several nations to take a closer look at thorium power generation. …



From the Smithsonian, we learn a startling fact. There are more tigers in captivity in the U. S. than there are wild tigers in the whole world. 

Clayton James Eller loved going to his aunt’s house in Millers Creek, North Carolina, where he got to visit Tigger, her 317-pound pet Bengal tiger. One December day in 2003, ten-year-old C.J. was shoveling snow near Tigger’s outdoor pen when the animal attacked him from an opening in the chain-link fence and dragged him under. C.J.’s uncle grabbed his rifle and shot the tiger, but the boy died before he reached the hospital.

Tiger attacks in the United States are always dramatic news—there were 27 reported between 1990 and 2006, with seven people and most of the tigers killed. But maulings aren’t the only problem arising from the perhaps surprising fact that there are more captive tigers in the U.S. than there are wild tigers on earth.

Conservationists estimate that about 3,200 wild tigers remain around the world, while there are some 5,000 tigers in captivity in the U.S., according to the World Wildlife Fund. Even that number is probably low, says Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, because reporting is “based on the honor system, and we’re dealing with a lot of people that are really dishonorable.” Edward J. Grace, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy assistant director for law enforcement, estimates that the nation is home to more than 10,000 captive tigers. Only about 350 of those, says the WWF, are held in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. …



Why Files posts on the return of the carnivores to Europe.

A surprising new study shows that four big carnivores (brown bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf) are doing quite nicely in Europe, thank you very much, even without the wilderness protection that benefits some large predators in the United States.

“We find that in Europe we have twice as many wolves as in the lower 48 (American) states, on half the land area, with two times the human population density,” says Guillaume Chapron of the SwedishUniversity of Agricultural Sciences, the corresponding author of the new study.

In Europe, as in North America, large carnivores face ingrained hostility. It’s not just their ferocity, but also their need for a large range and lots of meat that makes them natural competitors.

Add it up, and both Europe and the United States had severe losses of carnivore populations by the 1960s.

Wilderness reserves and national parks in North America are intended to separate animals from people, but the new study points to other ways to ensure predator survival. “If we had followed the North American model of wilderness in Europe, we would not have predators, because in Europe everything is developed, we have roads everywhere,” Chapron says. …



The Atlantic tells us how Jelly Belly invents flavors.

In an echoing, high-ceilinged chamber in Northern California, there spin row upon row of what look like small cement mixers. The gleaming metal drums churn for hours on end while white-uniformed technicians pour in sugar, corn starch, color, and certain other, more miraculous concoctions. Out of one drum comes a whiff of red apple, conjuring a fall afternoon spent picking fruit; from another comes the buttered-popcorn scent of an evening at the movies. Out of drum after drum, all down the room, come smells evoking everything from apple pie to piña coladas to freshly mown grass.

Here, at the Jelly Belly candy factory, memories are reincarnated as jelly beans.

Flavor and scent are beloved for their ability to bring back memories long buried in the sensory deluge, a point made by Proust with his madeleine decades before modern science let us peer into the physiology of flavor. The flavor designers at the Jelly Belly Candy Company make it their business to speak this sensory language, and, through a process alternately technical and zany, to suss out exactly what it is that makes those tastes—and by extension, those memories—jump.

All Jelly Belly flavors, from toasted marshmallow to cappuccino—there are around 100 on the market at any given point—grow from ideas submitted by company employees, members of the public, retailers, and others, but the execution depends on a four-person team of food scientists, led by head of research and development Ambrose Lee and aided by the company’s marketing and executive teams. …

January 22, 2015

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Charles Krauthammer notes how President Talks-A-Lot has been mostly silent about the attacks in Paris.

… As for President Obama, he never was Charlie, not even for those 48 hours. From the day of the massacre, he has been practically invisible. At the interstices of various political rallies, he issued bits of muted, mealy-mouthed boilerplate. Followed by the now-famous absence of any high-ranking U.S. official at the Paris rally, an abdication of moral and political leadership for which the White House has already admitted error.

But this was no mere error of judgment or optics or, most absurdly, of communications in which we are supposed to believe that the president was not informed by staff about the magnitude, both actual and symbolic, of the demonstration he ignored. (He needed to be told?)

On the contrary, the no-show, following the near silence, precisely reflected the president’s profound ambivalence about the very idea of the war on terror. Obama began his administration by purging the phrase from the lexicon of official Washington. He has ever since shuttled between saying that (a) the war must end because of the damage “keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing” was doing to us, and (b) the war has already ended, as he suggested repeatedly during the 2012 campaign, with bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda “on the run.” …



From the president who normally can’t shut up, to the pope who also can’t shut up. David Harsanyi posts on the latest from Rome. 

We heathens can leave the theological debate to others.

But Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome and world leader of the Catholic Church, has some ideas about laws governing the secular world. We expect Francis to defend the dignity of faith, to bring clarity to the Catholic position. Yet instead the Pope, while en route to the Philippines, offered a number of comments about freedom of expression that ranged from the unclear to the contradictory.

More than simply saying that poking fun at religion was ugly, he argued that there should be limits on freedom of expression and on mocking faith. (All this with the caveat that the Pope’s words were not misrepresented or taken out of context, as they so often are by the media.) …

… then the Vicar of Christ goes on to explain that those who mock faith should expect to be punched in the face. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” says Francis. “It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

The Pope is unimpressed by provocateurs. He wants them barred.

Someone should ask the Pope if provocateurs should expect an asymmetrical response? For instance, if Gasparri uttered a curse word against the Pope’s mother, should he expect to his family blown up? That would be a more pertinent analogy. …



If that wasn’t enough, now he’s trying out slurs on Catholics saying they don’t have to breed “like rabbits.” USA Today has the story. We’re beginning to understand King Henry II when he asked, “Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome Priest?” 

Pope Francis, after a visit to the largest Catholic nation in Asia, says Catholics may have a moral responsibility to limit the number of their children and need not reproduce “like rabbits.”

But the pope also reaffirmed the church’s ban on artificial means of birth control and said Catholics should practice “responsible parenting.”

His comments on the subject of birth control, made aboard the papal jet returning to Rome from the Philippines, were described as apparently unprecedented by the National Catholic Reporter, an independent news organization that follows the Vatican. …



Matthew Continetti thinks liberals defending Charlie Hebdo freedoms are noticeably absent elsewhere in the struggle to be free.

… The unanimity of outrage expressed on Twitter, the unthinking allegiance to the cause of the hour whatever that cause might be, the social positioning of writers struggling to be the most pure, the most righteous, the most moving in their indignation—all of these things remind me of other scandals, of other rages, in which the targets were not Islamic terrorists but men and women who disagree with elements of liberal dogma.

Do liberals actually believe in the right to offend? Their attitude seems to me to be ambivalent at best. And this equivocation was apparent within hours of the attack, when news outlets censored or refused to publish the images for which the Charlie Hebdo editors were killed. Classifying satire or opinion as “hate speech” subject to regulation is not an aberration. It is commonplace.

Indeed, the outpouring of support for free speech in the aftermath of the Paris attack coincides with, and partially obscures, the degradation of speech rights in the West. Commencement last year was marked by universities revoking appearances by speakers Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for no other reason than that mobs disagreed with the speakers’ points of view. I do not recall liberals rallying behind Condi and Hirsi Ali then.

Nor do I recall liberals standing up for the critics of global warming and evolutionary theory, of same-sex marriage and trans rights and women in combat, of riots in Ferguson and of Obama’s decision to amnesty millions of illegal immigrants. On the contrary: To dissent from the politically correct and conventional and fashionable is to invite rebuke, disdain, expulsion from polite society, to court the label of Islamophobe or denier or bigot or cisnormative or misogynist or racist or carrier of privilege and irredeemable micro-aggressor. For the right to offend to have any meaning, however, it cannot be limited to theistic religions. You must have the right to offend secular humanists, too.

