“This guy is not a mastermind”

One of the individuals charged with the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador lived near Austin, and today the local paper does a profile of him.

It is unclear how Arbabsiar spent his time in the Austin area, or if he had a job.

Muhammad Kosari, owner of Alborz Persian Cuisine on Anderson Lane, said that he recalls at least one time that Arbabsiar came into his restaurant.

“He started talking nonsense about going to Iran and getting Persian girls,” Kosari recalled.

He said Arbabsiar told him: “Over there you can pay 50 bucks and have a Persian girl.”

Kosari, who is from Iran, said he considered the statements disrespectful and told Arbabsiar to leave.

Sam Roostaie, who with his wife owns Pars Mediterranean Supermarket and Cuisine on Burnet Road, said he, too, was offended by Arbabsiar, who has come to his restaurant regularly over the past several years.

Roostaie, who is also Iranian, said that Arbabsiar would “make fun of people” and say other offensive things.

The Statesman story quotes this story from a San Antonio paper, which is even harsher:

“He couldn’t even pray, doesn’t know how to fast. He used to drink, smoke pot, go with the prostitutes,” Hosseini said, laughing with a clerk at his market in downtown Corpus Christi. “His first wife left him because he would lose his keys every other day. … This guy is not a mastermind.”

Though if he is inept, Arbabsiar isn’t the only boob mentioned in the story:

Neighbors, however, said it had been years since Arbabsiar lived in the stucco house he once shared with his wife on a suburban cul-de-sac. They said it appeared as many as 10 people were living in the house, and lately there had been some signs of suspicious activity: When residents looked for available Wi-Fi networks, names like “FBI Van 1” would pop up.

A $4 trillion government, and our leading anti-terrorism agency is pumping out wi-fi signals that announce the presence of its surveillance van.

Any Other Republicans Remember John Kerry?

Remember how strange it was for the Democrats to nominate someone running as an anti-war candidate despite having voted to authorize the war he now opposed? Remember how Kerry spent most of the campaign talking about that rather than moving on to his other issues (whatever those may have been)? Remember how Kerry’s repeated explanation – that he supported the war until George Bush flubbed it up – never really caught on because it was plainly nothing more than political opportunism?

What is it with presidential candidates from Massachusetts all being the same?

A Bigger-Than-Average Lie

Let’s review what’s going on right now in American politics:

  1. Our president is touring the country, railing against the opposition party in Congress for not passing a bill he has proposed in the Senate.
  2. The president insists that this bill has elements that are supported by both Republicans and Democrats, but zero Republicans support the bill and quite a few Democrats oppose the bill.
  3. The Republicans have attempted to force the Senate – which is controlled by the president’s party – to vote on the president’s bill. When they did this, the leader of the Senate’s Democrats called the proposed vote a “charade.” He later changed a very old rule in the Senate so as to prevent a vote on the bill that the president wants passed.

People mistakenly believe that Adolph Hitler proposed “the big lie” – a lie so large and preposterous that those who heard it would presume that no one would would say it if it were not true – as a propaganda tool for the Nazis to use. That’s not true. Rather, he accused his opponents of using a big lie – namely that Erich Ludendorf was responsible for the German loss in World War I – and decried them for doing so. Like any vaguely rational individual attempting to win public support, he did not write a book advocating dishonesty. So if someone accuses another of using a “big lie,” the accuser is not putting the accussee in the position of the Nazis, but vice versa.

With that being said, what can we make of our president’s current speaking tour? He is touring states and districts represented by Republicans, railing against Republican obstructionism, but the house of Congress controlled by his own party will not support his bill. If  the president’s agenda was being blocked by his own party, but he toured the country telling everyone that it was the opposition party that was blocking his agenda, wouldn’t a casual listener believe that the president was telling the truth because no one would have the audacity to say such a thing if it wasn’t true?

