Monthly Archives: June 2013

Poem for Thee Weekend

On this day in 1613 Shakespeare’s Globe playhouse burned down when the thatched roof caught fire after a cannon misfired during a staging of Henry VIII. Historical accounts of the event include the following poem, published anonymously but probably written by an owner of a rival playhouse:

“Sonnett upon the pittiful burneinge of the Globe playhowse in London”

No shower his raine did there downe force

In all that Sunn-shine weather,

To save that great renowned howse;

Nor thou, O ale-howse, neither.

Had itt begunne belowe, sans doubte,

Their wives for feare had pissed itt out.

Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yett all this is true.

Bee warned, yow stage strutters all,

Least yow againe be catched,

And such a burneing doe befall,

As to them whose howse was thatched;

Forbeare your whoreing, breeding biles,

And laye up that expence for tiles.

Oh sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yett all this is true…

The theatre was rebuilt and reopened one year later in June 1614. It was closed, along with all the other playhouses, by the Puritans in 1642 and torn down around 1644. A modern reconstruction of The Globe opened in 1997, about 200 yards from the original site, and attracts thousands of people each summer. The Globe’s actual dimensions are unknown, as the only historical relics we have are a crudely drawn picture of the building, a few written descriptions of playhouses at the time, stage directions for the plays that were performed there and a small part of the original foundation which was excavated in 1989. Scholars attempted to make it as close a replica as possible, but were of course hampered by business codes and other issues. The building plaster is made of the Elizabethan sand-hair-lime recipe, but goat hair had to replace the traditional cow hair because the hair of the modern British cow is too short. There are also problems with the diameter of the building, according to some scholars, which may cause acoustics and sight lines to differ from the original Globe.

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Image of the Day

Image

Check out more images from the Harry Potter movie sets that will weird you out here. Image by Jaap Buitendijk.

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Afternoon Links

Over 100 babies were named Khaleesi in 2012 because of course they were. Game of Thrones has now permeated every aspect of our culture. One can only hope there is a “Khaleesi from DC” somewhere in the nursery. (Wink, wink Veep fans.)

Celebrate the beginning of the final season of Dexter on Sunday with these gruesomely delicious DEXTER CUPCAKES!

Chicago’s oldest and best used bookstore (it opened in 1882!) is closing its doors…and moving to Indiana, where the environment is business-friendly. Good job Democrats, you’ve made it so bad that an iconic and beloved Chicago treasure has to move…TO FUCKING HOOSIERVILLE! I can’t blame the owners though…

O’Gara and Wilson Antiquarian Booksellers traces its history back to 1882, when it was named Woodworth’s and was known as a place where professors and students bought their books. A seasoned Chicago bookseller named Joseph O’Gara bought the Hyde Park store in its current location and ran it with his cat Lady Jane Grey for many years, training the current owner Doug Wilson by putting through “rigorous five-year apprenticeship before making him a partner in the bookshop.” Today, Wilson has been trying to cut costs to stay afloat, but in the economic climate and with prices rising in Hyde Park—not to mention the “volatility of the online book markets”— he has decided to close the bookstore and reopen it in Chesterton, Indiana where he says taxes and rents are cheaper.

Speaking of Illinois and Indiana, the only thing worse than being a Hoosier is being an Illinois taxpayer. According to the STL Post-Dispatch, Illinois’ terrible no good very bad credit is costing taxpayers millions and has even inspired a new term on Wall Street…

Like your cousin who doesn’t pay his bills on time and squanders money he doesn’t have, Illinois is paying the price — in both cash and reputation — for years of ignored warnings about its pension crisis, the worst in the nation. Largely because of its unfunded retirement plans, Illinois has replaced longtime bottom-dweller California as having the lowest credit rating of any state. So when Illinois tries to borrow money, it faces the same problem as the spendthrift cousin: far higher interest rates. The state’s financial failings are so well-known, they have inspired a name on Wall Street — the “Illinois effect,” a reference to the fact that cities, universities and other bond-issuing entities here must pay more in interest, even if they are responsible spenders…Contributing to the inaction are the state’s strong constitutional protections for pension benefits and a powerful union lobby that has opposed across-the-board cuts…”You can’t have 13 downgrades in four years … and think people are going to come here and create jobs,” Daley said, questioning the need for repeated legislative sessions that yield no progress. “This is Groundhog Day.”

Who has to pay for this disaster? Hard-working people in counties that have been responsible with their money, like my home county of DuPage…

Illinois’ reputation also hits taxpayers on the local level, even in communities with sound budgets. Suburban Chicago’s DuPage County, a wealthy, conservative-leaning area, is among the 1 percent of counties nationwide with the highest-possible credit rating from all three major ratings agencies. But officials there estimate taxpayers will pay $4 million more in interest over the life of a recent $67 million bond issue than if Illinois had its financial house in order.

While free speech in Britain is pretty much dead, Canada is quietly repealing its ridiculous and onerous “hate speech” law. As for America, well apparently we’ve just gotten super confused about free speech. Although a small victory was achieved the other day.

This just in: the U.S. Army has blocked soldiers’ access to The Guardian website since the NSA articles were published. So I guess free speech is dead here, too. 

Meanwhile in Egypt, they have begun lynching the Shia (yes, literally lynching).

