'Biden the Rails: 1001 Poems Inspired by My Travels Through Amtrak's Northeast Corridor'9:02 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden appeared to be the butt of a joke on tonight's Parks and Recreation, when a character on the show pulled out the (sadly) nonexistent Biden the Rails: 1001 Poems Inspired by My Travels Through Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, by Joe Biden:
Here's the clip:
Biden has had a guest appearance on the show before.
6:12 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
It's worth re-reading Fred Baumann on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born 259 years ago today:
IN BEYOND Good and Evil, Nietzsche rejoices that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "the last chord of a centuries-old great European taste . . . still speaks to us" and warns that "alas, some day all this will be gone."
Nietzsche was unsure whether the future held the triumph of the despicable, bourgeois "last man" who is no longer even ashamed of himself or, as he hoped, of the newly heroic and disciplined races that the "new philosophers" would mold. Either way, he thought Mozart would become incomprehensible--though probably not to the new philosophers or Overmen themselves.
So, does Mozart still speak to us? The fact that we are celebrating his 250th birthday this month suggests so, and for some fraction of the elite culture, he surely does. Judging by concert halls, it's an old and shrinking fraction, but there are still a fair number of teenagers learning the "Turkish Rondo," so who knows?
Still, I think that what we got in Peter Shaffer's movie Amadeus roughly represents what the culture generally thinks about Mozart. He was a silly man, but a genius, who produced music that is very pleasant to listen to but somewhat lacking in punch. He liked childish things, like that masquerade The Magic Flute, but he was serious about death (who isn't?) so he started on that spooky Requiem, which does get to us, in a churchy kind of way.
Add a bit more--perhaps "who is this woman who does not kiss me?" from Mozart's child-prodigy phase, maybe his hatred for the archbishop of Salzburg, something about childish pranks, billiards, gambling, his wife Constanze's possible infidelity--and it fills out our picture.
Read the rest here.
5:57 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
According to this Reuters headline, Germany is getting its game face on
In response to Ukraine crisis, Berlin to launch new think tank
Imagine the dread felt by Russians, when they hear a column of heavily armored think tanks coming east across the steppes on the way to Moscow.
International action must be taken, without a moments wasted, if we are to avoid a dangerous think tank race that might spin out of control and tip the world into chaos.
5:11 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Elliott Abrams, writing for National Review Online:
Did the king of Saudi Arabia just die, or was it Winston Churchill?
It is fitting that the United States send a delegation to express condolences upon the death of a Saudi king. We are reasonably close allies and have been since President Franklin Roosevelt met King Abd-al Aziz in 1945. The Saudis have influence over world oil markets and we share with them the desire to oppose Iranian expansionism and jihadi forces like the Islamic State.
So, send the vice president and secretary of state. Maybe add a Republican or two.
Or just send the president himself, to make the point that we value the relationship and want to continue or improve it. ...
The late King Abdullah was a pious man and undertook certain reforms, like establishing one co-ed university. But this crowd of U.S. officials will be visiting a country where women like Ms. Townsend and Ms. Monaco and Dr. Rice and Ms. Pelosi would be jailed for the crime of driving a car. In his 15 years of ruling the place, the late king did nothing to change that. Two weeks ago a Saudi blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and the first 50 were actually imposed. Will our delegation mention that? How about voting? When Abdullah began ruling (as crown prince, when King Fahd became senile) in 1995, Saudis could not vote in any national election because there were no parliamentary bodies, not even fake ones, to vote for. When he died 20 years later, there were still none. Abdullah was in his way a reformer (for example, appointing women to the consultative Shura Council), and was widely respected in the kingdom, but let’s not exaggerate. He was not a historic figure.
So what’s with this huge delegation? It’s a ridiculous case of overkill, perhaps an effort to make up for the number of high-level U.S. officials whom the president sent to join the march in Paris after the terrorist killings there: zero. The Obama White House cannot seem to get these things right — too much, too little, zero, overkill — even now in its seventh year.
Whole thing here.
3:21 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By PETER ROFF
Keeping us safe from ourselves has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Consumer groups, environmental organizations, the trial bar, the medical establishment, university researchers, and the government are all working together, doing all they can to prevent us from making what they consider to be bad choices. They treat the pursuit of safety as a license to deprive us of our ability to make informed choices.
A case on point involves the chemical Bisphenol-A. Most commonly known as BPA, it’s a substance used in the production of plastics and resins, as well as in the lining of aluminum cans. As such, BPA often comes into contact with foods we eat and liquids we drink.
