Archive for November, 2008

Exercising our Right in Virginia

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

As I promised a couple of days ago, yesterday I traveled (with a buddy) from my home in Vienna VA west along Route 66, south on Route 15, and then south along Route 29, past Warrenton, to Opal VA, where, beside Route 29, there is a bit of a landmark called Clark Bros Guns. I went there to peruse their stock of handguns. Anecdotally, I have heard that gun sales have been brisk, there being some concern about Obama’s commitment to 2nd Amendment rights. I figured I better go look at some guns while I still had the chance.

Clarks Bros

Clarks Bros

I have been past Clark Brothers many times but never went in until yesterday. One of my best friends in high school moved, before our senior year, from Fairfax County down to Albemarle County, near Charlottesville. When visiting him and his family, I would take Route 29 south, going past Clark Brothers. When I was in college at Virginia Tech, I would sometimes drive to Northern Virginia via the “local” route that took me from Blacksburg to Roanoke, Lynchburg and Charlottesville, and by Clark Brothers.  I have attended some Virginia vs. Virginia Tech football games in Charlottesville, and have traveled past Clark Brothers each time. But never went in, until yesterday.

As we arrived at Clark Brothers, we heard the crack of gunfire at the range behind the main building. I had never heard the gunfire just driving by on 29. As we walked up to the front doors, a man and his daughter were exiting, apparently heading to the firing range judging by their safety glasses and hearing protection. I was struck by these two for a couple of reasons

  • The daughter was maybe 12 years old and I do not ordinarily think of shooting firearms as a common father-daughter activity. As a father to my young daughter, I hope that one day she will be interested in learning firearm safety and “gun control”.
  • The father and daughter looked to me as though they were probably from India. I mention this because I have not thought of the shooting sports as drawing diverse participation, at least here in Northern Virginia.

So I was happy to see this pair there at Clarks. But I was left to wonder whether the goings-on in Mumbai played at all into that father’s decision to go target shooting at Clarks on this particular day.

I have never been to any of the “gun shows” that are held near here many times each year. Until yesterday, my firearm purchases have been limited to competition grade shotguns. My wife and I have jokingly asked our friends to reconsider the contemporary gift of watches for the 15th wedding anniversary and instead consider exchanging shotguns, as we did for our 15th.

Our shotguns were purchased in Maryland, and I was able to take them from the store – as a Virginia resident – after an “instant” background check. But I was not expecting to be able to take my Sig Sauer P226 handgun home from Clark Brothers without some waiting period. That shows how much I know. In Virginia, licensed and registered firearms dealers perform a criminal history record information (CHRI) check for Virginia residents against the Virginia State Police’s Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE).

It was

Easy

Easy

Sore Winners

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

On November 16th, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote a column called “Remedying the Bias Perception”. Howell states

… some of the conservatives’ complaints about a liberal tilt are valid. Journalism naturally draws liberals; we like to change the world. I’ll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.

Journalists bristle at the thought of their coverage being viewed as unfair or unbalanced; they believe that their decisions are journalistically reasonable and that their politics do not affect how they cover and display stories.

Today, there are several letters to the editor regarding Ms. Howell’s column.

M. Fishkin, of Alexandria VA has this to say

I am seriously considering canceling my subscription. Why? Becaue I am sick and tired of reading letters to the editor from sore losers complaining about The Post’s bias in the last election [Free For All, Nov. 8, 15, 22].

Guess what: Look at the voting results in the District, Virginia and Maryland, and you’ll see that a large majority of readers were quite pleased with your coverage, as was I.

So why print all these “cancel-my-subscription-because-you’re-so-mean” letters? How about giving us satisfied readers a break and take a week off from printing all that whining? And that includes all the other petty complaints about comics, columnists, the relative size of photos, etc.

And this, from M. Levine, of Silver Spring, MD

I’m finding it amusing to read about subscription cancellations from readers who think The Post has too liberal a bias. During the election season, my husband kept urging me to cancel our subscription because he thought you were too “centrist” for his taste – he wanted to see a more liberal outlook on the editorial page.

My observations as of late are that many Obama supporters are “sore winners”. They can’t resist putting their finger in the eyes of the opposition. These letters are two good examples, but other examples abound. I find the attitudes ironic simply because they don’t match what Obama preached. So much for change.

