Friday, September 24, 2010

Memo to Democrats: Fox News Is Not Causing Your Problems

Matt Drudge is.

Yeah, that guy with the hat.

The Drudge Report is not entirely in the pocket of conservatives, or even of Republicans. The site conducted a widely-noted flirtation with Hillary Clinton when she was running for president, and was not a particular friend of the McCain campaign. In fact, the Clinton campaign leaked news items to Drudge, according to a report in The New York Times, if you can believe that.

However, since the election Mr. Drudge’s selection of news items to headline and highlight has been severely slanted against the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats.

Today provides an excellent example. He has chosen to highlight Stephen Colbert’s disastrous appearance before a House immigration subcommittee at the invitation of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D.-Cal.). His leering visage appears above Drudge’s headline of the moment “THE COLBERT CONGRESS.” The upper left list of related links reads as follows:

       ...tries to enter images from his colonoscopy into congressional record
       Sarcastically Argues For Farm Workers...
       Makes 'Gay Iowans' Joke...
       Gets 7 Armed-Guard Escort...
       Shock: Even DC reporters declare Colbert to be out of line...

Stephen Colbert testifying before Congress today

Appearing to confirm, as though confirmation were needed, the thoroughgoing unseriousness of the Democratic congress in considering serious issues.

But, you may say, surely Mr. Drudge, one guy who offers no opinions of his own and a website devoid of content, just a bunch of links, cannot be as influential as Fox News and its popular line-up throughout the day.  And it is true that there is only a very little original reportage on the site – less, it seems to me, than there used to be (during the Lewinsky scandal, for example).

Well, let’s take a look. Bearing in mind that I’m not a savvy interpreter of ratings or website hits, the raw numbers nevertheless strike me as extremely interesting.

The website TV by the Numbers keeps track of cable news ratings and viewership numbers. It reports that on Thursday, September 23, Fox News’s viewership looked like this:

       Daytime: 1,177,000
       Prime time: 2,285,000
       25-54 daytime: 299,000
       25-54 prime time: 574,000
       35-64 daytime: 555,000
       35-64 prime time: 1,070,000

While Fox News far, far outstrips each of CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and HLN in viewers, if you add up the viewers of those demonstrably liberal outlets (with the possible exception of HLN, formerly CNN Headline News and CNN2) in the various categories, you will find that they are roughly equivalent to Fox News’s viewership. (So, as a stand-alone proposition, query whether Fox News has a disproportionate effect on the nation’s cable news viewers. A topic for another day.)

In any event, certainly a lot of folks watching conservative old Fox News.

Down in the far bottom right of The Drudge Report, where folks seldom venture, there is a list of statistics for visitors to the site. As I sit here composing, the number of visitors for the past 24 hours is:


Or well over ten times Fox News’s primetime viewership, and, even assuming that the daytime and primetime viewers are entirely different people, almost eight times its total viewers.

Well yeah, you say, but TV news has a much greater impact than internet news.

That it might. And those 27 million includes clickers from all over the world, from places where Fox News does not appear. But I had a feeling that Drudge drives a lot of what cable news ends up highlighting during its broadcast day. I went in search of support, and I found the following fascinating series of quotes in an article by Matthew Felling appearing on October 23, 2007 on, of all places, the CBS News website. Here is a sample from several observers of political reportage:

"The most interesting part about Drudge's reach is how it speaks to the laziness of many reporters and cable television, in particular. You can rest assured that, once a story is linked to on Drudge, it will be on MSNBC, Fox, CNN and the rest."

"Drudge has an enormous effect on political media – primarily on the shallower variety, like cable TV and some daily newspapers. To some extent it's just because he (and his helpers) obsessively scan the wires and other media, plus he has a million tipsters, so he's often the first to have some good new story. So people check him a lot because he's often the first to bring something small but important to a larger audience and that's a valid service. But there's also some completely irrational way in which he's driven media coverage—again, especially cable TV—which I really think to some degree has to do with the psychological effect of his big screaming tabloid headlines."

