Archive:

December 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Good Salesmen must be hard to find.   I wouldn't rehire a convicted embezzler, at least not for any job where they handled money.
- 10:34 AM, 16 December 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  Stephen Schwartz on Lashkar-e-Taiba in America.  Here's the lead paragraph:
The coincidence can best be described as macabre: The terrorist assault on Mumbai occurred just as a House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, headed by Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, initiated an inquiry into the conviction of a radical Muslim hatemonger, Ali Al-Timimi, for recruiting to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) or Army of the Righteous, the group considered responsible for the latest atrocities in India.  Purportedly, Al-Timimi, when he was tried, may have been a "victim" of anti-terror measures introduced by the Bush administration.
There's much more in this brief article, including — no surprise — some posturing by the New York Times.
- 10:23 AM, 16 December 2008   [link]


Good Cheer from Dick Morris and Eileen McGann.
The Depression — let's call it what it is — leaves us, well, depressed.  But there is very good news from around the world.  Our enemies are collapsing under the strain of dropping oil and gas prices.  What we had all hoped conservation and off-shore drilling would achieve, the global economic collapse is accomplishing: the defeat of OPEC, Iran, Chavez, Putin and the weakening of the financial underpinnings of Islamist terrorism.  In each of these nations, the hold of the dictator is weakening as, one after the other, they face the consequences of dropping oil prices.
Actually, it isn't a Depression, but they are right on the rest.  Some of the world's nastiest regimes are in serious trouble.
- 7:30 AM, 16 December 2008   [link]


"The Best Surprise Is No Surprise"  That was the Holiday Inn slogan for many years.  That appears to be Obama's policy on internal investigations.
Last week, in a press conference on Thursday, President-elect Obama announced that his staff would conduct an internal review of contacts with Blagojevich and his office.  At the same press conference, Obama announced that this internal review would find no inappropriate dealings between his staff and Blagojevich.  Since Obama announced the findings of the promised internal review at the same time he announced the internal review, it should come as no surprise that the internal review found just what Obama said it would.
And a very sensible policy it is.

From his point of view, anyway.

(Obama first claimed that he had no contacts with Blagojevich over the senatorial appointment.  He probably should have said no direct contacts.)
- 4:43 PM, 15 December 2008   [link]


Rebooting America's Image?  Obama's metaphor seems strange to me.  The whole idea seems strange to Amir Taheri, for many reasons.  For example:
Obama talks of "a unique opportunity to reboot America's image," as if his nation's problems with terrorism were due to poor public relations on Washington's part.  Does he think so highly of his own talent for seducing people with words that he believes that he can do with a single speech what his five predecessors have failed to do since 1979 - namely, remove the threat of Islamic terror?
Obama has done very well with words, so he may, in fact, believe something like that.  Or at least that he can make a major dent in terrorism with a single speech.  (I hope that he doesn't believe such nonsense, but, as is often the case, it is hard to tell exactly what he believes.)

You'll want to read the whole thing.
- 9:31 AM, 15 December 2008   [link]


Oops!  The Max Planck Institute goofed.
A respected research institute wanted Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, something beautiful and elegant, to illustrate a special report on China. Instead, it got a racy flyer extolling the lusty details of stripping housewives in a brothel.
The Chinese characters do look impressive.  (And for those with dirty minds, I have to add that the article has no pictures of the "housewives".)
- 7:34 AM, 15 December 2008   [link]


Some In Britain Don't Have The Christmas Spirit:  Today, I found two strange stories illustrating that point.  First, the lady who had too many decorations on her house.
Dorothy Glenn decorates her home in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, with hundreds of festive lights every year, including a giant tree and a 4ft Santa Claus.

But this year she was astonished when an employee of South Tyneside Homes called at her house and informed her that the decorations she was displaying might be offending her neighbours.
The association has now apologized, but it is still a strange incident.

And then there are the authorities who don't like the Salvation Army.
For 130 years they have been part of Christmas, filling the air in towns across the land with music and carols.

But one thing is missing from the repertoire of Salvation Army bands this year - the percussion of rattling tins.

