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Friday, April 30, 2010

Scene from another angle 

The country of Vietnam marked thirty-five years since the end of war by staging a re-enactment of the fall of the Saigon. There, of course, it was viewed as the liberation of Saigon. Tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the former presidential palace residence to watch a play recounting the history of the country from ancient times to when the North's tanks smashed through the gates of the presidential palace, leading to the surrender of the southern government. This was probably not something much noticed by policymakers in the Obama administration, but perhaps it should have been.

The BBC noted in its coverage that the Vietnam War claimed the lives of three million Vietnamese and more than 60,000 US soldiers. This puts paid to all the ludicrous reports from Iraq and Afghanistan about the number of insurgents killed or captured. Read that again, the United States killed three million of theirs to losses of only 60,000 of its own troops, a ratio of more than 50 to 1. The lesson United States policymakers must draw: ultimately it was their country. Like the French before them, America's occupying troops were inevitably going to leave at some point. The Vietnamese knew this, they could simply outlast United States desires. Furthermore, they did not have anywhere else they could go.

This is just as true in Iraq and Afghanistan. Violent dissent can and will outlast American soldiers, because those soldiers will inevitably eventually leave. Afghanis already learned this lesson with the Soviets. The Iraqis learned it from the British. Nor do the Afghanis and Iraqis have anywhere else to go. Afghani refugees are being turned back from Australia. Iraqi refugees, even those who served the Armed Forces, are being denied the right to immigrate to America. If one knows their enemy will eventually leave, and one has no or very limited options to leave oneself, why submit to the external attempt to impose a way of life? By geographical fiat, the battle of wills is one-sided.

The BBC reports that Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet said in a speech at the ceremony, "The country's status in the international arena has been lifted while its people's lives increasingly improved." They note, "Vietnam remains under communist rule and the government keeps tight control over politics and the media. But its economy has improved dramatically since the war, and diplomatic relations have resumed with the United States."

This outcome and this lesson has already been absorbed by the leadership and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The key issue is whether or not it has been absorbed by the Obama administration. There is no amount of blood and treasure that is sufficient enough to win when the enemy knows that your norms inherently dictate that you will eventually leave. American can out kill them by 50-1 and it will not be enough. They live there and have nowhere else to go. It is not a question for Obama of being more resolute, the enemy already perceives, if not him, then somebody else, somebody must eventually withdraw the troops. They will out last America, they have outlasted much more despotic conquerors. And America is not pure enough to claim to have changed hearts and minds. There has been too much collateral damage.

As the irascible Molly Irvins once said, "Let's get out of Iraq before we kill more Iraqis than Saddam did." To the Clarion Content, that means asap. And please, oh pragmatist President Obama, cross-apply this lesson and let America make all due haste to withdraw from Afghanistan as well.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Next to the City Sewage? 

The Clarion Content is not a staff likely to frown at filth for moral reasons. That aside, there is a certain lowbrow irony in the story that we picked up this week from the blog Bull City Rising. The northern Durham, city owned and operated, sewage treatment plant along with the city Fleet Maintenance Department and the city Solid Waste Department on Camden Avenue could be getting a new neighbor, a strip club. Dirty!

Bull City Rising pointed us to a Durham Herald Sun article. One of the three reporters they have left over there after gutting the staff must have written this story. The paper says Charles M. Peterson Jr. has asked city/county planners to review a site plan for an adult establishment on Camden Avenue. Peterson himself lives in the swanky Governor's Club development south of Chapel Hill. He proposes a 10,000-square-foot building on a 23.4 site. Peterson would need Durham's Board of Adjustment to approve a special use permit.

Durham law says a property associated with an adult establishment has to be at least 1,000 feet from land zoned residential, and at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools, parks, libraries and licensed day cares.

Adult establishments also can be no closer than 2,000 feet to similar businesses, and any building or structure associated with them has to be at least 50 feet away from the property line of an adjacent non-residential use.

In addition to awaiting the special use permit, the site is still being measured for suitability for development.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Fascinating Context 

This fascinating pair of photos shows just how much the photographer frames the context of a scene. This is something that we, the public, the people, the other, should never forget. President Obama and his wife Michelle were hiking in the woods this weekend outside of Asheville, North Carolina.

The first photo was taken by the official White House photographer. The second by the Associated Press. Context makes all the difference. All credit to Lynn Sweet who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, we found this insightful post on her blog, which frequently has fascinating presidential tidbits.

Photo One

Just off for a hike in the woods...

Photo Two

With our support staff, security, press people, and other assorted friends...

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Dems best hope 

Senator Jim DeMint... and that famous Dick from Wyoming

It appears that the Democrats are set to get their proverbial tail feathers kicked in the next round of mid-term election. The polls indicate that the Republicans will make significant gains in both the House and the Senate. The most optimistic of their number believe that they may be able to grab a majority in one or both houses of Congress. Most Washington insiders believe the Republicans are likely to gain at least six seats in the Senate, which would leave them just shy of a majority.

The mainline view as to why is that the Democrats are set to get their ass kicked because of voter hostility to health care reform. The Clarion Content thinks that there is a modicum of that in the air, but much less than the punditry thinks. As the Clintonistas famously once said, "Its the economy, stupid." The American public continues to be, quite reasonably, nervous about the state of the overall economy. The President's focus on health care, despite his rhetorical efforts to paint the policy as fiscally responsible, did not respond to the people's concern about the health of the economy. Whether the health care bill helps or hurts the American economy remains to be seen. The point here is simply there is no sense in the country that it has any kind of immediate turnaround implications.

