Saturday, December 31, 2011
News you can use: New Year's myths
Because we are nothing if not devoted to the good fortune of our readers, we render for your well-being this list of New Year's Day "good luck" customs. Something tells me we will need all the luck we can get in 2012.
My most awesome Scrabble play evah!
So, last night I was playing cocktail hour Scrabble with the THGF, who almost always beats me senseless. Lady luck and a solid red Zin, however, conspired to deliver unto me the greatest Scrabble hand I have ever had the privilege to play, a solid 83 points (including the seven-letter bonus) for the word "risible."
I rock. Less self-congratulatory blogging will resume shortly.
Friday, December 30, 2011
New Year's Resolution: Balance the Budget
I mean, this is just scary. And Felonius Monk agrees!
(Bad Words in this awesome video, beware. Skip about 15 secs in)
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Ben Breedlove's message
The short life of Ben Breedlove, as recounted by Ben, a student at Westlake High School in Austin.
Ben died on Christmas Day, leaving the world behind just a bit emptier, and not a little deprived.
In case you want to feel ignorant this morning, take the annual quiz from King William's College, Isle of Mann. If they "teach to the test" over there, the students will at least know a lot when they are done.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Don't cut yourself!
Via Maggie's Farm, a useful video showing on the proper use of a kitchen knife. You know, for the aspiring cooks out there.
More of the same through the link.
Romney, Pro and Con
Two giants of the righty blogosphere, Power Line's John Hinderaker and John Hawkins of Right Wing News, have articulated the pro and con cases for Mitt Romney. Since that is a debate that has raged in the comments in this diminutive blog, we provide both links for your reading pleasure.
The “anybody but Romney” mentality that grips many Republicans is, in my view, illogical. It led them to embrace Rick Perry, who turned out to be unable to articulate a conservative thought; Newt Gingrich, whose record is far more checkered than Romney’s; Ron Paul, whose foreign policy views–indistinguishable from those of the far left–and forays into racial intolerance make him unfit to be president; and Michele Bachmann, whom I like very much, but who is more qualified to be a rabble-rouser than a chief executive....Hawkins:
In electing a president, we are choosing someone to run the Executive Branch. A leader, to be sure, but not a speechmaker, a bomb-thrower, a quipster, a television personality or an exemplar of ideological purity. At this point in our history, the United States desperately needs a leader who understands the economy, the world of business, and, more generally, how the world works. We have had more than enough of a leader who was good at giving speeches and was ideologically pure, but who had no clue how the economy works or how the federal government can be administered without resort to graft and corruption. It is time for a president who knows what he is doing.
Mitt Romney was a moderate governor in Massachusetts with an unimpressive record of governance. He left office with an approval rating in the thirties and his signature achievement, Romneycare, was a Hurricane Katrina style disaster for the state. Since that's the case, it's fair to ask what a Republican who's not conservative and can't even carry his own state brings to the table for GOP primary voters. The answer is always the same: Mitt Romney is supposed to be "the most electable" candidate. This is a baffling argument because many people just seem to assume it's true, despite the plethora of evidence to the contrary.
All regular readers know that I tend to agree with John Hinderaker. Mitt Romney is not a perfect candidate for the Republican Party. But we have learned something important in the last year: The Republican Party of 2012 is short on strong presidential candidates. The most promising, sober, accomplished candidates -- Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, and two or three strong senators -- either chose not to run or could not get traction (which may reveal that they were not so promising). The rising stars -- Rubio, Christie, Jindal, and Haley, to pick four out of a hat -- are nearly as green as Barack Obama was in 2008 and basically not vetted on the national stage. The rest who have chosen to run are very problematic. Rick Perry looks like Ronald Reagan and has a lot of his personal charm, but apparently only about half of Reagan's IQ. Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, and Bachmann look for the world as if they will gaff their way through the fall campaign, and even if they were elected, can you imagine any of them in charge of, say, our nuclear arsenal? If they all speak before thinking deeply, how do we know they will not shoot before thinking deeply?
There are many reasons for the lame Republican field, but first among them is that the George W. Bush Administration did not leave us any strong successors. Dick Cheney, who is superbly qualified to be president, is too old and has enormous baggage. Same for Don Rumsfeld. Condoleezza Rice may prefer the repose of private life. And, in any case, the last person elected president from the cabinet with no other experience in elective office was Herbert Hoover, perhaps the single most "qualified" person to seek the office since George Washington (which tells you that resume qualifications are at most table stakes, but hardly sufficient, for success in the White House).
Similarly, the last presidential ticket has not left the Republicans with a successor. McCain is too old and in any case vilified on the right. His running mate, Sarah Palin, wisely assessed her public image and decided to brush up her Shakespeare before making another run.
So that leaves Mitt Romney, who I endorsed with some reluctance over John McCain almost four years ago. The reasoning in that original post mostly holds, although I would revise it if I re-wrote it today.
There are conservatives who do not want to "settle" when they smell the chance for a purist to win. Is that a sound choice if it reduces the chance of winning and increases the chance of another Obama term?
Suppose, though, that John Hawkins is right and Mitt Romney is not more electable than Newt Gingrich, meaning that we have as great a chance of electing Newt as Mitt. Do you really want that guy with his finger on the button, in charge of our foreign policy, or sitting down to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi? Newt is erratic, and says the first crazy thing that pops in to his head. He has been doing that his whole life. That makes him interesting, and definitely an ideal dinner guest. He can grace my salon at any time. But Newt Gingrich has demonstrated time and again that he is not nearly measured enough to be president. We would be fools to think that will actually change.
Newt is also an egomaniac, on the scale of Obama. Not only is this unappealing, but it is dysfunctional. See, for example, this contemporaneous account of Gingrich's mishandling of the budget negotiations with the Clinton White House. It is not hard to see, between the lines, that Gingrich's control impulses and outsized sense of his own abilities led to his downfall. Gingrich supporters should read it, to refresh their memory of his poor record of leadership when last in a position of actual power.
Finally, there are those who say that there is time for a better candidate to emerge. No, there isn't. The political clock is inexorable, and only a miracle or a tragedy could create room for a heretofore unannounced Republican candidate.
Release the hounds.
Monday, December 26, 2011
A picture from Syria
Given events in Egypt, I'm not sure which revolutions to support and which to fear, so I am not sure what I think about President Obama's policies with respect thereto. That said, this picture from Syria has gotta hurt.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
The road less traveled
Late this afternoon, I walked alone.
John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a nifty list of the year's best quotations. Assuming, of course, you're right wing.
I had some spare time this morning waiting for the team to get out of bed, so I topped off my charitable giving for the year, well ahead of the usual New Year's Eve scramble.
My giving has not changed much in recent years -- I re-upped for all the charities on the 2009 list -- but I added a couple on the advice of reader comments in posts over the last few years.
Learning Ally, which used to be Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. "Mindles Dreck," who occasionally posts here, is on the board of that great organization, which boosts the productivity of people who can bring a lot to the fight once they have a path past their disability.
