30 September 2008

Without Comment


28 September 2008

Palin and the handlers

I've resisted the urge to write about Palin. I assume that whatever she is or isn't will gradually become apparent. But I can't help wondering about the syndrome of pushing a talent before it is ready. By happenstance I came across this old post that has some resonance.

"We report:You decide"

At least when Fox feels like it is something you can be trusted with.


Once again Andrew Sullivan follows in our wake

Well, at least sorta. Here.

Detroit gets Federal money

That would be in loan guaranties to the tune of $25 billion. Told ya so. But now at least American car companies can get busy designing those super-duper hybrids and fuel efficient cars that ... uh... the Japanese already have on the market. Oh, well.
The Detroit Free Press reported that it is “the largest federal aid ever offered to the U.S. auto industry.” The loan payments are deferred for five years, so the cost to taxpayers is $7.5 billion, AP reported.

But ...
That amounts to a subsidy for such products as hybrid vehicles and plug-in electric cars.

Weird little cars? Electric ones? OK - I'm for it.

Pony up folks.


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27 September 2008

Vikings! Buy this book!

One of our faithful readers has published a book about the vikings. Vikings in Ireland, in fact. They're the guys who founded Dublin, btw. Anyway it looks like a great book. Has a picture of a viking ship on the front and everything (the author modestly declines all credit for the viking ship pic). If you like vikings, or pirates, you should buy this book.

sadly, there are no viking kitties.


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26 September 2008

Want to help bail out Detroit?

By which I mean do you want some of your tax money to guarantee loans for GM, Ford and Chrysler? After all they are having so much trouble selling their metal these days. And their ability to get credit seems to be eroding for some reason.

As I set and ponder the meaning of the fact that we seem to have a genuine gas shortage here in the land of Wilkes and the High Country (not to mention the great metropolis of Charlotte), I read this little story about a hybrid Smart Car.
The Smart MHD is rated at 71hp and is a particularly economical variant. The car features a stop/go function to lower emissions and increased gas mileage. The new model consumes 8 percent less fuel in the combined cycle, and 19 percent less fuel in urban traffic.

Yep, you can go to Germany and buy this little gas sipping honey right now. But you won't be able to buy it in America. Since Americans don't want that kind of economy, it won't be imported.

Well, I'm sure the captains of the American automobile industry know what is best for us.

just like the Ford Fiesta diesel.

Pirates are no longer a joke

Just a week after "Talk Like a Pirate Day,"* real pirates have pulled off a hijacking that has some real potential for mayhem and agony. Here's the nut of it:
A Russian warship on Friday rushed to intercept a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 battle tanks and a hoard of ammunition that was seized by pirates off the Horn of Africa — a bold hijacking that again heightened fears about surging piracy and high-seas terrorism.

So now the Russians are chasing the pirates who are being shadowed by a US warship while the Ukrainians are growing more concerned.

Ever feel like life has become a bad movie?

*who started that? I want a Talk Like a Scythian Day ... if anyone knew what a Scythian talked like.



The Designated Adult:: unusually dark

Rich Lowry seems to be in a deeply pessimistic mood today, partly because of the latest polls (which, under the circumstances, are still better for McCain than anyone could have hoped and still survivable). Here he is on the Corner today in two separate posts (there are others).
One side effect of McCain's debate gambit is, I'm told, that everyone at Ole Miss now hates him. It will make for a very hostile audience tonight among those students and faculty attending. He might have to apologize for creating the uncertainty or make some explanation up front, which is never ideal.

The Washington Post has an article detailing just how important this debate is to Ole Miss.

Here's the other post entitled 1995 Redux:
A friend on Capitol Hill in a very dark mood thinks so. Last time, House Republicans got blamed for shutting down the government, this time they'll get blamed for shutting down the financial system. He also worries—did I mention he's in a dark mood?—that if nothing passes and the crash comes, the country may arrive at a turning point, moving irrevocably in the direction of a social democracy.

If his friend is right ... One of the things that sets Lowry apart from the others at the Corner is that he can face reality.

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Political Prescience

A screen shot from the Wall Street Journal* this morning. About 10 hours before the debate (which is apparently on again) even starts.

Update: well, maybe not so prescient. Hope over reality? Or will public opinion turn one more time?

*Man. Those guys are good!


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Without Comment

25 September 2008

We have no more gas!

Here in Western North Carolina, for reasons that make very little sense, many of the filling stations have run out of gas. I first heard of it when one of my more responsible students e-mailed that she would not be able to make it to class because she could find no gas for her car. She was down in the Hickory area. Then today at work people made the same comment, including Maire. No gas.

I couldn't figure it out but when I drove from Boone to Wilkesboro this evening I looked at the gas pumps and their handles were all wrapped in plastic. No gas.

Carmen had the official explanation straight from the governor. Here it is:

Gov. Mike Easley announced Wednesday (yesterday) evening that substantial additional gasoline supplies have been released to North Carolina.

“The major oil companies have agreed to make additional gas supplies available to hard hits areas of our state, particularly western North Carolina,” said Easley. “We are getting tankers from Wilmington, Tennessee and South Carolina terminals to bring hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas to those most in need.”

The governor said the additional gallons of gas will be available over the next two days

“I am grateful to the oil companies for trying to get gas to our people. They do not have to make these changes in their delivery routine and I have no power to make them. They have agreed to do this voluntarily,” Easley said.

“I have a lot of staff working very hard on this and am asking people to be reasonable and cooperative with each other. Conserve for a few more days and we will be fine. We are going to continue to work hard to get every possible gallon of gasoline to the locations where it is needed.

