Shorter Senator Coburn

"Elena Kagan is ignorant of constitutional issues. 

No, I, Tom Coburn, don't know much about Thurgood Marshall. 

No, I, Tom Coburn, don't know much about Ruth Ginsberg."

Longer version here.


Google and China: A Romantic Tragedy in Five Acts

This is just getting ridiculous.

Act 1: Google self-censors in China, because, hey, turns out there's more money in being evil.

Act 2: Google stops censoring, sort of, by redirecting Chinese users to the uncensored Hong Kong site. [Q: What? A: Beats me]. This may be because of pressure from human rights organizations, or from Google's collective conscience. Or, more likely, in retaliation for a massive hacker attack by China against Google's servers.

Act 3: China naturally objects, and says to Google, NO MORE CHINA FOR YOU. Google panics.

Act 4: Google and China possibly come to an agreement in which users get the old censored site, but can access the uncensored HK site from a link on the main page.


“If the Chinese government isn’t happy with them running uncensored search results out of the Hong Kong site — I don’t see why they’ll be any happier just because it becomes one click away,” Danny Sullivan, who runs the search-analysis Web site Search Engine Land, told Bloomberg News.

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday declined to comment.

“This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results ongoogle.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page,” Mr. Drummond wrote.

“This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self censor and, we believe, with local law,” he continued. “We are therefore hopeful that our license will be renewed on this basis so we can continue to offer our Chinese users services via google.cn.”
"I don’t see why they’ll be any happier just because it becomes one click away."

I think there's basically two reasons China might be okay with this.

First, like Google, it lets them claim to not be censoring, while still effectively censoring for folks who don't bother (or who are too scared) to make the extra click to the HK results.

Second, and more nefariously, it will make it much easier for Google to track exactly who is circumventing the censorship.

So, what are your predictions for Act 5? Google gets kicked out of China anyway? China uses Google (again) to crack down on its populace (again)? 

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Not scared... yet.

Mike Huckabee generated a little buzz on Sunday. He told Fox News that he’s the Republican who “clearly at this point does better against Obama than any other Republican.” Mitt Romney, meanwhile, continues to focus on endorsements. He’sannounced three more in Maine, bringing his total this cycle to 100. Newt Gingrich is also keeping up with the endorsement game, throwing his support to Bill McCollum’s gubernatorial campaign in Florida.  Tim Pawlenty, for his part, continues to jet about. In recent days, he’s rallied GOP activists in Tennessee and tomorrow he heads to South Carolina, where he’ll lend a hand to Nikki Haley. Sarah Palin, of course, is also busy. | corner |
It's very hard for me to take any of these folks seriously as credible candidates for president at this point. Jonathan Chait, however, thinks that economic conditions could lead to what would be unthinkable in better times:
If economic conditions remain terrible, it's likely that the Republican Party will regain power. 9% unemployment would give even a radioactive figure like Sarah Palin a decent chance to win the presidency, and a double-dip recession would give her a very strong chance of success. This means there's a significant chance that by 2013 the country will be governed by a Republican Party that makes the Bush-era version appear benign by comparison. | tnr |
I gotta think things aren't that bad? C'mon, readers, tell me not to be scared.

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I'm sure that the venn diagram of "my sense of humor" vs. "people who read this blog" does not enjoy significant overlap, but I'm going to point y'all to this webcomic anyway. Here are two samples:

Here are the rest.


This is not Mark Krikorian's toy army


That and 1,200 National Guardsmen Will Get You a Cup of Coffee   [Mark Krikorian]

At CSIS yesterday, JNap announced that the administration "will station an aerial drone in Texas as part of its stepped-up surveillance of criminal trafficking along the Mexican border." That's "an" aerial drone, as in one. She also announced that "federal authorities also have signed an agreement to allow local police from non-border communities to temporarily 'deploy' to the border region to assist with security" — so, local cops aren't allowed to assist the feds in enforcing immigration law in their own communities, but they can do so in other communities?

And on Tuesday, the administration requested funding for 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents, despite the fact that its original FY2011 budget requested a cut in the number of agents. Put all that together, and it's undeniable that border security is a purely political issue for this White House. In other words, the consideration is not "What do we need to do to truly secure our borders?" but "What's the minimum amount of enforcement we can get away with in order to persuade Congress to finally let us have our amnesty?" It's the spoonful of enforcement to help the amnesty go down.
If you've been reading Krikorian--and I hope you have not--you already know that he is bound and determined to conflate illegal immigration with border security. And nobody is saying that they are unrelated issues. But it's very clear that Obama is drawing a distinction between the two, and it's also very clear that Krikorian deliberately ignores the distinction. I'll write it in short words: 

There is a drug and violence problem on the border. That's why the national guard is there. They are not there to do whatever Mark Krikorian thinks should happen on the border. 


