Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Falluja, a town that rises abruptly out of the vast Syrian Desert an hour west of Baghdad, nearly every building left standing has some sort of hole in it.

Mosques are without their minarets. Apartment walls have been peeled away by artillery shells. A family’s kitchen is full of tiny holes made by a fragmentary grenade.

Of all the places fighting has raged since the American invasion nearly six years ago, Falluja — the site of two major battles and the town where American security contractors were killed and their bodies hung from a local bridge — stands out as one of the bloodiest and most intractable.

This month, as the last American marines prepare to leave Camp Falluja, the sprawling base a few miles outside of town where many of the American troops who fought the two battles were stationed, Falluja has come to represent something unexpected: the hope that an Iraqi town once at the heart of the insurgency can become a model for peace without the United States military.

KEVIN BACON: Six degrees too close to Bernie Madoff...

Those quick to point out how Olmert's miscalculations have hurt the people he governs will typically suggest that military incursions "radicalize" Arab sentiment, leading to more suicide bombers and more dead Israelis.

Assuming this is true, why is it that the corollary is never asked: namely, how does Hamas radicalize Israeli sentiment? A much remarked-upon fact of the last 72 hours is that Israel's ultra-left-wing party Meretz has endorsed Operation Cast Lead, a development that should concern partisans of both sides. If there is merit to the "root causes" argument, then surely it applies to the decisions undertaken by a Jewish policy as much as it does to those undertaken by a Muslim one. Or does a belligerent Israeli consensus form in a vacuum? Honest sympathizers of the Palestinian cause should inquire as to what culpability Ismail Haniyeh and Khalid Mashaal bear for the all-but-certain election of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is sure to continue - to coin another witless cliché of this ageless debate - the "cycle of violence."  If, as Hannah Arendt once phrased it, Theodore Herzl and Bernard Lazare were "turned into Jews by anti-Semitism," why would their empowered disciples be any less susceptible to external threats?

MORE on the "proportionality canard" regarding Israel's response in Gaza.

UPDATE. And more.

BIG BROTHER coming to the UK:
The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.
Meanwhile, in Europe we'll keep shouting our lungs off at the Patriot Act, FISA and the wiretapping by the NSA. Those Americans...

BERNIE MADOFF, there's hope for you yet!
This probably won't come as a surprise. But some of the major culprits in the financial crash -- former CEOs or top execs at banks whose billion-dollar losses helped precipitate the turmoil -- don't seem to be paying much of a price for their catastrophic mismangement.

MORE ON Spain's property bust, in The Economist:
The market is dropping fast. Property fairs tout discounts of as much as 60% on new-built homes, or even “buy one, get one free” offers. “All the statistics show a fall,” concedes the housing minister, Beatriz Corredor. Yet pinning down just how big a fall is tricky. Tax-shy Spaniards do not always declare the true selling prices. The government’s main index, based on valuers’ estimates, shows a 1.3% nominal fall in the third quarter. Most think the true figure is far bigger. The IESE business school talks of prices of existing homes falling by 8%.

Private sellers cannot believe that their homes are losing value, according to Fernando Encinar, communications director at, a property website. But developers know the game is up. Some deals are being struck at 20% below advertised prices, he says, a fact few developers are keen to broadcast. They do not want people writing off deposits on half-built homes and shopping around for something cheaper.
Unlike, for example, the U.S., the real problem is not at household mortgages:
Loan-to-value ratios tend to be safely below 80%. And Spanish mortgages cannot be cancelled by dropping the house keys at the bank: security is provided by all of a borrower’s assets—and sometimes those of relatives as well. It is no surprise that most Spaniards do their utmost not to default.

The real worry for banks concerns their loans to builders and developers. More than 40% of property loans go to them, not to householders. And the numbers considered “doubtful” by the Bank of Spain rose by 60% in the second quarter, to reach 2% of all such loans. They now account for more bad loans than do household mortgages. Worse is to come. “Let no one hope for a price fall of 30-40% because, before that, I’ll be giving it all to the bank,” the head of the Spanish developers’ association, Guillermo Chicote, said recently.
That's why they're dropping like flies.

UPDATE. More: "Everywhere you wander from Malaga to Cadiz, you’ll find empty apartments and apartment projects left half-built. As Simon would say, “The only person making money in this real estate market is the guy who paints the ‘Price Reduced’ signs.” It seems like there’s an idle “overseas property specialist” on every street corner."

UPDATE II. Welcome, Instapundit readers, glad to have you here. If you liked this, take a look at the homepage. If you're interested, you can always add Barcepundit's RSS feed to your reader. See you soon, and happy New Year!

ETA strikes again; luckily this time without hurting anyone:
A car bomb has exploded near the offices of a Basque television station in Bilbao in northern Spain.

