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Sowell on a roll

Thomas Sowell body-slams Bush inauguration protestors like these:

in this piece over at Capitalism Magazine.

A taste:
The media dignify these outbursts by calling them "protests" but what are they protesting?

That they lost the election? Doesn't somebody always lose an election? Did the Republicans take to the streets when Bill Clinton was elected?

Are the shouters and the rioters protesting that they disagree with President Bush's policies? Isn't that why we hold elections in the first place -- because people disagree?
Read the whole thing. He's just getting warmed up.

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Another reason to be glad Bush won

A dramatic Times of London article on North Korea's crumbling totalitarian regime has been making its way around the blogosphere. The whole thing is a must-read, but the following passage seems not to have drawn much attention:

Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004.

Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons.
True, Kim's support for Kerry was first reported back in early March 2004 -- sample stories are here, here, and here.

A few days later, Kerry, displaying the lack of political acumen that cost him the election, began boasting about his support from foreign leaders, although he refused to name any of them.

It gradually dawned on Kerry that positioning himself as the choice of America's enemies was not a winning campaign strategy. In a textbook flip-flop, he said he would not "seek or accept" foreign endorsements, and the story faded away.

Now, as we celebrate the dawn of democracy in Iraq, Kerry's position on North Korea -- and on promoting freedom around the world -- is worth remembering.

If Kim's regime collapses in the next four years, it will be, at least in part, because John F. Kerry is not our president.

In fact, plenty of other people picked up on the Kerry angle to the Times report.

The excellent North Korea Zone offers perhaps the most detailed analysis of the complete article, including the Kerry/Bush factor.

Airborne Combat Engineer, Pink Monkeybird, and commenters here and here on this Little Green Footballs post also weighed in.

The blogosphere -- there's no denying its power!

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Balanced reporting

The Chicago Sun-Times looks at Japan's influence on Frank Lloyd Wright in an article titled "The Japanese Aesthetic":

Anyone who has traveled to Japan has come away impressed by the orderly nature of Japanese society. Such symmetry would inspire Frank Lloyd Wright after he first set sail for Japan on Valentine's Day, 1905.

...Deeply inspired, Wright then began work on Unity Temple, now considered one of his crowning achievements. A Japanese influence can be found in the temple's asymmetrical layout and architectural details, including its hanging lamps, woodwork and windows (which resemble ramma, perforated ventilation panels over sliding screens).
Well, at least they're not being one-sided.

The original article is no longer available for free on the Sun-Times website. Google's cached version is here.

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What's French for schadenfreude?

I suppose I should feel sorry for these guys, but... I don't:

Stuck with hundreds of millions of bottles they can't sell in a toughening global market, vintners want to distill some of France's winelake into industrial-use alcohol.

It wouldn't just be swill heading for destruction: Most of the 66 million gallons vintners hope to recycle is considered high-quality.

Such destruction would be unprecedented for "appellation" wines that carry France's AOC seal of origin and quality. Although nearly 71.3 million gallons were distilled into alcohol in 2002, that was second-rate table wine. This time, 267 million bottles of AOC wines would be boiled down in stills if vintners get their way.
Why are times so tough for French winemakers? Well, it seems that more people these days, believe it or not, are buying American:
Pressured by Californian Chardonnays and other vintages from the new world, French wine exports fell by 6.6 percent in volume and 6.1 percent in value in the first 11 months of 2004.
And, in a perfect display of poetic justice, France's problems are exacerbated by the ever-expanding web of ridiculously detailed E.U. regulations:
Vintners say distilling wine into alcohol would cut surplus stocks — which were swelled by a bumper harvest last year — and help restore the balance between supply and demand.

But because of European Union regulations, the process requires getting not only French but also European official approval.
Oh well. At least they'll have plenty of vino on hand to drown their sorrows. L'Chaim!

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"They look like Rocky"

Johnny Dollar's Place has a transcript of Geraldo Rivera's on-location coverage of the Iraqi elections:

In this town, in this community, with 15,000 registered voters, we have just returned from the polling place. It is absolutely packed. Roll the video. There are men, women, families coming. They are casting their ballot for the first time.

It was so inspiring. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in my entire life. It really is like the Berlin Wall going down in 1989. It really is like the beginning, like the dawn of the civil rights era, when black people could vote for the first time. It is the most amazing sight.

Only a hard-bitten cynic, only a person with absolutely no upside to their feeling of optimism, could look askance at what is happening, truly happening today. People are applauding themselves, they look like Rocky coming out of the polling place.

There are women voting for the first time, and it's just the most incredible thing. It's so heartwarming to see it.
I guess no one told those women they're just a bunch of big losers.

From Daily Inklings, some more women who never read the International Herald Tribune article calling them the election's biggest losers:

Women queue from early morning hours in front of the polling station in downtown Erbil, Sunday, Jan. 30. 2005. Kurds in scores attended election in hope to gain significant voice in the interim Iraqi Parliament. (AP Photo/Sasa Kralj)
And from Little Green Footballs, here's an expatriate loser, voting by absentee ballot in California:

Iraqi immigrant Marwa Sadik from Seattle celebrates before casting her vote in Iraq’s election at the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2005. The Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission is allowing Iraqi immigrants living in 14 countries to vote by absentee ballot. Overseas voting continues through Sunday, which is Election Day in Iraq itself. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
I have my own list of who'll be the real losers in Iraq's elections. The insurgents -- who have now openly declared war on the people they would rule -- are on it. The defeatist politicians and media pundits that have tried to portray the elections as a dangerous charade are on it, too. The women above are not.

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The U.N. defines terrorism

You might be wondering what it takes for the U.N. to use the word “terrorist” when describing a deadly attack. Sure, they whipped it out on 9-11, but in general, they’ve been pretty inconsistent.

After all, Hamas and related Palestinian terror groups have:

suicide-bombed a pizza parlor.

bombed and shot mortars at school buses full of children.

Stormed into people's homes and shot their babies dead.

But despite these and hundreds of similar atrocities, the U.N. still gives Palestinian terror groups a free pass. When it comes to attacks on Israelis, it seems the U.N. just can't define what "terrorism" is.

Indeed, instead of blacklisting Hamas, the U.N. puts Hamas members on the U.N. payroll and funnels money to it through Palestinian “charities”.

However, I may have discovered a surefire rule for predicting when the U.N. will feel comfortable applying the “terrorist” label. It's not all-inclusive, but it's a start.

Here it is: When the U.N. itself is attacked.

In July 2003, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a handpicked team to Iraq led by Sergio Vieira de Mello to rebuild peace. Even after the horrific terrorist bombing of the UN building in Baghdad, Mr. Annan sent in his special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to Iraq when requested by the Iraqis and the Coalition Provisional Authority.
It seems like not even the old "armed struggle for self-determination" exemption, so often used by Islamic states to justify terror attacks against Israelis, applies when the U.N. is the target.

The U.N. as a source of black-and-white moral clarity. I never thought I’d see the day.

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Spring Pup

We're back from the special hot spring for dogs I mentioned in the previous post.

As you can see here, Peana really enjoyed herself:

While she liked the hot water, she definitely did not like being cold and wet when she got out. After a quick towel-off and blow-dry, she was ready for a good night's sleep.

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Hot dog!

You've probably heard that Japan is famous for its natural hot springs.

This weekend, my girlfriend and I are taking our dog Peana to a special hot spring for dogs. I was surprised to hear that such a thing even existed, but apparently they're quite common here.

