31 March 2009

SPOTD #150

The first fourth of 2009 is over. ¡Que loco! And this is the 150th SPOTD. Enjoy!

Today's phrase:
Summer is just around the corner. We were trying to find someplace new to try. This phrase may be of use.

¿Dónde están las mejores playas?

Phonetic with emphasis on bold syllable:
Done-day ace-tahn lahs may-hore-ace ply-ahs.

Where are the best beaches?

No 1 Ladies
The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a book series that Lacy and I have enjoyed quite a bit. It has been adapted as a TV series on HBO.

-I really like the new U2 CD. If you're a fan of the band it seems like a can't-miss to me.
-The soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire is pretty good, and I especially like the song, "Jai Ho."

Colombia & Trade
I don't think free trade is necessarily a partisan issue. I've written about our failure to pass the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia. Not much progress on that front, and it is limiting our effectiveness in the hemisphere.

Stunt Jumps
This is a great article on the physics of stunt jumping cars, seen most often in the movies. There is a short video and the reality check is interesting.

Putin Pic?
This is a photograph taken during Ronald Reagan's visit to Moscow in the 1980's. The man who took the photo now alleges that the blond man with the camera is Russian leader Vladimir Putin, then a KGB officer.
It doesn't seem conclusive, but it is an interesting scenario.

Cheap Rides
This is a $2000 car from India's Tata Motors (now the owner of Jaguar). Not everyone is excited about it. We who take such things for granted should put ourselves in this man's shoes:

I’m buying it because it gives a sense of freedom,” [Vishal] Bhatia wrote, “freedom to go to someplace in uncrumpled clothes, with my deodorant still being able to mask my body odor. But above all to see the look in my family’s eyes when they see it in person.”
Economic development and technical innovation can improve dignity. Not a bad outcome.

Link of the Day
Just click it and rock out.

Palin out

I found this news interesting:

Congressional Republicans decided Tuesday to ditch the former GOP vice presidential nominee in favor of the former House speaker for the critical House-Senate fundraising dinner in June 8 in Washington. It's the marquee Republican event to raise money for GOP House and Senate candidates.
Palin got trashed after the election last year, and most of it seemed pretty unfair at the time, but I am one Republican that does not want her to seek the nomination in 2012. I admire how she has arrived to be governor of Alaska, but it is no insult to surmise, as I have, that the Presidency does not seem a good fit. I believe her mishandling of the fundraising dinner invite will be a blessing in the end for the party.

28 March 2009

Awesome Video Saturday LXXXIII

This is a trailer for the film adaptation of the classic book Where the Wild Things Are.

26 March 2009

La Tortura

I'm a big fan of 24. I've touched on the moral dilemmas exposed by a show like that. Torture is a difficult issue. This is an article from 2003 by Marc Bowden (referenced in a recent post by Michael Yon) on methods of interrogation. This is a helpful definition:

Torture is repulsive. It is deliberate cruelty, a crude and ancient tool of political oppression. It is commonly used to terrorize people, or to wring confessions out of suspected criminals who may or may not be guilty. It is the classic shortcut for a lazy or incompetent investigator. Horrifying examples of torturers’ handiwork are catalogued and publicized annually by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations that battle such abuses worldwide. One cannot help sympathizing with the innocent, powerless victims showcased in their literature. But professional terrorists pose a harder question. They are lockboxes containing potentially life-saving information. Sheikh Mohammed has his own political and religious reasons for plotting mass murder, and there are those who would applaud his principled defiance in captivity. But we pay for his silence in blood.
I don't think that the effectiveness of torture gets much play in the media. I've heard several times that torture can often produce incomplete or incorrect information. That whole Bowden piece is fascinating.

Michael Yon, and many military officers, share a disdain for torture. Yon allows that there is one time when torture may be acceptable, but by and large it is not an appropriate or moral.

I find these arguments persuasive. We have to take a moral high ground, and disavowing torture is, to me, clearly deserving of that high ground.

24 March 2009

One Down

When I wrote my Case Against Obama I briefly mentioned his expected support for "Card-Check" a union-supported measure which would remove secret ballot votes on questions of unionization. It seems fundamentally undemocratic to remove a secret ballot, as this would expose such questions to coercion and potentially abusive practices.