The blast happened minutes after the building had been evacuated, following a warning call in the name of the Basque separatist group Eta.

Spanish media said there was structural damage to the building, but no casualties have been reported so far.
Started tweeting #bilbao, if you're interested. So far very few tweets yet.

UPDATE. Watch the explosion here.

A MUST-READ by Lee Smith:
The Israeli raid on Gaza that started late Saturday morning may last several weeks, and ground operations are certainly a possibility. Israel's goal is not to drive Hamas from power, only for the simple reason that there is no one else obviously capable of ruling Gaza at this point. What Israel wants is to compel Hamas to sue for a restoration of the truce, and thus deal the resistance a withering blow that it cannot easily sell as a victory in the aftermath. There is a larger regional strategy involved as well, which has several ramifications for Lebanon, one short-term, one medium-term and another long-range.
Keep reading.

50 YEARS of Communist rule in Cuba: "The Castro oligarchy will trumpet its survival and celebrate. But the
reality, up close, is that it's the longest-running failure in the New
World." So true. But not only in the New World; also in the Old World full of so many apologists of Castro's dictatorship.

NAT HENTOFF out of Village Voice? It sucks.

PEOPLE who meticulously keep a tally of Israel's "disproportionate response": are you counting this too?
At Shifa Hospital on Monday, armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roved the halls. Asked their function, they said they were providing security. But there was internal bloodletting under way.

In the fourth floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late twenties asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Hajoj was carried out of his room by young men pretending to transfer him to another hospital section. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head. A bit of brain emerged on the other side of his skull.

Hajoj, like five others who were killed at the hospital in this way in the previous 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges, and when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.

A crowd at the hospital showed no pity after the shooting, which was widely observed. A man in his thirties mocked a woman who expressed horror at the scene.

"This horrified you?" he shouted. "A collaborator that caused the death of many innocent and resistance fighters?"

Another man told her, "It was his brother who killed him to wipe away the shame from his family."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

IN TWO DAYS, that is, on January 1st, Iraq will take over the Green Zone. A milestone that I'm afraid will be buried in a brief reports inside the papers, if mentioned at all.

THE DUTCH LEFT starts to call for an end to the current notion of tolerance.

ANTHROPOGENIC global warming as pseudo-science:
It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand --- whatever happens --- the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology.

In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science.

Monday, December 29, 2008

OH, THE IRONY: A few minutes ago Michael Arrington tweeted about his TechCrunch entry on DMFail, a page that lists messages on Tweeter that were meant to be private, but went public -- and sometimes embarrassingly so -- because the sender had typed DM instead of D."If you are the kind of person who can’t help but look when you drive by an accident scene, DMFail is for you," he writes.

So, what's Arrington's next tweet, 15 minutes after that?
DM @erickschonfeld Man, Scoble is such a whiner.
Priceless. Take a look:

Click to enlarge

Sunday, December 28, 2008

SOME WEBSITES that didn't think their URLs through...

Saturday, December 27, 2008


THEY WAY things were going, it was going to happen. And it happened this morning:
Just days after the cabinet gave the military final approval to counter ongoing Palestinian rocket fire against communities in the western Negev, the IDF launched a massive operation, striking Hamas installations throughout the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
There's no verified tally, but:
Medical sources report at least 120 Palestinians have been killed and over 200 wounded in a series of Israel Air Force strikes on the Gaza Strip on Saturday, according to Al Jazeera television.

Gaza health official Moawiya Hassanain confirmed the report, saying 120 Palestinians have been killed in the airstrikes.
Among the dead, reportedly, is Tawfiq Jabber, the Gaza police chief.

UPDATE. Palestinians respond with a barrage of Qassam rockets; one Israeli woman has been killed, 4 persons wounded.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

IF THE U.N. ran Christmas...

As Nazareth’s Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas, they are playing down the appearance of a confrontational Islamic banner that challenges an elemental Christian belief.

Journalists visiting the city saw two large banners--one in English, one in Arabic--hanging in the plaza in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, with a verse from the Koran (112:1-4) contradicting the New Testament proclamation that Jesus is the “only begotten” of God.
Nice guys. Does this mean that Christians can go in front of a mosque and erect a poster with Porky in it, or sit down and conspicuously have a picnic during Ramadan? Of course not. They'd spark an uproar of condemnation from the intelligentsia... one that I bet my chorizo that we won't hear this time.

(BTW, Merry Christmas to everyone, if you celebrate it. I'm not a believer, but I like good food, presents, and the people I share both with, so yes, I enjoy Christmas)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FRAUD on Spain's solar energy farms:
Many of the solar parks that stretch across vast tracts of the Spanish countryside are guilty of fraud, Spain's National Energy Commission (CNE) has found.

