The Birds of America

Sterna antillarum  Petite Sterne  /  Least Tern 


The smallest stern in North America, the Least Tern nests in colonies on the sandbars and beaches of the American East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Its length is 23 cm and its wingspan is 51 cm.

Plus petite sterne de l’Amérique du Nord, la petite Sterne niche en colonies sur les barres et les plages de la côte Est américaine et du golfe du Mexique. Elle a une longueur de 23 cm et une envergure de 51 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,
Calidris minutilla  Bécasseau minuscule  /  Least Sandpiper

The Least Sandiper nests in the tundra, the saltwater marshes and the boreal peat bogs of the Nouveau-Québec and Basse-Côte-Nord regions, the Île d’Anticosti, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the southern seacoast of Nova Scotia. There, it feeds on various insects, worms, small molluscs and crustaceans that it finds in the mud. Found in the southern united States during the winter, the Least Sandiper is 13 to 17 cm in length.

Le bécasseau minuscule niche dans la toundra, les marais salés et les tourbières boréales du Nouveau-Québec, de la Basse-Côte-Nord, de l’île d’Anticosti, des Îles-de-la-Madeleine et de la côte sud de la Nouvelle-Écosse. Il s’y nourrit d’insectes divers, de vers, de petits mollusques et de crustacés qu’il trouve dans la vase. Observé dans le sud des États-Unis en hiver, le bécasseau minuscule a une longueur de 13 à 17 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,
Ajaia ajaja  Spatule rosée  /  Roseate Spoonbill  


A protected species, the Roseate Spoonbill was formerly hunted for its pink feathers that were used in making fans. Common along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it is also widely present in South America, more especially in Chili and Argentina. It rarely strays off-course, and is found in Arizona and in south-eastern California. The average length of the Roseate Spoonbill is 81 cm and its average wingspan is 127 cm.

Espèce protégée, la spatule rosée était autrefois chassée pour ses plumes roses qui servaient à la confection d’éventails. Commune sur la côte du golfe du Mexique, elle est également répandue en Amérique du Sud, au Chili et en Argentine plus particulièrement. Elle s’égare rarement et on l’observe en Arizona et dans le sud-est de la Californie. La spature rosée a une longueur moyenne de 81 cm et une envergure moyenne de 127 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,


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Sixty Years of Chinese Communism

The Party is increasingly out of step with the dynamic people it governs.

There are, it is sometimes said, “a million truths in China.” As the Communist Party celebrates the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic today, there are only three worth keeping in mind.

First, the Chinese state will try to project strength. There will be fearsome weapons and 200,000 soldiers and performers in a grand procession in the center of Beijing, meant to convince onlookers of the power of the communist superstate. Do not be impressed. If communists do one thing well, it is staging spectacles. Destitute North Korea, for instance, is even better than China in putting on perfectly synchronized parades and mass gatherings. The National Day march says little about the effectiveness, resilience or vigor of China’s one-party political system.

Second, the Chinese state, for all its apparent might, is deeply insecure. The theme of the celebration is “The Motherland and I, Marching Together.” But so great is the regime’s worry about possible unrest or disruption in protest of its rule that the laobaixing—ordinary Chinese—will not be walking in Beijing’s parade. There will be no cheering crowds lining the route along Chang’an Avenue. Citizens will be kept away by a six-province security perimeter and more than a million police and “volunteers” enforcing the tightest security in the country’s history. The government has booked all the hotel rooms overlooking the route to prevent anyone from seeing the parade up close. Nearby residents have been ordered not to look out their windows or invite guests.

China 60

That leads to a third point: The Communist Party is becoming increasingly divorced from its subjects. Sixty years ago, the Chinese people supported Mao Zedong as he swept Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang from power. Mao rarely feared the populace he ruled, even unleashing the masses in the Cultural Revolution to do away with political foes. His successor Deng Xiaoping used the same tactic, albeit on a smaller scale, by initially allowing the Democracy Wall movement to proceed.

