Is the West or the Islamic World at Greater Existential Risk?

Responding to Shannon Love, Lex wrote:

If the West wants to survive, it could destroy this threat with a small amount of physical exertion. The moral and intellectual energy are what is missing. Or, missing from most of Europe, much of Britain and far too much of the United States.

I think the energy is there, but the activation threshold has not, for a large part of our population, been crossed. All it would take to cross that threshold would be another one or two big attacks a la 9/11, or several years of smaller attacks in which many people are killed and westerners become demoralized and cautious about daily life. Either way it is likely that voters would eventually insist that their leaders deal with the problem no matter what, which is essentially what happened in Israel. And either scenario is ominous for the Muslim world in general and Arab Muslims in particular.

On this last point I agree with what I take to be the positions of Wretchard and of Jim Bennett. By responding forcefully abroad to terrorists and their patron states, and by sincerely encouraging development in those states of robust new democratic political cultures, George Bush has substantially weakened our enemies. Ironically, by doing so he has also reduced domestic political pressure for a radical response to terror to such a low ebb that many Americans refuse to accept that we are at war. However, as I suggest above, further jihadist attacks could provide the political impetus for a much more brutal response on our part.

It is a mistake to assume that the proportion in our population of “Jacksonians” who favor annihilating our enemies is static. In reality, further terror attacks would probably radicalize many Americans who now consider themselves moderate accommodationists, just as the Intifada and bus bombings transformed many Israeli leftists into Sharon voters. Indeed the irrepressible prevalence in our society of speculations about nuking Mecca and the like shows how close the Jacksonian undercurrent flows to the surface of our polite discussions. So whose society is in mortal danger? I don’t think it’s ours.

UPDATE: See also this. (via Hugh Hewitt)

The Smallest Rudder

These are pictures (via Gateway Pundit via Instapundit) of the bombs used in the recent “bungled bombings” in London. (The yellow strip in the first picture is a traffic line to give you some sense of scale.)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at

I have to ask: Is this all it takes these days to steer the course of mighty nations, a half-dozen disgruntled loons with homemade hand-grenades?

If so, we are all screwed.

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Consequences of Our Continuing Double Standard on Israel

Victor Davis Hanson is right as usual:

We in the United States preened that we were the “honest broker.” After the Camp David accords we tried to be an intermediary to both sides, ignoring that one party had created a liberal and democratic society, while the other remained under the thrall of a tribal gang.

Billions of dollars poured into frontline states like Jordan and Egypt. Arafat himself got tens of millions, though none of it ever seemed to show up in good housing, roads, or power plants for his people. The terror continued, enhanced rather than arrested, by Western largess and Israeli concessions.

Then the Islamists declared war on the United States. A quarter century of mass murdering of Americans followed in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, East Africa, the first effort to topple the World Trade Center, and the attack on the USS Cole.

We gave billions to Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Egyptians. Afghanistan was saved from the Soviets through U.S. aid. Kuwait was restored after Saddam’s annexation, and the holocaust of Bosnians and Kosovars halted by the American Air Force. Americans welcomed thousands of Arabs to our shores and allowed hundreds of madrassas and mosques to preach zealotry, anti-Semitism, and jihad without much scrutiny.

Then came September 11 and the almost instant canonization of bin Laden.

Suddenly, the prior cheap shots at Israel under siege weren’t so cheap. It proved easy to castigate Israelis who went into Jenin, but not so when we needed to do the same in Fallujah.

It was easy to slander the Israelis’ scrutiny of Arabs in their midst, but then suddenly a few residents in our own country were found to be engaging in bomb making, taking up jihadist pilgrimages to Afghanistan, and mapping out terrorist operations.

Worth reading in its entirety.

(via Democracy for the Middle East)

Fewer Children Left Behind

The Economist reports on some heartening news for the White House:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been periodically testing a representative sample of 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds since the early 1970s. This year’s report contained two striking results. The first is that America’s nine-year-olds posted their best scores in reading and maths since the tests were introduced (in 1971 in reading and 1973 in maths). The second is that the gap between white students and minorities is narrowing. The nine-year-olds who made the biggest gains of all were blacks, traditionally the most educationally deprived group in American society.