5 Things to Remember about Steve Jobs

I made a mildly starky tweet about Steve Jobs that, alas, isn’t getting retweeted. It must be too soon for humor.  Steve Jobs was a genius and it’s sad that he died so young.  Walt Mossberg wrote a fine eulogy of the man he knew.  I never met Steve Jobs, but know something about him—and about the people he inspired.  When people leave flowers at Apple stores around the world, something big has happened.  It’s similar to what happened when Princess Diana died, but Jobs had rather more important accomplishments than she had.  A symbol has died, and the world rightly mourns.   Here are 5 things to keep in mind about Steve Jobs:

  1. George Orwell once proposed that saints be assumed guilty until proven innocent, and if we apply this standard to Steve jobs, one thing becomes clear: he wasn’t always a good man.  In recent years, he’s given inspiring speeches.  When everyone was paying attention to him, he behaved.  In his early days, as James Altucher makes clear, Jobs behaved less admirably: Jobs denied paternity of his first child, paid his child support with welfare checks, and swindled Steve Wozniak, his first partner.  If character is what you do when nobody else is looking, Jobs may not have had much.  And even when in power, Jobs was mercurial, moody, and a holy terror to work for, as Walt Mossberg hinted at.
  2. But Jobs was unquestionably a great man.  Does anybody remember 86-DOS, formerly the Quick-and-Dirty Operating System?  The thousands of lines of mind numbing code?  Jobs cleaned that up with icons.  Perhaps he ushered back a preliterate age, but icons are a godsend.  And he kept the inventions coming: Pixar, the iMac, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad.  Jobs wasn’t as great an inventor as Thomas Edison, he wasn’t as great a manufacturer as Henry Ford, he wasn’t the great artist that Walt Disney was, but he might have been the most amazing combination of those three—inventor, manufacturer, artist—the world has ever seen.
  3. His death has dominated both formal news, like NPR and Google, and informal news, like Facebook and Twitter.  We knew his time was short, but it was still a shock when he finally succumbed.  The mourning needs some explanation, though, since millions of people obviously didn’t know him, nor do they entirely grasp all he did (even the well educated can barely grasp all the changes Jobs made).  All of Jobs’s gifts to us—sleek lines and elegance and simplicity that clearly took lifetimes of hard work and hard thinking—have been mocked by brutal pancreatic cancer.
  4. The symbol that Jobs chose for himself was an Apple.  He could have picked something grander, as tech companies like Oracle and Palantir did.  Or he could have made a gimmicky portmanteau like Verizon or Comcast.  For a Zen Buddhist to pick up this bit of Judeo-Christian iconography (icons again!) and give it an ironic twist was genius.  When the serpent gave Adam and Eve an apple, they were cast out of paradise; when Steve Jobs gave us Apple, he led us to the future.  He replaced gargantuan machines with Macbooks, clunky mobile phones with iPhones, and entire libraries with the iPad.  To the less technically inclined, it’s almost like turning water into wine.
  5. Europe and America and Japan are mired in recession; China may well be on the verge of one; the Middle East and Africa are as unstable as they always are.  In short, people are not short on self pity right now.  They’re asking, “Does the future still happen here?”  Steve Jobs attempted all his life to lead us into the future.  He was a consummate salesman who encouraged us to see him and Apple as one and the same, and Apple was the future.  The people leaving flowers at Apple stores are mourning the death of the future.  This, too, shall pass.  There will never be another Steve Jobs, but his vision lives.  We can still be inspired: go, and think different.

If you’re so inclined, follow me on Twitter.

One Suspects Rick Santorum Is Against Anything Bi

At the last Republican debate, I was baffled when Rick Santorum attacked Rick Perry for being soft on illegal immigrants and said that Perry “gave a speech in 2001 where he talked about bi-national health insurance between Mexico and Texas! I mean, I don’t even think Barack Obama would be for bi-national health insurance! So, I think he’s very weak on this issue of American sovereignty.”