I'll have some pictures when I get back, but blogging may be light to nonexistent until then.

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Iraqis head to polls; women hardest hit

You've probably heard the old joke that says if Armageddon were upon us, the New York Times headline would read:


Women, Minorities Hardest Hit

But it doesn't take a natural disaster to put women at a disadvantage. In an International Herald Tribune article that veers perilously close to self-parody, Mona Eltahaway frets that women will "be the biggest losers" in Iraq's historic upcoming election:

NEW YORK Come election time in Iraq, remember Wijdan al-Khuzai. Her violent death is a brutal warning that although Iraq's Sunnis are said to have the most to lose, it is in fact women, from all sects, who could be the biggest losers of the Iraqi election.

The body of Khuzai, an election candidate running on a secular platform, was found near her house on Dec. 25. Khuzai was determined to overcome what she described as the strict social and religious curbs on women in Iraq.
Now, it's obviously tragic that Khuzai was killed -- even more so because she seemed to represent the sort of modern thinker that Iraq needs in its new government if it wants to avoid sinking into the mire of Islamofascism.

But insurgents have been killing men and women alike in large numbers, attempting to derail the elections or scare Iraqis away from the polls. In fact, men may be at greater risk, because men make up the Iraqi security forces who are so often the target of the insurgents' attacks.

Eltahaway continues:

The sons of two other female candidates have been killed to punish their mothers for their electoral ambitions, and another female candidate was kidnapped and released only after her family paid a ransom.
So female candidates' sons are murdered, and this is evidence that the elections are hurting women?

Even female candidates who have been more overtly religious have not been spared. Earlier this month, Salama al-Khafaji, a prominent female Shiite candidate escaped assassination when her bodyguards returned fire at gunmen who ambushed her car. It was the second attempt on her life since May, when her son and one of her bodyguards were killed in an ambush of her convoy.
Two more men murdered -- al-Khafaji's son and her bodyguard -- and again, the elections are cast as a blow against women. The fact that they will move brave women like al-Khafaji into positions of power is apparently irrelevant.

Chris Rock got big laughs in his 1999 stand-up performance Bigger and Blacker when he mocked Louis Farrakhan for blaming black peoples' troubles on the Jews.

"Black people don't hate the Jews," he explained. "Black people hate white people. We don't have time to go dicing them into tiny groups."

The insurgents don't hate women. They hate free people.

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Guantánamo, here I come!

The Seattle Times reports that former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar has written a manuscript revealing some of the hideous torture techniques used by the dastardly American military when interrogating prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp:

The female interrogator wanted to "break him"... she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection.
Other cruel tactics include a female civilian contractor with "a special outfit that included a miniskirt and thong underwear during late-night interrogations" and a guard who "took off her uniform top, ran her fingers through a detainee's hair and sat on his lap."

Uh, so what exactly do I have to do to get sent to Gitmo?

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Talking past each other

This previous post looked at a story widely circulated through the blogosphere, in which a U.S. Naval officer, writing under the pen name "Ed Stanton", was sharply critical of how U.N. and NGO personnel involved in providing tsunami relief to Indonesia behaved while receiving meals and lodging aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Now, Blackfive has posted a response from another Navy man, Lieutenant Commander Jeff Vorce.

Vorce claims Stanton's account is rife with "inaccuracies", but he doesn't really point out what any of them are. Instead, he mainly emphasizes the impressive accomplishments of the U.S. in Indonesia:

The people of Indonesia genuinely appreciate our assistance. There are homemade American flags that the hungry and injured have made and display in the makeshift landing zones where we drop off medical supplies, food, and water to prove it. My heart swells with pride (and I choke up a little) every time I see hundreds of displaced persons cheer, salute, and flash a big smile or a thumbs-up when my crewmen are off-loading boxes marked with red, white, and blue stickers that proclaim, "Food from the American People."
That's great news, but it doesn't contradict anything Stanton wrote. Stanton's objection was to the rude and arrogant behavior of the U.N. and NGO members aboard the Lincoln, not to America's participation in the relief effort itself.
The Indonesian government (rightly so) is in charge of the overall relief effort underway on the western coast of Sumatra. Last time I checked, it is their country. Simply put, we are here to aid them with their recovery.
True enough, but when someone shows up to help you in a time of trouble, it's a bit gauche to start placing onerous conditions on their behavior. Stanton was legitimately upset that our military preparedness suffered as a direct result of Indonesia's petty refusal to let U.S. pilots train in Indonesian airspace.
We are merely one part of what could end up as the largest relief effort in history. The resources and personnel of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group are working in concert with the people of Indonesia, other nations, militaries, and a host of non-governmental relief agencies including US AID, Red Cross & Red Crescent Society, WHO, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, and the WFP.
That's kind of like saying Michael Jordan was only one part of the Bulls. As Stanton observed, the aid groups Vorce lists depend on the U.S. military for support -- food, lodging, supplies, and logistics -- on a scale, and at a pace, that's beyond their ability to provide. They can't function, at least nowhere near as quickly and effectively, without the U.S. But the U.S. was doing just fine without them, airlifting supplies directly into disaster-struck areas before the U.N. could get its act together.

Even other nations' militaries often come up short by comparison (although some, in particular the British and the Australians, are making significant contributions).

And as thanks for America's invaluable contribution, the U.N. has graciously taken credit for our military's hard work. That's the kind of impudence that got Stanton so riled up in the first place.

I find it curious that Mr. Stanton complains about having to wait in line to get food behind men and women who are supporting the same mission as his brothers and sisters in arms.
Again, Vorce's response is off-base. Nowhere in Stanton's account did he complain about having to wait in line. Rather, he critcized the arrogant behavior of the U.N. and NGO personnel.

The civilians that have been transported by our helicopters and have been hosted aboard the carrier are not a "traveling circus" of aid workers or "trifling do-gooders." On the contrary, these are professionals who have years of experience in mitigating human suffering and tragedy. While there are many highly trained men and women deployed alongside me, there are few (if any) who have expertise in the prediction of malaria transmission vectors, the proper disposal of tens of thousands of human remains, creating a system to match orphaned children with distant relatives, reviving an entire economy, prioritizing bridges or roads to be re-built, or any of the other skills sets that are so critical to disaster relief.
Vorce is close to making a legitimate point here: that some aid workers possess skills and experience helpful to the relief mission.

But are all of them invaluable, highly-trained professionals? Isn't it possible some of them are just supporting the ones with more experience, by providing an extra pair of hands? And regardless of how highly trained any of them may or may not be, is there any excuse for their whining about having to eat off paper plates, or airily refusing to pay the bill for the food they ate?

Moreover, Stanton directed some of his harshest comments not at the aid workers themselves, but at the "reporters, cameramen and Indonesian military officers" who followed them aboard for no clear reason.

The description of an aircraft carrier as an "instrument of national policy" is accurate. The belief that the offensive strike capability of the air wing she carries is the only way to project this policy is flawed. Here in Indonesia, such an assumption is a slap in the face to the sailors who volunteered to go ashore and load thousands of pounds of rice into helicopters each day in the tropical heat. It fails to take into account the talent of the ship's engineering teams that were able to repair generators at the local hospital and restore electrical power. It overlooks the heroism of the navy medical personnel that saved countless lives in the wake of the tsunami's devastation. It doesn't begin to calculate the strategic value of clothing donations, a soccer ball tossed from a helicopter, or a handful of candy given to children who have lost everything they have.
Vorce works up a fine froth of righteous indignation, but once again, he completely misrepresents Stanton's comments. Stanton never questioned the wisdom, the value, or the effectiveness of the U.S. response. Rather, he criticized the arrogant behavior of the U.N. and NGO personnel. (I'm starting to feel like I should set up a macro to instantly type that phrase.)