Steven Greenhut has apparently been hanging out inside my brain lately. This article about divorcing marriage from the government is exactly what I’ve been thinking all week. (Isn’t it discrimination against single people to only give state/federal benefits to married people??)

The state shouldn’t be handing out many privileges or payments and to whatever degree issues involving hospital visitation and inheritances are an issue, their terms and conditions can easily be worked out without a cultural war over the meaning of “marriage.”…I’m not unsympathetic to the high court’s 5-4 decision to overturn most of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, designed specifically to deny governmental benefits to gay couples and to allow states to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states. If the government gives out stuff, it’s reasonable to insist that it give it out in the most fair-minded basis…Government neutrality — or the closest we can get to it — is the best way to ensure fairness and social peace on this and most other social issues. Marriage is too important of an institution to be dependent on the wiles of the state. Do we really care if the state validates our marriage licenses?

The Left has officially LOST ITS MIND on abortion, as evidenced in Austin a couple days ago. Someone please explain to me why it’s morally ok to kill a 5-month-old fetus. That’s more than HALFWAY through the pregnancy! How is it “anti-woman” to require women to decide on abortion before then? How is it unreasonable to require clinics to meet certain health standards? Abortion clinics: the only thing the Left doesn’t want to regulate. Melinda Henneberger has a great piece on the Wendy Davis filibuster debacle over at her WaPo blog “She The People.”

No matter how many thousands of times abortion rights supporters repeat that the bill’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks is anti-woman — hateful in effect and by design — that’s just the opposite of the way I see it. And it isn’t how a majority of Americans, or American women, see it, either…The Texas law is not unlike legislation on the books all over Western Europe, where late-term abortions are rightly considered barbaric — except, of course, in cases of rape, incest, or health risk to the mother. The Texas bill also imposed new regulations on clinics, and its opponents claim that requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility would force the closure of 37 of the state’s 42 clinics. Clearly, the case of abortion doctor — and now convicted murderer — Kermit Gosnell changed nothing in America, where it’s commonly accepted that the “woman’s right to choose” should extend even beyond birth. Neither do allegations against the Houston abortion doctorDouglas Karpen seem to have changed hearts and minds on the most intractable issue in American politics. Karpen runs three clinics where ex-employees said they’d witnessed him doing what Gosnell did, killing babies who had been born alive. In Delaware recently, nurses testified that their former employer, Planned Parenthood of Delaware, routinely put women’s health at risk by rushing procedures to maximize profits, using untrained staff, and neglecting medical standards. Yet any desire to regulate this industry can only come from some deep hatred of womankind?

Here’s another good article, this one mostly focusing on the ridiculous media bias on this issue.

Obama hosted a radical Islamist at the White House for a meeting of the National Security Council. Why are we giving these people credibility? Islamists must feel as though all their birthdays have come at once when we do stupid shit like this. The White House defends the move by saying he has criticized al-Qaeda’s violence. Like Rich Lowry said yesterday, that’s like inviting a “non-violent Nazi” to the White House. He might have designed the ovens knowing what they would be used for but he didn’t physically push the Jews in, so it doesn’t count. What kind of reasoning is this?

As vice president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) in 2004, bin Bayyah endorsed a fatwa calling for the killing of American troops and other personnel serving in Iraq. Bin Bayyah is the principal deputy to Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief sharia jurist and the driving force of the IUMS. In addition to being behind the 2004 fatwa, Qaradawi also promotes suicide bombing against Israel. The IUMS strongly supports the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, Hamas, the terrorist organization designated as such under American law. Indeed, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh – a close ally of both Qaradawi and Turkey’s Islamic supremacist prime minister (and Obama fave) Recep Tayyip Erdogan – was welcomed into the IUMS as a member in 2004…Hamas’s charter explains that the group’s imperative to destroy Israel is an Islamic obligation, and it cites authoritative scripture – frequently repeated by Qaradawi – stating that the world will not end “until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: ‘O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!’”…This marks a new low for the administration that, in brazen violation of U.S. counterterrorism law, previously invited a member of the Blind Shiekh’s terrorist organization for consultations at the White House.

The barbarians are not at the gates. They are well inside. And who opened the door for them?…WHAT ARE WE DOING?? Peace with people like this is a fantasy. How many times does the leader of Hezbollah have to tell us they are not interested in negotiating with the West because their goal is to destroy our definition of civilization and replace it with theirs, one in which Jews are slaughtered en masse, unbelievers are stoned to death in the public square, women are slaves, homosexuals are buried alive and free speech and scientific inquiry cease to exist. Maulana Inyadullah probably summed it up best when he was holed up in Peshawar after 9/11 and told a reporter, “The Americans love Pepsi-Cola. We love death.” MESSAGE RECEIVED.

Oh, by the way, Libya just let one of the suspects in the Benghazi attack walk because the world respects us.

People on the Greek island of Ikaria live for a really long time. What’s their secret? Wine and sex. Thank you Greeks for affirming that I’m living my life the right way.

Jeb Bush just disqualified himself from the 2016 race by presenting woman-bullyer Hillary Clinton with a Liberty Medal for some reason.

Today in hypocrisy: President Obama loves voter ID in Kenya, hates it in America.