With a public statement by Republican Senator Arlen Spector that he would not support Card-Check the initiative may be dead.

This is a big win.

21 March 2009

Awesome Video Saturday LXXXII

My friend Dave Hulbert sent this to me. It is an all-Hulbert recreation of the classic Journey song, "Separate Ways."

19 March 2009

Democracy's Doubter

James Hansen is one of the foremost proponents of the theory of man-induced global warming. He's frustrated that "The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working." Why is this? Because we're not falling over ourselves to kowtow to his idea of how to fix the problem.

I don't understand how Hansen, whose work was heavily referenced in Nobel Prize-winning Al Gore's Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth could hope to have more exposure for his ideas.

I don't want to write any more about this guy. Read the link if you want.

18 March 2009


This is interesting news in the Climate Change debate. According to reseacher Dr. Anastasios Tsonis climate change is the result of synchronization between air and water systems:

In climate, when this happens, the climate state changes. You go from a cooling regime to a warming regime or a warming regime to a cooling regime. This way we were able to explain all the fluctuations in the global temperature trend in the past century. The research team has found the warming trend of the past 30 years has stopped and in fact global temperatures have leveled off since 2001.
We'll see if this study gets much notice. It does weaken the faulty "consensus" argument and makes me uncomfortable with notions about reversing climate change.

SPOTD #149

Make sure to join the SPOTD Tourney Bracket on ESPN.com. Play for GLORY!!!! The Group password is "spotd" and you have until this afternoon to join.

Other than that, a pretty normal edition.

Today's phrase:
From author Samuel Johnson

La curiosidad es una de las permanentes y seguras características de un intelecto vigoroso.

Phonetic with emphasis on bold syllable:
Lah coo-re-oh-see-dahd ess oo-nah day lahs pare-mah-nen-tace ee say-goo-rahs car-ahk-tah-rees-tee-kahs day oon een-tay-lake-toe vee-go-ro-soh.

Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.

The Birth of Religious Freedom
Whether you ascribe to a changing or originalist view of the separation of Church and State it is instructive to learn about the origin of religious freedom in our country. While Thomas Jefferson is widely considered an important founding voice, James Madison's role is often overlooked.
He played a critical role, and this brief piece will give you a glimpse.

Greatest Living?
ESPN's Bill Simmons gives his analysis of the Greatest Living Actor. His winner is a pretty safe choice, and he resorts to a sport-style formula to get there. In my opinion that is not really the best measure, but it's defensible.

Good idea, Sketchy execution
This is an interesting look at 5 recent high-profile gadgets and their design flaws.

Marine Honor
This is a moving piece from Peggy Noonan on the Marine reaction to a terrible jet crash in San Diego. She uses it as a comparison to the scandals of Wall Street, and it is a great reminder of excellence in a difficult time.

Say What?
President John Tyler was born in 1790. Two of his grandsons are still alive!

Link of the Day
This is a fascinating look at the world's biggest diamond heist.

17 March 2009

The Sheen comes off

This article is an interesting look at the approval ratings of the Obama administration relative to those of other administrations at this point in time. According to the authors, Obama is in a worse position than was George W. Bush. Although President Obama enjoys high likeability, the feeling about his performance is less accepting.

Why the disparity? Part of it probably is normal, with the "honeymoon" period ending. More of it is probably due to the political misfires of the new administration. Here are two notable examples:

  1. The tax problems of nominees. It's not that they necessarily have more tax issues or that the Senate Finance Committee is especially picky. As this article explains, it is that the Obama administration didn't think that it mattered. This betrays an arrogance that most Americans do not like. No one is so smart, experienced, or qualified that they are exempt from the laws imposed upon those they will serve. Double standards belong in aristocracies, not democratic republics.
  2. The Proposal to charge Veterans' private insurance for injuries and conditions resulting from their service. I appreciate the desire of the administration to cut costs, but they expect this measure to generate $540 million. That's an M, not a B. Congress put together an $800 BILLION stimulus package and $400 BILLION spending bill, and we can't find $540 MILLION to pay for veterans? From a political perspective it doesn't jive with the "I Support the Troops" mantra parroted by some Democrats. It also belies the nice little attempts to paint this administration as caring for military families. If they are smart they will drop this, and they are fortunate this has not gotten more broad coverage. Just to be fair, it is important to note that the administration intends to charge insurance companies and not the troops themselves, but this is not consistent with what the government has promised and will expose wounded warriors to hassles they simply don't deserve.