Kiva, which I have mentioned before. Kiva is a portal that connects micro-lenders with small businesses in the developing world. You can lend money in increments as small as $25 dollars to any one of thousands of entrepreneurs who are working to make their own part of the world a better and more prosperous place. I make something of a specialty of lending to the growing number of micro-borrowers in Iraq, but you can pick a part of the world or type of business that floats your own particular boat. With Kiva, you can both donate to support the mission and make loans with money that you will eventually get back.
The Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. I have family in the area, and one of them works for that organization. A local charity, to be sure, but if you live in central Virginia it is certainly worth looking in to.
And last but definitely not least, the Semper Fi Fund, which provides crucial support to wounded Marines and their families.
Since most of our readers are conservatives, we can assume you give generously. To whom do you give to make a difference?
News you can use: After Christmas deals!
Hard as it may be to believe, Amazon has rolled out its huge page of after Christmas deals!.
If you buy through the link above, you will help me create jobs, for America.
An argument for Jon Huntsman
Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario argues rather forcefully that Jon Huntsman is the only candidate of either party who understands how to avoid the next financial crisis. I myself like Huntsman more than any of the others -- I view him as competent and smart and sort of Romney-with-sincerity -- but despair at his inability to get traction.
You know you want to watch
If Christ were born today...
Heh: If Jesus were born today, and how the media and government might react.
Merry Christmas, with pictures!
The son and I took a short hike yesterday afternoon, and once again I brought along my camera. Herewith, for those of you without snow, pictures from a white Christmas in the Adirondacks.
If your monitor has decent resolution, you can see a sprinkle of snow off the tree, falling to the road and sparkling in the sunshine.
In summer, this a bog at the end of a trail in the woods.
And Your Blogger in "the Hat," wishing you all a very merry Christmas.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The Wikipedia entry for potato is a lot more interesting than I would have guessed, not before knowing much about potatoes. I mean, I thought I knew something about them, but it turns out I was a potatoramus.
Ten new American words
An amusing list of ten "new" words Americans used this year.
The Obama record
Bill Whittle puts Barack Obama's record in, er, perspective.
Pictures of an Adirondack Christmas Eve
I'm up in the Adirondacks to get me some white Christmas, and woke to beautiful sunshine on new fallen snow and 4 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed like a good idea to take the big camera for a spin.
The most horrifying bumper sticker of this or any other year
The logistics of the holiday season
If you love factoids, this ginormous graphic of the logistics of the holiday shopping season will fill you with seasonal joy.
The arresting complexity of our mass consumer economy is a thing of beauty, and surely one of the great wonders of the age.
Note to both parties: Do not involve me in your vote-buying dirty work
Because of the temporary two-month structure of the payroll tax cut just passed, the IRS has developed a "recapture tax" to be levied on federal income tax to recover the money from anybody whose wages in 2012 may exceed the Social Security maximum (around $110,000 per year).
In other words, the federal government is forcing employers to bear the expense of distributing cash to workers, and then turning around and spending more money to collect that cash back from some of them.
This tax cut is dumb, dumb, and dumber, and any politician of either party who voted for it (or signed it in to law) is by definition a disingenuous self-interested anti-business dirtbag. No business is going to hire somebody, directly or indirectly, because of a two-month reduction in the payroll tax. The only purpose of the payroll tax cut is to put more cash in the hands of workers, presumably so they can spend it or pay down revolving debt incurred to buy the GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip or whatever it is people are buying this year. In either case, no business is going to add employees now to respond to a two-month increase in aggregate demand. So the cut's only possible benefits are (i) the microsurge in aggregate demand, in and of itself, which may lead to a little more overtime but will not lead to any new jobs, or (ii) to buy votes.
This buying of votes comes at a cost, even if it is "fully paid for" under some CBO-approved legerdemain. It requires human resources and payroll people all over the country to do a bunch of unnecessary work and incur a bunch of dead weight cost -- expense that will do nothing to improve anybody's long-term standard of living -- just when they are busiest trying to do other work. The federal government has essentially dragooned American businesses in to making random little payments to certain people (people who are employees, unless they are white collar employees with some experience), a good portion of which will be taxed back in a year anyway.
It seems to me that if the government wants to make random little payments to certain people, it should send them checks and leave American business out of its vote-buying dirty work altogether. It also seems to me that those of us in who actually create jobs should not forget that in this dirty little episode both Democrats and Republicans conspired again to use us to buy votes for them.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Those crazy Minnesota Lutherans
At a mall in Minnesota, a "flash mob" performance of "Joy to the World." If this does not bring a smile to your face, you are a Scrooge. Or perhaps just not a Christian, or maybe just not a Minnesotan. Still, a beautiful middle American moment.
Ann on Newt
Regarding Newt, Ann has, er, misgivings:
Every few years, heinous Democratic policies — abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action, Hillarycare, Obamacare, to name a few — compel previously uninvolved Americans to leap into politics. This is great, except for two things: (1) We have to get heinous Democratic policies first; and (2) newcomers have short memories, sometimes no memories at all. The second point is the only possible explanation for why some conservatives seem to view Newt Gingrich as the anti-Establishment outsider who will shake up Washington. Newly active right-wingers would do well to spend a little more time quietly reading up on Newt’s political career, and a little less time shaking their fists at some imaginary “Establishment” — which now apparently includes Michael Savage, Mark Steyn, Christine O’Donnell, Ramesh Ponnuru, Glenn Beck and me, all of whom oppose Newt’s candidacy. (By the way, guys, are we car-pooling to the next Trilateral Commission meeting? I have a thing at the World Bank that same day.) Only then will they realize that Gingrich would be a disaster for everything they believe in.I officially recommend the whole thing. Especially if you are one who thinks we would not put victory at great risk in nominating Newt to run against Barack Obama.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wherein My Alma Mater Gets Made Fun of By Doocey
So my high school recently put on a play/dance recital called Occupy North Pole. I don't really have many details, but it sounds like typical George School fare.
On the first segment they did about this, they got the town wrong, calling it Newton PA instead of NewtoWn PA. There's about 2 hours worth of driving in between those places, so that's sort of irritating.
Yes, George School is a left-leaning institution. No doubt. From an educational standpoint, however, teachers always did a great job of presenting all viewpoints comprehensively, even if they made their political feelings a barely-guarded secret by the time I was a senior.
The thing that really bugs me about this video is that you can see that the hosts are actually asking balanced questions like "Is this *actually* propaganda, or is this just an attempt to entertain high schoolers?" And the "contributor" just says "Yes, this is liberal propaganda at its best." This is NOT the intention of the play, and I would be very surprised if anyone other than starry-eyed freshman took it as serious political commentary.
The two-month tax cut
Lest there is even a shred of doubt, a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday is asinine, and any politician who proposes it, votes for it, or supports it, of either party, is a moron with something less than the best interest of the country at heart. MORE: Zerohedge expresses more or less the same sentiment, only with facts and reason.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Attention social engineers: Why pilot projects usually fail in the real world
A big difference between, say, me, and most academic social engineers, is that I believe that in the success of big projects scale matters a great deal. Do not, for example, tell me that the United States should adopt a particular health care system because it works great in Switzerland, or a sex ed policy because the Swedes have shown it can reduce teen pregnancy. Neither will work across a continent over hundreds of millions of people. Take it to the bank. That is why European principalities are poor precedent for American social and economic policy, no matter what your professor told you. Scale makes a huge difference in many endeavors, not least of all because there are almost never enough competent people to extend a good idea that works in a small setting to many locations across large geography. Programs, whether commercial or governmental, that work well as pilots often fail in "production." This excellent post explains why.