In the past two years, Spain's solar industry has grown by a spectacular 900%. The country now has the third largest solar capacity in the world, behind the United States and Germany.

But an ongoing investigation by Spanish authorities has so far unearthed nearly 4,200 photovoltaic installations that were falsely registered as being online by a 30 September deadline in order to receive higher levels of subsidy from power companies. According to the CNE report, however, none of the questionable installations, which are located in 1,447 or 13.3% of the country's solar parks, is actually producing any power.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

MORE on Spain's very troubled economy:
Spain escaped exposure to U.S. subprime assets but risks its own property debt crisis in 2009 as defaults soar among real estate and construction firms that hold half of all Spanish corporate credit.

Over 1000 Spanish property and building firms will have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008 and more than 1300 could follow suit next year as they struggle to repay over 470 billion euros ($657.9 billion) in debt, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The collapse of Spain's decade-long housing boom will send non-performing loans to 9 percent by 2010, from 3.5 percent at present, threatening the solvency of savings banks that hold over half of all property debt, according to Credit Suisse.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is ready to launch Spain's first bank bailouts to avoid capital problems and the Bank of Spain expects a wave of forced mergers among small regional savings banks or cajas.

"It'sthe main risk to the whole banking sector," said Antonio Ramirez, abanking analyst at London broker Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "I think the peak on defaults is quite close -- probably mid-2009 -- not because things are getting better, but because things are getting badso quickly."


Starved of easy foreign financing, Spain's housing sector has collapsed under its own weight of over production.

Up to 1.5 million unsold new homes stand empty in Spain, equivalent to 5 years of sales at current depressed rates.

Demand is unlikely to recover until house prices hit bottom, and Standard and Poor's says that may not happen before 2010, with a 30 percent fall from a 2007 peak.

Spain is more dependent on housing than any EU economy, bar Ireland. That has made real estate the achilles' heal of a banking sector which stayed out of U.S. sub prime debt due to Bank of Spain regulations and strong domestic business.

"The Spanish central bank didn't allow our banks to take American crap because they had their own crap...they were extremely exposed to the Spanish housing market," said economist Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics. "This famous 315 billion in developer loans and 160 billion in builder loans, that's not going to be paid."

(my -worried- emphasis)

A SWEET CHRISTMAS: Christmas celebrations in Spain indeed are all about the sugar: turrones, marzipan, polvorones... yum.

FROM 3.5 PERCENT GROWTH to 1.5 percent contraction in a few quarters: Spain has entered recession:
Spain's economy contracted during the fourth quarter, putting it into recession for the first time in 15 years, according to a government report cited by a Spanish newspaper on Tuesday. The Spanish Economy Ministry's synthetic activity indicator or ISA (ISA), which closely tracks gross domestic product (GDP), contracted 1.5 percent between October and December, Spain's El Mundo said. That would mark Spain' second consecutive quarter of shrinking growth, after quarter-on-quarter GDP contracted 0.2 percent between July and September, putting Spain into recession for the first time since 1993.
UPDATE. More here:
The central government had a deficit for the first 11 months of the year of EUR14.06 billion, equal to 1.28% of gross domestic product, the Spanish Finance Ministry said Tuesday.

The government's revenue fell by 12% in the same period, the finance ministry said.

Spain is experiencing one of the European Union's most pronounced economic downturns after the global financial crisis hastened the collapse of a decade-long construction boom.

After several years of near 4% GDP growth, Spain's GDP fell 0.2% in the third quarter from the second quarter - its first quarterly contraction since 1993.

THE HOMELESS in Rome will get beluga caviar for Christmas. No, really.

HEY, it's good to know that it's not only us guys who have beer goggles!

Monday, December 22, 2008

SINGING the U.S. anthem backwards:

BAGHDAD celebrates its first public Christmas.

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Friday, December 19, 2008


BAD NEWS for Andrew Sullivan: Bristol Palin is due to give birth Saturday; Trig was born eight months ago...

On another front, not very good news for Bristol soon-to-be mother in law, either...

DID SADDAM'S DAUGHTER, who looted millions from Iraq, secretly fund both the shoe thrower and the bungled coup attempt?

WAY TO GO, WIKILEAKS: they have posted a secret bomb-stopper report, "outlining how the Warlock Red and Warlock Green jammers work with — and interfere with — military communications systems. The report, dated 2004, gives specific information about how the jammers function, their radiated power and which frequencies they stop. That Baghdad bomb tech would've put his fist through a wall, if he saw it out in public."

You must be soooo proud.