Mao and Deng, for all their faults, were sure of themselves. Their successors, however, are men of lesser talents—and are certainly far less confident in their rule. Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao have institutionalized the Communist Party and thereby prevented the excesses of their two predecessors, but they have done so at great cost to the vitality of their organization. In their zeal to weed out charismatic figures—to ensure, for instance, that there will be no Chinese Gorbachev—they have purged men and women of great imagination and capability from the party leadership’s ranks. What is left are thousands of colorless cadres standing behind the faceless Mr. Hu.

The Chinese people, however, are a different story. While Beijing officials are holed up in their offices planning gargantuan parades, the country’s citizens are making, in the words of journalist Hannah Beech, a “kinetic dash into the future.” Remaking their country at breakneck speed, they are outracing everyone else. If there are at least a million truths in China, it is because the Chinese are changing fast, perhaps faster than any other group in the world today.

If there is any cause for optimism about China, this is it. Decades of government-sponsored economic development and social engineering have made people aware, assertive and, unlike their leaders, confident. By now, this process of social change has acquired its own momentum and the party can no longer stop it. Instead, it has responded by becoming more repressive in the political realm, especially since 2002, with crackdowns on everyone from newspaper editors to the writers of karaoke songs.

As the late Samuel Huntington noted, instability occurs under many conditions, but especially when political institutions do not keep up with the social forces unleashed by economic change. When I went to my dad’s hometown, dusty Rugao in Jiangsu province, last summer, no one wanted to talk about the Olympics, which were seen as “the government’s games.” Instead, almost everyone asked how American democracy worked and who would win the presidential election.

The Communist Party has not sensed or responded to people’s widespread desire to have more say in their government. So do not be surprised that last month’s party plenum, despite the expectations of the global China-watching community, produced no political reforms of any significance. The country’s ruling organization can put on large-scale displays of goose-stepping soldiers, but it cannot keep up with the Chinese people, who are, in a very real sense, the ones on the march.

Mr. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China” (Random House, 2001).


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Communist China at 60

Today’s celebrations ignore history and the Party’s uncertain future

Today 187,000 people will parade through Beijing to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but the great proletariat will not be allowed to attend. Tiananmen Square has been cordoned off for days. Beijing’s ruling elites have banned pigeons and the Chinese Air Force will even shoo away the clouds to ensure a picture-perfect parade. The Communist Party will march in isolation, in a show of strength but not confidence, divorced from the people it governs.

This isn’t the people’s democracy that Mao Zedong sold to a war-torn country in 1949, although it’s largely in keeping with the way he governed. Mao’s reign of murder, persecution, paranoia and famine left between 30 and 60 million people dead. When countries the world over congratulate the Chinese government on its anniversary—the Empire State building in New York is even lighting up with the red and yellow hues of the Chinese flag—they are paying a kind of tribute to Mao’s ascendance and the dictatorship he bequeathed to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens.


Hu Jintao

In the run-up to today’s celebrations, China’s leaders and their state-run propaganda have ignored this history and focused instead on the country’s economic gains. Here there really is something to celebrate. After Deng Xiaoping—himself a victim of Mao’s purges—opened up China to the outside world and adopted supply-side measures to free the talents of individual Chinese, the country has averaged almost 10% growth annually. The economic opportunities that the Chinese enjoy today flow from that decision, not from Mao’s victory over the Nationalist army during the civil war.

The Communist Party’s self-imposed dilemma since Deng has been how to continue and expand this economic prosperity while maintaining its grip on political power. This has resulted in fits of further liberalization followed by crackdowns. At the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic, legal reform was under way; the Internet was informing millions of Chinese about the outside world; and businesspeople were anticipating the opening required by China’s decision to join the World Trade Organization.

Today those trends have slowed and some are in reverse, especially in the political sphere under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. Party apparatchiks are reasserting their control over the judiciary, instructing judges to follow the Party first, then the people and the law. The Party has also reasserted its control over information by clamping down on the Internet and expanding state-run media.

Beijing has halted the reform of state-owned banks—a critical part of economic reform—and instead used them as ATMs to pump money into state-owned enterprises during the recent economic downturn. Arbitrary seizures of property and people, along with a vague and restrictive competition law passed in 2007, have made the business climate opaque and uncertain.Chinese economist Wu Jinglian, who helped guide China’s transition to a market economy decades ago, is now warning about the reversal of reform.