In reading these two letters, I don’t really see much to challenge the perception that the newspaper is guilty of a liberal bias. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be the case. Let’s see. Fishkin is satisfied with the coverage of a newspaper if it reflects his personal politics, even if, as the ombudsmen states, there is a perception of bias. And Levine’s husband pines for an even more liberal outlook on the editorial page?

As I have stated before, I believe that this bias was manifested by a lack of curiosity regarding Obama’s voting record and personal and professional relationships, especially as they stand  in relation to his rhetoric. I think the “sore losers” were hoping for a more circumspect mainstream media, especially because Obama is clearly the least experienced, least accomplished person ever elected to the presidency. Which is not to say that he will not be a success as president. For example, let me state that I have a generally favorable view of Obama’s cabinet and advisors announced to date, and to the overall tone of the transition.

It seems to me that the Fishkin’s and the Levine’s should subscribe to liberal or socialist opinion periodicals. I might suggest any of the following:

See, there are plenty of options for the imbecilic. Is it asking too much for our news journalists to report the news, fair and balanced, and maybe show a modicum of curiosity beyond, say, the next SNL skit?

Massacre in Mumbai

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Well, here we are, two days after the start of the terrorist attacks at a reported ten locations throughout Mumbai, India. The news has recently announced the deaths of five Americans. Reports indicate that two victims were from my home state of Virginia: a 58 year-old father and his 13 year-old daughter. From what I can piece together, it appears that Alan Scherr (and his daughter, Naomi) were in India for a spiritual retreat.

The news has also announced the deaths of at least five at Chabad House, a Jewish center for Chabad-Lubavitch, a large Hasidic movement based in Brooklyn, NY. The deaths include American-born Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his Israeli-born wife, Rivka. Their two year-old son escaped with another person. The video of the Chabad House that I have seen on TV is eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Munich Olympics.

The current wisdom is that the attackers were Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda-inspired. There is talk that “rogue elements” of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may be behind, or may have supported, the attacks. Commentator Mansoor Ijaz believes the attacks are linked to the recent declaration of new Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari that Pakistan will not be the first country to use nuclear weapons in any conflict with India. According to Ijaz, a reduction in tensions between Pakistan and India would reduce the influence of the likes of the ISI, which seems to operate independently of civilian or military control.

As conditions improved in Iraq, the major news outlets have significantly reduced their coverage. Clearly, to them, no news is better than good news. So, the Mumbai Massacre is a not-so-subtle reminder that the war against terror still exists, and it is not just isolated to Afghanistan. To those that bristle at the phrase “war on terror”, I ask what term would you rather I use? It is a multi-front war…just ask the people of New York, Spain, Great Britain, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (remember the Beslan school?), Thailand, the Philippines, Cyprus, Sudan, Kashmir, …. and now, Mumbai. Only now, the tactics have changed to urban warfare.

Recent reports were that gun dealers here in the U.S. were doing a brisk business before the Mumbai attacks. I imagine that business is very good indeed now. I’ll be visiting Clark’s Brothers in the morning.

Some of the gunmen have been described as of Pakistani descent and in possession of British passports. It will be interesting to see if any of these goons can be traced to the mosques in Britain. As the complete operation is pieced together, it will become clearer who is responsible.

News reports suggest that there have been survirors among the gunmen. George W. Bush is still the President. Here’s hoping that the CIA has been paying their water bills.

Let’s Be Thankful, But Let’s Act Directly, Too

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Thanksgiving, 2008

A day to reflect and give thanks for the life we have. I know I am thankful, thankful for living in the USA, thankful for the freedoms we have, the democratic institutions, the system of risk and reward, the innovation, the generosity of our people, our penchant for thinking and acting strategically, and the peaceful transition of power, among other things. As difficult as things are, right here, right now, they could be much, much worse.

I saw a story about a woman, Monique White, in Colorado who, a year ago, had run into difficult times. In the past year, she and her husband, Doug, were able to land new jobs and purchase a townhouse. On a lark, she placed a Craigslist ad inviting people to her house for Thanksgiving. You can read about it here. Thirty-two people responded to the ad, and all are coming to her house today. The story quotes Doug White

That’s what Thanksgiving is about: Helping other people out however you can.

