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Archive for December, 2007

A Defeat For Autocracy

[ 25 ] December 3, 2007 |

Hugo Chavez’s referendum has apparently gone down to a narrow defeat. This is a good thing for reasons that Randy Paul explains here.


Today’s Dose of Shameless Racism

[ 16 ] December 3, 2007 |

Based on the assurances of an anonymous “expert,” K-Lo reassures the world that Thomas Smith is off the hook because Arabs are filthy liars.

[W]e “should have provided readers with more context and caveats” – the context that Smith was operating in an uncertain environment where he couldn’t always be sure of what he was witnessing, and the caveats that he filled in the gaps by talking to sources within the Cedar Revolution movement and the Lebanese national-security apparatus, whose claims obviously should have been been treated with the same degree of skepticism as those of anyone with an agenda to advance.

As one of our sources put it: “The Arab tendency to lie and exaggerate about enemies is alive and well among pro-American Lebanese Christians as much as it is with the likes of Hamas.” While Smith vouches for his sources, we cannot independently verify what they told him. That’s why we’re revisiting the posts in question and warning readers to take them with a grain of salt.

Well, I suppose it’s something that she didn’t refer to them as “sneaky” or “sinister.” But as long as she’s performing due diligence, Lopez should also be aware of Will Saletan’s recent discovery that black people are dumb — something the National Review might want to consider the next time they receive something from Thomas Sowell.

On the brighter side of the ledger, I’m glad to hear Lopez is at last considering the possibility that sources — particularly those connected to various states interested in compliant press coverage — might be able to foist almost anything on journalists and idiot warbloggers alike.

Solemn Announcement

[ 32 ] December 3, 2007 |

All of our efforts to convince Davida that she really could be doing a lot better having been in vain, it should be noted that Mr. Robert M. Farley is about to become the second married member of our collective. I will have the solemn responsibility of Best Man; I may or may not figure out what that entails in the next two weeks. Information about the pending nuptials in Washington D.C. can be found here.

A Real Making-Shit-Up Renaissance Man

[ 24 ] December 3, 2007 |

The guy who filed fictions in the guise of reporting from Lebanon is also the author of the seminal The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. Of course he is! The title is a little redundant, though.

Things that don’t sound like helicopters

[ 36 ] December 2, 2007 |

Breast-feeding infants:

I’m pretty sure everything that can be said has been said in re: the suckiness of Day By Day, but good god. Has Chris Muir ever been around real humans?


[ 15 ] December 2, 2007 |

Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Senussi Dynasty

[ 6 ] December 2, 2007 |

The Senussi religious order was founded in 1837 as an antidote to what amounted to the perceived liberalization of Islam. It’s founder, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi, was born in Algeria but studied in Cairo, Mecca, and elsewhere in the Arab world. He attempted to return to Algeria around 1840 but was denied entry by the French. In response, he led the construction of a monastery in Cyrenaica, now part of Libya and then part of the Ottoman Empire. Gathering followers from across North Africa, Muhammad carved a de facto independent state out of the Ottoman desert territories.

In 1911, Italy conquered Cyrenaica in the brief Italo-Ottoman War. In 1920, Italy granted Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad Ibn Ali as-Senussi’s grandson, the title of Emir of Cyrenaica. Two years later he was named Emir of neighboring Tripolitania. Idris’ efforts on behalf of independence were frowned on by the Italians, and he was driven into exile in the late 1920s. After struggling for independence through the 1930s, Idris followed General Bernard Montgomery and his army as they rolled up the German and Italian position in Libya in 1943. After several years of negotiations and protectorates, Libya was unified as an independent state in 1951, and Idris took the title of King Idris I.

Idris maintained close relations with the West in spite of increasing tensions between the US, UK, and the Arab world. In 1969, the King’s poor health and failure to produce an heir left his domestic opponents with an opportunity. Because of health concerns, Idris I had decided to abdicate in favor of his nephew on September 2. A coup led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi overthrew the King’s government on September 1, while the King was receiving medical treatment in Turkey. The King’s nephew, Sayyid Hassan As-Senussi, was placed under house arrest, along with most of the rest of the royal family. King Idris would live in exile in Greece and Egypt until his death in 1983.

In 1984 Gaddafi released the royal family from house arrest and tossed them onto the street. The family lived for a period in a cabin on a public beach. Sayyid Hassan, suffering from poor health, was allowed to travel with most of the family to London for medical treatment, where they settled. Hassan died in 1992, and was succeeded as pretender King by his son, Sayyid Muhammad bin Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Senussi. Muhammad has been somewhat active in Libyan exile circles, participating in an anti-Gaddafi rally in London in 2005. Muhammad has made Libyan democracy his public cause, but has not renounced the throne. Prospects for a return to the throne are uncertain. The contours of Libyan politics are difficult to get a firm grasp on, due in no small part to the continuing dominance of Gaddafi. There is no strong evidence that substantial monarchist support exists in Libya, however, and it would seem that the fall of Gaddafi would more likely result in the establishment of a republic rather than a return to the monarchy.

Trivia: Which monarch’s last serious bid for the throne ended when his proxy war patron withdrew its support in 1970?

To Sum Up

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Edroso manages to get No Country For Old Men right in one sentence:

No Country For Old Men is an excellent chase film with twangy talk about the persistence of evil inserted at puzzling intervals.