"I think Matt Drudge has tremendous influence inside and outside the media. It's no secret that his site is monitored in network newsrooms. What he includes, how he writes his headlines, and the stories he links to, can affect what shows up on the air. And the campaigns know it. The strategists see the value of getting a story on Drudge, which can then end up on cable or broadcast news shows."

"I think Matt Drudge has tremendous influence inside and outside the media. It's no secret that his site is monitored in network newsrooms. What he includes, how he writes his headlines, and the stories he links to, can affect what shows up on the air. And the campaigns know it. The strategists see the value of getting a story on Drudge, which can then end up on cable or broadcast news shows."

"There is no doubt that Drudge has become a force in news-media decision-making. In my experience, many talk-show hosts – including Rush – often read from Drudge on the air, making it a national bulletin board. I'm guessing that media titans now see a story splashed across Drudge as a story that will be harder to ignore, a story that's going to be "water-cooler buzz," although few have water coolers they stand around. Stories that are 'blessed' by Drudge are more likely to be noticed by major media."

So, lefties, if you’re looking for a villain, don’t start with that crew on Fox & Friends in the morning, the succession of blond anchors during the day, or O’Reilly and Hannity at night.

Because -- putting aside your unmeritorious political positions -- your public relations troubles start with Matt Drudge.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do Y'All Know How Bad Things Are in Greece?

Michael Lewis does. He’s the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and, most recently, a great book on the Wall Street meltdown awhile back, The Big Short. He’s got an article in the recent Vanity Fair on the destruction of the Greek economy called "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds."  

I recommend that you read the whole astounding article. Here is an excerpt:

In addition to its roughly $400 billion (and growing) of outstanding government debt, the Greek number crunchers had just figured out that their government owed another $800 billion or more in pensions. Add it all up and you got about $1.2 trillion, or more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek. Against $1.2 trillion in debts, a $145 billion bailout was clearly more of a gesture than a solution. And those were just the official numbers; the truth is surely worse. “Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piƱata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

The Trojan Horse -- beware of gifts bearing Greeks

I do not wish to suggest that the United States is likely to become like Greece anytime soon. I do suggest that democracies who wish to remain democracies pay some heed to the growth of the public sector. Which is set to explode under the policies of the current President. The last couple of Republican presidents didn’t do us any favors in this regard, either, so there is plenty of blame to go around.

I have nothing against the Greek. I thank him for much of what has become Western Civilization, which is really an excellent civilization. A first-rate civilization, and much of it started with the ancestors of this beautiful people.

But I am telling you, Cool Hot Centrists, there is something in the human condition that inspires its constituents to say to themselves, if we are promised something, we are entitled to it even if the keeping of that promise is devastating not only to our countrymen, but to the world into which our descendants will be born. You see it here in the demands of unions and all groups benefiting from the federal dole, which numbers are alarmingly large (although, thanks to a startlingly principled Republican Congress during the Clinton Administration, and Bill Clinton’s shrewd read of the American gestalt, is smaller than it could be).  You see it in the truly desperate condition of the California state government.

I don’t wish to be wearisome on the topic of our unsatisfactory President, I truly don’t. But Greece is the ultimate endpoint of the European Model of the role of government. It is a model that our President admires, at least if you take his advocacy of the present version – that is, the enacted version – of healthcare reform as evidence. The percentage of our economy accounted for by governmental activity – and that means persons employed by the federal government, and the taxes needed to support them and their benefits – is set to grow markedly under him.

The Democrats also seek to expand the influence of labor unions, as well as their ability to organize employees in businesses where their effect is unlikely to be any less baleful than their effect on the auto industry and local and state governments.

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio said this the other day:  "This election is nothing less than a referendum of our identity as a nation and as a people."  I have misgivings about the Tea Party, but this much they have absolutely right.

Think about it. Just think about it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do You Remember the Moment? No, Really, When Was It?

There are a lot of folks out there who still strongly support President Obama. There are also folks out there who thought him an irredeemable fraud from the moment of his nomination and before.

This article is not for them.

