October 2008


October 28, 2008

Dean Barnett, RIP

Let me briefly add my voice to the the number who've already commented on the tragic and early death of Dean Barnett. I didn't know Dean personally, but I can say this: whether you agreed with him or not, Dean was a damn good writer. Many of us will miss reading his work - and that's the highest compliment you can pay to someone who made a name for himself through the power of his words.

March 09, 2007

Friday Funnies

Some cartoons from earlier in the week that piled up in my bookmark folder:

030607shelton_blog.jpg (Mike Shelton, Orange County Register)

(Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle)

(Brian Barling, Christian Science Monitor)

March 06, 2007

Photo of the Day


(Jim Bourg/Reuters)

March 05, 2007

Card Sharks

This is kind of cool: Las Vegas Sun columnist Jeff Haney attended a Blackjack card-counting seminar put on by Michael Aponte and David Irvine, two members of the famous group of card counters from MIT that won something like $10 million in Vegas during the 1990's.

Where Will the Sports PC Busybodies Stop?

First the NCAA took Chief Illiniwek's scalp after 81 years of being the U of I's mascot. Of course, in some corners this capitulation to political correctness is being hailed as an important sign of progress and a step toward bagging even bigger game:

Critics of Indian nicknames for athletic teams - whether high school, college or professional - say such nicknames are a racial stereotype, and demeaning and insulting to Native Americans.

We agree. And we can't think of a nickname more demeaning that the NFL's Washington Redskins.

If that isn't bad enough, now comes word that the PC busybodies in Washington state have come up with what could be the dumbest idea in history:

The organization that oversees high school sports in Washington is considering rules for fans that could ban booing and offensive chants.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has not made an official ruling, but has discussed guidelines to crack down on negative conduct, a spokesman said.

Some of the state's top coaches believe a boo ban is extreme.

"They're kidding, right?" asked Rainier Beach High School boys basketball coach Mike Bethea, who played as a student at Franklin High School. "I can see stopping someone if they're saying derogatory remarks, but not letting people boo? Come on."

The sportsmanship guidelines are meant to address the dwindling number of people who want to be coaches and officials. Association officials also say they remind fans to cheer for their team, and not against the other.

"I don't know why people think it's acceptable to boo in the first place," WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said. "It's a pretty novel concept to me."

Booing is a novel concept? Please. In some stadiums around the country booing is considered an art form - not to mention if they outlawed booing they'd have to shut down all the sports franchises in New York and Philadelphia permanently. Where do people come up with this stuff?

March 02, 2007

Army Secretary Resigns Over Walter Reed

The Washington Post reports:

President Bush today ordered a "comprehensive review" of care for wounded service members by a new presidential commission, and the secretary of the Army submitted his resignation, as the administration sought to deal with reports of festering problems in outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Read the rest.

Cartoon of the Day

This cartoon by Nick Anderson isn't necessarily in the best taste, but I couldn't help from chuckling anyway:


February 26, 2007

PJ, Me, and the QOTD

The quote of the day (QOTD) comes from a WSJ interview with PJ O'Rourke from last month that I somehow missed at the time:

"I have no idea if some societies, anthropologically speaking, aren't really suited for democracy. I don't think that's true. But there certainly are societies that just love to fight. Northern Ireland, for instance. You couldn't stop that problem because they were having fun--they were really, really enjoying themselves. It would still be going on full-force today if the sons of bitches hadn't accidentally gotten rich. What happened was, more and more people started getting cars, and television sets, and got some vacation time down in Spain, and it wasn't that they wanted to stop fighting and killing each other and being lunatics, but they got busy and forgot."

As an aside, O'Rourke has been one of my favorite authors for as long as I can remember. Parliament of Whores is one of the best works of political humor ever, and the collection of essays in Republican Party Reptile is equally as funny while covering more ground. Though O'Rourke gained notoriety for "How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink," my personal favorite has always been "High-Speed Performance Characteristics of Pick Up Trucks."

February 23, 2007


Dennis Johnson died yesterday of a heart attack at 52 years young. Most people remember Dennis as a freckle-faced veteran guard for the Boston Celtics who spent seven years playing alongside Bird, McHale and Ainge during their dominant run in the eighties. To give you an idea of the kind of player DJ was, all you have to know is that Larry Bird once called him "the best teammate I've ever played with."