That’s a really positive message. I have always responded positively to entreaties to direct action. What do I mean by “direct action”? For me, direct action means performing deeds directly for, or providing help directly to, those we intend to help. It is a little bit like eliminating – or at least reducing – the middle man. The opportunities for direct action are, of course, unlimited. Here are just a few examples:

Monique and Doug White are acting directly. Thank you, Monique and Doug, for helping to remind me what Thanksgiving is all about. For their kindness and good deeds, I recognize the White’s with the first ever Thought Docket Seal of Approval.

The Waitress Sandwich Sounds Good

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I was off of work today and happened to be tuned into the Imus show this morning on the way to the grocery store. Imus’ guest was Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat Senator from Connecticut. The subject was the economy and, while I was not listening too closely, I heard Dodd speaking about the number of auto dealerships in Connecticut (eleven hundred, I think he said) and the number of dealerships nationwide. I could not tell what his point was, but I’m sure that it had something to do with the economy and the auto bailout.

Then Dodd mentioned something to this effect:

It is a good thing that the meltdown occurred now, as opposed to one or two years ago, when it would have been much worse…

Dodd went on to this effect:

…because there is greater hope that we can pull out of it because we have Obama coming into office

To be sure, things would have been different two years ago (or one year ago). For one thing, we would not have had the pressure to say and do things for purely political gain in a presidential election year. For another, we would not have had the pressures of $4 a gallon gasoline eroding our purchasing power. One might even conclude that if the meltdown had occurred one or two years ago, we would never have seen $4 a gallon gasoline. We would have experienced the meltdown with less unemployment. And, of course, had the meltdown occurred one or two years ago, we would not have had the uncertainty that is occasioned by an interregnum.

Yes Chris, good thing that we are having the crisis now buy kamagra online uk. If I didn’t know better, I might think that you planned it this way. I would not be alone.

I am reminded of my economics courses at Virginia Tech – taught by Allan “Handsome Al” Mandelstamm – where I was introduced to the Theory of Competitive Advantage. Stated simply the theory says that a person (or country) should always do what that person (or country) does best. The example that Handsome Al gave goes something like this: If I am twice as good a football coach as Bill Dooley, and if I am a ten times better economics professor than Bill Dooley, then I will teach economics and Bill Dooley will coach football.

Now, applying the theory to Christopher Dodd, his clear comparative advantage has historically been

  • being the drinking buddy of Ted Kennedy (talk about co-facilitators)
  • making waitress sandwiches, with Ted Kennedy, of course, while their dates were in the restroom (is that Subway calling?)
  • obtaining loans from Countrywide Mortgage at below market rates
  • gauging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as “fundamentally strong” and as being in “good shape” earlier this year

Needless to say, Dodd’s comparative advantage has not been in responsible behavior, the culinary arts, ethical behavior, and financial audit. Now with his appearance on Don Imus, add to this list: economics. Economics professors everywhere – those following in the footsteps of Handsome Al – can rest easy this evening; their jobs are safe.

Who’s Illinformed?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Last week (November 12), in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Howard Meyerson recalled with some glee his report in 2003 of

…a survey from the Program for International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Knowledge Network … showed that 45 percent of Fox viewers believed that the United States had uncovered incontrovertible proof that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had worked together; that we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and that a majority of peoples in other lands supported our war in Iraq. In case these bizarre misconceptions merely reflected the a priori beliefs of President Bush’s supporters, PIPA further documented that Bush backers who got their news from other networks had a decidedly firmer grasp of the facts.

Apparently, viewers of Fox News are illinformed and viewers of other news networks are well informed (at least by comparison). The op-ed piece is a thank-you note to Roger Ailes from Meyerson for what Meyerson calls “…a great gift to liberals and Democrats.” Meyerson obviously believes ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post are the real “fair and balanced” media. For this belief – and many others, I am sure – Meyerson is a crackpot.

It is interesting that Meyerson chose to reflect back some 5 years or more to study relationships between “grasp of facts” and one’s news sources. With one small assumption – namely that most Obama voters are not Fox News junkies – we have a much more recent poll from which to draw conclusions. And, unlike PIPA and Knowledge Network, I have actually heard of the organization conducting this poll.

I am speaking of the recent Zogby poll of Obama voters. This was a 12-question multiple choice “test”. It showed that

most Obama voters remembered negative coverage of McCain/Palin statements but struggled to correctly answer questions about coverage associated with Obama/Biden.