Unrelated interlude

Hi! Here's a passage from Breton's Surrealist Manifesto:
If in a cluster of grapes there are no two alike, why do you want me to describe this grape by the other, by all the others . . . ? Our brains are dulled by the incurable mania of wanting to make the unknown known, classifiable . . . It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to make it emerge . . . Forbidden is any kind of search for truth that is not in conformance with accepted practices . . .
Here's Rilke's "The Panther"
His gaze is so wearied from the bars 
Passing by, that it can hold no more. 
It’s as if a thousand bars were given him: 
And behind the thousand bars, no world.

The soft pace of his powerful, supple stride, 
That draws him round in tightened circles, 
Is like the dance of force about a centre, 
In which a greater will stands paralysed.

Only, at times, the curtain of his pupils 
Silently rises – Then an image enters, 
Rushes through his tense, arrested limbs, 
And echoing, inside his heart, is gone.
Yesterday evening, I wasted a lot of time reading many, many translations of that poem. Most were bad.

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Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

A quick read of the majority decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (08-1498) leads me to a question.  Since I cannot ask the Honorable Justices in the majority for an explanation beyond what was written in the decision, and since I have neither the inclination, the money, or the academic credentials to get into law school, I'll just ask here and accept whatever enlightened, and/or crackpot answers I get:

In light of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (08-205), how can the First Amendment rights of a group be curtailed with one hand (Humanitarian Law Project), and granted with the other (Citizens United)?

The potential consequences of the speech in both cases seem to me to be equally harmful.  So how can two similar majorities (the difference being that Justice Stevens joined the majority in Humanitarian Law Project and the minority in Citizens United) find that the First Amendment protects one and not the other?

Ok, that's two question.  Sue me.

Cocaine in the U.S. increasingly cut with a livestock-deworming drug

By "increasingly," I mean that 80 percent of cocaine sold in the U.S. contains this drug now, as opposed to only 10 percent just a few years ago.

By "livestock-deworming drug," I mean levasimole. It may lead to enhanced euphoria in the resulting mix, but it can almost certainly rot your flesh.

 -- Info source here, image credit here.


Is that a 1 watt laser in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

"Warning: Extremely dangerous is an understatement to the power of 1W of laser power. It will blind permanently and instantly and set fire quickly to skin and other body parts."

Just $200 for a very dangerous and very cool looking laser. Paging Safety Neal, our resident expert, on the personal defense applications. 


Countdown begins to when CNBC tells us that BP stock is a 'real bargain'

"It's only natural... in a period of transition for the more timid element to run for cover."

- Sidney J. Mussburger, Hudsucker Industries


David Markson R.I.P.

I've never read any David Markson. But when I read he died early last week, I recalled that I had an unread book of his somewhere in my bookshelves. I searched for it and found it, discovering to my surprise that it was a signed copy (those who know me know I separately shelve signed books; I'd missed this one somewhere). My American experimental Po-Mo has not strayed far beyond Barthelme and Foster Wallace, but of course I'm going to read this book, and his much-hailed masterpiece Wittgenstein's Mistress.

My impression so far has been, thank goodness someone can do this well for the rest of us who might have really sucked at it.

By the way, from what I've read so far, I'll take Ben Marcus over Jonathan Safran Foer any day, on this point.


Whither NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty is, like most treaties, pretty dry and filled mostly with carefully chosen words. Here are a few of those words:
Article 5
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
Article 6
For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack: on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer; on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.
 So just what would happen if NATO member Turkey were to seek to invoke Article 5 in response to the recent attacks by Israeli Defense Forces commandoes on Turkish flagged vessels in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea?

For good or for ill, the future of the treaty may depend on the answer.


iPad stuff

Paul Thurrott opines:

Put simply, when you use an iPad, you're typically not contributing to anything, as you can on a PC. Instead, you're simply consuming. And this is how I think the iPad should be compared to the PC: Consumption vs. contribution. Yes, you can do things like answer emails (using the virtual keyboard) on the iPad; there will always be exceptions to any vague generality. But for the most part, that's what this is about. Consumption vs. contribution. 
When you go out and about with just an iPad, you're sending a message that you're not going to contribute. You're just there to consume. This is why the iPad is, to my mind, uniquely unsuitable in the workplace. Knowledge workers don't just read documents. They comment on them, edit them, send feedback. They contribute. And contributing means using a device that not just allows editing, but makes that capability a central point of the entire experience. (Multitasking wouldn't hurt either.) The iPad is not a business tool. In fact, for most people, it never will be. (And those who contort their workflow to make this possible are, of course, simply trying too hard to justify their vanity purchase.)
I can't completely disagree with this. The big problem that Apple hasn't solved with the iPad (at least for me) is efficient text entry. I'm typing way faster on my iPhone in landscape view than I can on my pad. It makes writing--everything from blog posts to work emails to shopping lists--on the pad quite impractical. (Yes, I could use a keyboard with the pad, but by that point it makes more sense to just use my MacBook Pro, with it's trackpad and it's power.)