The gas shortage that was caused by refinery shutdowns during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike has been worse in rural areas of North Carolina because those areas tend to have more independently-owned gas stations. The independent stations typically do not have long term contracts for gasoline delivery, while stations that carry major brand names do have contracts. The independents run out of gas first, consequently it is important that the brand companies have come through with extra fuel for the state.

If I understand this right, it is a gas shortage caused by the unwillingness of gas companies to ship gas to independent dealers who didn't have long term contracts. But I should be grateful to them for shipping extra gas to their own company owned stations so they can sell all they want at $3.99 a gallon?

Or did I miss something?

but at least our gov is on the case. I feel so much better.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has been investigating. It's a slightly different case apparently than the governor's explanation. Oh well.


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24 September 2008

History cinema

A boy runs through 122 years of British history to get the bread home.

23 September 2008

Apology from the Mangagement

We wish to apologize for the unfortunate end of that last post. The staff responsible for the irrelevant and silly link to the Viking Kittens have all been sacked.

They have been replaced with Ralph the Wonder Llama.

click here.


It's the Economy, and I still feel stupid.

Had enough of cute little bunnies and weird French rugby stars? This should bring you back to earth: our economic crisis. Which is either really really bad, an absolute disaster, or the end of life as we know it, depending on who you last talked to.

Jack makes a stab at it and wonders if "we didn't just see the big banks [pull] an old-time holdup on the Fed." He has much more to say in his comment which you should read. I read one relatively conservative economist who called it a coup-d'etat by the Finance Minister.

Jack goes on to mention this, a factor that I have heard mentioned, but don't see how it would be a big enough factor to cause the massive amounts of bad debt we have piled up. Aside from that, I am always willing to blame the greed and foolishness of those with big bucks (e.g. bankers and others Masters of the Universe). But here's Jack:
Even if it was a conscious conspiracy by the bankers (unlikely) I find it hard to blame them. I've read increasingly that many of the bankers were complicit in such loans because Congress was pressuring them to do it. Listening to the administration the last few years, I suspect they were pressuring the bankers, too. Remember all the boasting a few years ago about how home ownership was higher than it had ever been?

I don't think Jack is indulging in the blame some McCain spokespeople are casting on the Carter and Clinton administrations (how did it skip over the Reagan years?) nor the finger pointing at minority homeowners (they would be a subset of a subset). Here is a little video from Talking Points Memo with some examples.

I also find David Brooks' view very interesting. If you read his column carefully you will see that he has written McCain/Palin right out of the equation (in fact Brooks seems to be turning against the McCain campaign much against his will). This seems to be the core of his take:
The Paulson rescue plan is one chapter. But there will be others. Over the next few years, the U.S. will have to climb out from under mountainous piles of debt. Many predict a long, gray recession. The country will not turn to free-market supply-siders. Nor will it turn to left-wing populists. It will turn to the safe heads from the investment banks. For Republicans, people like Paulson. For Democrats, the guiding lights will be those establishment figures who advised Barack Obama last week — including Volcker, Robert Rubin and Warren Buffett.

As for me, I have a sore throat and thinking about numbers, especially one with 11 zeros behind it, makes my head hurt. I think it is time for ....


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Leading the way!

Once again Andrew Sullivan posts a link only after I have used the very same item! (check the last post) Though I have to admit he seems to have found the Urquellen for this one. And I owe my discovery of this to Carmen who had already read it by the time I got up this morning.

well, I was feeling a little puny and decided to sleep in, and in, and cancel classes for the day.


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The Bailout Letter

Not by bunnies apparently but from Hank Paulson, soon to be dictator of our republic's financial concerns. Here it is in toto (from BoingBoing) :

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Don't laugh too hard.


Bunnies do the Haka

By special request from one of my devoted readers*. Here it is.

And if you ever wondered what it felt like to fill your mouth with Wasabi paste ... here it is, bunny version.

that would be my old brother, Jesse. Let's go back to Scott la Mascotte, please.

UPDATE: why yes, that would explain a lot about my family. Why do you ask?


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22 September 2008

It's the economy, I feel stupid.

Because I don't understand what has happened, at least not in enough detail to feel comfortable with the bailouts we are pushing through at record speed. My gut reaction is like this reader of Andrew Sullivan:
the administration's proposals continue a process of socializing loss and preserving profits and distributions, many of which were made with full knowledge of the pending losses.

You should read the whole thing. If you feel like you understand any of this, please feel free to enlighten us. Carmen and I are just scratching our heads.

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21 September 2008

New books on Mormon History

I know something of Mormon history though not a lot. The Washington Post has a brief review of two new books about two disturbing events in that history. The main difference between early Mormon history and, say, early Christian or Islamic history, is the degree of documentation we have. It took place in the full glare of a civilization with widespread literacy, the printing press, and an obsession with making and recording history.

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20 September 2008

French Rugby Humor

Remember the Haka war dance of the New Zealand All Blacks? If not, watch this. Then consider what would happen if the French made their own Haka.

No images coming? Try this.

wish I knew who "Scott: La Mascotte" is. The big yellow chicken?
Anyone know what 'Fraka' means? It seems to be the player Chabol's nickname.


Gettysburg in oil and canvas

When I was about 9 my family went to visit the Gettysburg Battlefield. Back in those days the crush of tourism and capitalism had not yet fully worked its magic. I still remember how awed I was by the gigantic circular painting of the battle called the Cyclorama. You have seen photos of it, perhaps without knowing it, in almost every book on the battle containing pictures. I wanted to be an artist to recreate every nuance of such a work. I wanted to be that artist. Actually it was a team of 20 artists but I thought one person had done it all.