The recovery, such as it is so far, at best is divided between the rich and the middle. Real unemployment remains at its highest point in generation. The stock market has rebounded. Goldman Sachs's profits have skyrocketed, but the average American family has seen only a minute uptick in their net wealth. Their home values are still dented, far below their highs, though for the fortunate majority, above water. While near a tipping point, the crisis of confidence, the fear of total collapse, has abated for the moment. The perception is Democrats have not done anything decisive for the economy. Because worry remains high and many believe the Democrats priority bill, health care, will actually hurt their pocketbooks, their political fortunes appear bleak.

The Clarion Content would argue that the best thing that could happen for the beleaguered Dems is what is happening in the state of Florida. The Republicans, including influential national voices, are pushing their mainstream Senatorial candidate aside to nominate an extreme right-winger. The same thing is underway in Colorado and California, and is being considered in Kentucky, Nevada and New Hampshire. The Republican leadership, especially certain myopic elements, like the Dick from Wyoming and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, cannot see the forest through the trees. They are being lured and deluded by extreme elements like the Tea Party activists. This small, but very vocal minority is leading the Republican party down the primrose path. The country does not trust anything perceived as Democratic or left-wing extremism. But they are worried about the economy, and ideologues from the far right, are not the answer they are seeking. The are looking for centrist compromisers, just like the candidates that the extreme right of the Republican party is casting aside. The shocking Senatorial election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts did not bring a Scalia/Gingrich-esque ideologue to power.

Again, it is the economy, stupid.

The Republicans are poised on a ledge. They have an opportunity to make historic inroads in these mid-term elections. It is not out of the question, if the economy continues to stagger along its present path until November, that they could recapture, one, or even both houses of Congress. However, putting up easily discreditable, far right fringe candidates is not the way to do it, indeed that is the Democrats best hope.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pithy F*rging Sayings (16th edit.) 

Welcome to our 16th edition of Pithy F*rging Sayings gathered from the singularity.

As always the citation of these sayings does not necessarily imply endorsement, the goal is to provoke thought.

"The rule of law must not be used a rationale to maintain an existing [social] order of oppression."---staff

"Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation..."---E.B. White

"There was no solution, but that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day--- that is, forget oneself. To forget himself in sleep was impossible now, at least till night-time; he could not go back now to the music sung by the decanter-women; so he must forget himself in the dream of daily life."---Leo Tolstoy

"Entropy I believe in, I can see the visible signs on my body."---staff

"I learned from being around boxers that one night of drinking cancels out two weeks of working out."---Carlton Mitchell

Follow this link to old P.F. Sayings posts. You will see this one again first. Scroll down for older ones.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Iraq, tensions continue to burble 

Iraq is still living with intense sectarian tensions as a slew of coordinated bombings in Baghdhad reiterated yesterday. Initial estimates say that sixty-nine people were killed in bombings, mostly in the predominately Shi'ite neighborhood of Sadr City, but also elsewhere including a Sunni part of the city. In recent months bombing frequency has started to rise again from one fatal incident every couple of weeks to one deadly incident per week. Iraqi elections await a recount and that result could refire the low intensity conflict that has reigned since King George the II decided fulfilling his father's unfinished mission was more important than the welfare of his country (let alone his empty promise to uphold and defend the American Constitution).

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Not exactly the same in France 

The French national soccer team, huge stars in their homeland, are caught up in a sex scandal. But despite their celebrity, they are not facing the same level of scorn and scrutiny as American golfer Tiger Woods.

Le Bleus, as they are known in France, are said to have been frequented a Parisian house of ill-repute. However, prostitution is not illegal in France. At issue is whether one of the prostitutes was under the age of 18. According to the USA Today, the players being questioned are Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou. Ribery is the big star of the French team, he signed in 2007 for about $30 million to play for Bayern Munich. They face up to three years in prison and a $60,000 fine.

The young lady in question, Zahia Dehar1, who is now 18, told police she had underage sex with all three players, according to the Daily Telegraph. The English paper reported she was "shocked" the players faced charges and that she told them she was an adult. She also stated that the players had treated her "with utter respect" and should be left alone.

France, it is not exactly the American Bible belt, is it? Compare the sanctimonious speech by the president of Augusta National Golf Club, when Tiger didn't commit a crime, with the attitudes of the Frenchwoman in this case!

1This link is to pictures of Zahia Dehar and is NOT SAFE FOR WORK!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Remember this guy? 

He was a sensation back in the day. It tells you how good advertising (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) is sticky. Who can forget the tagline, from an era when Federal Express was still an up and comer, "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight." They said it could not be done. FedEx proved them wrong.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unintended Consequences 

The law of unintended consequences is a funny one. We bet this was one of the unknown unknowns even Donald Rumsfeld did not consider. The havoc wreaked on Iraq in recent years have pushed archaeologists to begin excavations in relatively safer and more tranquil Syria.

United States and Syrian excavators have uncovered a huge panoply of artifacts from what must have been a robust pre-urban settlement on the upper Euphrates River at a site known as Tell Zeidan. The New York Times reports, "Zeidan should reveal insights into life in a time called the Ubaid period, 5500 to 4000 B.C. In those poorly studied centuries, irrigation agriculture became widespread, long-distance trade grew in influence socially and economically, powerful political leaders came to the fore."

Archaeologists caught a break because apparently subsequent civilizations and generations did not build on the site. The potential sounds limitless. The Times quotes, Guillermo Algaze, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, "[Zeidan] has the potential to revolutionize current interpretations of how civilization in the Near East came about."