Activist groups have long had BPA in their sights -- they claim that it’s dangerous. They do this despite the fact that incontrovertible evidence that has shown, time and again, that BPA is safe for humans at the levels found in the consumer products that use it. Nevertheless, slick marketing campaigns targeting nervous mothers (and, ultimately, the politicians they vote for) have convinced many to ignore the science and focus instead on the market research. This means giving consumers a product that is “safe enough” – that is, a product that they can feel good about buying, rather than something that actually represents the best application of current technology.
The latest of these distortions comes from the self-appointed Environmental Working Group (EWG), which recently posted a statement on its website attacking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for asserting, once again, that BPA is safe.
“The fight about BPA safety is really a fight over the science of endocrine disruption, which has upended many traditional scientific notions of toxicity,” the EWG said in the post. “The field grew from the discovery that some chemicals block or stimulate the body’s hormone systems and that exposure to even miniscule concentrations of these chemicals can have large effects” on human health and physiology, as well as that of wildlife and laboratory animals.
In essence, the argument is that BPA, while not harmful to humans in high doses, might be toxic in small amounts. To the EWG, it’s the FDA that is behind the times in its research protocols and is, therefore, somehow in a kind of intellectual or scientific collusion with the industries that it is supposed to regulate.
“Given the FDA’s reliance on old scientific methods,” says the EWG, “it’s not news that the agency won’t budge from its position that BPA is not toxic at the levels to which humans are exposed in everyday life.” What it wants instead is yet another study, one that will even more fully measure the effects on human beings of a chemical already proven time and again to be safe.
The EWG intransigence flies just not in the FDA’s conclusions but those of the European Food Safety Authority, which announced Tuesday the chemical poses “no health risk to consumers of any age group (including unborn children, infants, and adolescents) at current exposure levels.”
Patton Oswalt tries desperately to regain his fans.3:01 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
It’s been several weeks since the actor and comedian Patton Oswalt (you may remember him from his star turn as “Toast A Bun Manager” in 2009’s Observe and Report) outraged his tens of thousands of Twitter followers with the following suggestion:
The reaction from Oswalt’s apparently overwhelmingly left wing and seemingly humorless fans was swift and merciless. By proposing laughter, Oswalt—a (white straight cis male, don’t you know?)—was “victim blaming.” His tweet was “problematic.”
Since the contretemps, Oswalt has been desperately attempting to get back in the good graces of his former fans. But like Mitt Romney maladroitly referring to himself as a “severe conservative,” Oswalt is rather obvious in his cloying attempts to ingratiate himself with “the base.”
He mocks Ted Cruz—so edgy! He refers to Dinesh D’Souza with an obscenity—daring stuff! And in an interview with New York Magazine published Monday, the comedian takes up the latest cause celebre of the online Left: Selma. In the interview, Oswalt laments that the acclaimed film was supposedly snubbed by Oscar voters. The movie, after all, “only” garnered Best Picture and Best Original Song nominations.
“The thing about Selma that bothers me: It's just logic,” he sighs. “It goes beyond race. So it’s a best movie nominee, and yet none of the performances, none of the writing, none of the directing, none of the cinematography—none of them did an Oscar-worthy job, but the movie is Oscar-worthy. That doesn’t make sense.”
2:14 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, blasted the Obama administration’s approach to the War on Terror in a hard-hitting speech to a meeting of intelligence professionals. “The dangers to the U.S. do not arise from the arrogance of American power, but from unpreparedness or an excessive unwillingness to fight when fighting is necessary,” Flynn said, in an unsparing critique first reported by the Daily Beast.
The Obama administration doesn’t understand the threat, Flynn said, noting that the administration refuses to use “Islamic militants” to describe the enemy.
“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” he said.
The administration, he continued, wants “us to think that our challenge is dealing with an undefined set of violent extremists or merely lone-wolf actors with no ideology or network. But that’s just not the straight truth.”
Flynn left government last summer, a year before scheduled. He did not provide a reason for his early departure, but sources close to Flynn told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he was forced out after years of making arguments the Obama administration did not want to hear.
Flynn, and many of the analysts who worked for him, consistently reported on the global nature of the jihadist threat and the interconnectedness of the groups driving it. They mapped overlapping networks of al Qaeda and its offshoots and rejected arguments, pushed primarily by the White House and the CIA, that killing leaders of “core al Qaeda” inevitably meant a diminishing threat.
One key fight came over the analysis of the documents captured during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The CIA was responsible for the first scrub of the collection of more than 1 million documents and retained “executive authority” over the cache when it was completed. But the CIA stopped analyzing or “exploiting” the documents after that first quick and incomplete assessment and the Agency made no attempt to systematically examine and codify all of the intelligence included in the intelligence haul.
