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Archive for August, 2007

August 31st 2007

Beethoven Redux

With its thunderous, soaring highs, its sweet, subtle lows, and its glorious cry of praise and wonder to God, who could imagine the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven was composed by a deaf man?

It is perhaps the foremost wonder of the world of art. Forever, man will ponder the heart of Beethoven as he confronted his deafness, and confronted his God in light of his deafness, and then went on with his gift by simply (and most likely angrily) listening to the sounds within.

In today’s WSJ (subscribers only), Janet Adamy tells a modern parallel story that leaves one breathless:

A year after chef Grant Achatz opened Alinea [in Chicago] in 2005, Gourmet magazine named the restaurant the best in the country, and the prestigious Mobil guide gave it its highest rating of five stars. The young chef’s exotic, lavishly presented creations — a mango duck dish is served on a deflating pillow that releases lavender-scented air — have connoisseurs lining up to book meals that cost an average of $240 a person.

But last month, doctors gave Mr. Achatz, 33 years old, devastating news. A cancerous tumor was growing inside his tongue. The disease was so advanced that three doctors told him the only way to cure it was to cut out part of his tongue, leaving one of the world’s most celebrated chefs to ponder life without the ability to taste.

Achatz (pronounced ACK-etz) is feeling not only intense pain, but certainly must also feel the intense irony of his disease. His tongue is so swollen and painful, he can’t eat. Already a trim young man, he has lost ten pounds.

Let’s take a moment, though, to consider the Beethovenesque creativity of Achatz:

In 2004, Mr. Achatz detected a tiny sore growing on the side of his tongue. A dentist told him it was probably from unconsciously biting at the spot, and fitted his mouth for a night guard. That year, he left Trio to open his own restaurant in Chicago’s tony Lincoln Park neighborhood.

He decided to call it Alinea, after the name for a typographical symbol that indicates a new train of thought. His ambition wasn’t only to present his food as art, but to make the entire dining experience into a form of theater that would appeal to all of diners’ senses and elicit emotional responses. For instance, Mr. Achatz had an architect design Alinea’s entrance so that people would walk in, not be able to see the dining room and briefly think they were someplace other than the restaurant, creating a moment of tension.

As soon as Alinea opened in 2005, critics began heaping praise on the hypermodern cuisine and eclectic dining experience. Meals consist of as many as 30 small courses and have taken diners more than seven hours to consume.

To evoke autumn, Mr. Achatz served a piece of pheasant breast on an oak-tree branch lit on fire so it would be smoking as it arrived at the table. For a dish called “Hot potato, cold potato,” Mr. Achatz skewered a marble-size potato and suspended it over a paraffin wax bowl of chilled potato soup so the palate would sense the temperature contrast.

One can imagine a parallel tension, like the one he created in his restaurant’s doorway, as Achatz dealt with the increasing pain at the doorway to his sense of taste. As his success and fame grew, so did his inability to, quite literally, taste the fruits of his success.

Adamy only quotes Achatz twice in her story, once on the discovery of the tumor, and once on his one day of brooding before setting out for an alternative to surgery.The alternative is questionable, involving new chemo medications and radiation, but if it works, he’ll return to Alinea with all his senses, including taste, about him.

Even if he doesn’t, those who know him think he could become the Beethoven of chefs:

Dr. Vokes says it’s too early to predict exactly what might happen if doctors removed the tumor from Mr. Achatz’s tongue. Typically, removing a significant part of the tongue leaves a patient unable to taste and interferes with his or her ability to speak and to swallow. The sense of smell isn’t usually affected.

But other senses contribute to Mr. Achatz’s talent. Much of his acclaim derives from the way his dishes look. Before he cooks a new creation, he writes down the ingredients he wants to use and how he’ll manipulate them. Then, he sketches what it might look like on the plate before discussing it with the chefs who work under him.

“He has such a spiritual connection with food and the visuals, and the taste is just a part of it,” says Rick Tramanto, executive chef at Tru in Chicago. “He’s way too connected to what he’s doing to have [a loss of] one of the elements deter him at all.”

God grants us gifts, but does not guarantee them. Whether the gift is a talent like Achatz’s, or a child, or a fortune, we must always remember that they may be temporary. Losing them may destroy us or may make us stronger, more resolute, more directed, more able to create our smaller personal version of the Ninth.

Will Achatz be gifted with a lifetime of taste, or will the sense be like the puff of lavender air from one of his creations, here for a moment, then gone as a fragrant memory?

That is not really the question. The question is, will Achatz, will we, keep our will strong in the face of adversity? Will we focus not on our pain, but on the wonder that we had the gift in the first place?

Photo: Janet Adamy, WSJ


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August 31st 2007

When Liberal Lovers Break Up

It was quite a romance. World famous, a streaming strutting of stuff before our eyes day after day, hour after hour.