A short note to Republicans
Even as I agree with conservatives -- and I almost always do, unless matters involving sex or religion are in play -- I often cringe at the things GOP talkers choose to carp about. Today, for example, Sarah Palin (whom I like in many respects) decided to take issue with the Obama family's holiday card:
"It's odd," Palin said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."Problem is, the O'card is almost impossible to distinguish in that regard from Republican cards of Christmas past. Goddamn. Not only is Palin a Scrooge, a churl, and a jackass for complaining about a freaking Christmas card, but she trivializes by implication the real atrocity of the Obama regime -- that by a bizarre combination of calculation and indifference it is destroying America's great distinguishing trait, opportunity in enterprise.
Wednesday Afternoon Folk: Maddie Rosene
Her YouTube page is mostly covers, but her Myspace page has more original music on it.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The answer to this presumably rhetorical question is "yes."
Monday, December 19, 2011
The market moves against Newt Gingrich
Herewith, the latest Intrade futures on the relative prospects of Mitt and Newt in the Iowa presidential caucuses in a couple of weeks.
Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
It has been ages since I remembered to post the O'Quiz. This week's quiz is particularly challenging, with an average correct score of only 2.53 (as of this writing) out of ten. (Your blogger scored an almost miraculously high 7 out of ten, probably because he spent most of Saturday in a Lay-Z-Boy nursing a fever and reading stupid stuff online.)
Post your own score in the comments. If, that is, you are not too ashamed.
The tweet of the year?
Dunno if this is in fact the "tweet of the year," but it has to be on the list: “I’d like to think God let Havel and Hitchens pick the third.”
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Review: Final Fantasy XIII
It's not really *fantasy*, it's more science fiction. The main protagonist has a Gunblade and a secondary protagonist has two pistols.
Basically, there are two big lands in the world: the floating, possibly fabricated utopia/dystopian world of Cocoon, and the planet below, Pulse. Each land is ruled by powerful God-Machines called fal'Cie (fal SEE). These machines provide power, food and water, and basically anything else required for daily life. They have agents/thralls called l'Cie (le SEE) to do their bidding. Each l'Cie has a brand marking them as "owned" by a particular fal'Cie, and they each have a purpose, or Focus, that they need to fulfill. If they succeed, they'll be turned to crystal until they are given a new Focus, which could be hundreds of years. If they reject their Focus, fail to complete it, or "go astray", they turn into aggressive monsters called Cieth (Seethe). Nobody wants to be a l'Cie, but it grows on some.
Pulse and Cocoon are at war. Artifacts from one land are feared in the other, because they might turn you into a l'Cie, and therefore an enemy of the state. It is believed that even coming into contact with a l'Cie will turn you into one. The plot starts when a Pulse fal'Cie is discovered in Cocoon, and this results in everyone from a particular town being quarantined and Purged. Our Heroes attempt to stop their friends and family from being Purged.
As settings go, it takes awhile to understand, but it's actually interesting when you get into it. I feel like there's some social commentary on the plot, but what do I know?
My pet peeve is that almost all the characters are named after nouns. Lightning, Snow, Hope, Vanille, Fang, and Sazh. Sazh is the only one with an actual name that isn't just a noun. Maybe this is some sort of weird translation decision, but I don't like it.
Lightning is the tough-as-nails pithy soldier woman archetype with a mysterious past. She opens up a bit as the plot goes on.
Snow seems to know he's in a JRPG and always wants to be "A Hero," and is filled with all sorts of wisdom as to how heroes ought to behave. His ego deflates as the plot goes on.
Hope is an indecisive, insecure, depressed, Momma's boy. His mom dies in the beginning, and Lightning fills that role (or the "Cool Aunt" role) by teaching him how to be stronger.
Vanille is the weird chick. She has an Australian accent and strange clothes. She's peppy/Kooky and makes a nice, if vaguely irritating foil to Hope and Sazh. Who KNOWS what her deal is?
Fang is kinda like Cid from FFVII. She uses a spear and kicks ass, and has kind of an "awww yeah, bitches!" attitude. She also has unusual clothes and an Australian accent. I wonder what that could mean?
Sazh is basically Barret from FFVII in that he's black and has guns. That's where the similarity ends. He's a Dad whose kid was turned into a Cocoon l'Cie, and was taken from him by the state so they could figure out what his Focus is to use him. He's generally level-headed, and makes a nice foil to Lightning's and Snow's reckless behavior. He's easily the most likeable character, and rarely says anything particularly eye-rolling.
It's very linear, but it's Final Fantasy so get over it. Play Skyrim if you want a nice open-world type game. The linear nature of the gameplay doesn't bother me.
I've been won over by the battle system with a few MAJOR criticisms. The fundamental idea is good though, and I think it's the best expression that Square Enix's venerable ATB system is likely to get. Battles aren't random anymore, and enemies don't drop money. There are only 3 stats to keep track of: HP, Strength, and Magic. They're all pretty self-explanatory. Characters get stronger by unlocking nodes in "The Crystarium" with "Crystarium Points" of which you get a certain number per battle. Nodes contain things like "+15 HP" or "+5 Strength", or various abilities you can use in combat.
Combat is simplified and yet more complicated. You can only control the party leader, and your supporting members all behave according to one of six roles. These roles are Commando (COM), Ravager (RAV), Synergist (SYN), Medic (MED), Sentinel (SEN), or Saboteur (SAB). Commandos are skilled at taking out weak enemies quickly and harassing big ones and use physical attacks or flavorless magic. Ravagers use elemental attacks or magic and help Commandos take down big foes. Synergists buff you. Saboteurs debuff the enemy. Sentinels are the tanks; they'll attract enemies to attack them and defend themselves while the other characters do whatever. Medics heal.
The cool thing about the combat is the Paradigm system. Each Paradigm is a particular configuration of roles. For example, RAV/RAV/COM is called Relentless Assault, and it's good at taking down bosses and tough enemies. SYN/SAB/MED is called Evened Odds, and you would use it if your enemies are too strong, your characters are too weak, and you're all about to die. RAV/RAV/SEN is called Mage's Tower or something, and you would use it if you need to take down a bunch of enemies one at a time while someone absorbs their hits. You have six Paradigm slots to configure as you will. Each character has three roles they can fulfill, and if you fight every encounter (there IS a finite number of them), you'll be able to fully level up every role (more or less). You can't use skills from one role in another. So if you're a Ravager, which is basically a Black Mage, you can't use Cure, a White Mage/Medic skill. You need to do a Paradigm Shift to access them. I used to hate this but I was won over since it requires actual strategy and forethought, which makes combat exciting.
