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The University of Texas Show Trial

By 4.16.14

From the way the University of Texas at Austin’s boosters latch on to a bit of marketing jargon, bragging about their school’s invented standing as a “nationally recognized tier one research institution,” you’d almost think the term meant something. The truth is that the state’s best attempt at a public university ranks fifty-second in the nation.

So the school effaces its conspicuous mediocrity by talking up its research, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year supporting its globe-spanning research projects and world-class research libraries filled with millions of volumes (of research, for researchers). In one five-minute promotional video, I heard the word research 33 times.

The university’s president, Bill Powers, is the chair of the nation’s largest association of research universities, and his supporters hold him out as a champion of free inquiry. So it’s no small irony that this cult of research has waged a brutal campaign against a reform-minded university regent named Wallace Hall with this accusation: He has been doing too much research.

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Special Report

America’s Tax Confusion

By 4.16.14

By the time you read this, nearly 90 percent of American adults will have filed their income tax returns for the 2013 tax year. And I will have finished drinking a glass of truly tremendous bourbon; 130 proof seems appropriate to numb the pain.

A big check to the state, and a much bigger one to the federal Treasury, reminds us of how little we get for the taxes we pay and how much the tax system is distorted to favor special interests and buy votes. (If you have to write a particularly egregious check to your state, you might want to consider this new and helpful Laffer Center calculator called “Save Taxes by Moving.” Those living in Tennessee get the best of both worlds: No earned-income tax but some very fine local whiskeys.)

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At Large

Ready to Join the International Community?

By 4.16.14

The United Nations Human Rights Council angered Iran by renewing the mandate of monitor Ahmed Shaheed, who has criticized Tehran’s abuses. His work remains vital as long as Iran violates its citizens’ most basic rights.

At the same time nuclear negotiations continue. Dealing with Tehran could turn into the Obama administration’s greatest foreign policy success or another disaster. If the interim Geneva agreement leads to permanent denuclearization of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Barack Obama can claim an achievement nonpareil. If the effort collapses, he will look dangerously naïve.

Everything depends on whether Tehran, and not just President Hassan Rouhani, is serious. No surprise, many analysts — and more importantly, paladins of Capitol Hill — remain skeptical. And that doubt has fueled efforts to impose new sanctions, which would impede if not kill efforts to reach a final accord.

If Iran is serious about joining the community of nations, it should demonstrate that commitment in practical ways. One of the most important symbols of Iranian irresponsibility today is its ruthless persecution of religious minorities. 

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A Further Perspective

America’s Bad Optics Invite Adventurism

By 4.16.14

The remaining two and a half years of the Obama Administration are a dangerous period for the world. There is a window of opportunity for rogue nations and adversaries to take advantage of an administration that has yielded on the world stage and put our foreign policy, if you can find it, into disrepair. Further, the president seems disengaged from foreign affairs, narcissistically absorbed with himself, and inciting class warfare and social unrest to cover for lack of success elsewhere.

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Media Matters

Colbert to Cable

By 4.16.14

The world of late night television been through upheaval lately, none of which seems specifically designed to make it funnier. First, Jay Leno retired and ushered in Jimmy Fallon, who has all the late-night charisma of a slice of Steak & Shake Texas toast. Not to be outdone, Fallon replaced himself with SNL alum Seth Meyers who was mostly notable for making SNL less funny. And not to be outdone by his NBC competitors, David Letterman will be replaced by Stephen Colbert, who is not a late-night talk show host or stand-up comedian, but a caricature of a Fox News talk show host last popular in 2004.

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Ten Paces

Which actor portrays the best James Bond?

By and From the April 2014 issue

Craig...Daniel Craig

By Jonah Goldberg

Look, everyone loves Sean Connery, particularly Sean Connery. That’s why he plays Sean Connery in every movie he’s in. People love that Scottish brogue so much, they don’t mind that he has it when he plays Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, an immortal Spaniard in Highlander. The guy even won an Oscar for playing an Irish cop with a Scottish accent. Talk about sexist double standards: Meryl Streep has to master foreign dialects to get her golden statuettes. Connery just has to show up on time. 

In economics you devalue a currency by printing too much of it. In film you devalue a role by reprising it over and over again. If JFK had lived, his historical standing today might put him in the Rutherford B. Hayes category. But he died, and the mythmaking began. If Sean Connery had died after filming 1967’s You Only Live Twice, his name would be written into the firmament as the greatest Bond of all time.

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Buy the Book

Padding the Résumé

By From the April 2014 issue

By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes
(Crown, 448 pages, $26)

Groundhog day, all over again, and we’re already off and running. Out in front of the pack for 2016, just as in 2008, is HRC, which is what Hillary Clinton told Ellen DeGeneres to call her. Whatever she’s called, she’s still ahead in the polls and, as usual, a media favorite. But there are miles to go, and she’s dragging a heavy load of baggage from decades past, to say nothing of the new luggage acquired during her tenure at the State Department: a destabilized Middle East and North Africa, where we’ve abandoned old friends and made new enemies, and where those who once feared us now laugh.

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Main Street U.S.A.

Obama and the Politics of Race

By 4.15.14

So “Racism” once more stalks among us! The Obama administration and its congressional minions are in full-court press style on the topic.

The country’s president and chief magistrate asserted the other day at a political rally put on by, of all racial demagogues, Al Sharpton that poor people and black people find it harder than ever to vote. Along came Atty. Gen. Eric Holder with his own tale of racial woe. A Republican-dominated House committee had roughed him up, he thought. “What attorney general,” he asked the same political gathering, “has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”

New York Democratic Congressman Steve Israel, the party’s point man for congressional elections, took a similar line: “The Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.” In chimed Nancy Pelosi: Race had “something to do” with Republican resistance to immigration reform.

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Another Perspective

A Telling Moment

By 4.15.14

The last month has been a blur, as I have been touring Jewish communities to sell my new commentary on the Passover recital of the Exodus, known as Haggadah. At the very least, with the Passover Seder gatherings on Monday and Tuesday night of this week, I can weigh in with these words, culled from the preface of my book.

*****

“So how is the new job working out?”
“Don’t ask!”

“Honey, will you marry me?”
“I thought you would never ask!”

Some questions are welcomed in life; others are dismissed or ignored or belittled or answered half-heartedly.

Or how about these questions? “Daddy, why is the sky blue? Mommy, why is the grass green? Did God paint the grass with a brush? Why don’t the birds come falling out of the sky? How does the car go so fast? How can Grandma talk to me through the telephone if she does not even live in this city?”

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The Energy Spectator

BULLETIN: U.S. Navy Invents Perpetual Motion Machine

By 4.15.14

You have to wonder how these things get started. Or maybe you don’t. The world is always filled with fantasies and wishful thinking. Newspapers and the Internet just make them circulate a little faster.

On April 7, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division put out a press release announcing it has developed an efficient way of synthesizing a jet fuel using carbon dioxide and hydrogen. There is nothing novel about this. You can synthesize just about any hydrocarbon from CO2 and hydrogen given enough energy and the right catalysts. What was unusual about the Navy’s development is that the process is compact and efficient enough to be done on board a ship. The hydrogen would be extracted through standard electrolysis from seawater. The carbon dioxide would come from the air. As the press release described it:

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