I HOPE CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers is ready to what's coming to him. He dared to say that manmade global warming is arrogant:
“You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant,” Myers said. “Mother Nature is so big, the world is so big, the oceans are so big – I think we’re going to die from a lack of fresh water or we’re going to die from ocean acidification before we die from global warming, for sure.”
And he's not alone:
Dr. Jay Lehr, an expert on environmental policy, told “Lou Dobbs Tonight” viewers you can detect subtle patterns over recorded history, but that dates back to the 13th Century.

“If we go back really, in recorded human history, in the 13th Century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now and it was a very prosperous time for mankind,” Lehr said. “If go back to the Revolutionary War 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We’ve been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period and now we’re back into a cooling cycle.”

Lehr suggested the earth is presently entering a cooling cycle – a result of nature, not man.

“The last 10 years have been quite cool,” Lehr continued. “And right now, I think we’re going into cooling rather than warming and that should be a much greater concern for humankind. But, all we can do is adapt. It is the sun that does it, not man.”

THE YEAR 2008 in photographs. Impressive (particularly #28, to me)

Several cars and other vehicles were torched, while homemade explosives and stones were thrown at police in overnight clashes with youths Friday in the Swedish city of Malmo.

There were no injuries and some 20 people were briefly detained.

The troubles were described as the worst in protests linked to the recent closure of a basement used as a mosque in the Rosengard district. Most of the population in the district are immigrants.

The protests became violent after police on Monday evicted youths who for three weeks had occupied the basement, which also was being used as an Islamic centre.

1929 IS the wrong model for the current economic crisis: rather, it resembles to the Panic of 1873, writes historian Scott Reynolds Nelson. Which was, apparently, worse.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

OBAMA, the college years: a 1980 photo shoot.

HILARIOUS, you got to admit it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

US BANKRUPT? No, it's more like a homeowner with a mortgage.

CHINA has quietly begun to block again websites that it had stopped censoring during the Olympic games.

The 10 dopiest business and economy leaders of 2008.

IOWAHAWK turns five. Congratulations!

It could be any other wedding video – the grinning couple dancing badly to hits from the Seventies surrounded by friends and family.

The video, however, ended in a court date for the cameraman and a fine of €60,101 (£53,700) for his employers after it emerged that he was a private detective who had gatecrashed the reception to gather evidence against the owners of the venue.

The detective had been employed by the Spanish General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE), which protects the rights of musicians and artists to their work. The society suspected that the owners of La Doma restaurant, in San Juan de Aznal-farache, near Seville, had not paid royalties for the music that they were using for the reception.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A BIG ROUNDUP of reaction inside Iraq to the shot-hurling. Not surprisingly people over this side of the world are more supportive of the hero than Iraqis themselves...


BY DEFINITION, if you throw a shoe at someone -- two, rather -- and you don't spend the rest of your live shut in a dungeon with your testicles badly burnt by electrodes, but you survive to tell the tale, that person can't be a tyrant, can he?

The Spanish press is, of course, having a field day. The footage was shown over and over on TV, even 7 or 8 times in a single newscast while the anchor was saying "we can't stop playing it" (Telecinco, a couple of days ago). And as another example, this was in the front page of La Vanguardia, Barcelona's main -- and supposedly center-right -- newspaper: "The Hero Who Hurled His Shoes at Bush." No italization or quote marks around "hero" no siree bob.

Monday, December 15, 2008

KOSOVO, an example of a really moderate Muslim country.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

NOT ALL the lefts in Latin America are equal (via Ron Radosh).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I ONLY PARTIALLY AGREE with Michael Arrington's point that seems to have touched a nerve today (let me start saying that I didn't attend LeWeb, so I'm not speaking about what happened there, just in general). He argues that there's a fundamental difference between the startup scenario in the US and the EU. I'm not sure the reasons he states are right, at least as the most important factor. Some seem to be a bit too 'superficial'; you can do a lot of interesting business over a 3-hour lunch (trust me!). And even if you don't do actual business, you get to know people in a way you probably wouldn't (and all my Valley friends who have been in Barcelona can attest, I think). It may not be immediate business, but you get to a level that you know they're going to be there for you if you need them, and the other way around. And they put their own friends in touch with you when they're coming to town, so you actually expand the network over time.

In other words, 3-hour lunches, in my experience, are edible Facebooks.

Yet at the same time there's the undisputable fact that the vitality of the startup scene in the US is several times bigger than in Europe. Of course, there's always examples of great startups in Europe (like the ones Loïc, or Mike in the comments, point out), but the fact is that most of them end up being gobbled up by American companies. There's a reason for that. It's not the entrepreneurs to blame (at least not only; red tape is much to blame), but it's undeniably true.

