Political Tidbit

Romney has decided NOT to advertise on television in ANY of the 21 states going into super Tuesday. It was my impression that money wins elections in large part because it permits media buys of precisely this type. With McCain seen as having momentum, a media blitz by McCain's camp would only serve to underscore that to a public that hears a defeaning silence from Romney.

I think this is a fatal error. I give McCain a 90% shot at the nomination. Oh, and I think Romney was right last night -- McCain's the Republican the Dems want to run against.

Also: for those who have not heard, the Dems have something called "Superdelegates." These are delegates who get to vote in the convention but are not affiliated with a state. There are over 400 of them, out of 3000+ delegates. They are huge in a tight race. Who the heck thought up this system?


Political Tidbit

1. Is it legal to take the delegates away from Florida primary voters? I just don't know.

2. Edwards is purportedly out. He says he won't play kingmaker for Hillary or Obama. Would it matter? Are Edwards supporters more Obama or more Hillary people? I can't tell. I think they just drop into the GenPop, as the wardens say.

3. I think this is a good indication that, like our guesses, that Edwards was not interested in a vice presidency.

4. Enough about the dems -- their primary last night meant nothing. On to the reps and America's Mayor, who is reported to be dropping out and tossing his support behind McCain. If so, is that the end for Romney? Also, same question as before: are hawkish middle of the road on social issues supporters of Rudy really going to jump into the socially conservative, potentially big government, but still hawkish McCain camp?


Political Tidbit

Three short thoughts.
  1. Slate argues that W's final SOTU (State of the Union) sounded so close to prior speeches that it implies he has not learned anything. The administrations "how about more of the same" policies leave me inclined to believe it. Is there any sign that W acknowledges the mistakes in his presidency?
  2. 1.5 years ago, we saw stories that McCain was wandering the halls of R bigwigs stalking support. I scoffed then, and thought, "He was laughed at then; he'll be laughed at now." Now he is the front runner. Did those alliances lead to this status? Have they propelled him over Romney?
  3. I am famous for my dislike of the one issue voter. That issue is usually Israel, and my refrain is that Israel policy has not changed in substance for nearly 20 years. That said, I am not a one issue voter, but that issue IS on my list. With Hillary, I think we get more Clinton on Israel policy. Ok. Obama is affiliated with some pretty radical Black Exceptionalist thinkers, but on the other hand he spoke to AIPAC and made a solid impression. There is no information on his Israel stance (indeed, no mention of it) on his site. What does the man believe about Israel?


Hegemon to Pokemon.

NYT has a long piece on the end of American hegemony (hegemony: for all practical purposes, sole superpower status). I have been touting this notion since the formation of the EU. Those who said that the EU's lack of a military prevented it from rivaling America's power. Those people were and are idiots. Look around. The Global 100 companies have revnues greater than most of the second world countries. Money talks and buys muscle. Ask Blackwater.

  1. Is this the end of American hegemony? I think so. I think it has ended and that the effect our proto-recession had on the markets is less a show of our dominance than a show of our importance in an interconnected global economy. Last time this happened, we didn't care what the effect might be overseas.
  2. Was it inevitable? (read: is it W's fault?) I would love to place this squarely on 43's shoulders, but the truth is the ascent of Europe and Asia was a long time in coming.
  3. Did W hasten it? Yes. Iraq showed that our military was limited. Moreover, it stretched us monetarily while the rest of the globe found ways to up their growth numbers. Move over American economy. Want to know what happened to the last great empire? Go to London. The prime real estate is no longer owned by the Brits. What is the story in NYC today? Foreign buyers. Here we go.


Kennedy = Obama. But that might be bad.

Caroline Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama in the NYT this morning, saying that other candidates have experience and plans, but that that may not be enough. She is appealing to the rich white upper crust of the population to look deep into the eyes of an inspiring leader and find a piece of the politics that so moved their parents.

I think that is the major reason to vote for Barack. Inspiration. To be able to change this country with a change of attitude and a positivist charge would kick-start (or could at least kick-start) as resurgence of America as "America."

On the other hand, presidents of ideals are not so great. Bush was the president of evangelical ideals. The right saw him as the prodigal son of a generation-long investment in conservative public service grooming.

