Scott's Soapbox

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Changes in Store at The New Republic

Apparently, TNR is going biweekly starting in March, with a revamped look and larger size (probably more like 60-80 pages per issue). Editor Franklin Foer says he wants the magazine to be more like a 'New Yorker' of politics, with longer in-depth features. Also Marty Peretz has sold his last remaining interest in TNR, although he will remain as Editor In Chief. I know all this not because it's my favorite magazine, I've read it off and on since college, I'm a subscriber, and I read The Plank (their group blog) and check out the web version of the magazine. No, I know all this because I read other things- because unless I missed it, they have not bothered to tell anyone! I learned about the biweekly from NRO's The Corner, most of the other things via links from Andrew (links on side). Granted, some of this stuff is sort of inside baseball, but shouldn't they be asking us subscribers what we think? Below is a copy of my letter to the Editors- in the hope of better communication.

I wanted to share some quick questions and concerns from a subscriber and daily web reader:

Why is there so little information available on your own webpage about a new design and new focus for the magazine? Why did I learn the print edition of the magazine which I read every week over coffee is going biweekly on NRO's "The Corner"? Why do I find out Marty Peretz has sold his interest via Andrew Sullivan? Why is an article like Michael Calderone's from the New York Observer not linked to?

If the goal is to increase circulation and make for a better magazine, I request you communicate with your existing readers. I understand Mr. Foer intends for TNR to be "'The New Yorker' of politics" and I welcome some of the positive changes he has already made. Yet right now, I do not feel like any part of the process.


Scott L. Stuart

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Virgin Mary with Extra Cheese?

Remember the grilled cheese Virgin Mary from a few years ago? Now she's back, in the form of a pizza pan. I must admit, there is something divine about pizza. If I was forced to choose one food and only one food I had to eat for the rest of my life, it would be an easy winner- I just don't get tired of it. But come on, some blurry indentation on an aluminum bake pan, and people are driving for miles around to see it? When there: "They kneeled. They cried. They asked for healing." From a pizza pan? *Rolls eyes*

Sometimes I read an involved discussion like the one Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris have been having...or encounter a smart, well meaning religious person and I resolve myself not to judge. "It's just not for me," I think. "They're not all crazy, even if I think religion is irrational. A lot of good people believe." And then I see something like this, or the "NunBun" cinnamon bun, or any of these other religious humorously and conveniently listed on Wikipedia. Or I consider my weekly poker game full of drinking, smoking, foul language, debauchery and (naturally) gambling- it often takes place immediately following my friend's Bible Study in his home. Or I think about people so possessed by fervor and belief that they fly planes into buildings, or blow up themselves in a schoolyard. And I think to myself (in a smug and self-superior way), "Nope. They're nuts. I was right the first time."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Way the Bushies are Keeping Americans Safe

By dropping the amount of food inspections by 47 percent in the last 4 years. Also, FDA statistics show that safety tests for U.S.-produced food have dropped nearly 75 percent, from a high of 9,748 in 2003 to 2,455 last year. Despite recent food outbreaks, sickening and killing Americans, the administration has requested a budget which, while an increase, is called inadequate to fix an understaffed and overstretched agency.

I know this seems to be small potatoes. Heh. But it illustrates a basic philosophy of the Bush theory of government in cutting regulations when saftey can be compromised. Look at environmental regulations, the increase of acceptable mercury levels, and so forth. The traditional way of looking at the Democrats is that they've never seen something they couldn't regulate while the Republicans let businesses take care of itself. This is that philosophy carried to an extreme, where safety seems to be being compromised.

So You Want to be a Real-life Superhero?

Then look into this device invented by a student at MIT- it's a personal winch which allows one to climb up walls. His device was the winner of an Army-sponsored contest, and the Army has already put $120,000 into further research and production- one can see how much of an advantage something like this could be in urban warfare.

An Excellent Doonesbury

That shows very well why we face some of the problems we face in Baghdad. Our poor soldiers over there, dealing with this kind of crap.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Right Now on Top of's front page!

Lawyer nearly faints at the hearing on the fate of Anna Nicole Smith's body. Witness offers protein bar. Watch live on CNN Pipeline now.

I shit you not. Protein bar coverage! I am undecided as to whether I should laugh or cry.

Happy Year of the Pig!