George Orwell’s birthday was earlier this week and the Dutch city of Utrecht hilariously celebrated it by placing party hats on all the town’s surveillance cameras.

Ramesh Ponnuru agrees that Windsor is the new Roe.

The two decisions are not comparable in all respects of course: Windsor did not sweep away the laws of all fifty states, the way Roe (in combination with Doe) did; nor did it work as grave an injustice. After reading the Windsor opinions and the commentary about them, though, I am reminded of what John Hart Ely said of Roe: that it “is bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” (Ely himself supported legal abortion.)…The bottom line is that five justices of the Court just wanted to see this law go down, and were not very particular about how it would be accomplished. In the years after Roe, finding more plausible constitutional justifications for the decision became something of an academic pastime among supporters of the abortion license. I am sure that most of the country’s con-law professors agree with the result in Windsor, but doubt a single one of them would have written the opinion the way Kennedy did. When Scalia closed his dissent by remarking that Kennedy had deprived supporters of same-sex marriage of an “honest victory,” this is what he was talking about.

Oh god, HIDE THE SHEEP, HIDE ALL THE SHEEP!

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Video of the Day

Oh Discovery Channel Shark Week promoters, you silly bitches. This is horrible…and hilarious. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (ok fine, I laughed…because Shark Week is coming and it’s the best thing ever).

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June 27, 2013 · 7:21 pm

Afternoon Links

Here are some personal thoughts on yesterday’s SCOTUS decisions before I delve into articles about them. I am happy for my gay friends and I do believe that if heterosexual marriages get federal benefits than same-sex marriages should get federal benefits. But I really believe that the federal government shouldn’t be giving benefits to married people PERIOD. I also think that Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, did not base his DOMA opinion on legal reasoning, but on the outcome he desired and a judgement of other people’s motives. Kennedy should have stopped at saying that the states are sovereign on the issue of marriage – as they traditionally have been – and thus the federal government cannot impose its definition of marriage on the states. I think this decision will end up being the Roe v. Wade of this generation and will result in the overturning of state laws that ban same-sex marriage, in order to place a blanket federal law across the country. Though I am on the side of same-sex marriage, as I am of first trimester abortion choice, I think it is best to let the citizenry evolve on social issues, rather than imposing the tyranny of the majority (and a very slight majority on this issue at the moment, based on national polling), the very thing the government is supposed to protect us from. The Court punted on Prop 8 for jurisdiction reasons, which is understandable. But what was puzzling, noted by Kennedy, is that this seems to empower state governments with the ability to shoot down whichever referendums – which are voted on by the people – they don’t like. That would be a nightmare. Peter Suderman lays out why SCOTUS struck down DOMA. The Atlantic addresses Justice Scalia’s scathing DOMA dissent here, while Reason‘s Damon Root takes it up here.

WOW. We’ve known for years now that London has rapidly become the bar scene from Star Wars, catering to all manner of Islamist recruiters, fundraisers and practitioners of jihad. But this could be the official coming out party of Londonistan, as the government has blocked two American anti-jihad bloggers from even entering the country. The 21st century’s principal political dynamic has officially become whether something does or does not cause offense to Muslims. This is where cultural relativism, disguised under the euphemism “multiculturalism,” gets you. It has become the official civic religion of the 21st century Western world, to the point where legitimate criticism of any minority group is now equivalent to execration. Keep giving it away, Britain…and we’re right behind you. During the Cold War the motto of the West was something like, “Better dead than Red.” Now it’s “Better screwed than rude.” We have become lazy, good at enjoying our freedom, but with no desire to fight for it or even recognize that civilization must be fought for. One must recognize that there are things worth fighting for, and dying for, and killing for. Instead we cower and capitulate. Roger Kimball has a good piece on this…

The irony of the situation is rich. Geller and Spencer speak out against the intolerance of Islam. Got that? They speak. They lecture. They write books.  Spencer’s written a shelf of them. Geller was behind a campaign to place “defeat jihad” posters in New York subways.  One of the reasons they were traveling to the UK was to participate in a commemorative ceremony for Drummer Lee Rigby. Remember him? He was the chap who last month was walking down a street in Woolwich when two Muslims ran him down in a car and then stabbed and hacked him to death with knives and a cleaver. When these partisans of the religion of peace got through with him, he had to be identified by dental records. Geller and Spencer are denied entry to the UK. Quoth a government spokesman: individuals whose presence “is not conducive to the public good” may be denied entry by the Home Secretary. He explained: “We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form.”  That pretty much covers the waterfront, doesn’t it? Disagree with me and I’ll have you named an enemy of the state.  Entertain views that conflict with the dominant left-wing narrative and I’ll see to it that you are branded a hate monger and are ostracized (or worse).  Say or write something I don’t like and I’ll pretend you did something criminal: I’ll deliberately confuse the expression of opinion and criminal behavior so that the expression of opinion blends seamlessly into criminal behavior. George Orwell anatomized this technique in 1984…Lee Rigby is hacked to death by Muslim fanatics.  That’s an instance of what former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith insisted we call “anti-Islamic activity.” Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer say and write things the timid,  politically correct bureaucrats who run Britain don’t like  and they’re declared pariahs. It’s all part of what Anthony Trollope in his great, dark novel called The Way We Live Now.