Kennedy, if not for the assassination that defined his role in American history, might be instead remembered for the Bay of Pigs, the attendant collapse of relations wit Cuba that led to the missile crisis, or the beginnings of 'Nam. Bad decisions by an inexperienced president acting on his ideals -- even one surrounded by great advisers.

I am not staking a position for or against these candidates. I just posit this as something to think about.


Cheating on my wife with Google.

Thanks to DR for this one.

1. Go to Google, like you do 146 times every day.
2. Enter "Find Chuck Norris"
3. Click "I'm feeling lucky."
4. Be Am(az)(us)ed.


Scrubs and the 'Bowl

Add this to your reasons to hate Dr. Cox. He's a Giants fan.

For Immediate Release

AC Phones It In.

Budding area lawyer, AC, has decided to call in sick for the first time since god knows when. Sources close to Mr. C have noted that he has been ill for nearly two weeks, honking and sneezing his way around the office. "Seriously, it was kind of gross. The guy was dripping like a faucet. We were like, go home. And he was like, there's a lot to do. That's true and all, but...I mean, eew."

Reports indicate that C and spouse RSC are both home sick, and early indications are that they may even bill a full day's work between them. "We stayed in bed until we could move, and then rolled over," said Mr. C to nobody in particular. "Smoothies and soup, that's pretty much our lives right now. Oh, and the Simpsons Movie," chirped RSC. More on the flick to come.

Both sad sacks of bio-hazardous waste are expected back in the office tomorrow.


Just Wierd Enough to Post

Tasha Maltby, at right, is Dani Graves "pet." Not in the endearing sense, mind you. In the lay out my clothes, make my food, clean my house, and then lead my around by a leash sense. The cuddly-in-black couple made news when she/it/woof! was kicked off a bus for wearing the leash. The bus driver thought it posed a public safety hazard.

I am not sure. I am also not sure that the bus company has to issue an apology, as it has chosen to do. If you go around dressed in a manner well outside the norm, I think you take a risk that some people will react badly to it. Indeed, isn't that many times the point? So if you do manage to get a rise out of someone, why do you then deserve an apology?

( Sorry, the Beeb always makes we lapse into mother tongue dialect.)

An addendum: I'll admit that this post is here for "freak" appeal. I am not proud of that, but I am human after all. I'll even go so far as to admit 'seeing' what Ms. Maltby might find appealing about being submissive. (in the liberal intellectual sense, calm yourselves; especially you, RSC)Yet, I associate that with a sexual choice, not a general character trait. What is wrong with leaving those kinds of preferences at home and/or sharing them outwardly with people you know and trust instead of insisting on adopting it as your persona at large?

Things You Already Knew Because You Are Smarter Than Me

"Green Collar" job: a job that putatively aids the environment. Why putatively? Because, like CFLs which contain hazardous waste, and Ethanol which takes more petroleum to produce than it saves, most environmental jobs are not all they are cracked up to be.

But before you go haranguing me for poo-pooing the "green revolution" know that at least this term has been around since 1992. Of course, it will never have been bandied about with such reckless abandon as it will in the coming six months.


You Could Have a Tort Ummel, Maybe, If You Just Give it Half a Chance

The Ummels are suing their ReMax buyer's agent because they claim they overpaid for their $1.150M home. A later appraisal on the property put it at $1.05M, or $100K less -- a roughly 9% flub. Their legal fees currently stand at $75K.

1. How much "caveat emptor" should there be when you are purchasing a seven figure property?
2. Moreover, does a less-than-10% variance in value constitute negligence on the part of the buyer's agent?
3. How can you tell the difference between buying at a price inflated by your buyer's agent and a price inflated by the market? By definition, someone has to buy at the top of the market. How can you tell the difference between that and a fraudulent sale?

What is certain: If this begins a trend of suits against buyer's agents, their insurance premiums will go up and someone will have to bear that cost. Either it will mean leaner margins, and fewer agents or less service, or it will mean higher costs. We'll see what the court does.

Personal Annual Report

Josh Feltron has published a "personal annual report" for the past few years. "Lame lame lame," I thought, "but also lame enough to be intruiging." So I clicked and discovered that Mr. Feltron is a graphic artist (www.mgfn.com) (a good one) and that his annual report is an elegant mix of typography / layout and neat snippets of personal stats (days traveled, miles run, best wedding, best meals, iTunes tracks listened to, etc.).

