Monday, August 29, 2011

Just in Time for the Release of Contagion

A mutant strain of bird flu is spreading in Asia.

This may put more butts in seats than the movie's all-star cast.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is the Gold Bubble About to Burst?

The price of gold declined this week, leading many analysts to believe a significant correction will continue. "Briese believes a 33% correction from recent highs, to about $1,250, is quite plausible."

The proprietor of one Madison retail store that buys and sells gold warned a customer on Saturday that he will not receive the same price for his jewelry on Sunday, and the store has already made arrangements to sell off its entire stock of gold early this week.

Those who took investment advice from Glenn Beck and G. Gordon Liddy are in for a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rock the Casbah - Arab Spring Edition

Algerian rocker Rachid Taha was joined by Clash member Mick Jones in this 2006 performance.  I'll bet they're playing Taha's cover in Tripoli.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Letterman's Ratings Just Got a Boost

A jihadist blogger has issued a death threat against David Letterman for joking about the death of Al Qaeda figure Ilyas Kashmiri. While the FBI is taking it seriously, as is its job, this Boston Herald entertainment writer gives it the respect it probably deserves.

When David Letterman returns from vacation, I suspect his television audience will grow, as everyone will want to hear his own jokes about the death threat. Perhaps he'll joke about his "conversion" to Judaism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Stop With Secretary-of-State and Treasurer?

2011 Assembly Joint Resolution 26 seeks to amend the state constitution to delete the offices of Secretary of State and Treasurer. (h/t, Blue Cheddar).

While this is no doubt being presented as a way for the state to save money, since the two offices have very few constitutional duties left, it would look much less like a partisan power grab if the resolution also sought to eliminate the office of Lieutenant Governor.  What useful purpose does it serve? 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Gold Bug

In Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, the eponymous villain, heavily invested in gold, sought to increase the value of his horde by destroying the United States' gold reserves at Fort Knox.

It would have been far more lucrative for him to boost demand for gold, rather than reduce the supply, by destabilizing the world's economy.  Rather than employing a specialist assassin like Oddjob (who probably didn't work cheap and likely incurred very large equipment and cleanup expenses), he could have employed some lobbyists and creative investment brokers to invent complicated debt-based investment vehicles, then pull down the house of cards and watch the value of gold skyrocket as the world financial markets imploded and government bonds were downgraded.

Maybe the upcoming Bond 23 should be a remake of Goldfinger.  Of course, people may have trouble believing that a criminal conspirator could con everyone into driving up the price of gold.  Oh, wait...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This feeling is familiar...

Today I feel much the way I did last December, after watching the Packers lose to the Detroit Lions.  At the time, I thought there was no way they would make the playoffs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Great Day in Wisconsin

It is once again possible to watch television without being bombarded by campaign commercials for Fred Clark and Luther Olsen.

Seriously, if you live in a district with a recall race, or in the Assembly district with the special election to replace Joe Parisi, remember to vote today.  You will be asked for ID, but if you forget to bring it, you can still vote this time; you'll be given information on what forms of ID are acceptable at the polls starting in 2012.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Arrogance of Privilege

A wealthy Chicago-area woman of retirement age decided to take her hobby plane out for a spin during President Obama's visit, without bothering to check on flight restrictions first, or even have her radio on during the flight.  When F-16s scrambled to evaluate a potential threat, she claims she thought they were just slowing down to admire her cute little plane (which recently won a prize at the EAA airshow). Once on the ground, she was forced to fill out a report with the FAA, and she complained that they listed her age.

I don't for a minute believe this woman is stupid or senile.  She is so accustomed to getting her way and not being required to follow the rules that most of us must follow that she fully expects to get off scott-free, with her pilot's license intact. Her attitude reminds me of Leona "Only the Little People Pay Taxes" Helmsley.  She claims that she usually checks online for flight restrictions before going out, but her computer wasn't working properly that day, so she skipped it.  I suspect that she rarely, if ever, bothers.  Another possibility is that her little flight was meant as a giant F-U to the adminstration, so she could laugh about it with her friends the next time she is entertaining.

What she did is exactly the sort of thing that terrorists do to test security before a big strike.  Can you imagine the outcry if the pilot of the small plane had been a man of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin rather than a wealthy older white woman?  Chances are, the pilot would be cooling his heels in a military brig somewhere while his background and actions were investigated.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Us Versus Them

When Norway was hit with two coordinated terrorist attacks on July 22, the media (and possibly law enforcement) were quick to assume a jihadist link. That isn't surprising. In the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, the authorities checked area airports for men of Middle Eastern origin. Fortunately, those early assumptions (in both cases) did not prevent the capture of the true culprits.

It is human nature to divide people into Us and Them, and to attribute evil to Them rather than Us. We draw the bluntest dividing line possible. It is easy and obvious to define foreigners and Muslims as Them.

However, Anders Behring Breivik is neither a foreigner in Oslo nor a Muslim. He is as Norwegian as Vidkun Quisling and a professed Christian who was inspired by the crusades. It is chilling how closely his crimes and motivation parallel the September 11 terrorist attacks carried out by Al Quaeda. While the number of victims was far fewer than on September 11, 2001, there were 19 terrorists who carried out those attacks rather than one lone bomber/gunman. The body count per terrorist is remarkably similar.

It seems to me that the real motivating force we should worry about is not Islam but rather intolerant fundamentalism. In the early 21st century, Islam harbors more intolerant fundamentalists than Christianity or Judaism, but that was not the case a few hundred years ago. A couple centuries before its revolution, France was torn apart by sectarian warfare between Protestants and Catholics. Heretics were burned in 16th century England, and witches were hanged in Massachusetts a hundred years later. These atrocities eventually led western European nations in a more secular direction, forcing mainstream Christianity to get along with its neighbors.

Islam is only beginning that journey. It can be seen most strongly in Indonesia, a country that has been mostly left alone by U.S. foreign policy. The Indonesian people have transitioned to democracy and moved away from Islamist rule to a more secular government, because that is how they wish to live.

Conservatives have pointed out a recent poll showing that 40% of British Muslims want to see shariah law enacted in the U.K. The obvious corollary is that 60% -- a comfortable majority in any election -- do not want shariah law enacted.

We should be making moderate Muslims feel welcome among us and make it easy for them to assimilate into western society rather than treating them like outsiders, so that they only find welcome among the jihadists.

If I must draw a line defining Us and Them, I want to draw it so I am on the same side as Muhammed Ali, Aasif Mandvi and Fareed Zakaria, rather than Fred Phelps, Eric Rudolph and Anders Behring Breivik.