Those of us who grew up in Seattle, however, remember Johnson as a fresh-faced rookie drafted out of Pepperdine by the Sonics in 1976 who became an integral part of the one (and still only) world championship in Seattle sports history.

I turned 10 the year the Sonics won the NBA Finals (DJ was named MVP, by the way), and I can still name almost every member of the team from memory. Somewhere, stuffed inside a box of memorabilia from my younger days, I have a picture of the '79 Sonics that I kept on my bedroom wall for years, along with trading cards of all the players.

There's one other thing in there, too. The year after the Sonics won the NBA Championship my dad, who was a pilot, arrived at a hotel in Boston for a layover. Sitting there in the lobby was Dennis Johnson and a teammate who were in town to play the Celtics. And so, ironically enough, in the entire universe of celebrities and sports heroes, DJ is among the very tiny group of people whose autographs I have in my possession; his name scrawled in pencil across a torn gray envelope bearing the United Airlines logo.

Rest in peace, DJ. You may have retired a Celtic, but you'll always be a Sonic to me.

February 22, 2007

North Korea Has No Intention of Giving Up Nukes

In the days right after North Korea signed an agreement that would supposedly require its nuclear disarmament, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, made clear that he has no intention of giving up those weapons.

The consequences of that stance are likely to be far reaching. Politically, Presidents George W. Bush of the US and Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea, both having labeled the agreement a step toward getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms, will most likely be shown to have been naïve or, worse, deceptive.

Then, no political leaders anywhere appear to have begun figuring out what they will do when forced to accept North Korea into that small circle of nations with nuclear arms, which will change the dynamics in the balance of power in Asia.

Nor has anyone confronted the crack that a nuclear North Korea will cause in the nuclear non-proliferation regime that has stood for four decades, even though weakened in recent years when India and Pakistan went nuclear. In particular, the example of North Korea will undoubtedly complicate negotiations with Iran on a similar nuclear issue.

The agreement that North Korea signed in Beijing in what is known as the Six Party talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the US on Feb. 13 says Pyongyang "will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its nuclear facilities and will provide the other five with "a list of all its nuclear programs."

On that same day, however, the North Koreans, through their official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Pyongyang had agreed only to a "temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities." Further, North Korea ignored most of the other provisions of the agreement, such as denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

That began a steady drum roll of belligerent statements asserting Pyongyang's right and need for nuclear arms. An official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, charged that the US sought to dominate Asia "through preemptive nuclear attack."

KCNA said North Korea's "status of a full-fledged nuclear weapons state successfully realized the long-cherished desire of the Korean nation to have matchless national power." In another dispatch, KCNA said that "Kim Jong Il punctured the arrogance of the US imperialists with a powerful nuclear deterrent."

On Kim Jong Il's birthday, a national holiday on Feb. 16, a Communist Party committee lauded him: "You have turned the homeland of Juche (Self-reliance) into a power having nuclear deterrent for self-defense and made the Korean nation emerge a nuclear weapons nation which no force can ever provoke."

At a banquet that evening, which was aired by the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, the president of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, toasted Kim Jong Il for, among other things, for turning North Korea into "a military power that even possesses a self-defensive nuclear deterrent."

Still more: The North Koreans fell back on the time warn argument -- the Americans made us do it. Using North Korea's proper name, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, KCNA asserted: "US policy compelled the DPRK to have access to nuclear deterrence for self-defense."

Some observers question the value of statements from Communist officials. Experience has shown, however, that Communist leaders, when addressing their home audiences as in this case, tell the public what they really want their people to believe.

A former foreign minister of South Korea, Han Sung Joo, has published an assessment of the reasons the North Koreans want nuclear arms. Writing in Time magazine, Han said:

* "Nuclear status is a political trophy for Kim Jong Il."

* "The nuclear program is intended to deter a possible external attack."

* "North Korea's nuclear capability gives it an upper hand in relation to the South."

* "The nuclear program is seen as a key to survival-a way to block and prevent any outside attempts at regime change."

* "Nuclear weapons represent a powerful bargaining tool."

Han was politically correct in contending that this agreement was "better than no deal at all," which kept him reasonably in line with his government's position. He went on, however, to demolish any thought that Kim Jong Il will move toward abandoning his nuclear arms.

Instead, he points to "what North Korea sees as compelling motives to possess nuclear weapons." He doubts that Kim Jong Il's regime will "agree to completely rid itself of nuclear equipment and material," including the 8 to 12 nuclear warheads it is thought to have already produced.