Mr. Feltron, I salute you.

Still Illin.

What kind of bug doesn't improve one iota in a week!?!


Apparently, Mr. Smith, your vote is worth precisely $800

Bruce Bartlett. fmr. asst. Sec. Treas. says the "stimulous package" will do more for a dirty joke than for the economy -- I am paraphrasing. So he says in that liberal rag, the WSJ.

So, let's play our favorite game again, cui bono? Who stands to benefit if Mr. Bush decides to start doling out checks again? Well, let's see. The package is passed now andwill likely require about 2 months to set up, then another month to send out the checks, and we are in April. Just before the summer push to Election Day. Republicans will toot the "tax cut"/"money back in your pocket" trumpet and try to push Republicans to the polls.

Yes, this is cynical. Even more cynical is a guess that $800 might buy some goodwill from independent voters, but then we're arguing that the White House is leveraging the fisc for the benefit of part politics. I don't think I want to go that far.

I'll admit that I don't see any economic plus-side here and the political plus-side is a little fuzzy. Can anyone draw a clearer line as to who benefits from the cut?


Superbowl. Period.

For all of you who can't wait to tell me how 'insufferable' I have been for tooting our horn almost not at all this season, I can't stop you. Go ahead. But please, let's get three things down:

1. This team is the most well-balanced, well tempered team most of us have ever seen. Multiple receivers thrown to in every game; a Randy Moss who understands that he is just a part of the marvelous machine; a late-budding running game; an aging-nay veteran-defense that shows up every single week and does not relent; a special teams squad that just executes over and over again; and a QB who is smart and has great vision. It is a supreme mix.

2. This coaching, spy-gate notwithstanding, has made this season. Why? Two things. Making it a "team" and making that team play 60 minutes every. single. game. If you can make Randy, Seau, and Brady mesh on this team, you have some serious talent. And if you can make them play all sixty minutes every week, you are a god. How many times did people get down on WR for dropping off their routes when they knew they would not be thrown to? It's hasn't been an issue this year, so the Pats always drew defenders. etc. etc. etc. Eventually, you can't compete with it.

3. This team is relatively humble. There is very, very little grandstanding. I didn't like spy-gate and it will forever be attached to this team. But this team has not touted its greatness - yet. If it wins two weeks from now, it will simply revel in being the best ever -- for a long, long time.

p.s. Eli, I am revising my opinion of you. You are a clutch quarterback. You made some great throws. To mature, you just have to do that more consistently. I know you want back to back Manning superbowls. More than that, we all know your daddy wants it. And what Marty wants, Marty gets.

p.p.s. I said it before the game, it was Favre's risky tosses that would determine the game, and they did. He is really great. It just hurts that much more when he throws it away.


The Blairzilla project.

'Cloverfield' is being panned. So, you mean a gimmick gets old after almost an hour and a half without the respite of at least a steady-cam mount?


LOC on FlickR

MentalFloss notes that the Library of Congress has posted color photos from the 30's and 40's on FlickR. They are amazing and, as MF mentions, a reminder that life didn't magically come into color in the 50s.

Here is the FlickR Link. And a taste:

The Science of Tricking

Two great science tidbits:

If you will it, it is no dream.
Scientists have discovered that people who are told that a wine costs more report enjoying it more. And if you think that they are simply reporting in line with what they are expected to say, think again. Electrodes confirm greater activity in the pleasure center of the brain. So, if you think you are going to have more pleasure, you will.

You got a grant for what?!
New Mexico psych profs actually got money to go to a local strip joint and check tips for strippers. Those who were not an birth control and ovulating made more in tips than those who were not ovulating (by nearly 2:1). Those on birth control had a constant stream of tips at about the average.

1. It is impressive to think that we can pick up on these signals and have no idea.
2. Who paid for this study?
3. The researchers actually recommended that women in service jobs schedule more shifts while ovulating! This is a silly econ. argument. The study showed that those on the pill made the average rate of tips at all times. That is the lowest-risk, highest-yield option. BC for everyone!


Some Immuno-Comic Relief

Some of you know that I have been ill for the past week. A trip to the doctor confirms that this is in the enourmously broad category of "cold," rather than the equally cavernous bucket, "flu." Treatment: none. Patient has been instructed to "treat the symptoms." Patient lives in Washington D.C. and is well aware of-, and unsurprised by, this strategy.