Read the whole article here.

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Durham Food Culture 

The Clarion Content and many of our local readers know this already, but Durham's food culture is amazing. Now the New York Times knows too. In a write-up published today, The Times interviews, among others, friend of the Clarion Content, Matt Beason about the restaurant he manages, Six Plates. Matt notes the veritable explosion of good restaurants in Durham in the last few years. The Times writer also talked to Amy Tornquist the owner of Watts Grocery. Note too that there was no mention of the wildly overrated and overpriced newcomer to downtown, Revolution.

An excerpt from the article follows.

"There are still plenty of good places for a barbecue plate, excellent French bistros like Vin Rouge and Rue Cler, and some white-tablecloth dining rooms, both traditional and modern.

But the most intriguing cooks here have a few things in common: an understanding of how to give a menu a sense of place; a true love of pork and greens in all their forms; and a lack of interest in linens and glassware...

The vast brick buildings still roll through the city center, emblazoned with ads for Lucky Strike and Bull Durham cigarettes. They are being repurposed as art studios, biotechnology laboratories and radio stations.

More important for food lovers, hundreds of outlying acres of rich Piedmont soil have “transitioned” from tobacco, and now sprout peas, strawberries, fennel, artichokes and lettuce. Animals also thrive in the gentle climate, giving chefs access to local milk, cheese, eggs, pigs, chickens, quail, lambs and rabbits."

The New York Times is not the first place to recognize the Durham food culture for the gem it is. In 2007 Gourmet magazine wrote up our area as one of the best in the country for Mexican food.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A note for Red Sox fans 

Big Papi is no Pops

In an article about the Boston Red Sox abysmal start to the 2010 season the USA Today mentioned a fact fans of the team should note.

"The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates are the lone team in the last 56 years to win the World Series after being more than three games under .500 at the end of April."

The Red Sox had better right the ship soon, because, frankly, we don't think they are family.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Is America on the wrong side again? 

Kyrgyzstan is located deep in Central Asia

Real change is possible on when there is change. It sounds obvious or even circular, but ultimately change cannot be only rhetorical, it has to be concrete, on the ground, present in the real world. The Clarion Content makes this statement looking from afar at the uprising that occurred in Kyrgyzstan.

Global watchers, news wonks that we are, this was not on our radar. We could have told whom the government of Kyrgyzstan was run by, but not that there was anything about to happen. When something did happen and the existing autocrat was overthrown, America, and the world took note, and here in Durham, the Clarion Content noticed too. We are not sure what everyone else saw, but when we examined what was had gone on in Kyrgyzstan (far more was available on what had gone than on what is going on) it appeared as though the Obama administration had merely continued the policies of King George the II.

Kyrgyzstan has had various autocratic rulers since September 11, 2001. The latest (until last week) had taken power in a period of turbulence during 2005. Shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan it established a forward air base in Kyrgyzstan. The President of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, had been widely presumed to be skimming huge chunks of revenue off of the fuel sales to the American air base. The Kyrgyzstanis sell cheap Russian jet fuel to the American government at world market prices. Additionally, The New York Times reports that the Kyrgyzstani government does not charge the normal 20% sales tax on fuel sales, likely because the companies associated with the fuel sales are(were?) controlled by President Bakiyev.

The Times also reports associations with United States base and fuel sales also helped sully the previous government, "In the haste of the buildup for the war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, companies controlled by Aidar Akayev, son of Askar Akayev, who was then the president, had wound up with lucrative contracts to sell fuel to Manas (the United Sates base)."

President Obama, despite the accusations of the fringe that he is a left wing lunatic, appears to be hewing too closely to the course set by King George the II for our liking. The situation in Kyrgyzstan reeks of 'real politic' trumping the 'rights' of the oppressed citizenry.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

The task is impossible 

The United States leadership has asked its troops in Afghanistan to do the impossible. There is no way to win a fight in which no one is on your side. Suppression in a place that you do not intend to occupy forever is futile and ineffective. The Soviet Union with much less restrictive rules of engagement was unable to subdue the population of Afghanistan. The nature of War makes the task of winning hearts and minds just as impossible.

Witness this morning's tragic events near Kandahar. Young coalition soldiers, in an extremely violent area, that almost exclusively does not speak their language, nor share their cultural reference points, are going to be trigger happy. In a situation where the fear of kill or be killed is omnipresent, it is inevitable.

Early this morning unidentified western troops fired on a passenger bus outside the city of Kandahar killing four civilians aboard and injuring eighteen others. The bus rapidly approached a military convoy from behind. Many of these soldiers serving in Afghanistan have lost friends and comrades to suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices. When the Afghani bus to did not respond to their Western gestures by which they meant stop; flares, flashlights and hand signals, the soldiers opened fire with deadly effect.

Just hours later three would-be suicide bombers launched an abortive attack on an intelligence-services compound in the city. No wonder coalition troops are so edgy. Two of the bombers died with out causing harm, the third was wounded and is being interrogated. Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Times reports that following the deadly civilian bus incident more hearts and minds were lost, "As word of the shootings spread, protests erupted on the city's outskirts. Witnesses said demonstrators burned tires on the main road out of Kandahar and shouted slogans condemning both the United States and President Hamid Karzai."

