Saturday, November 30, 2013

High Tech Warfare

We don't often have a link to Popular Mechanics; here is an article recommended by Instapundit looking at how war might break out in the East China Sea. The magazine's interest is the way modern technology might become a triggering circumstance. This is worth your time.

Quote of the Day

Alan Greenblatt, blogs for National Public Radio. He reports researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California have forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology a paper which finds that, in addition to moving for economic and family reasons:
Increasing numbers of people want to live among people who share their ideology as well. People are motivated to move away from communities where they don't fit in and try to find areas that are more congenial.

A Fun Video

A bunny herding sheep? Instapundit provided a link to a site called Dog Work which has a silly, fun video of a bunny rabbit herding sheep - really.

The sheep are so accustomed to being herded by a dog that when a rabbit runs at them, they flee as a group. Needless to say, sheep are none too bright.

Record Cold

In the last week 1000 locations across the U.S. reported record cold for that date, record warmth for that date happened in 17 locations. See this Climate Depot website for details.

One thousand vs. seventeen ... I'm waiting for someone to explain how this is exactly what we'd expect from global warming. I'm not, however, overly hopeful such explanation will occur.

The Extremes

You've heard people call our highest court "the Supremes?" After reading a USA Today article ranking how well run are the 50 states, maybe the DrsC should call their residences "the Extremes."

Our home is in Wyoming, ranked Number Two in this study. Only North Dakota is ranked higher. As the article notes, WY has no state income tax, a very positive business climate, and low unemployment. With very low population density, personal freedom is abundant.

Our winter residence is in California, a state ranked Number Fifty - dead last - in the study. Poor mismanaged CA has high unemployment, poor schools, on-going budget deficits, a lowish credit rating, and one-party government. Meanwhile the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that CA, with 12% of U.S. population, is home to 34% of all U.S. welfare recipients.

If that isn't enough, CA is under Federal Court mandate to reduce its overcrowded prison population, putting dangerous criminals back on the street. This outcome is the result of CA's inability to afford enough prisons to hold all its convicted felons.

Ships at Mercy of River

A couple had a less-than-desirable Rhine cruise aboard a Viking river ship that broke down short of their final destination. The balance of the trip was done by bus and hotel, and they are suing Viking. See the story in the New York Daily News. I don't expect them to win the suit.

This reminds me of something I need to share with you about river cruising. If the river is too high, the ships cannot squeeze under the bridges. If the river is too low, there isn't enough water under the keel to navigate. When either happens the firm doesn't tell you to stay home; they tie up the ship and take you on a bus and hotel tour.

Needless to say this leaves people who wanted a river cruise very bummed. Instead of unpacking once and having your shipboard "hotel" room follow you around Europe, you live out of suitcases and sleep in a different bed every night.

Face it, if you'd wanted a bus tour you'd have booked a bus tour - there are plenty of them offered. We've river cruised many times and only been "bitten" twice when, both times, low water caused the first day to be done by bus. Fortunately they didn't have to cancel the whole week or more on the river.

In spite of this risk, river cruising is a real favorite of the DrsC. The empty ocean is boring to look at; a river bank is almost never boring. Navigable rivers tend to have lots of barge and ship traffic to watch and it passes right by your ship.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Europe's Gypsies

The Global Post, reliably liberal as always, has an article about all the terrible things European politicians have recently said about the Roma (gypsies). If you've not been to Europe and seen the situation on the ground, reading the article will shock you.

On the other hand, if as I have you've seen the Roma squatter favelas made of plastic and plywood, with no plumbing and mud everywhere; if you've been accosted by Roma children carefully coached in the fine art of begging and thievery, if you've watched a Rom step out of his RV and urinate on the ground in full view of 100 tourists eating breakfast in our river cruise ship, you may have a more nuanced reaction.

The Roma are a problem for Europe. While I probably would not have said what these European politicians said, I do understand from where these feelings arise.

My observations in Europe tell me the Roma do not choose to become Europeans and live as such, that much is plain. Many live an outlaw lifestyle which pays little attention to what is lawful or sanitary, and is essentially parasitic.

Many European politicians who didn't say racist things, and aren't therefore quoted in this article, probably think similar thoughts.

Good News and Bad News in Honduras

Honduras recently held a presidential election with eight candidates running. Juan Orlando Hernandez of the incumbent's National Party, running on a tough law-and-order platform, won a plurality and will likely be the new president. See a Global Post article for details, including rampant lawlessness and gang activity.

For hemisphere watchers concerned about the emergence of another left-wing Sandinista-type government in Honduras, the election results are good news. The bad news is that National Party candidate Hernandez only won 35% of the vote, whereas his crypto-Sandinista opponent Xiomara Castro won 29%. Presumably the other six candidates split the remaining 36%.

In the new Honduran government the National Party will control 47 of 128 congressional seats, Castro's Libre Party will control 39, and the Liberal Party will have 26. The President-elect faces either coalition-formation or gridlock, further bad news this unfortunate country doesn't need.

China's Next Six Wars

An article in an official PRC newspaper Wenweipo identifies "Six Wars China Is Sure to Fight in the Next 50 Years." See a somewhat awkward English translation thereof by Stratrisks.