In the words of Dennis Prager, “Some of us worry about a resurgent Islam and its attendant complications for a decayed Western civilization; some of us worry about global warming. In 20 years time, one of us will be proved right and the other will look like an idiot.”

The absolute buffoon Jim McDermott gets his way as the FBI pulls its “Faces of Terrorism” bus ads off the streets. As Mark Steyn once asked, “What happens when a Western world so in thrall to platitudes about boundless “tolerance” allows the forces of intolerance to carve it out from the inside?” I guess we’re going to find out. McDermott worried the ads gave the impression that “terrorism only comes from one religion or one color of people. You’re pointing a finger at a group of people, profiling them,” McDermott said. “I don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think its good for our society. It doesn’t make us safer.” Actually, recognizing what the problem is can make us safer. And fairness is irrelevant here in the face of facts. It is of course false and ridiculous to say that all Muslims are terrorists. However, statistics show us it is true that, especially in this country, almost all terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims…But there is Mark Ruffalo, who got placed on a terror watch list for screening a movie…about natural gas drilling. Jesus Fucking Christ, America.

Meanwhile, Egypt returns to the 14th century.

Egypt’s prosecutors have been flooded with blasphemy complaints since 2011 as Islamists exercising their new societal clout have pushed for prosecutions and courts have handed down steep fines and prison terms for insulting religion. This month alone, a Christian teacher in Luxor was fined $14,000 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in class, a writer was given five years in prison for promoting atheism and a Christian lawyer was sentenced to one year for insulting Islam — in a private conversation. Blasphemy cases were once rare in Egypt, and their frequency has increased sharply since the revolution. More than two dozen cases have gone to trial, and nearly all defendants have been found guilty. At least 13 have received prison sentences. The campaign is driven at the local level, where religious activists have also forced officials to suspend teachers and professors. In at least 10 cases, Christian families have been expelled from their homes after perceived insults, according to Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights…“Contempt of religion, any religion, is a crime, not a form of expression,” said Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has not been instrumental in filing the cases but does not oppose them. “Is setting fire to the Bible freedom of expression? Is insulting religion freedom of expression?”

Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Freedom of expression is the freedom to burn any book and insult any person, place or thing.

Enemy of freedom and hater of fun, Michael Bloomberg is saying a big “Fuck you” to the children this Fourth of July. He is attempting to ban the sale of sparklers. What was H.L Mencken’s fantastic definition of Puritanism? “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” John Stossel takes up this very issue of “puritans” ruining our fun in this month’s Reason.

Changing how chocolate is made with the joys of technology and the simple step of letting the farmers taste the chocolate.

What sets Tcho apart from other chocolate makers is that it doesn’t just scout the equator looking for cacao farmers it can admire, hoping they’ll grow great beans that might make wonderful chocolate. The company does something new: it provides growers with all the tools they need to have chocolate tastings during harvesting and processing, the crucial period that determines the price a cacao farmer’s crop will command. Tcho combines coffee roasters, spice grinders, and modified hair dryers to equip “sample labs”—pilot plants that produce tiny lots of chocolate right where cacao is grown. The company gives cacao farmers customized groupware so that they can share tasting notes and samples with chocolate makers. In this way, the farmers can bring entire harvests up to the standards of Tcho or any other buyer. This is a huge change. Just as some coffee growers have never drunk coffee made from their beans, some cacao growers in remote areas have never tasted chocolate made with theirs. (Since chocolate is much harder to make than coffee, some may have never tasted chocolate at all.) Teaching them to recognize the flavors in fermented, roasted, and ground cacao beans, and then understand how they can adapt their growing processes, will be Tcho’s lasting contribution to chocolate making.

Obama’s African vacation means “Disappear!” for the poor of Senegal. Mwangi Kimenyi over at Foreign Policy says the trip was a disappointment before it even began.

Significant though it is, this long-awaited visit will fall short of the expectations of many Africans. Over the last four and a half years, Africans have grown increasingly critical of Obama’s limited interest in the continent — an interest that seems confined to security — and many feel that the U.S. president has taken their goodwill for granted. The excitement that accompanied his historic 2008 election has given way to widespread cynicism on the continent. Unfortunately, this trip is unlikely to change the prevailing view among Africans that Obama is out of touch with the new realities of an emerging Africa….Even by recent U.S. presidential standards, Obama’s travel to the region has been minimal. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, he had taken a five-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa and spent more than 100 hours on the continent. He then made another six-day trip to Africa near the end of his second term…Another major criticism of Obama’s Africa trip concerns the makeup of his itinerary. The president will be passing over three of the continent’s regional anchors: Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia…Obama has indicated that he will use his trip to highlight U.S. development programs in Africa. But since the president has established no significant new Africa-related programs, he will inevitably be highlighting the work of his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Obama has also indicated he will highlight U.S. engagement on food security, terrorism, youth leadership, and energy. Unfortunately, any new initiatives in these areas are likely to be relatively small in scale and guided by the outdated view of Africa as a “hopeless” continent looking for handouts.

Pediatricians are prescribing books to kids. Excellent.

Studies continue to show that charter schools are the answer, especially for poor and minority students.

Verlyn Klinkenborg laments the decline and fall of the English major.