They didn’t care what the facts might be; why bother with piddling little facts? They were soul mates, birds of a feather, destined by the deepest molecules of their very being to be One.

How lovely it was. One fed the other delectable morsels of spun sugar, the other told anyone who would listen how delightfully tasty and self-satisfying the delicious tidbits were. It was the best of relationships, symbiotic; it seemed one simply could not do without the other.

And now, shockingly, suddenly, the romance is ruined, the relationship is … kaput:

NEW YORK — CNN is telling its staff it will not renew its contract to receive news from Reuters Group PLC and instead plans to bolster its own newsgathering resources.

In an internal memo to employees Wednesday, CNN International’s Managing Director Tony Maddox said CNN is “making significant investments in our own newsgathering” in a move to help “manage the continually rising costs associated with acquired assets.”

The company’s current contract with Reuters expires Friday. CNN didn’t disclose the cost of the contract or the amount it plans to spend on its own news division.

A Reuters spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment. (Wall Street Journal)

One can just picture Reuters alone in a darkened room, Kleenex crumpled and wet in trembling hand, shoveling down pint after pint of chocolate ice cream, disconsolate and inconsolable.


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August 31st 2007

Worthy Winners

While I (deservedly) got skunked in this week’s Watcher’s Council critique of some of the best posts in the blogosphere, I am certainly not disappointed in the results. Put good posts and good judges together and you get worthy winners.

Amoung the Council members, my #2 pick was #1 an my #1 was #2:

Big Lizards’ NYT: Analogies Are Meaningless (Unless They Favor the Left) came in first. I found this one delightfully nasty — a solid and biting analysis of how desperately the leading paper of the left struggled to discount Bush’s recent analogy of Iraq to Vietnam.

Also criticizing the media was Soccer Dad, whose Separate But Unequal, that looked once again at the NYT, this time at the differences in its coverage of an Islamic charter school and a Hebrew one.

Over on the non-Watcher side, exposes of bogus, anti-war news stories took the top two honors.

Do, if you haven’t already, click over to Dissident Frogman’s Like a Suppository, Only a Bit Stronger and be sure to click the video link. You’ll howl as he sardonically destroys AFC for allowing itself to be duped by its ignorance and anti-Americanism. What a bunch of rubes!

Confederate Yankee’s Misfire: AP’s Bogus Ammo Shortage Story is something we don’t see enough of from Conservative bloggers: Real reporting. CY found a flaw in a story about the war’s effect on police ammo supplies and actually reported it, talking to ammo manufacturers to get to the bottom of the story — which was just another case of laziness and bias competing as the major feature of MSM reporting.

I also really liked Dr. Sanity’s Anticipation and Denial, which came in third.

See all the winners here.

As always, thank you Watcher for stirring this pot of tasty stew.


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August 30th 2007

Mayhem In Mexico

Here’s a story that’s just breaking and worth following:

Thousands evacuate Latin America’s tallest building

MEXICO CITY — More than 10,000 people were evacuated from Latin America’s tallest building on Thursday after a bomb squad found a device in the parking garage that possibly could contain explosives.

Terrorists? Just usual Mexistrife? Who knows? I got the feed from the Sacramento Bee; there’s nothing up yet on Breitbart.


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August 30th 2007

Union Says, "I Like Mike"

The more I read about Mike Huckabee, the more I like him; he’s no longer just the guy who lost a lot of weight, he’s a good candidate, if not exactly a heavyweight.

Today, he picked up big new cred, becoming perhaps the first GOP prez candidate to get a union endorsement:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of the biggest U.S. trade unions made an unusual dual endorsement in the 2008 White House race on Thursday, backing Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mike Huckabee for their parties’ presidential nominations.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has about 720,000 active and retired members, backed a candidate from each party for the first time after a recent survey found about one-third of union members voted Republican and two-thirds Democratic.

More impressive than Huckabee winning the endorsement is the IAMAW actually listening to all its members and not acting like a Dem machine. Hopefully other unions will follow suit, and hopefully IAMAW and any others who follow will make their campaign contributions accordingly.

I can think of no better action by a labor union to give it continued relevance than to acknowledge that the Dems do not speak for all their members, all the time.

The union’s prez explains why Huckabee:

“Mike Huckabee was the only Republican candidate with the guts to meet with our members and the only one willing to figure out where and how we might work together.”

The big rap against Huckabee is that he’s too nice to skewer Hillary. Keep an eye on him; he might continue to surprise us.


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August 30th 2007

Yawn! GAO Report Slams Iraq Progress. Yawn!

About 10 years ago, we thought we’d won a big victory when we forced a Government Accountability Office audit of the Carlsbad office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. There was a lot wrong with that office, and we thought a GAO audit would make it obvious.