Members have been forbidden to shake their charity tins - even if it's done in time to the music - in case it harasses or intimidates people.  One said she had been told it might also offend other religions.
Strange — unless you assume that the authorities that have asked them not to rattle their tins are fearful of offending Muslims.  (I doubt that many Muslims would be offended.)

(Note to British readers:  In the US, the Salvation Army uses kettles, instead of shakers.   Their fund raisers, mostly volunteers, I believe, ring bells in order to attract attention.  I would guess your authorities wouldn't like the bell ringing, either.   And it is a fact that some of our private malls do not allow Salvation Army to raise money at their locations.)
- 6:59 AM, 15 December 2008   [link]


Now I Have A Dependent*:  Last night, I decided to bring in my hummingbird feeder because freezing temperatures were predicted and because I hadn't seen any hummingbirds at the feeder for some time.  First thing this morning, I saw a hummingbird flash by where the feeder had been, so I put it out again.  From what I could tell, the hummingbird fed from it all day, visiting at least every 15 minutes.  (And twice I saw it chase away another hummingbird.)  So I guess I will have to keep the feeder filled, and make sure that the sugar water doesn't freeze during the next few days, while we are having this cold spell.

My dependent is almost certainly a female Anna's Hummingbird.  Some do over winter in this are, so I haven't been keeping it from flying south.  Apparently, people have been very, very good for the species.  By planting flowering trees, we have allowed it to expand its range from the northern Baja and southern California all the way to British Columbia.

Tomorrow, if the light is decent, I'll try to get a video of the bird at the feeder to share with you.   I took one today, which does show the bird, but also shows that the videographer is a complete beginner.

(*But I am pretty sure the IRS won't let me claim a deduction.

Sugar water does freeze at lower temperatures than plain water.  According to this source, the usual hummingbird mixture will stay liquid down to about 27 degrees Fahrenheit.  When I brought the feeder in this evening, the mixture was already beginning to freeze.)
- 7:40 PM, 14 December 2008
Update:  There's about three inches of snow on the ground and the snow is still falling, but the hummingbird showed up at the feeder this morning.  In fact, two of them may have showed up.  I thought I saw one hummingbird chasing another away, but didn't get a good enough look to be certain.

I still find it astonishing that these little birds can survive winters here, even the mild winters that we usually have here.
- 9:01 AM, 18 December 2008   [link]


Has PBS Been Torturing Children All These Years?   Possibly.  Here's the story:
You've heard of water boarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and other kids of physical torture.   But now meet the latest device to extract information from prisoners of war: the music of Sesame Street and Barney.

They're just two of the artists being used on those being held by U.S. forces in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
I won't quote any of the lyrics in Barney's most famous song, since I don't want to violate the Geneva conventions.
- 4:20 PM, 14 December 2008   [link]


An Oldie But A Goodie:  Biggest Ponzi scheme ever?  (Not counting those run by governments.)   Apparently.
For years, investors, rivals and regulators all wondered how Bernard L. Madoff worked his magic.

But on Friday, less than 24 hours after this prominent Wall Street figure was arrested on charges connected with what authorities portrayed as the biggest Ponzi scheme in financial history, hard questions began to be raised about whether Mr. Madoff acted alone and why his suspected con game was not uncovered sooner.

As investors from Palm Beach to New York to London counted their losses on Friday in what Mr. Madoff himself described as a $50 billion fraud, federal authorities took control of what remained of his firm and began to pore over its books.
There were classic warning signs all along.  The returns were too high, they were far too steady, and Madoff was too secretive.  The second, in my opinion, was probably the biggest warning sign; there are a few investors who have beaten the market averages for years, perhaps through luck, but it is exceedingly improbable that an investor can earn 8-12 percent every year.

Some of his investors almost certainly benefitted from his schemes.  If you invested with him early and took out your gains regularly, you should be ahead, since he ran this scheme for decades.