The U.S. has blocked a sale of a Picasso painting at the request of the Italian government. The BBC reports:

The 1909 work Compotier et tasse or “Fruit bowl and cup”, had been offered for private sale in New York. Its owner, Gabriella Amati and her late husband, Angelo Maj have been charged with embezzling $44m (£28.5m) of tax revenues from the city of Naples. The US Justice department said the work was purchased with money allegedly obtained through criminal activity…Agents working for US Immigration and Customs (Ice) located and recovered the painting in New York, where it was being offered for sale on 21 May. The Justice department has assumed control of the painting after US District Judge Victor Marrero signed a restraining order following the formal request from Italy.

And finally your fun fact of the day, why was the tomato feared in Europe for over 200 years? Because pewter plates were high in lead content and tomatoes are high in acidity, therefore the tomatoes would leach lead from the plates and kill, via lead poisoning, many who ate them.

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Afternoon Links

Joseph Epstein at The Atlantic asks, “Is Franz Kafka overrated?”

How 8 famous writers chose their pen names. George Orwell…

When Eric Arthur Blair was getting ready to publish his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, he decided to use a pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty. He chose the name George Orwell to reflect his love of English tradition and landscape. George is the patron saint of England and the River Orwell, a popular sailing spot, was a place he loved to visit.

It’s not unusual for Mark Steyn to have me weeping with laughter on a weekly basis, but he’s outdone himself this time. On the President confusing George Osborne with Jeffrey Osborne (known for his song “On the Wings of Love”) at the G8 Summit, Steyn comes up with a hilarious mash-up of the song and Obama’s speech…

 Although Obama’s confusion went largely unreported in America, the BBC’s enterprising Eddie Mair got Jeffrey Osborne on the line and inveigled him into singing George Osborne’s best-known words — “Tax cuts should be for life, not just Christmastime” — to Jeffrey’s best-known tune. The following day Mangue Obama — whoops, my mistake, Mangue Obama was the prime minister of Equatorial Guinea from 2006 to 2008, and has a way smaller and less incompetent entourage — Barack Obama departed for Berlin (the German city, not the American songwriter or British philosopher)…If the BBC’s mash-up of Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 Billboard hit and Chancellor Osborne’s recent speech at the Mansion House in London was something of an awkward fit, you could slip large slabs of “On the Wings of Love” into Obama’s telepromptered pap and none of the 27 Germans still awake would have noticed the difference:

Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live. Come take my hand and together we will rise, on the wings of love, up and above the clouds, the only way to fly . . . Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be, just smile for me and let the day begin. You are the sunshine that lights my heat within, and we can reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking, because we are angels in disguise, we live and breathe each other, inseparable . . . The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. For the grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods . . . coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise, you look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt. . . . This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time. . . . That is our task. We have to get to work. We’re flowing like a stream, running free, flowing on the wings of love . . .

The wings of love don’t seem to carry Obama as far as they used to. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews blamed the lackluster performance on the sun’s glare affecting his ability to read the text. That’s how bad it is: Global warming melted his prompter…Der Spiegel, which is the very definition of mainstream media in Germany, described the president’s Berlin stop as a visit by “the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” — and under the headline “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism.”  Obama isn’t a “soft” totalitarian so much as a slapdash one. His apparatchiks monitor the e-mails of both Jeffrey and George Osborne, but he still can’t tell one from the other. Likewise, in Syria as in Libya, “the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” can’t tell a plucky freedom fighter itching to build Massachusetts in the sands of Araby from your neighborhood al-Qaeda subsidiary whose health-care plan only covers clitoridectomies.

In a futile effort to not die, CNN is re-launching Crossfire and it’s going to be terrible. On the bright side, the Republicans should win all the arguments since it’s Newt Gingrich and S.E. Cupp, both annoying but at least pretty intelligent, versus 9/11 truther Van Jones and Stephanie Cutter, who makes a living being a heinous liar.

Chris Stevens’ Benghazi diary reveals his brooding, yet hopeful, final days. So sad.

Check out some of the ridiculous pork in the immigration bill.

Politico laments the disaster that is Obama’s second term. Have we ever had a President who is neither feared nor respected nor liked on the world stage or at home?

Obama does not instill fear — one of the customary instruments of presidential power. Five years of experience, say lawmakers of both parties, have demonstrated that there is not a huge political or personal cost to be paid for crossing the president…Obama cannot count on friendship. There are plenty of politicians who would love the political and psychic benefits of favored status from the president. But Obama’s distant style and his insular West Wing operation have left congressional Democrats resigned, many said in interviews, to the reality that they will never be insiders and, therefore, have no special incentives to stay on Obama’s good side. Obama is not buoyed by the power of ideas.

Bret Stephens has a great piece on Obama’s impotence abroad.