In this Washington Post article the new fully restored Cyclorama is described. The journalist writing the piece can makes no attempt to hide his disdain.

Yet I remember it as something remarkable. Almost like standing in the middle of the battle.

But then I had never seen a computer, 3-D graphics, or anything more sophisticated than small, fuzzy black and white TVs that were less realistic by far than the painting.


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19 September 2008

The latest from North Korea

Here's one for the TRUE football fans out there

That would be soccer, to you and me. But not to Murty, Maire and Maeraed. They should be thrilled with this news, as uncovered at the National Review Online
AIG was the prime sponsor of the largest sports franchise in the world, soccer giants Manchester United. As they are now, I suppose, the official soccer team of the United States government, Donal Blaney suggests they need to change their uniform design.

Well, if the tax payers are going to own major chunks of our financial businesses they might as well own a soccer, er, football, team.

spelling errors in the above quote were silently corrected. Maybe the NRO folks are right about the inadequacies of our educational system.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Over on "Ragged Thots" a reader named Bill Barker left this little statistical post:
Solid financial advice...

If you had purchased $1,000 of Delta Airlines stock one year ago you would have $49.00 left.

With Enron, you would have had $16.50 left of the original $1,000.

With WorldCom,less than $5.00 would be left.


If you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all of the beer, then turned in the cans for the recycling refund, you would have $214.00 cash.

Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle. It's called the 401-Keg plan.

After thinking about what my 401(k) will look like when I get the notice at the end of the month, I much prefer the 401-Keg plan.

PBRs anyone?

it's all I can afford Mr Sobrino.

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Views from the Designated Adult

That's what I call Rich Lowry, the hand picked successor to Bill Buckley as editor of the National Review. Whenever he talks about partisan politics he descends into incoherence (in my view) but when talking about straight forward policy analysis can make some honest sense. He is one of the few denizens of "The Corner" who can actually be invited on national TV and I don't think it is solely because of his young good looks. Here he is today:
The Bush years will be remembered for the cruel triumph of realism over illusion.

One of the era’s great illusions was spun by President Bush — that the force of freedom was so irresistible, it would prevail in a place like Iraq even in the absence of law and order. Bush himself eventually realized his mistake. The second illusion — fed by anyone who possibly could get rich from it — is bursting now.

"The cruel triumph of realism over illusion." A great motto for an historian.

it's a shame my university's administration decided to drop the history requirement for freshmen. In academia, illusion can indeed triumph over realism ... for awhile. Hmm. What a conservative thing to say.


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Uh-ooh. It's over.

I had not realized just how much trouble the McCain campaign is in. First Phil Graham. Than Carly Fiorina. Now this.

A trifecta.

just realized: my labels are getting redundant. Sorry.

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For the Ron Paul/ Beeker fans out there

A vital demographic, by the way. Here is some trenchant political commentary from the Muppets. Scroll down to the video.

Political commentary of the best kind. Without words.

btw: the Blogger spell checker won't recognize the word 'Muppets.' Antediluvian twits.


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"It's the Economy, Stupid" after all

If there is one thing I know absolutely nothing about, it's economics. I seem to share that ignorance with John McCain by his own admission. And lo and behold, the economy has turned around and bitten us on the ass. As I watch my TIAA/CREF account sink slowly in the West I ponder what to do next. Don't know.

Apparently neither does McCain, at least according to this editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. They seem livid over McCain's talk of the economy. It's as bad as Obama's!

I suppose we could ask Phil Graham or Carly Fiorina to explain, but they both seem to have been "disappeared"* from the campaign.

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge is also not amused. Though, like the WSJ, he thinks Obama would be worse. That's getting to be a fine distinction.

*a tactic sometimes used in Latin American dictatorships. unfriendly to the US. Like Spain.


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16 September 2008


Just a picture I found. The Ossetians celebrating their heritage. Don't know if these guys are south Ossetians or north Ossetians. But it is definitely nationalistic feelings such as this that the Russians have tapped into.

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13 September 2008

An Ethio-Israeli view of Obama

Fascinating new blog by an Ethiopian Israeli. He is fascinated by Obama's candidacy and writes about its reception in Israel, where most Israelis seem to view it as a potential danger for Israel. As he writes about reactions to Obama he tells us more and more about Israeli society.

Well worth looking at.

because of my restricted, and consequently brilliant and well informed readership, I assume that all of you already knew there were Ethiopian Israelis and a racial problem in Israel.

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The missing Japanese

I stumbled on this blog of photos from Japan. I first I was in awe of how clean everything was. Then I noticed something even stranger, though perhaps related. There are absolutely no people in the pictures either. In Japan.


where were they hiding?

Update: here is another part of the world with few people. Where are the people?, as my Cuban grandfather-in-law when he saw absolutely deserted looking American neighborhood he found himself in.

12 September 2008

Problems with a Microsoft Product

John Derbyshire has been rather silent for the last few weeks and still has nothing to say about recent recent events within the Grand Ol' Party. But on his web page he does have something to say about a Microsoft product called FrontPage.
That original website was built in the late 1990s using Microsoft FrontPage. By the time I realized that using FrontPage had been a ghastly mistake, the site was big and cluttered enough to make a rewrite daunting. Now Microsoft has stopped issuing new releases of FrontPage. They have folded it into a new product that (a) costs three times as much, and (b) inherits all the worst qualities of FrontPage.

Sigh. Another unhappy Microsoft customer.

have I told you my opinion of Vista lately?


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Rugged Individualism and politics

David Brooks today sidesteps any specific commentary on the McCain/Palin race this week in the NY Times. The wimp*. Still, it's an interesting rumination on the strain of tough, conservative individualism and how this has been superseded by what we now know about human nature according to Brooks.