For all of its attempts at control, Party leaders understand their lack of popular legitimacy and the unrest it often inspires. In 2007, China reported 80,000 “mass incidents,” which officials define as protests of five or more people. That number has almost certainly risen. Uprisings in China’s far-flung ethnic provinces, Tibet and Xinjiang, also reflect an unwillingness to let local people influence their own destiny. At the same time, Chinese nationalism is on the rise among China’s fenqing, or angry youth. Many in that generation take pride in the country’s accomplishments without recalling the horrors of Mao’s rule.

Mao would not recognize today’s modern Chinese economy, but he would recognize the Party that runs it. Until China’s leaders can trust their own people to attend a parade—and pass judgment from the ballot box—the so-called people’s revolution will remain unrealized.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Obama, Dictators and democrats

How many rogue nations can President Obama hold in one hand?

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama spoke directly to the world’s rogue nations. “[W]e will extend a hand,” he said, “if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Question: How many rogue nations can you hold in one hand? Let’s try to count.

Iran remains rogue No. 1. The world is riveted by the expanding Iranian nuclear threat, and one might expect a mess of this magnitude would occupy most of the diplomatic energies of any presidency. But this one has time for more.

The Monday after last Friday’s bombshell that Iran has a hidden nuclear site, the State Department announced the start of a “direct dialogue” with Burma’s hopeless junta. The administration has dispatched a special envoy to Sudan and its genocidal leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad got his own Obama envoy, plus a visit from John Kerry.

At the Summit of the Americas, Mr. Obama himself did meet and greets for “dialogue” with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and reached out to Cuba’s Raul Castro. Mr. Obama then dropped in on Russia’s leaders for a “reset.”

There is something slightly weird about all this activity. If the Obama team wanted to make a really significant break from past Bush policy, it would say it was not going to just talk with the world’s worst strongmen but would give equal, public status to their democratic opposition groups. Instead, the baddest actors in the world get face time with Barack Obama, but their struggling opposition gets invisibility.

Iran zzz

An Iranian pro-democracy rally asks the right question

Iran’s extraordinary and brave popular opposition, which broke out again this week at two universities, seems to have earned these pro-democracy Iranians nothing in the calculations of U.S. policy.

With Iran, one could argue that stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program trumps the aspirations of its population. What about poor, harmless Guinea?

In July, Mr. Obama made a historic journey to Africa, giving a widely praised speech in Ghana in support of self-help and self-determination. In August, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton grandly visited seven African nations with a similar message. Three days ago in Guinea, government troops fired on a pro-democracy rally estimated at 50,000 in the capital of Conakry, killing more than 150 people. The State Department got out a written statement of condemnation. Why is it not possible for President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton, having encouraged these aspirations, to speak publicly in their defense, rather than let democratic movements rise, fall and die?

In trying to plumb why the U.S. won’t promote or protect its own best idea, one starts with Mr. Obama’s remarks at the “reset” visit in Moscow: “America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country.”

Setting aside that no one is talking about the U.S. literally “imposing” a government in this day and age, what is one to make of a left-of-center American political leader taking such a diffident stance toward democratic movements? The people who live under the sway of the top dog in all the nations that have earned high-level Obama envoys are the world’s poor, and one would expect the social-justice left to support them. That may no longer be true on the American or European left.

Transforming dictatorships into nations with reasonably competitive democracies increases the odds that their people in time will find a competent leader, such as Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, who will introduce productive economic policies. That makes it more likely these peoples will join the global trading system, raising their incomes.

For the American left, now fused to financial support from domestic labor unions, the world’s dispossessed represent a threat—less costly labor selling goods into the high-cost world.

Active help for democratic oppositions in Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Iran or even Guinea hardly serves this interest. Today, social justice stops at the water’s edge. Even as Mr. Obama extends his hand to a Chávez, Morales or Castro, he makes no effort to finish free-trade agreements with certifiably democratic Colombia and Panama.