And while use of military force may not be the only way an aircraft carrier can advance U.S. interests, surely the carrier's highest priority must be to make sure that its "offensive strike capability" remains primed and ready for action. Helping nations in need is unquestionably a noble and worthy use of our military, but it must not come at the expense of our military preparedness.
With respect to the media, the only negative portrayal of Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE (the name given to the US military's regional response to the tsunami disaster) I have seen was Mr. Stanton's.
The straw man Vorce keeps pounding away at is looking pretty ragged by this point. Stanton never portrayed the U.S. operation in a negative light. Rather (all together now, kids), he criticized the arrogant behavior of the U.N. and NGO personnel.
The Indonesian press has praised our work and questioned the paucity of relief assistance from other Islamic nations.
This may be true, but if so, it's certainly gone under-reported in the Western media. A link or two would be helpful. So far, Indonesia's highest-profile comment on the U.S. role in the aid effort came when Indonseian vice-president Jusuf Kalla said troops should be gone "the sooner the better".
Military service members often complain that the media "doesn't get it right" and fails to cover all of the positive work we do; this time the media got it right and Mr. Stanton got it wrong.
I don't think he "got it wrong". He just emphasized different, but equally valid, aspects of the story.

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Shrinking polar icecaps (and credibility)

Langtry points out an article in Britain's Independent that's both laughable and revealing:

Global warming is 'twice as bad as previously thought'
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
27 January 2005

Global warming might be twice as catastrophic as previously thought, flooding settlements on the British coast and turning the interior into an unrecognisable tropical landscape, the world's biggest study of climate change shows.

Researchers from some of Britain's leading universities used computer modelling to predict that under the "worst-case" scenario, London would be under water and winters banished to history as average temperatures in the UK soar up to 20C higher than at present.
Golly, Cleetus! Them scientists is usin' kom-pewters, so they's gotta be right!

Seriously -- Brits buy into fear-mongering like this, and we Americans are supposed to be the ignorant rubes?

Science Editor Steve Connor apparently thinks that a study showing the impact of global warming to be "twice as bad as previously thought" is dire news. To me, it says that scientists don't really have a clue about how to accurately forecast global warming.

When you measure the same thing twice, you don't expect the second result to be double the first. If it is, that's a clue that your measurements are worthless. If the second try is 100% higher, perhaps a third try would yield results 100% lower -- that is, zero.

Yes, yes, I know, I know. These scientists used a new! improved! model, with thousands of computers! working in parallel! But any model incorporates assumptions that may or may not prove valid. Change your assumptions, and you change your result. It's just that simple, no matter how many computers are grinding away at the calculations.

Also notable is that the article mentions only the report's "worst-case" scenario. How likely is that scenario to occur? Ten percent? One percent? .00001 percent? And what are the other scenarios like? How likely are they? Are there any where the earth actually gets cooler?

It would be nice to know.

However, Mr. Connor apparently sees his purpose as terrifying Britons into immediate and unwarranted action, rather than skeptically assessing the most drastic outcome of a single new study.

And he's not alone. This earlier post described how one scientist resigned from a U.N.-sponsored global warming research team because he felt the team leader had politicized their research, using the media "to push an unsupported agenda that recent hurricane activity has been due to global warming."

Global warming tends to bring out the zealot in people who in other circumstances, I imagine, would be completely rational. There's a place for breathless shock journalism like this, and it's next to the checkout registers at the supermarket.

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Merci, guys

As I noted in this post, the French come in for a lot of abuse these days -- much of it deserved. But that makes it all the more important to give them credit where credit is due.

And today, as this New York Times story demonstrates, they deserve a lot:

PARIS - A cell that was recruiting fighters in France to join the insurgency in Iraq has been smashed, intelligence and law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

In police raids Monday and Wednesday after intensive and lengthy surveillance, French authorities arrested nine men and two women, and more arrests are expected, the officials said. The timing was linked to information that at least two of those arrested were poised to leave for Iraq, perhaps to carry out suicide attacks, they said.

The raids in northeast Paris represent the first time in the European campaign to crack down on the recruitment of insurgents that an entire cell has been dismantled, the officials said. It was also the first such operation in France since Dominique de Villepin, the minister of the interior, increased surveillance of mosques, prayer halls and demonstrations throughout France after the terrorist bombings in Madrid last March.

Senior investigators in Europe say they have seen growing evidence that young Muslim men are willing to travel to Iraq to fight against the U.S.-led occupation.

"This is just the beginning," a senior German official said. "There will be more arrests made of recruiters soon."
Actor John Rhys-Davies (who played the dwarf Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies) raised some eyebrows almost exactly a year ago when he decried the spread of militant Islam across Europe. Now it appears he was simply a man ahead of his time.

Europe's new get-tough attitude is a welcome development. My hunch is that the gruesome murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands by radical Muslims last November served as a wake-up call -- a wake-up call America heard on September 11, 2001.

Thankfully, it appears Europe has decided that its way of life, its values, and its culture -- all of which, mind you, initially led it to welcome Muslim immigrants in a spirit of tolerance -- are worth fighting for after all.

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Snowed inn

I mentioned in my posts on snowboarding at Mt. Naeba and Nozawa Onsen that Japan's mountain regions have been getting loads of snowfall.

How much? Enough to kill you even if you stay inside.

NIIGATA — Two men died Wednesday after being buried under snow when the roof of a Japanese inn damaged by the Oct 23 earthquake in Niigata Prefecture collapsed because of accumulated snow, police said.

The roof of the bathroom of Shinodakan, a Japanese-style inn in Ojiya, collapsed at around 8:15 p.m. when the two men were taking a bath, the police said, adding about 1.5 meters of snow had accumulated on the roof at the time of the incident. (Kyodo News)
With its citizens getting crushed to death by massive snowfall, maybe global warming isn't Japan's biggest problem.

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United Nations: America needs our help!

Sometimes it seems like America's main purpose is to bail the world out of whatever troubles -- world war, genocide, tsunamis -- it gets tangled up in.

In fact, the United Nations claims that exactly the opposite is true: America's huge deficits are wrecking the global economy, and it's up to the international community to ride to the rescue.

Our story begins with the surprising assertion that Europe is a country:

UN urges global action on U.S. debt
By Elizabeth Becker The New York Times
Thursday, January 27, 2005

WASHINGTON The United Nations has urged all major industrial countries, especially Europe and Japan, to help the United States reduce its twin deficits by spurring their own economies to grow faster.
The accuracy of the article goes downhill from there.
In its report, World Economic Situation and Prospects 2005, the world body said on Tuesday that the twin budget and trade deficits of the United States were throwing the global economy off balance.

The U.S. deficit is a global problem in part because it is the fastest-growing economy among the leading industrial nations and, together with China, is largely responsible for helping pull the world economy out of doldrums.
This is a problem?
But whereas China has become an economic engine through its huge growth in manufacturing and exports, the United States has pushed growth by consuming far more goods than it exports, raising concerns about sustainability.
Ah, there we go. Greedy Americans, buying way too much stuff! Question: Who does the Times think is buying all those Chinese exports? Martians? Without America "consuming far more than it exports," China would not be able to export so much. China's growth is made possible by American consumption.