Politifact, for all its flaws, did a little run-down on what Perry said. But Avik Roy points out the real flaw with Santorum’s, um, attack: bi-national health insurance is a free market idea that in no way impinges on American sovereignty. There are tons of people who legally travel between the US and Mexico all the time, and giving them an insurance policy that covers them wherever they are isn’t One-World Socialism. And allowing Americans to purchase insurance that will cover them if they choose to get treatments in Mexico, if feasible, would be a perfectly fine thing. Santorum’s “attack” is only an attack because it plays off the negative associations of some syllables in a little-understood phrase. It’s like a first-grader who makes fun of a classmate because his epidermis is showing.

But part of Perry’s 2001 speech stuck out to me as demonstrating Perry’s understanding of the border. He praised a study conducted by the state legislature because the “study recognizes that the Mexican and U.S. sides of the border compose one region…” Five years ago, that statement would have struck me as unfortunate, and “weak on this issue of American sovereignty.” Since then, though, I’ve been to and done business with the Rio Grande Valley, and what Perry said is true.

Americans not familiar with the Valley should think of it as being kinda like Quebec: A large indigineous population of Romance Language-speaking people, complete with their own established culture and folkways, that was annexed by an English-speaking people. The Old World is full of conquered peoples who are goverened by those culturally distinct from them, but the Valley and Quebec are the only examples of this in North America. In California, I saw pro-amnesty marchers with signs along the lines of, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” That’s not really true in California, where the pre-Mexican War population was tiny and dispersed, and, after the cession, almost immediately overwhelmed by Anglo settlers. The Rio Grande Valley, however, came into America with its own sustainable population and, more importantly, there was very little Anglo migration.

Today the Valley remains as it has always been, inhabited almost entirely by people of Mexican descent. The people there have family and business interests on both sides of the river, and culturally share much more with those on the south side than with Americans north of the Nueces. Try driving there: their driving culture is completely different from anywhere else in America, due in no small part to the fact that about 1 out 5 cars has Mexican license plates.

I’m not saying they’re foreigners. People in the Valley are definately American. They will often speak Spanish (and, more often, Spanglish) among themselves, but they conduct official business in English; I’ve read tons of trial transcripts from the area, and their English is actually a little better than in transcripts from the rest of the state. Their accent reflects their bilingualism – English with a rapid-fire Spanish cadence – and takes a while to get used to. They have names like Rogelio, Federico, and Jose, but they go by Roy, Freddy, and Joe. Their political life is more corrupt than in most parts of America, but not nearly so much as in Mexico. And despite being the poorest part of Texas, they are significantly better off than their friends across the river. In short, the place seems exactly like what you would expect to happen if you took a large number of Mexicans in 1848 and gave them 160 years of consistent government, instead of the revolutionaries and despots that governmed Mexico during that time period. The Valley is a singular refutation to those political scientists who argue that culture matters more than regime.

I would encourage you to examine Rick Perry’s comments about our border (and, in hindsight, those of GWB as well) as those of someone who has been the governor of a legitimately bi-national, bi-lingual, bi-cultural area, and had to deal with the practical consequences that flow from that reality. I don’t say this to excuse or even fully explain his stances (some of which I disagree with), but it’s an aspect of Texas government that most non-Texans, and a great many Texans (the vast majority of whom will never go south of the Nueces) don’t appreciate.

On Stopped Clocks

When he’s right, he’s right.

“You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient,” Obama said during remarks at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Council, the nation’s largest gay rights organization.

The reaction of the crowed at the recent Republican debate was shameful. The reaction of the candidates – more so. It angers me that even those representatives of the party that champions our citizens in uniform would allow such a thing to happen.

When Seconds Count …

the police are only minutes away. So goes the old gun-owner’s saying. But this story takes it to a different level–when hours count, police are only a few days away:

La Vau disappeared last Friday night. The retired cable company worker was known for taking weekend trips on his own — to the beach, wine country, shopping — so the family didn’t worry.

But when Wednesday came and no one had heard from him, they filed a missing person report with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Officials told the family it would take several days to process the report, [La Vau's son] Sean said.