The one thing the Obama tack of talking to dictators and slow-walking free trade assures is that many of these populations may be run indefinitely by economically incompetent psychopaths who pose no threat to the interests of American labor and their Democratic dependents. This anti-democratic protectionism of course has fans on the xenophobic right in the U.S., too.

This is a risky business. What if the new authoritarian, make-believe democratic model gains? Our dictator chat partners are getting brazen about staging and then rigging elections. Iran’s mullahs proved there will be no sustained push-back from the U.S. or Western Europe to a fraudulent election. Instead the great powers’ energies go into pounding tiny Honduras, which tried to save itself from the Chávez- and Castro-admiring Manuel Zelaya.

What if the world’s real democrats, after enough bullets and dungeon time, lose belief in the American democracy’s support for them on this central idea? They may come to regard their betters in the U.S. and Europe as inhabiting a world less animated by democratic belief than democratic decadence.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal


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U.S. Credibility and Pakistan

What Islamabad thinks of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Critics of the war in Afghanistan—inside and out of the Obama Administration—argue that we would be better off ensuring that nuclear-armed Pakistan will help us fight al Qaeda. As President Obama rethinks his Afghan strategy with his advisers in the coming days, he ought to listen to what the Pakistanis themselves think about that argument.

In an interview at the Journal’s offices this week in New York, Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi minced no words about the impact of a U.S. withdrawal before the Taliban is defeated. “This will be disastrous,” he said. “You will lose credibility. . . . Who is going to trust you again?” As for Washington’s latest public bout of ambivalence about the war, he added that “the fact that this is being debated—whether to stay or not stay—what sort of signal is that sending?”

Mr. Qureshi also sounded incredulous that the U.S. might walk away from a struggle in which it has already invested so much: “If you go in, why are you going out without getting the job done? Why did you send so many billion of dollars and lose so many lives? And why did we ally with you?” All fair questions, and all so far unanswered by the Obama Administration.

tank ss

An army tank displayed in a ceremony to mark the Pakistan Defense Day in Mingora, the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley

As for the consequences to Pakistan of an American withdrawal, the foreign minister noted that “we will be the immediate effectees of your policy.” Among the effects he predicts are “more misery,” “more suicide bombings,” and a dramatic loss of confidence in the economy, presumably as investors fear that an emboldened Taliban, no longer pressed by coalition forces in Afghanistan, would soon turn its sights again on Islamabad.

Mr. Qureshi’s arguments carry all the more weight now that Pakistan’s army is waging an often bloody struggle to clear areas previously held by the Taliban and their allies. Pakistan has also furnished much of the crucial intelligence needed to kill top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in U.S. drone strikes. But that kind of cooperation will be harder to come by if the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and Islamabad feels obliged to protect itself in the near term by striking deals with various jihadist groups, as it has in the past.

Pakistanis have long viewed the U.S. through the lens of a relationship that has oscillated between periods of close cooperation—as during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s—and periods of tension and even sanctions—as after Pakistan’s test of a nuclear device in 1998. Pakistan’s democratic government has taken major risks to increase its assistance to the U.S. against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mr. Qureshi is warning, in so many words, that a U.S. retreat from Afghanistan would make it far more difficult for Pakistan to help against al Qaeda.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Obama Can’t Outsource Afghanistan

George Bush succeeded in Iraq by talking to his generals regularly.

So our top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he has spoken with President Barack Obama only once since June.

This is a troubling revelation. Right now, our commander in chief is preparing to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency—whether to commit additional troops to win the war in Afghanistan. Being detached or incurious about what our commanders are experiencing makes it hard to craft a winning strategy.

Mr. Obama’s predecessor faced a similar situation: a war that was grinding on, pressure to withdraw troops, and conflicting advice—including from some who saw the war as unwinnable. But George W. Bush talked to generals on the ground every week or two, which gave him a window into what was happening and insights into how his commanders thought. That helped him judge their recommendations on strategy.

Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach to the war seems to fit his governing style. Over the past year, he outsourced writing the stimulus package to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, washed his hands of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to reinvestigate CIA interrogators, and hasn’t offered a detailed health-care plan.