So, America gladly buys what China gladly produces. What's wrong with that?
But the UN report said the problem was more complicated. Letting the dollar fall could spur U.S. growth and lead to more consumer spending there on foreign goods...
That statement is the economics equivalent of saying that lead weights around your ankles make you run faster. When the dollar falls, the immediate impact is that foreign goods become more expensive to U.S. consumers, who buy less of them.
...but a greater drop in the dollar's value could hurt the economies of Europe and Japan that need to grow in order to buy U.S. exports and help right the trade imbalance.
At last, we come to the U.N.'s real concern: The cheap dollar is making other countries even less competitive relative to the U.S. than they already are. A further fall in the dollar would make foreign goods and overseas labor less attractive, leading Americans to produce and buy at home.

In a logical inversion worthy of Orwell's 1984, hobbling American competitiveness is billed as being in America's own best interest, because once the rest of the world gets really rich, they'll buy our stuff and push down our pesky deficit.

Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. Hurting America is Helping America.

Indeed, even as you read this, writes the Times reporter, America is taking action to stave off the threat of its continued success:

The U.S. Treasury secretary, John Snow, already plans to ask for immediate help from the wealthiest U.S. trading partners at a meeting next week in London of the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 7 leading industrialized democracies. Snow has said he will tell these countries that if they are concerned about the U.S. deficit, they should purchase more American goods and services.
"Asking for immediate help" is an interesting way to characterize Snow's inviting other countries to buy American if they're all that worried about us. Sounds to me like he's basically telling them to get bent.

For their part, the Europeans will argue, instead, that the countries should make a coordinated effort to stop the drop in the dollar, a move that would help spur their own growth but one the administration opposes.

The report urges the major industrial countries to work out a solution that will help the United States reduce its deficits by spurring their own economies to grow faster, especially Japan and the countries of Europe.
So what we have here is a plea for America to be less competitive and give Europe a chance. (Japan, maintaining strong sales of cars and a huge trade surplus even at current exchange rates, isn't too worried.) And the U.N.'s dressed it up as a call for an international response to American greed and mismanagement. Sheesh.

Asking the U.N. to judge your fiscal responsibility is like hiring Michael Moore to be your fact-checker.

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Unclear on the concept

For an organization designed to report facts, Reuters appears to be disturbingly unaware of what a fact actually is:

JERUSALEM, Jan 26 (Reuters) - A week of international remembrances marking the Holocaust reaches a climax on Thursday, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps.

Following are seven facts about the Holocaust, the state-sponsored persecution and genocide of European Jews and others by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.

-- Nearly six million Jews were murdered in Europe as part of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution" to what the Nazi dictator called the Jewish problem, according to Yad Vashem, Israel's national memorial to the victims.
Why on earth is it necessary to cite Yad Vashem here? A fact is a fact, no matter who vouches for its truth or alleges its falsehood.

Math textbooks don't say, "2 + 2 = 4, according to Stephen Hawking."

Encyclopedias don't state, "Albany is the capital of New York, according to George Pataki."

And sports websites don't read, "The Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, according to Curt Schilling."

Those things are facts. They're not true "according to" some source. For Reuters to cite Yad Vashem as the backer of the six million figure is to suggest that another group could just as well come up with a much lower tally.

Now, it's pretty clear from the overall article that Reuters acknowledges that a large number of Jews were killed. So why am I being so picky?

At a time when Russian politicians are demanding a nationwide ban on all Jewish groups, when a Spanish city sponsors an electronic billboard calling Israelis the "New Nazis", and when "62% of Germans are sick of all the harping on about the Jews", I'm not prepared to accept the tiniest bit of fudging about what happened during the Holocaust.

And that's a fact.

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I'm a fish!

Notice anything different?

Well, at present, I'm a Flippery Fish in The Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem of blog rankings. This represents a big step up from my previous status as a Slimy Mollusc and, before that, an Insignificant Microbe.

I started Riding Sun just two months ago. I owe its growth to you, the readers -- especially those of you who've linked to it on your own blogs, like POV and The Roth Report. (Unfortunately, I hadn't joined the Ecosystem back when Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs gave me my first-ever blogalanche.)

They're all linked in the sidebar, along with lots of other interesting blogs. If there are some you haven't seen already, I encourage you to check them out.

Special thanks go to Captain 2Slick at 2Slick's Forum, who's sent monster amounts of hits my way. 2Slick's a Black Hawk helicopter pilot recently back from service in Iraq and Kuwait. He managed to keep up a top-notch blog while serving our country in a war zone. I stand in awe.

Anyway, I'm not exactly sure how the Ecosystem works, but I think my ranking will drop like a stone unless I keep on attracting readers and linkers. And if I break my arm patting myself on the back, I won't be able to type. So, enough celebrating -- it's time for more blogging!

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Not even trying to hide it anymore

Reuters reports on the restoration of diplomatic contacts between Israel and the Palestinians, "in response to a lull in militant attacks".

A "lull"? Is that how low Israel is setting the bar these days?

Khaled Meshaal, exiled leader of the powerful militant faction Hamas, told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat on Tuesday that if Israel agreed to end military raids, "we in Hamas, and other resistance forces in general, are ready to deal positively with the subject of calming, or a temporary truce."
Psst! Khaled! You are not supposed to tell everyone this "truce" will be only temporary!

There's nothing worse than a terrorist newbie.

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Ongepotchket Rocket

I haven't exactly shown restraint in customizing my Honda X-4. But even I have my limits. This extensive bodywork kit is just too much:

To use a Yiddish word, it looks ongepotchket -- over-decorated to the point of being aesthetically unpleasing. It's hard to even recognize it as the same model bike as this closer-to-stock example:

Yeah, the orange one is kinda cool, in a giant-anime-robot sort of way. But dressing up a cruiser like a sportbike is like trying to turn a weightlifter into a ballerina. You can put a tutu on him, but he'll end up looking silly and it won't help him dance.

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No politics for us, please, we're Japanese

On this morning's newscast, NHK, Japan's only public television station, looked at the rising popularity of blogs.

Indeed, there is no shortage of Japanese blogs on politics and current events. A quick Google search for "blog Iraq" in Japanese (ブログ イラク) yielded about 326,000 hits, including the following:

Reishiva Iraq Reports
International Cooperation • NGO Information Blog
Tea Not War

It's perhaps not surprising that they generally oppose the U.S. occupation -- and Japan's role in it -- given the nation's post-WWII embrace of pacifism.

Moreover, Japanese bloggers are translating some English-language blogs, like Baghdad Burning, from Iraq, and Raed in the Middle, from Iran, into Japanese versions, which you can see here and here.

Other Japanese blogs are not dedicated to Iraq, but include the occasional related post, like this one criticizing the Japanese government's harsh response to the freed Japanese hostages, or this one about Shosei Koda, another Japanese hostage who wasn't so lucky.

While I personally disagree with some of these bloggers, I recognize that they have legitimate views, and they should be acknowledged.

Nevertheless, the NHK piece lacked any discussion of blogs as a medium for political awareness and debate, or as a mainstream media watchdog -- probably the most high-profile roles of blogs in the U.S. Instead, it showed how blogs can be used for reading celebrity gossip, keeping personal diaries, following community events, or getting updates after an earthquake hits.

I'm not sure whether this omission reflects the stereotypical Japanese distaste for open conflict, overall cluelessness on the part of NHK, a desire to keep Japanese popular anti-war sentiment under wraps, or a sinister plot to cultivate apathy among the citizenry. Whatever the reason, it's a glaring omission.