Here's the absolutely infuriating part of the whole game though: it handholds you and forces you into doing particular things. You actually can't change your party members until you're 20 hours in, and you can't change the character you control until a couple hours after that. Don't worry though, the game's storyline forces you to divide your six people into three groups of two, eventually involving every possible combination, exposing you to every character. This is to prevent any character from going unused, but it's incredibly frustrating, extremely contrived, and makes the narrative unnatural and inorganic. There's no reason the storyline would go the way it does if it weren't for this decision by Square Enix.
This is the other bizarre thing: by the time they let you control any character as the leader, and have anyone you want in your party supporting you, they ALSO let any character learn any role, albeit at crippling expense. This is frustrating since they just spent 20 hours making you learn to work within the limits of the game, but what's worse is that since battles aren't random and have a finite number, you can't level grind as you would in a traditional Final Fantasy game. At least, this SEEMS to be true, except the storyline just took me to a "training ground" so I can "hone my skills." Hmm. Doesn't this sound like something that should have happened in, I don't know, a TUTORIAL? At the BEGINNING of the game?
In conclusion, I really want to like it. There's many things I *DO* like about it. But those two issues really ruin a LOT of the fun you COULD have been having.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
"Herewith, hope it serves."
Slate organizes the best work of Christopher Hitchens in that publication, by topic. Lots of stuff there. Such as, for example, this spectacular and sanguinary flaying of Jimmy Carter.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Cutting room floor
Apparently edited out of President Obama's most recent Sixty Minutes interview:
Sounds like something Newt would say. Unfortunately, the press will not protect Newt from himself with quite the same efficiency as it does Barack Obama.
One attempt to locate and rank the "15 most memorable" quotations of Christopher Hitchens. There could be a dozen such competing lists, none duplicating the next, and each plausible.
For my part, I do not know whether it is kinder to wish he were in heaven, or not.
Tom Maguire, conceding that he does "not have as nimble a mind as Newt," struggles to substantiate Gingrich's claim that he has been "fighting against the individual mandate" for years. Rather, he discovers the reverse.
Since the individual mandate is inextricably linked to community rating and you cannot find a Republican against that, Newt's conversion has moved him from an intellectually honest position to a ridiculous one, all in the cause of a big pander.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Just do not prefer Newt over Mitt on the grounds of consistency.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
News you can use: A list of top ten stock pick lists
A list of the "top ten stocks for 2012" lists, with links. I always have fun reading these, especially when they confirm my own thinking, but never act on them.
Under Obama, it is great to be a crony
I admit, three years ago I had hopes that the Obama administration would not do this sort of thing:
SolyndraGate was no isolated case of corrupt government misspending. The U.S. Navy was just forced to buy 450,000 gallons of biofuels from an Obama-connected firm at an outrageous $16 per gallon.
The massive Obama stimulus was supposed to generate millions of jobs, but the $535 million loan guarantee it gave to solar panel maker Solyndra on the eve of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy illustrated the fundamental incompetence of Obama's neo-Keynesian economic ideology.
Now we find the Navy partnering with the Agriculture Department to purchase hundreds of thousands of gallons of alternative biofuel in place of standard JP-5 fuel for Navy aircraft — the biggest federal purchase of biofuel ever.
It's part of the White House's "we can't wait for Congress" strategy as the 2012 election year looms. But JP-5 typically costs less than $4 a gallon. If a family on a budget started filling up with $16-a-gallon gas, it might want to adopt the motto, "we can't wait to go broke."
We tend to forgive corruption in boom times, mostly because we have better things to do. When times are tough and every day is a slog in no small part because of intrusive and vague regulation, sweetheart inside deals for the friends of politicians are just galling.
And, of course, the Democrats who forced the Department of Defense to pay four times the going rate for fuel to pander to their green constituents are the same people who complain about defense spending being too high.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Why did the West rise?
I am a third of the way through Harvard historian Niall Ferguson's latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, and thought the principle question posed so interesting that it warrants reproduction below. Of course, we hope the link to Amazon above will induce sufficient click-throughs that Professor Ferguson and his publisher will forgive the long excerpt:
If, in the year 1411, you had been able to circumnavigate the globe, you would probably have been most impressed by the quality of life in Oriental civilizations. The Forbidden City was under construction in Ming Beijing, while work had begun on reopening and improving the Grand Canal; in the Near East, the Ottomans were closing in on Constantinople, which they would finally capture in 1453. The Byzantine Empire was breathing its last. The death of the warlord Timur (Tamerlane) in 1405 had removed the recurrent threat of murderous invading hordes from Central Asia -- the antithesis of civilization. For the Yongle Emperor in China and the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, the future was bright.
By contrast, Western Europe in 1411 would have struck you as a miserable backwater, recuperating from the ravages of the Black Death -- which had reduced population by as much as half as it swept eastwards between 1347 and 1351 -- and still plagued by bad sanitation and seemingly incessant war. In England the leper king Henry IV was on the throne, having successfully overthrown and murdered the ill-starred Richard II. France was in the grip of internecine warfare between the followers of the Duke of Burgundy and those of the assassinated Duke of Orleans. The Anglo-French Hundred Years' War was just about to resume. The other quarrelsome kingdoms of Western Europe -- Aragon, Castile, Navarre, Portugal and Scotland -- would have seemed little better. A Muslim still ruled in Granada. The Scottish King, James I, was a prisoner in England, having been captured by English pirates. The most prosperous parts of Europe were in fact the North Italian city-states: Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena and Venice. As for fifteenth-century North America, it was an anarchic wilderness compared with the realms of the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas in Central and South America, with their towering temples and skyscraping roads. By the end of your world tour, the notion that the West might come to dominate the Rest for most of the next half-millenium would have come to seem wildly fancifal.
And yet it happened.
For some reason, beginning in the late fifteenth century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy, and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australasia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life -- a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword.
There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd. No previous civilization had ever achieved such dominance as the West achieved over the Rest. In 1500 the future imperial powers of Europe accounted for about 5 per cent of the world's land surface and at most 16 per cent of its population. By 1913, eleven Western empires controlled nearly three-fifths of all territory and population and close to three-quarters (a staggering 74 per cent) of global economic output. Average life expectancy in England was nearly twice what it was in India. Higher living standards in the West were also reflected in a better diet, even for agricultural labourers, and taller stature, even for ordinary soldiers and convicts. Civilization, as we have seen, is about cities. By this measure, too, the West had come out on top. In 1500, as far as we can work out, the biggest city in the world was Beijing, with a population of between 600,000 and 700,000. Of the ten largest cities in the world by that time only one -- Paris -- was European, and its population numbered fewer than 200,000. London had perhaps 50,000 inhabitants. Urbanization rates were also higher in North Africa and South American than in Europe. Yet by 1900 there had been an astonishing reversal. Only one of the world's ten largest cities at that time was Asian and that was Tokyo. With a population of around 6.5 million, London was the global megalopolis. Nor did Western dominance end with the decline and fall of European empires. The rise of the United States saw the gap between West and East widen still further. By 1990 the average American was seventy-three times richer than the average Chinese.
Moreover, it became clear in the second half of the twentieth century that the only way to close that yawning gap in income was for Eastern societies to follow Japan's example in adopting some (though not all) of the West's institutions and modes of operation. As a result, Western civilization became a kind of template for the way the rest of the world aspired to organize itself. Prior to 1945, of course, there was a variety of developmental models -- or operating systems, to draw a metaphor from computing -- that could be adopted by non-Western societies. But the most attractive were all of European origin: liberal capitalism, national socialism, Soviet communism. The Second World War killed the second in Europe, though it lived on under assumed names in many developing countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 killed the third...
