October 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 PM


Egypt's hardline Islamist party unravels (MAGGIE MICHAEL, 10/04/12, Associated Press) 

Internal feuds are threatening to unravel the political party of Egypt's ultraconservative Islamist Salafis, as pragmatists try to shake off the control of hardline clerics who reject any compromise in their stark, puritanical version of Islam.

The fight for leadership could paralyze the Al-Nour Party, which rocketed out of nowhere to become Egypt's second most powerful political force, behind the Muslim Brotherhood. Together, the Brotherhood and Al-Nour embodied the rise of Islamists to prominence after last year's fall of Hosni Mubarak.

It also underlines the key dilemma in the project of political Islam -- what to do when the maneuverings of democratic politics collide with demands for strict purity of religious ideology, particularly the unbending, black-and-white doctrine of the Salafis. Infighting among the Salafis could discredit their aims of radical Islamization of Egypt in the eyes of some Egyptians who saw the movement as pious and uncorrupt, calling for strict adherence to the Quran and the ways of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The party is exploding from inside," Mohammed Habib, who was once a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, said of Al-Nour. "In the street, it has lost its credibility. People see clerics who they used to see as men of God engaging in earthy disputes. They used to trust them. This will have a negative impact not only on Al-Nour or Salafis but on all Islamists in politics."

Ranting is easy.  Governing is hard.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Yaz's Triple Crown: Work, Resolve, Concentration (ROBERT PINSKY, 10/04/12, NY Times)

Yastrzemski, I noticed, was 27 -- and so was I. In a certain way, you never feel older than you do at 27. Youth is about to end, and what have you done? The dentists and lawyers of your age cohort have reasons to feel better about this pressure: they have entered their career groove in a good way. And how, you might ask yourself, are you making out in yours? For artists as for athletes, the answer isn't always reassuring.

In the Boston Globe sports pages, stories began to appear about Yastrzemski's fierce concentration on improving and maintaining his skills. Certain left-handed relief pitchers gave him trouble; so he asked to practice against stand-ins who had a similar delivery. With his strong, accurate throwing arm, he worked hard, regularly, on playing wall caroms off the Green Monster, setting a model of perfectionism for the team's younger outfielders. I particularly remember a story (could it have been written by the young Peter Gammons?) about Yaz working on a little defect in his large, fluid, dynamic swing: he had a clubhouse guy throw a ball of wadded athletic socks to him, over and over, till he could hit the fluffy things consistently with the barrel of the bat.

When I was a child, the qualities of boldness, daring and speed were embodied for me by Jackie Robinson on the basepaths. (Jackie Robinson in life, embodying greater qualities, was mostly beyond me.) In my late 20s, Yastrzemski embodied qualities that were now more important to me: work, resolve and concentration. Against bitter, powerful opposition, Robinson demanded and won respect. Against his own weaknesses, Yastrzemski attained an inward respect for his own gifts, overcoming his early tendency to coast with them -- a lesser but considerable achievement. It wouldn't be quite right to say that I looked up to him: but I looked to him, as an example of focus. In that way, he was a useful hero.

In the context of Boston's academic snobbery, I and many others enjoyed Yastrzemski's distinctly non-Harvard style: here was a local sports hero who came from a Long Island potato farm and Notre Dame, which he attended as a business major on a basketball scholarship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


The Tragedy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi (Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern, 10/25/12, NY Review of Books)

To oppose such a regime was rare, and to do so in order to protect the sanctity of law and faith was rarer still. We are concerned here with two exceptional men who from the start of the Third Reich opposed the Nazi outrages: the scarcely known lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi and his brother-in-law, the well-known pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dohnanyi recorded Nazi crimes, helped victims, did his best to sabotage Nazi policies, and eventually helped plot Hitler's removal; Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis' efforts to control the German Protestant churches. For both men the regime's treatment of Jews was of singular importance. Holocaust literature is vast and the literature on German resistance scant, yet the lives and deaths of the two men show us important links between them.

Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer became close friends, especially after Dohnanyi drew his brother-in-law into active resistance against the regime. And their remarkable family deserves recognition, too, since its principled support was indispensable to their efforts. But Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer ended in defeat: they were arrested in April 1943 and then murdered, on Hitler's express orders, just weeks before Hitler's suicide and Germany's surrender.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


A Guy, a Girl, and 366 Straight Days at Disneyland : A recessionary tale. (T.A. Frank, September 14, 2012, New Republic)

IF, LIKE Jeff Reitz and Tonya Mickesh, you go to Disneyland often--very often--you know that asking for a roast beef melt made without horseradish, as opposed to a roast beef melt with horseradish removed after the fact, will require a ten-minute wait at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café. You know that, if conditions are right, you may ride in the wheelhouse of the Mark Twain Riverboat and help steer. You know that if you want to see records of the number of times you've entered the park you must visit Disneyland City Hall. Because you do want to see those records.

"Sometimes it's fun to pull something out of your pocket," Reitz told me. "It was the two of us and one of our other friends one day, and I'm like, 'What you do you guys wanna do?' 'I don't know.' 'Okay. I'll pick the first attraction, and then you guys get to pick.' I said, 'Follow me,' and I led them right through the castle, and there's a walkthrough in the castle, it's a diorama-type setting of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and they're like, 'Hold on a second, this isn't a ride.' I said, 'It's an attraction.' And it is. Most of the rides here in Disneyland are attractions. There are only two actual rides. Like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

That is something else you know.

Reitz and Mickesh are friends, not a couple, who go to Disneyland every day. They do it because, at the end of 2011, both received holiday gifts of a $649 annual pass to the park, and both had no job. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Obama in Wisconsin After Lackluster Debate (Ruth Conniff, October 4, 2012, The Progressive)

The most ominous part is not even his failure to score some obvious rhetorical points on Romney (to mention the 47% comment, for example, or attack to the Paul Ryan budget plan).

The most ominous part is in the details of what the President and Romney only briefly referred to when they both embraced the Simpson Bowles plan.

The Simpson Bowles commission, appointed by President Obama, has proposed a deficit-reducing program that would undermine to Social Security and Medicare, as economist Paul Krugman has warned.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are working on a bipartisan compromise, with the President's blessing, that would take Simpson Bowles as a starting point and make "changes to Social Security, broad cuts in federal programs and actions that would lower tax rates over all but eliminate or pare enough deductions and credits to yield as much as $2 trillion in additional revenue," The New York Times reports.

In other words, in order to steer clear of the "fiscal cliff" and automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that take effect January 1, Obama may--after winning the election because voters want him to defend Medicare and Social Security and protect the poor and middle class--sign off on a deficit-reduction deal that undermines Medicare and Social Security, makes deep cuts in other programs that help the non-rich , and pushes lower income Americans right over the edge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Real October Surprise Is Obama and Romney Agree (Ezra Klein Oct 3, 2012, Bloomberg)

I don't mean to play down the very real differences between the two campaigns. How much we spend, what we spend it on and who pays for it are all very consequential. But American politics operate atop a fairly firm and broad understanding about the proper scope of the state. Partisanship often obscures that fact, in part because the party out of power has reason to exaggerate disagreements with the governing party. Yet behind the boisterous partisan stage is a quieter arena where broad consensus reigns. Whether it's a good consensus is, of course, another question.

...is that one has failed at being president, while the other hasn't had his chance yet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


What Happened Last Night (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 10/04/12, American Interest)

A good performance in a debate with a sitting president is always going to help a challenger. Simply by holding his own, the challenger suggests to millions of voters that he is a plausible president.

But for a Republican in our era of polarized media, there's much more. Most Americans learn about candidates these days from the media: from news stories, commentary from talking heads and pundits, and paid advertisements. Without accusing the press of deliberate dishonesty, it's pretty clear that Democratic candidates in general get better press than their GOP rivals. With every lame comment, every inept decision, every gaffe and kerfluffle chewed over, mocked and thoroughly aired by the mainstream media, Republican candidates generally do better when voters see them without the intervening filter.

Debates may offer more opportunities for Republican presidential candidates than for Democratic ones; it is a chance not only to replace the negative media portrait with something more positive, but to challenge the veracity of the media itself. Bemused liberals used to wonder why Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president; a big reason was that the contrast between the president as portrayed in the press and the president as seen directly by voters was so large that voters stopped believing anything the media had to say about President Reagan. They discounted negative stories to take account of what they assumed was an inveterate, unchanging bias; the more the media howled, the more many voters thought Reagan must be doing something right.