This cold has launched me into such coughing and sneezing fits as I have rarely known. Yet, one stands above the rest. On my forehead is a bump, a result of a full torso-folding sneeze in the bathroom, followed immediately by a second-wave sneeze.

Ah-choo!, Ah-chooo! Ugh!

Dazed, patient looks up at the mirror to realize that he has hit his head on the faucet to the sink. Patient remarks to himself that this cannot be possible given that the faucet is one of those low-set modern types "way down there." Patient's new bump begs to differ.


Carbon Credits.

The FTC is investigating companies that sell "carbon credits." These companies purport to do good for the environment in one place, and then offer to sell companies a share of that good so that they can offset pollution in another place.

This is a more exaggerated form of the carbon credit marketplace that failed and is undergoing major retooling in Europe. (wiki).

First, the idea of trading credits only works when companies that were polluting anyway, manage to beat emissions standards by enough of a margin that they can sell that margin to other polluters (who are slower to catch up) to help them reach the same standards. It provides an economic incentive to clean more, faster, and creates a higher cost for larger polluters. When you insert companies that do nothing but generate credits, you undercut this system by eliminating the incentive to clean up and replacing it with just an increased cost to meet emission standards.

Second, from a practical perspective, does planting trees or releasing algae into the ocean really help? If I am polluting in N. Carolina, a release of algae in the North Sea might help the globe, but it does nothing for N. Carolina or the United States, which is what the regulators really care about.

Finally, carbon offsets present something of an ethical dilemma. Accepting that pollution is bad, the solution is to require people to reduce, not to enable them to offset it with good acts elsewhere. For example, if cap and trade were permitted in the legal system, Jack Abramoff could have been able to argue that his extortive and corrupt practices were offset by the fact that so much of the proceeds went to charity. That doesn't make sense to us because we don't want people to rob the rich to pay the poor -- we don't anyone to rob anyone else, period. Same goes here.

I am a law-talking guy after all!

The Supreme Court handed down a decision in Stoneridge v. Scientific Atlanta yesterday. Your eyes are starting to glaze over, but wait! CFO.com quoted a G'Town law professor who called the decision the "Roe v. Wade" of securities law.

The scenario: A cable company, Charter, entered into sham transactions with Scientific Atlanta and Motorola to inflate earnings. Charter signed fake marketing agreements with the two companies (who were in on the whole thing) to boost Charter's revenue. It then gave them the money back by tacking on an additional $20 to each cable box that Charter bought. To hide the scheme, Charter backdated the cable box contracts.

The Suit: Plaintiffs sued Scientific Atlanta and Motorola, not just for business fraud (a state claim), but also for violations of the federal securities laws. Why? Because Charter's fraudulent revenue statements could not have been made but for the underlying fraud.

The decision: The Court stated that Plaintiffs could maintain fraud suits in state court but could not maintain suit for securities law violations. Why? Charter made a misstatement of its revenues to the public via an SEC filing and caused investors harm. The Court found that Scientific Atlanta and Motorola's acts in entering into the underlying fraudulent transactions were too far removed from that statement to have caused a violation of the securities laws.

The disclaimer: This is a very quick review of a complex court case. There is a lot of talk about the rightness/wrongness or effect of the decision. I am not touching any of that here.

Why it is on the blog: The comment that it is "Roe v. Wade." Um. No. This is hailed a win for business over the investor. In the general political perspective, a win for Wall Street is the inverse of Roe.

Perhaps it is "Roe"-like because it creates a new test or framework for deciding cases? Again, no. This case simply states that Congress did not intend to create a private right of action for aiding and abetting securities violations.

So we are left asking if it is like Roe merely because it is might be an iconic or watershed decision. That seems to be the case. If so, the good professor is just grandstanding, and that, I dare say, is a poor academic step.


Wouldn't it be nice?

If instead of filing an "answer" to a legal "complaint," you had the option to file a "shut up and take it like a man"?

MacBook Air

Oh. My. God. http://www.apple.com/macbookair/

Recession watch.

