Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Treat for Politics Wonks

Sean Trende and David Byler have constructed for RealClearPolitics a way to examine the relative strength of the two major parties, using percentages of things like state chambers controlled, governorships, etc.  Their conclusion may be all that interests you, if so here it is:
Even a pretty disappointing GOP year would result in an index that places them above their postwar average and leaves them, on balance, more powerful than the Democrats nationally. (snip) Whatever challenges are facing the Republican Party -- and they are real, if overstated -- this would not be a party in overall decline.
Please feel free to luxuriate in all the minutiae Trende and Co. present, if that's what floats your boat.

Quote of the Day

Columnist Adriana Cohen, writing in the Boston Herald, about our President's lack of popularity:
It’s official. Jimmy Carter is no longer the worst president in American history.

The crown of shame has been passed from the former peanut farmer to our weak, lead-from-behind community organizer, whose lack of foreign policy experience and gravitas has come into full embarrassing display.
Welcome aboard, Ms. Cohen, however late you are in wising up. At COTTonLINE we've suspected this for nearly four years.

Scotland Votes Today

Today Scotland votes on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom, from Britain. Most articles say the vote is too close to call, those that do predict see a narrow victory for "no."

A "no" vote will be boring, a "yes" vote will have interesting sequelae. For that reason alone I hope "yes" wins, it will have all sorts of interesting first and second order consequences.

On the other hand, if I were a Scot I'd vote "no" in a heartbeat. The Scots have it good in the U.K. and somehow don't recognize that fact.

A Good Choice

The Washington Times reports the U.S. Air Force has dropped the requirement that all enlistees swear an oath that includes "so help me God." A sergeant had been refused reenlistment because he crossed out the phrase on a document he signed.

The former requirement seemed to reflect some of the same "you will believe" requirement cadets at the Air Force Academy complained about. Given our Constitutional protections for religious liberty, including the freedom to disbelieve or question, the Air Force made the right choice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Spanking Controversy

Is all spanking child abuse? No. I was spanked (rarely) and certainly not abused. When I got it I deserved it and it sure got my attention.

That said, can spanking be child abuse? Certainly, if done often or brutally.

Banning spanking to prevent abuse is like enacting prohibition to prevent alcoholism, it doesn't trust people to utilize good judgment.

California Misunderstandings

If you follow the headline news you've been hearing about forest fires in California and Oregon. If you've not lived there you probably suppose the entire area is ablaze. It's not.

A Reuters article for Yahoo News reports on several CA fires, with acreage totaling perhaps 13,500 acres. Thirteen thousand five hundred acres sounds impressive until you realize CA has over 104 million acres. That's about 1/100 of one percent (0.01%) of the state. In other words, most CA citizens are unaware of the fires unless they live downwind and have smoky skies, or listen to local news.

I grew up watching from my front yard as wild fires swept across the brush-covered hillsides of the Los Padres National Forest. Relatives would call (in the day of expensive long-distance rates) to ask if our house was threatened. We'd laugh and say the fire's not even close.

Earthquakes are much the same. Most CA natives have felt a dozen or more, the only people who need to worry about them are those within a few miles of the epicenter. In a state that's 770 miles long and 250 miles wide, that's normally darn few for any given quake. Most quakes occur in rural areas and trouble almost nobody, although millions may feel them as a gentle rocking.

It is a journalistic cliche that CA is disaster-prone. It's a big place so things do happen, but few residents are troubled by most of them. Plus it gets next-to-no tornadoes, no hurricanes, and snow is mostly confined to the Sierras where Californians go play in it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Muslim Anti-Semitism

Jochen Bittner, an editor of Die Zeitwriting in The New York Times, about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe:
The new anti-Semitism does not originate solely with the typical white-supremacist neo-Nazi; instead, the ugly truth that many in Europe don’t want to confront is that much of the anti-Jewish animus originates with European people of Muslim background.

The German police have noted a disturbing rise in the number of people of Arabic and Turkish descent arrested on suspicion of anti-Semitic acts in recent years, especially over the last several months.
COTTonLINE has speculated much of the "new anti-Semitism" in Europe was Muslim-based. Here's an eye witness report. I imagine Europe's skin-heads are as anti-Muslim as they are anti-Semitic.