Ironically, Japanese bloggers themselves fully understand the importance of what they are doing with respect to the existing media hierarchy. As "finalvent" at Far East Blog writes, in a post about media coverage of the U.N.'s oil-for-food scandal:

大手紙がこれからどう出てくるのか、それと、共同がどう外信を捌いているのかが気になるところだ。 っていうか、こんなの、英米圏のネットを覗けば筒抜けに見えることなので、ブログが興隆してくると、こうした日本での外信の流れに別の流れがでてくるのではないだろうか。

Loosely translated:
I’m concerned about how our big newspapers will handle news from outside Japan from here on out, but the English-language Internet lets us see right through to the source. The rise of blogs could lead to a whole new flow of outside information coming into Japan.

Rather than get caught up in the debate about whether bloggers are journalists, or rely on primary sources, we should acknowledge that blogs are raising the standard for international news, and, I think, the quality of the Japanese public’s evaluation of foreign affairs.
Well, NHK sure isn't.

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A story that just doesn't stick

In response to blogosphere outrage over the University of Oregon's ordering delivery driver Pete Baker to remove a "Support Our Troops" magnetic yellow ribbon from his state-owned work truck, University President Dave Frohnmayer claimed that his hands were tied:

Decisions about whether employees may or may not put stickers or magnets on state-owned vehicles have nothing to do with the messages. The fact is state vehicles may not have any personal messages affixed to them.

This distinction between a state vehicle and a personal vehicle is very important. Government vehicles in this state have never been allowed to exhibit items of personal expression. State employees are free to use their personal vehicles for statements of all types on university campuses and elsewhere.

Because the university is a state agency, I cannot make distinctions or allowances on this matter, regardless of the cause or the breadth of its support. Whether the message is "Support Our Troops," "Fund Cancer Research" or "Support Tsunami Relief," employees may not place personal stickers or magnets on state-owned vehicles.

See Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Fleet Administration Operating Policies Section 107103-5:
Now, maybe Frohnmayer thought no one would actually read Section 107103-5, but I did. It states the following:
All vehicle-identifying stickers must remain on the vehicle in accordance with ORS 283 which requires all State vehicles be marked with the owning Agency name followed by “State of Oregon". Removal of stickers will result in a $25.00 fee. No unauthorized stickers are allowed on DAS owned vehicles.
It's pretty clear, in its title and in its text, that this policy refers only to "stickers" -- not to magnets, suction-cup "Baby on Board" signs, Derek Jeter bobblehead dolls, plastic statues of Jesus on the dashboard, or any other personal accoutrements.

In fact, from 107103-5's overall wording, you could argue that the authorization requirement applies only to official "vehicle identifying" stickers, and not to personal stickers of any kind. Yet somehow from 107103-5's spare text, Frohnmayer extrapolates a total ban on any and all personal messages.

Where is he getting that from?

Frohnmayer claims that "[g]overnment vehicles in this state have never been allowed to exhibit items of personal expression." Really? On what authority? Not that granted by 107103-5 on its face, that's for sure. (He tries to gloss over the issue by sneaking the phrase "stickers or magnets" into his statement, but that's a phrase of his own invention.)

Baker's ribbon emblem was apparently a magnet, not a sticker, although the issue is clouded because both terms are often used interchangeably in the same article.

But regardless of which it was, it appears Baker was allowed to have it on his truck until another employee complained. So Frohnmayer's claim that Oregon state vehicles have "never been allowed to exhibit items of personal expression" is simply not true.

They're allowed until someone raises a fuss.

At UO, as Michelle Malkin reader James Saker notes, that someone is likely to be against the war. And, apparently, against supporting our troops.

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And your point is...?

In the middle of hyperventilating about the horrors of a second Bush administration, Mike Carlton, in The Sydney Morning Herald, writes:

THE war in Iran is under way already, if we believe Seymour Hersh, the distinguished investigative writer for The New Yorker magazine.

Hersh reported this week that clandestine US special forces have been on the ground there, targeting nuclear facilities to be bombed whenever Bush feels the time is ripe.

"The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran's ability to go nuclear," he wrote, quoting reliable intelligence sources.

"But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership."
Gee, Mike, you say that like it's a bad thing.

I'm not too comfortable with the thought of a hardline Islamic government in possession of nuclear weapons -- especially one that is supporting insurgent attacks on our troops.

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There is a difference

The news media commonly conflate Palestinian attacks and Israeli responses into a so-called "cycle of violence". Nevertheless, differences between the two sides are difficult to ignore.

Take, for example, their responses to the scourge of AIDS.

Palestinians, upon learning of this fatal disease, saw it as an opportunity to make new, more lethal suicide bomb vests tainted with AIDS-infected blood.

Israelis, as Israel National News reports, are busy curing it:

HIV/AIDS Treatment Breakthrough
18:08 Jan 23, '05

While AIDS treatments using the conventional cocktail of medications can kill the virus, the affected immune system continues to kill healthy cells. Therefore, researchers from the Hadassah University Medical Center and the Weizmann Institute of Science decided to focus on developing a vaccine that would arrest this auto-immune destructive process. What they came up with significantly strengthens the body's immune system against the effects of HIV infection...

"Our aim was not to prevent infection by the virus but to strengthen the immune system and use our vaccination treatment as a complement to the antiviral medication," said Dr. Rivka Abulafia-Lapid. "Since the auto-immune process continues even after elimination of the virus, the vaccine that we have developed is directed to stop this destructive process. In other words, our vaccine complements the cocktail of medications, to stop the body from continuing to destroy itself."
Knowing the pure altruism with which Israeli doctors treat Palestinians -- even those wounded while attacking Israelis -- it is entirely likely that Palestinians will someday benefit from this Israeli breakthrough.

To cast Israelis and Palestinians as morally equivalent is to be willfully blind.

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Can we talk (about me)?

In reacting to the death of TV legend Johnny Carson, most comedians interviewed for this CNN obituary simply said something nice about him. Joan Rivers managed to praise her own washed-up self -- not just once, but twice:

If Carson liked you, you were set. He got the bright comics. He picked the ones who were different, who were smart.
So Rivers is letting us know she's smart. She's one of the different, bright comics. And later, we get this:
We all started on his show. Every solid comedian today really got their break on the Carson show.
Wow, she's not only smart and different, she's solid! Quite impressive for someone whose biggest gig these days is pestering nominees on the red carpet outside the Academy Awards show. (And by extension, I guess that means guys like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, who didn't get their start on The Tonight Show, aren't as "solid" as Rivers.)

In her remarks, Rivers displayed the same lack of class as when she launched her own late-night talk show in 1986 to compete with Carson, the man who launched her career. (It went off the air after 6 lackluster months and Carson never spoke to her again.) The same poor taste is visible on her vacuous website, which hawks tacky trinkets side-by-side with the breathless "Johnny Carson dead at 79!"

Obviously there had been some bad blood between the two of them. But Rivers might have chosen the occasion of Carson's death to apologize, too late, or to simply thank him. Instead, she took the opportunity to pat herself on the back. It's something you just couldn't imagine Johnny Carson doing -- and that's part of the reason he will be missed, and Rivers will be forgotten.

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Dim Dems' Damn Dimes

It looks like Not One Damn Dime Day -- when Americans were urged to avoid spending any money in protest against Bush's inauguration -- has come and gone without a trace.

Like Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs, I decided to deliberately blow a little cash on my ride instead, giving it a full tune-up down at the bike shop. (Of course, I'm in Japan, so my spending won't really impact the U.S. economy, but it still felt good.)

