September 20th, 2014

Bad judgment

Peggy Noonan thinks Obama’s problem is bad judgment:

Mr. Obama can see the trees, name their genus and species, judge their age and describe their color. He absorbs data. But he consistently misses the shape, size and density of the forest. His recitations of data are really a faux sophistication that suggests command of the subject but misses the heart of the matter…

ObamaCare top to bottom was poor judgment. It shouldn’t have been the central domestic effort of his presidency, that should have been the economy and jobs…

Noonan’s piece goes on to list error after error of Obama’s, and ascribes them to bad judgment. But although she accuses Obama of not seeing the forest for the trees, Noonan is guilty of her own version of the same thing.

She doesn’t see the overarching ideology and character traits that link all of it: his leftism, narcissism, dislike of America and the desire to humble it, and the technique of the big lie, to name just a few things she leaves out. His emphasis on Obamacare was no example of mere bad judgment, it was a judgement call. Taking over much of the economy and making people dependent on it was his goal, and “jobs” were not.

The bottom line is that Noonan herself was guilty of bad judgment when she supported Obama in 2008, and of bad judgment now when she gives him the benefit of way too much doubt. And she’s got an awful lot of company in that bad judgment.

September 20th, 2014

Separated at birth?

Testifying twins? Neither the same personality nor the same m.o., however:

koskinen

dempsey

September 20th, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sophia

Sophia Loren turns 80 today. Here are some then and now photos to feast on.

Loren is one of my most favorite actresses, and I’ve written about her on this blog several times before. She’s been blessed with beauty, brains, warmth, and a rare acting talent that mixes naturalness, comedy, and pathos, and makes them all look easy.

My favorite film of Loren’s—”Marriage, Italian Style” (1964)—is one that’s not very easy to obtain. It features an actor who was probably Loren’s favorite co-star, Marcello Mastroianni, and was made by a man who was probably her favorite director, Vittorio De Sica. It’s a hard movie to describe: over-the-top, schmaltzy, extremely funny, very Italian, cynical and yet ultimately heartwarming. It probably doesn’t lend itself to little video clips, and there aren’t many on YouTube anyway, but I’m putting this one up to show just how very versatile Loren was.

It’s a different Loren than you’re used to. Here, although she’s only thirty years old, it’s towards the end of the movie and she’s made up to look older, her waist padded a teeny bit in a vain effort at middle-age spread (which she hasn’t got much of even now, fifty years later). Her character has become hardened and worn out by life and its disappointments, but she still—well, watch how subtly she uses just a look, and then another, to convey worlds of hidden feeling:

Nobody else can compare.

September 19th, 2014

Obama vs. his generals

The WaPo has been reporting on the fact that Obama and his generals are at odds over the conduct of the operation against ISIS. The conflict seems to be heating up (the war against the generals, that is, not the one against ISIS):

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”

And yet that’s the very sort of thing Obama has been doing since he became Commander in Chief six and a half years ago—announcing all the things he would not do, and the dates of withdrawals even as he committed troops.

Obama campaigned as an antiwar president (except for Afghanistan, and even that was clearly half-hearted at best), not a warrior. So America got what it voted for. Obama benefited from the success of the Bush surge which Obama had so criticized. By the time of the 2008 election, terrorism and the Iraq War were not seen as pressing crises anymore, and people were eager to give a supposed peace president a chance (as was the committee awarding the Nobel Peace Prize).

What’s happening now is a combination of several elements. The first is Obama’s natural tendency to mull things over and dither, procrastinate and talk (and talk and talk and talk). That characteristic of Obama’s is being compounded by a very real dilemma re ISIS: this is a particularly knotty problem to tackle, and it may require an enormous outlay of time, effort, blood, and treasure. We may be very directly threatened by ISIS in a very big way some day, even some day soon. But for the moment ISIS seems quite far away. However, ISIS is destabilizing the already highly unstable Middle East, which could have enormous repercussions for us as well.

Then there’s the 2014 election. With Obama, politics is always huge, perhaps the hugest thing of all. The public is outraged at ISIS and angry at Obama’s inaction, so this is one situation where he may feel that he must act in a bellicose manner for political reasons. But the trick is to act just aggressive enough to placate the masses but not enough to risk becoming the war president he excoriated Bush for being, and in particular to avoid deploying the dread boots on the ground. ABB, Anything But Bush! That’s a delicate line on which Obama is trying to balance, and those pesky generals—who have the strange notion of actually wanting to win the conflict—get in his way.