Brendan Eich donated a thousand dollars to Proposition Eight in 2008. Six years later it cost him his job. In 2014, when Charles Krauthammer merely stated his agnosticism on the question of what causes global warming, liberals organized a petition demanding his removal from the Washington Post. A rather touchy climate scientist named Michael Mann—subtly parodied in Interstellar—has sued National Review and Mark Steyn for disagreeing with him. Last May, after some sensitive souls complained, the Chicago Sun-Times removed from its site a column by Kevin D. Williamson critical of transgender activism. No one wept for Kevin. …



Yes President Ungracious did speak last night. Byron York has some of the details.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the 2015 State of the Union address was not the president at the podium but the audience in the seats. The joint session of Congress listening to President Obama Tuesday night included 83 fewer Democrats than the group that heard Obama’s first address in 2009 — 69 fewer Democrats in the House and 14 fewer in the Senate. The scene in the House Chamber was a graphic reminder of the terrible toll the Obama years have taken on Capitol Hill Democrats.

Not that the president would ever acknowledge that. Indeed, in more than an hour of speaking, Obama never once acknowledged that there was a big election in November and that the leadership of the Senate has changed. Obama’s silence on that political reality stood in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, in which he graciously and at some length acknowledged the Democrats’ victory in the 2006 midterms. Bush said it was an honor to address Nancy Pelosi as “Madam Speaker.” He spoke of the pride Pelosi’s late father would have felt to see his daughter lead the House. “I congratulate the new Democrat majority,” Bush said. “Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities.”

If one cannot imagine Obama saying such a thing — well, he didn’t. …

… Beyond failing to acknowledge the new reality on Capitol Hill, Obama at times seemed equally out of touch with reality both in the nation and the world.

“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance,” Obama said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The claim left some foreign policy observers aghast, since there is a general consensus that the Islamic State is making progress in the face of limited American air attacks. “That just isn’t the case, according to military officials I’ve been speaking to,” NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel said of Obama’s statement. “[The Islamic State] are taking new territory.” Of Obama’s description of a world in which the Islamic State is retreating, Afghanistan is on the road to peace, and terrorists are on the run from South Asia to North Africa, Engel concluded, “It sounded like the president was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in.” …

January 21, 2015

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The president’s pompous idiot John Kerry finally shows up in France. And he arrives with a minstrel show. Kevin Williamson has fun with it.

… The spectacle of the Obama administration’s dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to “share a big hug with Paris” as James Taylor — who still exists — crooned “You’ve Got a Friend” is the perfect objective correlative for American decline: The pathetic self-regard of John Kerry and James Taylor’s Baby Boomers meets the cynical, self-serving, going-through-the-motions style of Barack Obama’s Generation X as disenchanted Millennials in parental basements across the fruited plains no doubt injured their thumbs typing “WTF?” It is the substitution of celebrity for power, of sentiment for analysis, of sloppy gesture for clear-headed commitment. …

… James Taylor may in fact be the quintessential man of his generation. He is the son of two highly accomplished parents, his father a physician and dean of the University of North Carolina medical school who served in the Arctic with Operation Deep Freeze, his mother a soprano who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. A child of affluence bringing up the rear of the Age of Aquarius, he was in a mental institution by the time he was of high-school age, and then tried to launch a musical career but launched a career as a full-time junkie instead. His fortunes turned around when he inherited money and used his new status to move to London and exploit his social connections to link up with Paul McCartney and become rich and famous with a catchy song about what a complete screw-up he had been his entire life. At some point, this man who is so colorlessly country-club that he makes the Fox News weekday lineup look like the original cast of Hair declared himself a “churning urn of burning funk.” For the next few decades he proceeded to burden the world with a burgeoning catalog of insipid mediocrity until, finally, he descended to the lowest point a musician ever reaches, three steps down from busking in subway stations: He became a hired hand for politicians, playing with MoveOn.org’s “Vote for Change” tour through swing states on behalf of — small world! — John Kerry, our national personification of vanity, a kept man, dilettante, and Democratic time-server whose career was both launched and sustained by self-serving accounts of his service in the Vietnam War, a conflict that Taylor avoided by being declared mentally unfit to serve. …



Jonathan Tobin treats us to more.

One of the basic rules of satire is that it is virtually impossible to satirize something that is already inherently ridiculous. That axiom is brought to mind as America belatedly sought to reaffirm its friendship with France in the wake of the administration’s decision to snub the Paris unity rally that commemorated the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and a kosher market. Neither the president nor the vice president or even Secretary of State John Kerry bothered to come to a gathering attended by over 40 world leaders. But to make up for this, Kerry brought folk rock singer James Taylor to Paris to serenade French officials with a version of Carol King’s classic ballad, “You’ve Got a Friend.” This is something so absurd that it isn’t clear even the cleverest minds at Saturday Night Live or even Charlie Hebdo could adequately convey the sophomoric nature of a lame attempt to make up for a gaffe. …

… Kerry’s cringe-inducing turn hosting his friend Taylor isn’t the dumbest thing he has done at the State Department by a long shot. Having faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace and signing a weak nuclear deal with Iran are hard to top. But is an iconic moment that will symbolize Obama and Kerry’s ham-handed approach to allies. A song, even a folk rock classic that allows Kerry to reminisce about his youth spent falsely testifying against his fellow Vietnam vets, can’t substitute for a strong stand against Islamists or even the ability to say the word. Prior to this, it was possible to argue that U.S. foreign policy had become a joke. But after Taylor had finished warbling, even the president and his inner White House circle must be wondering what sort of a fool they’ve unleashed on the world.



Editors of the NY Daily News think the stunt shows as much disrespect as the presidential blowoff.  

John Kerry has given new meaning to the term “tone deaf.”

There America’s secretary of state was, on the visit to Paris that he should have made when world leaders linked arms in solidarity against Islamist terror.

There he was, to belatedly convey the resolve of the United States of America in defending civilization and the values of free democracy after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres of 17 people.

And there he was, forgoing a clarion call for global solidarity in favor of a hum-along with gentle, guitar-strumming folkie James Taylor.

It’s absurd but it’s not funny. It’s as bad a diss as President Obama’s no-show failure to appreciate the gravity of this moment in the war on terror. …



Andrew Malcolm lists five reasons to blow off President Real Good Talker. Pickerhead can list five reasons too; A&E is showing reruns of Storage Wars, USA has Modern Family, Kentucky is going to host Vanderbilt for a roast of their men’s basketball team, Discovery has Moonshiner reruns, and Bravo has Beverly Hills Housewives. Storage Wars is the beer drinker’s Antiques Roadshow and it’s not true watching it burns off IQ points.

For once, Barack Obama pays attention tonight to the Constitution, which requires that a president “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.”

There’s nothing in that sacred document about turning it into a pie-in-the-sky, political wish list, criticizing Supreme Court justices to their faces or going on for over an hour on prime-time TV and pre-empting some of our most popular shows. There’s not even any mention of a president delivering the required information in person or verbally — very verbally.

Obama’s State of the Union Addresses have been among the longest in modern history, averaging nearly 65 minutes. Not as long as the 71-minute average of Bill Clinton, who also liked to hear himself talk. But way surpassing the 37 minutes of Ronald Reagan, who was more interested in communicating. …



It’s your patriotic duty not to watch SOTU. Charles Cooke says it’s un-American.

… As a matter of basic constitutional propriety, there is something unutterably rotten about the State of the Union. The essential principle of the American settlement, Thomas Jefferson confirmed in a 1797 letter, “is that of a separation of legislative, Executive and Judiciary functions.” And as far as possible, he added, it is incumbent upon “every friend of free government” to keep it that way. Why, then, each and every January are we happy to watch the head of the executive branch walk slap bang into the middle of the legislature and deliver an unchallenged, immoderate, and entirely self-serving lecture about himself and his desires? Why do we permit one branch to issue a campaign speech in the heart of enemy territory? How do we imagine we are serving the interests of fractured government by assembling all of its moving parts in one place?