Treat the six wars as interesting speculations, long-range planning, ultra-nationalist aspirations or trial balloons, take your pick. Here they are:
The 1st War: Unification of Taiwan (Year 2020 to 2025)
The 2nd War: “Reconquest” of Spratly Islands (Year 2025 to 2030)
The 3rd War: “Reconquest” of Southern Tibet (Year 2035 to 2040)
The 4th War: “Reconquest” of Diaoyu Island [Senkaku] and Ryuku Islands (Year 2040 to 2045)
The 5th War: Unification of Outer Mongolia (Year 2045 to 2050)
The 6th War: Taking Back of Lands Lost to Russia (Year 2055 to 2060) 
The translation explains how each war might come about and how each should be prosecuted. Plus an article in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's blog The Strategist, evaluates the Six Wars predictions.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bi-Coastal Reinvented

Victor Davis Hanson, historian at the Hoover Institution who writes for National Review, believes that most important decisions affecting the U.S. are made in two narrow coastal corridors. From Boston to Washington, DC, financial and political decisions are made; from San Francisco to San Diego, cultural and technological decisions emerge.

This column isn't up to Hanson's usual level of insight. What he's done here is reinvent the idea of a "bi-coastal" elite, a term in use since 1977.

We who inhabit the rest of the country - aka "the great fly-over" - will be fortunate if the liberal moonbats who inhabit the coasts shuttle back and forth without noticing we're down here getting on with our out-of-the-limelight red state lives.

Ahoy, Shipmates

The idea of a "floating city" has reemerged after a recession hiatus. Actually a cruise ship on steroids crossed with an aircraft carrier and proposed to be nearly a mile long, the Freedom Ship is quite a concept.

Too large to dock in any known port, the 50,000 resident "city" would circle the globe every two years, spending roughly two-thirds of its time anchored offshore at major coastal cities. As proposed, it would operate both air and water shuttles to take people ashore and bring them back aboard.

If you're interested (what cruise enthusiast wouldn't be?), see the article with marine architects' renderings on the website of The Daily Mail (U.K.).

The article doesn't say whether the Freedom Ship will operate more like a cruise ship or like a giant condominium complex? In other words, to what extent will inhabitants do their own cooking and cleaning?

On a cruise ship, it's the so-called American Plan where meals, entertainment, transport to shore and maid service are included.Condo owners either cook and clean, or have a cleaning service and eat in restaurants or on take-out on a pay-for-what-you-order basis. They only pay for the transport and entertainment they use.

A hybrid might make most sense, say weekly maid service and one restaurant meal per day included, do other meals on your own. There are clearly many details to work out, probably via focus groups.

Quote of the Day

NBC Tonight Show comic Jay Leno, cracking wise about the nuclear treaty with Iran:
President Obama told Iran if they like their uranium they can keep their uranium.

Recognizing Good Fortune

COTTonLINE wishes our readers and their families a happy, peaceful Thanksgiving Day. Whether you give thanks to God, or merely recognize the good fortune you've experienced, the point is the same: appreciating the positive things in our lives.

Compared to many people, the DrsC have done very well. We got lots of education, jobs we loved, decent pay and prestige, and careers that were fulfilling.

Now retired, we have enough to live comfortably, reasonable health, beautiful homes, marvelous friends, lots of wonderful travel, and blogs in which to follow our interests and air our opinions.

The time passes too quickly, which is a sign we're having a good time.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whither Christianity?

RealClearWorld has an article by David Voas looking at trends in religious belief in the U.K., with the attention-getting title "Is Christianity Dying in Britain?" The short answer is "yes, slowly."

Young people are not going to church nor do many consider themselves Christians. As older church members die off, Britain becomes progressively less Anglican, less Christian.

Among those born since 1975 - nearly everybody under 40 - twenty-five percent do not believe in God and another 22+ percent don't know if there is a God and don't much care. Taken together, almost half of the under-forty cohort in Britain is either atheist or agnostic.

Much the same thing is occurring across Western Europe. Preliminary evidence from other sources suggests to COTTonLINE the same trends exist in the United States, although not as far along as in Europe.

Pinocchio Patrol

The President's people have put out ten "talking points" for Obama supporters to use in defending Obamacare at big Thanksgiving family dinners. Ben Domenech  fact-checks these talking points in his column for The Federalist.

He goes through Obama's ten points, marshaling the facts which disprove each and every contention. Domenech shows how far the ACA has sunk as it circles the drain in a death spiral. While not particularly fun, the article is a good overview of the disaster that is Obamacare. 

A suggestion: when your loopy Democrat uncle praises Obamacare while seated at dinner, hint broadly that he's had too much to drink and change the subject. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

GOP House Won't Reform Immigration

Chris Cillizza, writing for The Fix politics blog of The Washington Post, does a good job of explaining why House Republicans won't vote for immigration reform. Immigration reform is not popular with voters in the GOP's mostly white districts.

A primary challenge is likely for Republicans who support giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. Republican House members have no desire to face a primary opponent coming at them from the right.

Quote of the Day

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, yesterday blogging as Instapundit, characterizing the Obama White House staff:
They’re not very nice people. They’re not especially bright or competent, either.
A good indicator of competent chief executives is the quality of the people with which they surround themselves. Toadies are popular with poor bosses.