The questions included the following:

Campaign in All 57 States

Campaign in All 57 States

Coal and Energy Bankruptcy

Redistribute the Wealth

Redistribute the Wealth

Hey Howard, what can we conclude from this poll? One thing I conclude is that these results square with my first-hand observations. I think I understand Obama’s appeal to his supporters. But I also think those supporters have expressed precious little curiosity about Obama beyond his rhetoric.  When I shared my concerns over Obama’s record and relationships with friends and colleagues, I received a collective “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. This “I don’t know / I don’t care” attitude is one reason that McCain’s campaign was seen as so negative. McCain kept trying to pound away at Obama’s record and (at least some) relationships, and was perceived as being negative simply because Obama supporters didn’t want to know and didn’t want to care, so strong was their Bush Derangement Syndrome.

I have seen at least one analysis that claims that the Zogby poll is flawed because, in part, it was commissioned by a Republican supporter, John Ziegler, who is preparing a documentary on Media Malpractice…How Obama Got Elected. Zogby, however, has stated that he stands behind the poll.

For the documentary, Ziegler captured the following video footage, apparently on election day:

Watch Portion of Ziegler Documentary

Is the poll and video documentary tainted by partisan sour grapes? I don’t know … and … I don’t care.

Whacks Man

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The auto industry and what little manufacturing industry we have left was dealt another blow this past week when Henry A. Waxman successfully wrested the chair of the the House Energy and Commerce Committee from John D. Dingell. Said the Washington Post (on November 21)

Waxman’s victory also signaled the rise of a younger, more environmentally conscious party eager to support the policies of President-elect Barack Obama.

Younger? Waxman, at 69 years old is technically younger than Dingell (at 82). But is this a youth movement like, say, is represented by Barack Obama? I mean, Waxman is about as fresh as, say, Ashley Dupre, and usually makes about as much sense as Ashley, too.

No doubt that Waxman is environmentally conscious. He represents California’s 30th Congressional District, which includes Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. Yikes. That group isn’t even in the mainstream of the extreme. Waxman is an oversight zealot, when it comes to oversight of Republicans. But don’t look for him to hold any hearings looking into Democrat misdeeds.

In Time magazine, a story on Waxman was headlined by: The Scariest Guy in Washington. And he has been called the Democrat’s Eliot Ness in the Nation. That article notes that Waxman’s beef with Dingell started back in the 1980’s.

Through the 1980s, he engaged in a now-legendary clash with John Dingell, then the powerful chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a protector of the auto industry, over clean-air legislation. Finally, the two hammered out a deal that led to the 1990 Clean Air Act.

I suspect that Waxman is looking forward to making up for lost time. If that really is the case, then Detroit and the larger manufacturing sector will be torn asunder.

I hope that Waxman will be able to carve out some time to investigate the Democrat’s complicity in the Fannie and Freddie meltdown, as shown here:

Video of Democrats Defending Fannie and Freddie From Regulation

What is Un-American?

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

In the run-up to the election, some of my Obama-enthralled colleagues asked me if I thought there really were any people that deserved a label like “un-American”. Their interrogative was clearly rhetorical. But I said “of course there were”, and they were dumbfounded. I offered the following two examples:

  • The people behind the General Betrayus advertisement (MoveOn.org) and anyone refusing to denounce the advertisement in no-uncertain terms. [I’ll have more to say about these a$$hats in the future.]
  • John Patrick “Jack” Murtha Jr., for the astounding assertion that U.S. soldiers “killed innocent civilians in cold blood” as a reason to pull out of Iraq and announce defeat during the 2006 debate on the surge.

No doubt, the incidents in Haditha were terrible cialis super active 20mg. But Murtha’s statement was a broadside against the United States military. And the assertions do not appear to be holding up so well after the investigations that have unfolded. So here is a person willing to throw the US military under the bus to make political points. Pathetic.

But what is more pathetic, really, is that he is being returned to the US House of Representatives after his Iraq performance and his encores about racists and rednecks during the campaign. Murtha said of his constituents: first that they were racists and then, no, they weren’t really racists, just rednecks. He did this by way of explaining why someone like Barack Obama might have rough sledding in PA’s 12th Congressional District. If I were Murtha’s personal physician, I would up his intake of ginkgo biloba for what is clearly a “waiting room diagnosis” of dementia.

The rednecks and racists of Pennsylvania responsible for this can be found, approximately, here:

Rednecks and Racists in Pennsylvania

Rednecks and Racists in Pennsylvania

Maybe Murtha was simply repeating the joke

Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between.