Within the English system of government — in which the executive and the legislature are fused — such an arrangement would make perfect sense. Within the Madisonian system, however, it is little short of preposterous — especially when one considers that the legislature is accorded no opportunity whatsoever to push back. Explaining his decision to abolish the practice in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson contended that the new country should not tolerate a pageant so similar in nature to the British Speech from the Throne, and announced instead that he would be fulfilling his constitutional duties in writing. …

It can certainly not be hoped that this chief executive (That would be president narcissist) will limit himself in the name of abstract, Jeffersonian principle — nor, for that matter, is it likely that his successor will, either. But why, one has to wonder, does Congress continue to applaud the charade?



Circling back to Kerry’s stunt in Paris, Clarice Feldman says it’s so dumb there’s no room for parody.

I was sound asleep when the phone rang and so I cannot be absolutely sure the conversation was not a dream, but it seemed real enough.

“Hello,” the caller began. “My name is Mr. Mensch, I am president of the Parodists of the World, professional comedy writers, and we want to engage you in a suit against the administration for tortious interference with our livelihood.”

“What exactly are you alleging, I mean specifics?” I responded.

He then launched into a litany of grievances against the administration which the Parodists claimed had made it impossible for them to continue making a living.

“First, our country sent no one to the important anti-terrorism demonstration in Paris, and then there’s Valerie Jarrett calling the march against the slaughter of innocents in Paris a ‘Parade’, as if this were some sort of celebration.‘ Certainly We Would Have Loved To Participate In The Parade,” But We “Got The Substance Right”’.” She said and then proceeded to claim that Holder couldn’t attend because he was in a very important terrorism conference at the time, forgetting that we knew everyone else at the conference made it to the march except Holder. So at the time of the march he was meeting with himself, it seems.”

“Well, that was silly, “I agreed.  “And?” I waited for the next item.

“Then our secretary of state, John Kerry, whose entire life has been fashioned around his self-imagined superior diplomatic skills and international affairs expertise, shows up speaking execrable high school level French, accompanied by  an aging ex-druggie who sings to the grieving French ‘You’ve Got a Friend’”

“I have to agree that was preposterous and really embarrassing. One wag suggested the French ought to respond by having Carly Simon sing, ‘You’re so Vain’ to the President and his Secretary of State. ‘Send in the Clowns’ comes to mind.” …

January 20, 2015

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Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, published a blockbuster last week. Here’s what a liberal foreign affairs expert thinks of the president’s efforts. We have been saying for years that the narcissist is a rank amateur. Clueless, feckless, worthless are just some of the words we’ve used in this regard. Now we hear from an expert;

Here’s why America’s failure to be represented at the Paris unity march was so profoundly disturbing. It wasn’t just because President Obama’s or Vice President Biden’s absence was a horrendous gaffe. More than this, it demonstrated beyond argument that the Obama team lacks the basic instincts and judgment necessary to conduct U.S. national security policy in the next two years. It’s simply too dangerous to let Mr. Obama continue as is—with his current team and his way of making decisions. America, its allies, and friends could be heading into one of the most dangerous periods since the height of the Cold War. …

… First, Mr. Obama will have to thank his senior National Security Council team and replace them. The must-gos include National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, chief speech writer/adviser Ben Rhodes, and foreign policy guru without portfolio Valerie Jarrett. They can all be replaced right away, and their successors won’t require senatorial confirmation.

Here’s who could succeed them and inspire great confidence immediately at home and abroad: first rate former top officials and proven diplomats Thomas Pickering, Winston Lord, and Frank Wisner; Republicans with sterling records like Robert Zoellick, Rich Armitage, Robert Kimmitt, and Richard Burt; or a rising young Democrat of proven ability and of demonstrated Cabinet-level quality, Michele Flournoy. Any one of them would make a huge difference from Day 1 in a top role. Others among them could be brought on to the NSC as senior advisers without portfolio to take the lead on specific problems. These are not just my personal opinions about these individuals; they are practically universal ones.

The State Department really needs help, too. Anthony Blinken, the new No. 2 there, is quite good and should stay. But Secretary of State John Kerry has been described even by the faithful in this administration as quixotic. …



Steve Hayward of Power Line posts on Gelb’s article.

I remember as a mere callow college student when I made out that Jimmy Carter was finished: when liberals turned on him. For example, Ken Bode, then the revered moderator of “Washington Week in Review” on PBS, wrote in 1979 “It’s Over For Jimmy” in The New Republic: “The past two weeks will be remembered as the period when President Carter packed it in, put the finishing touches on a failed presidency” (There’s lots more in this vein recounted in the first volume of my Age of Reagan books.)

So it shouldn’t surprise us that people are saying Obama’s no-show in Paris last weekend was his “diplomatic Katrina.” More serious is the Daily Beast article out yesterday from Leslie Gelb, who doesn’t come any more Establishmenty than a Harvard-trained Rockefeller. Gelb, notable for chiefly being boring, is the kind of Establishment figure who usually tut-tuts Republican presidents for being too bellicose. But he thinks Obama is circling the drain on foreign policy: …



John Fund’s recent piece on Valerie Jarrett is germane.

It’s high time the news media paid more attention to Valerie Jarrett. An old Chicago friend of both Barack and Michelle Obama’s, she exercises unusual influence in the White House as a “senior adviser.” Many in Washington believe that she is at the heart of the disappointment the Obama administration has become. They are unwilling to say so in public. But the evidence keeps piling up.

One who is isn’t afraid to speak up is Steven Brill, the author of a searing new book analyzing American health care called “America’s Bitter Pill.” Brill is a liberal and still thinks that Obamacare should have been passed. But in his exhaustively researched book (he spoke with 243 people over a 27-month period), he slams “incompetence in the White House” for the catastrophic launch of Obamacare in 2013: “Never [has there] been a group of people who more incompetently launched something.” During an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” last week, he lay much of the blame at Jarrett’s doorstep. “The people in the administration who knew it was going wrong went to the president directly with memos, in person, to his chief of staff,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross. But “the president was protected, mostly by Valerie Jarrett, from doing anything.” Although Obama had no idea of the issues until they ultimately reared their head, he still bears the blame, Brill said. “At the end of the day, he’s responsible. . . . The president, whatever we can say about him on policy and on giving speeches, as a manager, he failed. He didn’t know what was going on in the single most important initiative of his administration.” …

… But Jarrett isn’t any ordinary staffer. There are several things noteworthy about her. 1) Jarrett seems to be the only close Obama aide who entered the administration and is still there; 2) Jarrett has been highly successful in keeping new people with fresh ideas she doesn’t like from the president; and 3) she appears to suffer more than most staffers from a severe case of hero worship of her boss.

Consider what she told David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, in an interview for The Bridge, his 2010 book on Obama:

“He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but someone with extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do. He would never be satisfied with what ordinary people do.”

As columnist George Will noted in astonishment: “Leave aside the question of whether someone so smitten can be in any meaningful sense an adviser. About what can such a paragon as Obama need advice?” …



John Steele Gordon posts on one of the “new ideas” that will come out of the prancing fool’s state of the union address Tuesday night.

… As for taxes, his one idée fixe has been to raise taxes on the rich, an idea that goes back to the 1840s. Consider his proposal regarding inherited property, to be unveiled in the State of the Union speech this Tuesday. It calls for heirs to inherit not only the property but also the original cost basis of the property, subjecting it to far higher capital gains taxes when the heirs sell it. As it stands now, the heirs’ cost basis is the price on the date of death.

But the heirs of large estates would have already paid as much as a whopping 40 percent under the estate tax, which is nothing more nor less than a capital gains taxes triggered by death instead of sale. Obama also wants to raise the capital gains tax to 28 percent, so the total tax take might be as high as 56.8 percent. But many capital assets, such as real estate and shares in a company founded by the decedent, are held for decades and the capital gains and estates taxes are not indexed for inflation.

