Archive for April, 2010

K-Lo in The Corner linked the other day to a year-0ld National Review article about a potential next-generation GOP leader, Ted Cruz, the former Solicitor General of Texas.  Turns out he’s Princeton Class of 1992, for those of you who care about such things.  He needs some better photos, but I like the way he sounds.  From the article:

Cruz has no problem diagnosing what’s wrong with his party. For starters, he hates how the GOP “systematically undervalues” the importance of communication. “We heard a number of times Republicans speaking about Barack Obama and almost derisively saying, ‘Well, he gives a good speech’ — as if that were a moral failing, evidence that he must be superficial if he can give a good speech,” Cruz says. “I think what we misunderstand is that the ability to persuade and inspire is the single most important tool any public leader has. If you think about what was Ronald Reagan’s greatest moment of leadership, I would suggest it was standing at the Brandenburg Gate, saying ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ That was a speech!”

“One thing Republicans do that I think is disastrous is that many conservatives try and beat their chest and say, We are so terribly conservative — Attila the Hun, he was a squish! [But] what Reagan did was say, ‘The values I’m talking about are commonsense American values that have been part of this country for over 200 years. They’re the values that have been in every small town and every small business throughout this country.’ And he connected with people.”

Cruz makes the case for what he calls “opportunity conservatism”: “The vision of ‘opportunity conservatives’ is simple and direct: policies that enhance opportunity, that further personal responsibility and the chance to realize the American dream, are good for the polity. Policies that limit options, constrain opportunity, and develop dependency are not.”

Cruz hasn’t even made it through his first primary election yet, so it’s perhaps premature to predict how far he will go in politics. But, in keeping with his own political vision, it’s probably safe to say that Cruz is a conservative with a lot of opportunities ahead of him.

And he said the bit about limiting options and developing dependency before anybody had even heard the term “Obamacare”.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for a campaign of solidarity with the makers of South Park, who were the targets of veiled death threats after daring to invoke the name of Mohammed on their cartoon show.

The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend “South Park,” producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort. Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.

Another important advantage of such a campaign is to accustom Muslims to the kind of treatment that the followers of other religions have long been used to. After the “South Park” episode in question there was no threatening response from Buddhists, Christians and Jews—to say nothing of Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand fans—all of whom had far more reason to be offended than Muslims.

It will be interesting to see if any groundswell arises in support of the “May 20 Is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” movement.  I still haven’t seen any explanation as to why May 20 was chosen — I’m a little disappointed that Ali didn’t use her WSJ megaphone to support that effort.

But I was delighted to see in the tagline to the WSJ article that Ali has a new book coming out in May: Nomad: From Islam to America—A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations. I’ve added it to the recommended books in my Amazon widget at right, and I’m looking forward to reading it. (Hmm… I wonder if I get a cut if I buy a book from my own widget?)

May 20 is “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”

The suits at Comedy Central have aided and abetted terrorism by censoring an episode of South Park to remove all references to Mohammed. They followed in the courageous footsteps of the Yale University Press, which, before publishing a book about the Danish cartoon controversy last year, deleted the actual cartoons from the manuscript.

South Park is just a cartoon show, right?  What’s the big deal?  My hero, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, appeared on CNN to explain why it’s a big deal. An excerpt:

“The South Park episode wasn’t just funny… it also addressed an essential piece in the times that we are living.  There is one group of people, one religion that is claiming to be above criticism. … This is an assault on freedom of expression. And we have to defend it tooth and nail.”

She’s walked the walk, having lived under threat of death since she and Theo Van Gogh made the movie Submission, which got Van Gogh killed in 2004.  Now, in an effort to “water down the pool of targets,” blogger Dan Savage has published a declaration of May 20 as “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”  (Hat tip: Reason.com, via Mark Steyn.)

My drawing skills are nonexistent, but I figure the least I can do is republish the Mohammed turban-bomb drawing, above — the most iconic of the cartoons that touched off riots that killed more than 100 people in 2005.

I’m sensitive to the argument that nobody’s religion should be mocked.  But radical Muslims have made Islam a target by substituting violence for evangelism.  Ridicule is a non-violent way of fighting back.

Let’s let Ayaan have the last word:

“If the entertainment business were to take this on and just show how ridiculous this is, there’ll be too many people to threaten, and then I won’t need protection, and the gentlemen who made South Park also will not need protection.”

“Hide the Decline”: The Remake

I started noodling with a blog post about the viral video “Hide the Decline” when it first came out late last year in the wake of the Climategate disclosures.  The video, produced in a low-rent imitation of the style of the famous Jib Jab masterpiece, is a parody based on the song “Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James and the Shondells.  I had not previously been familiar with the Shondells, but I liked the tune, and thought the video did a good job of lampooning the junk science exposed in Climategate.

But as I watched the video again, I suddenly lost interest.  There’s a scene, repeated a couple of times, where Al Gore (unmentioned in the lyrics) is shown behind bars being leered at by two sexually menacing, tattooed  skin-heads.  No sale — prison rape isn’t funny.