February 21, 2007

A World Without America

Two weeks ago I mentioned that Brit Tim Montgomerie was spearheading an advertising campaign around the theme of "A World Without America" - a concept derived from this excellent Peter Brookes column last year. Well, the first ad just launched:

I'm interested to hear what people think of the ad. Email comments here.

Gardasil Update

Merck puts on the brakes:

Bowing to pressure from parents, physicians and consumer advocates, drug manufacturer Merck and Co. said Tuesday that it would suspend its campaign to implement mandatory vaccination against cervical cancer with the use of its drug, Gardasil.

The aggressive campaign undertaken by Merck was intended to hone in sales of the Gardasil -the vaccine received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last year and launched the drug in June.

Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck's medical director for vaccines, told the AP, "Our goal is about cervical cancer prevention, and we want to reach as many females as possible with Gardasil."

He added, "We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts."

In a related story, the Washington Times questions whether the push for mandatory Gardasil vaccinations is targeting the wrong age group:

Lawmakers looking to force preteen girls to take Gardasil, a new vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer, are targeting the wrong age group, cancer data shows.

Middle-school girls inoculated with the breakthrough vaccine will be no older than 18 when they pass Gardasil's five-year window of proven effectiveness -- more than a decade before the typical cancer patient contracts the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).

I received a fascinating email along similar lines a while ago but can't print it until I verify some of the specifics, which I hope to do in the very near future.

Poor Sandy Berger

You have to read all the way to the end of this Washington Post article on the Justice Department's willful neglect in handling the Sandy Berger case before being confronted with this astonishing quote by Berger's attorney, Lanny Breuer:

"It never ceases to amaze me how the most trivial things can be politicized. It is the height of unfairness . . . for this poor guy, who clearly made a mistake," Breuer said.

Stealing highly classified documents from the National Archives is "trivial?" You've got to be kidding.

This is one of the most brazen violations of classified material in our lifetimes: Bill Clinton's former National Security Advisor went into the Archives to review documents at the former President's request, stuffed a number of reports and memos with information of potential value to the 9/11 commission down his pants, took them home and shredded them, and he's now being defended by a lawyer from Clinton's White House Counsel office who tells us "it is the height of unfairness" to want to know the truth about what Berger took and why he took it.

Poor Sandy Berger. He had to pay a $50,000 fine and pick up some garbage on the side of the road in Virginia. Meanwhile, Scooter Libby had to face trial and might go to jail for, at worst, telling "a dumb lie" (to use the words of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) about a non-crime.

February 19, 2007

The Day's Political Buzz

The two top stories on RCP's Buzztracker:

Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Power
- Mark Mazzetti & David Rohde, New York Times
Blog Reaction on Buzztracker

McCain: Roe v. Wade should be overturned
- Jim Davenport, Associated Press
Blog Reaction on Buzztracker

For more buzz, go here.

The Islamic Funnies

Here's a useful reminder of the cultural divide we face with Islamic nations, courtesy of the Egytptian newspaper Al-Ahram:

Title: "Hillary" and "Obama" - A Woman and a Negro are Participating in the Campaign for the American Presidencyalahram.JPG
The Religious Man: "This is another sign of the collapse of the Western civilization"

(Image and translations via The MEMRI blog)

February 09, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The appropriate debate isn't on whether climate is changing, but rather should be on what we should be doing about it." - Kenneth Cohen, Exxon/Mobil's vice president of public affairs.

More Gardasil Politics

As a follow up to my lengthy post on Gardasil the other day, this morning USA Today editorializes that it's "premature" for states to mandate HPV vaccinations, and on the same page Governor Rick Perry defends his decision:

As governor of Texas, I will do everything in my power to protect public health. The executive order I signed last Friday will help stop the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV) and prevent cervical cancer in young women.

Some are focused on the cause of this cancer, but I remain focused on the cure. And if I err, I will always err on the side of protecting life. [snip]

If we could stop lung cancer, would some shy away claiming it might encourage tobacco use? This is a rare opportunity to act, and as a pro-life governor, I will always take the side of protecting life.

It's clear throughout the op-ed, and in the last paragraph in particular, that Perry is trying to counter the claim of some conservatives that since HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, mandatory vaccines will somehow encourage promiscuity. Personally, I find that argument unpersuasive.