So much of the value taxed away would be illusory, a tax on phantom gains. An investment worth $1 million in 1970 would have to be worth $6.1 million today for there to be any real gain at all. That won’t stop the president from calling his proposal “fair” and “the right thing to do.” It is, of course, neither, just the same century-old leftist, stick-it-to-the-rich boilerplate.

Fortunately these proposals have zero chance of getting through the new Republican Congress. Still, it’s going to be a long two years until January 20, 2017, a date that will mark what my new favorite bumper sticker calls ‘The End of an Error.”



Randy Barnett, law professor and Volokh contributor has an interesting post on the president’s duty to act in good faith. This is pretty complex and it is difficult to come up with a pithy pull quote. Perhaps it should have waited until just before the weekend. But it is a worthwhile read.

… According to this theory of good faith performance, “scarcity of enforcement resources” is an appropriate motive for exercising prosecutorial discretion, but disagreement with the law being enforced is not. The same holds true with exercising prosecutorial discretion to enforce marijuana laws in states that have made it legal under state law. Prioritizing seriousness of offenses is one thing; disagreeing with the policy of the Controlled Substances Act (as I do) is another.

But how do you tell the difference? Here is where the President’s previous statements about the scope of his powers, about his legislative priorities, and his frustration with Congress’s “inaction” become legally relevant. His prior statements go to the President’s state of mind or motive, which is dispositive of the issue of “good faith.” If the President believed that the law precluded these actions but he was exercising the discretion he was given under the law to accomplish them nonetheless, he was abusing his discretion and acting in bad faith. Whether or not the law gave him discretion is not the answer to the question, it is the problem that a doctrine of good faith performance is devised to address. …



Business Insider says there’s a reason you won’t waste your time watching the state of the union.

Sure, the pageantry and theatrics of the annual presidential address will all be there. The stem-winder of a speech from President Barack Obama. The standing ovations from his supporters, and strategic smirks and scowls from his opponents. The wall-to-wall media coverage and cable news countdown clocks.

But viewership is falling, with 20 million fewer people watching last year’s State of the Union compared to Bill Clinton’s address at the same point in his presidency.

Congress rarely follows through on the policy proposals the president unveils. And this year, the battle lines between Obama and the new Republican-led Congress will have already been set before the president arrives on Capitol Hill for the annual address to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.

The dwindling impact of the big speech has sent the White House searching for new ways to break through. It’s now thinking of the State of the Union as an “organizing principle” rather than a single, communal event. …


But, we do have lots of SOTU cartoons with attitude.

January 19, 2015

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Jeff Jacoby writes on the damage anti-Semitism is causing to the culture of France.

Even before last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the French prime minister was concerned about the continued viability of Jewish life in France. In an interview with The Atlantic prior to the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres, Manuel Valls made a grim prediction:

“If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The FrenchRepublic will be judged a failure.”

His misgivings were far from groundless. An exodus of French Jews is already underway and accelerating rapidly. In 2012, there were just over 1,900 immigrants to Israel from France. The following year nearly 3,400 French Jews emigrated; in 2014 approximately 7,000 left. For the first time ever, France heads the list of countries of origin for immigrants to Israel, and the ministry of immigration absorption expects another 10,000 French Jews to arrive in 2015.

That would mean more than 22,000 Jews fleeing France for Israel in the space of just four years, nearly 4.5 percent of the country’s Jewish population. The departure of 100,000 French Jews might once have been inconceivable. No longer. In a survey last spring of France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe, three out of four respondents said they were considering emigrating. …




Jeff Jacoby alluded to a piece on anti-Semitism by the British historian Paul Johnson. It appeared in the June 2005 issue of Commentary. We tracked it down and have included it.

The intensification of anti-Semitism in the Arab world over the last years and its reappearance in parts of Europe have occasioned a number of thoughtful reflections on the nature and consequences of this phenomenon, but also some misleading analyses based on doubtful premises. It is widely assumed, for example, that anti-Semitism is a form of racism or ethnic xenophobia. This is a legacy of the post-World War II period, when revelations about the horrifying scope of Hitler’s “final solution” caused widespread revulsion against all manifestations of group hatred. Since then, racism, in whatever guise it appears, has been identified as the evil to be fought.

But if anti-Semitism is a variety of racism, it is a most peculiar variety, with many unique characteristics. In my view as a historian, it is so peculiar that it deserves to be placed in a quite different category. I would call it an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone.

Geneticists and experts in related fields may object that my observation is not scientifically valid. My rejoinder is simple: how can one make scientific judgments in this area? Scientists cannot even agree on how to define race itself, or whether the category exists in any meaningful sense. The immense advances in genetics over the last half-century, far from simplifying the problem, have made it appear more complex and mysterious. [1] All that scientists appear able to do is to present the evidence, often conflicting, of studies they have undertaken. And this, essentially, is what a historian does as well. He shows how human beings have behaved, over long periods and in many different places, when confronted with the apparent fact of marked racial differences.

The historical evidence suggests that racism, in varying degrees, is ubiquitous in human societies, so much so that it might even be termed natural and inevitable (though not irremediable: its behavioral consequences can be mitigated by education, political arrangements, and intermarriage). It often takes the form of national hostility, especially when two countries are placed by geography in postures of antagonism. Such has been the case with France and England, Poland and Russia, and Germany and Denmark, to give only three obvious examples.

By contrast, anti-Semitism is very ancient, has never been associated with frontiers, and, although it has had its ups and downs, seems impervious to change. The Jews (or Hebrews) were “strangers and sojourners,” as the book of Genesis puts it, from very early times, and certainly by the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.E. Long before the great diaspora that followed the conflicts of Judea with Rome, they had settled in many parts of the Mediterranean area and Middle East while maintaining their separate religion and social identity; the first recorded instances of anti-Semitism date from the 3rd century B.C.E., in Alexandria. Subsequent historical shifts have not ended anti-Semitism but merely superimposed additional archaeological layers, as it were. To the anti-Semitism of antiquity was added the Christian layer and then, from the time of the Enlightenment on, the secularist layer, which culminated in Soviet anti-Semitism and the Nazi atrocities of the first half of the 20th century. Now we have the Arab-Muslim layer, dating roughly from the 1920′s but becoming more intense with each decade since.

What strikes the historian surveying anti-Semitism worldwide over more than two millennia is its fundamental irrationality. It seems to make no sense, any more than malaria or meningitis makes sense. In the whole of history, it is hard to point to a single occasion when a wave of anti-Semitism was provoked by a real Jewish threat (as opposed to an imaginary one). In Japan, anti-Semitism was and remains common even though there has never been a Jewish community there of any size. …

… In the 1890′s, the Czarist secret police, anxious to “prove” the reality of the Jewish threat to Russia, had asked its agent in Paris (then, with Vienna, the world center of anti-Semitism) to provide corroborating materials. He took a pamphlet written by Maurice Joly in 1864 that accused Napoleon III of ambitions to dominate the world; re-wrote it, substituting the Jews for Napoleon and dressing up the tale with traditional anti-Semitic details; and titled it The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It resurfaced in Russia after the 1917 coup by the Bolsheviks, who were widely believed by their White Russian opponents to be Jewish-led, and thence made its way to the Middle East. When Weizmann arrived in Jerusalem in 1918, he was handed a typewritten copy by the British commander, General Sir Wyndham Deedes, who said: “You had better read all this with care. It is going to cause you a great deal of trouble in the future.”