Mr. Obama’s aloofness on the war will be a problem if the recent airing of Joe Biden’s views on Afghanistan is a tipoff that Mr. Obama will rely on his vice president’s guidance. According to reports in the New York Times and other publications, Mr. Biden supports reducing troop levels in favor of surgical attacks—mostly launched from offshore—and missile strikes against al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan.

Such an approach would almost certainly lose the war. Actionable intelligence—key to defeating an insurgency—would dry up. Tribal chieftains would cut deals with the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Afghan government would probably collapse, and the Afghan people would have little choice but to swing their support to the Taliban. Pakistan would likely come to see us as a fair-weather friend and increasingly resist U.S. attacks against al Qaeda on its soil. American credibility would be shattered. And militant Islamists would gain a victory.

Mr. Biden has a record rare in its consistency and duration of being wrong about big national security questions.

In his first U.S. Senate campaign in 1972, he called for cutting and running from Vietnam. He later voted to cut off funding for South Vietnam and spoke out against the war. After we did withdraw, communist forces conquered South Vietnam as well as Cambodia, where Pol Pot carried out a campaign of genocide.

In the 1980s, Mr. Biden opposed President Ronald Reagan’s national security approach on almost every front, including funding for the Contras in Nicaragua, building missile defenses, and increasing military spending. In the 1990s, apparently willing to cede Kuwait to Saddam Hussein, he voted against the first Gulf War. Over the past decade, Mr. Biden opposed the surge that put us on the path to victory in Iraq. Instead called for a “soft partition” that would have divided Iraq into three countries.

Mr. Biden has been right about Afghanistan at least once. In 2002, he said, “Security is the basic issue in Afghanistan. Whatever it takes, we should do it. History will judge us harshly if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we failed to stay the course.”

The responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan rests squarely with Mr. Obama. Until now, he seems to have treated the conflict as a distraction from his efforts to nationalize our health-care system. But the war is now front and center. He has been told by Gen. McChrystal that America needs more boots on the ground to win.

In the past, when Mr. Obama has moved left, he moved fast and far to the left—witness his willingness to push health-care legislation even if it only has Democratic support. But when he has played to the center—as on Afghanistan, when he decided in last year’s campaign that he needed to be tough on at least one of the wars America was engaged in—he has looked for appealing half-measures that ultimately prove unworkable.

It was easy in 2008 to criticize Mr. Bush’s war leadership. But winning a shooting war requires a commander in chief’s constant, direct and deep involvement. Mr. Obama could show he understands this if he uses his trip to Denmark this week (where he will serve as pitchman for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics) to make a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

Refusing to provide all the troops and strategic support that his commanders are requesting will be to concede defeat. We’ll soon know whether Mr. Obama has the judgment and the courage to win this war.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal


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NY Times Public Editor Admits Paper Slow on ACORN, Staffer to Now Monitor Conservative Media

New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt’s latest column tackles the ACORN scandal — or as Times readers know it: “What ACORN scandal?”

In “Tuning In Too Late,” Hoyt criticized the Times for its lack of coverage of the juicy ACORN imbroglio, an omission that has prodded the paper into creating a new semi-position. It’s assigned an editor to monitor opinion media and catch stories like this earlier (apparently not a single television at Times headquarters is tuned to Fox News, where they could have caught it quite easily.)

Hoyt summarized the video sting in which ACORN workers at several branches across the country were captured giving advice on child sex trafficking and tax evasion to a gaudy pimp and a hot-pants prostitute (actually conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles). The tapes, whose gradual release were masterfully mediated by Andrew Brietbart at his new website, resulted in ACORN being cut off from federal funding and losing its ties to the Census Bureau and IRS. Yet the Times took little interest in the scandal and the consequences:

“But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs.

“Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

This is quite misleading. The Times already monitors opinion media for story tips. It’s just that they only monitor the left side of the blogosphere. Lachlan Markay provided some stark examples at NewsBusters on Sunday:

“The Times consistently cites liberal blogs far more than ones on the right, undermining the claim that they missed these two stories because they don’t monitor online media. A Nexis search reveals 477 combined mentions of five of the left’s top blogs: Huffington Post, Think Progress, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and Media Matters.