It’s for those who supported him and welcomed the Democratic hegemony that trailed him into office and now don’t like either one. It’s even for folks like me who didn’t vote for him but thought there was a fairish chance he would govern practically, somewhat like Bill Clinton; or folks (also a little like me) who found his stylish sophistication a welcome change that carried with the possibility for an enhanced American profile in the world. That, combined with bulletproof Democratic legislative majorities, guaranteed at a minimum that the era of extremely disappointing Republican rule was over.

My question for that rather large and growing cohort of Obama/Democrat apostates is – when did you know? What event finally convinced you that Obama and the Democrats (who were unanimously following his lead) had clearly broken faith with their promise and were not going to turn back to the center?

Here’s my example from the latest Bush administration. I’ll bet I share it with a lot of people who voted for G.W. a couple of times but gradually grew disgusted with his spending, his inattention to the military situation in the Middle East, and his failure to communicate clearly his . . . well, just about everything.

If there is one presidential gift that keeps on giving, it’s Supreme Court justice appointments. When Sandra Day O’Conner retired, President Bush’s base saw that rarest of opportunities to replace a mostly-unfriendly and at best unreliable vote with a much more solid jurist, an asset that could pay ideological dividends to the Republican core for years to come. There were many distinguished candidates, some of them women. But what did Bush do? He walked out of his office, spotted White House counsel Harriet Miers, said “you’ll do,” and walked right back in.

Harriet Miers and President Bush

It may not have been quite that casual – he might have run it by Karl Rove – but the decision couldn’t have been given much more care than that. It was a terrible pick. Miers and her views were unknown. She had crafted a successful but careful career as a Texas lawyer. Abortion, one of the most important issues to the base – no idea where she stood. No judicial experience. She was a woman for a “woman’s seat,” apparently her sole recommendation. Tokenism plus cronyism, sheesh. It was George W.’s equivalent to George H.W.’s reneging on his “read my lips – no new taxes” pledge. The Miers nomination pretty much proved to anyone still prepared to give Bush the benefit of the doubt that the man simply did not give a damn – or that if he did, he was giving altogether the wrong kind of damn.  The entire right and much of the Cool Hot Center revolted and Bush was humliated into withdrawing her nomination.  A far superior candidate (Samuel Alito) took her place.

Many pundits have speculated on the cause of President Obama’s breathtaking decline. (I hesitate to call it a “fall” – I’m not at all sure the guy won’t make a comeback, and sooner than anyone might think. He’s been formidable and can be again, especially if the Republicans continue their flirtation with Tea Party peckerwoods like Sarah Palin as serious presidential possibilities.) Amazingly, Obama is lazier than either Bush. But if he rallies, look out.) You hear a lot of chatter about the failure of the massive stimulus to create jobs, but I hold with those who believe the discontent runs much deeper – people feel defrauded generally, and they absolutely disbelieve the promises made for the President’s policies.

Yeah, but when did you know that the awfulness of O/Dems’ first year was only going to intensify? When did you know that they simply had to go?

I have a candidate.

I feel for President Obama just a little. (I mean, it’s really a tiny little feeling, itty bitty thing.) He put his legislative agenda in the hands of two of the least appealing political figures of our time: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  Pelosi is tough but not smart; Reid is – I don’t know, it just seems like the guy needs more sleep or maybe an adjustment to his spectacles prescription.

First Lady Michelle Obama demonstrates appropriate presidential obeisance to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

It was Pelosi who gave us that crystallizing moment on March 9, 2010. Heavens, let’s not take it out of context:

"You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.

"But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

There it was, in one sentence, in one phrase. And this was not a casual misstatement or an offhand response to a reporter’s question. This appeared in remarks prepared for delivery to the Legislative Conference for National Association of Counties. Rep. Pelosi is proud of this statement.  She issued a press release and you can still find it on her website.  Now in fairness: If you read the whole statement, you might conclude that her intention here was to say that the blessings of healthcare reform will only be fully appreciated when it is enacted.