(The Wall Street Journal has a good explanation of how so many rich people fell for Madoff's scheme.)
- 3:15 PM, 13 December 2008   [link]


"Reboot America's Image?"  Barack Obama's metaphor still has me puzzled.  Here's part of what he told the Los Angeles Times this week:
I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular," Obama said Tuesday, promising an "unrelenting" desire to "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of goodwill who want their citizens and ours to prosper together."
I think I understand what he means when he says "reboot".  He means change quickly, or something like that.  But it is hard to picture an image being rebooted.  Most likely, he doesn't know enough about computers to realize that his metaphor is flawed.

What about the substance of his argument?  (Assuming my interpretation is correct.)  Unimpressive, I would say.  The opportunity is not unique, as anyone who knows much about American history would know; American presidents almost always have opportunities to change the American image, sometimes very quickly.

Nor should popularity be the main goal of American policy, around the world, or in the Muslim world.   (Incidentally, I worry about his tendency to speak of the "Muslim world" as a single entity.  It isn't one, as the Shiites could tell you, and it is not in American interests for it to become one.)  The rest is so vague that it is hard to know what to make of it.  For example, what kind of relationship does he want with peoples of ill will?  He doesn't say.  Some specifics would be helpful.  For example, would he now be willing to accept a free trade agreement with Colombia, something that would help "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership" with that country?

(Wonder what actually happens when you reboot a computer?  You can find an answer here and here.

James Taranto has some amusing (and sensible) things to say about that strange metaphor.

You can find another example of Obama having trouble with a metaphor here.)
- 1:11 PM, 12 December 2008   [link]


The Sounds Of Silence:  Can be very loud.
President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, refused to take questions from reporters this morning about whether he was the Obama "advisor" named in the criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
If we learn that Emanuel has hired a lawyer, then those sounds will get even louder.
- 10:52 AM, 12 December 2008   [link]


Four To One?  That's about right in my experience.  Both parties have corrupt politicians, but the Democrats have many more corrupt politicians than the Republicans do.

Incidentally, I came to this conclusion long ago, even when I was still, mostly, voting for Democratic candidates.

(In my opinion, there would be somewhat less Democratic corruption, if "mainstream" journalists were as eager to cover Democratic scandals as they are to cover Republican scandals.)
- 10:14 AM, 12 December 2008   [link]


Barack Obama Didn't Say He Was "Shocked, Shocked" To Find Corrupt Politics In Illinois:  But he came close enough so that fans of Casablanca will enjoy this post.  (And if you have never seen the movie, you now have one more reason to do so.)
- 10:00 AM, 12 December 2008   [link]


Hiding The Party, Elegantly Done:  Massachusetts is having its own bout of scandals, some quite entertaining.  (For instance, this padded bra scandal.) The New York Times has to write about the scandals, but they don't have to celebrate the fact that all those caught have been Democrats.

By now, most of us have become accustomed to the usual pattern:  If a Republican politician has been caught, his or her party is in the first paragraph, if not the headline; if a Democratic politician has been caught, his or her party will mentioned, if at all, near the end of the article.  But reporter Abby Goodnough (who is not good enough to meet my standards) did even better in this article.

She mentions two miscreants, without naming their party: Dianne Wilkerson and Charles Turner.  But then she comes to a reformer (or at least someone posing as a reformer), and does name the party:
"I don't see how we can go forward without addressing this as the top piece of business," said Representative Jennifer Callahan, a Democrat from Sutton, who filed legislation that would bar campaign contributions from lobbyists.  The people in my district have voiced to me that they are really outraged and feel betrayed."
Near the end of the article, Goodnough concedes that only one party is involved in these scandals, but immediately gives the Democrats an excuse.
Others blame the entrenched Democratic control of Massachusetts politics over the years — Republicans have only 21 seats out of 200 in the legislature — and say it has fostered a tendency to look the other way when a member misbehaves.  And while the minority party is railing against corruption now — all of the elected officials under investigation are Democrats — Jack Beatty, an author and student of the state's political history, said it was just as common when Republicans controlled the legislature a century ago.
A century-old excuse.