Speaking of the generals—although Obama’s never said it, it’s probably also the case that he believes he’s a better general than his generals (““I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,” “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director”). So why should he listen to their advice, even if his goals were the same as theirs?

Civilian control of the military is a double-edged sword, with advantages and disadvantages and potential for discord. But has there ever been any other president who so consistently ignored his generals? LBJ liked to fine-tune the campaign, but did he conduct a war effort so clearly against their advice?

Although Obama was never against some bombing here and there, and of course he seems to like using drones, he has made his aversion to military action clear, and it was already clear when he was a candidate. It’s almost as though George McClellan (with the Copperhead-controlled platform) or Eugene McCarthy had won in 1864 and 1968, and had become Commanders-in-Chief during the Civil and Vietnam Wars, respectively.

In the 1970s, after Nixon was forced out and Ford became president (although never as a result of an election), it was a hugely Democratic and antiwar legislature that pushed the financial withdrawal and the Vietnam War’s end, rather than President Ford himself (see Ford’s signing statement as evidence of his disapproval of Congress’s action). The antiwar mid–to-late 70s was another dangerous time when the world perceived us as weak. Now we face another.

[NOTE: I have compared Obama to Hamlet several times, and rewritten Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy to fit his hesitations around military action. The first concerned Afghanistan in 2009; the second was about Syria in 2013. Still pretty good, if I do say so myself. I think they're worth reading in their entirety, but this part of the 2013 version struck me as particularly pertinent today:

...who would tyrants bear,
To defy the red lines that he drew?
But that the dread of something afterward,
The unknown consequences in whose grip
A legacy might founder, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair MSM! Sycophants, in thy orisons
Be all my sins forgotten.

ISIS appears to be that dread "something afterward."]

September 19th, 2014

Sierra Leone in lockdown

Trying to smoke out the ebola victims who might be reluctant to go to medical authorities, Sierra Leone has instituted a nationwide 3-day lockdown:

In a desperate effort to bring the outbreak under control, thousands of health care workers began going house to house in crowded urban neighborhoods and remote villages, hoping to find and isolate infected people…

Health officials said they planned to urge the sick to leave their homes and seek treatment. There was no immediate word on whether people would be forcibly removed, though authorities warned that anyone on the streets during the lockdown without an emergency pass would be subject to arrest.

Ambulances were on standby to bring any sick people to the hospital for isolation. The health care workers also planned to hand out 1.5 million bars of soap and dispense advice on Ebola.

Is soap such an unusual commodity there? Knowledge of the mechanism for the spread of disease certainly seems to be, although that’s part of the goal of the unprecedented campaign—to educate people about prevention and precautions.

Good luck. The resistance to the knowledge, and suspicion of the workers, is high:

In the latest case of violence against health care workers, six suspects have been arrested in the killings of eight people in Guinea who were on an Ebola education campaign, the Guinean government said Friday.

The victims were attacked by villagers armed with rocks and knives. The dead included three local journalists.

The entire thing is ghastly: the level of ignorance and fear, and the very real dangers of the disease compounded by that ignorance and fear.

September 19th, 2014

Buh-bye Alex Salmond…

who is resigning.

That makes sense.

But Mr. Salmond seemed to suggest that the campaign for a sovereign Scotland was far from over. “The position is this: We lost the referendum vote, but can still carry the political initiative,” he said. “More importantly, Scotland can still emerge as the real winner.”

His decision to step down, after earlier suggestions that he would stay on whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, reflected the deep disappointment within the vocal, enthusiastic pro-independence movement on Friday.

And what of the pollsters who got it wrong? Will they resign, too? I doubt it.

It has been my experience, over the many years I’ve been following polls, that they get it right much more often than wrong—that is, if the “they” is an average. In this case, my impression before the referendum was that the “No”s would win by a few points. They won by a few more than predicted, but in the days before the vote the polls were volatile and close, causing instability in the financial markets.

But the actual vote wasn’t really close at all. Whose fault, and why, did the pollsters get it so wrong?:

And Andrew Cooper, a pollster who previously worked for Number 10 and is currently a part of the Better Together campaign, warned that intimidation by Yes activists could have skewed the polls.

Mr Cooper said: “A lot of concern among pollsters that Yes campaign thuggishness may have created a spiral of silence among No-leaners.

“Lots of anecdotes of people taking down No posters for fear of broken windows. No such anecdotes [regarding] Yes posters.”

Funny thing (and not funny ha-ha) how it’s those on the left who tend to be the intimidators, although they are usually busy accusing the right of the same.