So I was happy today to stumble across a remake of the video, embedded above.  The production values in the new version are even more low-rent, but the gratuitous prison scene is gone, and the lyrics have been updated with even more pointed references to the scandal.

The video briefly flashes on these graphs from a very helpful white paper titled “Michael Mann: Defamed or defined by Hide the decline?“  Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit blog describes Mann’s attempts to suppress the initial parody.

Watch the video, then try to get the “Hide the Decline” refrain out of your head.  In honor of the remake, I also just bought “Draggin’ the Line” on iTunes.

Michael Mann: Defamed or defined by “Hide the decline

New Jersey Is “A Failed Experiment”

New Jersey “should be seen as the failed experiment for other states and the country … Spend beyond your means and then kill your tax revenue base by raising taxes 115 times in eight years, and then you’re New Jersey.”

Who is this trash-talking, Jersey-bashing heretic attacking my beloved adopted state? Well, he’s the new Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.  And I find myself liking him more every time I hear him speak.

I reluctantly voted for Corzine in November, because of Christie’s vow to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Then the cause of same-sex marriage in New Jersey suffered a serious setback when the Senate refused to pass a bill in the waning days of the Corzine administration.   That battle eventually will be refought, and I expect  I’ll take my shots at Governor Christie then.

But for now, I’m pleased that Christie’s fighting the good fight on fiscal responsibility.  The screen capture above from Christie’s recent interview with MSNBC’s token conservative, Joe Scarborough, tells the story starkly.   Firing up my calculator, the state budget deficit works out to be more than 36% of the total state budget.  It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but Obama’s larded-up federal budget deficit appears to work out to “only” 33%.

Christie is making the right kind of enemies.  One foolish teachers union official undermined the union’s cause by essentially praying for Christie’s death.  And what did the governor do to provoke this death wish? From The Daily Riff:

The proposal by Christie: No job cuts in the education sector if teachers contribute 1 and 1/2 percent of their salary to pay for benefits (approx. $750. per year) and have a one-year pay freeze.  If not, approximately 1300 jobs will be cut.

Wow, the teachers might have to pay a whole $750 per year (63 bucks a month, about the same as their union dues) for their generous public-employee health insurance. Between the reasonableness of the proposal and the outrageousness of the death wish, I think the governor will be on pretty solid ground when the layoffs inevitably start.

The 11-minute Scarborough interview is worth watching in its entirety for its look at the plain-spoken and candid governor, who talks to voters like adults.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Episcopal Edition

I just realized I haven’t bragged about this yet.  It turns out I’m an award-winning writer.

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William Kristol argues persuasively that “President Barack Obama [has] made it clear that he’s resigned to a nuclear Iran.”

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Obama told George Stephanopoulos:

If the question is do we have a guarantee [that] the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t. I mean, the history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t. …

North Korea has nuclear weapons. Now Obama is telling us that he intends to deal with Iran as we dealt with North Korea. So, as the Iranians follow in the footsteps of the North Koreans and move ahead to get nukes, we’re going to do nothing about it.

But Israel will.  An Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities now seems inevitable.

I’ve written at length about the difficulties Israel will face in attacking Iran’s weapons program, starting with the need to fly long distances over one or more hostile countries just to get to Iran.  But I don’t see Israel standing by while a nearby Islamic theocracy with a Holocaust-denying nutcase president develops both nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching Israel.  Kristol again:

The Obama administration knows that Israel is weighing military action against Iran. This accounts at least in part for the administration’s turn against Israel in recent weeks—its attempt to further isolate the Jewish state in order to put pressure on it not to act.

I think this gets it exactly backwards.  The Obama administration’s hostility to Israel makes an Israeli air strike more likely, not less.

Active bloggers get used to seeing comments along the following lines:

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

Or:

This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

Or:

Well said. I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but I’m starting to view things differently. I have to research more on this as it appears quite interesting. One thing I don’t get though is how everything is related together.

This is known as comment spam, and the examples above are not hypothetical — they are all actual comments intended for this blog, but trapped in a spam queue by the indispensable Akismet plug-in for WordPress. (And no, I have not been and will not be compensated for saying something nice about Akismet, or about any other product or service.)

The formula the spammers use is pretty transparent:  Say something flattering and brief, and vague enough that it could apply to any blog post.  Then format the comment so that the user name links back to whatever Adsense-gaming, drivel-infested website the spammer is flogging, fire up a comment bot, and post the comment to a few thousand or a few million blogs — some of which will not have any protection against comment spam.

I have no objection to Adsense itself — I use Adsense to serve up ads on this blog.  What I object to is the phenomenon of setting up multiple blogs with extremely low signal-to-noise ratios for the sole purpose of generating clicks and page views.

It’s hard to believe the spam-bloggers are making much money.  Under Adsense’s terms and conditions, I’m not supposed to say very much about my relationship with them, but I’m permitted to disclose truthfully how much money I’ve made.  Since I began hosting ads about 10 months ago, my total earnings have been $45.82, or about 15 cents per day.  If and when the total earnings reach $100, they’ll send me a check.  Ca-CHING! (Update: Woo hoo!  Got that check!)