Last Sunday began the Chinese New Year. Of course, the media, displaying their constant anti-pig bias would only cite articles claiming fortune tellers dire predictions that the "Year of Pig will bring disaster" or that "It is anticipated that there will be more international conflicts and disharmony, which will even lead to regional warfare, uprising and unrest, or the overthrow of governments in certain countries." Apparently, this is because the Year of the Pig is symbolized by fire on top of water, which is "a symbol of conflict and skirmish." Sounds fearsome!

The Chinese government has even restricted the use of pig images in advertising fearing a conflict with China's 20 million Muslims, who might be made uncomfortable by seeing these images given the Muslim ban on pigs. Even Coca-Cola bowed, changing one ad which "features a cute, Babe-like piglet braving mean city streets to get home for the Chinese New Year. But the company shot a second version using pandas to show in Muslim areas." I may be all for multiculturalism, but if seeing a little guy such as the snack food mascot shown above makes you uncomfortable and offended, well, deal. It's a tough world out there. If you are offended by the movie "Babe" there is simply nothing on the planet that won't offend you.
I hope no pig-haters did not try to Google anything on the big day and saw this just adorable logo below:
Happy searching!

It's Official- Al Franken for Senate

Well, Al Franken surprised no one and announced his candidacy for the 2008 Senate seat up in Minnesota. Al grew up in the Twin Cities area, and while he may be best known for his work in New York on Saturday Night Live, as he says about comparisons between him and the incumbent Norm Coleman, "I'm the New York Jew who actually grew up in Minnesota." He of course, faces all the hurdles that will come with being a comedian and author running for office, and must get people to take him seriously as a candidate. But he's a smart fellow, quick on his feet, and should make the race fun if nothing else.

I remember Al from the hilarious election coverage on Comedy Central from way back in 1996 on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" show. Boy I miss that show. Anyway, there are some laugh out loud funny clips of him and the then-conservative "beautiful, but evil"Arianna Huffington in their "Strange Bedfellows" segment here and here. Might be fun to have his wit on the Senate floor...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dogs Rule

True story of a dog missing for 6 years, only to be miraculously re-united with his family:

Cujo was a frisky 7-year-old when he sneaked out of his owners' south St. Louis yard in July 2000. Now, thinner and grayer and with a tale that would be fascinating if only he could tell it, the golden retriever is back
The then 4-year old daughter says she "knew he wasn't gone."

You know, I still miss the dog I grew up with. Only been what, four years?

Dogs rule.

Sorry It's Been So Long...

But sometimes doing this seems like work, you know? Lately it does. I take it too seriously sometimes for a regular audience of about 3. 2 of which are related to me. Seriously, spread the word people! Plus Blogger has been frustrating.

I wish I could say it was because I was busy, but I can't. Work is as slow as could be, and I am bored beyond belief. I ate lunch today at a busy Panera, and was jealous of all the people scurrying to and fro, rushing back to work and I assumed doing things of great import to all mankind. While I ate my usual (Bacon Turkey Bravo and Asian Chicken Salad), drank my hazelnut coffee leisurely, and read my New Republic. I had nothing to hurry back for, alas.

So I could be doing this much more profusely, but I haven't been. I've got a giant stack of things "bookmarked" to link to and it is getting a little ridiculous. I do not want to just be a link service (like Instapundit on a bad day- "Heh!", indeed!) so I always want to add value to the things I post. In the interest of getting it out there, however, get used to some shorter hey-go-look-at-this-it's-neat type posts in the near future, at least until I clear the backlog of links!

Happy clicking.

One more thing folks, if you find something interesting, comment! E-mail me, ask me! I take requests.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The North Korea Arms Deal

The new deal with North Korea- where it would agree to freeze its nuclear program (including shutting down its main production plant within 60 days) in return for economic aid from the other countries involved in the six-party talks seems like it has the possibility of success. In fact, the Administration has even suggested it be seen as a model for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. (Interesting that there exists a model on which to base negotiations, when we are unwilling to have these negotiations with Iran in the first place.) The devil will be, of course, in the details- particularly in the portion about inspections- and North Korea has gone back on its word before. I remember Reagan famously saying about the then Soviet Union that we would "trust but verify" when it came to arms-control treaties. With North Korea, we trust them about as far as we can throw them, so full and open access (the type they have been loathe to give) for the inspectors will be paramount. But the main problem I have with this deal lies with its familiar framework- Fred Kaplan writes extensively about this here, pointing out:
A constant mantra for the past dozen years—chanted by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on several occasions—is that the Agreed Framework, which the Clinton administration signed with North Korea in 1994, was a naive and disastrous failure.