Flynn assembled a team at the DIA to do exactly that, but the CIA initially refused to share the documents. After a lengthy bureaucratic battle, DIA analysts were given limited access to the bin Laden documents and undertook an exhaustive exploitation. The documents provided the U.S. government with its best look at al Qaeda and its operations and challenges—from the inside. There were letters between Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, plans for future attacks, details about fundraising successes and failures, descriptions of relationships between al Qaeda and governments in the region. The documents remain unexploited to this day.
Derek Harvey, a senior DIA official and former director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence at CENTCOM, led the DIA team that exploited the documents. He recently told TWS that the U.S. government hasn’t “done anything close to a full exploitation.”
“A full exploitation? No. Not even close. Maybe 10 percent,” he said.
The Obama administration is choosing ignorance.
2:12 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By JONATHAN FOREMAN
American Sniper is easily the most authentic looking and sounding movie that Hollywood has made about American troops at war since Black Hawk Down.
You can tell within minutes of its beginning that the filmmakers cared to get the details right, that their military consultants weren’t the usual Vietnam veterans that the studios often turn to, and that Clint Eastwood and his team actually listened to what their advisers had say.
Troops “stack” correctly outside buildings before they charge in to clear them.
Army, Navy and Marine uniforms are in the correct camouflage pattern for each of the lead character’s deployments (the U.S. Army alone has changed pattern four times since 9/11).
Thanks to careful research by screenwriter Jason Hall, the language is up to date and sounds real: There are no anachronistic references to “FNGs,” “Spec 4s” or “foxholes,” no-one says “embrace the suck” and almost every phrase spoken by the troops on the ground rightly uses the f-word as an adjective or adverb.
Both background details and the course of the plot feel equally authentic. Soldiers chew tobacco. SF guys spend lots of time pumping iron. Elite troops who have been issued with satellite phones for work purposes only, habitually use them to call their families. No one runs off and finds himself alone in an Iraqi city or has no apparent chain of command as in The Hurt Locker.”
And the Baghdad of the movie looks considerably more like the real city than the versions depicted in that movie or Generation Kill.
Moreover, the makers of American Sniper took care to capture some of the (fascinating) technical aspects of real-life sniping (unlike the team behind Jarhead, a lazy, smug film that foolishly and shamelessly borrowed tropes from Vietnam war films like Full Metal Jacket).
The movie gives you at least some sense of the extent to which a sniper’s talent and skills are about considerably more than mere coordination of hand and eye. They are mental and psychological: hence the yoga-style breathing techniques that snipers use to counteract adrenaline spikes and to slow their heartbeats. (Anyone interested in the art and science of sniping should read John Plaster’s classic book on the subject.)
American Sniper is also pretty accurate in its all-too-brief depiction of certain types of Post Traumatic Stress. In particular it gets right that aspect of PTSD that is fed by regret and guilt at not being able to save comrades who were grievously wounded or killed. (Oddly enough it does not try to catch another aspect—one captured brilliantly by The Hurt Locker—namely, the overwhelming sense of anticlimax many soldiers feel on returning to a civilian existence unlikely to provide the intensity, camaraderie, and meaning that they felt while on deployment.)
1:32 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
The latest from Conversations With Bill Kristol, featuring Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield:
"In the third of our ongoing series with the distinguished Harvard political philosopher, Mansfield and Kristol explore the distinctive characteristics of our two political parties. Kristol and Mansfield also discuss Tocqueville, Machiavelli, and the limits of science-what Mansfield calls 'rational control'-in modern politics," writes the Foundation for Constitutional Government, the sponsor of the series.