The improved results in America’s National Assessment of Educational Progress have been linked by some to Mr Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and increased funding for the Department of Education.

The education establishment—particularly the two big teachers’ unions—were quick to pooh-pooh the result. The critics argued that Mr Bush cannot take credit for the gains because his chief educational reform, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, had been in place for only a year when the tests were administered. They also pointed out that the gains are not universal. The results are mixed for 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds. The reading skills of black and Latino 17-year-olds were nearly identical to those of white 13-year-olds.

All this is true, but self-confounding. Mr Bush’s act may be very new. But the ideas that lie behind it—focusing on basic subjects such as maths and reading and using regular testing to hold schools accountable—have been widely tried at the state level since at least the mid-1990s. Mr Bush deserves credit for recognising winning ideas thrown up by America’s “laboratories of democracy” and then applying them at the federal level. Thirteen- and 17-year-olds may not have shown as much improvement as nine-year-olds. But that is precisely because reformers have focused their energies on the earlier grades.

Well, of course the education establishment is protesting. These results suggest that the Bush approach is feasible after all, and this would mean that their opposition to results-based testing is going to hold less and less water with parents. Sure, there are good arguments for not focusing only on teaching to the test. After all, Confucian civilization has emphasized test scores for almost two thousand years, and the resulting rigidity and lack of imagination has mean, in the modern era, a less vibrant cultural life. Japan, the current standard bearer of the traditional East Asian approach to education, has only begun to be a exporter of culture (rather than an importer) in the last couple of decades, accelerated just over a decade ago with the beginning of Japan’s period of economic stagnation. Taiwan’s recent bursts of cultural experimentation have also accompanied sputtering in the economic engine. Nonetheless, Americans will probably find some sort of balance.

What is most worrying to the public school teachers’ unions, of course, is that this implies what The Economist refers to as “inconvenient reforms”. That, of course, is at the heart of the issue. These unions, make no mistake, are more interested in their own existence, than in the welfare of their constituent members.

Lastly, in response to the charge that the results are less ambiguously positive for the older age groups, there is not only the point made by The Economist, that “refirners have focused their energies on the earlier grades”, but that this is the wise thing to do. First, 13- and 17-year-olds are at a later stage in life, when they are less likely to absorb new things at school (a slowdown in the pace of intellectual absorption combined with an adolescent resentment of authority figures such as teachers). Second, by focusing their energies on the 9-year-olds, reformers are paving the way for better 13- and 17-year-olds four and eight years later.

Why would improvements among 9-year-olds imply delayed improvements for 13- and 17-year-olds? Well, if you’re a bright, 9-year-old black youngster, the fact that you’ve done better than expected might encourage you to have more self-confidence, and disregard the tired old stereotypes, some reinforced by older blacks, that will hold you back. And when you’re 13, or 17, you’ll still retain that self-confidence, knowing that you can beat the historical trend. With so many things working in your favor, and at the same time not working against others, what you end up with, a year from the test, is a confident group of 10-year-olds. In two years, a confident group of 11-year-olds. And so on and so forth.

This former of Governor of Texas is not so stupid as some like to make him out to be, after all. But some of us had always known. Permit me a slightly smug smile here.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

Count the City Workers!

May 28, 11:00 PM: Michigan Ave. near Congress

I count at least 16 people doing landscaping work on this short stretch of Michigan Avenue, late Saturday night on a Memorial Day weekend. Urgent parade preparations or just the way things are done in Chicago?

Congress Should Extend Daylight Savings Time

Whether this will actually happen is a function of the energy bill now winding its way through the bowels of the Senate, soon to be excreted for the President’s signature. As you may guess I am no fan of this steaming pile of corporate-welfare boondoggles, but I hope that the provision to extend Daylight Savings Time survives to become law.