Clearly, however, sensible folks need to stage a separate event to stamp out the idiocy that led to such a completely meaningless gesture.

I suggest a single day on which all Americans are encouraged to refrain from engaging in silly, empty protests against Bush.

The name? We could call it "Not One Dim Dem Day".

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It doesn't get any better than this

Being outraged all the time can really work up a thirst.

So, let's take a break with some of the world's funniest beer commercials.

I'll be right here with more indignant rants when you get back.

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Warmed over

In my previous post, I suggested that we should be skeptical of those who claim they have incontroverible proof that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming.

Yet lots of scientists claim that global warming is already underway. How can they all be so sure?

Well, at least some of them aren't. They don't care that the research they've done is inconclusive and the models they rely on are unreliable. They consider their mission to be not the gathering of data and testing of hypotheses, but the advocacy of policy and the generation of hysteria.

Don't take my word for it. Ask federal hurricane research scientist Chris Landsea.

Last week, Landsea resigned from a U.N.-sponsored climate assessment team, saying the team's leader had politicized their research:

Chris Landsea, who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurricane research division in Miami, said Monday that he would not contribute to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's chapter on atmospheric and surface climate conditions because the lead author had told reporters global warming contributed to intense Atlantic hurricanes last year.

In a letter he posted on the Internet, Landsea said there was little evidence to justify Kevin Trenberth's assertion in October that in light of current warming trends, "the North Atlantic hurricane season of 2004 may well be a harbinger of the future."

"It is beyond me why my colleagues would utilize the media to push an unsupported agenda that recent hurricane activity has been due to global warming," he wrote. "My view is that when people identify themselves as being associated with the IPCC and then make pronouncements far outside current scientific understandings that this will harm the credibility of climate change science and will in the longer term diminish our role in public policy...

I personally cannot in good faith contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound."
Landsea's complete letter can be found here.

The Washington Post claims that Landsea's resignation "underscores a larger battle over what role scientists should play in one of the decade's most contentious environmental debates."

I'm not sure exactly what role scientists should play in debates on public policy, but I do know that any contribution they do make should be based on good science. Otherwise, their unique value -- their ability to increase our understanding of the natural world -- is lost. They become little more than lobbyists in lab coats.

Then again, that may be the direction in which environmental science is heading. As the Post reporter notes:
The IPCC, which has already concluded that human activity accounts for much of the warming the earth has experienced over 50 years, is seeking to evaluate how and why the climate is changing. It will issue its next report in 2007, basing its findings on a consensus-oriented process that involves hundreds of scientists as well as senior diplomatic officials.
Can someone explain to me why "diplomatic officials" should be involved in the process of reaching scientific findings? Or why that process should be "consensus-oriented", rather than, say, fact-oriented?

As author Michael Crichton once noted,
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
In a way, it's entirely fitting that the team from which Landsea resigned is sponsored by the U.N., an organization that has proven quite adept at conjuring up its own version of reality -- such as the illusion that it is playing a vital role in delivering tsunami relief.

It's depressing to see the U.N.'s cynical smoke-and-mirrors hucksterism oozing beyond the political sphere and into science's pristine realm.

Truth doesn't need a good PR man.

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Smoking: Good for your health

I'm not a smoker (beyond, very rarely, a cigar over drinks) and I don't plan to start. The link to lung cancer seems pretty clear.

However, Reuters reports on a Swedish study that found smoking lowers the risk for Parkinson's disease:

The authors found that both current smokers and past smokers were less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than people who had never smoked.

The association was stronger in men than in women and the risk of Parkinson's decreased as the number of cigarettes smoked per week increased, the authors note in the Annals of Neurology.

As to the reason for the association, the researchers note that cigarette smoke may contains chemicals that protect nerve cells from damage.
The researchers conjecture that complex interactions between genetic mechanisms and the carcinogens in inhaled smoke may be responsible for the reduced Parkinson's risk.

It's just another reminder that we don't have everything figured out yet -- and to be skeptical of those who claim they do.

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The thanks we get, Pt. 5

NOTE: Previous posts in this series are here: (1) (2) (3) (4).

It's a fact that the U.N. and various NGO's simply don't have all the logistical capability needed to move and support their personnel around the world.

So, how do these groups sustain themselves in far-off tsunami-hit locations like Sumatra? Sometimes, they turn to the U.S. military.

And they're about as appreciative for the help as you'd expect. A U.S. Navy officer serving with the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group recounts his experience with relief "workers" aboard the Lincoln earlier this month:

As I went through the breakfast line, I overheard one of the U.N. strap-hangers, a longhaired guy with a beard, make a sarcastic comment to one of our food servers. He said something along the lines of “Nice china, really makes me feel special,” in reference to the fact that we were eating off of paper plates that day. It was all I could do to keep from jerking him off his feet and choking him, because I knew that the reason we were eating off paper plates was to save dishwashing water so that we would have more water to send ashore and save lives. That plus the fact that he had no business being there in the first place...

When they got to Sumatra with no plan, no logistics support and no five-star hotels to stay in, they threw themselves on the mercy of the U.S. Navy, which, unfortunately, took them in. I guess our senior brass was hoping for some good PR since this was about the time that the U.N. was calling the United States “stingy” with our relief donations.

As a result of having to host these people, our severely over-tasked SH-60 Seahawk helos, which were carrying tons of food and water every day to the most inaccessible places in and around Banda Aceh, are now used in great part to ferry these “relief workers” from place to place every day and bring them back to their guest bedrooms on the Lincoln at night. Despite their avowed dedication to helping the victims, these relief workers will not spend the night in-country, and have made us their guardians by default.

When our wardroom treasurer approached the leader of the relief group and asked him who was paying the mess bill for all the meals they ate, the fellow replied, "We aren’t paying, you can try to bill the U.N. if you want to."
There's more, all of it sickening, including the diversion of military resources to fly the likes of Dan Rather's entourage and MTV "reporters" around the region, the hostility of the Indonesian government itself, and the detrimental impact of the relief effort on our military preparedness.

Many countries around the world have given generously in the wake of December's tsunamis. Is there any country besides the U.S., though, who would give so much -- not just in money, but in time, effort, and resources -- while simultaneously being so offhandedly disparaged and exploited?

It's a good thing for the people of Indonesia that America's generosity outweighs her pride. It's unfortunate, however, that some of that generosity is being squandered on caring for self-serving reporters and so-called relief workers who can't pull their own weight.

(A Riding Sun helmet nod to gbfan001 for the tip)

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The Need for a Whole Lotta Speed

Step 1: Install jet turbine engine in motorcycle

Step 2: Bet friend you can outrace his MiG fighter plane

Step 3: Profit

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Chill, Pilz

Peter Pilz, a leading member of Austria's environmentalist Green Party, said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should be stripped of his Austrian citizenship for allowing the execution of convicted murderer Donald Beardslee.

Beardslee was executed by lethal injection after Schwarzenegger rejected a clemency petition seeking to commute his death sentence to life without parole, and the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeals.

Pilz whined:

Schwarzenegger is possibly the most prominent Austrian abroad, and he shapes the picture of Austria. I don't want that picture shaped by someone who commits state murder. That does not correspond to the political culture of this country.
Arnie's mistake appears to be that he allowed the execution of a man who actually deserved to die. If only he had sent Jews to Hitler's death camps instead, he could have been Austria's president.