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Embryonic Kurdistan

Writing for The National Interest, Ted Galen Carpenter discusses the emergence of a Kurdish autonomous region in northeastern Syria. If added to the Kurdish autonomous region now extant in northern Iraq, the combined area could become the nucleus of a Greater Kurdistan that might eventually encompass the Kurd-majority parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

Kurds are not Turks, nor Arabs, nor Persians. Although Turks deny it, anthropologists agree Kurds are a distinct ethnic group. Carpenter calls them "the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland." See his map for Kurdish-populated regions.

For reasons that are unclear, Kurds seem better able to govern themselves effectively than either Arabs or Persians. That has been the case in post-Saddam Iraq and is becoming the case in northeast Syria as well. An eventual Greater Kurdistan would be a serious player in this volatile region.

While Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, there are also significant numbers of Shia Muslims, as well as two syncretic religions: Ahl-i Haqq and Yazidis. Wikipedia calls Kurds "the most religiously diverse people of West Asia."

A Cure Worse Than Disease

Let's remember. Wasn't the announced goal of Obamacare to provide many otherwise uninsured people with health coverage? That's how I recollect it.

It hasn't worked out that way, has it? See what former Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire has written for the Boston Globe:
Since Oct. 1, about 100,000 have signed up for new coverage under the law, while nearly 5 million families have had their current plans canceled.
In other words, not only is Obamacare not solving the problem of missing health insurance, it is actually making it much worse! No wonder Americans are unhappy with Obamacare and its eponymous sponsor.

Spain in Wrong Time Zone?

See a story from the National Public Radio website concerning how Spain came to shift to Central European Time from Greenwich Mean Time. Hat tip to the other DrC for the link.

Spanish dictator Francisco Franco made the change to mollify Adolf Hitler, who sought in vain to get Spain to become his ally in World War II. Apparently there is some agitation to change back to GMT, particularly among those who have no fond memories of the Franco years.

If you call up a Google Map you'll see that Spain is mostly due south of the British Isles - an argument for the change. However, it makes more sense for Spain to be in the same time zone as its big northern neighbor, France.

The article wanders off into a discussion of the Spanish habit of taking a midday siesta after lunch, and then working into the early evening. I'm reasonably certain changing the time zone wouldn't affect Spain's late-dining pattern, which puts it out of step with most of the EU.

The WY GOP Senate Primary

If you are interested in the contest Liz Cheney is making of the GOP senatorial primary in Wyoming, a blog post on The Fix, the Washington Post's online political forum provides a relatively balanced overview.

If there has been any Republican dissatisfaction with the job being done by incumbent Mike Enzi (R-WY), I haven't heard about it. The consensus seems to be that Liz Cheney decided she'd like to be a U.S. Senator quite soon, and that she'd be well advised to trade on the Cheney "brand" which has cachet in Wyoming. The carpetbagger accusation is relatively apt in her case.

Ideologically and practically, there is no reason to replace a relatively senior Mike Enzi with a freshman Liz Cheney. As we noted earlier, Cheney's only advantage over Enzi is her celebrity value to TV news show guest schedulers. That is a slender reed upon which to hang a candidacy.

A Visit to Modern Cuba

Journalist Michael J. Totten writes for World Affairs Journal about a trip he took to Cuba, posing as a tourist. Totten likes the island and its people, can't stand the government and its omnipresent surveillance.

If you've an interest in the current face of Communism as practiced in Cuba, you'll enjoy this article which is long on atmospherics and relatively short on detail.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dramatic Numbers

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Parry reviews sociologist Alice Goffman's (daughter of famous sociologist Erving Goffman) book "On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City." The whole review is interesting, check out this quote:
About 35 percent of black male high-school dropouts under age 40 are now behind bars (snip) compared with an incarceration rate of 0.7 percent for the population as a whole.
I had no idea the numbers were that dramatic. If 35 percent are incarcerated at any given time, almost all black male high-school dropouts will spend time behind bars at some point in their teens and twenties.

Early Ed Ineffective

Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst of the liberal Brookings Institution has written for RealClearPolicy an appraisal of the research on the effectiveness of early childhood education - Head Start and other pre-K programs. The news isn't good:
Based on what we have learned from these studies, the most defensible conclusion is that these statewide programs are not working to meaningfully increase the academic achievement or social/emotional skills and dispositions of children from low-income families.

I wish this weren't so, but facts are stubborn things. Maybe we should figure out how to deliver effective programs before the federal government funds preschool for all.
That is a gutsy thing for a liberal to write. COTTonLINE believes in giving credit where it is due.

Libs Hate Suburbs

David Callahan writes for Demos an article entitled "Four More Reasons to Hate the Suburbs." Briefly, he says the suburbs are anti-egalitarian, exclusionary, inefficient, and bad for economic growth.

All four of these seem to COTTonLINE to be reasons to prize suburbs, and even more so exurbs. He notes they have better schools, how is this bad? Mostly that is because the "feedstock" for suburban schools (i.e., pupils) are less screwed up when they arrive at school.

Suburbs are, according to Callahan, exclusionary - I sure hope so. Who wants to live in a "combat zone?" And they are inefficient - another plus from my point of view. An inefficient government is probably insufficiently organized to run your life.

Callahan believes suburbs retard economic growth. If you already have a good job and a nice life, as many suburbanites do, growth only adds congestion and traffic. These are negative factors in my book; very likely what people moved to the suburbs to avoid.

COTTonLINE's credo: Suburbs are better than cities, exurbs are better than suburbs, and rural is better than all of them. Low population density equals high personal freedom, count on it.