As for non-economic institutions, there is no debate worth having. All over the world, universities are converging on Western norms. The same is true of the way medical science is organized, from rarefied research all the way through to front-line healthcare. Most people now accept the great scientific truths revealed by Newton, Darwin and Einstein and, even if they do not, they still reach eagerly for the products of Western pharmacology at the first symptom of influenza or bronchitis. Only a few societies continue to resist the encroachment of Western patterns of marketing and consumption, as well as the Western lifestyle itself. More and more human beings eat a Western diet, wear Western clothes, and live in Western housing. Even the peculiarly Western way of work -- five or six days a week from 9 until 5, with two or three weeks of holiday -- is becoming a kind of universal standard. Meanwhile, the religion that Western missionaries sought to export to the rest of the world is followed by a third of mankind -- as well as making remarkable gains in the world's most populous country. Even the atheism pioneered in the West is making impressive headway.
With every passing year, more and more human beings shop like us, study like us, stay healthy (or unhealthy) like us and pray (or don't pray) like us. Burgers, Bunsen burners, Band-Aids, baseball caps and Bibles: You cannot easily get away from them, where you may go. Only in the realm of political institutions does there remain significant global diversity, and with a wide range of governments around the world resisting the idea of the rule of law, with its production of individual rights, as the foundation for meaningful representative government. It is as much as a political ideology as a religion that a militant Islam seeks to resist the advance of the late twentieth-century Western norms of gender equality and sexual freedom.
So it is not "Eurocentrism" or (anti-)"Orientalism" to say that the rise of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ. It is a statement of the obvious. The challenge is to explain how it happened. What was it about the civilization of Western Europe after the fifteenth century that allowed it to trump the outwardly superior empires of the Orient? Clearly, it was something more than the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.
Release the hounds! (Or buy the book and read along -- it is great fun, especially if you incline to the un-PC.)
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
"The bill would allow the US Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the infringing website; barring search engines from linking to such sites and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony."
News you can use: The "top 40" conservative blogs
We have fallen off the list in recent times, perhaps because of our transparent dislike of most of the rightier GOP presidential candidates (not, however, because they are rightier), or more likely because of our desultory blogging. Regardless, our boundless commitment to service to our readers requires us to link to the Right Wing News list of the "top 40 conservative blogs" for the last quarter of 2011. There are indeed many great blogs on the list.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Newt's crucial year
Human Events, as reliably righty as it comes, says that the events of 1998, more than 1994 or 1995, define Newt Gingrich as a leader. It is not pretty. For example:
The key to the budget disaster was Gingrich’s leadership style, he said.
“Because Lott was just going to go along with whatever, it came down to the White House and the House,” he said.
“Gingrich’s ego was so huge, he insisted on conducting the negotiations himself,” he said. “There would be four staffers from the White House on one side of the table and then Newt.”
The result was a dynamic where the White House aides could avoid commitments by saying they had to go back and get approval, but Gingrich was the Speaker, so there was no way to claim he did not have the authority to cut a deal, he said.
One cannot run for president in the modern era without an immense ego, far in excess of anything normal. The only question is whether that ego is self-destructive.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Mitt Romney's frugality as an example for the rich
The New York Times -- the motives of which are, admittedly, always suspect -- has an almost heartwarming story about Mitt Romney's personal frugality. Tidbits:
Soon after Mitt Romney handed out eye-popping bonuses to top performers at his private equity firm in the early 1990s, a young employee invited him to ride in his brand-new toy — a $90,000 Porsche 911 Carrera.
Mr. Romney was entranced by the sleek, supercharged vehicle: at the end of a spin around downtown Boston, he turned to the employee, Marc Wolpow, and marveled, “Boy, I really wish I could have one of these things.”
Mr. Wolpow was dumbfounded. “You could have 12 of them,” he recalled thinking to himself.
But Mr. Romney had insisted on driving an inexpensive, domestic stalwart that looked out of place in the company parking lot — a Chevrolet Caprice station wagon with red vinyl seats and a banged-up front end.
It was a stark sign of the tug of war, still evident in Mr. Romney’s life, between an instinctive, at times comical frugality, and an embrace of the lavish lifestyle that accompanied his swelling Wall Street fortune.
Mr. Romney, 64, has poured $52 million of his own money into campaigns for the Senate and the White House, but is obsessed with scoring cheap flights on the discount airline JetBlue.
He has acquired six-figure thoroughbred horses for his wife, Ann, yet plays golf with clubs from Kmart. And he has owned a series of multimillion-dollar homes, from a lakefront compound in New Hampshire to a beach house in California, but once rented a U-Haul to move his family’s belongings himself between two of the vacation retreats...
In making his case for the presidency, Mr. Romney has built his campaign around pledges to rein in government spending and reduce the federal debt. He argues that he has squeezed costs out of every organization he has led — as chief executive of Bain Capital, organizer of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and governor of Massachusetts — turning penny-pinching into a management style.
“He is as cheap as it comes,” said Bob White, a longtime Romney friend, business partner and confidant. “And I think that carries over into everything he does.”...
Thrift was a family virtue. Ann Romney used to cut her sons’ hair in the backyard. Her husband would tackle home renovations himself. Once, he enlisted everyone — for six weekends straight — in building a fence around their large home in Massachusetts. A Mitt mantra, recalled Spencer Zwick, a family friend, was, “Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you should buy it.”
At Bain Capital, Mr. Romney scolded colleagues for flying first class. He batted away requests for high-end office decorations (preferring faux-wooden desks). To set an example, he ate bag lunches in front of his computer....
It sort of goes on from there, with a good bit of background about all chores he had to do as a kid and such, and this nice conclusion:
Those close to Mr. Romney say he typically defers to his wife on large purchases — especially homes, most of which are in her name.
“Mitt is the cheapest guy in the world, except when it comes to Ann, because he loves his wife more than anything,” said Mr. Stemberg, the Staples founder, who recalled Mr. Romney darting into a store during a business trip to buy his wife “an extremely expensive coat.”
There are those who complain that Mitt Romney is not the sort of person you would sit down and have a beer with -- uh, no -- but there are other things that are appealing about him. The frugality described in the linked story is a trait that runs through my own well-off family and that reached its apotheosis with my maternal grandmother, who was exceedingly generous with her loved ones and extraordinarily thrifty all at the same time. Everybody in my family (only a few of whom would drift so far to the right as to vote for Mitt Romney) would nevertheless instinctively understand this aspect of him and admire him for it.
Beyond that, Romney by his example -- and many other quietly wealthy people -- exposes a barely-discussed aspect over the distribution of wealth: Is the problem, if there is one, that wealth itself is unevenly distributed, or is it that benefits of wealth are unevenly distributed?
Now, neither the Romney family nor other "frugal wealthy" people live poorly by any means. But the example they set is superior to the behavior of the "flaunting rich" in several important respects.