Note how neatly she buries that admission that the miscreants are Democrats, and attempts to excuse them, on the grounds that some Republicans behaved badly a century ago.  (Some Massachusetts Democrats behaved badly a century ago, too.)  Elegant.  Not very professional, but elegant.
- 5:10 PM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Mayor Daley Goes To Springfield:  Mike Royko describes the temptations that the first Mayor Daley resisted as a state legislator.  (Daley served in the legislature for eleven years, after he was first elected (as a Republican!) in 1936.)
[Abe] Marovitz and [Benjamin] Adamowski agree on one thing; Daley shied away from many of the pleasures of Springfield during his eleven years as a state legislator.  The women, a harem of state employees, were known as the "the monkey girls, because they hang on to their jobs with their tails."
. . .
Money was there for those who wanted it, and many did.  Lobbyists expected to pay for votes.   Their generosity was matched by the legislators' greed.  If a day passed without profit, some legislator would dream up a "fetcher" bill.  A "fetcher" bill would, say, require that all railroad tracks in the state be relaid six inches farther apart.  It would "fetch" a visit from a lobbyist, bearing a gift.

For the squeamish, there was the lobbyists' card game.  The limit varied, but some nights a legislator was guaranteed winnings of up to one thousand dollars.  After that, he was on his own, but the thousand dollars was a cinch.  He did not have to tell his wife he was a grafter, just a lucky poker player.
. . .
Everybody knew the next man's appetites and his price.  Daley knew, of course, down to the men in his Chicago delegation.  But so long as he wasn't part of it, his conscience felt clean.  He worked hard, took his long walks, listened to the gossip without offering anything in return, and made his nightly calls to Sis, home on Lowe Avenue.
. . .
Daley's moral code was emerging:  Thou shalt not steal, but thou shalt not blow the whistle on anybody who does. (pp. 52-53)
And through all his career, Daley worked with people he knew were corrupt — without ever turning them in.  (If he had been a whistle blower, he would not have taken control of the Chicago machine, as he must have known.)

Illinois is not as openly corrupt now as it was in Daley's time, but there are temptations, and many public officials succumb.  And Barack Obama appears to have had developed the same moral code that served Daley so well in his career.
To date, Mr. Obama's approach to Illinois corruption has been to congratulate himself for dodging association with it.  "I think I have done a good job in rising politically in this environment without being entangled in some of the traditional problems of Chicago politics," he told the Chicago Tribune last spring.  At the time, Mr. Obama was being grilled over news that he bought his house through a land deal involving Tony Rezko, a political fixer who was later convicted on 16 corruption counts.  Rezko is mentioned dozens of times in the 76-page criminal complaint against Mr. Blagojevich.

Mr. Obama has an ambiguous reputation among those trying to clean up Illinois politics.  "We have a sick political culture, and that's the environment Barack Obama came from," Jay Stewart, executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, told ABC News months ago.  Though Mr. Obama did support ethics reforms as a state senator, Mr. Stewart noted that he's "been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state including, at this point, mostly Democratic politicians."
Noticeably silent for the same reasons that Daley was noticeably silent.

(Although I don't know any reason to suspect Obama of ordinary corruption, there is this tidbit:   According to some news articles I have read, Obama was a successful poker player in Springfield.   It would be interesting to know who he was playing against in those games.  President Bush was also a successful poker player, at about the same age, but he was playing against other MBA students, not legislators, and, possibly, lobbyists.)
- 1:17 PM, 10 December 2008   [link]