If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom.

And yet locked in the old framework, the Republican Party’s knee-jerk response to many problems is: “Throw a voucher at it.” Schools are bad. Throw a voucher. Health care system’s a mess. Replace it with federally funded individual choice. Economic anxiety? Lower some tax rate.

He then points out that this paradigm does not cover the Fannie/Freddie bailout and goes on:

The irony, of course, is that, in pre-Goldwater days, conservatives were incredibly sophisticated about the value of networks, institutions and invisible social bonds. You don’t have to go back to Edmund Burke and Adam Smith (though it helps) to find conservatives who understood that people are socially embedded creatures and that government has a role (though not a dominant one) in nurturing the institutions in which they are embedded.

That language of community, institutions and social fabric has been lost, and now we hear only distant echoes — when social conservatives talk about family bonds or when John McCain talks at a forum about national service.

A critique of conservatism as it is now from within. But is this conservatism? Many conservative pundits seem intent on defining conservatism by reading anyone whose views they don't like out of the movement. But that doesn't leave much left except perhaps the conservative flavor of the season.

*one man's wimp is another man's sage.

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SUVs: It started with chickens

Yep. Chickens.

At least according to Eduardo Porter writing for the NY Times. It's tied into the story of tariffs for light trucks as Porter explains. You should read it.
But the Ford F-Series pickup did not rule the roost as the nation’s best-selling vehicle, on an annual basis, from 1981 to last year [!!] just because gas was cheap. Its ascent required a helping hand from Uncle Sam. As Washington scrambles for a policy to achieve the incompatible goals of making fuel cheaper and making Americans use less of it, it might consider the twisted tale of how four-wheel-drive gas hogs became Detroit’s best sellers.

Of course, my taste in cars has always been a bit idiosyncratic, but I always thought there was much more than simple customer demand behind what Detroit could build and sell. I've also felt that the SUVs, whatever their virtues (and around here in the wintertime I can see their virtues) were usually the wrong type of vehicle for an urban family. Minivans and old fashioned station wagons made more sense.

Well, my next car will be something weird, like a SmartCar or a Ford Fiesta ... though NOT, I am afraid, the 65 mpg Fiesta I would really like.

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No rep left unturned

Further evidence that no one's reputation survives the touch of the Bush administration: the Department of the Interior. I assume most of you are aware of the charges leveled at employees there, of the bribes and sex involved. Here is an editorial from the NY Times about it today. Not entirely an unbiased source, but the facts in it are backed up by news stories I have read elsewhere.
In three extraordinary reports delivered to Congress this week, Mr. Devaney [the Dept Inspector General] found that officials at the Minerals Management Service — the division responsible for granting offshore oil leases and collecting royalties — accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drugs and sex with oil company employees as part of what he described as a broader “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.”

The Times conclusion is more politically charged, but it fits my thinking for some time about the Bush administration. After pointing out that the current Secretary of the Interior can take comfort from being exculpated by the report:
The White House can take no comfort at all. The people it brought to Washington to run the department had no interest in policing the oil, mining and agricultural interests they were sworn to regulate and every interest in promoting industry’s (and their own) good fortune. The most notorious of these was J. Steven Griles, a mining industry lobbyist who really ran the agency for four years and who later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

The Abramoff scandal just goes on and on. There still seem to be cases out there waiting for prosecution.

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10 September 2008

Did you ever feel like this?

I love cartoons with Latin words.

09 September 2008

Update on that last post about Ford MoCo.

This little notice appeared on Aol.com this morning in a long list of companies that are about to lay off 10,000 or more employees.
August car sales at Ford fell by 26% to just over 155,000 units. The company said the second half might be worse than the first. Ford promised to cut production for the balance of 2008. Ford is running low on cash and its credit ratings have been dropped due to rising default risks. Once it has switched its product mix to fuel-efficient models*, it still have to deal with Toyota and Honda who own that end of the market.

I'm so glad the economic news is now all good, as those good folks over at National Review keep telling me. The fact that my school is going to have to return 3% or its budget to the state but only after the election does undermine my faith in their optimism hardly at all.

*though NOT the car they already have in Europe that gets 65 mpg. Americans won't buy it.

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08 September 2008

Why Ford will ask for a bail out

Well, not exactly a bailout, but guarantied loans backed up by money supplied by you and me.

You may remember that I speculated that Ford had a car that got over 65 mpg but probably wouldn't import it. Just a gut instinct based on the Occam's Razor of History: if confronted with two equally plausible explanations, always go with the one that assumes the maximum amount of stupidity on the part of those involved.

Bingo. Ford won't import it because they KNOW the American public will not buy it and they would have to charge too much for it. If you read a bit further, you will see that Ford really believes it couldn't make enough on each copy to make it worthwhile.

Meanwhile the out of date Focus soldiers on, with a restricted line-up and a dwindling customer base.

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07 September 2008

History of the Ossetians Part III: From Alans to Ossets

Let's see. The Alans were either absorbing or pushing Sarmatian tribes into Europe while dominating the European and Central Asian steppes during the late Roman Empire. They seem to have been tough, skilled warriors, less reliant on the armor of the Sarmatians and perhaps more reliant on archery in combat rather than the heavy lance. They did not know the use of the stirrup.