September 19th, 2014

No divorce…

for Scotland and Great Britain.

The financial markets, which don’t like chaos and change, are happy.

David Cameron, who agreed two years ago to the vote and then watched the gap close ominously, is relieved.

The crucial factor was turnout:

…[T]he win for the “no” campaign came to down to high voter turnout in areas that tended to support staying with the U.K. At the same time, areas with higher support for independence, such as Glasgow and Dundee, had relatively low voter turnout. Turnout in Glasgow was 75%, which is low compared with other districts that saw turnout above 90%.

September 18th, 2014

Emmy fashions

[NOTE: I wrote this draft a while back, but never published it. I'm in the mood for some lighter fare today; maybe you are too? So here we go---can't get much lighter than this.]

The Emmys were on TV the other day, but I didn’t watch them. I never watch them, but afterwards I always look at the photos of the fashions.

This year they puzzled me more than ever. There were a few that were so over-the-top hideous that it’s impossible to interpret them as anything other than a purposeful effort to get attention by looking ugly. Top prize by a mile to Lena Dunham of “Girls,” who I think was going for the cotton candy look. Somehow it all went ever so wrong:

Dunham

Providing Dunham with a little competition and contrast was someone named Emmy Paulson. She seems positively elegant next to Dunham, but still—double plus ungood:

emmyPaulson

The majority of the remainder of the fashions were mostly not dreadful but just not flattering, which is puzzling because for the most part these are very attractive women (although I’d never heard of most of them before), and it shouldn’t be hard for them to look lovely. But instead we get these oddities and unforced errors, close but no cigar. Perhaps merely looking elegant doesn’t get enough press to make it worthwhile.

Here’s Michelle Dockery masquerading as a semaphore flag:

emmydockery

Christina Hendricks is so lush already that less would be more in the fashion sense. But instead we get a cross between first prom, Hello Dolly, and Mae West:

emmyHendricks

January Jones could wear anything. Then why, oh why, choose this:

EmmyJones

I am not very tall, and I have a short waist. So I know from bitter personal experience that people who fit that description should not, I repeat not, wear dresses that cut them up into a set of horizontal segments. Laura Prepon is neither short nor especially short-waisted. But somehow, by her choice of dress, she has managed to look as though she is both. It’s a neat trick, but why bother?:

emmyPrepon

Memo to all women: canary yellow is a hard color to wear, especially in large doses. And Kate Walsh took an especially large dose:

emmywalsh

Some people, like Kerry Washington, seem to have trouble deciding between two dresses. And so they wear both:

EmmyWashington

September 18th, 2014

About that 16-year-old voting age

The fact that 16-year-olds are voting in today’s Scotland referendum was news to me, and I think of sufficient interest to warrant a post of its own.

I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been. It’s a logical extension of trends on the left that have been designed to increase their share of the vote by enfranchising more low information and easily-manipulated voters. As such, it makes perfect sense, and it’s no surprise that it is gaining favor across the pond, in countries that are even further along on the leftist path than we are.

This is apparently the first time 16-year-olds in Scotland have been able to vote, and if the outcome is tight enough they might be the ones to decide the election. The youth vote is widely perceived as favoring independence; that would make intuitive sense, since independence from their parents is generally a yearning of that age group. But no one really knows how the group will lean in the referendum, and at least one poll indicates they favor “no” to independence.

How did the 16-year-olds come to be included in the referendum? Apparently the Scottish Parliament made the decision, with the support of the more left-leaning parties and Scotland’s leader Alex Salmond, who favors independence and saw the youth vote as helpful in the fight to achieve it.

Is this what’s next for the US? Fortunately, it would require a lot more than a majority in Congress to change our voting rules at the national level and ban the prohibition of voting under 18; it requires an amendment to the Constitution. At the local level, however, the movement to extend the vote to below 18 has already begun, and has had some success.

The whole thing has a snowball effect. As more and more immature and poorly informed voters are enfranchised, they will make poorer and poorer decisions. And that, of course, is all part of the plan.

September 18th, 2014

Trouble with Obamacare in Minnesota

John Hinderaker reports on the withdrawal from the Obamacare market of Minnesota’s heretofore dominant Obamacare insurer, PreferredOne:

The fact that a company with 60% of the Obamacare exchange market considers the business unsustainable, even with federal subsidies, is ominous.