Romney's strong performance in the debate will further undermine public confidence that the media is telling the truth about the ex-governor. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Obama the debater: Making Jimmy Carter look awesome (Charles Hurt, October 3, 2012, Washington Times)

Bewildered and lost without his teleprompter, President Obama flailed all around the debate stage last night. He was stuttering, nervous and petulant. It was like he had been called in front of the principal after goofing around for four years and blowing off all his homework.

Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public. Actually, that's an insult to Jimmy Carter.

The split screen was most devastating. Mitt Romney spoke forthrightly, with carefully studied facts and details at the ready. He looked right at the president and accused him of being miles out of his depth.

Mr. Obama? His eyes were glued to his lectern, looking guilty and angry and impatient with all the vagaries of Democracy. This debate was seriously chafing him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Khaled Mishal the "Zionist agent"! (Tariq Alhomayed, 10/04/12, Asharq Alawasat)

On the 14th January 2009, I wrote an article entitled "Hamas in Gaza and Damascus", in which I said that there was a big difference between Hamas in Gaza and in Damascus, and a clear contrast in attitudes and statements. This enraged Hamas sympathizers at the time, but what about now? Why am I returning to this story in 2012? The reason is simple, and important. Today, Hamas has acknowledged that there are differences within the Hamas leadership in Gaza, and especially with regards to Khaled Mishal. In fact, matters have now reached the point where it is not possible for Mishal to continue in his position, and it is necessary for him to step down! This is not all, for the same entities that used to defend Mishal, whether Hezbollah, Iran or the al-Assad regime, and published "The list of shame" in order to support him and portray his critics as those trading in the blood of the Gaza people, have returned in 2012 to say that Khaled Mishal is a Zionist agent, exploiting the resistance, and a member of the so-called "band of drummers", an expression that denotes shame and disgrace.

Syrian state television in Damascus launched a massive attack on Mishal, telling him to remember when he first sought refuge from his surroundings, and arrived at mercy of al-Sham [Damascus]. As for the Iranian newspaper "Kayhan", issued directly from the office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, it said that Mishal had forgotten the years he had been living under Syrian protection during his residence and work in Damascus, and was acting like a Zionist agent. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


What Losers Look Like : On Wednesday night, they looked like Democratic strategists and spin doctors. (David Weigel, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

This is what losing looks like: five stoic strategists for the Obama campaign camped out in the spin room. They do not deny that Mitt Romney just beat the president on all the points that count in TV debates. How can they, when even the foreign press, heavy in accent and fond of existential questions, keeps asking why the president blew it? In one corner stands David Plouffe, the president's chief strategist, fielding question after question about optics.

"Why wasn't the president more aggressive?" asks a dark-suited man with a Swedish accent.

"The president did exactly what he had to do," says Plouffe. "He talked in very deep specifics about the economy, about jobs, about Medicare. That's why he had a good debate tonight." 

"Would you agree that he was too low-key?" asks a Japanese reporter.

"No!" says Plouffe. "I would not agree with that at all! He did what he had to do. He had a very clear message to the American people." 

Somebody asks Plouffe if tonight was a "decisive" debate. "We don't believe in decisive moments," says the man whose candidate rose to power on the strength of speeches that were sold as collector's item DVDs.

This would sound ridiculous anywhere. In the big dumb swirl of a spin room, where men of clout and class walk around next to popsicle-looking sticks bearing their names, it's positively Dali-esque. This is an atmosphere where a reporter can yell, "Was tonight a game-changer?" at David Axelrod, and nobody will laugh. 

But for the first time in 12 years, Democrats have to take a debate that they lost on optics and convince voters that they won on facts. 

...is that this undercuts the carefully manufactured myth of his intelligence and eloquence.  It's the first moment where everyone sees him for who he is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Romney's Big Night : The first presidential debate was Mitt Romney's best moment so far. Will it last? (John Dickerson, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

When Barack Obama entered the debate hall at the University of Denver Wednesday night, the air was clear and warm. When he left, the winds where whipping and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. Coincidentally, that was also the same number of undecided voters who thought the president had a good debate.