In 1921, after a full investigation, the London Times published a series of articles exposing the origins of the tract and demonstrating beyond all possible doubt that it was a complete invention. But by then the damage that Deedes had warned about was done. Among those who read, and believed, the forgery was Adolf Hitler. Another was Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, head of the biggest landowning family in Palestine. Al-Husseini was already tinged with hatred of Jews, but the Protocols gave him a purpose in life: to expel all Jews from Palestine forever. He had innocent blue eves and a quiet, almost cringing manner, but was a dedicated killer who devoted his entire life to race-murder. …


… Over the last half-century, anti-Semitism has been the essential ideology of the Arab world; its practical objective has been the destruction of Israel and the extermination of its inhabitants. And this huge and baneful force, this disease of the mind, has once again had its customary consequence. Just as Hitler ended his life a suicide, having failed in his mission of destroying the Jewish people, so 100 million or more Arabs, marching under the banner of anti-Semitism, have totally failed, despite four full-scale wars and waves of terrorism and intifadas without number, to extinguish tiny Israel.

In the meantime, by allowing their diseased obsession to dominate all their aspirations, the Arabs have wasted trillions in oil royalties on weapons of war and propaganda — and, at the margin, on ostentatious luxuries for a tiny minority. In their flight from reason, they have failed to modernize or civilize their societies, to introduce democracy, or to consolidate the rule of law. Despite all their advantages, they are now being overtaken decisively by the Indians and the Chinese, who have few natural resources but are inspired by reason, not hatred.

Yet still the Arabs feed off the ravages of the disease, imbibing and spreading its poison. Even as they keep alive the Protocols itself, now published in tens of millions of copies in major Arab capitals, they have embellished its lurid fantasies with their own, homegrown mythologies of Jewish wickedness. Recently the Protocols was made into a 41-part TV series, filmed in Cairo and disseminated throughout the Muslim world. Turkey, once a bastion of moderation, with a thriving economy, is now a theater of anti-Semitism, where hatred of Israel breeds varieties of Islamic extremism. At a time when at long last there is real hope of democracy taking root in the Arab and Muslim world, the paralysis continues and indeed is spreading.

In Europe, too, anti-Semitism has returned after being supposedly banished forever in the late 1940′s. Fueled by large and growing Muslim minorities, whose mosques and websites propagate hatred of Jews, it has also been nourished by indigenous elements, both intellectual and political. It has even penetrated mainstream parties anxious to garner Muslim votes — New Labor in Britain being a disturbing example. …




Ruth Wisse makes the case that anti-Semitism is the beard for cultures that hate modernity. 

… If we mistakenly imagine that this is “about” the Jews, however, we fall into the trap that anti-Semitism sets for us by deflecting attention from perpetrators to victims. The trail of terror leads not to the Jews but from those who organize against them. Fingering the Jews—in their homeland or elsewhere—is a pretext. In every case, Jews are convenient targets standing in for the liberalizing aspects of individual freedom, democratic governance and modernity complete with its anxieties. Anti-Jewish politics aims at the tolerant societies in which Jews flourish.

One of those societies is Israel. Adjusting our sights, if we follow the trail of Middle East terror back, past its current practitioners—Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and various offshoots and affiliates—we arrive at the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PLO was founded in 1964—three years before the war launched by the Arab states from which Israel emerged in possession of some disputed territory on the west bank of the Jordan River. Until 1967, the PLO and its offshoots had existed in Jordan but been suppressed; after the war, as the PLO focused its terror exclusively against the Jews, money began to flow to the organization from the Arab states. A pure product of ideological anti-Semitism, the PLO and its terrorism formed but one weapon in the Arab war that was failing to destroy Israel by other means.

Here we reach the heart of the matter. Opposition to Israel was the unifying feature of an otherwise splintered Arab League that found in anti-Zionism the same ideological energy that Europeans had found in anti-Semitism. Other ideologies pit left against right; religious against secular; reactionaries against progressives. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism unite otherwise contentious parties against a common target.

After World War II, Arab leaders in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere welcomed fleeing Nazi officers for their military, technological and political expertise. The radical differences between the two cultures did not preclude collaboration in a unified strategy focused on the same Jewish target.

Those Arab leaders made a poor choice. With their countries almost unscathed by the war, they might have concentrated on regional improvement, following the lead of Jordan’s King Abdullah I, who was prepared to settle for the lion’s share of Mandate Palestine. Instead they found in Israel a scapegoat and, in the Palestinians, a pawn whom they condemned to perpetual refugee status as a pretext for their own perpetual belligerence. No doubt they believed they could control potential domestic unrest by channeling popular anger at a foreign “invader.” …

January 18, 2015

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Turns out, according to Wired, squinting actually helps us see better. 

Recently, I bellied up to a bar waiting for what seemed like an eternity to order my beer. It’s not that the place was busy, in fact the bartender was waiting for me. But I’d forgotten my glasses, so reading the tap list—hung high on the back wall—was slow going, even though it was written in six-inch chalk letters. Just before I made my choice, I caught a glance of myself in the back mirror. I was squinting like a sea captain steering through a gale. With wide open eyes, the list would have been unreadable.

Why do people squint to see better? For the longest time, I thought squeezing my eyelids somehow reshaped my faulty eyeballs. And while squinting does slightly change the shape of your lenses, the real answer has to more to do with the back of your eye than the front. …



The Verge has an article on New York City’s deer problem. Deer (rats with hooves) have become a serious problem throughout the country. This piece is a bit long, but it expands its focus beyond Staten Island to the whole country.

Just before Christmas of last year, John Caminiti, who lives in Staten Island, New York City’s least populated borough, watched traffic come to a standstill outside the Staten Island Mall. “It got quiet all of a sudden,” Caminiti told me. “I look around, and there was a big buck, standing right on the fringe of the wilderness and the mall. A calm came over people.”

Staten Island is located a half-hour by ferry off the southern tip of Manhattan, and the Caminitis have lived here for almost a century. “My grandmother was a baby when my great-grandfather brought her over here,” he said. At that time, the island had practically no deer. Then the island had a few deer. Now there are a lot of deer, and they are everywhere.

Nobody really knows where the herds came from. The Staten Island Advance reported sightings as far back as 1991; according to The New York Times, deer began appearing “with some frequency” around 2000.

In 2008, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation conducted a survey of Staten Island’s deer population. The biologist who searched the woods estimated there were approximately 24 white-tailed deer in the borough. Last winter, the New York City Parks Department conducted an aerial, infrared survey of the island and found 793 individuals — an apparent 3,304 percent increase in just six years.

Deer on the island have gone from a rarity to a delight to a problem with no immediate solution. …

… White-tailed deer are not particularly large animals, but they are muscular and athletic, some reportedly able to jump over fences 10 feet high. The tails from which they derive their name stick up jauntily over their rears as they run away from you.

Before European colonization, North America was home to somewhere between 24 and 33 million white-tailed deer, most widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains. In the following centuries, that population was destroyed — first by traders operating out of coastal cities, making deals with Native Americans for pelts; then by settlers moving out West. Deer died by the hundreds of thousands as the market grew for their meat and hides.

But it was the second half of the 19th century that truly decimated animal populations across the United States. In his book Nature Wars, wildlife historian, journalist, and hunter Jim Sterba writes, “All wildlife suffered, from bison to songbirds. Demand for wild products soared as immigrants poured in and the US population grew to 76 million. Any wild species with any value was killed for meat, fur, or feathers.”

The white-tailed population plummeted to an estimated low of 350,000 animals in 1890. According to Serba, “by the end of the 19th century white-tailed deer were so scarce that market hunters no longer bothered with them.”

“By the end of the 19th century white-tailed deer were so scarce that market hunters no longer bothered with them.”

Then, thanks to a set of concepts and policies referred to as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the deer made a tremendous comeback. The model, encouraged by a rising American bourgeoisie that yearned for recreational hunting, established a series of principles to promote rebounding deer populations: create protected green spaces where commercial hunting was banned; foster safe and abundant spaces for regulated, recreational hunting; and further discourage predator species that had essentially already been eradicated. The logic was simple: you can’t hunt the deer if all the deer are already dead.