You Read it here first, but you can read it again in Investor's Business Daily.   More evidence, I suppose, that you should read the IBD every day.
- 12:27 PM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Good Question:  TigerHawk pays attention to what Reverend Wright just said, and asks this question"
Huh?!?  Conservatives were up in arms over the "God damn America" sermon, but I have a bigger question.  Why did Barack Obama spend twenty years listening to a man whose command of history is such that he thinks that December 7 commemorates the day the United States bombed Hiroshima?
Because Obama doesn't care enough about facts to be bothered by such details?  That's my guess.
- 8:41 AM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Pollster Douglas Schoen Says All The Politicians Do It:  Well, not all, but many politicians act much like Illinois Governor Blagojevich.
Yes, the wiretaps reveal clear and unambiguous evidence that Blagojevich hoped to get something in exchange for the appointment.  But this kind of horse trading, in my experience, goes on all the time.   It usually isn't articulated as bluntly as it apparently was here, though--and there usually aren't as many wiretaps marshaled as evidence.
That led me to wonder which politicians Schoen had worked for, and I found a partial list here:
Douglas E. Schoen is a founding partner and a principal strategist of Penn, Schoen & Berland.  He was named "Pollster of the Year" in 1996 by the American Association of Political Consultants for his work in the Clinton campaign.

He was President William Jefferson Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection, and has been widely credited with creating and effectively communicating the message that turned around the President's political fortunes between 1994 and 1996.
. . .
Political clients in the United States include: Idaho Governor, Cecil Andrus; Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh; Kentucky Governor, Paul Patton; Nevada Governor, Bob Miller; Louisiana Senator, John Breaux; New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan; and West Virginia Senator, John D. Rockefeller.
All are Democrats.  So Schoen's views on how politicians behave must have been formed, mostly, by his experience with Democratic politicians, especially Bill Clinton.

(That experience has been so disillusioning that Schoen has written a book calling for a third party, which implies that he is not entirely satisfied with the Democrats.  You can read an excerpt from the book here, if you want to know more about his thinking.)
- 7:37 AM, 11 December 2008   [link]


First Look At The 2007 TIMMS Scores:  The results from the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study are out, so we have a new set of data comparing American 4th and 8th graders with kids in other countries.

I'll have much more on the test results soon, but for this evening, here's what you might call the executive executive summary.  American kids score above average in both science and math, but are far behind the kids in the top countries (almost all of them in Asia).  The American scores in math were better in 2007 than they were in 1995, for both 4th and 8th graders.  American 4th graders did very slightly worse in science in 2007 than in 1995; American 8th graders did slightly better in 2007 than in 1995
- 5:22 PM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Will The Obama Girls Learn Math At Sidwell Friends?   Probably not, says Barry Garelick.
Those closely watching the Obamas and what they are going to do next, have surely noticed that they have elected to send their girls to Sidwell Friends School in DC.  The issue of whether a President who touts the value of a public school system should send his kids to a private school has taken center stage.  I'm not particularly interested in that issue so much as I am the fact that Sidwell uses Investigations in Number, Data and Space, one of the NSF-sponsored atrocities that passes as a math course and grossly underprepares students for math.
At least not as much math as they should.

Far more disturbing is that some of Obama's education advisors back the approaches to math education that Garelick calls atrocities.  That may be too strong a word, but I wouldn't object to the phrase "proven failures".

Garelick has more, with links to articles on protests by parents against this math curriculum.

By way of Joanne Jacobs.

(More evidence that Obama is not "well-informed", at least about education?  Unquestionably.   This is even more worrying than his proposal to put "state-of-the-art" computers in our schools.

For the curious, here's the Investigations in Number, Data and Space web page.

Finally, it might be a good time to invest in tutoring centers such as Mathnasium.  I have no idea whether Mathnasium's methods of teaching math are any good, but I think it likely that they, and similar tutoring companies, will gain students over the next four years.)
- 1:37 PM, 10 December 2008
Correction:  The author is Barry Garelick, not David Garelick.  I've corrected the text above.
- 3:54 PM, 14 December 2008   [link]


Partly Right:  Camille Paglia touched on so many subjects in this column that she was almost certain to be right on some of them.