In two different polls of undecided voters by CNN and CBS, Obama received grim reviews. In the CBS poll, 46 percent thought Romney had done the better job. Only 22 percent thought Obama prevailed. In the CNN poll, 67 percent thought Romney had performed well. Only 25 percent could say the same of Obama.  In another poll conducted with a group of "Wal-Mart Moms" in Las Vegas, Romney also scored high. His image climbed 20 points, while Obama's moved just 5. Many of the women had "somewhat tuned out Mitt Romney," according to the findings reported by a bipartisan polling team. "After seeing him this evening several are now re-engaged and want to learn more about him. They were somewhat disappointed with President Obama's performance. They do not believe he made the case for how another four years will be different or better."

...would be for Mitt to disappear until Election Night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


You Found Your 13-Year-Old's Porn Stash. What Should You Do? (Katie Roiphe, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

Let's say you find history of porn searches on your 13-year-old's computer, and let's say it's not weird or violent porn, but just run-of-the-mill, mildly off-putting porn. What should you do? I'd say nothing, but maybe I'm wrong.

There was much ado Tuesday on the Internet about one dad's rather sweet solution to this scenario. He wrote a note to his son saying that he wouldn't tell the kid's mom, and that he did the same thing as a kid, and that there were sites safer for computers, which he listed. He basically said, "I won't make a big deal or any-sized deal about it," though he did go pretty deeply and somewhat creatively into the dangers of pornography to computers.  

It is a quandary. What should you do in this garden-variety situation? The most sensible thing I have ever heard on this topic came from the internet scholar Danah Boyd. She pointed out very sanely and sensibly that this isolated moment should be part of an ongoing, larger conversation with your child. One shouldn't view this discovery as an event in itself, but more a part of the dialogue that has been going on for years about sex, body image, and all of that.

...they had a school project to Google their own name.  He was appalled both by the things say about his fellow "Orrin Judd" and by his name being associated with "The Tittie Box." 

Nowadays, wouldn't most parents just be psyched that the kid was straight?

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The audacity of Romney (Matt Miller, October 4, 2012, Washington Post)

You only needed to look at the faces of MSNBC's pundits or Democratic officials in the spin room to know what everyone professionally involved in politics believes -- Mitt Romney won big in this first debate. We'll see how the public digests it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the polls draw close in the next week and that thereafter this race -- as was always likely -- goes down to the wire.

I'll let others assess in detail Romney's assertive presence and demeanor, and the obvious toll it took on the president, who, in split screen shots when he wasn't speaking, often looked irked or working a bit to suppress frustration or anger.

What interests me most is Mitt's audacity. Wednesday night at long last came the full-throated return of the Rockefeller Republican many suspect is Romney's true political nature, if indeed he has one. With one fatal exception I'll note in a moment, on taxes, health care, education, regulation and more, Romney came across as deeply informed, experienced and reasonable, and as a powerful and articulate critic of the economy's weaknesses on Obama's watch.

For a challenger the debate consists exclusively of seeming a plausible alternative.  When Reagan dis so that race ended too.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Is Romney Smarter, Better Informed, and More Spontaneously Eloquent Than the President? (Peter Lawler, October 4, 2012, Big Think)

Well, if all you had to go by is tonight's debate, you'd have to say yes.

Romney's presentations were clearer, tighter, more incisive, more eloquent, more factually detailed, and more savvy and nimble than those of the president.  He certainly didn't looked stiff or overprogrammed, and he had the confidence of a leader.  It seemed he was really enjoying himself.

Bill Maher on Obama's performance:  "I hate to say it, but he's looking like he really does need a teleprompter."  The president's comments were often halting, vague, somewhat inarticulate, and distracted and perfunctory.  Even his closing statement was flat and pretty empty.

I'll leave it to others to flesh out the details.  But even MSBNC's Chris Matthews admitted than Romney won big, as did famous Obamaite bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan.  I'll add, of course, the verdict of the registered voters in the CNN poll: Romney won 67% to 25%.

Here's THE HUGE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS DEBATE:  This is, as far as I'm concerned, the first time a Republican presidential candidate decisively won a debate according to the objective standards by which any expert would judge a debate.