And yet the deal that Bush's diplomats just negotiated is very similar to Clinton's accord in substance—and nearly identical in its approach to arms control.
So the big question is seems to me is: if we could have gotten this same agreement 6 years ago, why are we taking it now? Wouldn't we have been better off taking this deal before North Korea advanced its program further and completed its nuclear test last year? While we may be suggesting this as a model for Iran and other nations with nuclear ambitions- I think we've sent them the wrong message. Keep working on your nuclear programs, and once you get far enough along, we'll give you some concessions. If anything, this framework seems to me to incentivize
Iran to ramp up its production, as it faces many of the same economic problems as North Korea, albeit on a less drastic scale. North Korea only has weapons and illegal drugs to export; Iran only oil. Without the world as a marketplace for these goods, in both countries the people suffer. Restrictions on trade through economic sanctions may result in increased domestic pressures and a willingness to negotiate by these regimes.

Shouldn't the lesson learned from the new North Korea agreement be this- that sanctions do work, and nations which reform their behavior get the economic benefits of trade? Instead, I fear we send a different message- get a functioning nuclear weapons program, and only then will the US come to the table. Another reason why we should be negotiating with Iran (and others) now, before their program moves along any farther. The closer they are to a nuclear weapon, the less strong our hand becomes, and the more unsafe the Middle East (and our world) is.

I Guess I Spoke too Soon

About winter's arrival last week. Here in Columbus I got about 6 inches, then freezing rain on top of that, with about another inch or so today. The roads are nasty (I have not tried them yet) after freezing over last night. It is very pretty though- the sun shining down upon the solid frozen snow reflects brightly through the crisp air, its surface only broken by the occasional footprint or blowing snowflake. The whole snow, although more than I would have liked, was lovely.

Samuel Adams Reveals...

The ultimate beer glass.

Looks like the base of a table lamp to me, but what do I know? I'm not a "world renowned sensory expert" such as those they used to develop this glassware. I do know a Sam Adams sounds good after digging through the snow, which it what I've been doing for the past half hour.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bush's Big Government Conservatism?

Many would argue that the two ideas are simply incompatible. Conservatives are supposed to like smaller government, more personal liberties, laissez faire economic policies leading to "rising tide lifting all boats", and be skeptical of the federal government's ability to change things ("cannot legislate morality"). Sound about right? So what does this make Bush?

More government, less personal liberties, economic policies that make many less secure, and a government that has dramatically increased its own power. The Administration believes in passing a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, which has traditionally been a state matter. They believe they have the right to hold any person, regardless of their national origin, indeterminately and without trial or due process, simply because they say so. They believe they have to right to use "extraordinary rendition" to send over suspects to foreign countries where they can be tortured in a way not permissible under our laws. And the government spending? Don't get me started on the spending! Let a conservative do it for us:

Via a commenter on this story, which I got to via Andrew, I came across this post from National Review Online's The Corner. John J. Miller laments of the Bush administration:

The late senator Everett Dirksen is sometimes credited with saying, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." That was in the 20th century. In the 21st century, government spending is in the trillions. Today's Washington Post has a front-page story on President Bush's proposed budget of nearly $3 trillion. It inspired me to take a look at other Washington Post stories on Bush budgets. Let's take a walk down memory lane:

February 28, 2001: “In his first address to Congress, Bush likened his $ 1.9 trillion budget to a family budget...”

February 5, 2002: “President Bush yesterday proposed a $ 2.13 trillion budget for next year...”

February 4, 2003: “President Bush announced a $ 2.23 trillion budget for fiscal 2004 yesterday...”

February 3, 2004: “President Bush sent Congress a $2.4 trillion spending plan yesterday...”

February 13, 2005: “President Bush sent Congress a $2.57 trillion budget...”

February 5, 2006: “President Bush plans to propose a $2.7 trillion budget tomorrow...”

Today: “President Bush took aim yesterday at domestic spending as part of a plan to balance the budget in five years without raising taxes while increasing funding for the Iraq war and permanently expanding the military. With the $2.9 trillion budget he submitted to Congress...”

If you're keeping score at home, $1.9 trillion to $2.9 trillion is an increase of more than 52 percent.