“But a search for five of the right’s top blogs, Hot Air, Pajamas Media, NewsBusters, RedState, and TownHall turns up only 18 combined mentions from the Times.”

The left-wing Talking Points Memo, run by Josh Marshall, was recently praised by Executive Editor Bill Keller. It’s a favorite source for Times reporters. Liberal columnist Maureen Dowd took its name too literally when she plagiarized it. And the online version of Monday’s front-page profile of Elizabeth Cheney links to left-wing media watchdog Media Matters as its source for an unflattering anecdote.

The Times’s hesitation to pick up news from conservative media didn’t start with ACORN, of course. Before missing the outcry over Obama environmental adviser and 9-11 Truther Van Jones, the paper ignored the affair of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards during the 2008 presidential campaign, until he admitted it in a television interview. Hoyt even criticized the paper for not taking the Edwards affair story seriously in an August 2008 column. Apparently no one listened.

Hoyt quibbled with the paper’s delayed first story on ACORN, which ran under the headline, “Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe.”

“The article said that conservatives hoped to weaken the Obama administration by attacking its allies and appointees they viewed as leftist. The conservatives thought they had a “winning formula,” the article said, mobilizing people “to dig up dirt,” then trumpeting it on talk radio and television….I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities.”

Hoyt’s criticism echoes what Times Watch wrote the day the article appeared:

“Scott Shane’s “Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe” hit the high points but overplayed the ideological angle, as the headline hints. There are six conservative labels in the story, not including the headline, and Shane portrayed the scandal in pure political terms, with “the right” as “gleeful” in claiming its “latest scalp,” as opposed to expressing outrage over a tax-funded leftist organization with connections to the Census Bureau and IRS (!) encouraging tax evasion and child prostitution.”

Hoyt then quoted Managing Editor Jill Abramson pretty much admitting the paper is not in tune with what right-leaning people are thinking, blaming “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” Then the big news:

“She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.

“”Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.”

Abramson also previously admitted the paper was “a beat behind” in its Van Jones coverage, but blamed the Labor Day weekend and also denied any liberal bias.

Clay Waters, Wall Street Journal


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Mother Knows Best: Females Control Sperm Storage To Pick The Best Father

field cricketScientists have found new evidence to explain how female insects can influence the father of their offspring, even after mating with up to ten males. A team from the University of Exeter has found that female crickets are able to control the amount of sperm that they store from each mate to select the best father for their young.

The research team believes the females may be using their abdominal muscles to control the amount of sperm stored from each mate. Their findings are now published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Female crickets mate with several different males, including their closest relatives. In general, offspring produced with close relatives are more likely to have genetic disorders. Different animals employ a range of behaviours to avoid this, such as not mating other animals from the group they grow up in. Crickets do not avoid mating with relatives, but this research shows that they produce more offspring fathered by males that are unrelated to them.

To conduct their study, the researchers bred field crickets in the laboratory. They used new DNA-based techniques to determine the quantity stored by each the female. They found that the females stored a higher content of sperm from unrelated males. They then tested young crickets to determine their paternity. The results showed that, regardless of the order in which they had mated, an unrelated mate was more likely to become a father. This must have been under female control, because the methods the team used meant that males could not influence the amount of sperm they passed to the female.

Though the study focused on field crickets, the findings are likely to be relevant in other insect species and possibly other sections of the animal kingdom. For example, chickens are known to store more sperm from dominant males.

Lead author Dr Amanda Bretman of the University of Exeter said: “Our study shows that even after mating, female insects control who fathers their offspring. We’re only really just beginning to understand the reasons for the different mating strategies in the insect world and that is thanks to new techniques.”


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One Man’s Utopia

A first-time novelist imagines an America made wonderful by Warren Buffett, Phil Donahue and Yoko Ono.

Here’s the bad news: Ralph Nader has written a novel. Here’s the good news: There’s no sex in it. Wait. That’s not strictly true. At the end of its 700 pages, one of the characters hooks up with Yoko Ono.

Maybe I should start at the beginning.

Ralph Nader has written a novel. Well, he doesn’t call it a novel—he calls it “a practical utopia.” In it, he spins a fictional vision of what might happen if the country’s super-rich got together with assorted influential people and worked to transform American culture and politics into something more to Ralph Nader’s liking.