“We didn’t have time to wait,” he said. So with his sisters, girlfriend and other relatives, Sean turned the kitchen of his Lancaster home into a search-and-rescue headquarters.

There’s no help like self-help.

Quick review

David Goldman, aka Spengler, has written a book, How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying Too).  It’s an interesting read, and worth a longer review than it’s getting here.  But the book is worth reading, if only for his elaborations on “Spengler’s Universal Laws,” given below:

  1. A man or a nation at the brink of death does not have a “rational self-interest.”
  2. When the nations of the world see their demise not as a distant prospect over the horizon, but as a foreseeable outcome, they perish of despair.
  3. Contrary to what you may have heard from the sociologists, the human mortality rate is still 100 percent.
  4. The history of the world is the history of humankind’s search for immortality
  5. Humankind cannot bear mortality without the hope of immortality
  6. You don’t know who’s naked until the tide goes out (courtesy of Warren Buffett).
  7. Political models are like automobile models: you can’t have them unless you can pay for them.
  8. Wars are won by destroying the enemy’s will to fight.  A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women.
  9. A county isn’t beaten until it sells its women, but it’s damned when its women sell themselves.
  10. There’s a world of difference between a lunatic and a lunatic who has won the lottery.
  11. At all times and in all places, the men and women of every culture deserve each other.
  12. Nothing is more dangerous than a civilization that has only just discovered it is dying.
  13. Across epochs and cultures, blood has flown in inverse proportion to the hope of victory.
  14. Stick around long enough, and you turn into a theme park.
  15. When we worship ourselves, we eventually become the god that failed
  16. Small civilizations perish for any number of reasons, but great civilizations die only when they no longer want to live.
  17. If you stay in the same place and do the same thing long enough, some empire eventually will overrun you.
  18. Maybe we would be better off if we never had been born, but who has such luck? Not one in a thousand.
  19. Pagan faith, however powerful, turns into Stygian nihilism when disappointed
  20. Democracy only gives people the kind of government they deserve.
  21. If you believe in yourself, you’re probably whoring after strange gods.
  22. Optimism is cowardice, at least when the subject is Muslim democracy.
  23. The best thing you can do for zombie cultures is, don’t be one of them.

So go out and buy a copy.

We’ll Know the Democrats Are Serious About Taxing the Wealthy…

…when they seem bothered by this. A vast fortune being used to perpetuate privilege, completely immune to taxation. Indeed, subsidized by federal taxpayers through income tax deductions. Think of it – just as every profitable sale of a Volkswagen Jetta helped to subsidize the money-losing sale of a Bugatti Veyron to Simon Cowell, so too does every working American subsidize Richie McSnob III’s Totally Awesome Four Year Drinking and Fornication Binge at Haavaad.

Have You Seen the Muffin Myth?

I was extremely skeptical of the $16 muffin story when I saw it this morning, and Kevin Drum shows that my skepticism was warranted. It’s exactly what I presumed – funny invoicing on the part of the contractor. With the 250 $16 muffins and 300 $10 cookies came “15 gallons of coffee, 30 gallons of iced tea, and 200 pieces of fruit for free.” It’s like if a car dealer charged you $3,000 per gallon of gas but then gave you a free BMW to hold your 16 gallons.

How did I know this story was phoney from the beginning. 1.) I’ve been to some pretty nice bakeries and hotels, and I’ve never seen anything remotely approaching $16 for a muffin. 2.) Chuck Grassley is quite possibly the biggest blowhard in the Senate, which would place him high in the running for biggest blowhard worldwide.

Credibility

I’m no fan of St. Sarah of Wasilla, but Joe McGinniss’ book isn’t going to provide any insight into Sarah Palin. If you hate her you’ll love the book, if you love her you’ll hate it. Does the book have any merit? Up until this point I honestly didn’t know. Then I saw that Mr. McGinniss called Andrew Sullivan “about the only responsible journalist to express any interest” in Trig Birtherism. (emphasis mine)

Mr. McGinnis. Credibility. You have none.