There is no such thing as a winnable war. Obama should own up to this reality and withdraw from Afghanistan posthaste.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gallinari is a flop 

We warned the Knicks that selecting an Italian blue jeans model was a mistake. Danilo Gallinari is approaching flop status. He has taken the second most three point attempts of any player in the league. Unfortunately, he does not rate in the top 40 players for three point fieldgoal shooting percentage. He is shooting an abysmal 42.7% from the field overall and a slightly more respectable 38.2% from three point land. He averages almost as many turnovers a game as assists. At 6 foot 10 inches, he can't pull down even five rebounds per game (4.9/per) despite Mike D'Antoni's run and gun offense and the myriad of missed shots it creates. He is awful.

Thank goodness, King James arrives next year. Hopefully, this is the last brutal Knicks year. The Knicks have not had a winning season since 2000-01.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

NBA Playoffs, The East 

Nobody wants to see these guys in the First Round

This in not a true NBA playoff preview, the seedings haven't even been finalized yet. Instead we will offer you a few quick capsules on each of the playoff bound squads, giving you, a we believe or a we do not believe rating on each team. This rating suggests not so much whether or not we believe this franchise could win the title, but whether or not the franchise can maximize what they have during the playoffs which begin April 17.

The Eastern Conference

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers... We believe, barely. No doubt that LeBron James is for real and we are all witnesses. However, Shaq must come through, despite having hardly played since the acquisition of Antwan Jamison. Mike Brown still has no offense. The Cavs still revert to 1 on 5 too often in crucial situations.

2. The Orlando Magic... We do not believe. Dwight Howard is a dominating banger in the regular season, but has yet to develop the post moves or the shot needed for the playoffs. Vince Carter is a shrinking violet in the big moments who can't play defense worth a lick. Jameer Nelson wants the ball in his hands, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

3. The Boston Celtics... We do not believe. We want to believe. Rondo's skill and sheer force of will is difficult to doubt. Garnett's creaky knees have too many miles. Doc Rivers is indecisive. Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels have been wasted space. Rondo, Pierce and Allen can carry this team through a series, maybe two.

4. The Atlanta Hawks... We believe. There is no title shot in Atlanta, but this could be the year the Hawks take out either the Celtics or the Magic. Joe Johnson is clutch. Mike Woodson is a rung above most NBA coaches on the x's and o's. Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams might be the most underrated frontcourt in the league. Mike Bibby has been here before and the have the 6th man of the year in Jamal Crawford.

5. The Milwaukee Bucks... We don't believe. They had us believing right up to Andrew Bogut's gruesome injury. Their terrific regular season will end quickly in the playoffs. Rookie Brandon Jennings will be overmatched and shoot a lousy percentage from the field.

6. The Miami Heat... We don't believe. Although D-Wade has been positively sick down the stretch, playing perhaps the best ball of his career, one cannot do it alone in the NBA playoffs. Michael Beasley is an underachieving headcase. Udonis Haslem does yeoman's work, but who else will contribute any help? Jermaine O'Neal's corpse?

7. The Charlotte Bobcats... We believe. The most dangerous opponent to draw in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket. They have a playoff tested coach in Larry Brown. They have the second best defensive team, with lots of long athletic ball hawkers. Steven Jackson and Gerald Wallace play hard every night. The Cavs are grateful they won't slip to the eight slot. The Bobcats won the season series from Cleveland.

8. The Chicago Bulls/Toronto Raptors... We don't believe. Derrick Rose playoff heroics of last year aside, the Bulls do not have enough scoring punch. Joakim Noah has been first team all-hustle, contributing every way he can, but he can't light up the scoreboard. Also, the Bulls are poorly coached. The Raptors have collapsed down the stretch. They never figured out how to use Hideo Turkguluo. Chris Bosh's injury sealed the deal. One of these teams gets swept by the Cavs in exhibition quality games.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Not so cool 

Just this very morning the Clarion Content was penning a piece about the entitled athletes at the University of Kentucky, they are not alone, many young American athletes feel like they are bulletproof. The system they inhabit through the college years (at many institutions) encourages them to feel that way. It does not demand accountability or respect. Unfortunately, even for star athletes the world can be a cold, hard, cruel place with fierce expectations and rules.

These days of adulation are long gone for Charles Rogers

In that vein, we ran across this cautionary tale, a follow-up to a piece we wrote back in September of last year. Former Detroit Lions wide receiver, first round draft pick and Michigan State star, Charles Rodgers was ordered to repay the team $6.1 million of a $9.1-million signing bonus because of his 2005 suspension for substance abuse. Rogers's lawyer had argued he owed $305,882 for the 4 weeks he was suspended. The team cut him the following season. U.S. District Judge Julian Cook ruled against Rogers on Monday.

Rogers's life has continued down a dark path since he parted ways with the Lions. The Detroit Free Press reports, "He was sentenced to 93 days in jail in January for probation violation after Novi police found him slumped over a table at a Novi restaurant. He was put on probation after Novi police found him passed out behind the wheel of vehicle in September 2009."

All young athletes should remember that they are part of society, not exempt from it. College athletic programs are responsible for conveying this message to their athletes. Young people who seemingly have it all, can often fall the hardest. The professional leagues have taken some steps toward warning and training their young athletes, but by that time it is too late for so many.

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What they are watching... Episode VI 

Our look at what the teens and tweens of America are watching. You may have caught our first couple of episodes. This clip is a little cheesier than most...

The American Mall is a musical produced by the same folks that produced Disney's smash hit High School Musical. The American Mall did not get rave reviews or high ratings on the first go round. However, it appears to be picking up a modest amount of steam on You Tube.

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Kentucky shows its true colors 

Coach Cal heads out on the recruiting trail

They are what we thought they were, as a famous football coach once intoned about an opponent. And the same is true of Kentucky basketball, they are what we thought they were. They are mercenaries to the core, Calipari and his crew of very likely already highly paid players. The University of Kentucky, a program with a long history of cheating and morally repugnant behavior once again showed its true colors yesterday.