1:04 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Last week, I wrote about how the professional left was attacking Clint Eastwood's new biopic about Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. American Sniper is almost exclusively about the struggles and heroism of one remarkable man who fought in the Iraq war, but the film's critics can't seem to forgive the fact a film was made about the war on terror that mostly eschewed politics and didn't go out of its way to attack Bush-Cheney and/or denounce American imperialism. The film is now a bona fide phenomenon. After having the largest opening weekend for a January film ever, "[the film's second weekend] $64.6 million tally is off just 28 percent from the movie's opening frame, which is the best second weekend hold ever for a movie that opened above $80 million," according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
As such, the attacks on the film just keep coming. Over the weekend, Bill Maher called Kyle a "psychopath" on his HBO show, which prompted this response from Howard Dean: "There’s a lot of anger in this country, and the people who go see this movie are people who are very angry,” Dean said. “... I bet you if you looked at a cross-section of the Tea Party and the people who go to see this movie, there’s a lot of intersection.” Actor Gary Sinise posted this public response to Dean:
To Howard Dean,
I saw American Sniper and would not consider myself to be an angry person. You certainly have a right to make stupid blanket statements, suggesting that all people who see this film are angry, but how is that helpful sir? Do you also suggest that everyone at Warner Brothers is angry because they released the film? That Clint Eastwood, Jason Hall, Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller and the rest of the cast and crew are angry because they made the film? Chris Kyle's story deserved to be told. It tells a story of the stress that multiple deployments have on one military family, a family representative of thousands of military families. It helps to communicate the toll that the war on terror has taken on our defenders. Defenders and families who need our support. I will admit that perhaps somewhere among the masses of people who are going to see the film there may be a few that might have some anger or have been angry at some point in their lives, but, with all due respect, what the hell are you talking about?
12:27 PM, Jan 27, 2015 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
The Factual Feminist finds more “studies” to debunk:
11:48 AM, Jan 27, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Predictions of a robustly growing economy may prove as evanescent as yesterday’s winter storm warnings. As Michelle Jamrisko of Bloomberg reports:
Orders for U.S. durable goods -- items meant to last at least three years -- decreased 3.4 percent in December after falling 2.1 percent the prior month, data from the Commerce Department showed Tuesday in Washington. The median forecast of 80 economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimated bookings would rise 0.3 percent, with projections ranging from a 3.5 percent drop to a 2 percent gain.
This is one of those “closely watched” numbers and if it were three and a half in the black, then you could be sure we would be hearing a lot about that from Josh Earnest.
It is only one number and there are, indeed, many signs of economic rejuvenation. But it is, at the very least, troubling until other, more hopeful numbers come along.
The stock market, by the way, is taking it hard. Down some 300 points around the open with big boys like Microsoft, P&G, and Cat leading the way down.
Perhaps Wall Street should have taken a snow day.
10:25 AM, Jan 27, 2015 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In a 60 Minutes interview with Scott Pelley, parts of which aired on Sunday, House speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made it sound like they are no closer to producing the elusive Obamacare alternative than they were five long years ago.
Pelley made a few introductory remarks about Obamacare and then asked them, “What’s your health plan?”
Boehner proceeded to talk about what’s wrong with Obamacare.
Pelley followed up and asked, “What’s the Republican health care plan?”
Boehner replied, “We’re...we’re working on this, having discussions amongst our members, got a lot of divergent views about how best to go back to a doctor-patient relationship that’s revered, about rewarding medical professionals, as opposed to all those rules that are coming down and frankly driving doctors out of the system.”
Pelley observed, “You know, this is one of the criticisms that a lot of Americans have — that the Republican party knows what it’s against but can’t tell us what it’s for, can’t tell us the details, for example, of a health-care plan after all these years of Obamacare.”
McConnell jumped in and said that Obamacare is a failure. He then added, “If we had the ability to do it, we ought to pull it out root-and-branch and start over. The chances of that happening with Barack Obama of Obamacare in the White House is slim, but we’re gonna make the effort.”
Pelley responded, “You don’t have an alternative.”
Rather than swing for the fences — or even swing the bat — Boehner then concluded that part of the interview by laying down a bunt. He said Republicans would “allow the states to run their own exchanges,” would “allow the American people to buy across state lines,” would “allow small employers to group together so that they can buy health insurance for their employees just like big unions and big businesses can,” and would back “medical malpractice reform.”
Obamacare first started being debated in the first half of 2009. Even before then, it was apparent that the chief problem with the private American health-care system was that the federal government had broken it by putting its foot on the scale through the tax code. That tax code gave lavish tax breaks to employer-based insurance while forcing millions of Americans in the individual market to buy insurance without any tax break. That’s still the case — although the chosen few now have lavish Obamacare subsidies sent to insurance companies on their behalf.
Yet, in 2015, Republican congressional leaders still aren’t focused on fixing that unfairness in the tax code. And that’s even with King v. Burwell on the horizon, with the genuine opportunity it provides to advance a plan that would effectively repeal and replace Obamacare in 36 states and lay the groundwork for full repeal in 2017.
9:41 AM, Jan 27, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
If the storm were a Broadway play, it would have closed after opening night. Which, in a way, it did. The headine from CNBC reads:
Meteorologists apologize for huge blizzard miss
Well, even if they pay with their jobs, they can surely find work in Washington.
As economic forecasters … or something.
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