Lots of people oppose extension of DST (for a thoughtful summary with links, see this post by Virginia Postrel). There are obvious costs to extending DST, though I don’t think anyone can really know ahead of time whether the costs will exceed the benefits.

But for me, and I suspect many other people, it’s much better to have extra sunlight in the afternoon than in the morning. Indeed one of the pleasures of summer is the amount of time you get for well-lit outdoor activities in the afternoon and early evening. Postrel prefers to be outside in the cooler darkness rather than the hot light, and to each her own. But let’s not forget that one of the reasons why people move from places like the Midwest to the Sunbelt is sun. Too much sun can be a nuisance, but too little is depressing. Lack of sun in the later part of the day is why winter is so famously bleak at high latitudes. Why make it bleaker than it needs to be here?

If it were up to me, DST would be in effect year-round. The least Congress could do is extend it for one lousy month, as the latest version of the energy bill mandates.

Eminent Domain Update

Despite the fact that the petition to build a hotel on the site of Justice Souter’s home in Weare, NH, originated as a publicity stunt, it’s not taken as just a joke anymore. Beverly Wang reports:

… in a state where people fiercely protect their right to local control over land and government, many said the nuisance is Souter’s just deserts. A recent University of New Hampshire poll reported 93 percent of state residents oppose the taking of private land through eminent domain for private development.

“It’s something you really don’t want to screw with around here,” said Charles Meany, Weare’s code enforcement officer.

He thinks the hotel idea is “ludicrous” and doubts whether Clements will be able to satisfy requirements to prove the economic necessity of building a hotel on Souter’s land.

But Clements has his share of local supporters, including David Archambault, who runs a go-cart track near Souter’s home.

“What this is doing I think is wonderful, because he’s getting a point across to all these people that they’re getting too much power,” Archambault said.

Robin Ilsley, who makes syrup on a family farm about two miles from Souter’s place, thought the justice brought the controversy on himself. “It was a pretty stupid ruling,” she said.

Even her mother, who watched Souter grow up, is unsympathetic.

“I like David very much, but I don’t like his ideas,” said Winnie Ilsley, 77, who runs a doll museum at her farm. “I just don’t think it’s fair,” she said of the New London decision.

And the hotel?

“Let ’em build — but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.

Sounds like a challenge to me!

(Hat-tip: Chrenkoff)

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

Lomborg Sets Priorities

Lomborg debates Pope of the Sierra Club in Foreign Policy. (From A&L.) His conclusion:

No matter how much money we raise, we should still spend it wisely. If investing in cookers is more cost effective than windmills, we should do the cookers first. It really isn’t more complicated. Advocacy groups understandably want to focus on headline–grabbing issues, such as mercury, mangroves, and global warming. But when we emphasize some problems, we get less focus on others. It has been hard to get you to say what the world should not do first. Such a strategy is, naturally, less charming. But if we really want to do good in the long run, it is more honest to put those terms on paper.

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Lileks apologizes for his incoherence. Garrison Keillor bathes in his. (Keillor doesn’t seem to realize humor requires a certain level of coherence – it needn’t be high, but it can’t be quite this low.) Manalo analyzes sockless fashion (which perhaps Robin Givhan would like – then, perhaps, not; without knowing the sockless one’s political allegiance such decisions become difficult). Meanwhile, Plame begs the press to stop respecting her privacy at Beautiful Atrocities. Muir shoots the Kennedy fish(23) in the Cuba barrel & recovers nicely.(25-26)

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Let Patients Decide

Face transplants are a great idea if someone can make them work.

Someone is trying.

The “ethicists,” part of whose problem is hubris and another part is conflict of interest (they have an incentive to promote their own role as decisionmakers), scoff:

“This idea needs more evaluation. What we do know either can’t be quantified or the risks clearly outweigh the benefits,” said Karen Maschke, the associate for ethics and science policy at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y. “Look, a lot of science is boosterism.