Weird Pharmacological Science

The New York Times reports people who live in areas with naturally occurring lithium in their water supplies are significantly less likely to commit suicide. Other studies show fewer homicides and rapes in such areas. And it may have the ability to reduce the likelihood of senile dementia.

The amount of lithium in the water supplies was much lower than the therapeutic doses utilized in bi-polar disease and depression. There hasn't been much research confirming these findings because there is no profit in it to drug companies, since lithium is an element occurring in nature.

Bad Policy

Caroline Glick has written a very downbeat appraisal of U.S. policy vis-a-vis ISIS for RealClearPolitics. She calls it "Obama's Self-Defeating Fight."

Glick thinks what Obama has proposed is largely a very bad joke, and she explain why. Glick summarizes:
As a rising force in the Middle East, IS threatens US allies and it threatens global trade. To prevent its allies from being overthrown and to prevent shocks to the international economy, at a minimum, the US needs to contain IS.

Given the threat the Westerners joining the terror army constitute, and Washington’s unwillingness to stop them at the border, in all likelihood, the US needs to destroy IS where it stands. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the US is willing or able to either contain or defeat IS.
As far as potential allies are concern, she notes:
The Kurds will not fight for anything but Kurdistan. The Iraqi Army is a fiction. The Iraqi Sunnis support IS far more than they trust the Americans. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will either cheer the US on from a distance, or in the best-case scenario, provide logistical support for its operations.
Guess who that leaves - the GIs nobody wants to send back to the region.

Lying on a Resume'

CNBC has a brief story about Wal-Mart's Vice President of Communications, David Tovar, losing his job as a result of lying on his resume' about having finished a baccalaureate degree at the University of Delaware. He claims to be "a few credits short" of finishing.

Demonstrating Tovar is by no means unique, the article mentions two other high-level executives who lost their jobs by claiming degrees they didn't have.
Scott Thompson left his post as Yahoo's CEO after Third Point's Daniel Loeb discovered Thompson had only earned an accounting degree from Stonehill College—rather than one in computer science as well.

In 2006, RadioShack's then-chief executive David Edmondson resigned after it was revealed he lacked a college degree but had claimed he earned two.
Like it or hate it, large organizations are credential-driven. You have to wonder how many more top execs have bogus credentials and live in fear of discovery?

On the other hand, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both made a pile without ever lying about their lack of credentials. The difference, they started their own companies while the sad sacks mentioned above were corporate ladder-climbers who had to claim to have credentials to get ahead.

My career field - university professing - is totally credential-driven. However, unlike corporate employers, universities insist upon receiving certified transcripts reflecting the claimed degrees and GPAs before hiring tenure-track faculty.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dickens Redux

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness....
Roger Cohen captures the "voice of doom" feel of Dickens' opening for A Tale of Two Cities in a column for The New York Times, entitled The Great Unraveling. Each of Cohen's topic sentences below heads up a fat paragraph detailing the awfulness of our time:
It was a time of beheadings.
It was a time of aggression.
It was a time of breakup.
It was a time of weakness.
It was a time of hatred.
It was a time of fever.
It was a time of disorientation. Nobody connected the dots.
Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought. 
Cohen doesn't even mention that our economy is flaccid as an old man's dewlap, or that we are "led" in perilous times by what is perhaps the least qualified, least able president of my long life.

Weird Gender-Based Science

The Telegraph (U.K.) reviews a new book by developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert on the differences between men and women. Entitled Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?, a title taken from the musical My Fair Lady, it documents a large number of differences, and debunks a few too. If the subject interests you, it is a good read.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

No Chance Whatsoever

Michael Totten writes for World Affairs and here for the New York Daily News, about the Middle East from whence he often reports:
The entire Middle East has been a disaster for thousands of years and, even if the U.S. does everything right, there’s no chance whatsoever that it will change any time soon.
You can go carve that in stone.