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Paying the price

The Christian Science Monitor observes that those who say the U.N. and NGO's are having little or no measurable effect on the lives of tsunami vicitms are not quite correct: They're driving up prices, making everyday goods costly or impossible to buy for the local population.

Increased demand and reduced supply have already caused the prices of some staples to creep up in the wake of the disaster, with small and large market vendors saying that some of the most popular items, like rice and sugar, have risen between 10 and 20 percent. Peanuts and palm oil are up more than 50 percent. The higher food prices squeeze the budgets of ordinary Acehnese, whose average per capita income in 2002 was slightly more than $250 a year.

The sharpest increase by far has been in goods and services purchased by aid workers and organizations, such as sport utility vehicles, drivers, translators, and space in homes. Before the disaster, a car and driver that might have cost almost $50 per day in Banda Aceh might now go for almost $100 per day. Scalpers are buying large amounts of plane tickets and selling them for at least 30 percent above normal prices, and a four-bedroom house often rents for over $100 per day.
Previously, I suggested that U.N. interference in coordination of operations largely conducted by military forces of the U.S. and other nations would have a detrimental effect by slowing down relief delivery and by squandering valuable funds.

I have to admit though, I never thought to add inflation to the list of negative consequences.

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A crack in the dam

Previous posts here have looked at the worldwide trend toward democratic rule, the lengths to which people will go to participate in the democratic process, and how North Korea's state-controlled media permit none of the freedom of expression necessary for such a system to exist in that benighted country.

Yet time waits for no man, not even the Dear Leader, and it now appears that not even Kim Jong-il can keep his people from demanding their freedom:

The first known visual evidence of dissent within the world's most secretive state emerged yesterday when video footage taken in a North Korean factory showed a portrait of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, defaced with graffiti demanding freedom and democracy.

The 35-minute video clip, said to have been taken in November, was posted on the website of an opposition group based in South Korea. It shows a poster of Kim scrawled over with the words: "Down with Kim Jong-il. Let's all rise to drive out the dictatorial regime." ...

The Citizens' Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul, said the act of dissent against the paranoid leadership of the totalitarian state and its broadcast abroad suggested the first signs of an attempt to forge a domestic movement against Kim.

Such an act would be considered a grave crime in the North and would mean a death sentence without trial for the perpetrator, said Do Hee-youn, who heads the group. "It's no ordinary group of people who took this video," he told Reuters news agency.
I can't begin to grasp the courage it took to do what those protesters did. And when the time finally comes for them to take a stand, I'm proud to know that, as President Bush made clear in his inaguration address, they'll have our support:
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

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Insult to injury

It's bad enough when you get hit by a taxi while crossing the street in Tokyo and it knocks you into a coma for a whole month.

It's even worse when the Red Sox, the team you've loyally supported your whole life, pick that one month to mount an unprecedented comeback from a 0-3 ALCS deficit to beat the Yankees and go on to win the World Series for the first time since 1918.

Oh well, there's always next year.

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Off to a great start

Reuters gets off to a great start covering Bush's second term. Below is their coverage of his inauguration, interspersed with what I suppose reporter Steve Holland was thinking as he wrote it:

Bush Sworn in for 2nd Term, Vows Push for Freedom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush pledged to work to heal a country divided by the Iraq war and vowed to advance freedom against "rulers of outlaw regimes" as he was sworn in for a second term on Thursday.

Bush, whose 52 percent approval rating is the lowest for a returning president since Richard Nixon in 1973, said in his inaugural address, "We have known divisions, which must be healed to move forward in great purposes, and I will strive in good faith to heal them."
Lowest approval rating since Nixon! No mandate for you!
The plain-spoken Bush also had a blunt message for leaders who oppose democracy, as he spoke behind a bulletproof shield on a wintry day before thousands gathered at the U.S. Capitol and millions watching the display of flag-waving pageantry on television.
Hiding behind a bulletproof shield! Where's Mr. Macho Flightsuit Guy now, huh?
"The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: 'Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it,"' he said in his address, which a heckler tried to interrupt before being escorted away.
Ugh, here we go again with the God talk. But at least he got heckled during his inauguration speech! PWN3D!!!
He said advancing the ideals of self-government across the world "is the urgent requirement of our nation's security."

Bush underscored the importance of U.S. allies at a time when many world leaders are concerned about a second four-year term for the Republican president and feel alienated by what they see as his go-it-alone foreign policy and the Iraq war.

"All the allies of the United States can know: We honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help," he said.
Looks like Chimpy is finally wising up. Once we get France and Germany on our side, Al Qaeda's days are numbered, baby!
After Bush, 58, was sworn in as the 43rd U.S. president, protesters swore at him.

Along part of the motorcade route from the Capitol back to the White House, Bush's heavily guarded limousine passed sections of jeering demonstrators holding signs like "worst ever." Police fired pepper spray to disperse demonstrators who hurled debris and tried to break through a security fence.
Finally, some genuine emotion! What a relief from all that empty "flag-waving pageantry".
Security was extremely tight for the first presidential inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and Bush only got out of his limousine near the White House.
Hiding again, Mr. Top Gun? WIMP!
Mostly along the route, however, there were thousands of cheering supporters, many of whom paid to get good places to see the parade.
See? Bush favors the wealthy again! It costs money just to stand in the street and watch the guy!


Essentially, what happened here is that despite one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, the vast majority of people at the inauguration cheered Bush. But we don't get to hear that from Reuters until it's made clear that:

-- He's got low approval ratings.

-- He's concerned that people might try to assassinate him.

-- Some guy heckled him during his speech.

-- He's crawling back to the allies he dissed in his first term.

-- Protestors jeered him and threw stuff at his motorcade.

Even then, we're reminded that "many" (how many?) Bush supporters are rich enough to blow their cash on getting a good spot to stand and watch his parade go by.

Looks like it's going to be a long four years.

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This is election fraud.

There's a relatively famous scene from the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee in which Mick Dundee and love interest Sue are threatened by a mugger with a small switchblade. They have the following exchange:

Sue: Mick, give him your wallet.

Mick: What for?

Sue: He's got a knife.

Mick (brandishing a massive machete): That's not a knife. This is a knife.
Listening to the petty claims of fraud tossed around in the wake of Bush's Ohio victory -- We had to wait in line! We were intimidated! -- and comparing them to the scandals surrounding other elections around the world, I feel like Mick Dundee looking at that tiny switchblade.

In Ukraine, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned by his opponent, but stayed in the race. After his supporters rallied in the streets for days on end, he won a re-vote held because of massive fraud, including government thugs storming the polling places.

Armed thugs also made an appearance in the recent election of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, when Fatah gunmen invaded a polling station, shooting their rifles into the air and saying their relatives were denied a vote.

In Iraq, enemies of democracy are murdering Iraqi citizens in a wave of bombings and assassinations, hoping to derail elections altogether. The U.S. is deploying 35,000 troops in Baghdad to protect voters as they head to the polls on January 30.

And in a recent development in a story from last March, it now seems that Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian faked the assassination attempt on himself and running-mate Annette Lu on the eve of the election there, to gain sympathy votes.

American elections can and must be improved. They need to run more smoothly and inspire more confidence in the results, not least because irregularities and inconveniences provide fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. But after looking at what people around the world endure to participate in the democratic process -- and remembering that millions of others still can't -- waiting in line a few hours to vote doesn't seem so bad.

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Shouldn't they take the plane?