The frugal wealthy, by their choices, remind us that there are motivations for work, often the most powerful motivations, that come from a place other than rank materialism. This is why so many people in business care less about lowering taxes, per se, than about shrinking government at all levels and getting it out of the way. Why? Because bureaucratic and regulatory interventions that slow down businesses also frustrate and obstruct the creativity of business owners and executives, for whom business is the inspiring creative act of their lives.
The frugal wealthy also remind us that conservation, rather than waste, is an important value, regardless of one's financial capacity to waste. Conservation, of which conservatives ought to approve, has declined in popularity on the right because of its apparent association with environmentalism, which has become an excuse for coercion rather than an expression of the virtue of thrift. But that does not mean that conservation is not a virtue in and of itself, and the frugal wealthy do well by reminding us of that.
Also, the frugal wealthy understand that it is not wealth per se but rather its flamboyant display that erects barriers between the rich and the rest. Gated communities, private jets and the mass promotion of ridiculously expensive luxury goods -- all widespread only in the last generation -- have done more to provoke class division and remove the rich from contact with ordinary people than the actual increases in their wealth.
Finally, the frugal wealthy define the purpose of wealth differently, and more constructively, than the flaunting rich. Capital, in the hands of people who understand its purpose as the frugal wealthy do, is an immensely powerful means for improving everybody's standard of living. See, e.g., not only the great businesses of the era but the many libraries, museums, schools, universities, and other cultural institutions built by the frugal wealthy. Capital, rendered in to mere money to be spent on consumption, does much less for all of us.
Which is why it is so unwise to hand it over to politicians.
Sonic Generations: Modern Green Hill Zone Speed Run
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Another "Occupy" death
There has been another death at an Occupy camp, this time in Texas.
The Star-Telegram is reporting a death at the Occupy Denton campsite on the University of North Texas campus. The body of 23 year old Darwin Cox was discovered Saturday night, and the campsite has since been dismantled.
Though there is no ruling on the cause of death yet, it's being speculated that Cox's drug addiction might have played a part.
Two questions burst forth, unbidden, both of which probably reflect poorly on my character.
Dang. I'm going to hell for that.
The left goes after Sam Walton's heirs
The left's latest villains in the class war they want to start are the heirs to Sam Walton, who are said have as much wealth between them as the bottom 30 percent of Americans.
Who knows whether the math is true? Whether it matters, or not, is a question of taste more than objective justice. There are, however, three true points about the Walton fortune.
First, it will dissipate sure as the Lord made little green apples. All great family fortunes do, whether or not there is an estate tax, because few heirs beget many more, most of whom are no better at building new fortunes than the average bear.
Second, nobody, and surely not people chosen by politicians in return for support, will put the fortune to a socially better use, on average, than even the most dissolute of Sam Walton's heirs. Better to let it dissipate organically, in the passage of the years.
Third, is there any American business that has done more for the standard of living of poor and working class Americans than Wal-Mart? Am I the only person who remembers how damn expensive basic household items were before Sam Walton revolutionized the supply chain for everyday stuff? Many fortunes spring from great contributions to human welfare, and few more so than the Walton family's.
Who can beat Obama?
For those of you who come here before Instapundit, check out Glenn's morning poll. My guess is that the results will bounce around all day and ultimate become fodder for small bore campaign propaganda.
The Red Cross jumps the shark
The Red Cross just got its last contribution from me.
When I give money to charity, I want it used for the purpose intended, and that manifestly does not include investigating whether people who play video games might be in violation of international human rights law (although it does confirm my long-held suspicion that human rights law has become just another means for bludgeoning people).
The Red Cross has proven that, whatever good it does, it is wasting money on frivolous people who want to run my life.
The linked story also confirms my even longer-held suspicion that international NGO conferences are primarily a pretext for bureaucrats and academics to travel to places like Geneva where they can come up with other reasons to gather in places like Geneva.
I will keep donating blood, which I do directly to my local hospital's program.
OK, I'll probably relent and give them money again at some point -- the organization has done much great work -- but not until it has paid an adequate price for such rank stupidity.
UPDATE: The Red Cross responds, quite reasonably. Pretty fast PR operation.
Friday, December 09, 2011
I'm in a mood this morning, and for one reason or another have seen lots of snarky little items that the righter half of our readers, anyway, ought to enjoy.
[Regarding Obama's "class warefare" speech on Tuesday] Where to begin? A country spending twice as much per capita on education as it did in 1970 with zero effect on test scores is not underinvesting in education. It’s mis-investing. As for federally directed spending on innovation — like Solyndra? Ethanol? The preposterously subsidized, flammable Chevy Volt?
[Governor Awesome confronts protesters in Iowa] “You know what, we’re used to dealing with jokers like this in New Jersey all the time,” Christie said, as the protesters filed out. “So you guys go all out and chant and do what it is that you want to do.”
Anyway, my rule is no Nazis, no Commies, no porn. Pretty much everything else goes.
Dang, and here I was hoping to advertise my line of "Che" kitsch on Instapundit.
And once again, I’ll note that if we had a Republican president we’d be seeing endless tear-jerk accounts of senior citizens’ suffering because of low interest rates and shrinking dividends.
Hitler hears about the Eurozone downgrade
Yet another recut of the rant from Downfall. In the words of the Facebook friend who posted it, "OMG, this is in exceptionally poor taste. In other words, pure genius."
What Do YOU Think Happened to the Drone the Iranians Captured?
1. We're doing it so wrong that the Iranians actually out-tech'd us.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
So, you think Newt is a true conservative?
The world’s largest ethanol producer is one of Newt Gingrich’s biggest donors, reports USA Today. A long-time supporter of the controversial subsidy, Newt is also the only GOP candidate to unequivocally support ethanol subsidies.
Ethanol subsidies are bad policy, and have survived this long for one reason only: Ethanol is made from corn, among other things, and corn is big business in Iowa, the first state to determine delegates to the national party conventions and a swing state in the general election.
Ann on Newt
Ann Coulter, who has on occasion said some things that attracted some attention, reminds us all why the nomination of Newt Gingrich to run for president would be such a risky bet for those of us who are at the end our rope with Barack Obama. Ann's column is so free of the usual edgy jokes that one is forced to assume that she is damned worried that the anti-Mitts in the GOP are going to coalesce around Newt and put victory in 2012 in jeopardy.
I am too.
Taxing banker bonuses: Beware unintended consequences
From a couple of professors at the University of Zurich, a study that suggests that applying a surtax to the bonuses of bankers will tend to increase risk-taking behavior, rather than dampen it.
First, whaddya expect from a couple of Swiss academics?
Second, governmental attempts to regulate compensation in the name of populism almost always backfire, because people acting in their self interest are a lot more motivated and devious than politicians and regulation-writers. See, e.g., the consequence of Bill Clinton's surtax on executive salaries in excess of $1 million per year. That drove much higher performance-based equity compensation, the primary cause of soaring total pay.
How doctors die
Doctors make very different choices at the end of life than most of the rest of us. This essay describes those choices evocatively, and includes a few keen observations about our health care system along the way. Teaser, but read the whole thing:
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.