It didn’t. GAO audits, we found out, often are set up to get the results that are desired; in this case, that an overworked staff was doing its best, despite some small mistakes that were primarily due to bad paperwork processing. Not a word about renegade field officers and unsupportable decisions.

So, it is with a yawn and a trite ol’ “been there, done that” that I review news that a GAO report is going to say the war in Iraq is going badly. Even before I got beyond the headlines, I knew what I would read, because I knew that the Dem controlled Congress would set parameters that would have to yield a bad headline.

And it’s true.

In paragraph 10 of the WaPo story, well below the paragraph that says the government scum official who leaked the report did so because he was afraid it would be “watered down in the final version,” we find:

The May legislation imposed a stricter standard on the GAO, requiring an up-or-down judgment on whether each benchmark has been met. On that basis, the GAO draft says that three of the benchmarks have been met while 13 have not. Despite its strict mandate, the GAO draft concludes that two benchmarks — the formation of governmental regions and the allocation and expenditure of $10 billion for reconstruction — have been “partially met.” Little of the allocated money, it says, has been spent.

AP did much better, mentioning the criteria in paragraph three, basically part of the extended lead to the story.

I wonder if Congress would be happy with a GAO report that measured its performance on the same scale. Since Nancy Pelosi is the speaker, let’s apply a little GAO-think to the platform NanPo laid out for her first 100 hours. Our criteria is simple enough: Did what she promised become law?

If you honor Democratic candidates with your vote today, in the first hundred hours of a Democratic Congress: We will restore civility, integrity, and fiscal responsibility to the House of Representatives. NO

We will start by cleaning up Congress, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation and commit to pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending. NO

We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission. NO (Remember, partial success is no success under the rules.)

We will make our economy fairer, and we will begin by raising the minimum wage. We will not pass a pay raise for Congress until there is an increase in the minimum wage. YES

We will make health care more affordable for all Americans, and we will begin by fixing the Medicare prescription drug program, putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices. NO We will also promote stem cell research to offer real hope to the millions of American families who suffer from devastating diseases. NO

We will broaden college opportunity, and we will begin by cutting interest rates for student loans in half. NO

We will energize America by achieving energy independence, and we will begin by rolling back the multi-billion dollar subsidies for Big Oil. NO

We will guarantee a dignified retirement, and we will begin by fighting any attempt to privatize Social Security. NO

So NanPo, who supposedly has full control of the situation and certainly has no GOP militia blowing up cars in her neighborhood or beheading her allies, was able to succeed on one measure. If you’re thinking I’m too tough and the criteria should be passing legislation through the house, she’ll go three for ten.

Of course, you hear a lot less about that than you’ll hear about the GAO report.


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August 29th 2007

A Tutorial On The Ills Of Regulation

I heard a new phrase today: The informal economy.

It’s a lovely turn of phrase, sounding much more pleasant and legal than “‘the black market economy,” but it means the same thing

It was used on a BBC broadcast — not surprising, given their use of gentle, forgiving terms for everything but American foreign policy. I don’t believe it’s their term, though; it’s from Brazil, where the informal economy makes up about half of the national economy. And yes, the other half is called the formal economy.

Those in the informal economy don’t get business licenses, get paid in cash for their services and don’t pay taxes.

How could Brazil, the dead sleeping giant, come to lose so much of its legitimate economy? It’s a one word answer, and it’s a word America should hear with fear: Regulation.

Business is heavily regulated in Brazil, from the permits you need to start a business, to the paperwork you have to file to stay in business, to the fines you have to pay if you get crosswise with the regulations. The social bureaucrats in Brazilia have placed such a high penalty on business success, many opt simply not to be successful.

A successful informal economy entrepreneur knows that if he is successful and grows his business, he’ll be mired down in a regulatory quagmire, so many opt to just stay small. Imagine the impact on America’s economy if Bill Gates had decided it wasn’t worth all the hassle to get big, and had continued providing BASIC programming for Altair 8800 computers. Or if Henry Ford had kept turning out Fords one at a time instead of developing the assembly line.

What happens when half of a nation’s economy is under the table? Obviously, the Brazilian government receives much less tax revenue because half of its economy is all cash/no taxes. And just as obviously, a country that created this mess because of its propensity to regulate will address the subsequent economic problems with more regulations, more fines for violators … driving more people to stay away from the whole mess by working for cash on a small scale.

Brazil’s problem is repeated in economies around the globe when government thinks it has all the answers.

As yet, the problem hasn’t hit America, where most of our economy remains formal, legit, tax-paying and regulated to some extent. But if the trend towards more government, and more government intervention into our lives continues, it could happen here.

If you suddenly start reading about the growing “problems” presented by the informal economy in the U.S., you’ll know it’s probably already too late; the tipping point has been passed and we’re on our way to becoming a sleeping giant.


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August 29th 2007

One Quarter Million

Wow! The little counter says 249,959! That means sometime very soon, probably just after I leave for the airport for a day in Sacramento, it will click past 250,000.