The Alans themselves were disrupted in the late fourth century when a Turkic people, the Huns from even further East, hit them. Many of the Alans became part of the Hunnish confederation. Others moved westward into the Roman Empire where they were often recruited into the Roman military. They were particularly good as a type of mounted rural police keeping an eye on rebellious peasants. Some were sent into southern France, some to Brittany, leaving a trail of towns across the French map with names like Alainville or some such. Alan became a popular name among the Breton aristocracy. The Emperor Gratian was particularly fond of his Alanic guards corps, even going so far as to imitate their customs and dress. This is understandable since their customs seem to involve a lot of hunting and drinking (they had a great influence on the early Slavs too). At the great battle of Chalons in AD 450 when the Romans defeated Attila's Huns, Germans, Alans, Sarmatians etc. the Alans fighting for the Romans actually formed the center of the line and held that point all day (despite a great deal of misinformation we get from Jordanes, a Goth).

The Alans are a much under appreciated people. They provided the cavalry for almost every germanic horde that entered the old Empire. They made up an important part of the so-called Visigothic nation. Even before the Visigoths settled into Spain, Alans had seized a major portion of the Iberian peninsula as part of the Vandal confederation (see Un. of Idaho). Some even ended up in North Africa. There's one of them waving at you in the picture above. We think he's an Alan because the horse bears a typically Alanic brand on its hindquarters.

Alans remained a powerful force out on the steppes once the Hunnic confederation was destroyed. They continued to serve the East Roman Empire all through the middle ages. Eventually they met a people as tough and even better organized than they were: the Mongols of Genghis Khan (see the movie "Mongol"). Still noted as warriors (Alan women were also noted for their beauty) the Mongol khans recruited an entire regiment to serve as guardsmen back in Mongolia. To this day there is a Mongol tribe that claims to be descended from these soldiers. Another regiment was sent deep into China as the Mongols conquered that country.

Nevertheless the Alanic nation was in decline. Little by little they were forced to seek refuge up along the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. Eventually Alan settlers pushed over the crest and down into the areas inhabited by the Christian Georgians and other peoples. As their economy and social structure changed in the new environment they became virtually a new culture: the Ossetians, divided into North and South by the mountain crest. They still speak an Iranian language ultimately descended from the first horse tamers from 4500 BC or so via the first charioteers of around 2100 BC. They still remember who they are and who they were.

Jack even tells me that there is a plan to unite the two Ossetias into a new province/republic: Alania. And that is all I can remember about it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into the life of an obscure people who might get a chapter in modern history books yet.

Every now and then history not only does not change, it gets medieval on you.

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And now for something completely frivolous. No politics or social commentary. But I have been talking about horse nomads (Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans etc), so this short essay on horses in the NYT this morning caught my attention.
I have been riding when my horse suddenly pauses because some detail in the landscape has changed — a fallen branch has been moved aside or a stream bed has gone dry — while I struggle to remember what that detail might have been. A horse’s attention is particular, not abstract or symbolic. It shows in the cant of its ears, the flicker of its eyes, the fluidity or hesitation of its gait.

There's probably a message there for us.

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American viewpoint

A democracy probably works best when you have an informed electorate like we have here in America.

If you wonder why we always seem in need of some political hygiene, consider these facts assembled by Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com:
"Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 -- up from 36 percent last year, a Harris poll finds" (Washington Times, 7/24/2006); "Nearing the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks" (Washington Post, 9/6/2003); "The same poll in June showed that 56% of all Republicans said they thought Saddam was involved with the 9/11 attacks. In the latest poll that number actually climbs, to 62%" (USA Today/Gallup poll, 10/6/2004); "The latest Harris Poll has some interesting results on public opinions of Saddam Hussein's possible links to al Qaeda. Of those Americans polled, 64% agree that Saddam Hussein had 'strong' links to al Qaeda" (Harris poll, July 21, 2006); "49 percent of Americans think the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution . . . Only a third of Americans understood that much of the rest of the world opposed our invasion [of Iraq]. Another third thought the rest of the world was cheering our invasion, and a third thought the rest of the world was neutral" (Rick Shenkman, June, 2008).

70% of Americans think Saddam had a role in 9/11. Well, look on the bright side. At least they aren't buying that 9/11 Truthteller nonsense Jesse Ventura is peddling.

Me? I'm going back to the Middle Ages to finish my essay on the Ossetians. I think they were involved in 9/11 somehow.

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06 September 2008

History of the Ossetians, Part II: The Horsemen

OK. So there are lots of Iranian speaking tribes out on the steppes north of the BMAC People around 900 BC. Tribes of them move west and east with their new skills as horsemen. They no longer use chariots and they no longer farm, even part time. They are true horse nomads. Those who head west settle into the Ukraine and around the Black Sea over to the Danube and are called Scythians by the Greeks. Their eastern cousins are called the Saka by the Persians. Way off even further to the east weird things happen and the Iranians who disappear in that direction undergo some changes.

Soon the Easterners return as a new people, the Sarmatians. They defeat and absorb their western cousins the Saka and the Scythians (this will happen over and over - I think the Cossacks are just the last transformation of these peoples who learned Russian and became Orthodox Christians).

The picture shows some Sarmatian warriors who move all the way to the Danube and eventually ended up fighting the Romans (didn't everybody?). BTW, some of the warrior aristocracy of the Sarmatians were women, and judging from the wounds on their bones and the wear on their weapons, they really did fight: hence the Amazon stories. The poet Ovid got to meet some of these people up close and personal when he got exiled out to the worst rat hole in the Roman empire by Augustus. He didn't like them.

When the Sarmatians were fighting the Romans under Marcus Aurelius (a war that shows up in the first 15 minutes of "Gladiator" and the first five minutes of "King Arthur") they were defeated and had to send five thousand of their best warriors to Britain to serve as Roman cavalry. They and their horses were completely armored - almost like later medieval knights. And, in fact, the King Arthur stories share some elements with later Ossetian legends, especially the sword in the lake motif.