Sweden vs. North America

Margaret Wente writes for The Globe and Mail about women's issues. In a recent column she compares women's lives in Sweden - known for its pro-woman, pro-family policies - versus Canada and the U.S.

She reports women in Sweden do receive more support and government backing. As a result, they are more likely than women in North America to work part time in highly gender segregated jobs.

An unintended consequence: Swedish women are less likely to be consequential corporate or governmental executives. Wente concludes:
Where do women have it better? That probably depends on how you define “better.” If you define it as “high female pay and occupational success,” you’d choose North America.

If you define it as “achieving work-life balance, with broad social supports and plenty of time for family and personal development,” you’d probably choose Sweden. There is no one right answer, only different ones.
I savor the irony of these results.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Worst Number Yet"

COTTonLINE doesn't obsess over poll numbers - new ones are out every couple of days and a certain amount of variation is merely due to chance. That said, trends across several polls are worth noting.

Polls by a variety of responsible pollsters have found popularity of the Obama presidency drifting downward over the past several weeks. This is mostly attributed to the death throes of Obama's signature domestic "achievement" - the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

For example, a very recent Zogby Analytics poll, reported in the Washington Examiner, found the following:
Most ominous for Mr. Obama is that 57 percent now disapprove of his job. That is his worst number yet. This includes 57 percent of men and 55 percent of women; 51 percent of moderates, 24 percent of liberals and 24 percent of Democrats; 66 percent of independents and 40 percent of Hispanics.
And although Zogby doesn't need to say so, darned near all conservatives disapprove.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Anglosphere Honored

Briton Daniel Hannan, a European Member of Parliament, writes about the evolution of advanced societies for The Wall Street Journal.
British exceptionalism, like its American cousin, has traditionally been held to reside in a series of values and institutions: personal liberty, free contract, jury trials, uncensored newspapers, regular elections, habeas corpus, open competition, secure property, religious pluralism.

The conceit of our era is to assume that these ideals are somehow the natural condition of an advanced society—that all nations will get around to them once they become rich enough and educated enough.

In fact, these ideals were developed overwhelmingly in the language in which you are reading these words. You don't have to go back very far to find a time when freedom under the law was more or less confined to the Anglosphere: the community of English-speaking democracies.
Hannan praises the English common law, a cornerstone of the values which he celebrates. He cites interesting examples demonstrating its power:
Freedom under the law is a portable commodity, passed on through intellectual exchange rather than gene flow. Anyone can benefit from constitutional liberty simply by adopting the right institutions and the cultural assumptions that go with them. The Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti, why Singapore is not Indonesia, why Hong Kong is not China—and, for that matter, not Macau.
It is not true that all social systems are equally valid. Among those for which experiential data exists, some are demonstrably better at protecting individual freedom and generating wealth.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Peters: Al Qaeda Targets Iran

Military commentator Ralph Peters writes for the New York Post. In today's column Peters observes that al Qaeda - the jihadi wing of Sunni Islam - has become the major antagonist of Iran - the terrorist home of Shia Islam.

What he doesn't say outright, but hints broadly at, is that this state of affairs is near-ideal from a U.S. perspective; COTTonLINE concurs. Our job is to get out of their way and let them commit mutual genocide, even encourage it in subtle ways.

Peters concludes that Iran is overstretched, and hampered by sanctions, weakening their war-fighting efforts. Therefore he believes we should not reduce sanctions or rush to get a deal.

Weird Food Science

"Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't" sang the Mounds/Almond Joy TV ad. New findings suggest you'd be well advised to "feel like a nut" nearly every day.

Reuters reports, via Yahoo News, that research findings in the New England Journal of Medicine show people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to develop heart disease and cancer. Here's the money quote:
During 30 years of the Nurses' Health Study, about 16,000 women died. About 11,000 men died over a 24-year period in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Compared to people who never ate nuts, those who ate nuts once a week were 11 percent less likely to die during the studies and those who ate nuts every day were 20 percent less likely to die.
What is reported is correlation; causation while strongly implied is not proven. It is even remotely possible that being healthy causes an appetite for nuts that less healthy people don't have.

While the research was paid for by tree nut growers, the New England Journal of Medicine is very rigorous and the sample size is simply huge. If you feel up to reading scientific research, the article is available here.

Too Little, Too Late

What a difference a year makes. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that if the 2012 election were being held today, we'd be celebrating the victory of President-elect Romney tomorrow!

Obama has lost support among most groups that voted for him in 2012, see what Aaron Blake wrote in The Fix, the WaPo's political blog:
* Obama won women in 2012 by 11 points, according to exit polls; today he leads by one point.
* He has seen his lead among young voters (18-39 years old) drop from 18 percent to 2 percent.
* His four-point lead among those with less than a college degree has flipped to a nine-point deficit.
* Among those making less than $50,000, Obama’s 22-point lead is now three points.
* The biggest drop is among those professing to have no religion. While this group backed Obama by 44 points, it now supports him by a 22-point margin.
* Among liberals, Obama won by 75 points but now leads by 59 percent. One in five self-described liberals (20 percent) say they would vote for Romney.
Apparently unchanged is Obama's strong support among non-whites and especially African-Americans. This supports my thesis that, for non-white voters, Obama's performance in office is much less important than his election to office. Fearing this casts minorities in a negative light, both WaPo and ABC News fail to report it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Almost Human, Revisited

After premiering the Almost Human pilot on Sunday, the USA network ran the next episode the following night - last night. There was improved story flow in episode two, and Karl Urban's persona as Kennex became less cranky. I believe this series can be a nice cop-show-of-the-future, a sort of Hill Street Blues meets Blade Runner experience.