In contrast to the spam comments, here is the text of an unsolicited email I received yesterday, referring to my previous blog post:

Hi Kirk,

I read your commentary on Left v Right echo chambers and I gotta say that win seems solidly in the ‘Right’ column. As you point out in your post the right leaning Fox is destroying CNN. I think you will like this video on the same topic. It analyzes news coverage from different sources to examine why audiences are migrating away from CNN. It also explores various theories about the future of new media and journalism. I hope you will consider embedding the video in your post.

Thanks,


Rosa Sow
Community Manager
[redacted]@newsy.com

Now to some degree, Rosa’s intention is the same as the spam commenters’: to drive traffic.  But what a difference in execution.  Her email is specific enough to prove that she actually read my blog post.  It has a flattering tone, without being over the top about it — and without giving away any hint of her own political views.  It forthrightly acknowledges that she has her own agenda — she wants me to embed her video on my site.  And it offers me something in return – a promise of news and information about a topic in which I have a demonstrated interest.

And since she asked so nicely, here’s the video:

I had not heard of Newsy.com until I got her email, but I’m glad to have learned of it.  I watched the video above a couple of times, and then sampled a few other videos on the site.  Their boilerplate self-description is on target:

A news analyzer, not a news aggregator, Newsy.com is the only multi-source video news service producing daily videos that analyze the key differences in how a story is being reported by various news organizations. Newsy.com offers context with convenience — in 2 to 3 minutes, users understand the nuances in coverage.

They’re based in Columbus, Missouri, which explains the frequent appearance of Kansas City Star columnists among their sources.  If I look at enough of their work, I may be able to diagnose a tendency to lean toward the right or the left, but they don’t seem to have any obvious partisan ax to grind.   Whatever their politics, they treat differing points of view with respect, which is exactly what I aspire to on this blog, although I don’t pretend to be neutral.

So Rosa, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your email message.  I sent you an email asking if it would be OK to publish it, but then I went ahead without waiting for an answer.  I figured that because it was an unsolicited email for commercial purposes to a recipient who does not know you, you had no reasonable expectation of privacy.  I’ll take your name off the post if you wish.

Anyway, thanks for the email, and congratulations on scoring a link.  I hope my vast traffic doesn’t overwhelm your servers, and I promise you that I’ve actually bookmarked your site.

I’m highly skeptical of most assertions that either liberals or conservatives have a monopoly on any form of virtue or vice.  You know what I’m talking about — surf around partisan websites of either persuasion and soon you’ll find someone sanctimoniously condemning an anecdotal misdeed and declaring that “our side” doesn’t do that.

Bull.  There are plenty of flamethrowers and kooks on both sides of the aisle — along with a few thoughtful and intellectually honest partisans.

I was a lifelong liberal Democrat until I became a 9/11 Republican, so at one time or another I’ve seen the merits of a broad spectrum of political thought.  It’s only natural to be more inclined to give your own side a pass on inappropriate statements or actions that fall short of being repugnant.  The kind of excessive statement that pisses me off when it comes from the opposition may elicit just a grimace and a shrug if I otherwise agree with the speaker’s politics.  The process is visceral, not analytical, and it can foster the delusion that the bad people are all on the other side.

Having said all that, I think Taranto makes a persuasive case today that the echo-chamber effect afflicts the left more than the right.  I strongly advise reading the whole thing, but since most of you won’t, here’s a sample.  After citing a report that Fox News continues to gain viewers while ratings crater at CNN and MSNBC, he writes:

The right has dominated commercial talk radio for decades, and it can now be said to dominate cable news as well. Online, where barriers to entry are low, both sides can compete fiercely–though Budowsky is surely right that no one else has quite mastered the Drudge formula for influence.

The left, however, still rules the worlds of broadcast television, newspapers, public radio and wire services (nonjournalistic cultural institutions like Hollywood and higher education are beyond the scope of this discussion). The wire services, such as the Associated Press and Bloomberg, are especially important, because they have filled much of the gap in basic news reporting as newspapers and TV network news divisions have cut back.

It is possible, now, for a conservative to opt out of the liberal media and get all his news from more or less congenial sources. But our guess is that it is not yet common practice.

I think the reference to Hollywood and higher education is particularly deft — making his point without having to get bogged down in additional examples.  Surely nobody can argue with a straight face that Hollywood and academia generally lean to the right.

Popular culture skews so relentlessly to the left that I think it’s impossible for even the most narrow-minded conservative to avoid any exposure to liberal thought.  Narrow-minded liberals need only avoid Fox News and talk radio (and a bunch of websites they don’t have bookmarked anyway).

In case anyone is interested, I’ll admit to spending a lot more time on conservative commentary websites than on liberal ones.  But for (more or less) straight news, my go-to website is CNN.com, and on the rare occasions that I watch news on TV, I tend to favor CNN there as well.  On most days I at least glance at the homepages of the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times.  Despite the snarky assumption of one of my favorite jousting partners, I doubt I’ve seen as much as half an hour of Fox News in my life.  And don’t get me started on Limbaugh.