But recall that this statement was issued at a time when it had become apparent that legislators themselves in fact did not know what was in the healthcare bill, could not explain its operation, fled from questions about its contents, had to be bribed to vote for it (Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's shocking abandonment of princple was only a couple of months old) and had not, in fact, even bothered to dip into its 2,409 pages to discover the monstrous new bureacracy that would have charge of a huge chunk of the U.S. economy.    (Source: Republican Congressman Kevin Brady’s staff. If the accuracy of this chart has been challenged, I haven’t been able to find it. Brady has said that this is only a partial chart containing only about a third of the plan’s Medusan entanglements. (Actually, he didn’t use the phrase “Medusan entanglements.” That was, uh, me.))

So when Rep. Pelosi said that we have to pass it to find out what’s in it – you know, “away from the fog of controversy” caused by people asking to know what’s in it – she broadcast O/Dems’ fundamental contempt for the deliberative process. It showed their arrogance and indeed, the arrogance of contemporary liberalism, which is no more attractive or justifiable than the arrogance of the right personified in the bad old days by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove (who have in recent years somewhat repented of that attitude). It was disrespectful. And it was myopic – the O/Dems simply saw things wrong. They misread the results of the election. They misread the interest and attention span of the American public. The congressional Democrats misread the nature of Obama’s appeal (so did Obama). And they misread history and the experience of every country (and state – let’s not forget the failing Romneycare in MA) that has ever nationalized healthcare. And, of course, they didn’t even misread the law they passed – the horrors hidden in its labyrinthine prose (and folks, I know a little something about labyrinthine prose) are still being excavated, because they never read it at all.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) (top); Reptilicus (political affiliation unknown)

That was the moment for me. The contempt, the arrogance, the misunderstanding, the regular-style ignorance, and the intentional ignorance – folks, this is how the entrenched political elite thinks. Some Republicans, too. 

Get out the brooms.  And keep them close at hand for 2012.

Nancy Pelosi, President Obama's deluded handmaiden, has done us the favor of explaining the Tea Party in seventeen words.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Invasion of Mexico

Now that I have your attention . . .

(1) I do not favor the invasion of Mexico under the present circumstances or any that are likely to obtain in the next several years, at least.

(2) I like Mexico. I like and admire Mexicans and am very much attracted to Mexican-American culture (art, architecture, chow). I have great empathy for people who leave their native land and language at great risk to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. I am hopeful that Americans can find a reasonable and fair way to solve the problems caused by illegal immigration and the illegals who are already here. I am not heartset against some form of legalization as part of a stern program to regulate our border, which may or may not include a English language requirement, a physical impediment to crossing, and a constitutional redefinition of citizenship. I’m open.

(3) You will not read anything in this article critical of President Obama. The problem to be considered here is not one for which he is responsible, and one he has only marginally worsened. (Oops.) Nor will this post express any views on Arizona's initiatives or those of some of its law enforcement officers.

Sunset on the Rio Grande

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, consider:

What should be the United States' response to the appearance of one or more hostile and aggressive Mexican states on its border?

I'm talking about drug crime. I’m talking about bordering Mexican political subdivisions effectively controlled by criminals whose explicit aim (and present activity) is the invasion of the United States – controlled, that is, by terrorists.

The slaughter in Mexico is horrific and escalating. The speculation surrounding the recent discovery of mass graves is that the victims were hopeful emigrants who refused to join the cartels' program of drug importation into the United States. But if the murder of Mexican citizens on Mexican soil were the only problem, the United States could have little to say about it.

Your Cool Hot Center's concern is the effective control of one or more of those Mexican states – Baja California Norte, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon (barely), and Tamaulipas, west to east -- by drug cartels. Unlike organized crime in the United States, the cartels kill and threaten local law enforcement officials and unfriendly politicians without fear of retribution. Corruption in local police departments and the army is rampant. Officers frequently switch sides and serve to enforce the cartels' control. Elections -- hard to believe the drug lords do not have a voice there as well. The cartels operate their own armies that are well-armed, disciplined, and vicious.  They already control large portions of the Mexican countryside.

I do not know what Mexico or its states are doing to combat the cartels. I believe it is safe to say it is not working.

So:  If it is not already here, the day may soon be upon us when the United States is bordered by Mexican states that are directly or effectively controlled by terrorist organizations against which the Mexican national government is impotent. The terror they practice is aimed at the uninterrupted flow of illegal drugs into the United States.  The national border will not inhibit their inclination to corrupt political subdivisions within the U.S. itself, and it is beyond doubt that they will import their more violent techniques along with the drugs. Hell, they already do so.