That’s a bit of a milestone, so I’ll take the opportunity to thank all my regular and periodic readers for all those clicks. It really boggles my mind that so many folks drop by here regularly to read what I’ve got to say.

Lest I get too uppity in the moment, it’s good to remember that Technorati currently ranks me at #41,355 (and dropping), and Truth Laid Bear ranks me at #5,154, a Flappy Bird. I seem to recall being #4808 a while back. Ugh.

StatCounter tells me that my recent average is 573 page-loads a day, up about 100 from a month or so ago, from 578 unique visitors, also up about 100. That’s quite amazing to this Flappy Bird. It’s more people than most college professors reach in a few years of teaching, more than most pastors reach every Sunday … and more than I ever imagined would come by to visit.

Here, have some cookies and milk on me, and enjoy yourselves!

Thanks for dropping by, and come back again any time!


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August 29th 2007

More Real Big Problems For Dems …

Unless, of course, they’re Dem patriots or Dem soldiers in Iraq. James Clyburn, polish up your talking points:

BAGHDAD (AP)- Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.

The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to “rehabilitate” the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.

“We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued,” al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

In Najaf, al-Sadr’s spokesman said the order also means the Mahdi Army will no longer launch attacks against U.S. and other coalition forces.

“It also includes suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers as well as others,” Ahmed al-Shaibani told reporters.

Just a guess here, but perhaps al-Sadr has come to realize that the wholesale killing of other Muslims in the name of Allah, and attacks against our troops who are trying to stop wholesale killing of Muslims in the name of Allah, does not really conform with his ideological image for his organization.

The Mahdi Army was blamed for the killings in Karbala during a Shi’ite holy festival. Fifty-two Muslims, including mostly pilgrims going to a shrine on a holy day, died during the fighting between, get this, the Sadrs and the Badrs. (The Badr Brigade was guarding the temple.) The count of injured surpasses 300.

Shi’ite vs. Shi’ite fighting is just one of many components of Iraq’s instability. Sadr’s move today will help to stabilize that — and it doesn’t hurt that the announcement comes just before Gen. Patraeus’ update.


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August 29th 2007

Wednesday Reading

It looks like a fascinating and educating bunch o’ blog posts this week, thanks to the Watcher’s Council’s far-ranging reading and the Watcher’s fantastic organizing skills. Here are the week’s nominees; the Council will vote Thursday and you’ll see the results here Friday.

Council links:

  1. They Don’t Understand the Incentives (Updated)
    The Glittering Eye
  2. What, Do You Think?
    Done With Mirrors
  3. “Sanctuary” Cities
    The Colossus of Rhodey
  4. Victor Davis Hanson — Why We Must Study War
    ‘Okie’ on the Lam
  5. Lotsa Dead Terrorists!
    Cheat Seeking Missiles
  6. Separate But Unequal
    Soccer Dad
  7. The New Conspiracy Theorists
    Bookworm Room
  8. Local Blogger, Democrat Leader, Urges Jasper-Style Truck-Drag of Jewish Republican
    Rhymes With Right
  9. Iraq As Vietnam… Or Vice Versa
  10. Washington Watch: Another Hypocrite Exposed
    The Education Wonks
  11. NYT: Analogies Are Meaningless (Unless They Favor the Left)
    Big Lizards
  12. Jesus, Lord! Are They All Hypocritical Bastards?
    Right Wing Nut House

Non-council links:

  1. Like a Suppository, Only a Bit Stronger
    The Dissident Frogman
  2. Misfire: AP’s Bogus Ammo Shortage Story
    Confederate Yankee
  3. King Monument Criticized Over Artist
    Booker Rising
  4. Roger L. Simon: Not Blogging the Beijing Olympics
    Pajamas Media
  5. Watching Al Jazeera, Part III
    Seraphic Secret (my nominee)
  6. Watching Al Jazeera, Part I
    Seraphic Secret (2)
  7. God’s Jewish Warriors — CNN’s Abomination
  8. CIA Missed Chances to Thwart al-Qaida
    Texas Fred’s
  9. A Recurrent Theme: On Moderate Muslims
  10. Anticipation vs Denial
    Dr. Sanity
  11. What Exactly Is the Crime?
    Captain’s Quarters
  12. Why Mike Huckabee Can’t Be the Conservative Choice for President
    Say Anything
  13. This Is What Sadness Looks Like
  14. Treat Addicts Like What They Are… Losers

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With Obama winning the presidency by seven percent, we can't blame the media. Their laudatory coverage and refusal to extensively probe into Obama's background and [lack of] experience was at best responsible for five percent of his vote, the pundits tell us. Here is a compilation of over 100 significant instances of pro-Obama/anti-McCain bias during the 2008 campaign.

For all 'Media Bias 2008' – Click Here

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