Five Kentucky undergrads declared for the NBA draft, including four freshman. Articles covering the story never once mention the word degree. As if there was no expectation (correct) that any of these players were ever enrolled at the university with the intention of earning a degree. These were highly paid university employees unpaid serfs who brought the athletic department (but likely not the library) tons of money. Worse, not only is the institution degraded, which is hard to do in a place as unseemly as Kentucky, but the kids themselves were not well-served.

John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will likely be high NBA draft picks. Patrick Patterson will probably be a tail end of the first round kid. But freshman guard Eric Bledsoe and freshman center Daniel Orton, pu-leeze? Bledsoe averaged 11.3 points a game, when defenses keyed so much on his back court mate that they barely guarded him. Orton hit for a token 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in the SEC!?! Coach Cal advised these kids to turn pro? Why? Does he have better one and dones coming and so that he is ready to send them on to the NBDL? Surely, it is not because they have done all the developing they can do. But at Kentucky the attitude is, who cares? Academics is a farce, the kids get used, the boosters get great seats and have a good time. All is well.

They are who we thought they were. Sleep tight Coach Cal, you're a real good guy.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The U.S. Man in Afghanistan 

See this map full size here.

The foolish continue to insist that there is some possibility of winning a war in Afghanistan. Leaving aside for the moment Sting's objection, that there is no such thing as a winnable war, one still has to question the foundations of this belief. The Clarion Content has been reminding folks for going on fifteen years that there is no Afghanistan, it is simply a Western conceit layered over an array of ethnic and tribal areas. Most Afghanis have no more national consciousness than America's Indians thought of themselves as from a place called Oklahoma. Their consciousness in both cases was simply to resist externally imposed authority over their lives.1

The Afghanis, they live on this land. They will continue to live on this land long after American soldiers have left (much the way the Soviet Union's soldiers eventually left). The American policy makers continue to insist there is an internal consciousness to Afghanistan, that democratic elections and institutions will take root there.2 They continue to pin their hopes on Afghan President Hamad Karzai. The BBC reports today about another example that shows just how futile this is.

A leading Taliban commander who was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for kidnapping three UN aid workers in the capital of Kabul in 2004 was released from prison late last year. He was pardoned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Of course, an unnamed presidential spokesman when questioned by the BBC said that Karzai could not recall the matter. (How Reagan-esque of him.) No need to worry that the released commander was the leader of Jaish-ul-Muslimeen or The Army of Muslims. Karzai has America's back. For sure...

1Western policymakers have long ignored that not everyone else has the same spatial demarcation of land and boundaries that they do. More nomadic existences are judged prima facie to be less sophisticated ways.

2There Clarion Content in no way believes it is impossible for democracy to take root in Afghanistan. Worldwide people yearn for freedom. However, it is rarely if ever a bigger priority in their lives than sustenance. When humans are forced to choose between freedom and food, almost everyone eats. Gandhi and the saintly are exceptions that prove the rule. What does this mean for American policymakers vis a vis Afghanistan? Widespread, sustained, economic growth must precede or at least accompany the transition to democracy, or democracy will be a crumbling facade from the moment it is erected.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Iraq: Still no peace 

map from globalsecurity.org

Despite the claims of the United States military's propaganda machine, Iraq still simmers. This week saw two major spasms of violence. Their differences underlined the multifaceted nature of the on-going conflict. As the Clarion Content has warned many times previously, Iraq is riven in multiple ways. It has fissures and cracks beyond the most discussed; Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurd. In addition to religion and ethnicity, sectarian, tribal, economic and class tensions among others pressure Iraq.

The first outbreak of horrifying violence was a series of nighttime raids that saw twenty-five people killed. The Los Angeles Times reports gunmen methodically made their way through four homes and killed 25 people in the rural, farming Hawr Rajab district south of Baghdad. They say that, "Many of the victims had been part of the U.S.-backed Awakening movement, Sunni Arab paramilitary groups..." This is the sort of violence that was an epidemic at the height of the Iraqi civil war. In the wake of last months disputed elections this type of assault and intimidation is especially troubling.

The Awakening program was ended when it was co-opted into the Iraqi government's security forces. The surviving Sunni villagers fear that the Shi'ite dominated security forces won't protect them. They tell the Times that many Sunnis Awakening members have been shuffled out of the government's security apparatus and into the bureaucracy. The current government has also arrested the former leader of the Awakening in the area and barred him from running for parliament, accusing him of being a high-ranking member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, despite the fact that the old regime executed some of his immediate relatives.

The Clarion Content has always believed that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. We mean, score settling never ends things, it only leaves the other side thirsting for revenge. This is why the cycle of violence has to be transcended to be ended.

The other more widely reported awful incident of violence in Iraq was seven massive bombs that hit apartment buildings across the Iraqi capital, Baghdhad, killing at least 35 people and wounding more than 140 on Tuesday. The targeted areas are heavily populated by Shiites; some neighborhoods that were bombed had seen fierce sectarian cleansing of Sunnis who used to live there.

The Christian Science Monitor reports American and Iraqi officials blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq, the mostly homegrown Sunni Muslim extremist group, for the attacks. The Monitor notes that residents who live near the sites of the explosions said that they thought that the recent violence was a result of Iraq's post-election political wrangling.

One local resident was quoted, "Why is Iraqi blood being used as a means of political pressure? Those innocent people were working for their families, and the politicians are using us for their political interests. I'm sure the situation will get even worse. We can feel it from the statements from the politicians on TV."