Frankly, Bush is the worst of both worlds to me. He is a big-government, fiscal liberal and a restrictive social conservative. Maybe that's why Gallup has him at 32% approval, 65% disapproval. You reap what you sow.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter Has Finally Arrived

As I write this in Columbus, it's 12 degrees and snowing heavily. On the map, I am basically on the top left corner- just outside the beltway. It's snow all around!

While it seems like for the past week or so, it has been snowing just barely (with no accumulation to speak of) every day, today is the first day we are having the real thing. It's a beautiful snow, bright and shiny against the sun today, still coming down tonight. I took an enjoyable walk through the snow earlier, and came back to a nice cup of hot chocolate. Tonight is a good night to be tucked inside- playing on the computer, watching some hockey, staying warm. Hopefully the blogging frequency will pick up as well!

Robert Wright (and me) on Edwards, Obama

Robert Wright of had some really interesting commentary on some of the Democrats running for President this time- he thinks Edwards has "worn out his welcome. I think Edwards kind of impresses you at first and the more you hear him, the more you wonder if there's a there there." I have always felt this way about him as well. The perfect hair, the handsome face...what kind of man lies underneath this. After two campaigns for the presidency, and being on a national ticket, I still don't feel like I have any sense of him as an authentic person. Reading Jason Zengerle's profile of him a couple weeks ago was less than reassuring on this scale.

Also brilliant was Robert's comment on Barack Obama- "Ok, everyone says you're refreshingly candid- now remind us what it is you're refreshingly candid about." At this point, I am taking a wait and see approach on Obama. He's an empty vessel to fill up with our own hopes and dreams. But what are his real positions on things? He seems to have a broad vision, but no specifics yet. Of course, it's still early. His voting record indicates garden-variety liberalism. That, even with his formidable charisma, still isn't enough.

If You Like Snark...

You'll like Isaac Chotiner's post from TNR's group-blog "The Plank" the other day. He takes down Noemie Emery's article from The Weekly Standard speculating that the American people will now blame the Democrats for whatever happens in Iraq if the "surge" fails- alleging the Dems' actions have given Bush a "partial alibi for a possible failure--he tried, but at a critical moment they threw in the towel." Really? As Isaac puts it- "That makes perfect sense. Just like the American people have blamed Democrats for the war's failures thus far." Now, that is the rare link which made me laugh out loud. Yeah, I am pretty sure, no matter the result, this is Bush's war. He knows it and the American people know it. I hope for all of us, he succeeds.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Resolutions, resolutions

Of course, the compromise resolution favored by Democrats and a few Republicans failed to make it to a vote yesterday. I am unsure if the resolution was a wise move from a policy standpoint, and I think politically it was a mistake for the Democrats to push so hard for it. Yet, Congress should have a voice in this debate, and I welcome the idea of getting everyone on the record as to their position. And what is the alternative?

While I'm pleased Sen. McCain has finally had an epiphany when it comes to (at least what he thinks of as) benchmarks, the draft of his resolution is both uninspiring and useless. [Caution: This is only draft language at this point- the final text could be completely different.] After going through some language essentially about how important the situation is and how we must have "the fulfillment of military, political, and economic commitments that the Prime Minister of Iraq has made to the United States of America and to the people of Iraq." It spells out our expectations for the Iraqi government's commitments below:

(1) Deploying a significant number of new Iraqi security forces to partner with U.S. units in securing Baghdad;

(2) Assuming responsibility for security in all provinces in a timely manner;

(3) Disarming individual militias and ensuring security forces are accountable to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq;

(4) Ensuring equitable distribution of government resources regardless of sect or ethnicity;

(5) Passing legislation to ensure that Iraq's oil resources benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens in an equitable manner, and implementing such legislation;

(6) Building an effective, independent judiciary that will uphold the rule of law and ensure equal protection under the law for all citizens of Iraq;

(7) Pursuing all those who engage in violence or threaten the security of the Iraqi population, regardless of sect or political affiliation;

(8) Passing and implementing new legislation that will reform the de-Ba'athification process;

(9) Conducting provincial elections;

(10) Ensuring a fair process for amending the constitution of Iraq;

(11) Expending promised funds to provide basic services and employment opportunities for all Iraqis, including a $10 billion fund for reconstruction, and ensuring that these funds reach Sunni areas, including Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad and largely Sunni Anbar Province

Here we are again with out Christmas list idea. While he did not ask for Sen. McConnell's pony, the effect is about the same. Big list of good stuff for the Iraqis to do. No timetables. No dates. No consequences for failure. Ok, there are some consequences if the Iraqi government does not achieve these things: "it will lose the support of the American people and the people of Iraq."