Meanwhile, the far eastern tribes, once again, met something out there in the East that changed their culture enough to be called a new people: the Alans. These guys were hell on horseback.

I'll talk about them tomorrow. Don't worry, the Ossetians show up soon.

History of the Ossetians - as I remember it.. Part I

(which means this may end up like 1066 and All That)

Let's see. Around 7000 years ago, there was a scatter of tribes farming along the big river valleys just north of the Black Sea. We have no idea who these folks were, but some of them at least were Proto-Indo-Europeans, or PIE people. They domesticated the horse and headed on out, all over Eurasia.

Some ended up way north in Russia. Way north. So far north that they were cut off from the PIE homeland and began to develop their own dialect of PIE - becoming proto-Indo-Iranians. (Are you following all of this?) Then they discovered that if you hooked a couple of their cute little horses up to a two wheeled cart you had a super fast little vehicle that impressed everyone, especially attractive young women. A revolution was in the making. Especially when they started using new composite bows from their little carts to shoot down anyone that got in their way: they had invented chariot warfare.

So after about 2000 BC they migrated south with these little carts and passed through a band of civilized settlements stretching between the Caspian and the mountains of Afghanistan- these were the BMAC People (sounds almost like Big Mac People). There the cart driving bowmen learned things like how to make bronze weapons and snort Soma. Some then went south east and ended up becoming the Aryans who settled into India and wrote the Rig Veda and all that other stuff, telling about all the fighting and thinking they had been doing among the BMAC folk. Apparently they had done of lot of both.

Another wave took their little battle carts and composite bows and realized that they had useful services to sell to the civilized powers of the ancient Near East, who like all civilized powers needed to control trade routes for vital resources, tin and copper in this case. Soon these new "military advisors" in the new style warfare did what powerful warrior elites often do - they took over, sometime around 1600 BC.

This led to the creation of the great chariot empires of the bronze age: the Mitanni, the Hyksos, and even the long lost cousins of the PIE People, the Hittites (who were really the Nesli). (It is possible that some of them went East and arrived just in time to teach the Shang Chinese how to use chariots). This lasted until everything fell apart in c. 1200 BC for reasons unknown (the siege of Troy and the fall of the Canaanite cities to the Hebrews were probably all a part of this).

BUT, there was still a group of the Indo-Iranians, minus the 'Indo-' who stayed out somewhere around the Caspian. They figured out better riding techniques, bred bigger horses, and decided they could ditch those clumsy battle carts and just fight as mounted archers. These Aryans then entered the Persian plateau where the word Aryan became Iran, the source of the country's name today. One tribe was the Medes and the others the Persians. They were, of course, a great people and later their king Koresh, or Cyrus, would be hailed as a Messiah by the Hebrews (but that's another story).

We want to go back out to the Aryan tribes north of the BMAC. They stayed out there on the steppes of Central Asia and Southern Russia for a LONG time, perfecting their riding skills and inventing long pants (something the Romans regarded as effeminate - real Roman men wore mini-skirts).

(stay tuned for Part II - the Horsemen)

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Hi! I'm from tech support....

... and I'm here to fix your computer. Scariest words in the English language.

Just because I think it's cute

Drilling: The view from Russia.

That would be the very big country growing powerful enough off of its oil money to tell us convincingly to mind our own business in Georgia. That's it right up there next to Alaska. Here's a little anecdote from Tom Friedman:
Palin’s nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness “reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attachés,” global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. “After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia.”

Of course, Edward Goldberg may have gotten the story wrong, or Tom just made it up. After all, he works for those bozos at the New York Times.

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NY Times blows it!

There. Just to show you I can criticize the liberals' flagship paper of record, or whatever they call themselves these days, here is a story about credulous and incompetent reporting.

Hope you enjoy it.

though they do seem to have a certain skill at the tire swing. Then there is Fox just being Fox.


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Liddy Dole: A Class Act*

How classy? Click here.

Remember, Jay Nordlinger said it first: "HER TIME HAS PASSED."

*remember: I never indulge in sarcasm. Don't carry grudges either.

Nor am I stubborn, Maire.

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05 September 2008

Aha! Update on the Walter Reed Middle School

He did it. No! He did it.

Josh is still on the trail of this story. Well, after all, it is a self proclaimed muckraker site, and what could be more muckier or more deserving of raking than this blatant abuse of a middle school's reputation. In fact the school is complaining.

the little whiners. They need a good spanking. Send in the school librarian.


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Naughty Librarian - THE SOURCE!!!

Following Jack's advice (thank you thank you thank you) I have discovered the Urquellen of the naughty librarian meme. It's here, from June 2007. I have NO idea who Craig Ferguson is, or was, since I don't watch much TV, but he is prescient.

AND, she refers to the "succulent" Alaskan salmon. I think they go along with the succulent Polish rabbits.

which I saw first. Come to that, the Wasilla rabbit rancher is kinda sultry herself. Check it out.

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Where did those protesters come from?

There's been some commentary comparing the protesters, presumed to be Obama supporters, unfavorably with the fact that protesters, presumably Repubs, have never disrupted a Demo convention.

Unless this is a hoax, they were Libertarians - supporting Ron Paul. Even I am a bit taken aback. Seems they were given a pass by Repub delegates still pining for RP himself.

When did God put Steven Colbert in charge of American politics?


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And ANOTHER thing about computers

They cause trouble. Especially when you turn the software designers loose without enough real world direction.

this courtesy of Jonah Goldberg who is taking a break from his preening about having called the Palin selection.