In Minnesota, PreferredOne’s decision will probably continue to reverberate. Individuals with PreferredOne policies purchased on the exchange will see those policies automatically renewed, unless they do something different. The catch is that, with PreferredOne no longer participating in MNSure, those people will no longer be eligible for Obamacare subsidies, so they will see premium increases–in many cases, huge ones.

This sort of thing will keep happening for years to come. Democrats are smugly telling reporters that Obamacare is now an established fact and we should all get used to it. In reality, the law is like a series of bombs timed to go off as various deadlines kick in. Ultimately, the awful economics of the law can’t be denied. Premiums and deductibles will rise, and coverages will shrink, insofar as they are able to given the law’s expansive and sometimes irrational mandates. By 2017, when the federal government will stop reimbursing insurance companies’ losses, premiums will be far higher than when Obamacare went into effect. The Democrats apparently hope that no one will notice. To me, that seems unlikely.

Indeed, for quite some time, we’ve been treated to a series of MSM articles saying “Obamacare is here, it’s working, get used to it, the fight against it is all but lost.” I agree with Hinderaker that the law is actually a series of time bombs, cleverly staggered to go off at intervals as the public gets used to having Obamacare around.

But I am on the fence about Hinderaker’s conclusion that the Democrats are hoping no one will notice the premium rise. I think they are hoping something different: that they will be able to successfully label the premium rise as similar (and perhaps even less than) the rise that was already regularly occurring prior to Obamacare, and that in any event the people who will notice and be deeply affected by the rise will not be the majority of voters. The are counting on the fact that the majority of voters, subsidized by the others, will have become completely dependent on the largesse. As premiums rise, the subsidized voters will find the government handout even more necessary in order to obtain health insurance, not less, and therefore Obamacare would become more rather than less entrenched.

And if all else fails, there’s always single payer.

September 18th, 2014

Scotland…

in or out?

Today’s the day.

Reading a couple of articles on the referendum, I can’t find any that discuss an issue that particularly concerns me: is this a simple majority vote? Although no article I’ve found directly says so, it seems to be the case, because the vote is described as very close at a near 50-50 split.

Which brings us to my bigger question: should such a momentous decision be made by a simple majority of voters on a single day, at a single point in time? My answer would not be “yes.”

But I suppose it depends how much you believe in a pure democracy. I do not trust it overly; I fear the tyranny of the overbearing majority that Madison feared. Apparently the Scots have no such trepidation.

So, this is the sort of thing Scotland will get:

Conor Matchett, 19, a philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh, said he was both nervous and optimistic about the outcome after voting Yes.

“I want change. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “I believe a Yes vote is the only way to do that.”

Matchett, originally from York, in Northern England, but granted a vote in Scotland’s referendum on the grounds of his residency here, said he was voting to counter what he felt was the continuing politics of austerity from British politicians down south in Westminster.

“They are attacking the welfare state and many other things that people in Scotland hold really dear,” he said.

There is no way on earth a 19-year-old college student, attending school in Scotland but actually from York, should have a say in this matter. Hope/change; sound familiar? “Simple as that.”

And if 19-year-old college students from York can vote on whether Scotland should remain part of Great Britain, why not 16-year-olds? Where did I get that idea from? Why, from reality, that’s where:

A massive turnout of around 4.2 million Scots, about 97% of eligible voters, is expected, and residents as young as 16 have been granted permission to vote in the referendum.

Hey, why not 12-year-olds? They’re people, too.

September 17th, 2014

Ebola and influenza: pale rider

This is not good news:

The Ebola virus is spreading exponentially in Liberia, the World Health Organization said, predicting thousands of new cases there in the coming weeks.

The agency said Monday the number of new Liberian cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them.

Liberia already accounts for about half of all cases and deaths of Ebola in West Africa. The disease has killed more than 2,000 people, spreading from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal…

Obama told NBC News that U.S. military assets are needed to set up isolation units and equipment and to provide security for international health workers.

“If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates, it becomes more easily transmittable,” the president said.

Whether this is too alarmist or insufficiently alarmist I really don’t know. I’m not at all sure anyone does. As it is now, ebola only has traditionally spread to people in direct contact with the bodily fluids of patients, but there are worrisome signs and rumors that this could be changing. The nature of viruses is to mutate, and the possibility of airborne transmission is very real.

The whole thing puts me in mind of a pandemic from almost 100 years ago, the 1918 influenza horror if 1918-1919, which I’ve written about at some length before; one can only fervently hope that science has advanced to the point where such a conflagration will not happen this time, and that such a hope is not misplaced. I recently picked up a book on the topic of that earlier pandemic entitled The Great Influenza which, although quite long, is a good read.