The threat is explicitly terroristic. It is not conventional crime, although abetted by murder, torture, and kidnapping. It extends beyond the immediate violence needed to maintain control (and to compete effectively with other cartels) to the sustaining of the American urban ghetto, whose hopelessness and resistance to change is fueled by drugs forced across our borders by the cartels.  It extends to the ruin of lives up and down the American social scale.

So ask yourself: In terms of the death they deal and continue to threaten, their political threat to America, and the effectiveness of their organizations in this quadrant of the globe, how would you rank: (a) al-Qaeda, and (b) Mexican drug cartels?  If you had to think about it, add this parameter:  Choice (b) operate at the largely unprotected border with the United States, and threaten to control the bordering states.

I do not minimize the of Islamist extremism here or worldwide. It is substantial and must be fought. I do feel that the immediate threat to the U.S. mainland represented by al-Qaeda since 9/11 has shown itself to be, in general, spasmodic, amateurish, and so far rather easily deflected. I merely suggest that an explicitly hostile political subdivision on our border engaged in active importation of crime to the United States, enforced by paramilitias, can scarcely be regarded as a lesser threat than an international conspiracy headquartered in the Middle East.  The cartels are effective, successful, and operate actively 24/7 against the United States. The cartels and the drugs they supply have been responsible for the deaths of many more American civilians than al-Qaeda, even counting 9/11, as well as for the massive societal cancers already mentioned.  We felt that the al-Qaeda threat in 2001 justified a massive invasion on the other side of the world. (Come on now, most of us, me included, applauded and continue to applaud the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, if not its admittedly more questionable extension into Iran.)   And speaking of al-Qaeda, what ideological principle would prevent an alliance between it and the cartels? 

And consider our continued ostracism of poor old ruined Cuba, 90 miles away, nowhere near the threat to the U.S. of the drug cartels.

How, then, should the United States respond to a hostile terrorist regime established directly on its border?

A guerrilla war fought by U.S. troops on Mexican soil -- probably at least partly in municipalities -- is unthinkable. U.S. public opinion; world opinion; nominally friendly U.S.-Mexico relations; the explosion in Mexican refugees; the threat to U.S. border residents; the impossibility of judging success and the resultant strong possibility of failure should the cartels simply retreat into the vastness of Mexico. This wouldn't be Black Jack Pershing commanding the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa and his militia (who actually did attack Columbus, New Mexico; The Punitive Expedition, incidentally, failed). (Fun fact: During this period, approximately 140,000 U.S Army and National Guard troops patrolled the Mexican border.) The mind reels.

John J. Pershing and Pancho Villa in less fractious times, two years before the Punitive Expedition

I'd be interested, however, in other possibilities:

(1) Surgical air strikes, in and out. The targets would be drug-lord compounds and any identifiable locations of cartel militias. Cartels gots airplanes, but are bomber- and fighter-deficient. Probably not a lot of sophisticated anti-aircraft hardware. Any incursion of this type would require a widespread recognition of the threat among U.S. citizens nationwide, superb intelligence, and exquisitely nuanced diplomacy with Mexico, if not its government’s explicit endorsement and cooperation.

(2) Joint U.S.-Mexican military operations.

What about escalation and retaliation? Hey, I don't have all the answers. (None, in fact.) One can foresee, however, that even precision attacks aimed solely at drug operations and operators would devastate the Mexican tourism industry to the extent it relies on American travelers. And, of course, there are large numbers of Americans working and living in Mexico – not to mention American assets generally – that would be at a severely heightened risk.

Don’t care for a solution that includes military operations in Mexico? Can’t blame you.   But what should we do?  How have solutions worked for the last 50 years as this threat has grown? I’m not under any illusions that treating the drug cartels as a terrorist political threat to be dealt with militarily and diplomatically rather than as an unusually nasty organized criminal enterprise will end that threat. But somewhere along the line, surely this powerful nation will have to convey the message that a sustained attack by a secret or not-so-secret government on its borders is unacceptable. It might – and if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from me – require us to take actions that would cause other countries to criticize us.