In Mr. Nader’s tale, billionaire investor Warren Buffett is so dismayed by the ineffectual and chaotic government reaction to Hurricane Katrina that he hatches a plan to “redirect” American society. He summons a brace of moguls—Ted Turner, Barry Diller, Ross Perot and George Soros, among others—to a secret Maui location, along with such celebrities as Bill Cosby, Yoko Ono and Warren Beatty. As they confer together, they find that they all—surprise! —agree that Something Must Be Done.

The news media soon dub this cabal, in one of Mr. Nader’s typically tin-eared phrases, “the Meliorists.” The “something” that they all agree must be done involves, naturally, increasing regulation, raising taxes and punishing heartless multinational corporations. It’s easy, apparently, once you’ve made a billion dollars in international business and finance, to denounce international business and finance.

naderBut the Meliorists realize that before any real reform can take place they must first win over America. They have to wake up the country. And that process fills the first 200 pages—out of a total of 700 (I mentioned that, right?)—of this very long, very odd, very Nader book.

Here, for instance, is an actual passage from “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!”: “As promised, Ted Turner and Phil Donahue had put their heads together to brainstorm about a mascot for the group’s efforts. Ted’s thoughts naturally ran along avian lines, and it wasn’t long before they hit on the idea of a parrot. . . . Patriotic Polly hit the airwaves in fifteen-second spots shown on thousands of stations, and it was an immediate smash.”

The parrot, see, appears on TV and squawks, “Get up! Don’t let America down!” Then there’s an email address for viewers to use to join the movement to redirect America. Which the viewers do, and off we go.

Because that’s what it takes, really, to get America to agree with you, according to Ralph Nader: a parrot, a couple of TV spots, some billionaire’s cash. Why so easy? The premise of the novel is that ordinary people love Ralph Nader’s politics. They all agree with his progressive, left-wing agenda—even though, for some reason, they didn’t vote for him, in huge numbers, in two presidential elections. But with a little Hollywood pixie dust and some community-organizing money, the entire grocery list of left-wing causes from 1960 to 2009 can be enacted. The whole story is presented with such sweet earnestness that it almost seems mean to laugh at it. Almost.

In fact, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” reads less like a novel or “practical utopia” than a dream journal. At the Maui summit, for instance, Phil Donahue rises to address his fellow do-gooders: “Phil pulled a letter from his jacket pocket. ‘This is an offer from the head of NBC. He wants to give me a national talk show, and get this—he specifically wants me to deal with injustice, hard solutions to the nation’s problems, bold doings among ordinary people, and the plight of millions of Americans who get pushed around or shut out while they do the essential, grimy, everyday work that keeps the rich and famous sitting pretty on top. He says NBC wants a “new Dr. Phil” for the new burgeoning civil society.’ ”

And that’s only page 68! (There are 700 pages total, in case I forgot to mention that.) The spine is barely creased and already there’s a sensational parrot, a new TV talk show . . . oh, and a movement to change the national anthem to the more peaceful, labor-friendly “This Land Is Your Land.” But even a first-time novelist like Mr. Nader knows that the story would begin to drag if he simply narrated a tale of how the country seamlessly eased into an idyllic state of pure Naderism, in which Ralph Nader’s vision is finally realized and everyone sounds like Ralph Nader.

And so he throws a few hurdles in the way of the Meliorists. Following the unionization of Wal-Mart, there’s some predictable push-back from corporate fat cats and power brokers. You know the type: the ones who force decent Americans to use energy-hogging lightbulbs and to sing a complicated national anthem. But then there’s push-back against the push-back, which is eventually (spoiler alert!) successful, thanks to Yoko Ono’s deployment of her ravishing personal beauty to dazzle and distract the guy leading the corporate opposition. His name, by the way, is Lancelot Lobo. It may be a blessing that Mr. Nader populated his book with so many famous people.