This is a subject that deserves thoughtful public discussion. Unfortunately, we will not get it any time soon, what with our great tendency to connect all such life-and-death topics to the narrative wars over health care "reform" and abortion.
WaPo: More Soldier's Ashes Dumped in Landfills than Previously Thought
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Islam: Religion of pieces
There are a lot of putatively Christian nutty preachers who give us mainstreamers a bad name. It is reassuring that the Muslims have the same problem:
An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”
The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.
As they say, Islam is a religion of pieces.
"High verbals," and the problem with Newt Gingrich
There are different sorts of intelligence, and Newt Gingrich's does not necessarily qualify him to be president.
Limo wave: Caption This!
Occasional commenter Bomber Girl passes along this pic from the official White House Facebook page, noting that "it is hard not to believe that the WH photographer is not a GOP plant." The official caption of this "Photo of the Day" -- really, that's the best they have? -- is:
Photo of the Day: President Barack Obama waves to people gathered along the motorcade route from Osawatomie High School to Osawatomie-Paola Municipal Airport in Osawatomie, Kan., Dec. 6, 2011.
I don't think the official White House Photo of the Day caption writer tried very hard, do you?
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Let's Get Down to Business
Up early in Texas, so a few items before we jump on to the morning calls.
The United States Postal Service begins its consolidation.
The cuts, now being finalized, would close roughly 250 of the nearly 500 mail processing centers across the country as early as next March. Because the consolidations typically would lengthen the distance mail travels from post office to processing center, the agency also would lower delivery standards for first-class mail that have been in place since 1971.
Currently, first-class mail is supposed to be delivered to homes and businesses within the continental U.S. in one day to three days. That will lengthen to two days to three days, meaning mailers no longer could expect next-day delivery in surrounding communities. Periodicals could take between two days and nine days.
My only and oft-repeated objection to this obviously necessary restructuring is that the government ought to plan transparently for a long-term winding down of the USPS, rather than treat us all to a death by a thousand reactive cuts. With planning, we could, over a period of 15 or 20 years, actually move the shrinking population of people who do not use electronic communication to those methods. Instead, the government will no doubt claim that it intends to keep the USPS open forever while in fact degrading its service to the point where it becomes just another vehicle for no-work and even no-show jobs.
The Christian Science Monitor: "Is Newt Gingrich the GOP candidate Obama prefers to face?" While you are at it, a list of 18 of Newt's classic one-liners from a lefty blogger. I happen to agree with a lot of them and laugh at most of them -- Ann Coulter could hardly do better -- but they will be vote-destroyers in the must-win suburbs of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
President Obama's "top ten" Constitutional violations. For those of you who live in liberal college towns and enjoy disrupting cocktail parties, here's a juicy bit:
The Department of Health and Human Services has granted nearly 2,000 waivers to employers seeking relief from Obamacare’s onerous regulations. Nearly 20 percent of these waivers went to gourmet restaurants and other businesses in Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district.
Among its other deficiencies, health care "reform" as envisioned and enacted by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid has unleashed a vast new opportunity for federal politicians to hand out favors.
The news keeps getting worse for Jon Corzine:
MF Global Holdings Ltd.'s executive in charge of controlling risks raised serious concerns several times last year to directors at the securities firm about the growing bet on European bonds by his boss, Jon S. Corzine, people familiar with the matter said.
The board allowed the company's exposure to troubled European sovereign debt to swell from about $1.5 billion in late 2010 to $6.3 billion shortly before MF Global tumbled into bankruptcy Oct. 31, these people said. The executive who challenged Mr. Corzine resigned in March.
An inside baseball look at one of Mitt Romney's anti-Obama advertisements.
Governor Awesome steals the show at Ford's Theater, and impresses the Washington Post.
A pretty cool interactive timeline of the financial crisis. We are closing in on the fifth anniversary.
Zerohedge: "The Chart That Proves The Fed's Policies Have Been A Failure".
Monday, December 05, 2011
Rally watch: Will the Santa Claus rally bail out Barack Obama?
An interesting look at stock market cycles in the third year of presidential terms. If the end of the year were today, Barack Obama would be the first president since World War II to suffer a stock market decline in the third year of his first term. Nixon, however, got close, and was only bailed out with a huge rally in the last two weeks of 1971.
Is 2011 like 1971? If so, hang on to your hats.
The linked post also discusses the much greater volatility this year. Consider:
Bespoke had a great piece out last week showing that since August 1st the S&P500 has had eight declines of 5 percent or more and eight advances of 5 percent or more. Contrast that to several stretches in the 1990′s where the S&P500 went more than a year without a rally or decline of 5 percent.
No doubt the consequence of political risk, which is vastly greater today than in the halcyon '90s, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr notwithstanding.
Looking back at an old post on Iraq
I stumbled across an old post I wrote almost six years ago, during the most pessimistic phrase of the Iraq war. I think it has held up rather well, although there is certainly room for argument.
The big explosions in Iran
Occasionally, there is a bit of news to suggest that both or either of Barack Obama or Benjamin Netanyahu are running smarter foreign policies than their opponents give them credit for doing. See, e.g., this item from the New York Times on the big explosion that seems to have taken out Iran's solid fuel missile facility. I laughed out loud when I read this part: "Both American and Israeli officials, in discussing the explosion in recent days, showed little curiosity about its cause."
Is that how we signal sly complicity these days, by showing "little curiosity"?
In related news, the Wall Street Journal perhaps poorly chose the basis for yesterday's mocking of Joe Biden.
News you can use: Another reason not to get fat
I'm normally not much for sharing random health news, but colon cancer killed more than a couple of my ancestors so I pay a little attention to it. Today's item: If you are too big around the middle and you get colon cancer you may be on the fat track to an untimely demise:
Two new studies that looked at the impact that body-mass index (BMI) and a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes had on survival rates after a colon cancer diagnosis found that both factors influence whether or not someone survives colorectal cancer.
Yet another reason to go easy on the donuts.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
A couple of pictures of New York
Late afternoon Saturday the TH Daughter and I visited my sister, who is in New York for a stretch staying at an apartment owned by our cousin. I took a couple of pictures looking south from the building's roof garden, which is very nice. The new towers of the World Trade Center are rising in the center.
The Hudson, and Jersey City in the background.
The view north, dominated by Empire State and Chrysler, was even more impressive, but the pictures did not come out so well.
State business climate: Texas is #1
Being a corporate tool, I get such unsolicited publications as Site Selection magazine, which purports to provide timely advice on, well, the selection of sites for business. Its "2011 Business Climate Rankings" are out, and Texas leads the list.
By most measures, including Site Selection's own Governor's Cup and Business Climate Rankings, Texas is the place to be for business and industry. Companies are flocking to the Lone Star State — Atlas Van Lines' annual study of corporate relocations in 2010 logged more than 7,200 relocations inbound to Texas, the sixth highest, and 5,300 outbound relocations. Overall, Texas claimed 58 percent of the inbound relocations. More to the point, 40 percent of the new U.S. jobs created since June 2009 were created in Texas...
We pass this information along mostly because back when Rick Perry was the leading not-Mitt there was no end of argument about whether Texas was, in fact, more attractive for business than other states. While there may be many bases for arguing with Site Selection magazine, it seems to me that its rankings are perhaps more credible than those of organizations (including government agencies) that might want to influence the presidential race.