This coordinated bombing is an attack on the social order. It is not targeted, vengeance killing as the night time raids in the Hawr Rajab were. Its victims are more random, broader. It is an effort to destabilize the government and demonstrate its lack of control. This type of violence attempts to undermine the belief of the average Iraqi that civil society is functioning and can function in Iraq.

Both of these incidents demonstrate the likelihood of on-going conflict in Iraq because they show there are so very many rifts and rents in the fabric of what the West calls Iraq. This is of course without even mentioning the unresolved issue of Kurdish independence, which has been dealt with neither by American policymakers nor the Iraqi state.

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Our annual Baseball Predictions, American League 

Those of you, loyal readers, who have seen these predictions over the years know to take them with a boulder of salt. The rest of you have been forewarned. Last year, for instance, we predicted the Yankees would finish 3rd in the A.L. East and out of the playoffs. Nonetheless, we are back and as confident as ever. We are also battling our friends over at the MEP Report in fantasy baseball this year.

American League East

1. The New York Yankees (over 94.5 wins) ---It was either foolhardy or brave not to bring back Matsui or Damon. How will Curtis Granderson hit lefties? Can he hit in a big spot? When will the ageless Mariano Rivera finally start to deteriorate? The Yankees have so much pitching period, that none of these questions will matter until they start playing postseason games.

2. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (over 89.5 wins) ---Perhaps the most talented squad in baseball outside of the Yanks and the Phils. We figure B.J. Upton has to rebound a little, and he is surrounded by other good hitters. By mid-season they will have to find some at-bats for shortstop phenom Reid Brigniac. The Clarion Content loves the Rays starting pitching, but the bullpen could be their achilles heel.

3. The Boston Red Sox (under 94 wins) ---Who builds around pitching and defense in Fenway Park? We think the Sox outsmarted themselves this offseason. And weren't their some chinks in Papelbon's armor last season? Ortiz is a shadow of himself without Manny, and that puts too much pressure to produce runs on Pedroia and Youkilis.

4. The Baltimore Orioles (under 72.5 wins) ---The youth movement in Baltimore may finally be starting to come together. Add outfielders Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and catcher Matt Weiters to super solid second baseman Brian Roberts and the Orioles have a smattering of an offense. Unfortunately, there is no pitching to go with it.

5. The Toronto Blue Jays (over 71 wins) ---Unless Vernon Wells resurrects himself from the dead the Blue Jays will likely lose 100 games. With Doc Halladay slinging his pitches in Philadelphia, the Jays are so awful they would suck in the N.L. Central, let alone playing in the toughest division in baseball. It would not surprise us if they lost a combined 50 games just to the Yanks, Rays and Sox.

American League Central

1. The Minnesota Twins (over 82 wins) ---We were rock solid on this pick before closer Joe Nathan got hurt. We still like the Twins, their starting pitching is underrated and could be exceptional if they get any kind of contribution out of Francisco Liriano. The offense starts with Mauer and Morneau, but they have various other pesky, clutch contributors, to which they added the O-Dog, the scrappy Orlando Hudson. And doesn't he always play for a winner?

2. The Chicago White Sox (over 82 wins) ---The top of the rotation is powerful. Buehrle and Peavvy are a terrific 1-2 punch. We like the addition of the speedy, always hustling Juan Pierre. We like the gambles on Andruw Jones and Freddy Garcia having comeback seasons. We like Ozzy Guillen (for the fodder, if nothing else). But if the ChiSox are to sniff the playoffs, some of their old guys will have to contribute offensively.

3. The Detroit Tigers (over 81 wins) ---Like the South Siders, we like their starting pitching. Joel Zumaya is back and could really help strengthen the bullpen. The Tigers season is going to come down to what kind of years do Miguel Cabrerra and Magglio Ordonez have. Both have fluctuated between uber-productive and lackadaisically mediocre.

4. The Cleveland Indians (under 73 wins)---A team that once had C.C. Sabbathia and Cliff Lee now has no pitching. Kerry Wood of all people is penciled in as the closer!?! The offense is lacking too. Victor Martinez is playing in Boston. Manny is a distant memory. Who's left? Shin-Soo Choo and a beat-up Grady Sizemore.

5. The Kansas City Royals (under 71 wins)---The Pittsburgh Pirates of the American League, a once proud franchise giving their fans no hope at all, year after year. Greinke was great last year. Unfortunately, on the Royals an ERA in the low 2.00s barely got him double digit wins. Bonus points for any non-Royals loyalist who can name more than one Kansas City Royals starting infielder. Your 2010 Royals, "Putrid here we come..."

American League Central

1. The Texas Rangers (over 83 wins) ---Good starting pitching, good bullpen, and Michael Young, what's not to like? They also have the talented young Nelson Cruz. And perhaps a highly motivated Vladimir Guerrero, now that the Angels kicked him to the curb liked yesterday news.

2. The Seattle Mariners (over 83 wins) ---What a one-two punch in King Felix and Cliff Lee! Ichiro is as talented as ever. Chone Figgins is a terrific addition. We'd be picking the M's to win the division, but there isn't quite offense. Ken Griffey Jr. is pretty old. We also worry the wisdom of adding lockerroom troublemaker Milton Bradley.

3. The Oakland A's (over 78 wins) ---With their young starting pitching, they will hang around all year. Ben Sheets will probably breakdown right when they need him most. The A's also have some young position player talent. We particularly like their young outfield led by Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis.

4. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (under 84 wins) ---They lost their ace starting pitcher, Lackey, their leadoff man, Chone Figgins, and their big dog, Vladimir Guerrero. That is a little too much to recover from all in one year. We also think the loss of closer Frankie Rodriguez, now two years old, has got to start to hurt. And we believe the acquisition of Scott Kazmir late late season was overrated, he is soft. the Angels are in for a hard fall from grace.

The Rays grab the Wild Card. And in a shocking upset, the Twins win a five game first round series against the heavily Yanks. They sneak into the World Series as the A.L. representative in their first season in the new ballpark, only to come up short against the fighting Phils who win their second series in three years.

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Our annual Baseball Predictions, National League 

Those of you, loyal readers, who have seen these predictions over the years know to take them with a boulder of salt. The rest of you have been forewarned. Last year, for instance, we predicted the Yankees would finish 3rd in the A.L. East and out of the playoffs. Nonetheless, we are back and as confident as ever. We are also battling our friends over at the MEP Report in fantasy baseball this year.

National League East

1. Philadelphia Phillies (over 92 wins) ---They may be even better than last year's World Series team with the addition of one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, Roy Halladay. Their offense is top notch.

2. Atlanta Braves (over 86.5 wins) ---Tim Hudson appears fully healthy and ready to return to form. Watch out for rookie phenom Jason Heyward, Manager Bobby Cox, not given to hyperbole, says he has the sweetest swing he has seen since Henry Aaron. Closer Billy Wagner will be a key. Can he return to form?

3. Florida Marlins (over 81 wins) ---Led by shortstop Hanley Ramirez and ace pitcher Josh Johnson the Marlins could make some noise if all of their young talent performs. More likely, they will have some good days and some bad ones. We were surprised when Andrew Miller did not make the starting rotation.

4. New York Mets (under 81) ---Too many questions. Beltran, how much time will he miss with knee surgery? What about Reyes? Will they get any production out of first base? How about the starting pitching beyond Santana? It could get ugly in Queens.

5. Washington Nationals (under 72)---This could have been under 58 and we would have taken it. The Nats fans appear cursed. Steven Strasburg will be along eventually and Ryan Zimmerman is great. In the meantime, enjoy Ovechkin and the Caps deep playoff run.

National League Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals (over 88)---Lucky for them this division is terrible, because outside of Puljos, we are not so impressed. They overpaid for Matt Halliday. The pitching is aging and not so deep.

2. Chicago Cubs (over 83)---Getting rid of Milton Bradley was addition by subtraction. Can catcher Giovanni Soto bounce back? What about Alphonso Soriano? If not, look for Lou Pinella to blow a gasket and be fired by mid-August.

3. Milwaukee Brewers (over 80.5)---They have young talent offensively in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. In the bullpen, however, closer Trevor Hoffman and set-up man LaTroy Hawkins are a combined 135 years old.

4. Cincinnati Reds (under 78)---They are getting a lot of pre-season run as a possible surprise breakout team this year, much like the Kansas City Royals were last year. We all know how that worked out. Aroldis Chapman, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez could be a great rotation next year. This year only two of them were there opening day.

5. Houston Astros (under 78)---The days of the Killer B's have disappeared into the rearview mirror. The Astros have aged rapidly building around Roy Oswalt, lumbering left fielder Carlos Lee, and beat up first baseman Lance Berkman. General Manager Ed Wade is proceeding to burn this franchise to the ground, also adding the volatile chemistry of Brett Myers.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (under 71)---Shooting to break their own record for consecutive losing seasons, seventeen and counting. Forbes assessed them as the least valuable franchise in Major League baseball. They do have some young hitters, in catcher Ryan Doumit and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

National League West

1. San Francisco Giants (over 83)---So much pitching, maybe just enough offense in a weak division. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito, who closed the second half of last year fiery hot, could give the Giants trip aces, and that's a pretty good hand, especially if they could come up with a couple of jacks. Pablo Sandoval and veterans Aaron Rowland and Edgar Renteria are reliable, this year we think that is just enough.

2. Colorado Rockies (over 83)---Just the opposite of the Giants here, plenty of offense not enough pitching. They have a great hitting infield with big pluses over average at position at shortstop with Troy Tulowitzki and catcher with Chris Iannetta. Aging first baseman Todd Helton had a comeback year in 2009.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (over 84)---Joe Torre can't get away from the turmoil. The Steinbrenner circus settled down a bit after he left, now the McCourt's divorce is tearing the Dodgers apart. They really haven't been the same since Manny's fifty game suspension. There is a lot of talent here, for some reason this does not feel like a year when it is going to come together.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks (under 82)---They were taking a mulligan on this year even before Brandon Webb's injury woes crept back. The Diamondbacks have gaping holes in their rotation even if young Ian Kennedy pitches well.

5. San Diego Padres (under 71)---While Peavy is pitching on the South Side, Padres fans will be enjoying the weather and waiting for football season to start. How about Phillip Rivers? In the meantime, Adrian Gonzalez will hit a few long flies and Pads will struggle to avoid losing 100.

Rockies get the Wild Card.

Phillies win the N.L. Playoffs and head to a 3rd consecutive World Series appearance.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Chinese threat 

The Clarion Content reads over and over of the imminent Chinese threat to American hegemony. Even setting aside the massive distention of the reverse population pyramid, we don't buy it. Mostly because far too often we read stories like these two.