As a result, the United States now has over 30 million white-tailed deer, much more densely populated than they ever were before Europeans arrived. Unchecked by wolves, cougars, and bears, the herds wreak havoc: a 2012 Rutgers University study alleges that white-tailed deer are responsible for most of the $4.5 billion worth of crops that US agriculture loses to wildlife annually; they account for three to four thousand car collisions a day. New Jersey alone had 31,192 deer collisions from 2011 to 2012. Unchecked by predators or hunters, only starvation will limit population growth.

To bring a native species back from the brink of eradication should be cause for celebration — in this respect, the revival of white-tailed deer is one of the conservation movement’s finest accomplishments. But our understanding of what is best for the deer, for people, and for the wider ecosystem is, perhaps, changing. And success is starting to resemble failure. …



Kevin Williamson has some cogent observations on the drop in crude oil prices.

Whatever happened to the go-juice cartel?

When gasoline prices rise, there is inevitably a great deal of ill-informed and irresponsible talk about conspiracies, price-fixing, “gouging” poor drivers, etc. After a spike in gasoline prices in 2007, opportunistic House Democrats passed a bill that would have empowered the federal government to lock American citizens in prison for selling gasoline at prices that displeased the president. (Clapping people into prison is the unwavering gut instinct of so-called liberals.) When Republicans in the Senate blocked the Democrats’ patently insane plan to — repeat — lock human beings in cages for a decade for selling gasoline at presidentially unapproved prices, the Democrats instantly retreated even farther into conspiracy theory, claiming that corrupt Republicans had sold their votes to Big Oil.

Among the leading gasoline-conspiracy theorists during the Great Gasoline Kerfuffle of 2004 were Ed Markey, who was in the House at the time but has since been elevated to the Senate by Massachusetts masochists, and Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who co-authored a letter (signed by another 51 Democrats) demanding that the attorney general investigate displeasing gasoline prices, which they blamed on “the Bush administration’s cozy relationship with big oil companies” rather than the usual interaction of supply and demand. Apparently, gasoline prices should command the personal attention of the attorney general at least, if not that of the president.

The mind-boggling fact is that state attorneys general from Arizona to Texas to Illinois actively monitor gasoline prices — and, to make sure that everybody knows they’re serious, Illinois refers to its price monitors as the gasoline “SWAT” team. …

… Where’s the conspiracy now, when oil prices and retail gasoline prices are plunging? If the goblins in Nancy Pelosi’s head are correct in their insistence that higher gas prices must necessarily be the result of a criminal conspiracy, does it not follow that lower gas prices also must be the result of that same conspiracy? Either nasty wicked Big Oil controls gas prices or it doesn’t. A mind as narrow and uncomplicated as Pelosi’s shouldn’t be that difficult to make up.

Inevitably, the same authoritarian mentality that seeks to police gas prices that are too high also seeks to police gas prices that are too low. George Will relates the sorry story of Raj Bhandari of Merrill, Wis., who brought down upon himself the full force of the state when he committed the crime of giving oldsters a 2-cent-a-gallon discount on gas, and then compounded his misdeed by offering supporters of local youth-sports programs a 3-cent-a-gallon discount. Wisconsin law mandates that retailers sell their gas at no less than 9.18 percent above the price they are charged by wholesalers. (I’ll bet the story of how that precise 9.18 percent figure was arrived at is a fascinating study in political thinking.) Bhandari faced a $2,000-a-day fine and the possible loss of his business for cutting his elderly and community-minded neighbors a break without permission from politicians. …



 Science20.com posts on the idiot John Holdren who in the 70′s predicted a new ice age and who now is claiming it has been forestalled by “human caused” global warming. This wouldn’t be much of a story if the man hadn’t been named by the president to be his “science advisor.” It’s true, perfectly ignorant fools wherever you look in the narcissist’s administration.

… In “Open For Questions with Dr. John Holdren” a Facebook commenter asks a fairly softball question, if and how humans are affecting the climate, and instead of just answering it the way rational scientists would he goes all eugenics on modern climate science, takes us back to the 1970s kind, which logically leads the public to believe the policies of his boss are hurting business and actually helping no one – because global warming is preventing the new Ice Age.

“In their current phases, moreover, they would be gradually cooling the earth – taking us to another ice age – if they weren’t being more than offset by human-caused warming.”

Yes, Dr. Holdren says our global warming ‘pause’ is just climate change fighting off the Ice Age. Global warming is our friend. Well, order my Escalade then, I care about the environment too much to want Fresno to look like Alaska.

Throw on some custom 22s, also. The crisis is over.

January 15, 2015

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Joel Kotkin writes on the country’s continuing racial divide. 

The election of Barack Obama six years ago was hailed as a breakthrough both for minorities, particularly African Americans, and for his being the first “city guy” elected president in recent history. Both blacks and urbanistas got one of their “own” in power, and there were hopes that race relations and urban fortunes would improve at a rapid pace.

Instead, the recent controversies over police killings of African American men have revealed a shocking deterioration of race relations not seen in a generation. Since the racial euphoria that accompanied the president’s election, views of race relations held by blacks and whites, according to Pew, have become decidedly less optimistic. Nearly half of whites and roughly two in five blacks, according to a recent Politico poll, say race relations have worsened under Obama. Only 4 percent of whites and 13 percent of African Americans thought relations had improved. Another recent survey, this one by Bloomberg, finds 53 percent of Americans opining that race relations have declined under Obama.

For the most part, the current racial discord has been traced largely to the long, uneasy relationship between minorities, notably African Americans, and the police. The disparity in perceptions between whites and blacks are most notable here, says Pew, with 70 percent of African Americans, but barely 25 percent of whites, disputing that police do a good job treating the races “equally.”

Here’s the real tragedy: Some 50 years after the passage of sweeping nationwide civil rights legislation, the institutionalization of affirmative action and billions poured into addressing urban poverty, many African American youth remain well outside the mainstream, unmoored to the economy and far too liable to get into confrontations with law enforcement. This is clearly connected with such factors as the preponderance among African Americans of 70 percent single-female-headed households, nearly half of which are poor. …

… The resurgence in racial animus remains arguably the biggest surprise – and one of the greatest failures – not only of Obama, but of our society. In this respect, neither conservative attempts to blame increased racial discord on the president and, now, attempts by his progressive claque to absolve him of any responsibility, really address the more serious issues behind the widening of the racial divide. Cities and communities, divided against themselves by race and class, cannot thrive in the long run, no matter how many publicists and pundits proclaim the battle for urban America already has been won.



Noemie Emery has more on Scott Walker.

In 1990, Scott Walker left MarquetteUniversity before graduation. He is reportedly hoping to complete his degree now, but if he doesn’t, he could become the first president since Harry S Truman to enter the White House without a college degree.

Some think his lack of degree could cost him his chances to get there, but we tend to think otherwise. Considering the current state of most colleges (and of their graduates) this could be a point in his favor. It might even make his career.

As institutions, colleges have been going downhill since the late 1960’s, but in recent years they have seemed like asylums run by the inmates, with their passion for courses in race and gender studies, free speech suppression, and the Duke Lacrosse scandal, the Penn State pedophilia disaster, the Rolling-Stone-gang-rape fiasco at the University of Virginia, …

… But Bubba and Dubya pale before Barack Obama, son of not one but two academics and a college professor himself. Another double-dip Ivy League graduate, he was called by one historian the most intelligent man to ever be president. Perhaps it was this that led him to make two of the worst unforced errors in history — the decision to push health care against public opinion (which some in his party admit was an error) and to pull all of our troops from Iraq.

Our best-known academics today are Obama, Jonathan Gruber, and Hillary — who as Hillary Rodham made Life magazine as her class valedictorian, and who had been told by her teachers that SHE should be president, long before Bill had arrived on the scene. With this in mind, Walker should wear his state proudly. He could win by acclaim as the un-academic. Run, Scotty, run!