Maybe its not really a joke and maybe the people living in Pennsylvania’s 12th take the racist and redneck labels as a term of endearment. I wonder what the un-American Murtha could have said in order for the 12th to send him packing? It strains the imagination.

Pussyfooting in Deir ez-Zor

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

The big news this week in nuclear non-proliferation is that the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Administration (aka Atoms for Peace) has issued its report on the Syrian Dair Alzour site that was taken out by Israel in July of last year during Operation Orchard.

At the site, the IAEA found significant amounts of chemically manipulated – but not enriched – uranium. This, despite the Syrian’s efforts to reclaim the site with tons of imported soil. The IAEA won’t say with 100% certainty that the site was a nuclear reactor, so they are looking at other possibilities to explain their findings. Syria is happy to provide a plausible explanation: the uranium found is left over from the Israeli bombs. The IAEA, though, has claimed that the uranium found was not “depleted”. I am left to believe that there is no word in the Arabic language that translates, roughly to ‘parsimonious’.

The IAEA report indicates that satellite imagery shows that the construction of the “installation” was begun between April and August of 2001. Per the imagery, the IAEA is able to conclude that the building had multiple underground levels and that it included structures that were consistent with those used for  “biological containment”. After visiting the site in June 2008, the IAEA noted an unusual “water pumping infrastructure” with a pumping capacity able to support a 25 MW reactor. The IAEA also noted a robust electrical capacity able to support the pumping system.

The report also indicates that satellite imagery of other Syrian sites “may be of relevance to the activities at the Dair Alzour site”. The IAEA has asked for access to these other sites in May 2008 and Syria has refused access. In the mean time, says the report, satellite imagery of these three locations shows “landscaping activities and the removal of large containers” shortly after the request for access.

Despite their own report, the IAEA is not 100% convinced.

While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use, the features of the building, as described above, along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site.

Why is it that the diplomatic community can never actually call anyone out? Oh, yeah, I forgot…they’re diplomats (even the scientists), and diplomats never call out anyone except the United States. Why not just come clean and say something like this:

The features of the building, as described above, along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are completely consistent with, and indicators of, a reactor site.

Enough already with the pussyfooting around. Do the IAEA inspectors show up wearing these?

Pussyfooters

Pussyfooters

The Syrians are doing their part by upholding the Middle East tradition of pathological lying. Our new Secretary of State and National Security Advisor would do well by following this simple rule:

If you want to know what the score is, just listen to any Middle East diplomatic statement, and reverse it on all accounts. Such would be closer to the truth.

What Did Waldseemueller Know and When Did He Know It?

Friday, November 21st, 2008

In this past Monday’s Washington Post, there was an article by David Brown that I found quite interesting: 16-th Century Mapmaker’s Intriguing Knowledge. It started like this:

How was it that a German priest writing in Latin and living in a French city far from the coast became the first person to tell the world that a vast ocean lay to the west of the American continents?

The story is one of Martin Waldseemueller. Not only did Waldseemueller seem to know about the ocean (i.e., the Pacific), he also seemed to know something about the shape of the west coast of South America. According to the article, the evidence of this knowledge is contained in Waldseemueller’s world map of 1507 (Universalis Cosmographia, for short), which was purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million in 2003.

Universalis Cosmographia

Universalis Cosmographia

As can be seen to the far left, what are now North and South America appear relatively distorted compared to the continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Still, the article states that the general shape of the west coast of South America is surprisingly accurate.

The 1507 map is described as the oldest document to use the term ‘America’ to the land mass between Africa and Asia.

America On The Map

America On The Map

In 1516, Waldseemueller published a second great map, called Carta Marina. In this map, according to the article, South America is no longer shown as an “island”. Instead, “The continent disappears off the left of the page, implying it is attached to Asia, which is on the right edge.”

Carta Marina

Carta Marina

So, there are at least two mysteries:

  1. How did Waldseemueller know about the general shape of South America’s west coast in 1507?
  2. What transpired in the intervening years to prompt Waldseemueller to recant?

John W. Hessler of the Library of Congress is a researcher in these matters. His new book, The Naming of America, might be on my Christmas Wish List this year. Hessler’s blog can be found here:

http://warpinghistory.blogspot.com/

More information and comparisons of the two maps are available from the Library of Congress, here.