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Lowry on McCain

Rich Lowry, NRO's designated adult, starts to get an inkling about something that a lot of Repubs are overlooking about Palin/McCain. It's an anti-Repub ticket. That is, it leans toward the populist forces of the party that have been taken for granted and used as shock troops by the Repub leaders for so long without a payoff. After Katrina there is an anti-establishment mood out there among the volk. It has a 'liberal' expression and that is what the Demos have been banking on. But it also has a distinct and large 'conservative' expression. If McCain can actually carry out his stated agenda, the Repub party apparat is in for considerable heartburn. If the steele cupcake has anything to do with it they might get a dose of genuine right wing Christian populism. Rather than Dan Quayle think Evita.

For what it's worth, here's part of Lowry's analysis:

Then again, McCain's message wasn't always congenial to these delegates. You never would've known that he's a Republican running when Republicans have held the White House for the last eight years. There was a nod to President Bush for keeping us safe at the top; after that, McCain made the case for getting "this country moving again" - typically an out-party message.

The reaction in the hall was tepid to his diagnosis of how the GOP has lost the trust of the public, and to his pledges to work cooperatively with all well-intentioned comers in a nonpartisan manner. But his real audience was out in the country, where traditional GOP politics is a tough sell this year.

He HAS to run against the Repub establishment. I think that doing so actually appeals to him. He may even mean it. But can he pull it off once in office?

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Computer tech screws up again

No surprise there. The venue though is a surprise. It seems that the picture used as a backdrop to McCain's speech was of the Walter Reed Middle School of North Hollywood CA (that would be the same Hollywood then where all the elite celebrities hang out). Why would they use a shot of an unknown middle school in California, especially one that looks like it might be one of McCain's mansions?

Josh Marshall is on the case.

I can hear it now: "tell that geek kid with the computers to find us a picture of Walter Reed Hospital ASAP. " Only they left out the "hospital" part. To err is human - it takes a computer to really @#4o things up.

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No one expects the Vandals!

[with apologies to Monty Python]

Sarah Palin attended the University of Idaho, whose mascot is the Vandals.

As a man whose professional interest is early Medieval Europe, I am charmed. What a remarkable mascot. Huns in Berlin! Vandals in Carthage!

This assumes that they actually mean the barbarian tribe that conquered North Africa, tore up Rome and committed numerous other acts of unspeakable violence and not the more modern variety 'small v' vandals.


04 September 2008

Presidential Heat

The folks over at National Review are getting quite worked up over Palin. I thought Joey Sobrino was being a little arch with his 'naughty librarian' comment, but now I realize that he was actually being subtle. Now the NRO crowd are talking about her "Paglian chthonic sexual power"* and her "unabashed embrace of her fecundity and motherhood ." Ok. If these are factors in the race, just say so.

For me, I always appreciated Golda Mier's no nonsense Brooklyn school marm fortitude. And I thought Chris Matthews was a little weird about getting a tingle up his leg every time he heard Obama speak. I am almost afraid to think what kind of meltdown he might have now.

But when they start talking about “novel problem for a presidential candidate: sexual tension with his VP” I am not sure we really want to go there.

*Paglia herself is quite charmed by Palin, but can anyone actually pronounce 'chthonic?'


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Damning Liddy Dole with faint praise

Over on an blog chat on The Washington Post earlier today someone asked Jay Nordlinger, a conservative pundit, what he thought was wrong with Liddy Dole, our dear Senator here in North Carolina, as a Vice Presidential choice. His reply:
Jay Nordlinger: I think there is a feeling that her time has passed. But what a good question -- I haven't thought of her in years. (Goes to show you.) What a star she was. Sad about politics, as in other fields of life.

Some of us here in the land of Wilkes have not given her a thought in years because we haven't heard about her or from her. I was a shock to see her husband Bob Dole here in Wilkes Co. last week and to realize that he and she still exist. "HER TIME HAS PASSED."

It would make a great bumper sticker. But I always liked Bob Dole's sense of humor. And his war record.


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No Comment

St Paul: My old neighborhood

St Paul is my adopted hometown. I lived on the bluffs of the Mississippi just off Summit Avenue one block from the Lake St bridge. I called it 'Catholic Corner.' At the other end of Summit Ave was Summit Heights, a wonderful place filled with a world class cathedral and world class bars. Now some of Blogistan's elite are finding out about it the easy way: this just in from Matt Yglesias:

In the spirit of Barack Obama’s call for national reconciliation and a de-escalation of the culture wars, after knocking off work yesterday I went with Chris Hayes (pictured) and Ari Berman of The Nation and Mike Tomasky of The Guardian to grab some beers and, like any good beer-track voter, pair them with a selection of local cheeses.

This was all in St. Paul’s Summit Heights neighborhood, which seemed to come straight out of liberal elite central casting. Indeed, we literally — and not just Joe Biden literally, but actually liberally — wound up in Garrison Keillor’s living room. He turns out to be a very generous host, but not a blog reader.

God I wish I were up there. It would even be worth listening to Jesse Ventura to be on Summit Avenue again.


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OOOOPS. Live Mic.

Someone left the mic on while Peggy Noonan and some of the boys (Chuck Todd and Mike Murphy) discussed politics. For what it's worth, Noonan denies that she really meant it because it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is. Or something . Here's the quote:
In the truncated version of the conversation, on the Web, it appears I am saying the McCain campaign is over. I did not say it, and do not think it.

How did our world become a Steven Colbert routine?

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03 September 2008

Walls of Jerusalem found

Now for something having nothing to do with American politics. Archaeologists have found a portion of the walls of ancient Jerusalem dating back 2100 years to the era of the Second Temple. Here's the story and here's my favorite part of it:
The walls were first located through tunnels by 19th Century researchers, whose beer bottles were also found.