Note to Sen. McCain- see these poll results about Americans' attitudes as well as these from Iraqis in November 2006 stating
that"84% percent say they have little (22%) or no (62%) confidence in the U.S. military...78% say that the United States' military presence is 'provoking more conflict than it is preventing'...a majority (53%-23%, with the rest saying "no effect") saying a commitment from the US to withdraw on a timetable would strengthen the Iraqi government." The point is- our support is mostly gone already for this effort, especially on the ground among Iraqis.

Also, I read in another article which discussed the resolution as having it say something like we would "re-examine our policy" (at some indeterminate point in the future) if the Iraqi government failed in their tasks. Gee, that'll show 'em. The Maliki-led Iraqi government (indeed, democracy there at all) is new to many in that part of the world. Like any child, it needs a firm hand sometimes from the adults. We are failing in this role by letting them avoid time and again the actions they need to take and not holding them more firmly to deadlines. We're the parent saying "You stop that right now, or I'll...I'll...I'll..."re-examine" what to do!" It's ridiculous, and we are servings no-one by indulging them in their bad behavior. Our message needs to be loud and clear- this is our one last chance at this, and we will do our part. If you all don't, we're leaving and we'll turn out the lights behind us. Good night, and good luck.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Jim Webb Vs. Condi Rice

You may remember that back on Jan. 11th, Jim Webb asked Condi Rice the following question about Iran:
"Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran in the absence of a direct threat without congressional approval?"
That statement unpacks to mean "Do the administration think it can attack Iran just because you want to for any old reason at all? Or would you need to come back to Congress first?" Condi demurred (which is understandable in open session) but promised to get back to Webb in writing with an answer and explanation. This is both a pertinent question right now given the situation in Iraq and the seeming absence of diplomatic activity when it comes to Iran as well as a broader question concerning the limits of presidential power.

Well, two weeks have passed without a response from Rice, so Jim Webb has fired off a letter demanding an answer to his question.

Dear Secretary Rice:

During your appearance before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on January 11, 2007, I asked you a question pertaining to the administration’s policy regarding possible military action against Iran. I asked, “Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without congressional approval?”

At that time you were loath to discuss questions of presidential authority, but you committed to provide a written answer. Since I have not yet received a reply, the purpose of this letter is to reiterate my interest in your response.

This is, basically, a “yes” or “no” question regarding an urgent matter affecting our nation’s foreign policy. Remarks made by members of this administration strongly suggest that the administration wrongly believes that the 2002 joint resolution authorizing use of force in Iraq can be applied in other instances, such as in the case of Iran. I, as well as the American people, would benefit by fully understanding the administration’s unequivocal response.

I would appreciate your expeditious reply and look forward to discussing this issue with you in the near future.


James Webb
United States Senator

Times sure have changed for the Bush administration now that the Democrats are in the majority, haven't they? Congress seems to have woken up and remembered that part of its role is oversight of the executive branch- and not a moment too soon.

Something Well Worth Reading

Is the debate going on between Sam Harris- the author of End Of Faith as well as Letter to a Christian Nation- and Andrew Sullivan- blogger extraordinaire and author of The Conservative Soul. This back and forth about the nature of faith, religion, and extremism is being held by Beliefnet- which I have consistently found to be an good resource for those interested in these types of issues. It's a good site, whether you want to find out more about your own faith, that of others, or (like myself) have no religious faith at all. Their "Belief-O-Matic" is a fun way to see where you might fall upon the religious spectrum as well.

Most correspondences of this nature between a skeptic (Sam) and a believer (Andrew) quickly degenerate into a boring back and forth with neither side allowing that the other even has a point. In particular, I find most people of faith use the basic circular reasoning (I know God exists because I have faith and I have faith because of God) that has not changed a bit since Descartes. Another problem I often find in these debates is both sides simply talking past each other, misusing both science and faith in asking them to answer posed questions they were never designed to answer. Science never said it could tell you the meaning of life- it's simply ill-equipped to do so. It was never designed to answer these types of questions, and this is not flaw or something lacking within science. Conversely, everything from particle physics to chemistry to the actual the age of the Earth are not matters for books of faith- those books are about different subjects, and reading them literally on scientific points is foolishness. This conversation featuring two talented writers and thinkers, however, is a cut above most, and well worth your time to read and reflect on.