But I really disagree with his somewhat prickish tone regarding the iPad.
"When you go out and about with just an iPad, you're sending a message that you're not going to contribute." Do tell. When I go out and about with a book, what message am I sending?

And speaking of the "workplace" (which it's not clear that he was, since we were just "out and about" in what we English teachers like to call the "topic sentence" of his paragraph), he's got a pretty narrow view of the "workplace." I think the iPad, or devices like it, will be fantastic as:

* Moblie cash registers (iPhones are already used for this, the pad will be better).
* To view medical information, including records, xrays, etc.
* To enter common, discrete information rapidly (think, almost anything clipboards are used for in  actual workplaces.. there will be apps for that!).
* Replacements for all sorts of bulky tablet computers already used to replace clipboards (think, cable installation guys, mechanics, etc.)

I also know a realtor who loves it for checking MLS on the fly for availability and pictures, and then handing it to her clients.

Anyway, I like it for myself. It's just about perfect, ergonomically, for reading books or websites. Absolutely wonderful for restaurant menus when you need to hand it around to decide where to go.

One minor quibble I have with my pad is that, when I don't have a case on it, my thumbs are so fat that I sometimes engage the multi part of multitouch without meaning to. And I assure you, dear reader, my thumbs are 
not fat.



It sucks to be Israel [Updated]

When the internet and I were both somewhat younger, I learned what a "blog" was when I stumbled across an Israeli writer's website where he posted daily dispatches from Jerusalem, which, I soon learned, might as well be another planet. 

I engaged with this guy in the comments section and in email to try to get a handle on his version of conservative Israeli politics, and, although our exchange was civil and detailed, I don't think either of us managed to shift the other's attitudes about Israel's place in the world and the best way to address that country's unique problems.

I came to the conversation with a liberal bent, but I have to state clearly that my liberalism did not contain any prejudice about Israel per-se. It's fair to say that I inherited my politics from my liberal parents, and if you subscribe to the conservative worldview, you might say I was further indoctrinated by liberal higher-education institutions. During all this hippy-dippy neo-marxist brainwashing, however, I never received a brief on the correct attitude towards the state of Israel. (It might have been on the curricula. I must have skipped that day.)

What I did bring was a core faith--probably criminally under-examined, but currently still retained--in the core principles of the United States, some of which go back to its founding, including:

* Freedom of religion
* Equal rights for all people, regardless of ethnicity

And this was the cornerstone of my disagreement with my Israeli interlocutor. In retrospect I was naive and uninformed, but at the time I was astonished and somewhat shocked at his commitment to an ethnically pure democracy. All of the approaches I could suggest to his problems were grounded in my own ideals of post-ethnic statehood that--even though we're still struggling with it--my own country represents. 

It still seems now, as it did then, that there are only two ways to preserve a Jewish democracy in Israel. Either they must shrink by giving away land to the Palestenians, or they must resort to war crimes and/or institutional racism to keep the land under Jewish control. I'd like to think there's a third way, but I don't see it. 

But, personally, I have nothing invested in the existence of an ethnically pure state, of any type, anywhere in the world. It's just not something of value to me. And while I am fine with other's valuing it, I am not fine with my own country supporting war crimes or institutional racism to prop up such a state. 

And that's where I think you'll find most Americans my age or younger. And that is not good news for the Israeli project. 
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UPDATE: Mere minutes after posting that, I came across the following post by Kevin Drum.

In David Petraeus's famous phrase, How does this end? Unless something dramatic happens, it ends with Israel as a nuclear-armed pariah state. Where else can it go? Hamas and Hezbollah are never going to stop attacking, Israel's responses will continue to get deadlier and more hysterical, the West Bank will never be freed because no Israeli government can any longer cobble together the public support it would require to take on the most extremist elements among the settlers, and like it or not, Israel eventually becomes a permanently armed camp and an apartheid state. Israelis may have hated it when that's what Jimmy Carter called it, but even if it's arguably not quite accurate today there's very little question that it will be before long.
Unless something changes. But what? I guess it's possible that a crisis like this can prompt both sides to get serious in a way they haven't been for a long time, but there have been crises like this before and they haven't prompted anything of the sort.
So help me out here. Is there any glimmer of hope on the horizon at all? Or is despair the only rational response to all this?

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