Paglia is not a civil engineer or economist, so it is no surprise that she gets infrastructure wrong.
Roads and bridges!  What joy.  Last week's announcement by President-elect Barack Obama of his massive public works initiative to stimulate the economy won loud applause from me.  Not only does the decaying U.S. infrastructure need emergency attention but construction commissions will be far more substantive and enduring than the half-mythical 5 million "green" jobs that Obama was airily promising before the election.
Paglia is an educator, so it is no surprise that she gets the next paragraph right.
But then I gulped when Obama also pledged educational reform by putting state-of-the-art computers in every classroom.  Groan.  Computers alone will never solve the educational crisis in this country: They are tools and facilitators, not primary conveyors of knowledge.  Packing his team with shiny Harvard retreads, Obama missed a golden opportunity to link his public works project with a national revalorization of the trades.  Practical training in hands-on vocational skills is desperately needed in this country, where liberal arts education has become a soggy boondoggle, obscenely expensive and diluted by propaganda and groupthink.
By now, I would think that even Obama would know that computers are not the answer to our educational problems.  (Incidentally, computer professionals almost never buy "state-of-the-art" computers — if they are spending their own money.  They know that the small increment in performance that you get from state-of-the-art computers is rarely worth their high costs.)  This isn't difficult to understand; you just have to notice that the nations with the best educational results do not use computers in education more than the United States does.

Paglia is often mistaken when she makes political pronouncements, so this suggestion is probably wrong.
Given Obama's elaborate deference to the Clintons, beginning with his over-accommodation of them at the Democratic convention in August, a nagging question has floated around the Web: What do the Clintons have on him?  No one doubts that the Clinton opposition research team was turning over every rock in its mission to propel Hillary into the White House.  There's an information vacuum here that conspiracy theorists have been rushing to fill.
More likely, Obama chose Clinton because he read a book (or part of a book) Goodwin's Team of Rivals, that convinced him that putting Clinton in the Cabinet would be a good idea.  To be fair, Paglia doesn't quite say that she believes that the Clintons have something on Obama, but she does give the rumor more credence than I would.

The rest of the column is entertaining, and also partly right.  (I have no opinion about her musical suggestions at the end, though I am certain that she and I mostly like different kinds of music.)
- 10:24 AM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Scott Turow Catches On:  The novelist — and former federal prosecutor — figures out what almost everyone who paid a little attention to Illinois politics has known for years.  Governor Blagojevich may have broken a law or two.
Here in Chicago, where we are accustomed to news that challenges the thresholds of belief, we awoke Tuesday to find that our governor, Rod Blagojevich, had become the second Illinois chief executive in a row to be subjected to criminal charges.

The 76-page criminal complaint implies that Mr. Blagojevich was such an inveterate schemer that despite being the obvious target of a three-year federal grand jury investigation into trading state jobs and contracts for campaign contributions, he had to be taken out of his house in handcuffs to prevent him from selling off the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Turow did not figure this out as quickly as he might have:
All of this news comes with personal chagrin for me because I was Governor Blagojevich's first appointment to the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, a body created his first year in office. (For the record, I have never made a campaign donation to him.)  The commission judges ethics complaints against state officials, supervises ethics instruction, and tries to carry out an overall mandate to improve the ethical climate in Illinois.
Not very successfully, it would seem.

Turow may be a fine novelist — I haven't read any of his books, so I can't say — but I doubt that he was a good prosecutor.

(Turow does make one interesting, though not original, point.  The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, may have rushed the case because of the possibility that Blagojevich would find a buyer for the Senate seat he was trying to sell.

Incidentally, putting Turow on an ethics commission shows that Blagojevich can be shrewd.  Turow is moderately famous and, it appears, a sucker, just the man to provide cover for the Blagojevich administration.)
- 9:23 AM, 10 December 2008   [link]


Bow And Arrow Control, 1500 BC:  After finding a cheap copy at one of the big Seattle book sales, I finally got around to reading Sun-tzu's The Art of War.   The edition I picked up, more or less by chance, was filled with historical background, background that I found more interesting than the work itself.