The article itself is reasonably interesting, too.
"Building A Better Mitt-Bot"
The New York Times goes long in its Sunday Magazine on Mitt Romney and his 2012 campaign in what is, for that paper, a reasonably balanced effort. It is interesting, perhaps especially if you are in the reflexively anti-Mitt camp. Two clips, but read the whole thing:
Mitt Romney’s campaign has decided upon a rather novel approach to winning the presidency. It has taken a smart and highly qualified but largely colorless candidate and made him exquisitely one-dimensional: All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero. In the recent past, aspirants and their running mates have struggled to clear the regular-guy bar. Dan Quayle lacked a sense of struggle; Michael Dukakis couldn’t emote even when asked what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered; George H. W. Bush seemed befuddled by a grocery-store scanner; John Kerry was a windsurfer; John McCain couldn’t count all of his houses.
Romney, a socially awkward Mormon with squishy conservative credentials and a reported worth in the range of $190 million to $250 million, is betting that in 2012, recession-weary voters want a fixer, not a B.F.F. As the Romney campaign’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, told me: “The economy is overwhelmingly the issue. Our whole campaign is premised on the idea that this is a referendum on Obama, the economy is a disaster and Obama is uniquely blocked from being able to talk about jobs.”
We note that there is nothing "regular guy" about Newt Gingrich, either, who is very entertaining but at least seems like a fairly annoying person in person.
I also liked this passage, which is either appealing, or not, depending on one's own predilections. In particular, I like an executive who specifically challenges his own assumptions by engaging with people who will threaten them.
Those who at close range watched Romney’s failure to close the deal in 2008 did not witness a rejection per se. Instead, it appeared that Republican voters could not quite envision this decent, clever and socially uneasy fellow governing their country — as opposed to, say, managing their stock portfolios. Stories of Romney’s wooden people skills are legion. “The Mormon’s never going to win the who-do-you-want-to-have-a-beer-with contest,” concedes one adviser, while another acknowledges, “He’s never had the experience of sitting in a bar, and like, talking.”
To his admiring subordinates, Romney is the man who, while waiting in an aide’s garage during an advertising shoot, took it upon himself to sweep it spick-and-span. He is the boss who hosted a 2008 post-mortem at his house in Belmont, Mass., and instead of demanding answers or fixing blame, passed out photo albums of the campaign for each staff member to keep. One longtime aide maintains that Romney is, no matter how much of a corporate barracuda the Democrats make him out to be, “more Richie Cunningham of ‘Happy Days’ than Gordon Gekko” of “Wall Street.” And he possesses an almost otherworldly unflappability — seen, for example, on a public street in 2009, when a detractor who recognized Romney cursed at him.“Well!” remarked Romney to a companion. “I guess somebody’s having a bad day!”
Romney’s associates maintain that his genial and humble aspect masks a voracious intellect. A longtime friend of Romney’s explained to me that a desire to digest all available viewpoints was the thread that ran through the candidate’s entire professional life. At Bain Capital, said the friend, Romney “wanted hardworking people who would challenge him — he plays devil’s advocate, trying not only to understand what you think the answer is but what your depth of thinking is.” While turning around the troubled Winter Olympics in Utah, “he brought in a management team with divergent views.” As governor, Romney “wanted a cabinet that would argue different points of view.”
The friend then hastened to assure me that Romney was, beyond all that discursiveness, a decisive leader. But as a presidential candidate, he does not always display his intellectual rigor in his policy proposals. An adviser once told me about how in 2007 Romney reacted to the news that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was planning on visiting ground zero during a United Nations convention. First, the candidate engaged in a debate with his foreign-policy aide, Dan Senor. Then the two men switched sides and argued opposite positions. Finally, Romney called for someone to bring him the United Nations Charter, which he read and discussed at length with Senor.
In fairness, Newt Gingrich also clearly considers and engages with ideas that do not automatically spring from his basic ideology. In this regard, both leading Republicans are more in the tradition of Bill Clinton than Barack Obama. With regard to domestic policy, our current president is big-government technocrat all the way, with so little regard for opposite views that his administration seemingly cannot anticipate obvious "unintended" consequences of its own policies.
Of course, your results may vary.
New you can use: How to Google more effectively
Those of you who do not consider yourselves expert in the matter of finding stuff on the internets might want to take a look at this link.
Friday, December 02, 2011
Dissecting the unemployment report
A closer look at this morning's unemployment report. Long term, the sustained monthly declines in government employment are good for the economy. The problem is that they will come back when the economy improves, because make-work and no-work jobs are a great way for local politicians to buy votes.
The Brick Testament
Thursday, December 01, 2011
An Iowan for gay marriage
A young Iowa, the son of two lesbians, makes a personal case for lawful gay marriage, or at least against some of the sillier arguments in its opposition.
I switched my opinion on this subject perhaps ten years ago, when I realized that I could not sustain a single strong argument against lawful gay marriage.
Newt Gingrich for Secretary of Health and Human Services
Newt Gingrich has threatened, or maybe promised, or at least predicted, that he is going to be the Republican Party's nominee to run against Barack Obama in 2012.
I hope he is wrong, because I want to beat Barack Obama, and while I would vote for any of the first 100 names in the
Boston Houston phone book before Obama, there are at least a few million people in six or eight critical states that are not so committed as I am.
Look. There is no person in politics with whom I would rather have a bull session than Newt Gringrich. Newt is smart, creative, eloquent, and entertaining. But he lacks self-discipline, and is therefore very vulnerable to attack. If you believe, as I do, that the future of the country hinges on beating Obama next year, do you really want to bet all the ranches on The Newt?
Ron Paul, doing Mitt Romney's dirty work, served up only part of the case against Newt in one of the most brutal intra-party political ads I have ever seen.
The ironic thing is that at certain versions of Newt are in many respects not in the least socially conservative. It is precisely this mental flexibility that renders Newt both interesting and a poor choice for president -- people just cannot stand that much nuance (to be charitable about it). He will blow his campaign up catastrophically as surely as the Lord made little green apples. Let us just hope it happens before GOP primary voters hand him the nomination.
However, there is an essential role for Newt Gingrich in the next Republican administration: Secretary of Health and Human Services. Obamacare vests enormous power in the Secretary, and has extended the reach of that department in to every American household. Provision by provision, the Affordable Care Act delegates so much regulatory authority to the Secretary of HHS that one is forced to wonder whether Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid even imagined that a Republican might ever again occupy the White House. Newt's wonkish mind, capacity for conflict, and impish sense of humor are perfectly suited to the job of "refining" health care reform, the Food and Drug Administration, and any number of other agencies and programs in that vast department.
We simply cannot afford to foreclose that opportunity by nominating Newt Gingrich for president.
UPDATE (Friday lunch): Charles Krauthammer pretty much captures the Mitt vs. Newt question, in my opinion, more or less the way I see it.
Time Magazine Cover
News you can use: Weight loss after 40!
I've lost weight after 40 several times! This, though, is actually a useful list of ways for us middle-aged dudes to lose weight.