At this writing, Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive National Security Agency contractor indicted on espionage charges, is in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin’s spokesman insists his government is powerless to detain him. “We have nothing to do with this story,” says Dmitri Peskov. “I don’t approve or disapprove plane tickets.” Funny how Mr. Putin always seems to discover his inner civil libertarian when it’s an opportunity to humiliate the United States. When the Russian government wants someone off Russian soil, it either removes him from it or puts him under it. Just ask investor Bill Browder, who was declared persona non grata when he tried to land in Moscow in November 2005. Or think of Mr. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, murdered by Russian prison officials four years later…Now the U.S. finds itself in an amazing position. Merely to get the Taliban to the table for a bogus peace process, the administration agreed at Pakistan’s urging to let Mullah Omar come to the table on his owns terms: no acceptance of the Afghan Constitution, no cease-fire with international forces, not even a formal pledge to never again allow Afghanistan to become a haven for international terrorism. The U.S. also agreed, according to Pakistani sources, to allow the terrorist Haqqani network—whose exploits include the 2011 siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—a seat at the table. Yet having legitimized Haqqani and given the Taliban everything it wanted in exchange for nothing, the U.S. finds itself being dumped by its own client government in Kabul, which can always turn to Iran as a substitute patron. Incredible: no peace, no peace process, no ally, no leverage and no moral standing, all in a single stroke. John Kerry is off to quite a start.

And from the editors of IBD

The U.S. simply isn’t much feared or heeded anymore. Not by rivals Russia and China. Not by Hong Kong, which shares what once were our government’s economic values. And not by a leftist Latin American nation such as Ecuador, which defaulted on more than $3 billion in foreign debt, enjoys unreciprocated free-trade privileges with the U.S., and, according to Adam Issacson’s Just The Facts website, enjoyed well over $250 million in U.S. aid under Obama. Why would they? We break promises to those we commit to liberate, as in Iraq. We drag out the fighting in Afghanistan, then leave the job half-finished. We promise a missile shield to the Czechs and Poles, then renege.

Obama is going to bypass Congress, do climate change legislation by executive order, because apparently this is a dictatorship. He is bound and determined to kill the coal industry, which is just mean in a bad economy with few jobs. Not to mention there is no cheap form of clean energy to replace it, science now shows that warming has stagnated over the past 16 years, we have already reduced our carbon emissions to 1992 levels (which was the goal), and China and India build a new coal plant every week, so we won’t be helping the planet much, but we’ll be screwing ourselves. But it’s all for the children, of course. From the editors of NRO:

Global warming, contrary to the predictions of the best climate models, is not accelerating. It is slowing, and some estimates show it having been reversed. The warmest year on record was 1998, and there has been significantly less warming in the last 15 years than there was in the 20 years before that. The Economist, which supports measures to control greenhouse-gas emissions and has been a reliable hotbed of warming alarmism, conceded: “There’s no way around the fact that this reprieve for the planet is bad news for proponents of policies, such as carbon taxes and emissions treaties, meant to slow warming by moderating the release of greenhouse gases. . . . They will become harder, if not impossible, to sell to the public, which will feel, not unreasonably, that the scientific and media establishment has cried wolf.” If only President Obama simply had cried wolf. Instead, the president announced that, on behalf of “all of humankind,” he is in effect directing the EPA to take over the American economy. New power plants will be subject to emissions controls, and existing plants will have to be retrofitted to comply with new standards. New restrictions on heavy trucks will affect the movement of freight and goods across the country. New subsidies will be handed down for politically connected energy firms, and federal lands will be set aside for their use. New federal impositions will affect the construction of factories, commercial buildings, and private homes…Every economic activity involving energy or transportation — which is to say, every economic activity — will be affected by the president’s global-warming program. Consider the president’s thinking: While the value of vaccinations is undisputed among scientists, he believes that it requires more research, because people who are prone to lunatic theories about vaccines vote Democratic. But when it comes to the climate, he acts not only as though there were no scientific questions in dispute but as though capital-S Science had corporately blessed his policy agenda…Even if we had absolute scientific certainty, we would also have another kind of certainty: that China and India, and many other countries, are not going to radically reduce their peoples’ standards of living to accommodate Barack Obama’s policy preferences.

Why did the National Zoo lose its red panda (which has been found)? The sequester, duh, says ThinkProgress based on no evidence at all. If we want to keep our pandas behind bars, you better pay up “millionaires and billionaires.”

You can now get your HHS e-cards, so you can tell your loved ones to stop being fatties and pricks (yes, of course they have anti-bullying e-cards, why would you even ask me that?)

More commentary on yesterday’s SCOTUS Voting Rights Act decision. Yes, the country has fundamentally changed for the better over the past 40 years, and bravo to the Supreme Court for recognizing that we have grown up. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions…but I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” It is ironic that the Left has become the status quo party. From Jonathan Tobin at Commentary