Isaac Azimov wrote some of the first novels of human and robot cops working together, the Elijah Baley series. If you're interested, see Azimov's cop-and-robot novels: Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, and The Robots of Dawn. I read and enjoyed them a very long time ago.

Quote of the Day

Former oil man and President George W. Bush, speaking about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries:
If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damned thing. 
COTTonLINE concurs. My source for the quote is The Washington Times.

Chile's LIVs

Writing for The Cato Institute, Juan Carlos Hidalgo reports that Chile is by far  the success story of Latin America: highest income, lowest poverty, most freedom, lowest corruption, best civil rights, etc. So why have its voters given a healthy plurality to a leftist candidate who promises to do their thriving economy considerable harm via government regulation and give-aways?

The U.S. has no monopoly on low information voters (LIVs) who elect unqualified, nonperforming candidates to national office. A near-majority of Chilean voters have taken careful aim and shot their national government in the foot.

The lure of something for nothing is a will-o'-the-wisp chased by humans of all nationalities, including both Chileans and Americans. It is one of our species' least attractive qualities.

Cutting Defense Costs

Writing for War on the Rocks, Brian McGrath faces the virtual certitude of decreased defense spending. Rather than proportional cutting of everything, McGrath proposes a number of specific cuts (and some extra spending) that would, he believes, leave the U.S. in a reasonable, although less-than-ideal, defense posture.

If defense policy and spending are interests, you will find his article thoughtful.

Arne Duncan Punts

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has blamed opposition to the Common Core K-12 curriculum standards on "white suburban moms." David Harsanyi, senior editor of The Federalist and a nationally syndicated columnist, points out just how wrong-headed this assessment is. Harsanyi concludes:
The administration isn’t interested in “suburban white moms” getting in its way, and it sure doesn’t want minority moms having too many choices. Duncan’s recent comments weren’t “clumsy,” they were part of a pattern. A pattern that undermines innovation and allows the achievement gap to get worse.
No surprise, the Obama Department of Education is a de facto wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers' unions. Teachers' unions oppose innovation on principle.

More Weird Energy Science

Researchers at Stanford University have weighed in with findings concerning nickel-coated silicon semi-conductors as electrodes in a split-water-into-hydrogen-and-oxygen operation. See the article in the Stanford Report. This relates to related work from MIT to which we linked on Friday, last.

Generating combustable fuel from water sounds too good to be true, but is the real deal. The key is making it economically competitive with various forms of fossil fuel.

Weird Physiognomic Science

The Economist summarizes the findings of a study by Cambridge biological anthropologist Dr. Irene Elia published in the Quarterly Review of Biology. She begins with an earlier finding that facial shapes are related to behavioral tendencies ... in foxes.

She reasons that human concepts of facial beauty may likewise be physiological markers for desirable human traits. Her most interesting assertion is the following:
An appreciation of what is “beautiful," moreover, seems innate. (snip) Babies a few days old prefer pictures of the faces of people whom their elders would define as beautiful to those they would not, regardless of the sex and race of either the baby or the person in the photo.
Amazing ... newborns are "hardwired" with a knowledge of what constitutes human beauty.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review: Almost Human

Tonight I watched the pilot of Almost Human, a futuristic cop show for the United States network of Fox, set in a dystopian 2048. In this future time, every human cop has an android partner. Parts of the show worked very well, particularly the set dressing which was of the Blade Runner school of urban decay and polluted dreariness. I kept waiting (in vain) to hear a Blade Runner-like score by Vangelis.

The story didn't seem very strong, but a pilot has to do a lot of exposition - setting up who the characters are, where they come from, and how they relate to each other. The first regular episode is scheduled for tomorrow night, I hope the plot lines begin to gel.

The New York Times' critic didn't like Karl Urban's performance as the lead detective Kennex. Urban has played so many villains that even his heros seem a little evil. In this role that may end up being a plus. I'll withhold judgment on Urban.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Adieu, M. Poirot

See this article from the Express (U.K.) website, reporting on the wrap party for the final episode of Hercule Poirot, starring David Suchet. I'd guess we'll see the episode on PBS Masterpiece Mystery next summer.

We have watched Agatha Christie's little Belgian detective over the past two and a half decades. While several women have played Christie's Miss Marple, Suchet is the definitive Poirot.

Speaking of Dame Agatha, has anyone filmed her short stories featuring the mysterious Mr. Quin and Mr. Satterthwaite? We have those eldritch stories on CD as read by Hugh Fraser. We listen to them in the car on longish drives - very pleasant.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Take Careful Aim, Shoot Foot

Charlie Gasparino reports for the New York Post that New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is a scary leftist. He quotes de Blasio as saying the following at a meeting with large real-estate developers:
Everything you heard about me is true. . . I am not a free-marketeer. . . I believe in the heavy hand of government.
He doesn't believe in "stop and frisk" either. Poor New York City ... de Blasio's election is a big step toward it becoming another Detroit.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thoughts for Generation Y to Live By

Paul Hudson writes for Elite Daily 100 things every 20-something needs to realize. Much of it isn't particularly bad advice for people of any age.