“People always think they’re going to be cured by new treatments and life will be normal again, but that’s usually not the case.”

But the creative surgeon has the right idea:

Dr. Siemionow disputes the notion that facially disfigured patients should not be allowed to decide the risks, asking, “How can people who are normal decide for burn victims ‘This is not right for you’?”

The patients know their own interests best. They should be the ones who decide what procedures, and risks, to subject themselves to.

A Mystery Unveiled

I have a five hour commute twice a week, so the scan button on my car radio gets a vigorous workout. Too often, I find myself asking “Who listens to this s**t, anyway?” Stupidity doesn’t suffice as an explanation. There aren’t enough cretins to go around; and besides, the cretins I know are Ramones fans. Or leftists.

Now we come to find out that Sony actually has to pay radio stations to play Jennifer Lopez, Good Charlotte, and Jessica Simpson. This comes as a relief. I have a higher opinion of the American people than the playlists at the various “KISS” radio stations across these fruited plains would warrant.

Next: Will Eliot Spitzer find out that they have to pay people to watch “reality TV” (whoa, an oxymoron rush!)?

Clinton & Gingrich: Mandatory exercise and wealth transfers

I missed the apparent lovefest over healthcare between Newt and Hillary last Thursday at the National Press Club. It was covered in Friday’s WaPo article The Reformer and the Gadfly Agree on Health Care, also covered in’s piece entitled Former political foes patch up differences to tout health care.

Some of the more eyebrow-raising comments:

“Gingrich, out of elected office, was free to depart from his anti-government roots. With Clinton nodding in support, he came out in favor of mandatory daily physical education, healthful food in schools and a “transfer of finances” from rich to poor. Some of this,” Gingrich said after a long list of concessions to the left, “may surprise you.”

Mandatory exercise and diets? Mandatory??

Clinton had surprises, too. She nodded in support of Gingrich’s proposal to “voucherize Medicaid” and agreed with his statement that “welfare reform has really worked.” She granted that “there is enough money in the system right now to cover the uninsured” and she said that piecemeal reform was the best route.”
In other words, Clinton believes that egalitarian redistribution works and is cost-free.

This little sentence on the philly site is hilarious:
Clinton and Gingrich both said there were ways to fix the system that would not raise ideological red flags, or trigger bitter partisan fights.
Of course they do. It looks like both Dems and the GOP have agreed that piecemeal expansion of government power in health care can be a nonpartisan affair.

P.S. Has Gingrich gone completely mad?

The Surprising Case of Failure in Medicare

Apparently, the Washington Post is shocked (-shocked-) that Bad Practices Net Hospitals More Money. This weekend’s article in the WaPo contains the following howlers:

In a four-year period, 106 heart patients at Palm Beach Gardens developed infections after surgery, according to lawsuits and government records. More than two dozen were readmitted with fevers, pneumonia and serious blood infections. The lawsuits included 16 patients who died.

How did Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly, respond? It paid Palm Beach Gardens more.


Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, who have been studying Medicare’s performance for three decades, estimate that as much as $1 of every $3 is wasted on unnecessary or inappropriate care. Other analysts put the figure as high as 40 percent.

Despite collecting “reams of information on quality of care”, the data are left unused. As a result, “[t]he way Medicare is set up …it actually punishes you for being good.”

So did WaPo finally discover that the market is superior? Nope.

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Easy Come, Easy Go

Corruption, bid-rigging and plain inefficiency are not foreign concepts – they are, indeed, true to human nature (and were as true in villages on the plains as in New York high rises). Still, villages on the plains never had the UN’s budget nor resources. Hinderaker gives background on the UN renovations. Of course, we are not surprised; the UN is not great at transparency. And projects like these are seductive if your conscience is unbothered about using other people’s (indeed, other nation’s) money. Trump is probably a good deal more careful than would be the average bureaucrat; he has had enough experience to know where such projects can come to grief. His testimony is quite specific in comparing his building costs with the UN’s projections.