For example, I was fascinated by these two endnotes describing the Shang dynasty.
19. A basic distinction in the Shang and Early Chou was made between people who lived within the kuo, the "state," and those who lived outside it.  At this time a state was essentially a city fortified by surrounding walls, with the privileged class residing within its protective confines.  The city dwellers furnished the warriors, whereas those residing outside the walls were not required to serve or were merely conscripted as menial support (if they were not alien peoples under the control of the kuo). . .
. . .
22. In the Shang and probably the Early Chou, weapons were generally stored in government armories and were distributed only when required for military campaigns. . . . This reflected the considerable cost of weapons and diffused any threat of armed political revolt against the ruling family. . . . (p. 255)
(The Chou/Zhou dynasty followed the Shang, as you probably guessed from the context.

The weapons were expensive.  This was during China's bronze age, and the bows and arrows, armor, armored chariots, spears, and "dagger-axes" they used in warfare must have been too costly to equip more than a few warriors.  (The closest Western equivalent to a "dagger-ax" is probably a halberd.)  Oddly enough, the Shang had not invented swords, though they did have daggers.)

From just those two endnotes, it is possible to make some plausible guesses about the political structure of the Shang.  The mass of peasants were ruled by a minority, almost certainly a conquering minority.  But that rule, in spite of the length of time the Shang dynasty lasted, was threatened, so the rulers were careful to keep the ruled from acquiring weapons or military experience.

In the main background text, Sawyer tells us enough about the Shang so that we can understand why not everyone liked them.
Shang warfare objectives included the imposition or reinforcement of royal suzerainty, the mass capture of prisoners, and the seizure of riches.  Control over areas outside the central core continued to be imposed through a vassal-like network, rather than through integration under a centrally administered bureaucracy.  Plunder increased the wealth of the royal house and also furnished the means to reward loyal service.  Some prisoners were enslaved and forced to work in either agricultural or domestic tasks, but large numbers were sacrificed as part of Shang religious ceremonies. (p. 35)
Such practices, as the Aztecs could have told you, do not lead to universal popularity.

Soon after finishing The Art of War, I ran across this article explaining how the British imposed gun control on India.  (And later, ironically, on Britain.)  I don't think I am the only one who will find striking similarities between the Shang and British systems of weapons control.

(Just so there is no misunderstanding, I should add that Sun-tzu lived long after the Shang dynasty.   Assuming he was a real person, about which there is considerable debate.)
- 7:46 PM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Puppies Can Be Life Savers:  (As well as lovable pests.)  Seems like a good time to put up a positive post.
A toddler lost in the Virginia woods was back home safe Sunday thanks to two puppies who kept him warm through a harrowing night of freezing temperatures.

Jaylynn Thorpe, 3, wandered away from his baby-sitter at 4 p.m. Friday and was missing for 21 hours as hundreds of friends, family and law enforcement officials searched for him in the thick woods of Halifax County, fearing the worst.
Jaylynn and the puppies both sound entirely normal.
The boy spent Saturday night under observation at Halifax Regional Hospital and chowed down on a double cheeseburger, a hot dog, strawberry ice cream and French fries.

Meanwhile, the furry heroes, their tails wagging, were rewarded with food.
I have read, over the years, of more than one case of kids being saved by warm dogs, but this is the first time I have heard of puppies doing the trick.

(And I do think the family might want to have a talk with the baby sitter.)
- 3:31 PM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Tempting Fate:  Here's what Democratic Governor Blagojevich said just yesterday.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich responded today to the Chicago Tribune's report that he has been recorded by federal investigators, saying people should "feel free" to tape him because everything he says is lawful.
. . .
"But I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful and the things I'm interested in are always lawful and if there are any things out there like that, what you'll hear is a governor who tirelessly and endlessly figures out ways to help average, ordinary working people," Blagojevich said.
For instance, average, ordinary working people like the governor of Illinois.
- 2:09 PM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Saying The Obvious About Mumbai:  George Orwell once said:
Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.
Christopher Hitchens, probably thinking of that Orwell line, restates the obvious:
The obvious is sometimes the most difficult thing to discern, and few things are more amusing than the efforts of our journals of record to keep "open" minds about the self-evident, and thus to create mysteries when the real task of reportage is to dispel them.  An all-time achiever in this category is Fernanda Santos of the New York Times, who managed to write from Bombay on Nov. 27 that the Chabad Jewish center in that city was "an unlikely target of the terrorist gunmen who unleashed a series of bloody coordinated attacks at locations in and around Mumbai's commercial center."  Continuing to keep her brow heavily furrowed with the wrinkles of doubt and uncertainty, Santos went on to say that "[i]t is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene."
Mark Steyn notes just how "accidental" that hostage scene must have been.
Hmm.  Greater Mumbai forms one of the world's five biggest cities.  It has a population of nearly 20 million.  But only one Jewish center, located in a building that gives no external clue as to the bounty waiting therein.  An "accidental hostage scene" that one of the "practitioners" just happened to stumble upon?  "I must be the luckiest jihadist in town.  What are the odds?"
What I wonder is whether the targeting of the Chabad Jewish center is obvious to the New York Times.   Do the New York Times editors not see how absurd that "accidental" line is?  I don't know the answer to that question.  I have met people who honestly hold politically correct views — and people who say politically correct things in public, without believing them.