The first is from our friends over at the MEP Report. It is tragic but indicative. There is a psychological malaise from which China has yet to free itself that limits its ability to resource its potential power. There is too much gone wrong for it to harness all of its kinetic energy. An irony, insofar as this story is about the eviction of a family from their pig farm and their home. Local authorities hiding behind the rubric of the central government had ordered the family to sell their home and farm for a bargain basement price or face eviction. The ninety-two year old farmer and son refused to leave, even in the face of bulldozers and a crew of more than 100 people. In the end, they immolated themselves, lit themselves on fire, in protest. The bulldozers were delayed by no more than two hours, tearing the farm and home down with the bodies still smoldering nearby. Some reports suggest that officials there wanted to have the demolition completed before April 1, when a new relocation law would make forced relocation more difficult.

The other story is less repugnant, but no less indicative. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has been investigating drywall supplied by China, after thousands of health complaints have been filed.1 Tests show the sulfuric gases being emitted by Chinese drywall are more than 100 times normal in some cases. In addition to the variety of health maladies being reported, this is causing all kinds of damage essentially to anything metal; air conditioner coils, electrical wires and outlets, as well as appliances. The CPSC says replacement is required, not just of all the drywall, but also the electrical components and wiring, outlets, switches and circuit breakers, and all gas piping and all fire alarm systems that came in contact with the drywall.

"Made in China" is not sounding so great after that paragraph.

Both of these stories are tiny examples that emblemize the massive changes that have to occur in Chinese culture before anything remotely resembling worldwide hegemony might be attained. In our view, they are a by-product of years of autocracy. The lack of consistent, real property rights in China promotes a political instability that is like building a skyscraper directly on a fault line. The lack of consumer products safety and inspection is a fundamental underminer of Chinese credibility. We have great respect for China's promise, but fears of its imminent rise to world domination are wildly overblown. Unfortunately, to this point, its implosion is equally likely.

1Just in case one had any doubts about the insurance companies fucking one over, we would like to point out that the San Jose Mercury News reports, "Many homeowners in Florida who've sought help from their insurance companies to deal with the damage [from the drywall] say the companies not only deny their claims but also drop their policies."

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The passing of a notable computer scientist 

Dr. Roberts's machine

A potentially quite significant historical figure passed away quietly last week in Macon, Georgia. Dr. H. Edward Roberts was an inventor that Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen held in high regard. He was their boss and their inspiration. Many credit Dr. Roberts as the creator of the first personal computer. He had long shunned the spotlight. He left the computer industry in 1977, moved from New Mexico to Georgia, and over time became a country doctor, a general practitioner in a little town called Cochran.

Gates and Allen issued a joint statement saying that they were saddened by the death of their "friend and early mentor." Gates and Allen both followed Roberts to Albuquerque; Gates dropping out of Harvard and Allen leaving his job at Honeywell. Roberts' personal computer, the MITS Altair, appeared on the January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics. Gates and Allen wrote Microsoft Basic to run on this machine. The rest as they say is history.

Read the whole New York Times Obituary here.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Give the guy a break 

Obama and the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar

The Clarion Content was once again pleasantly surprised by President Obama this week. We think people should get off his back a bit. We all know he could have been dealt better cards.

The issue we are referring to is the President's announcement that he is going to allow significantly expanded offshore drilling. The policy Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar presented will allow oil and gas exploration fifty miles off the coast of Virginia, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, 125 miles from Florida's coast in areas that are currently closed to development by a congressional moratorium. It will not allow any drilling or exploration anywhere on the entire West Coast, from the Canadian to Mexican border. It will ban exploration in Bristol Bay, the eastern-most arm of the Bering Sea, home the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, and a pristine gem to some environmentalist's eyes. President Obama also used the moment to announce an order doubling of the federal fleet of hybrid cars and trucks.

As they say on Fox News, sounds pretty fair and balanced to us. The Obama plan is pragmatic, ultimately the United States consumes far more resources than it has, no matter where exploration is allowed. Nonetheless, to completely ban further oil exploration is needlessly dogmatic and plays into hands of the President's right-wing opposition. In our view Obama has been far more of a practical centrist than his foes are willing to admit. The Clarion Content certainly prefers this exploration rationalization1 as a sop to right wing energy hawks over the extension and funding of nuclear power2 (which unfortunately a centrist Obama also supports). Ironically, we are not fans of the policy that President Obama hopes to move the energy hawks his way on, cap and trade. As we have heard it proposed it is macroeconomically dangerous in this turbulent era for capitalism to enact such a drastic policy shift to attempt head-off environmental change that will happen anyway3.

In sum, we are strangely pleased by Obama announcing a policy, in this case by an Executive Order which will not need Congressional approval, that we do not entirely support (expanded oil drilling) in an attempt to influence Congress's vote on a policy (cap and trade) about which we disagree with the direction he is headed. Why then are we pleased? Digging into our collective guts the consensus appears to be because we believe this announcement indicates the President's smarts and independence. He will not be painted into an uncompromising corner. He will continue to surprise by doing more pragmatic things than expected and governing from a more centrist position than his harshest critics are able to accredit to him. Hopefully, these are good things.

1The Bush policy of allolwing drilling anywhere the oil majors wanted was an environmental disaster in action.

2Although we are gradually more influenced to reevaluate what a Gaian perspective on nuclear power might be...

3The Clarion Content is not opposed to ameliorating the outcomes of global warming. We believe some attempts to limit temperature rise to be a good idea. However, since climate change itself is a theoretical inevitability, stasis being implausible, we don't put much stock in fighting it or even attempting to control it. We would instead focus efforts on the development end for those most effected by climate change. Better to work on more effective and cheaper education, more reliable health care provision, road maintenance and water delivery.

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