Although mostly very-good-to-superb, I found the picture a tad disappointing, and there’s no question that the windy, portentous monologues the movie inexplicably stops dead in its tracks to give to Tommy Lee Jones’s character are the major culprit. Roy goes on to say:

In No Country, Chighur’s conversations are a little in that vein, but the pronouncements of Sheriff Bell and Ellis are closer to the tedious lecture Commissioner Hardy gives the reporters near the end of The Asphalt Jungle: an insertion that is supposed to radiate meaning onto the action from the outside. In Jungle this comes off as a quick gloss or a way of getting around the Hays Office, and is followed by a more appropriate, though downbeat, spurt of narrative; in No Country the Hardys just hang around the periphery being premonitory until near the end, when they surge to subsume and kill the story. This is the real “dismal tide”: geezers talking about good and evil (and what do they say, exactly, besides good sure is good and evil sure is evil?) till their chatter drowns out a perfectly good action picture.

They didn’t detract from the virtues of the film quite as much for me as they did for Roy, but all the tell-don’t-show bullshit towards the end is an odd lapse from the Coens (especially since their trademark dueling non-sequiturs worked surprisingly well within the McCarthy story.) I don’t know how much of it comes directly from the novel, but that’s no excuse in any case.

The Bootstraps Myth

[ 46 ] December 1, 2007 |

Counterintuitive news of the day: when fathers pay child support payments ostensibly to their poverty-stricken ex-partners and children, they’re only helping deepen the women’s poverty.

How? Well, in many states the child support payments made to women on welfare go directly to the state and federal coffers with little to nothing reaching the women themselves. According to the Times, about half the states pass nothing from child support along to the custodial parent (usually a woman), while in most others the custodian gets only $50/month. This counterproductive structure comes thanks to federal law, which requires states to use child support statements to reimburse welfare payments.

To me, the problems with such a system seem blindingly apparent: First, child support payments are, duh, supposed to support children. When the money is going to the government instead of the child, it’s unlikely that is happening. Second, though a goal of the country’s welfare program is to help people to self-sufficiency (a laughable goal given the program’s structure, but still…), refusing them the aid they are due helps ensure that they are unable to do exactly that. As the Times notes:

When Congress set up the current child support system in the 1970s, recovering welfare costs was an explicit goal, with some experts arguing that it was only fair for fathers to repay the government for sustaining their offspring and that giving families the money was a form of “double dipping.” But experience and research have suggested to most experts and state and federal officials from both parties that the policy is counterproductive — driving fathers into the underground economy and leaving families more dependent on aid.

Given that this – at this point – just about universally acknowledged, why hasn’t anything changed?

Well, it almost did change…until the deficit the Bush administration has created crept back into congress’s conscience:

Reflecting a growing, bipartisan sense that diverting child support money to government coffers is counterproductive, Congress, in the Deficit Reduction Act passed in early 2006, took a modest step toward change. Beginning in 2009, states will be permitted to pass along up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or more children, with the state and federal governments giving up a share of welfare repayments they have received in the past.

The Bush administration has set a goal of increasing the share of collections distributed to families and reducing the amount retained by the government. But the drive to reduce the budget deficit has gotten in the way. As part of last-minute budget crunching, the Republican-controlled Congress in that same act reduced by 20 percent the child-support enforcement money it gives to the states, starting this fall. Many states say the effort to force them to pay more of the enforcement costs will impede collections and prevent them from passing more money on to needy families.

So, there’s some good movement, but not enough. Recently, a number of governors wrote a letter to Congress requesting that Congress repeal the program that gives child support money to the government to repay welfare in toto. But in the meantime there are still many too many women like Karla Hart (on whom the Times focuses), who can’t give their kids the $9 they need for a school activity. Getting rid of this welfare “repayment” won’t solve that but those $200/month “extra” would go a long way.

Saturday Issue of Obscure Interest Blogging

[ 24 ] December 1, 2007 |

Finally, the N.H.L. has altered their awful schedule, under which teams visit those in other conferences only once every three years. Since I was in Calgary for 12 days last year and saw the Canucks twice live and another time on T.V., but of course can almost never see any western team out here, I have to echo the comments of Willie Mitchell:

We’re tired of seeing Calgary, Minnesota, Edmonton. For us it would mean more travel, but I’d jump on that in a heartbeat. Guys want to play at M.S.G. [Madison Square Garden]. I want to get to the new arena in New Jersey. Never mind the fans, as a player you want to play against the best.

The strangest misconception that the league has is that playing 8 games a year against a team encouraged rivalries. But of course it’s the opposite; intradivisional rivalries just get boring when you see the same team again and again and again. And to pre-empt the same kind of argument you hear in baseball, yes some of the inter-conference games will be lousy (“who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Nationals?”) No, Ranger fans probably won’t be thrilled to see Columbus (although it may make me more likely to score tickets from the Bean family!) But these arguments seem not to realize that the Devil Rays and Panthers have to play somebody. Who wants to see Tampa Bay play the Royals again? If I still had access to a Flames season ticket I’d rather see Florida once than Minnesota for the fourth time.

Also, I should mention that serious or casual puckheads should note that this comes from the Times’ new hockey blog. Among others, it includes Jeff Z. Klein, the former sports editor of the Voice and author of an entertaining Bill Jamesian study of the game. Sounds like it will be useful.

Special Guest Star

[ 0 ] December 1, 2007 |

Longtime friend of L, G & M Julia is starting a regular guest posting gig at Firedoglake. And even better, her first post is about Giuliani and his history of promoting corrupt incompetents, so check it out…


[ 13 ] December 1, 2007 |

Robert Craig Knievel, Jr.

A lot of folks have asked me over the last couple of years why I named that other site after Evel Knievel. I don’t have an especially good answer, except to say that the name made for a good pun and was, for all kinds of reasons, a better choice than “Kennedy’s Magic Johnson.” I never owned an Evel Knievel lunchbox, and I was always too much of a coward to try and emulate his various stunts on the crappy bike I rode as a kid.

Anyhow, the Axis’ namesake passed away today, setting a dark cloud over Clay Aiken’s 29th birthday while commemorating the release of a Michael Jackson album titled, appropriately enough, Thriller.


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