By novel’s end, American society is thoroughly Naderized. Warren Beatty sits in the governor’s mansion in Sacramento; the president has signed on to the Meliorist program; and Americans have embraced a new life that is dimly lit by awful fluorescent curlicue bulbs. But curiously, for a futuristic utopia, it all seems so tired. So old. So Jimmy Carter. This is a novel that should have been written in 1976. Honestly, though, it’s feeling more like 1976 every day.

Mr. Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood.


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Subterranean spiders among new species discovered under Australian desert

More than 850 new species, from blind fish to diving beetles, have been discovered under the Australian outback.


A millipede of the genus Stygiochiropus

The largely blind creatures first went underground due to climate change tens of millions of years ago and have survived since in total darkness.

Scientists believe the finding represents only a fifth of the thousands of species that could be living in tiny caves and caverns beneath the desert.

Evolutionary biologist Professor Andy Austin, of Adelaide University, said the insects were survivors from a time 20 to 30 million years ago when rainforest covered much of Australia.

“Central and southern Australia was a much wetter place 15 million years ago when there was a flourishing diversity of invertebrate fauna living on the surface,” he said.

“But the continent became drier, a process that last until about one to two million years ago, resulting in our current arid environment.

“Species took refuge in isolated favourable habitats, such as in underground waters and micro-caverns, where they survived and evolved in isolation from each other.”

Prof Austin said spiders, small crustaceans, worms and woodlice were found in the four year survey. The results were announced at a conference in Darwin to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin

“Virtually all are blind and completely lack eyes, and lack pigment, so they are pale or white in colour,” he said.

“The insects in caves often have long legs and antennae — most sense vibration and use chemical senses, as they cannot see in the pitch black.”

The new species, which represent a whole new element of biodiversity in Australia, are now under threat from mining and ranching.

Prof Austin and his team have only examined 10 per cent of the areas that are likely to have underground species and will carry on searching as well as investigating the genetics of the creatures and how they reacted to climate change millions of years ago.

“What we’ve found is you don’t have to go searching in the depths of the ocean to discover new species of invertebrate animals — you just have to look in your own backyard,” he said.


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Researchers Go Underground To Reveal 850 New Species In Australian Outback

millipede 2

Some of the 850 new species discovered in underground water, caves and micro-caverns across outback Australia.

Australian researchers have discovered a huge number of new species of invertebrate animals living in underground water, caves and “micro-caverns” amid the harsh conditions of the Australian outback.

A national team of 18 researchers has discovered 850 new species of invertebrates, which include various insects, small crustaceans, spiders, worms and many others.

The team – led by Professor Andy Austin (University of Adelaide), Dr Steve Cooper (South Australian Museum) and Dr Bill Humphreys (Western Australian Museum) – has conducted a comprehensive four-year survey of underground water, caves and micro-caverns across arid and semi-arid Australia.

“What we’ve found is that you don’t have to go searching in the depths of the ocean to discover new species of invertebrate animals – you just have to look in your own ‘back yard’,” says Professor Austin from the Australian Center for Evolutionary Biology & Biodiversity at the University of Adelaide.

“Our research has revealed whole communities of invertebrate animals that were previously unknown just a few years ago. What we have discovered is a completely new component to Australia’s biodiversity. It is a huge discovery and it is only about one fifth of the number of new species we believe exist underground in the Australian outback.”

Only half of the species discovered have so far been named. Generically, the animals found in underground water are known as “stygofauna” and those from caves and micro-caverns are known as “troglofauna”.

Professor Austin says the team has a theory as to why so many new species have been hidden away underground and in caves.

“Essentially what we are seeing is the result of past climate change. Central and southern Australia was a much wetter place 15 million years ago when there was a flourishing diversity of invertebrate fauna living on the surface. But the continent became drier, a process that last until about 1-2 million years ago, resulting in our current arid environment. Species took refuge in isolated favorable habitats, such as in underground waters and micro-caverns, where they survived and evolved in isolation from each other.

“Discovery of this ‘new’ biodiversity, although exciting scientifically, also poses a number of challenges for conservation in that many of these species are found in areas that are potentially impacted by mining and pastoral activities,” he says.

The research team has reported its findings at a scientific conference on evolution and biodiversity in Darwin, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin:

The team’s research has been funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Environmental Futures Network.


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