Can Mexico do a better job of fighting this threat within its borders? I’ve considered whether Italy, a country with which Mexico shares a strong Roman Catholic tradition of public morality, might be a useful model for our neighbor. Italy is still shot through with numerous organized crime families, but there is some feeling that the tide is turning there. Progress has come at the price of the assassination of fearless prosecutors like Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, both murdered at the order of now-imprisoned boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina. Public disgust at the authorities' corruption and inaction led to a massive crackdown, the positive results of which continue to date. A difference, of course, would be that the cartels do not share Italian organized crime's (admittedly selective) concept of "honor," which may somewhat limit the mafiosi’s willingness to slaughter civilians in large numbers. The unarmed Mexican populace is understandably cowed in a way that Italian citizens apparently are not. Still, if Mexico is to suppress what amounts to a criminal insurrection in large parts of the countryside – it cannot eradicate it, just as we have not eradicated organized crime in the U.S. – it must start with incorruptible and brave political and military leaders, legislators, prosecutors, judges, and juries. And I would think the Church might offer a few words in support.

The late Giovanni Falcone; Salvatore Riina

On our side of the Rio Grande, we must deal with the demand side -- America's hunger for illegal drugs. I have seen it written that the thing the drug lords fear the most is legalization. (The link goes to an article discussing legalization in Mexico, not the United States. The writer, Johann Hari, believes that Mexican legalization would put an end to the cartels, but does not consider how it would affect export to the United States.)  It is hard to imagine that this would be an acceptable solution in the U.S. I don't know the percentages of cartel profits accounted for by marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, and other chemicals. While the legalization of marijuana is a subject of debate here, legalization of the others is not.

That leaves enforcement and border patrols and fences and tough sheriffs and Arizona legislation and flaccid national political leadership for the past half century and here, gentle Centrists, I must leave you. I’ll throw this out: I ponder whether the current policy of prosecuting from the top down -- getting casual users and freshman criminals to give up the higher-ups -- is going about it wrong. If we start jailing more severely and imposing jumbo fines for even small-quantity possession and party use (and fining parents and legal guardians when Colin and Emily get busted with blow after prom) and putting the brakes on plea bargaining, I wonder whether we might see a withering of that demand and greater difficulty of the cartels in recruiting the foot soldiers in the drug invasion. (Might have to build a few dozen more prisons – Infrastructure! Jobs!)  Legislation more vigorously regulating the massive flow of legally-purchased U.S. arms to Mexico would also seem to be in order.  Don't forget all those little airfields that should immediately come under stricter federal control, and new ones forbidden.  And, of course, there's the border itself. If that isn't a national identifier worthy of federal military protection, then nothing is.

Perhaps the invasion of Mexico starts at home.

*     *     *
Follow Your Cool Hot Center on Twitter:  @CoolHotCenter

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Imposter in the Garden

The Memsahib and I have been delighted with the backyard paradise installed by Cutters Lawn and Landscape.  I've written about Leon, the Test Fish and my deep ambivalence over some pioneering water striders.

Today, the Mem and I were out back doing a fish count.  All were accounted for except Halloween, a tiny deep red fish with black fins.  (Dear, I've seen her since.)   We were remarking over our pleasure that our garden had become a favored destination of hoards of bumblebees.  We noted the handwringing that goes on over bees' lost of habitat in recent decades, and speculations over whether cell-phone towers and other wavy transmitters were disorienting those salutary insects.  We were pleased, as only homeowners who install fake habitats can be, that we have been able, in our modest way, to tip the balance back their way just a little.

I was watching the bumblebees clouding around our blue salvia, when I noticed one that looked a little different.  At first, I thought it was just a large bumblebee, but upon closer inspection I saw that if it was, it wasn't like any of the others.  It was identically black and yellow-gold, and its wings were completely invisible as it flew, but it had -- well, it had a hairy ass.

I realized after watching it for a few minutes that it wasn't a bee at all.  It had the coiled proboscis of a butterfly or moth.  Because it hovered and floated expertly, at first I thought it was a moth of the sphinx variety, but it had the stick-like club-end antennae of a butterfly. 