Some items remind me of the Goldman Sachs elevator wisdom purportedly from those oh-so-arrogant Masters of the Universe. Such lists are fun, in any case.

Weird Energy Science

The MIT Technology Review reports that important progress has been made toward the goal of producing hydrogen fuel (and oxygen) from water using solar photovoltaic cells. It is a process they call "artificial photosynthesis."

Admittedly, scientists aren't all the way there yet. But progress has been made in the construction of the solar cells, getting closer to the 25% efficiency required to make the process economically feasible.

This technology could become a real game changer. Burning hydrogen fuel merely leaves water as the product of combustion, a very clean alternative to all combustable fuels in use today. Hat tip to Instapundit for the link.

Troubled Central America

Honduras, a key nation in Central America, appears to be continuing a downward slide into chaos. It is becoming what author Jaime Darenblum describes in an article for RealClearWorld as "a failed state."

This entire region is troubled, some nations more so than others. Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are probably the worst, with Nicaragua not far behind. Further south, Costa Rica and Panama are in less trouble, and nobody seems particularly worried about Belize, the only non-Spanish speaking country in the region.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spengler: Arabs a Failed Culture

David P. Goldman channels the late German historian Oswald Spengler and is known for his keen insights into the Middle East. He begins a recent PJ Media column thus:
Middle East politics amounts to managing the decline of a failed culture. Nothing expresses Arab failure more vividly than Egypt, a banana republic without the bananas, now living on a $14 billion or so annual subsidy from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. With 70% of its population living in agricultural areas, it imports half its food, and would starve if not for the Saudi check.
Goldman's bottom line is that Russia's Putin understands the Middle East while no one at a policy-making level in the U.S. government has a clue. See if you agree with his analysis.

Rubin: Obama "Incompetent"

Jennifer Rubin, who blogs from a conservative perspective for The Washington Post, writes about the Obamacare debacle and the President's press conference today:
This is a president adrift, confused and entirely over his head. He has, in essence, confirmed what his harshest critics have long been arguing: he is incompetent and unknowledgable about how the world operates.  And we have three more years left of this.
"Adrift, confused, and entirely over his head" as well as "incompetent and unknowledgable" is one heck of an indictment. Let's hope the country can shrug off his eight years.

Quote of the Day

Jonah Goldberg, writing for National Review Online about the disintegration of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare:
If you can’t take some joy, some modicum of relief and mirth, in the unprecedentedly spectacular beclowning of the president, his administration, its enablers, and, to no small degree, liberalism itself, then you need to ask yourself why you’re following politics in the first place.

No Sex, Please, We're Japanese

The always readable Mark Steyn writes about the growing disinterest in sex in Japan, and relates it to P.D. James' dystopian novel The Children of Men. See his column entitled "Sex at Sunset" at the Steyn Online website.

COTTonLINE wonders if we see in Japan the beginning outline of the end of humanity, our species dying off with a sigh, not a bang. Of course the professionally pessimistic Steyn likes to imagine we're a doomed species.

A perhaps more realistic hypothesis is that Japan represents a culture dying, rather than the template for a moribund species.

Obama's Lousy Poll Numbers Matter

Chris Cillizza writes politics for The Washington Post, from a perspective (more often than not) congenial to Democrats. That doesn't mean he is stupid about how politics work, far from it.

I direct your attention to yesterday's edition of The Fix, Cillizza's political blog. He forcefully makes the point that Obama's sinking poll numbers have serious negative consequences for Democrats' outcomes in the 2014 midterm elections.

I find particularly impressive the chart which compares the popularity of the four recent two-term presidents: Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama. Reagan and Clinton remained popular after six years. Bush did not and Obama's numbers to date closely track Bush's disappointing numbers.

If present trends continue, Cillizza sees Democrats losing several Senate seats in '14 and more House seats as well. He concludes:
The loss of the Senate majority and a smaller minority in the House after November 2014 would make any attempt to rack up second-term accomplishments before he left office extremely difficult for Obama. Combine that with the reality that Obama’s second term has not exactly been larded with major wins to date and you understand why Obama and his legacy are on the ballot in 2014 — even if his name is not. And that means his poll numbers matter. A lot.

More Than Insurance Lost

A nephew drives a tanker truck delivering gasoline to gas stations. His long-time employer, BP, is selling off its entire delivery system - trucks, terminals, equipment, etc. - to outside firms which specialize in such deliveries.

The rationale given BP employees, who now must apply for lower-paying jobs with the new owners, is that BP is motivated to avoid the strictures and costs of Obamacare. Bitter doesn't begin to describe the employee reactions to being laid off.

You'd have a tough time convincing my nephew that Obamacare wasn't instrumental in BP's decision to get out of the business of delivering fuel to stations.

Obama Lied, Our Health Insurance Died

Poor old George Bush only lied about non-existant-in-Iraq WMD. Obama lied about how screwed up everyone's health insurance/care was to become. This latter lie hits much closer to home.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Second Term Blues

Second terms are not kind to presidents, which is odd because you'd think they'd learn on the job. With his sole legislative "accomplishment" - Obamacare - revealed as a giant disaster, President Obama's approval numbers continue to slide and he seems unable to improve the situation.