But I do know this:  The refusal to print the obvious, and perhaps the refusal to even see the obvious, is not a good trait in a journalist.

(Tom Gross has more examples of "mainstream" journalists refusing to say, and perhaps to see, the obvious.)
- 10:47 AM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Does Illinois Have A Small Problem With Official Corruption?  Why, yes, especially in Chicago.
This makes for the fourth out of the last seven elected Illinois governors to be indicted since 1960 (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich) . . . since 1972, 28 Chicago alderman have been convicted of crimes.  If this number was extrapolated to the US House, it would be as if over 240 congressman had been indicted in the same period.
Has Barack Obama ever done anything to fight the corruption in his adopted state?  As far as I know, nothing effective.  He probably voted for an ethics law or two while he was in the state legislature.  But then arrested Democratic Governor Blagojevich proposed and signed ethics laws, which didn't end, or, apparently, even reduce corruption in his office.

By way of Michelle Malkin.

(George Ryan is a Republican; the other three are Democrats.)
- 10:05 AM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Blagojevich Arrested!  Which was not surprising.  Most observers have been expecting that the governor of Illinois — the Democratic governor of Illinois — would be facing corruption charges soon.  But one of the charges is amazing.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested Tuesday morning in Chicago on two counts each of federal corruption charges stemming from allegations Blagojevich was trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The arrest is part of a three-year probe of "pay-to-play politics" in the governor's administration.   The criminal complaint by the FBI says each man was arrested on two charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.

The charges also relate to allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with previously convicted defendants and Obama associates Antonin Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others to arrange financial benefits in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds.
Trying to sell the Senate seat!?  Openly?!  All right, that is surprising, even for Illinois.  But what is astonishing is this:
Federal authorities were permitted by a judge to record the governor secretly before the November election after raising concerns that a replacement for Obama would be tainted.

Fitzgerald's office said the 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was taped conspiring to sell or trade Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife, including an annual salary of $250,000-$300,000 at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.

They also allege Blagojevich is heard on tape demanding a corporate board seat for his wife worth as much as $150,000 a year; promises of campaign funds, including cash up front; and the post of secretary of health and human services or an ambassadorship for himself in the Obama administration.
Blagojevich knew that federal prosecutors were after him, must have known that they might tape his conversations, and still said what he said.  That's somewhere beyond reckless, wherever that would be.

Trading cash for appointments is expected from machine politicians — and Blagojevich is a product of the Chicago machine — but in modern times they are usually a little more careful about how they do it.

(Not used to pronouncing Serbian names?  According to the Almanac of American Politics, his name is pronounced "blah-GOY-eh-vich".  Get used to it.  We're going to be seeing and hearing the name often in the next year or so.)
- 8:44 AM, 9 December 2008
More:  You can download the complaint here.  The section on selling the Senate seat starts about page 58.
- 9:23 AM, 9 December 2008   [link]


Marketer Of The Year?  It's Barack Obama, who beat out Apple and Zappos.com.

Seems appropriate.
- 6:42 AM, 9 December 2008   [link]