I don't mean to be a downer. A recession is a natural economic reality. Sometimes the bulls win and sometimes the bears win, as they say. I will be posting tidbits asking the following questions:

1. Are we headed into or actually in a recession?
2. What should you do in a recession? (based on expert advice, or at least more knowledgable than me)
3. What are the causes fo recession? In particular, do we talk ourselves into recession?

First installment, the NYTimes reports a pronounced decline in consumption from this time last year. More than consumer confidence or the price index, this would indicate that people expect a recession.

The prices of commodities are also at high points, another "classic sign" of recession because commodities are seen as safe hedges when the market tanks.

Tomorrow, the contrary view. You decide.


Paralympian Deemed Superior to Mere Humans

Double amputee Oscar Pistorius has been ruled ineligible under IAAF rules (the body governing track) after a German scientist found that the carbon-fiber blades Oscar uses give him a "clear technical advantage." This is different from having wheel-chair on the track, but nobody has yet challenged the scientist's findings that the blades require 2/3 less energy. If the science is sound, I have no objection.

Here is my beef: let's eliminate all "clear technical advantage" and assess atheletes on pure skill. Out with the shark suits, kevlar track shoes, carbon fibre bobselds, high end skis, etc. Let's create a standard set of equipment and have everyone use it. You win with that and we know it was all you, it was not - so-to-speak - the shoes.

When we all guess, we're right.

There is a strange phenomenon in groups. Quite the opposite of group emotion known as the 'mob mentality,' group intelligence turns out to be quite accurate. To wit: a group of people asked to guess the weight of an ox will each be wrong, but taken as a group the average of their guesses is often very near the mark. This happens regardless of the people's education and occurs even when they don't talk to each other about the idea.

Turns out that group-think might not just be accurate about the present state of things, but about the future as well. Good has run internal prediction markets, where employees can bid on future events -- product launches, etc. They claim that the employees as a group are pretty accurate about the probability and timing of product launches.

The implication is huge: large companies can use their own employees as a type of confidential benchmarking and forecasting tool. There are already open markets of this type, such as the Iowa Electronic Markets for politics, etc.

Why does it work? Are the results of the market merely predictive, or are they prescriptive as well? Do we do things because conventional wisdom states that they are expected?


1. Pats/Jags: I hope every NE fan thanks Randy Moss for being the decoy extraordinaire the past few games. There is a reason that deep coverage is so often distracted, opening up the middle routes for the likes of Stallworth. And why hasn't Randy produced? Likely because his Moss-ness is double and triple covered. Thank you Randy!

2. Indy/SD: SD won this one because of a two things: a few tips went its way and a little man named Sproles. The Pats had better find a lid on the run for next week. Seriously though, I was as shocked (ok, maybe somewhat less shocked in the comfort of my living room) as Tony Dungy to watch SD's second string QB, WR, and RB pick apart my defense. Hey Pats, how do you play a team that has only 1 week of game tape all season?

3. Giants/Cowboys: I didn't see this game, but I saw Eli's numbers. They were low = he played smart football and committed no turnovers. Texas, this was your game to win and you simply didn't. Enjoy the golf season.

4. Pack/'Hawks: Was there a question? In snow, at Lambeau, in January, after this season? Mr. Farve is the player of destiny. Will he meet the Team of Destiny at the Superbowl?


Because Ignorance Begets Hate...

It is possible that some of you may have received the "In memoriam" email which claims that the UK has banned the teaching of the Holocaust because it offends Muslim students. The BBC got wind of it, got an official comment, and the claim is not true. What is true is that there is a serious vein of anti-semitism and holocaust denial in certain English Muslim communities. That truth is disturbing.

If you get one of these emails, please respond to the sender and give them the facts. If we want to memorialize the Holocaust for the foreseeable future, we must do so with a rigorous examination of the facts, not by making it into a myth. Fables are easily toppled.


Mr. FIxit.

Apparently, the Israel photos are not showing up. I'll fix that for next week.