It is hard to remember that a year ago we were bewailing the fate of a national Republican Party which couldn't defeat a failing incumbent. Only weeks ago the phony government "shut-down" had again seemingly done grievous injury to the GOP's future.

Now as millions of voters lose their health care policies, it's the Dems' turn to be "in the barrel." Meanwhile the GOP looks good by comparison; it's unanimous rejection of the hapless ACA now seeming prescient.

Perhaps it is finally time to write what many have thought but few have dared to say. The first affirmative action President has been given two terms to show what he can do and, sadly for our nation, the answer is "not much." See an article in  American Thinker which fleshes out this "affirmative action" trope.

Even the Europeans who had such high hopes for Obama are disillusioned. Our poor, beloved country needs leadership and has none.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cultural Roots of 11 North American Regions

Analyses which divide the U.S. into various "nations" are always interesting; there have been several such. An article by Colin Woodard in the Tufts Magazine for alumni finds eleven different "nations" in a North America which includes all of Canada, Greenland, most of the U.S. (except southern Florida), and northern Mexico.

Based on Woodard's book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the article shows how the various regions' cultures arose out of the immigrant streams which populated them, and the values those streams brought from home. Woodard shows, for example, that a resort to violence in the settling of disputes is much more likely in certain regions.

It is certain that the regions vote for different policies, parties, and priorities. Like much that is based on demography, this article is an intriguing read.

Wrong-Headed Thinking

Tom Nichols writes for The National Interest that the U.S. cannot use nukes to retaliate against a small nuclear nation, say North Korea, if it first attacks a U.S. city with one of its own nukes. His discussion is an almost perfect example of what is wrong with U.S. strategic thinking.

Of course we can, and should, retaliate in-kind with nukes should this ugliness occur. There is no other reasonable response. Nichols writes:
There is no way to guarantee, short of burning the targeted country to the ground and committing nuclear genocide, that we will eliminate the enemy regime with nuclear weapons. 
Therefore one burns the targeted country to the ground. People are responsible for the acts of their leaders, who operate with the tacit approval, or at least acquiescence, of the populace.

Why Nichols believes U.S. troops would shortly be marching through the area nuked is unclear, and unlikely. The retaliatory goal is punishment, not conquest and nation-building.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans' Day

COTTonLINE reminds you that today is Veterans' Day. Please join us in thanking veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Freedom isn't free. It is bought and paid for with the toil, sweat, and blood of our veterans.

The A-10 Warthog

A defense website, ironically named War Is Boring, writes about the fate of the primary U.S. Air Force ground attack aircraft, the A-10 Warthog:
In putting the A-10 on the chopping block, the Air Force is assuming it won’t ever fight anything short of a full-scale war against a peer enemy. Do we really believe the era of low-intensity wars has ended?
The A-10 is perfect for a Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan battlefield but not "survivable" enough for a war with China or Russia. Based on the experience of the last half-century, which type conflict do you think is more likely?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

JFK's Little Black Book

The New York Post has an article with photos and descriptions of 13 women linked romantically or sexually with President Kennedy, The group does not include his wife.

They are an attractive and varied group, by profession four actresses, three more-or-less secretaries, a couple of socialites, a couple of prostitutes, an intern, and a stripper. Paraphrasing Mel Brooks, "It is good to be President."

Atheist "Churches"

The Associated Press has an article about a movement by atheists to form Sunday Assemblies, which do everything a church does except worship. They sing, hear a lecture, maybe meditate, engage in charitable works, and socialize. What they don't do is pray or recognize a deity. Think of it as "church ultralite."

Members have a place around which to organize a social life with like-minded folks, which is no bad thing. On the other hand, it sort of reminds me of many vegetarian and vegan recipes which work hard to create a meat-like flavor and texture without meat.

Another way to think about it, I suppose, is that regular churches have taken on a lot of activities which have little to do with worship, activities which people (including some atheists) want to include in their lives.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

7th Circuit Bars Enforcement of ACA Contraception/Abortion Coverage Requirement

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finds that closely held businesses cannot be required to provide contraception and abortion care for employees when doing so contravenes the religious beliefs of the owners. Go here for the actual decision on Becker.

Here is the key wording, identified by law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds (aka Instapundit):
We hold that the plaintiffs—the business owners and their companies—may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious-exercise rights. Under RFRA the government must justify the burden under the standard of strict scrutiny. So far it has not done so, and we doubt that it can. Because the RFRA claims are very likely to succeed and the balance of harms favors protecting the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs, we reverse and remand with instructions to enter preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of the mandate against them.
That is a substantial loss for the Obama Administration. The RFRA referred to is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Evil Portents

Yahoo Finance reports that the new unemployment numbers, while superficially encouraging, mostly reflect growth in dead-end, low-wage service jobs in food service, janitorial and retail. Exactly the sort of jobs which pay too little to support a family or afford Obamacare.

These are jobs which cannot be outsourced overseas to low wage countries because they must be performed here, onsite. I'll bet most of these are part-time, generating too few hours per week to earn company-provided health insurance.

I foresee a time, in the near future, when many people will hold 2-4 different part-time jobs - each of 19 hours per week, or less. Such individuals will have no company health insurance and will require a government subsidy to afford an ACA policy.