What people writing on this topic seem to forget is that things are changing in Europe, precisely because of the internet: now there's not only European guys working in European startups -- or creating them --, and Europeans moving to the US because things go "faster" there. There's also Europeans who work in the US but live in Europe, and all on the same day. Yes, people who have a sort of dual personality, if you will, combining the American way of doing business with the fact that some parts of their lives are less "get down to business right now" and more inclined to personal relationships. I know it's not good to use oneself as an example, but since a bit over three years ago I started working for an American company in the online media sector, basically telecommuting while living in Barcelona (yes, high-speed internet plus VoIP phone allows you to have your office anywhere, wasn't that the point?). I went up the ladder up from European editor to a senior position (Supervising Editor, with global responsibilities), until I departed about a month ago, now preparing other initiatives (now in stealth mode).

People who know me say that I have a fairly American work attitude: I hate wasting time and like to work fast and going to the point, am results-oriented, entrepreneurial, and so forth. And yet, that's when I am working, which is obviously most of the time but not all the time. When I'm not working I'm just like a European, enjoying the break and yes, taking 2-hour lunches.

In short, I don't think it's an either/or thing; more and more Europeans are starting to be "psychologically Americans" when doing business, and at the same time keeping that different attitude towards life outside business.

TWO AWARENESS TESTS, as a part of a clever campaign for bicyclists' security in the UK. Pretty cool (via Tom Palmer):

Via the campaign's website, another great one:

UPDATE. More tricks. Neat.

26 HOURS AT SEA: Guy Kawasaki blogs his visit to the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier. Great photos (more than 100), several videos; fantastic.

Friday, December 12, 2008

An actor slit his throat on stage when the prop knife for his suicide scene turned out to be a real one.

Daniel Hoevels, 30, slumped over with blood pouring from his neck while the audience broke into applause at the "special effect". Police are investigating whether the knife was a mistake or a murder plot.

GIVE THE GIFT of friendship and befriend a geek this Christmas. The video is a riot.

DOG tries to rescue another dog which had been run over by a car in the middle of a highway, with cars passing by (audio in Spanish, but not really necessary to see what's going on):

WAR BETWEEN McDonalds and Starbucks: this is the ad that McDonald has erected just across the street from Starbucks' HQ:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

FRENCH DOCTOR confirms that Kim Jong-il was really il:
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had a stroke in August but appears to be better, according to a French doctor who has treated him.

The doctor, François-Xavier Roux, told Le Figaro, the French daily: “Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke but did not undergo an operation. He is now better.”

Dr. Roux, a Paris-based neurosurgeon, added: “The photos that have just been published seem recent and authentic to me. I have the impression that he is in charge in North Korea. I can’t say more because of medical confidentiality and state secrecy.”

GEORGE REISMAN shatters mercilessly the myth that laissez faire is reponsible for the financial crisis. It's a few weeks old, but since it's so extraordinary I recommend the reading anyway.

CHINA now more capitalist than the US?
In response to the financial crisis of 2008, the United States has responded by nationalizing industries and electing a president who promised to raise taxes on entrepreneurial efforts.  China, the nominally Communist nation, has responded by cutting business taxes to stimulate growth.  Remind me which nation supposedly supports capitalism and free enterprise.
Although, on the other hand:
Chinese exports registered their largest drop in nearly a decade last month, suggesting that the global recession could be far worse than many economists had previously predicted.

According to statistics released by the Chinese government Wednesday, exports fell 2.2 percent from November 2007 to November 2008 — the largest year-over-year monthly decline since April 1999.

Even at a time of increasingly dour economic news, the Chinese trade numbers stunned many economists. They struck an ominous note for China, where labor unrest has increased markedly as the economy has slowed in the last month.

Many analysts had anticipated that the monthly trade figures would show China’s export machine slowing along with the global economy, but few had expected it to slip into reverse. In October, exports surged 19.2 percent year-over-year.

“We were expecting a slowdown, but the magnitude is a bit shocking,” said Wang Tao, an analyst at UBS Securities.

NOW this is scary:
Last year, rising food prices touched off riots around the world, killing dozens of people. Unable to afford basic supplies, communities in Central Africa are increasingly turning to the forests for food. In doing so, hunters expose themselves to hidden dangers - microscopic pathogens living in the blood of forest animals.

Most of the viruses are harmless, but some are potentially deadly when passed to humans. Scientists point out there's nothing new about these viruses. What is new is the frequency of people's contact with them and how easily they can now be spread around the world.

JIHADISTS CAUGHT in Belgium; one of them was apparently going to commit a suicide attack against the EU Summit taking place today.

UPDATE. It's snowing in Houston, for the first time in 67 years...

IF STEVE JOBS ran one of the Big Three auto companies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

These bailouts are an awful idea -- the worst of K St. capitalism (== kapitalism) inviting an insanely bad future for the industries affected. If there's one thing worse than Detroit managed by the managers who have been driving the American auto industry into the ground for the past three decades, it is Detroit managed by politicians.