A brief USA Today report notes: “Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who led the hearing, criticized the cost of the project and contended the United Nations was reluctant to disclose details.” Trump & Coburn may not be reliable (I don’t know & Trump obviously has his own ambitions); nonetheless, I do know that they are describing a human tendency that transparency and specificity in government projects are designed to control. And these are human tendencies to which the UN has not appeared immune.

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Nominee for the Annual “Not Getting It” Award

Sudan killed about 2 million of its own people (mostly Dinka) in the South of their country, took a large number of them as slaves, and are currently machine-gunning, raping, looting, and butchering the Fur minority in the West. That’s bad enough, but treating a reporter roughly? “They can always say `no comment’ … but to drag a reporter out just for asking is inexcusable behavior.”

The Anglosphere Tone

At NRO’s Corner K. J. Lopez has a “quickie” transcript of Howard’s press conference. He observes that Bin Laden justified the Bali bombing & murder of Sergio de Mello in Iraq by both Australia’s and de Mello’s roles in East Timor. Howard begins:

Can I just say very directly, Paul, on the issue of the policies of my government and indeed the policies of the British and American governments on Iraq, that the first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it’s given the game away, to use the vernacular. And no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen.

Howards words are inspiring; the reporter’s questions are not. Senators aren’t the only ones with “dumbass” questions. Howard’s response has the context of the real world (where Bin Laden’s fatwas are actually read & his words, say about East Timor, actually register). Clearly, Howard, like Hatch, can say: “But I do know dumbass questions when I see dumbass questions.” Still, he dignifies them with an answer that is neither hasty nor nasty if loaded with history he knows only too well. Thanks Instapundit for both, who also links to The Anchoress’ visual chronology of steps in “Bush’s War.”

Missing the point again – I hope

From the port side of the Web comes yet another post telling us why one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world is still not regulated enough.

Why the rapid increase[in the number of people who could benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs]? Are cholesterol levels in the United States actually getting worse and worse? Are more and more people at risk of a heart attack? Hard to say.

Given our aging demographic, it’s pretty easy to say that the number of people at risk of a heart attack is rising. And, one would also expect that over 13 years, cholesterol-lowering drugs have gotten more effective and with fewer side effects, increasing the number of people for whom the costs are worth the benefits.

But does that account for a three-fold increase in the number of people that the National Institutes of Health guidelines indicate should be taking these drugs? Beats me. Mr. Plumer doesn’t trust those guidelines because most of the experts writing them were paid by the makers of those drugs and thus are biased observers.

Guess what? I don’t trust those guidelines either, and for the same reason. Regulatory capture is a fact of life, and it’s been demonstrated over and over and over and over again, clear back to the days when the government started “regulating” the early railroad industry. Regulation is a way to protect politically connected vendors from competition. It’s happened so many times, over so long a period, that it doesn’t even count as an “unintended consequence” anymore – if you’re paying the least bit of attention, you’re forced to conclude that empowering legislators and regulators to protect their friends from competition is the main purpose of regulation, and the fact that lots of voters think that regulation is good for protecting the so-called “common man” is a fortuitous circumstance enabling them to keep creating and using this power.

The unintended consequence, if there is one, is that the skies are still empty of traffic, the extraterrestrial Solar System is still utterly uninhabited and your life expectancy is still less than a century. In short, protecting current vendors from competition impedes technological advancement. It certainly doesn’t do anything to improve the lives of those who aren’t close personal friends of regulators or legislators – it simply prevents weirdos you never heard of (and now never will) from coming up with an ingenious way to give you what you need better than the lazy slugs that make their living through regulatory capture.

In short – if you’re concerned that the government is too friendly with (currently existing) corporations, and giving them “corporate welfare” including, but not limited to, protection from competition, we’re on your side, and our proposed reforms (deregulation, deregulation, and more deregulation) are the only workable solution. The alternative solutions, which involve giving legislators and regulators even more power to protect their friends from competition and give them other things at taxpayer expense, are about as likely to work as fighting a fire by pouring gasoline on it.