Why then are political liberals and the so-called civil rights community so riled up about the decision? Some are merely offended by the symbolism of any alteration in a sacred piece of legislation. But the reason why the left is howling about this isn’t so much about symbolism as it is about their ability to manipulate the law to their political advantage. Under the status quo, enforcement of the Voting Rights Act isn’t about reversing discrimination so much as it is in applying the political agenda of the left to hamper the ability of some states to enact commonsense laws, such as the requirement for photo ID when voting or to create districts that are not gerrymandered to the advantage of liberals. By ending pre-clearance until Congress puts forward a new scheme rooted in evidence of systematic discrimination going on today, it has placed all states on an equal footing and made it harder for the Obama Justice Department to play politics with the law. It has also given racial hucksters that continue to speak as if a nation that has just re-elected an African-American president of the United States was little different from the one where blacks couldn’t vote in much of the country…The reality of 2013 is that even the left is hard pressed to find anyplace in the country where anyone who is legally entitled to vote and wants to exercise their franchise is being prevented from doing so. Stating that is not to deny that racism still exists in some quarters of American society anymore than any other species of hatred. Nor does it imply that our electoral system is perfect or incapable of betterment. But to leave in place a legal formula that treated some states differently than others solely because of history is not only absurd, it is unconstitutional discrimination. In a country where, as it was argued before the court, Mississippi may have a more healthy voting rights environment in some respects than Massachusetts, preserving the battle lines of the fight against Jim Crow is not only meaningless, it actually hampers efforts to combat illegal practices…But the main interest of those dedicated to preserving the status quo wasn’t in preventing states from denying a right to vote that is not in question. It was in holding onto their capacity to use federal law to prevent some states from passing voter ID laws that have been wrongly branded as a form of discrimination or voter suppression. The vast majority of Americans—including the members of those groups that civil rights advocates claim will be injured by voter ID laws—think these measures are merely a matter of common sense to ensure the integrity of the election system. But by disingenuously waving the bloody shirt of Jim Crow, the left has sought to brand race-neutral laws like voter ID a form of racism…Neither this decision nor the debate that will follow it will affect the ability of Americans to vote because that is a right that is no longer in dispute. What it will do is send a reminder to Americans that we have moved on from our unhappy past and that if we are to protect voting rights, it must be done on the basis of reality rather than sentiment or symbolism. That will make it harder for the left to accuse their opponents of racism without basis. But an American society that has thankfully moved on from this debate will be better off for it.

If you want more of a primer on redistricting race and the Voting Rights Act, I highly recommend this very accessible and informative piece from National Affairs, which actually dates a couple years back.

Buddhism, known to be one of the more peaceful religions, is moving into a scary realm of violent extremism. Meet the Buddhist monk who calls himself the “Burmese bin Laden.”

Are atheists better at dying than the religious? A new survey suggests yes.

A growing body of evidence seems to support the idea that the nonreligious have an easier time coping with death than do the religious, at least with their own mortality. Religious people appear to be more afraid of death than are nonreligious people. Nonreligious people are less likely to use aggressive means to extend their lives and exhibit less anxiety about dying than do religious people. That seems remarkably counterintuitive since the nonreligious are much less likely to believe in an afterlife, which is supposed to help people cope with death. But factor in that religious people are contemplating their eternal fate and it begins to make more sense. Even if they have done everything their religion says they are supposed to do, there is always a bit of uncertainty about where they might end up. As a result, religious people appear to have a greater fear of dying than do nonreligious people.

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Afternoon Links

Charles Cooke (and Bill Maher) defend Paula Deen and free speech. Cooke also uses Monty Python to make his point, which is always a good thing. As a free speech absolutist I wholeheartedly agree with this article, so I’ll quote it at length…

Is the admission of having once said an offensive word really sufficient justification for punishment in the here and now? Being humans and not computers, we will not last long as a society if we throw aside judgment, context, and mercy, merely to scan sentences for bad data and then gang up to punish the accused. If we are to purge everybody who steps slightly out of line, who among us will survive?…Because “offense” is in the eye of the beholder, it is, like unprovable accusations of witchcraft, ripe to be weaponized. “People shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad,” Maher complained on Friday. “It’s just a word. It’s a wrong word. She was wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?”…Maher was heavily criticized in 2011 when he referred to Sarah Palin as a “c**t.” He has also referred to special-needs children as “retards,” and he routinely mocks Christianity and other beliefs that are dear to large swathes of the population. As recently as this week, he dismissed half the country as “rednecks.” Again: So what? That’s his prerogative. If you don’t like it, then don’t watch his show. If his audience doesn’t like it, they’ll stop watching, too — and the show will go away of its own accord. On Friday, Maher’s guest, Bob Herbert, who is black, said, “[N****r] is the line . . . Nobody should be using that word.” Sure, nobody should be using that word. But why is that word the line? Why not “retard” or “queer”? Who decides?…Freedom of speech is not a license to say anything anywhere without consequence but a check against government. As Paula Deen has no right to work at the Food Network, her rights have not been violated. But to be healthy, a country needs more than merely a prohibition against government overreach; it also needs a strong culture of free expression. Our tendency to disqualify people categorically on the basis of a single indiscretion is ugly and destructive…And what explains our inconsistent application of this principle? I have little time for those who can’t see the difference between Kanye West’s using the N-word and a racist’s hurling it at an African American in anger. But how about those who have made genuinely disparaging comments and survived? Jesse Jackson remains at large despite his use of the word “hymie” to describe Jews and his description of New York as “Hymietown”; Robert Byrd managed to say “n****r” on national television in 2004 while serving as a United States senator; Al Sharpton referred to “Socrates and them Greek homos” to dismiss the ancients; Joe Biden believes that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent”; and Marion Barry recently contended that “we got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops.” What about them?…That these people said these things does not excuse Paula Deen. But there is a definite double standard here,..If the accusations that pushed Paula Deen into court in the first place are true, she deserves to be fired and excluded from polite society…It should go without saying that until such time as she is convicted, she is innocent. In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s?