To the extent I have objections about this policy, they lie with the fact that Rick Perry has made a unilateral decision mandating that 11 and 12 year old girls are injected with an eight month old vaccine - and his defense that "as a pro-life governor, I will always take the side of protecting life" makes me more unsettled by his action, not less.

Take Perry's last question, for example. Say we did have a brand spanking new, eight month old vaccine that prevented future occurrences of lung cancer. Would Perry mandate it for all children, given that he always takes "the side of protecting life?" What about a drug that prevented heart disease? Or better yet, one that reduced obesity, thereby preventing future cases of heart disease and diabetes?

The question is, who gets to make these decisions and are they being made in a careful and methodical way?

Perry gives us a clear answer in today's op-ed when he writes:

Though some might argue that we should wait several years before requiring the vaccine, I believe such a delay unnecessarily risks the lives of young women.

Really? Unless the current crop of 11 and 12 year olds scheduled to receive it next year are going to become sexually active, is anyone really going to be put at risk by waiting, and why would the governor be so dismissive as to call a delay to debate the merits of the vaccine "unnecessary?"

Remember, this is an eight month old vaccine. Yes, it's been approved by the FDA and put on the "recommended immunization schedule" for 2007, but there are doctors who believe it's way to early to mandate the vaccine, one of whom emailed me the other day to say this:

Gardasil will not do away with yearly Pap tests for women. It will not meaningfully reduce healthcare costs, in my estimate. Cervix cancer is readily prevented by straightforward treatment of early Pap abnormalities which may over years evolve into cancer if left untreated.

Gardasil's long term safety is unknown, yet we see a stampede to immunize middle school girls with it. Do you remember the swine flu crisis? Those immunizations caused an outbreak of Guillan-Barre syndrome, a debilitating neurologic disorder. There never was a swine flu epidemic in the non-immunized!

Merck will profit from Gardasil, but womens' health will not.

This may be a minority view, but it is certainly a view worth letting the public and the state legislature hear in the course of coming to grips with the decision of the state mandating that 11 and 12 year old girls are injected with a drug that's been on the market less than a year.

Governor Perry wrote today, "a full debate will take place as our health agency adopts implementation rules before the order takes effect in 19 months." He's got it exactly backwards. The debate should take place before the decision is made, not after. Furthermore, the decision should come from the legislative branch, not the executive, at which point the Governor could lend his support to the idea or oppose it. You'd think a conservative Republican governor would know how the system should work.

February 08, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day

A special doubleheader edition courtesy of Mary Ann Sieghart in the Times of London. Sieghart looks at the possibility of Hillary Clinton and Ségolãne Royal in France joining German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a gender-busting shift in world leadership.

Sieghart is theoretically excited by the idea of a trio of women becoming such geo-political power brokers, but she has reservations about Mrs. Clinton:

I have met Hillary a couple of times and, although she is formidably intelligent, there is something scarily inauthentic about her. True, she couldn't help being overshadowed by Bill, who lights up a room, leaving everyone else in the shade. But still, she seemed cold and artificial to me, her face a mask, her eyes unlit by her smile.

Everything about her seemed manufactured, from her looks to her small talk. There was no spontaneity, no natural warmth. She reminded me of a porcelain doll: a highly intelligent one, of course, but a doll nonetheless.

And later, Sieghart writes this about Chancellor Merkel's toughness:

Merkel, too, was underestimated at the start yet is proving to be a highly successful Chancellor, given the constraints of having to work in coalition with the Social Democrats. Dismissed by Helmut Kohl as das Mädchen (the girl), she has transformed German foreign policy, raised the retirement age and reformed the health system, all in just over a year. One American diplomat is rumoured to have said that "Merkel has the biggest balls in Europe".

Headline of the Day

From Andrea Peyser's column on astronaut Lisa Nowak in the New York Post: "She's Like Amy Fisher, But Out of This World."

February 07, 2007

The Politics of Gardasil

Every now and then an issue pops up on the radar screen that scrambles what we've come to expect as the natural political order. Mandating human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for eleven and twelve year old girls is that type of issue.

Here's the brief backstory: HPV is the most commonly transmitted sexual disease in the United States. According to news reports by the AP and others, some 20 million people are currently infected, and some 6.2 million people contract the infection each year. Certain strains of the virus can lead to cervical cancer which killed some 3,700 women in the U.S. last year (even though it is a disease on the decline).