KYOTO is worthless -- and you don't have to be a sceptic to believe that now.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

THEY'VE FOUND sugar in the Milky Way. Yummy, we only need some coffee now and we have the perfect sponsorship opportunity for Starbucks! (via tweet by Guy Kawasaki)

REMEMBER how Andrew Sullivan didn't let go the issue of Sarah Palin's pregnancy, not even last week, when he posted yet another oh-so-mysterious picture? Well, in Charles Johnson's words, he got pwned in his own blog: while he's off, his staffer debunks the paranoia. In Sullivan's own blog.

Monday, December 08, 2008

DO YOU KNOW who's gonna love Obama's infrastructure plan? Tony Soprano.

IF OIL PRICES stay where they are now, things won't get bad for Venezuelans. They'll get extremely ugly. And will make Chavez even more unpredictable.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

SOME CONCERNS about free web services. He makes a very good point.

"BILL AYERS: PLEASE GO AWAY:" Hilzoy nails it.

IF YOU WANTED some evidence of what I wrote yesterday, here it is.

Is the fight to preserve the traditional American family – think the Cleavers meet the Bradys – one to, as its proponents argue, protect children, or is it means by which to silence the “radical gay agenda” in the United States through institutionalized shame? Cindy Lederman, a Miami-Dade circuit judge, is convinced it’s the latter.

Lederman’s landmark ruling, a move likely to elicit Prop 8-like responses, noted the inherent hypocrisy in Florida state law allowing gay men and women to be foster parents, but not legally adopt.
Totally. Read the rest, because James Richardson is spot on. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but I've always thought it should be easier for people to accept adoption by gay couples than marriage... There's certainly a legitimate, non-bigoted anthropological and cultural case to be made against gay marriage (and against heterosexual marriage, for that matter), and yet I think that even people who are against it should see that it's always much better for a kid to be raised in a family -regardless of whether it's gay or not- than in the care of the public services.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

AS IT'S WELL KNOWN, Bizantines drove gas-guzzling chariots that, together with their massive CO2 factories, created a massive climate change that doomed them:
An analysis of rings on a stalagmite from a cave near Jerusalem reveals a drier climate in the region at a time in history when the Roman and Byzantine empires were in decline, scientists reported on Thursday.

[...] "Whether this is what weakened the Byzantines or not isn't known, but it is an interesting correlation," [University o Wisconsin geologist John] Valley said in a statement.

NO! Really? You could knock me over with a feather! "Female art students more sexually active than male science nerds: study"

Isn't just about anyone more sexually active than a male science nerd, I ask?

(I know, I know: I'm falling into a stereotype. It's the weekend, lighten up!)

I WAS READING this piece by Roger Cohen in tomorrow's New York Times Magazine on Cuba and the Obama factor. Started alright, interesting, until I got to this but of bullsh*t in page 3 (bolding is mine)
The city is dimly lighted, but one of Fidel’s achievements, along with an impressive education system and universal health care, is security.
At this point I stopped reading. Why waste any more time? This canard is like a disqualifying foul: everytime I find it in a piece, I know it's simply time to put that piece aside and move on. Call it "Jose's Law", Godwin's Law relative.

2008 WILL BE the coolest year of the decade:
Global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, but cooler temperature is not evidence that global warming is slowing, say climate scientists.
Yeah, just as higher temperature isn't evidence that global warming is accelerating either. And yet, the same guys who are urging us not to jump into conclusions now are the same ones who hysterically shout "the world is ending" every time the temps rise a little.

So it's no surprise that more and more reputed scientists are parting ways with the ecochondriac zeitgeist:
Lawrence Solomon, a longtime environmental activist, began wondering a few years ago how it could be that some scientists were questioning the apparently solid consensus that humans are causing a global warming crisis. He began seeking them out, and interviewing them on the topic.

Before long, Solomon came to realize a substantial number of the world's leading scientists are making a very strong case that humans are not causing any sort of global warming crisis.
And this is the key:
Global warming has become a critical question for citizens who must decide whether the cures being bandied about are not in fact worse than the disease.

In matters of health, most intelligent citizens seek a second opinion before undergoing a serious medical procedure, but in the case of global warming, a second opinion is exactly what global warming activists do not want you to seek, for fear it will reduce the effectiveness of their fear-mongering. Therefore, we are treated to a continuous drumbeat of the words, "the science is settled."
Some consensus, eh?

DO YOU REMEMBER the expensive decor in the ceiling of a chamber at the UN's Geneva building, pompously called "the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room"?

Well, just one week after its grandiose opening, it's crumbling down:

UPDATE. Claudia Rosett (welcome to her readers): "Whether this is life imitating art, or vice versa, I’m not sure. But that ceiling of mulitcolored “melting” stalactites, with its over-the-top tab, 100 tons of paint, and dysfuntional design, is a superb metaphor for the UN itself."