That last one makes me mad. We'll see if it goes away.

16 March 2009

SPOTD Tournament of Champions

This is your chance to compete for GLORY in the 2009 NCAA Basketball Tourney

Visit the following link to join the SPOTD group. The password is "spotd." You only have a little while to make your entry so don't delay!

Closing the Borders (the wrong way)

I have been critical of the Democratic congress' failure to make progress in the area of free trade. Now the Obama administration is furthering the damage to free trade reputation with their decision to close the borders to Mexican trucks. This is a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

We should recall the criticism levied against the Bush Administration for their abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto, although signed by the Clinton Administration, was never ratified by the U.S. Congress. In NAFTA we have a duly signed and ratified agreement that is being violated for no defensible reason.

The Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady predicted the danger that this action would pose for our own exports. She was proven right when the Mexican government announced their decision to levy sanctions in accordance with a 2001 trade ruling:

Mexico said it would increase tariffs on 90 industrial and agricultural goods, likely to include politically sensitive farm products, after Congress last week killed a pilot programme allowing a limited number of Mexican trucks on American highways. Mexico obtained a judicial ruling in 2001 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) allowing it to impose such sanctions, but has held off since the US introduced the pilot scheme.
The sanctions, which Mexican officials say are set to be imposed later this week, will be one of the largest acts of retaliation against US exports. US goods exports to Mexico totalled $151.5bn last year. On Monday, Gerardo Ruíz Mateos, Mexico’s economy minister, said: “We believe that the action taken by the US is wrong, protectionist and in clear violation of Nafta.”
The White House said on Monday it would seek to create a new programme that would address what it called the “legitimate concerns of Congress” while meeting the US’s Nafta commitments. But Mexican officials said they would not be bought off with promises.
The pilot programme has been opposed by many lawmakers and by the Teamsters Union, which says that Mexican trucks are unsafe. Because they are largely restricted to short-run hops over the border, most Mexican trucks entering the US are run by so-called “drayage” operations that use older vehicles more likely to fail inspection tests. But a study funded by the US Department of Transportation found that when comparing like with like, Mexican trucks were often safer than their US counterparts.
It seems like the President and Congress have forgotten the danger of protectionism in periods of economic weakness. Although this measure does not rise to Smoot-Hawley levels, it weakens trust with an important trading partner and damages our credibility on free trade.

14 March 2009

Awesome Video Saturday LXXXI

Some funny stuff from Demetri Martin.

13 March 2009

The Debate Continues

The politicization of the Global Warming debate has led to great confusion about what the real issues are.

After all, who can dispute the importance of caring for natural resources? Of avoiding pollution? Of developing alternative sources of energy. This is not where the debate lies.

There isn't even real debate over the existence of climate change. The questions here amount to understanding whether recent climate change has been significant, whether it will continue, and how it was caused. But these issues are not the ones that we should pay attention to either, because they are scientific ones and we do not yet have a definitive grasp on the issue.

The great question that should be of concern to you and me is what the proper role of government is, and that is the purpose of this post. I'm writing in an airport lounge in Atlanta, the busiest airport in the United States, an epicenter of carbon emissions.

In his address to Congress, President Obama described his plan to implement carbon taxes, a system of cap and trade. As is the case with most tax proposals, the implication is that the offending businesses will be affected, promoting social change in a way that has little or no effect on the everyman. This is simply untrue. The higher costs of carbon taxes will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices and higher unemployment across affected industries. Some erstwhile supporters of cap and trade have seen it take on a conceptual form they are less comfortable with, and may now become opposed. This just proves that attempts to paint companies like ExxonMobil as having accepted their role in climate change due to their acceptance of cap and trade is inaccurate. ExxonMobil's incentive to participate has been based more on their desire to help craft the regime. To remain opposed might have left them and others out in the cold. Now that Congressional Democrats are at their feistiest those large entities will probably be left out anyway.