Tel Aviv, Haifa Dec 30-31

RSC's sister is in med school in Tel Aviv, taking part in an English language program. She's not the only one. Our good friend and the brother of another good friend, both from Boston, are also there. Seems like everyone and their mother was in Israel over winter break. 4,000 birthrighters, us, half the young Brookline, MA community (who all got together at Cafe Rimon on Ben Yehuda Saturday night to complete our cliched existence), and bunches and bunches of others, some visiting, some having moved permanently. [ For the uninitiated, to move to Israel is to make "Aliyah", or "ascent"]
Then it was back up to Haifa as a home base to the north of the country. We hiked Haifa, a rolling, hilly city if there ever was one. Think Athens or San Francisco. Searching the internet for something of the beaten path, we found a nature hike in one of the many wadis (gully or gorge) that have been set aside as nature preserves to create a green link from the top of Mt. Carmel to the ocean.

In true Israeli fashion, the trails were painstakingly marked but the instructions as to how to get there were sketchy: Wadi Siach (SEE-ach, meaning bush), walk along the top of the Carmel, make a left at the Rapapport sports auditorium, make another left onto Lotus. Between 12 Lotus street and the elementary school there are steps onto a dirt path. Of course, this is Israel, so it worked after a few stops and starts down what were clearly private entrances.

The view was amazing. In the photo, you can see Kabrir, an Arab section of the Carmel (not a village, a neighborhood), at the top, and a Crusades-era church at the bottom. The church was made of the chalk rock found in the valley, lending it a beautiful white tone. But, like the chalk, it was infused with black flint seams shaped like twigs and branches. I can't imagine what it must have looked like when complete.

Towards the end of hike, I learned why they call the Wadi "siach." I have a weak ankle from a recent injury and I turned it stumbling on a loose stone near the bottom of the run. I leaned into the turn to avoid a serious sprain -- and planted my hand full force into a short, dry bramble bush -- a siach. Two minutes of cartoon-like yelps later, I had most of the 25 thorns out of right hand. Two minutes after that, I had recovered five more that had announced themselves. I held my hand up above my heart, but to no avail. Two minutes again passed and suddenly every nerve in my hand was atwitch in a sensation of pain-scratching that was distracting in the extreme. Of course, my ankle didn't hurt.

We hiked the remaining two clicks to the coast. At lunch, bussed back to the top of the Carmel and hiked down about 6-7 miles to Wadi Nisnas, the Arab-Christian quarter that was celebrating "Sylvester", the other name for New Years. For those who have seen only the Bahai gardens and the beach, you now know what to hit next time you are in town.


Huckabee Proposes VAT, Called Progressive

Steven Landsburg of Slate has declared "brilliant" Huckabee's plan to do away with income tax and replace it with a sales tax. He goes on and on about how smart it is and how the media bash it because they don't understand it.

Go to the comments and people are all over each other: "Rich people spend less of their total income, so this is a tax hike on the poor!" vs. "This is fairer because it grants you the use of your until you spend it, instead of taking a percentage up front!"

Do any of these people realize that the system exists and has existed for decades in other countries? It is called a Value Added Tax.

pro: You get to keep all your money and pay taxes only when you spend. In addition, instead of taxing the rich for being rich, you tax anyone who buys a luxury item. Sales tax on staples are nearly zero. Taxes on Hummers can reach 100%. Rich people buy more high-end stuff so they pay a lot more in taxes.

con: Prices will go up. They have to go up when you include the taxes. The challenge is to get people (the same people who didn't get that adjustable rates on their mortgages might change) to see their budget in the big picture -- instead of paying taxes out of your paycheck, you will take home more and spend more. Easier blogged than done.

Political Tidbit

Rumors of Richardson dropping out. I think he is and was running for veep, and that dropping out would be a mistake if that is the goal. I think veep would want to look like a candidate at least until Super Tuesday. Questions to mull:

1. Mistake for Big Bill to drop out?
2. Does Edwards want veep? Would he accept it? (I think he is banking on winning SC)
3. Richardson for Sec State? (Thanks to DS for that suggestion)

Back to J'lem, December 28-30

Those unfamiliar with Israel asked RSC to take photos depicting life there. Given the varied terrain in Israel, as well as the variety of cultures and ethnicities, that's tough. Toss in an ever-changing military/political landscape and it is damn-near impossible.

Here is something simple: How close are Arabs and Israelis really? Really, really close. This is a shot looking north from Givat Hatachmoshet - Ammunition Hill. It is the former base of the Jordanian Arab legion and sits about 15 minutes walk from the Old City. On the hill, there is a memorial to the battle for Jerusalem in 1967, and you can still wander through the trenches and bunkers. Looking off the hill at the top, you get a view of just how close things really are. This is a view of a small village about 1 km away from Ramallah. Close, huh?