KCNA, North Korea's official state news agency, reports:

Koreans in U.S. Vow to Take Van in Reunification Movement
Pyongyang, January 19 (KCNA)

Representatives of 17 organizations of Koreans in the United States including the Federation of Koreans in the western part of the United States and the People for Opening Tomorrow reportedly held a New Year's meeting on Jan. 14 at which they declared they would take the van in the movement for Korea's reunification.
Okay, but they better drop it off with a full tank of gas when they're done.

Technically, "van" is an old-fashioned abbreviation of "vanguard", but only KCNA ever uses it that way nowadays.

Somehow, I doubt any Korean living in the U.S. used such weird, stilted English. I just can't see it: "Gentlemen, in the movement for Korea's reunification, let us declare that we will take the van!"

No, that sounds like the kind of English written by someone who is looking it up a word at a time in the dictionary, who has little to no contact with native speakers, probably because he lives in a pariah state that has closed itself off from most of the world.

Note that the writer can't even verify that the meeting he's writing about even took place: he says it "reportedly" happened, but he's not 100% sure. Unusually for a news article (but not a North Korean one), there are no quotations of what anybody involved in the story actually said.

That means this writer got his information at second or third hand -- if, that is, he didn't simply fabricate the entire thing. Notably, a Google search for the group "People for Opening Tomorrow" yields zero results.

We Americans like to complain about our biased media, but sometimes I think we forget how good we really have it.

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I almost died this morning.

I was riding to work the same way I do every day.

As I headed along Sakurada-dori to my office, a truck driver in the oncoming lane decided to ignore his red light and make a right-hand turn across my lane onto a side street.

This was not a case of trying to "beat the light"; it was red for him before he even started his turn.

I managed to avoid locking up the rear wheel and came to a stop about 1 foot away from slamming head-on into the side of his truck.

He continued onto the side street as if nothing had happened. Angry at almost having been killed, I followed and honked until he pulled over. I asked him what his problem was in the harshest Japanese I know, which is not all that harsh, so I threw in some New York English for good measure.

In response, he gave me the standard shrugged-shoulders, sheepish "sumimasen" look.

I rode off -- what else was there to do?

As a biker, I try to be prepared to react to the mistakes of other drivers. But why do they have to make such big ones?

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Custom paint job

Bikers just can't help customizing their rides, and I feel the same way about my blog.

I'm making a few design and layout changes to Riding Sun so it doesn't look like every other blog by someone who chose the same Blogger template.

Although I'm using style sheets, some of the changes (mainly involving block quotes) have to be done on a post-by-post basis, so it will take some time to finish the whole project.

I hope you enjoy the new look.

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It's an investment, honey.

This 2004 New York Times article notes that Japanese bikes, once seen as unlikely to appreciate in value, are becoming much sought-after by collectors.

I wonder what my customized X-4, discontinued in the 2003 model year by Honda, will be worth some day?

I need to show that Times article to my girlfriend and explain that I'm not throwing away all my money on my motorcycle -- it's really an investment.

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End times

In 2001, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, Jonah Goldberg wrote that terror attacks in the name of Islamic fundamentalism were not a true challenge to the spread of liberal democracy, but the last-gasp death throes of those who opposed democracy's inevitable advance.

Now, with election fraud reversed in Ukraine, fair elections completed in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, and another election on the way in Iraq, Goldberg argues persuasively that we are finally witnessing what Francis Fukuyama famously called "the end of history": Mankind's universal recognition of liberal democracy as the best way to organize society.

The expansive, decent version of democracy will come to the Middle East and the rest of the world — eventually. If the Iraqi elections fail, even their failure will reinforce the desire for successful elections. Many complain that in Iraq the process is too bloody or too expensive, but these critics are determined to make the perfect the enemy of the good. At the end of the tunnel we, or our children, will look back on America's role as the catalyst for democracy, and we'll be proud that we were on the right side of history and its end.
Fukuyama coined his phrase back in 1990, so the end of history is taking almost as long to play out as the end of The Return of the King.

But we're getting there.

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Man, those guys are flexible!

The Associated Press reports:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself near a major road used by Israeli settlers and soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday...
Couldn't he have just waited for his 72 virgins?

NOTE: I won't be surprised if someone edits the story later on. It also appeared here and here in its original form.

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Rock and Awe

New York Magazine and The Washington Times each take a look at conservative cover band Coalition of the Willing.

True, it's made up of a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, two business and military consultants, and the Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. But after the spectacle of Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, the Dixie Chicks, and other artists railing against Bush, it's reassuring to see that pop music and conservative views can mix.

According to band member Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who gave up a professional career playing with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers to become a defense consultant to the Pentagon:

In the seventies and eighties, the coolest thing was to be in a rock band. The coolest thing now is to be in the fight against terrorism.
Rock on, dude.

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Hot spot

What country do you think has the most complete wireless internet access?

America? Japan? South Korea? Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It's the island of Mauritius, or at least it will be soon. As of March, Mauritius will become the first and only nation in the world entirely covered by a wireless broadband network, based on WiMAX technology.


Welcome, Roth Report readers, and thanks to Wes Roth for the link. More on the Mauritius wireless network can be found here and here.

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France defeats Germany

The French don't get a lot of respect these days, and deservedly so -- whether it's because of their rampant anti-semitism, their ineffectual attempts to aid tsunami victims, their troops deliberately firing on unarmed civillians in the Ivory Coast, or their officials taking bribes from Saddam Hussein.

So it's only fair to give them credit when they do something right.

Much as I hate to admit it, the French kicked all kinds of ass in this year's Paris-Dakar Rally. French rider Cyril Despres took first place in the motorcycle division. And his countrymen Stephane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand finished first and second in the car division, beating German Jutta Kleinschmidt, who took third. It was Peterhansel's second win in a row.

Cynics, however, will note that the French one-two finish in the car division involved running away as fast as possible from a German trying to catch them -- a discipline in which French excellence has never been in doubt.

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Peace out

The drive back to Tokyo from Nozawa Onsen takes about three or four hours, and it seems longer if you left your iPod at home. So there was plenty of time for me and one of my fellow snowboarders to have a long debate about globalization.

He works on the Peace Boat, which is "a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages." Its purpose is "to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment."

Now, he's a really cool guy, and I like hanging out with him. But as you might expect, his ideas on economics are... interesting.

Key points:

(1) Capitalism is unsustainable because natural resources are limited.

(2) Wealth cannot be created, because it derives from possession of limited natural resources.

(3) To make poor people less poor, we must make rich people less rich.

(4) America is not really a land of opportunity, and immigrants who go there thinking it is are mistaken.

Where to start?

With the concept of free-market capitalism being the most efficient system for rationing limited resources?

With the idea that advances in technology increase productivity and create wealth?

With the fact that poor people benefit when rich people give them jobs?

Or with an immigrant who instantly became one of the wealthiest Americans?

Perhaps the best place to start is with the irony of an anti-capitalist, pro-environment group taking rich tourists around the world on a massive fuel-burning cruise ship.

Fossil fuels for me, it would seem, but not for thee.

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Monster watch

They've got a popular new program, but it looks like this software company is asking for trouble from litigation-happy Monster Cable. Expect a friendly call from their lawyers any day now, guys.

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The name game

Here's a convenience store up at Nozawa Onsen, called "Big Mouth" -- a good name, I guess for a shop selling snack food.

The clever bit is that, in Japanese, the English word "Mouth" sounds just like "Mouse". Both are transliterated into Japanese katakana as マウス.

So, the Big Mouth store has chosen a big mouse as its mascot.

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