But again, let's come back to the core question- what is the role of government?

I want to lay out some assumptions:

  1. Government has finite resources. Although revenues may increase in absolute terms, by and large a focus on one area will lead resources away from another.
  2. Government resources should be used in the public good, both long and short-term.
I think these are generally accepted principles. It is on item two that the most serious disagreement lies with regard to its implementation.

People like Bjorn Lomborg have argued that the best use of government resources are in those areas where we will derive the greatest return on that investment. This includes clean water initiatives to reduce child mortality. This is a tremendous problem, and completely preventable. It's diagnosis relies on no shaky data, on no fake consensus. This is not to say that the government should ignore environmental concerns, but the money should go where they can have the greatest impact, and combating climate change just doesn't meet that standard.

Not that you would know it from watching Al Gore and his fellow warming alarmists. Despite many opportunities to give his critics a fair debate, Gore continues to assert that we near a point of no return. This kind of fear-mongering has never led to ideal outcomes- the Patriot Act, TARP, and the recent fiscal stimulus are good examples. You can view the video below to see if Gore is willing to respond to an honest intellectual debate:

I care about providing a clean and beautiful earth to those that follow me, but with finite government resources we are right to be exceedingly careful about how those are used. The debate continues.

Fuzzy Math

President Obama's one-time nominee for Secretary of Commerce was highly critical of the administrations budget predictions.

For Tim Geithner the fun don't stop.

08 March 2009


John Yoo is the writer of several controversial memos that have been released by the Obama Justice Department. Written in the period just after September 11th, they posit that a state of war existed which allowed the President to use war powers.

This is an area of great disagreement. I'm no legal scholar, but I thought his op-ed on the subject worth passing on.

07 March 2009

Awesome Video Saturday LXXX

This is a nice little cover of an old fave:

I thought this video was hee-larious.

04 March 2009

La Guerra

There has been a lot of attention paid to the impact that the war on drugs has had on Latin American states like Mexico. This report is consistent with others on Mexico, where exceedingly well-funded drug cartels have grown stronger:

"It's moving to crisis proportions," an unidentified defense official told The Times. The official also said the cartels have reached a size where they are on par with Mexico's army of 130,000.
About 7,000 people have died in the last year — more than 1,000 in January alone — at the hands of Mexico's increasingly violent drug cartels. Murders often involve beheadings or bodies dissolved in vats of acid.
There are some areas where my political views skirt very close to Libertarian, but the drug war has never been one of those. The problems caused by drugs will not be solved by legalization and political control. There is great disagreement here, but I think alcohol is a helpful template for what controlled drug use may look like, and in many cases the hardest hit population are lower income families.

Just as wrong is the assumption that ending the drug war will help states like Mexico and Colombia. There is an extraordinary lack of will in the world. When the situation in Iraq became very dire, the chorus of voices calling for the U.S. pull-out was loud, but it was wrong.

The WSJ's Bret Stephens has an excellent piece in defense of Mexico's efforts to end the drug war, even in light of the heightened tensions:
On a recent trip to Mexico, I asked a family friend -- a professor at the National University -- whether she thought the government was collapsing under the weight of the drug war, which has claimed close to 9,000 lives in the past two years, turned border cities into no-go zones and elicited comparisons between Mexico and Pakistan. "Collapsing?" she said. "It's finally picking itself up."
Her point: Mexico's "drug problem" is of very long standing. The rest of the world is only noticing it now because President Felipe Calderón has decided to break with his predecessors' policy of malign neglect of, if not actual complicity in, the drug trade.
The escalation of the drug war does not mean it is time to quit. It means it is time to finish. The rule of law and the future of the Mexican state will depend on consistency in the face of deep challenges. This is a tipping point. I hope they are equal to the task.

01 March 2009

Getting Defensive

Despite an increase in the 2009 budget recommendation, the Obama administration hopes to lower defense spending on a relative basis. I would find this less objectionable if it was accompanied by similar spending reductions. Predictably it is not.

Although the above-linked WSJ editorial alludes to the weakening of our defensive and offensive abilities during the Clinton administration, I'm not sure we will experience the same foolish complacency. This other WSJ editorial provides some of Obama's good decisions on the subject of Iraq.