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South Ossetia!!

Never heard of it? Shame on you. Actually there are only three people in America who know the full history of the Ossetian people*. I know all three of them personally. One is retired, one is crazy, and I myself have forgotten all the details.

BUT, South Ossetia is the proximate cause of the Russian invasion, no no- incursion... no, visitation into Georgia by the Russian army, no no - para-military forces - uh, no, custom officials, into Georgia that nearly reached the Georgian capital**.

AND as a public service to any of you who have Russian relatives (or Russian colleagues) demanding to know why the Western press won't tell the truth about the Ossetian mess, here is a brief attempt to tell what might be called the truth (for lack of a better term) in something that passes for the Western Press. Actually, it's Wired Magazine.

No, No. No need to thank me.

*They're Iranians.
** It is a scurrilous lie that McCain demanded to know why we let Russians march through Atlanta. It was Sarah Palin.

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Dr Laura: Welcome to the world of working folks

Well as I live and breath. Not all conservative radio talk show hosts are over the moon for Palin. Her reasoning though seems to describe a fair chunk of the working women of America.

When I worked years ago as a janitor, and several times in factories, I knew lots of people, some of them women with children, who work two or even three jobs to make ends meet.

But that was 35-40 years ago and thanks to the Demos and Repubs I am sure they are all as well of as I am.

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02 September 2008

News of the other political party

No. Not the Democrats (remember them?): the Libertarians. Who needs Sarah Palin when you have Jesse Ventura to electrify the Ron Paul crowd? Here's his take on the second amendment.

The founders did not write the Second Amendment to protect hunters and sportsmen, he said. “The Second Amendment is there so that we the people, if our government gets out of control, we have the ability to rise up and change it.” The ensuing standing ovation was louder than anything so far today.

He added, “Some say, well how could we stand up to the U.S. government and its entire military might? I got the answer. We threw everything we had at Vietnam, and they were nothing but a bunch of farmers with a couple of AK-47s...” (the rest was drowned out by the cheering).

And his views on the 9-11 cover-up.

When Ventura brought up 9/11, these people starting cheering and clapping. “ Why is it that when you ask questions about 9/11, it’s out-of-bounds?” he said. “Why has the U.S. Department of Justice not charged Osama Bin Laden for 9/11?”

As Ventura continued to “ask questions” about what really happened on 9/11, a vocal contingent in the crowd (coming from all parts of the arena) took to chanting, “9/11 was an inside job.” At one point, it got so loud that Ventura had to pause for a few moments before going on. Many in the crowd were applauding Ventura throughout his discussion of 9/11, but some were sitting stone-faced, looking on with dismay.

I can't quite remember the reasons my very intelligent, conservative lawyer friends in Minneapolis gave me for voting for this guy for governor of Minnesota, my adopted home state.

no doubt it will come to me. I just want to make it clear I was gone from the state at the time.

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01 September 2008

A blog from Wasilla AK!

Unfortunately it has nothing to do with local politics.

It's about rabbits. Polish ones.

Come to think of it, they do look kinda... oh... succulent.


And now a rebuttal on Palin ... or not

I have no good idea of how Palin as VP will work politically. She shores up the base, which was absolutely critical, steps on the Obama speech buzz, and certainly has the potential to be seen as one of those gut instinct decisions that later looks inspired.

Or not.

She has some political baggage that could blow up in McCain's face. She may turn out to be a poor campaigner. People may not like her voice. Or resent the naughty librarian factor - the graphics of old man John next to her might not work. And we do seem to choose our presidents on such peripheral and ephemeral claptrap (and have even since the Kennedy/Nixon debate on TV - which I can remember watching).

Here's Krauthammer's opinion. Rick Brookhiser seems to have doubts while Jonah Goldberg shows some common sense (though he later seems to walk it back) and channels Begala on an important point, Brookhiser is roundly attacked by everyone, and The Designated Adult is over the moon for her, while David Frum definitely is not (and is roundly attacked by 98% of his respondents).

To quote that other great political philosopher, Chou-en-Lai, "too soon to tell."

You know, if the fate of civilization as we know it wasn't at stake this would be a lot of fun. And I just realized that I had unconsciously borrowed this post's format from Claw of the Conciliator.


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Mr Sobrino's Librarian

"That naughty librarian vibe" that Palin has. Maybe. Though Carmen wants to know what movies you have been watching lately (we suspect it was not "The Music Man").

We chuckled. And then I said "Well, that wraps up the Randy Old Man vote." Carmen started laughing and said "And we know that's a HUMONGOUS voting bloc!"

At least one reader at NRO seems to agree with Mr Sobrino, though he simply says "total knockout sexually," which is a bit blunt*. But it is NRO after all.

Maybe McCain is on to something after all though. It could work. In fact, in one major sense it already has: the Religious Right aka the Evangelical vote now seems excited about the McCain ticket and might actually bother to get to the polls. Dobson immediately came out and supported the ticket. This won't win him the election but it is necessary for him to have a shot at it. And the same people seem to have donated over $7 million within 24 hrs of the pick. If Paris was worth a mass, then how much more Washington ...

Also, and this is important I think, she represents a new face to the Republican Party that desperately needs one. What we have had for 8 years has been neither Republicanism nor Conservatism. Her anti-corruption credentials, if they hold up, will help. Some people who genuinely want to overturn the Bushite revolution but are nervous about Demos might now be able to vote for McCain.

But spare me the unconvincing and rather lame equation of experience. It is not playing to her strengths.

*I myself was always partial to Tansu Çiller, Turkish PM, shown here addressing the troops. Notice the soldier with the bullhorn. But then, I always was a xenophile.

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