UPDATE II. More pics here.

"THANKS for the mammaries"... I love The Sun's caption writers.

FIRST zero-star hotel opens. Not kidding.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I CAN'T BELIEVE Andrew Sullivan is still on this; read Ann Althouse.

BIRTH CONTROL PILLS affecting women's taste in men?

MORE on the UN's unforgivable role in the Rwandan genocide (in CNN, no less):
In 1993, Romeo Dallaire was full of hope for the future of Rwanda.

The Canadian lieutenant general and son of a soldier was about to take up the biggest command of his career -- leading United Nations peacekeepers in the central African nation.

A year later he left Rwanda a broken man, having watched helplessly as more than 800,000 people perished in Rwanda's genocide despite his pleas for more troops to stop the massacre.

"We could have actually saved hundreds of thousands," Dallaire told CNN's Christiane Amanpour for "Scream Bloody Murder."

"Nobody was interested."

Dallaire's mission was to monitor a peace deal between two warring ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. But the agreement was just a façade. Hutu extremists within the government were stockpiling weapons, and Tutsi refugees had formed a rebel army. VideoWatch Dallaire describe how he could have stopped the genocide »

The Tutsis were a minority in Rwanda, and their plight was personal for Dallaire. His Dutch mother had watched friends die in the Holocaust, and he had been raised on stories of heroic Canadian soldiers who brought hope to war-torn Europe.

A French Canadian raised in Montreal, Dallaire had experienced discrimination first-hand and was determined to protect the Tutsi minority. But he soon found his was a lone voice.

On January 20, 1994, Dallaire made a chilling discovery: An informant warned him that Hutu government agents were planning bloodshed.

"They were going to conduct an outright slaughter and elimination of the opposition," Dallaire said.

Dallaire cabled his bosses in New York, warning that his informant "has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. He suspects it is for their extermination."

The informant described a major weapons cache, which Dallaire said he planned to raid in the next 36 hours. VideoWatch Dallaire describe the warnings from the informant »

Kofi Annan, then head of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, was concerned about the safety of Dallaire's limited U.N. force. Annan's office told Dallaire: "We cannot agree to the operation contemplated ... as it clearly goes beyond the mandate."

Dallaire tried to change Annan's mind, repeatedly exchanging faxes with New York through the rest of January and into February.

"Ultimately I got authority. It took two months, and by then it was far too late," Dallaire said.
(read also this 2004 piece on Dallaire in the New York Times Magazine)

ON THE ANNIVERSARY of the end of the Prohibition, a call to end the illegalization of drugs. I agree.

UPDATE. More here, with an interesting cost-benefit analysis.

MILESTONE in Baghdad.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

FROM self-retraint to self-indulgence: where did the famed British character go? Theodore Dalrymple ponders.

GEE, I wonder why that is? After all they're just bunch of cells, bla bla bla. Right?
At least 400,000 embryos are frozen at clinics around the country, with more being added every day, and many people who are done having children are finding it harder than they had ever expected to decide the fate of those embryos.

A new survey of 1,020 fertility patients at nine clinics reveals more than a little discontent with the most common options offered by the clinics. The survey, in which Ms. Best took part, is being published on Thursday in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Among patients who wanted no more children, 53 percent did not want to donate their embryos to other couples, mostly because they did not want someone else bringing up their children, or did not want their own children to worry about encountering an unknown sibling someday.

Forty-three percent did not want the embryos discarded. About 66 percent said they would be likely to donate the embryos for research, but that option was available at only four of the nine clinics in the survey. Twenty percent said they were likely to keep the embryos frozen forever.

Embryos can remain viable for a decade or more if they are frozen properly but not all of them survive when they are thawed.

Smaller numbers of patients wished for solutions that typically are not offered. Among them were holding a small ceremony during the thawing and disposal of the embryos, or having them placed in the woman’s body at a time in her cycle when she would probably not become pregnant, so that they would die naturally.
A note for those who don't know what I think about this: I'm not in favor of abortion (but not for religious reasons: I'm not a believer), yet at the same time I'm in favor of embrionic stem cell research (though unlike many others in favor, I know that adult stem cell research is capable of bringing much quicker results, and focusing on the former detracts vital resources for the latter).

Yes, there's a logic behind my position, even though I know it sounds counterintuitive; I'll explain some day when I have a bit of time.

THAT'S FUNNY: Florida Rep. Ros-Lehtinen hung up on Obama twice, thinking it was one of those prank calls by radio stations...

SALON welcomes its new columnist, Eliot Spitzer. Alas, he's going to write about financial matters; wouldn't it be far more interesting on another -- cough, cough -- topic?