Deen has another defender, albeit a less eloquent one, in Anne Rice. Writing on Facebook, Rice said, “I think she’s being persecuted, and I think it’s because people think she’s crude and vulgar. We’re an unforgiving culture right now. One politically incorrect word and a career can be ruined…It’s so easy to persecute an older, overweight, unwise, crude, ignorant woman who may very well be a good person at heart who has achieved a great deal in her life. So easy to vilify her and hate her and try to destroy her life. Woe to anyone today who is not slender, young, clever and politically correct.” I would add woe to anyone who is not a liberal, as Cooke pointed out above, liberals can say whatever they want. And fuck them for putting me in a position where I have to defend Paula Deen.

Andrew Malcolm takes up free speech, or rather the frightening loss of it, in his Investor’s Business Daily column. It includes a damn good speech by Mitch McConnell, who I usually find annoying, but I have to give him credit this time.

Last week, liberals weren’t so mad at Clarence Thomas. In fact, one of them acknowledged that Thomas is a principled legal conservative, which sometimes means he votes in favor of “liberal” outcomes.

But this week they’re mad at him again, especially today after SCOTUS struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, which Thomas deemed “no longer necessary.” And naturally, they’re pissed about his stance yesterday on affirmative action. Here’s Charles Cooke being brilliant once more in “Frederick Douglass and Clarence Thomas vs. David Corn.”

A big SCOTUS decision that is being ignored because of the bigger “social issue” cases this term was handed down today in a huge victory for property rights advocates.

The U.S. Supreme Court today in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District reversed a decision by the Florida Supreme Court and held that a state regulatory agency imposed “unconstitutional conditions” and “extortionate demands” on a property owner seeking a necessary building permit…Writing for a divided 5-4 Court, Justice Samuel Alito held that the St. Johns River Water Management District violated the Constitution when it refused to grant Coy Koontz Sr. a building permit to commercially develop a small piece of land unless he first agreed to several conditions, including funding improvements to state-owned land located between 4.5 and 7 miles away. Charging that these conditions violated his rights under the 5th Amendment, which requires the government to pay just compensation when private property is taken for a public use, Koontz brought suit.

Kagan wrote the dissent. This is the third and final Takings Clause case of the term and the third victory for property rights. Yay!

Here’s something to ruin your day. Thanks to big government regulation, you are 75% poorer. Ronald Bailey delves into a new study…

The growth of federal regulations over the past six decades has cut U.S. economic growth by an average of 2 percentage points per year, according to a new study in the Journal of Economic Growth. As a result, the average American household receives about $277,000 less annually than it would have gotten in the absence of six decades of accumulated regulations—a median household income of $330,000 instead of the $53,000 we get now…Overall, they calculate, if regulation had remained at the same level as in 1949, current GDP would have been $53.9 trillion instead of $15.1 in 2011. In other words, current U.S. GDP in 2011 was $38.8 trillion less than it might have been…The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s report Ten Thousand Commandments 2013 estimates that it costs consumers and businesses approximately $1.8 trillion—about 11 percent of current GDP—to comply with current federal regulations. That’s bad enough, but it pales in comparison to the loss of tens of trillions in overall wealth calculated by Dawson and Seater.

A death mask of Napoleon sold for 140,000 pounds at Bonham’s.

Scientists have sequenced the DNA of the bacteria that caused medieval leprosy.

The pathogen responsible for leprosy was discovered in 1873 in Norway, squashing previous assumptions about its cause. The earliest written mention of leprosy, one of the oldest-known pathogens to plague humans, appeared in 600 B.C. in China. Historical records show it plagued ancient Greek, Egyptian and Indian civilizations. In 2009, DNA analysis of a first-century man’s remains found in a Jerusalem tomb provided the earliest proven case of leprosy…The results reveal that the bacterium has, in terms of genetic makeup, remained relatively the same despite the last 1,000 years. Only 800 mutations occurred among the 16 genomes in that time, the researchers write. This number means that the mysterious disappearance of the disease by the Middle Ages in Europe can’t be attributed to M. leprae losing its virulence. “If the explanation of the drop in leprosy cases isn’t in the pathogen, then it must be in the host—that is, in us,” says Stewart Cole, co-director of the study and the head of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s Global Health Institute. “So that’s where we need to look.”

Yahoo presents (in interactive form) the “Top 9,486 Ways Jay Carney Won’t Answer Your Question.” Hilarious.

If you want ‘buttocks enhancement’ don’t go to this lady.

Marc Herman asks, “Is anyone counting the guns in Syria?” Now why would we do that?

The basic rule under the End User system is that a country seeking to buy weapons from a private arms manufacturer in another country has to obtain permission from the manufacturer’s home government. “The country that has the ammunition or the weapons has to submit a formal request to the government of the producer of these weapons,” said Riad Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a Dubai think tank. Here’s the wrinkle: to get that permission, the government that wants to buy weapons has to promise not to re-sell them, or give them to a third party. The buyer has to assure the seller’s home government that it will keep the weapons in its own arsenal: the “end user.” …The problem is, no international body is watching those transactions. The only interests in a position to know about an end user violation, said Marsh, are the country whose company sold the weapons, and the country that bought them. In many cases—such as arming a rebel force that both governments support—neither has much of an incentive to blow the whistle.

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