For the poor slobs stuck in it, can this be better than what we have now? Only in the sense that they don't have all of their financial eggs in one basket.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Political Humor at CMA

Lots of people making fun of the Obama Administration at the Country Music Awards recently. A common reaction was taking the title of a hit country song and modifying it into political humor. My source is Power Line. Here are some favorites:
* I Walk the Lie
* Coward of the Country
* I Used To Be a Coal Miner’s Daughter, But Daddy’s Unemployed
* Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Democrats
* Thank Allah I’m a Commie Boy
* Benghazi’s Never On My Mind
* God Damn the USA
* I Never Promised That In the Rose Garden
* Take This Constitution and Shove It
* All My Taxes Are In Excess
* You Picked a Fine Time To Leave Me, Blue Cross/Blue Shield

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cuccinelli Leads in VA, Christie Takes NJ

At 9 p.m. EST The New York Times reports that, with 77% of the votes tallied, Republican Ken Cuccinelli is ahead in the race for governor of Virginia. He leads by 47.8% to Democrat Terry McAuliffe's 45.3%. The Libertarian candidate has nearly 7%, in spite of being denounced by Ron Paul.

A win by Cuccinelli would be a nice outcome for Republicans who were concerned pre-election polls showed McAuliffe ahead by 2-4 percentage points. However, voter groups Democrats rely on to win have a history of poor turnout in non-presidential year elections like the one today.

The same article reports that, as expected, Republican Chris Christie is winning by a large margin in New Jersey.
A few moments later, roughly 9:26 p.m., the Times now says the race is tightening with Cuccinelli still ahead 46.9% to 46.3% with 86% of the vote tallied. With 1.7 million votes cast in VA, the candidates are now separated by 11,000 votes. Don't be surprised if there is a recount coming.
At about 9:45 McAuliffe is now in the lead with 91% reporting. He leads 46.8% to 46.5% for Cuccinelli. With nearly 2 million votes now tallied, the top two are separated by roughly 5,000 votes.
When all the votes were counted, McAuliffe won 48% to 45.5% for Cuccinelli. Actual vote totals for the two were 1,064,000 vs. 1,008,000. This was certainly no landslide.

The Libertarian candidate, funded in part by Democrats who saw him winning otherwise Republican votes, probably took enough votes from Cuccinelli to swing the election.

For Political Mavens Only

RealClearPolitics' Senior Elections Analyst Sean Trende writes about what to watch for in tonight's election results. How to see trends emerging from the few elections being held.

Trende focuses on several indicators in Virginia, on a state senate race in Washington State, and on Chris Christie's race in NJ. This is real wonk fodder, not for those with merely casual interests in who won and lost.

The President's ACA Lie ... Verbatim

President Obama has been denying he promised you could keep your health plan if you like it. However, on June 15, 2009, President Barack Obama said the following in a speech to the American Medical Association:
That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.
It turns out both categorical promises are untrue. Many are losing their health plans and not a few (including me) are losing their doctors.

My source for this quote is an excellent article in National Journal, in which author Ron Fournier takes the President to task for continuing to lie about his earlier lying. Fournier sources the Obama quote to Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Political Humor Alert

This piece of whimsy is from today's Drudge Report, and is just too funny to pass up. Graphic artist Dan McCall is the creator and the NSA is not amused, for obvious reasons. Drudge links it to this article on the CBS News Minnesota website.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

POTUS Misspoke?

Steven Hayward, writing for Power Line, on the topic of Obamacare:
It turns out that what Obama really meant to say was, “If I like your health plan, you can keep it.” 
What we prefer, gentle readers, appears to be largely irrelevant.

Environmentalism in California

Joel Kotkin writes for New Geography about "the green gentry's class warfare" in California. His point is that environmental policies fostered by coastal elites have made life harder for California's middle and lower classes.

Kotkin's description of "the two Californias" is oversimplified. His notion that CA Democrats no longer represent the interests of the less fortunate is certainly accurate.

Time to Fall Back

For most of the U.S., Daylight Savings Time ends tomorrow morning at 2 a.m. Gentle readers, don't forget to set your clocks, watches, and other time keepers back one hour before going to bed.

It will get dark early tomorrow evening, it was bad enough tonight. However, it's only 7 weeks to the Winter Solstice. Enjoy the balance of autumn.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Demographics Are Destiny

Max Fisher, writing for The Washington Post, has an excellent article summarizing the findings of the United Nations Population Fund report. The map accompanying the article is a particularly useful way to visualize this data.

Why should you be interested? Countries with shrinking populations are endangered, as are those with rapidly growing populations. Fisher notes:
While the futures of nations are guided by much more than population trends, these demographic forces can play an awfully significant role.
As regular readers must know, COTTonLINE agrees.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Night Thoughts

Our President has had a tough week or two, concerning the badly botched rollout of Obamacare. Considering the ACA is his sole domestic policy "achievement," you'd think he'd have made sure it was smooth as glass. However, he did not.

A new Wall Street Journal - NBC News poll finds both the President and the Congress at historic lows in popularity. This is no surprise, to me anyway.

On another topic, props to Barry O for not getting the U.S. militarily involved in Syria. As we noted several months ago, the U.S. has no dog in that fight. Leaving well enough alone in Egypt has suited me too.

About the phone surveillance bugging our European allies, they need to understand there is no such thing as electronic privacy. Whatever we phone, text, tweet, blog, email, or post on Facebook, we must consider none of it secure, none of it private. We should put nothing into electronic media which we'd be embarrassed to have become immediate public knowledge.