Quote of the Day

Michael Goodwin writes for the New York Post, here his topic is the sinking Obama presidency.
The magic of his rhetoric is long gone, and not just because the public has tuned him out. They’ve tuned him out because they’ve made up their minds about him. They no longer trust him and don’t think he’s a good leader.
That is what the polls now show. COTTonLINE readers have known it for several years.

Huge Antarctic Ice

The Australian Broadcasting Co. News reports on the late winter ice conditions in Antarctica. Hat tip to Drudge Report for the link.
Scientists say the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest level since records began.

Satellite imagery reveals an area of about 20 million square kilometres covered by sea ice around the Antarctic continent.
The records date back to 1979, some thirty-five years. If you scroll down you discover they blame global warming for the extra ice. I'd ignore their spin and focus on the extent of the ice.

Associate Degree a Cul De Sac

There are problems with the employability of people holding the Associate of Arts/Science degree. A Los Angeles Times article says something discouraging:
It turns out that jobless workers with that level of schooling have the longest duration of unemployment among all education groups, according to Labor Department statistics.
The Times goes on to explain, using the words of Georgetown economist Harry Holzer:
It might be that folks with associate degrees are skilled enough that they won't take just any job, and spend more time looking for something better. (However, employers) may not believe their skills are high enough for what they need in many cases.
Translation: I believe having earned an A.A. makes me too skilled for menial work. Employers with non-menial openings see no reason to settle for my Associates degree when the market is well-supplied with unemployed baccalaureate degrees.

Employers may also believe community colleges don't improve the higher order thinking and communicating skills of their graduates. Perhaps they are too often correct.

Routine non-manual work for which an A.A. holder might qualify is exactly the sort of work being automated out of existence or off-shored. If an algorithm can be written to explain the decision tree of a job holder, a computer can normally do the job faster, cheaper, and with far less drama.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

Fintan O'Toole, writing in The Irish Times, on the subject of what Scots independence may mean:
National freedom isn’t another word for nothing left to lose. It’s another word for no one left to blame – no one, that is, except yourself. If you make your own choices, you become responsible for their consequences.
As the Irish have learned by gaining independence from Britain.

A Long War Analogy

Former Air Force general Charles F. Wald, a leader in the early air campaigns in Afghanistan, quoted in a Washington Post article about the battle with ISIS:
We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime. There isn’t going to be any time where we all of a sudden can declare victory. This is what the world is going to be like for us for a long time.
Wald understands the Long War. It will resemble combating roaches in the tropics - an experience I've had. You engage in a continuous process of killing vermin and hardening targets. You're "winning" if you only see an occasional roach and the roach traps fill up slowly.

Improving "Civilization As We Know It"

The Daily Caller reports House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, on Real Time with Bill Maher:
Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate.
Reading this I had three thoughts in quick succession. Thought one: (chuckle) that's stupid. Thought two: what's in jeopardy is your Democratic program, including Obamacare.

Thought three: maybe she's right. Maybe a Republican-controlled Congress can improve upon "civilization as we know it today" by eliminating many Democrat-initiated, means-tested transfer payments.

Such action would definitely imperil the status quo ante. It would substitute a status quo futures in which we stop subsidizing idleness and renew the incentive to find and keep employment. Even if it isn't the job of one's dreams.

Is It War?

Lots of media outlets are ragging on Secretary of State Kerry for saying what we're about with ISIS is "not war." Here are examples at CNN, the Washington Times, and CBS News.

To paraphrase former President Clinton, it depends on the definition of "war." If by war you mean what we did in Kuwait or Iraq or Afghanistan, what the President plans to have Americans do to ISIS is not war.

Certainly, the President believes ISIS will experience the collective activities of the U.S. and its local allies as war. He hopes to have the troops on the ground be proxy forces - Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, and the Iraqi Army - instead of Americans. Whether he can find willing and, even more important, able local fighters to provide enough boots-on-the-ground is far from clear. I doubt it is possible.

Obama believes Americans are unwilling to send ground forces back into Iraq and into Syria. This belief certainly was accurate before the beheadings, it may or may not be true today.