Last June the FDA approved the vaccine Gardasil, hailed as a breakthrough in protecting against four strains of HPV that are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. In January, Gardasil was put on the 2007 "recommended immunization schedule" issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). As a result, certain state legislatures have begun debating bills that would make Gardasil a state-mandated vaccine.

Last Friday, Rick Perry, the conservative two-term Governor of Texas, issued an executive order requiring all sixth grade girls to receive the three-shot vaccination series (which costs about $120 per shot), though the order does allow parents to "opt out" for religious or philosophical reasons, but only if they file a written affidavit.

Perry has come under fire, not only from conservatives in Texas who argue that the vaccine will increase sexual promiscuity, but also from doctors in Texas who believe it's way too early to mandate such a new vaccine.

Others, like the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News have taken issue with Perry's order, saying that while "the health of Texas girls is paramount, you have robbed citizens of the chance to hear the issue discussed during the normal legislative process."

But even in those states currently considering legislative action on mandating HPV vaccinations there are serious concerns and objections. Yesterday, both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times editorialized against the Illinois state legislature passing a mandate right now. Even Christine Gregoire, the very liberal Governor of Washington state, said she was unwilling to go as far as Perry in issuing a mandate:

"I told the medical association that I was reticent to dictate when I think there is a lot of public education that needs to go on," Gregoire said. "To go out and start just saying everybody mandatorily has to have this is a little bit troublesome for me."

Given all this, it may or may not be surprising to note that the one organization rushing to hail Perry's decision was none other than the New York Times editorial page which wrote yesterday:

Congratulations to Texas for becoming the first state to require vaccinating young schoolgirls -- ages 11 and 12 -- against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts. Other states would be wise to follow the same path.

On one hand, it makes sense the New York Times would find this to be a "wise" decision, since it involves the government getting behind a policy that the Times' editorial writers obviously favor. Notice, however, the Times congratulates Texas for "for becoming the first state to require vaccinating young schoolgirls" without ever making mention of the fact it was done by executive order.

Here's another twist: the Times does mention the fact that the HPV vaccination, Gardasil, is made by Merck & Co. What they don't say is that Governor Rick Perry's former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck and that the company contributed $6,000 to Perry and $38,000 to Texas state legislators last year. You can bet those are two facts that would not have escaped the NY Times editorial writers had they been opposed to Perry's decision.

Furthermore, the push for state mandates for HPV vaccinations is part of an intense lobbying effort on the part of Merck, as the Baltimore Sun reported last week:

Just a few months after federal regulators approved a vaccine against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, more than a dozen states - including Maryland - are considering a requirement that girls entering middle school get it.

One of the primary drivers behind the legislative push: Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that manufactures Gardasil, the only vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, on the market.

The vaccine is expected to reach $1 billion in sales next year, and state mandates could make Gardasil a mega-blockbuster drug within five years, with sales of more than $4 billion, according to Wall Street analysts.

Again, the point here isn't about Merck's lobbying efforts or even the merits of the policy, but rather the blinding hypocrisy of the New York Times editorial page. The Times is always willing trash big pharma or to rail against executive power when it suits its needs, and it's easy to see how the Times editorial page editors would have cast the issue if had been something they didn't agree with.

Editorial pages are supposed to have a certain point of view, but they should also be consistent, intellectually honest, and persuade through argument rather than glossing over facts they're unwilling to deal with or find politically inconvenient.

For a good example of what I'm talking about, go read this editorial("Perry's power play aside, HPV vaccination is wise thing to do") from the Austin American-Statesman. The Statesman ends up in the same place as the Times but does so in a much more balanced way that gives its readers the full scope of the issue before coming to the conclusion that however the fight over Perry's executive order comes out, "parents should have their girls vaccinated to guard against cervical cancer. And the government should make those vaccinations available to families who are uninsured or can't afford it."

Remembering Kirkpatrick

Kirsten Chick of the Washington Times reports on the memorial service held yesterday for the inimitable Jean Kirkpatrick. Richard Miniter adds a colorful remembrance of Kirkpatrick here as well.

February 06, 2007

A World Without America

Last year Peter Brookes wrote a column speculating on what the world would look like without America. Now Brit Tim Montgomerie has taken the concept of "a world without America" and turned it into the premise for a forthcoming ad campaign, which you can participate in by submitting your ideas here.