David Harsanyi thinks we should stop pretending terrorism has nothing to do with islam.

Guess what? An idea isn’t a human being. Neither is a sacred cow. And those who confront, dismiss, debunk, sneer at and fear them aren’t necessarily bigots.

Not long ago, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy. His first 50 lashes will be publicly administered this week. Taking them all at once would kill the guy. But, then again, Badawi might be fortunate to be alive at all. The theocratic monarchs of Saudi Arabia don’t need the terrorists to punish their satirists, they can get the job done in-house.

I don’t know about you, but I’m lash-phobic.  I tend, as a matter of principle, to have a low opinion of people who dispense lashes. Religion, of course, is merely incidental to Badawi’s fate–as it is in the massacre of journalists in Paris or the bloodbath in Nigeria, where Boko Haram may have killed 2000 people this week. Or so I’m told. All of these instances of violence are perpetrated by random people, who by some happenstance share the same religious affiliation.

And to bring this up–according to Vox and other some outlets–may be Islamophobic. Islamophobia is defined, at least by Wikipedia (and it’s fair to say it’s a pretty decent reflection of how we use the word), as a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim.

Only half of this definition should be true. Most often, only half of it is. The late Christopher Hitchens never actually said “Islamophobic is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons,” but he did call it a “stupid neologism” that “aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offenses associated with racism.” …

… What is less obvious to me is why liberals aren’t more inclined to defend the right of people to be critical of all religions. Why aren’t they more interested in why Islamic ideas so often manifest in violence? Why do the practitioners of these ideas find themselves in clashes with every culture they touch (Jews, Hindus, Christians, and all others)? Seems like a tolerant liberal would be phobic about the stoning of gays or the institutionalized dehumanization of women that’s rampant in “moderate” Muslim nations – forget radical Islam. Instead, they expect people to cower from one of the “stupidest neologisms” to be concocted in years.



Also from David Harsanyi is the Federalist’s interview with Thomas Sowell.

Thomas Sowell recently released the fifth edition of his classic book, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. Along with Free To Choose, Economics in One Lesson, and The Road Serfdom, it offers perhaps the best distillation of free-market economic ideas. In the new edition, at least twice the size of the first, Sowell writes a new chapter on global inequality (think of it as a response to  Thomas Piketty) and touches on a number of other contemporary political issues with his refreshingly clear style.

Sowell talked to The Federalist about today’s conservative reform efforts, the politicization of economics, his disagreement with mentor Milton Friedman, the complexities of immigration policy, and some of the government’s most destructive economic intrusions in everyday life.

The Federalist: The first edition of Basic Economics came out around 15 years ago. Do you sense that the public’s understanding of economics, generally speaking, has improved since then?

Thomas Sowell: Well, I would hope that the ones who read the book now have a better idea. People indicate that they do. Sales of the book, and the many translations, also indicate that there are people more interested in learning about economics. But in general, I don’t really think so. So, I guess, I’m not sure it’s worse than it was 30 or 40 years ago, but I’ve seen no visible improvement.

The Federalist: As policy becomes more complex, do you believe that economic ignorance is more likely to translate into bad politics?

Sowell: People in the political world have every incentive to say things that lead voters away from a clear economic understanding of issues. What has happened more and more is that organized groups have more and more reasons to say things that don’t make any economic sense. I am always appalled at people who come out, for example, and say: we need to have higher minimum wages so that the poor can have higher incomes. Well, of course, that just ignores the fact that increasing the minimum wage increases the level of unemployment among lower-income people. Among blacks for example, 16 or 17 year old blacks back in 1948 had an unemployment rate just under 10 percent. It has never been under 20 percent in last 50 years. And that’s simply because in 1948, the minimum was in effect repealed by inflation. And once you started escalating the minimum-wage level to keep up with that inflation, you priced more people out of the market. And now we have gotten used to black teenagers having an unemployment rate of 30 percent in good times and maybe 40 percent in bad times. …



According to Investor’s Business Daily, there might be an economically ignorant pope, but at least the Church’s Venezuelan Bishops appreciate free markets.

In a refreshingly powerful and direct statement, Venezuela’s bishops Monday blamed “Marxist socialism” and “communism” by name for the horrors and chaos gripping their country, according to a story in El Universal.

The bishops said the long lines of people trying to buy food and other basic necessities and the constant rise in prices are the result of the government’s decision to “impose a political-economic system of socialist, Marxist or communist,” which is “totalitarian and centralist” and “undermines the freedom and rights of individuals and associations.”

The Venezuelan bishops specifically stated that the private sector was critical for the well being of the country. The document, read by Monsignor Diego Padron in Spanish, said the country needs “a new entrepreneurial spirit with audacity and creativity.”

So not only did these bishops diagnose the cause of the misery correctly; they also warned that communism harms the poor most of all.

They sounded positively like readers of Investor’s Business Daily, matching the content of this editorial here.

More interestingly, the timing comes just as a certain former colleague of theirs from another part of South Americacontinues to denounce free-market economies

The Venezuelan archbishops make the useful observation that if capitalist economies have problems, socialist alternatives are far worse for the poor and needy. Could it be the pope’s Latin American colleagues on the ground in the cesspool of communism are the ones who can get through to the holy father on economics? Stay tuned.

January 14, 2015

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Smithsonian Magazine reports the creation of new antibiotics that can kill drug resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics are trusted weapons against many types of bacterial disease, but growing resistance to the drugs is a major problem. “Pathogens are acquiring resistance faster than we can introduce new antibiotics, and this is causing a human health crisis,” says biochemist Kim Lewis of NortheasternUniversity.

Lewis is part of a team that recently unveiled a promising antibiotic, born from a new way to tap the powers of soil microorganisms. In animal tests, teixobactin proved effective at killing off a wide variety of disease-causing bacteria—even those that have developed immunity to other drugs. The scientists’ best efforts to create mutant bacteria with resistance to the drug failed, meaning teixobactin could function effectively for decades before pathogens naturally evolve resistance to it.

The 20th century’s “antibiotic era” introduced a widely successful, targeted effort against disease-causing bacteria. Drugs like penicillin and streptomycin became household names, and millions of people benefited from them.

But widespread use—and misuse, such as patients not taking the drugs properly—meant that bacteria began working overtime to develop resistance to antibiotics. …



Jonathan Tobin posts on the Romney/Bush race for the 2016 GOP nod.

… So where does that leave the GOP?

Having Romney and Bush both in the race will make it harder for anyone else to run in the hidden establishment primary, meaning that a Chris Christie candidacy is looking like even more of a long shot than it did a few weeks ago. It also ought to encourage conservatives to jump in since it will mean there will be no repeat of the 2008 and 2012 races where a single well-funded moderate was able to overwhelm a split conservative faction. The presence of Romney makes the race even more unpredictable and should tempt figures like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who combines Tea Party support with stands that endear him to the establishment to think that perhaps 2016 will be a year in which a non-establishment candidate who is not considered a bomb-thrower can win.

But most of all, the entry of Romney into the race will mean a tremendous struggle for the hearts and minds of the GOP center. Having gotten in first and with his family’s network behind him as well as having the support of many other establishment types, Bush must be considered as having the edge until proven otherwise. But he must also worry that the two will ultimately knock each other off and let someone new, whether or not they are more electable, have a chance.



Speaking of Walker, Nate Cohn of the NY Times thinks he would be a promising candidate. It’s a scary thing when we agree with the Times.  

Jeb Bush had a good month. He struck first in the invisible primary — the behind-the-scenes competition for the support of donors, officials and operatives. And for all of the talk about the depth of the Republican field, the opposition to Mr. Bush remains unclear and underwhelming.

That is in part because many of the high-profile potential Republican contenders — like Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Rand Paul — are factional and flawed candidates with tough routes to the party’s nomination.