UPDATE. Stephen Bainbridge has some pointed observations, plus several hilarious jokes from Letterman and Leno back when the affair was discovered.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING... "stolen." More evidence that the public sector, expensive as it is, is most often useless.

BASTARDS ETA kills again:
The victim was identified as Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, 71, one of the heads of a company participating in the construction of a high- speed rail network which had come under threats from the militant Basque separatist group ETA.

Two people shot Uria Mendizabal in the head and chest as he was about to leave his car in the car park of a restaurant where he came daily to play cards.

Health workers failed to revive the victim who died of his injuries.

The attackers fled by car. Reports said they may have used a vehicle robbed a few hours earlier from its owner who was found with his hands tied.

ETA had carried out several minor attacks against companies participating in the construction of the rail network, which is to link the Basque cities of Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria with each other, Madrid and France.

ETA sees the rail project as representing the interests of the Basque region's governing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which it regards as too moderate in promoting the Basque nationalist cause.

A TOAST for that!
The D.C. Council is considering legislation today that would allow bars to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. -- three hours longer than current regulations allow -- and remain open 24 hours a day from Jan. 17 through 21 to serve crowds in town for the inauguration.

A LOOK at Chinese blog censorship by Rebecca MacKinnon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

MEDIA BIAS feeds terrorism, writes Bret Stephens:
For purposes of self-justification, Azam Amir Kasab, the only terrorist taken alive in last week's Mumbai massacre, offered that the murder of Jews in the city's Chabad House was undertaken to avenge Israeli atrocities on Palestinians. Two other terrorists cited instances of anti-Muslim Hindu violence as the answer to the question, "Why are you doing this to us?" before mowing down 14 unarmed people at the Oberoi Hotel. And if dead terrorists could talk, we would surely hear Abu Ghraib mentioned as among their reasons for singling out U.S. and British hostages.

One suspects the terrorists spent far too much time listening to the BBC World Service.

Let's hasten to add that by no means should the BBC alone be singled out. When it comes to terrorists and their grievances, nearly all the Western media have provided them with a rich diet on which to feed.
Keep reading.

Monday, December 01, 2008

THE US had warned India:
U.S. intelligence agencies warned their Indian counterparts in mid-October of a potential attack "from the sea against hotels and business centers in Mumbai," a U.S. intelligence official tells

A second government source say specific locations, including the Taj hotel, were listed in the U.S. warning.

One month later, Nov. 18, Indian intelligence also intercepted a satellite phone call to a number in Pakistan known to be used by a leader of the terror group, Lashkar e Taiba, believed responsible for the weekend attack, Indian intelligence officials say.

The Indian intercept also revealed a possible sea-borne attack, the officials say.

The chairman of the company that owns the hotel, Ratan Tata, told CNN that security was temporarily increased following a warning.

Tata told CNN Sunday that the enhanced measurers were later eased and, in any case, "could not have stopped what took place."

THIS IS a good step, considering the usual justifications:
An influential Muslim trust has refused to bury the bodies of the nine terrorists who killed at least 174 people in Mumbai, declaring that they have no place in Islam. The decision will mean that the dead terrorists will likely not find any burial sites in Mumai, and that they will probably not get buried within the required three days."
I don't think it's a small gesture at all. And I'm glad they are taking that position.

I HOPE Obama doesn't read this:
Hammered by economic woe, this former Soviet republic [Latvia] recently took a novel step to contain the crisis. Its counterespionage agency busted an economist for being too downbeat.

"All I did was say what everyone knows," says Dmitrijs Smirnovs, a 32-year-old university lecturer detained by Latvia's Security Police. The force is responsible for hunting down spies, terrorists and other threats to this Baltic nation of 2.3 million people and 26 banks.

Now free after two days of questioning, Mr. Smirnovs hasn't been charged. But he is still under investigation for bad-mouthing the stability of Latvia's banks and the national currency, the lat. Investigators suspect him of spreading "untruthful information." They've ordered him not to leave the country and seized his computer.

On the evening of Nov. 26, the biggest names in Bollywood walked the red carpet at the Bombay premiere of "The President Is Coming," a comedy about six 20-somethings vying to win the right to shake hands with President Bush.

Among those in attendance at the star-studded premiere Wednesday evening was Bollywood's "new heartthrob" Imran Khan, who proudly posed for paparazzi donning a T-shirt with Mr. Bush's face sandwiched between the words "International Terrorist."

Mr. Khan - a member of India's Muslim minority - chose not to mock international terrorists who kill in the name of Allah. He and his co-religionists know the deadly results for those who do.

At the precise moment Mr. Khan and hundreds of others making their fortunes in the multibillion-dollar Indian movie business were watching "The President Is Coming," only a few blocks away, 10 20-something Muslim extremists began a horrific three-day terror spree.