Of course, I had to know what it was.

I'd like to pause here to say a few words in praise of Google.  There has recently been some speculation that Google, and the Internet in general, is making us dumber, robbing us of the ability to engage in leisurely reading and thinking necessary for learning.  (See this recent article in The Atlantic.)  Maybe so.  I judge that it's making me smarter.  I know my insect and especially my butterfly-and-moth books inside and out and I've never seen anything like this.  Since I had no idea what I was looking for, I despaired of  devising search terms that would yield useful hits.  "moth black yellow" seemed pretty useless to me, and then I hit on it:  "bumblebee mimic moth." 

I had the answer in seconds:  It is a snowberry clearwing moth

Looking like this on our salvia:

It is indeed a variety of sphinx moth, perhaps better known as hummingbird moths, closely related to the moths (underwings and hawkmoths) that one sees only at night, looking like ghostly hummingbirds (and about the same size), especially favoring petunias and the like. 

I regret to report that their larva can be hell on tomatoes. 

Anyway, we welcome this fake bumblebee to our fake paradise, close on the banks of our fake pond.

Now, if I only knew what a snowberry is.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Farewell, AOL, But I Doubt It

I got my first and only personal email account somewhere a little less than 20 years ago --, named for a parody band I had with Lou Nigra and Ed Kassel, Lower Wacker Overdrive, that took its name from Lower Wacker Drive that ran there by the Chicago River.  I even continue to pay the 23.90 per month so I can have dialup capability.

Over the years, AOL has improved its email.

With each successive improvement, normal email functionality has deteriorated.

With the latest major overhaul, it has finally become unbearable to use.

Perhaps you other few AOL email users have not had my experience.  Let's see, what has the lastest round of improvements given me:

   --   Addresses no longer autocomplete.

   --  When signing into email, it now always reads "0 New Messages," even though I may have a couple dozen.

   --   If you don't have your recipient's email memorized, you click "TO:" and after much too long a time, you get a list of every email address you have ever sent to.  You may click "TO," "CC," or "BCC."  And then click "send" and it will place the addresses in your email fields.  But it takes a long time.

   --   There does not appear to be any way to delete old or unused email addresses from this list.

   --   There is no way to go quickly in this list to emails beginning with a particular letter.

   --   When replying, the cursors skips between the text to the address box after a few seconds,  the result being that if you start typing your reply, you find that you are typing your message in front of the address of your recipient.  Absolutely no, zero, point to this function.  It alone renders the damned thing useless.  If you are replying, your addressee is already established.  There is seldom any reason at all to want your cursor to wander up to the address box.

   ---  You can no longer drag and drop emails into folders -- it's all check-the-box-and-go-to-the-menu-for-still-more-mouse-clicks.

Who thought all of these things were good ideas?  Did they try them out with people who are still using this crummy system?

So I say farewell, old email address, although I don't think you will.  The next round of improvements should eliminate the ability to send and receive emails via AOL altogether.

For blog-related items, my email remains  Personal email should go to

Keep in touch.

Jack Horkheimer, RIP

I used to love it when "The Star Hustler" would pop up on PBS.  I have heard that he changed his brand to "The Star Gazer" in more recent years because when people would do internet searches for "star hustler" they would come up with mainly porn sites.

That bad hairpiece, the somewhat fey delivery, the cheesy special effects, all were insignificant distractions from the intense enthusiasm for the night sky Horkeimer conveyed in those five-minute shows.

Keep lookiing up, Jack.

Jack Horkheimer, RIP

Six Paragraphs of Sheer Brilliance . . .

.  .  .  from my favorite leftist, Camille Paglia.  She calls for the "sweeping revalorization of the trades."  I'm not sure what trades will prepare practitioners for the balance of this century, or what the century requires.  But she's got the right idea on the deepening uselessness of a college education over the past few decades, arising largely from meaningless "post-structuralist" rubbish in the liberal arts and the neglected cultivation of habits of thought in those costly four-year nurseries.  Only take you a minute to read.