Wait until tomorrow, when you'll hear about the area south of Jerusalem, where the roads are bordered by large concrete walls to prevent attack, or about the Lebanese border, where military outposts, radar and listening stations abut a scuba operation, ATV trails, and a cable car into gorgeous chalk grottoes by the sea. Yup, that close.

Luckily, things have calmed down for a bit. This is a view from inside the Arab shuk. The traffic is much higher now that Israelis of all types feel that it is safe to come back into these streets. That means non-Jewish tourists are back too, hanging a left into the Arab quarter in greater and greater numbers. I know, I and all the other Israelis have seen them in a quick leftward glance down the still-forbidden streets.
Weird place, I know.


Political Tidbit

1. NH is done. Skipping the big boys, did anyone notice how quickly Huckabee went from media love-child and the messiah of change politics to nonentity as he finished third only two weeks later?

2. Ron Paul. Apparently, you can publish bigotted literature and run for president anymore. TNR broke the story, with excerpts. I found the man refreshing, but this is enough to quash any interest I had. His camp claims that he didn't espouse the views. Ok, but a president does not operate in a vacuum and I worry about the company Mr. Paul has chosen to keep.

Dec 26-28, Haifa

Haifa is beautiful. Following the Russian immigration, it became the center of Russian life in Israel. So much so, in fact, that Hadar, the older part of town where my grandfather lives, is now almost exclusively Russian. What is not Russian is orthodox. That might be the more surprising half. Haifa, long the bastion of Sabras, would have balked at the notion that a "Dati" population would spring up, but spring up they have.

So where are the Sabras? Burbs. Ah, yes. You know you're a first world country when you replace your condo in the city for an upgrade in a new development on the next rise over. New Romema, Vardiya, and so on have all popped up, usually with a shopping area at the summit and housing perched on the surrounding hill in concentric circles. Kids don't play together in the street as much any more. People drive rather than ride the bus to work. Progress people, progress.

Oh, and all Israelis have HDTV. All of them. HoT is one of the major providers, offering not just VOD, but gaming, trivia, and shopping, all from your remote.

Coming home exhausted one night from an urban hike, we caught "Idiocracy." I had no idea this movie was ever made, but it has B-movie appeal out the wazoo. Here is a promo for Brawndo, which in this dystopian future has replaced water as the sole source of liquid nourishment:

[ EDIT - Commenter Jeremy brought this to my attention: www.brawndo.com. OMG, you can actually buy the stuff. Similarly, this Wall-E fanboy loves: http://buynlarge.com/ ]


Can Leadership Trump Experience.

I know, I know. We don't need another entry on this question, so this one is really short. Hil is experience embodied. 8 years in House as an active First Lady. Senate service for a tough state, etc. etc. Obama is an insider, but not on the national level and not in the executive realm.

Key Question: Is America today in a position where it needs the jolt of an inspirational leader over the mark of experience?

Iowa seems to indicate so. I am not convinced, but I am intrigued.

Dec 23-25, Jerusalem

What is most striking today about Jerusalem is the rush of development that has followed the relative calm after the Lebanese conflict almost 2 years ago. The Old City is undergoing renovations and excavations as seen above. The authorities took down the police station that overlooked the Wall to excavate the old structures underneath.

Outside the walls, Yad Veshem has completed the most breathtaking renovation I have ever seen in a museum. Before, I thought it was gripping to walk through because you could not look away from the holocaust imagery, but that reached a saturation point pretty fast. Now, the weaving of taped interviews and documentary clips evenly balances the artifacts and photos, so that you can stay in longer and get more depth without simply experiencing the shock.

Deep in the city, there is a light rail going in, luxury apartment foundations being poured and a bubbling tourism apparently revolving around Birthright, or at least getting the heck out of its way.

The security situation has improved to the point where folks are back in the Arab shuk in the Old City. I haven't been there in nearly 14 years. What a treat. Yeah, something about being there can bring out the right wingishness in even the staunchest lefty.


Back and blogging.

I am back from the trip to Israel. Over the coming few days, I'll be peppering my posts with photos and a travelogue.

Perhaps I was missed?