That influenza epidemic has a special resonance for me because as a fairly young child I happened—in a moment of boredom—to have pulled a book called Pale Horse Pale Rider from my parents’ bookshelf and started reading the title story.

In my later, adult opinion, it is Katherine Anne Porter’s masterpiece. The subject matter, although fictionalized, was her own experience of wartime love and then near-death from the flu—although, at the age of nine or ten when I first encountered the story, I had no way to comprehend it and was extremely puzzled by what sort of terrible disease could possibly strike a young healthy person down so suddenly that way. Although the story terrified me, it fascinated me too, and I read it straight through despite the fact that it was opaque to my understanding.

The beauty of Porter’s language cast a sort of spell on me even as a child, and when I read it later as an adult and finally understood it, the story remained just as mysterious and just as beautiful. Here is an excerpt from the opening; the main character is describing a dream she’s having:

Where is that lank greenish stranger I remember hanging about the place…Now what horse shall I borrow for this journey I do not mean to take, Graylie or Miss Lucy or Fiddler who can jump ditches in the dark and knows how to get the bit between his teeth?…

Come now, Graylie, she said, taking his bridle, we must outrun Death and the Devil. You are no good for it, she told the other horses standing saddled before the stable gate, among them the horse of the stranger, gray also, with tarnished nose and ears. The stranger swung into the saddle beside her, leaned far towards her and regarded her without meaning, the blank still stare of mindless malice that makes no threats and can bide its time. She drew Graylie around sharply, urged him to run. He leaped the low rose hedge and the narrow ditch beyond, and the dust of the lane flew heavily under his beating hoofs. The stranger rode beside her, easily, lightly, his reins loose in his half-closed hand, straight and elegant in dark shabby garments that flapped upon his bones; his pale face smiled in an evil trance, he did not glance at her. Ah, I have seen this fellow before, I know this man if I could place him. He is no stranger to me.

She pulled Graylie up, rose in her stirrups and shouted, I’m not going with you this time—ride on! Without pausing or turning his head the stranger rode on. Graylie’s ribs heaved under her, her own ribs rose and fell, Oh why am I so tired, I must wake up. “But let me get a fine yawn first,” she said, opening her eyes and stretching, “a slap of cold water on my face, for I’ve been talking in my sleep again, I heard myself but what was I saying?

Slowly, unwillingly, Miranda drew herself up inch by inch out of the pit of sleep, waited in a daze for life to begin again.

I have quoted at length from the story because—well, because I like it. It still gives me the chills, and I don’t think it’s only because I know the rest of the story, all nearly-fifty pages of it. It’s partly because this is the beginning of the flu for Miranda, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

The Great Influenza, on the other hand, is a factual and scientific work, although it also happens to quote Porter’s story at one point. But here’s author Barry’s description of an outbreak towards the beginning of the epidemic, at Camp Devens in Massachusetts:

On September 24 [1918] alone, 342 men were diagnosed with pneumonia. Devens normally had twenty-five physicians. Now, as army and civilian medical staff poured into the camp, more than two hundred and fifty physicians were treating patients [two days earlier, about 20% of the camp had come down sick]…Yet on September 26 the medical staff was so overwhelmed, with doctors and nurses not only ill but dying, they decided to admit no more patients to the hospital no matter how ill…

For this was no ordinary pneumonia. Dr. Roy Grist, one of the army physicians at the hospital, wrote a colleague, “These men start out with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most vicious type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis [blue color due to lack of oxygenation] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white…

It is only a matter of hours until death comes…It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies…We have been averaging about 100 deaths a day…We have lost an Outrageous number of Nurses and Drs. and the little town of Ayer is a sight. It takes special trains to carry away the dead…An extra long barracks has been vacated for the use of the Morgue, and it would make any man sit up and take notice to walk down the long lines of dead soldiers all dressed and laid out in double rows…”

Barry’s book is also a history of medicine in this country, and doctors are the heroes of it for the most part. Not too many years earlier, medicine had been quite divorced from science. But by the time of the flu pandemic it was science that enabled doctors to finally figure out what was happening.

Not that it mattered much in terms of the victims; the disease had to burn itself out, and as time went on it became less virulent and finally disappeared, having run through those most susceptible in the population. In the meantime, it wreaked worldwide havoc, sowed fear, created many orphans (unlike in most flu epidemics, in that one death most often struck previously-healthy young adults), advanced our knowledge of epidemics—and helped inspire a small literary masterpiece from one of the people it nearly killed.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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