Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holland's Dwindling Prison Population

The Netherlands is facing a different kind of crisis: too few prisoners.

"During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees."

Doing some quick math, the incarceration rate in Holland is approximately seven hundredths of one percent. By comparison, the rate in the United States is over seven tenths of one percent. Here's more information on the US prison system. I wonder what Holland is doing differently?

(link via boingboing)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Paging Mr. Orwell

"Wisconsin police can attach GPS to cars to secretly track anybody’s movements without obtaining search warrants, an appeals court ruled Thursday."


The Coming Long War

Always on the lookout for a pragmatic (if pessimistic) view of world events, I found this article from The Nation intriguing. Sample:

"Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that "there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an 'Arc of Instability' that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia."


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Newburgh Four

As has been widely reported, four American men are under arrest for plotting to attack two synagogues and an air national guard base in New York. Reading about the individuals involved, the picture that emerges is of a gang of uneducated, mentally unstable ex-cons, duped by an informant desperate to get himself out of hot water with the federal government. TPM has the best run down, including links to major MSM articles.

Although this is a case of domestic terrorism, I see a several parallels between the men arrested in Newburgh and the suicide bombers and Jihadi that are fighting in Iraq and Af-Pak. In both cases, the foot soldiers of terror come across as uneducated and brainwashed, not sure of what they are fighting for or against, but committed to their adopted cause thanks to a frail and often manipulated understanding of Islam conveyed by more intelligent individuals.

There are lessons to be learned from this correlation. Instead of seeing the War on Terror through the lens of a black and white struggle for freedom, maybe we should instead see it as a fight against the David Cromities of the world--men who have little to live for and an axe to grind against societies they feel have failed them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Listen to The Body

Understanding Cheney

Josh Marshall has a great read on the so-called "dueling speeches" from Obama and Cheney today. I completely agree that, with Cheney emerging as the face of the Republican Party, maintaining a clear perspective on his legacy is very important.

"This is someone who not only organized and seemingly directed a policy of state-sponsored torture. He did it in large part to get people to admit to crankish conspiracy theories he got taken in by by a crew of think-tank jockeys in DC whose theories most even half way sensible people treated as punch lines of jokes."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Recession?

Although millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the Bush Administration left office, a select few have done alright for themselves. Money quote:

"In all, 10 of the 34 former Cabinet secretaries who served during Bush's eight years in office have registered as lobbyists or joined consulting or lobbying firms, the analysis shows. Others sit on the boards or work for industries they regulated. For instance, Gale Norton, who once oversaw 500 million acres of public land as Interior secretary, now is a lawyer in a Shell Oil division for oil exploration."


NB: Chey suggested I call this post "Crawling Up From the Depths of Hell."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brain Dump

Maureen Dowd plagiarized TPM before TPM plagiarized me. (See here.)

Danger Mouse is pushing the envelope.

Belgian bodybuilders walk out rather than submit to doping tests.

In an entirely predictable turn of events, the political data out of Israel are still discouraging.

Flight Control is blowing up.

Buzzword(s) of the day: social entrepreneurship. Bill Dayton is also worth a looksee.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Do you know what's happening in Guatemala? It all started five days ago when a scandalous video surfaced. In the video a prominent lawyer accuses the president and his personal secretary of plotting to have him killed. The tape, which was discovered two days after the lawyer's brutal murder, has sent the country into turmoil.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this crisis has been the MSM blackout and role of new media and social network sites in spreading the word and coordinating protests. boingboing has an excellent rundown of the sequence of events.

Remarkably, I can't find anything but relatively superficial snippets from Western news networks. Here's a sampling from NPR, the AP and the BBC.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Change I Can Believe In

"Those of us who work in health care may have to look past our fear of change to accept needed reform for the entire country's good. We can be among those who promote positive changes, not those who resist them. If we do so, health care can avoid going the way of Detroit. We can be part of the solution to our nation's broken economy. And we can help the many people who are left out of the health-care system."


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some Things Never Change . . .

I don't know whether it's a good thing that I can identify with the mind that created this 35,000 years ago.

Update: Read up on the significance here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ventura Trumps Obama

All is not well in the universe . . .

"I will criticize President Obama on this level; it's a good thing I'm not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law."

That's former Navy SEAL, professional wrestler and governor Jesse Ventura. Why is he making more sense than Obama?

Update: From the same interview (speaking on the topic of waterboarding):

"It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders... "

Monday, May 11, 2009

Man of Steele

Michael Steele is becoming my favorite Republican.

First, he was forced to publicly apologize to Rush Limbaugh for calling him an "incendiary entertainer." Next, he defended a women's right to choose.

He also claimed that what others mistook for political missteps were actually a series of litmus tests, saying "it helps me understand my position on the chessboard."

Pawn, perhaps?

He also turned in a prize-winning performance at this weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner:

Update: Putting this video in context, I want to point out that by the time Steele stands up, Obama has already moved on in his speech. You can see Steele racking his brain trying to decide what to do. It's very awkward.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Legalize It?

A new Zogby poll indicates a majority of Americans think marijuana should be legalized. Perhaps more interesting, only 37% are against. What do you think?

Update: As noted earlier on this blog, Portugal's progressive drug policies are paying dividends.

The Pig Panic

From locking up Mexicans in China to the mass slaughter of swine in Egypt, the panic surrounding H1N1 has been widely documented. A little less intense was the Afghani reaction: quarantining the only pig in the country.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where Are the Morlocks?

H.G Wells was right! So were some of his contemporaries . . .


Monday, May 4, 2009

Van Gogh Was Framed

I've always been a Van Gogh fan, but I've also always thought of him as a bit of a lunatic. Not only did he commit suicide, he was reportedly manic, alternating between intense creative episodes and spells of deep depression. The cherry on top, however, was the story of him cutting off his own ear in a fit of madness. Now it turns out his good friend cut it off and he fell on the grenade. Gauguin was a real prick.

Update: Link has been fixed. Thanks for the pointer, CBob.

Just Another Nonagenarian

When I grow up, I want to live in a blue zone.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Start the Witch Hunt

Working in finance, I have become very familiar with the concept of benchmark performance. Because it's how folks keep score in finance, benchmark performance has tangible consequences. Moreover, with just about everyone in the business losing money, it still carries weight (unlike your 401k).

Here's the point: the current downturn, the whole debacle, is about people losing perspective. Benchmark performance epitomizes institutionalized relativism, the rationale being, "as long as I am doing better than the other guy, I am winning." Relativism obstructs the bigger picture, preventing individuals from looking beyond the immediate gain (ie, higher interest rates from structured investment vehicles) and recognizing risks (ie, that you shouldn't loan money to people who can't prove income or have no tangible assets.)

Far be it from me to assign blame for this mess. Bankers, clearly, suck. People who took out loans made a gamble and lost. I don't know how aware they were that they were gambling, but that doesn't really change things. The rest of us, well, we're all paying for it. As long as we're mulling all this over, why not talk about the real culprit: relativism. We need big picture people in charge, otherwise everyone gets screwed. Hopefully, we can get it right next time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wine vs. Beer

A new study finds wine is better for you than beer. The real story, in my opinion, is that on average people who consume moderate amounts of either beer or wine live longer than those who do not. Cheers.