And really, if you can’t trust the National Institutes of Health when they give advice that is at least subject to the marketplace of ideas, why in the world would you ever even consider letting a government agency retain the power to make similar judgements about drugs and forbid ordinary people from ignoring their (regulatorily captured, no doubt) pronouncements about which drugs they shouldn’t buy?

But back to that unintended consequence I picked out… is it really unintended? Are there really people that would be against technological advancement? People that don’t openly subscribe to “humans are a plague on beautiful, pristine, sacred nature” nonsense?

The evidence is not encouraging. Back to the post:

Also, since my brain’s still untarnished by the latest glossy Newsweek article pushing the latest disease dreamed up in GlaxoSmithKline headquarters, I would guess that some of those billions spent on, say, Lipitor might be better spent on public health programs instead. Then again, any scientific study I could dig up on public health is very likely to be funded by the diet and fitness industries—they’ve already got Paul Krugman in their thrall, why not me? And so it goes, with new diseases concocted and commodified every which way we turn.

Perhaps the health wonks among us can mull this problem over, while I ponder what it means when two of our nation’s largest industries (health and defense) can essentially manufacture demand out of thin air. Free market, they call it. Baffling, I say.

This is nothing more than a (pejorative) description of technological advancement! Humanity is faced with an endless array of problems; most of them are necessarily ignored most of the time because no solution exists for them. That doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, though. It’s still a problem, it’s just a problem that’s isn’t going away for the foreseeable future.

When someone actually comes up with a solution for it, though, we stop ignoring it because we can solve it. No one created the problem – we just started noticing it. It’s then up to us common people to decide whether the cost of solving it is less than the cost of continuing to live with it. Sometimes the answer is yes, and we pay a price we never paid before, and we get a benefit we never thought possible. How in the Hell does anyone conclude that this in itself constitutes a problem or a flaw in our system? On what planet does curing a disease count as “concocting” it? How could anyone sane conclude that those who give us relief from afflictions that we thought were eternal, unfixable, and inevitable are the bad guys?

If Burt Rutan or Virgin Galactic or one of those guys gets passenger service going to orbit or to the moon, is this character going to claim that those guys “manufactured demand” for spaceship rides and ponder what it means that they can manufacture all this demand and make money off of it and get away with it? Will the people who cure cancer be manufacturing demand for their cure, and will he ponder what it means that they can get away with it? And that Jonas Salk guy, where did he get off manufacturing demand for polio vaccine? And heart attacks just weren’t a problem for anyone until those statin pushers “concocted” them, right?

So we have a choice. We can conclude that Mr. Plumer and guys like him really don’t understand how technological advancement works. Or we can conclude that he and guys like him oppose technological advancement and want us to keep living with our present “incurable” afflictions for all time, only with more government supervision. (And one wonders why today’s afflictions are so special, and whether he thinks living with the 15th Century’s “incurable” afflictions wouldn’t be better still…)

The Sorrow & Pity of the Status Hunt

We all yearn for the respect of others and want the comfort of knowing we fit in. For some blue staters, their divide with red staters is a satisfying sign they belong; they are the kind of people who vote for John Kerry; that is a different kind of person than those who vote for Bush. Indeed, some quite openly remarked that they didn’t want “that kind of person” in their party. Some red staters had similar feelings. For some, politics is a social arbiter.

Our complicated feelings about belonging and insecurity about status were brought home as we began minor remodeling. I asked a friend’s advice on books & one he suggested was Class: A Guide Through the American Class System by Paul Fussell. It doesn’t deal with aesthetics but status. Since we are not going to convince anyone we range very far into middle class, status advice isn’t terribly useful. (While I am used to being held in some esteem by my colleagues and students, my status dropped under withering looks from the Home Depot advisor. There is my own lack of style in figure & clothes; in addition, somehow I had never noticed the basics of knob – excuse me, fixture – configurations.)

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