Nonetheless, there will be demand for an alternative to Mr. Bush, even from within the so-called Republican establishment. Since Friday, attention has focused on Mitt Romney, who said in a meeting of top advisers and donors that he was considering a third run.

But the more compelling challenger may be Scott Walker, the battle-hardened governor of Wisconsin. He has made moves toward running, and on paper, he’s the type of candidate who should deeply concern Mr. Bush.

Unlike the flawed but better-known conservatives, Mr. Walker has the potential to have broad appeal throughout the Republican Party. Mr. Walker, born in Colorado Springs, is an evangelical Christian who defeated public employee unions in a high-profile battle over collective bargaining rights and who made big budget cuts in a state that has voted for Democrats in seven consecutive presidential elections. …



Seth Mandel outlines how de Blasio got crossways with the police.

Bill de Blasio has just completed his first year in office, but his press clips are starting to make him sound like a lame duck. Today’s New York Times story on de Blasio’s deteriorating relationship with the police is based on “dozens of interviews in recent weeks” with police officers and “senior police leadership.” But in a classic sign of a political team already looking to shift blame, the most damaging anecdote is the one that begins the story, and it clearly signals discomfort within the mayor’s team.

The story is headlined “In Police Rift, Mayor de Blasio’s Missteps Included Thinking It Would Pass,” which really does sum up the in-depth piece quite well. But it also signifies a sense of frustration from those around the mayor that too many of his errors are unforced, and that his lack of focus is materially damaging the administration’s image. Here is how the story opens:

Not long after Mayor Bill de Blasio sat beside the Rev. Al Sharpton at a July summit meeting on police reform, a political adviser gave the mayor a blunt assessment: You have a problem with the cops.

Rank-and-file officers felt disrespected by the mayor, the adviser explained, and were dismayed to see Mr. Sharpton, a longtime critic of the New York Police Department, embraced at City Hall.

But Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, rejected the notion that officers disliked him. His message, the adviser later recalled, was clear: Everything was under control.

Everything was not under control, …



PJ O’Rourke thinks we should let fraternities run the country.

Everyone hates fraternities, and everyone hates Congress. Perhaps we’d be better off if they just switched places.

Sixty-four “freshman” U.S. senators and representative were sworn in this week. And “Spring Rush” is beginning at many universities.

College fraternity houses have come under a lot of criticism lately. So have the houses of congress. Perhaps the two sets of institutions should switch places. Road trip!

(And who wouldn’t like to see 64 congressmen paddled during Hell Week?)

Certainly legislation in Washington would be more interesting with fraternities in charge—“H.R. 4932 Keg Stand on the Supreme Court Act of 2015.” Everybody running around Capital Hill, drunk as all hell, and keeping lookout as Antonin Scalia vomits behind a dumpster.

Plus campus behavior would be more decorous—“Nancy Pelosi Gone Wild” won’t be the kind of thing people order on Pay Per View. …



Andrew Malcolm with late night.

Conan: Obama is doing a speaking tour to preview his State of the Union. Pretty exciting— Obama rushes out on stage and shouts, “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME STUFF THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN?”

Fallon: Harry Reid is recovering after his exercise resistance band snapped, causing him to fall. The good news is he’s fine. The bad news is there’s no video.

Conan: Bill Gates has released a video of himself drinking water filtered from human excrement. No word yet on whether Gates got into the fraternity

January 13, 2015

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Max Boot posts on the flawed “Yemen” model for dealing with terrorists. 

Back in September, when President Obama was announcing his strategy for coping with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, he eschewed sending U.S. combat troops. Instead, he said, “This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

This caused many commentators, including me, to do a double take. As I wrote at the time, “The president’s analogy to Somalia and Yemen is not an encouraging one. Obama may be one of the few people around who thinks that the U.S. has achieved so much success in those countries that it is a model worth emulating.”

Now the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris brings further evidence of how flawed the Yemen model actually is. Considerable evidence has emerged of links between al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the gunmen who murdered 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices. Said Kouachi, one of the two brothers involved, was said to have visited Yemen in 2011 for training, and before launching the assault either he or his brother told bystanders, “Tell the media we are Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” …



Jonathan Tobin wants to know why the president can’t call the Paris market attack anti-Semitism.

… The president did well to express solidarity with France as our oldest ally as well as condemnation of the actions of the terrorists that he characterized as standing for “hatred and suffering.” But the sensible reluctance on the part of Western leaders from casting this conflict as one between all Muslims and the rest of the world is no excuse for his determination to ignore the fact that these crimes are rooted in a form of political Islam that is supported by tens if not hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Pretending that these armed killers are not connected to a worldwide movement, even as information about their connections to such groups continues to trickle out, does nothing to avoid antagonizing those who already hate Western values and culture. It also serves to help unilaterally disarm both Muslims and non-Muslims who understand that we must directly confront the corrupt and evil source of this violence within the spectrum of Islamic belief.

Just as wrongheaded was the president’s conspicuous omission of a mention of anti-Semitism. …



Readers will remember we have included many items about the Air France flight that vanished over the South Atlantic five years ago. Now it appears the Air Asia flight that fell out of the sky might also have been the victim of pilot error. A Daily Beast article wonders if modern jets are too automated.

Too many computers and not enough ‘hands-on’ flying mean most pilots would have fallen victim to the weather that brought down AirAsia 8501.

As searchers close in on what appears to be the main wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501 the retrieval of the airplane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders should soon follow. The wreckage lies no more than around 100 feet down in the JavaSea. Although there are strong currents and poor visibility, compounded by the high seas generated by stormy weather, divers should be able to locate the rear end of the fuselage where the flight data recorder, the black box, is located.

The black box and the cockpit voice recorder will together be able to give a highly detailed second-by-second account of what now seems of primary interest to investigators: how the two pilots responded to a sudden and violent cell of weather within a thunderhead cloud that engulfed them, probably reaching more than 20,000 feet above their cruise height of 34,000 feet.

Investigators will focus on whether the sudden emergency was so extreme that no degree of pilot skill would have helped. Or did the pilots, once more, lack not only the experience of meeting such a challenge, but also whether they, and thousands of other pilots around the world, were ever trained to handle this specific combination of challenges?

I say “once more” because since the loss of Air France Flight 447 on June 1, 2009, a serious deficiency has been exposed in how pilots are trained—and how their acuity is regularly tested—to handle modern jets with state-of-the-art cockpit automation.

Some background is useful here. …

… By the first decade of this century the most frequent cause of serious accidents had been narrowed down to—and still is—“loss of control.” This might seem a very loose term, but it has emerged in a very specific environment during the course of airline operations all over the world.

Two paths converge: human skills and automation. Cockpits have become “de-manned.” Computers are flying a modern commercial airliner for most of the time, and flying it well, with a finesse that human reflexes cannot match. …

… Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who in 2009 made the now legendary emergency landing on the Hudson river in an Airbus A320—identical to that in AirAsia Flight 8501—has said, commenting on the AirAsia event, that very few pilots flying either modern narrow body or wide-body jets today have ever experienced a stall in those jets. (They do get stall training in elementary initial flying lessons, but it is nothing like what they’re more likely to experience in today’s modern jets.)

This is almost certainly true of Captain Irianto, the 53-year-old pilot of the AirAsia A320, and his copilot, 46-year-old Remi Emmanuel Piesel. The fact is that five years after the Air France Flight 447 catastrophe, only now are computerized flight simulators used in training pilots being rewritten to replicate loss of control scenarios. This is why it is virtually meaningless to cite the fact that Captain Irianto had 20,000 hours of experience as a pilot and that 6,100 of those hours were on A320s. Unless he had faced in a simulator what he probably faced in that thunderhead over the JavaSea, he would not have been ready for it. Even then, as the Airbus tests showed, old habits die hard. …



Scientific American published a good piece on how to raise smart kids. A more correct title might be how to raise accomplished kids.

… A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son’s confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life. …