Wednesday, April 30, 2014

China's Military Not a Realistic Threat

Occasionally RealClearDefense carries something of interest to COTTonLINE readers. Today it's a discussion of China's military.

The folks at the satirically named War Is Boring website have an excellent long article arguing that China's large People's Liberation Army is vastly overrated by the militarily naive MSM. The huge numbers of Chinese troops deflect attention from the antiquated weapon systems most of those troops operate.

For example, more than half of China's air force is flying 1980s vintage jets. Most of its many tanks are from roughly the same era and are copies of Soviet models. It's soldiers are mostly so-called "leg infantry" that is unmechanized and immobile as a consequence. Even China's Navy which has some modern equipment is mostly a littoral defense force.

Understanding the role of the PLA requires grasping the insecurities plaguing Chinese leadership. In fact the PLA mainly exists to hold together modern China, including restive Muslim Xinjiang and Buddhist Tibet. While the PLA's equipment is elderly it would be effective in suppressing internal dissent against crowds armed with sticks and rocks.

A final note concerning the PLA's questionable effectiveness: PLA corruption is rampant with rank for sale and government funds diverted into generals' pockets. And the most insidious difficulty China faces is the demographic outfall from their one child policy:
China will grow old before it gets rich.
If you would understand what the U.S. faces in Asia, reading this comprehensive WIB article is an excellent beginning.

Cold War 2.0

Admit it. You've been missing the Cold War, the simplicity of a bipolar world, in which people are either for us or against us. Pine for the Cold War no longer, those good, old days are baaaaack!

Minus Cold War 1.0's Marxist ideological trappings, Cold War 2.0 features the national interests of the U.S. and its allies versus those of Russia allied with whomever in the world wishes the U.S. ill.

Let's examine who may make common cause with Putin's Russia. The most interesting possibility is China, Russia's next-door neighbor. In terms of lack of concern for human rights and political freedoms, China and Russia tend to agree. Also, the old "enemy of my enemy is my friend" idea draws them together.

On the other hand, the largest market for Chinese manufacturers is the U.S. and China values U.S. luxury goods more highly than Russian goods. I expect China to be an on-again, off-again ally of Russia, but an ally with its own independent interests and goals.

Worried about an aggressive China, many of its Asian neighbors cling to U.S. skirts. It isn't clear if this alignment is of aid to the U.S., or merely a burden. Ditto a Europe worried about Russian expansionism.

If the Islamic world could ever get past the on-going Sunni-Shia "civil war" it would probably align with Russia. The confessional conflict, however, shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Today the Shia align with Russia while many Sunnis side with the U.S., albeit weakly and with mixed feelings.

Latin America is similarly divided, the economic winners are to varying degrees U.S. friends: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica. The others - Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina - tend to see the U.S. as "the problem" and are thus potential Russian allies.

A Quality Issue

The Washington Examiner reports education spending is up dramatically but pupil achievement is flat or declining slightly. Author Andrew J. Coulson summarizes the key finding thus:
The correlation between spending and achievement is among the lowest I have ever seen in social-science research: 0.08 on a scale from 0 to 1.
N.B.: As a social scientist, I generally consider any correlation smaller than 0.30 to have no practical significance, even if it is statistically significant. The 0.08 correlation they observed would have to be four times as large to achieve practical significance, that is, to explain a non-trivial amount of variation in student outcomes.

Why are outcomes so disappointing? Try thinking of a K-12 public school as an odd type of factory where the raw material is not chosen by the management, public schools teach whoever shows up each fall. The additional spending the article describes is putting more energy, resources, etc., into the "process" by which the raw material is transformed into graduates (or too often drop-outs).

Historically, many of the high achievers in public schools have come from middle and upper middle class homes. As we spend more on education, the quality of the feedstock - the students - is declining. Ever larger proportions of public school students come from subcultures whose attitudes toward education range from indifference to antagonism, at the same time that ever larger proportions come from one-parent homes and/or poverty.

Another factor in declining public school performance is the requirement that public schools "mainstream" any student who can arguably profit thereby. In practice many students of limited ability who in the past would have been kept home or sent to special needs schools are now in regular public school classrooms, using disproportionate amounts of resources and teacher time and pulling down average achievement scores.

Middle and upper middle class parents are having fewer children, on average, than formerly. Dismayed at public school conditions, these parents if financially able are diverting many of their children into private or charter schools. Such schools often do have some control over who they choose to teach. Other potential achievers are being home schooled.

To summarize, public schools now educate more students who for a variety of reasons are not traditional achievers and fewer students who would be expected, a priori, to do well. So we spend more to try to make educated graduates out of youngsters with whom we have traditionally not succeeded very well. We'd like to think that this different "mix" makes no difference, but of course it does.

Liberal Cities

The New York Times' Thomas B. Edsall writes that city mayors are enacting the liberal agenda at the local level. NYC's df Blasio is the best-known example.

What Edsall overlooks is that these policies drive away the employers upon whom such programs rely for tax revenue funding. Does the mayor of Plano, Texas, have these ambitions? I'm certain Toyota has received assurances nothing of the sort is in the offing for Plano, it's new North America corporate home.

Meanwhile Torrance, CA, which Toyota is leaving, will have to trim expenditures as its tax revenues fall. Cities normally have to balance budgets, live within their means.

MoDo Notices

The New York Times' Maureen Dowd has noticed that our President is playing "small ball" these days, particularly in foreign policy. I don't often recommend a MoDo column but this one is good.

She puts me in mind of a Shakespeare quote from King Lear:
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.
MoDo here pretty much fits the description of a thankless child of the liberal MSM. She is a long-time Obama supporter who finally notices her idol's clay feet extending up past the knee. As she notes, we've seen too many Obama speeches and too few Obama actions.

Quote of the Day

PJ Media's David P. Goldman, who channels Oswald Spengler at least tongue in cheek, writes four short sentences that distill the wisdom of conservatism.
Appeasement invites aggression.
Handouts increase dependency.
Coddling terror-states like Iran elicits megalomania.
Big government stifles the economy.
Could anything be more obviously true? COTTonLINE readers certainly agree.

A Law of Nature

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why literally every American president feels he must try to bring about a rapprochement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It seems to be a law of nature.

The Washington Post reports the inevitable failure of the latest exercise in futility, the Kerry-Obama round. Wouldn't it be refreshing to someday have a president who could resist this ridiculous urge?

The image that comes to mind is Lucy holding the football for poor, innocent Charlie Brown to kick, only to jerk it aside at the last moment leaving Charlie lying on his back feeling like the sap he has just been shown to be, again for the nth time.

Has Uncle Sam never heard the adage "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?" Every president back to Nixon has believed he had the magic to make it happen, they've all been wrong. This problem deserves what Sen. Pat Moynihan called "benign neglect."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Philippine Fantasy

The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports breathlessly that 800 Filipino opponents of the U.S./Philippines defense pact demonstrated in Manila. Golly, eight hundred protest in a nation of 107 million.  Manila alone has over 11 million people, according to the CIA World Factbook.

A protest of 800 is a joke in that populous nation. You could probably find that many who would protest Sunday, or ice cream or even eating chicken. Polls likely show most Filipinos approve of the limited steps taken.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Vast, Right-wing Conspiracy

Politico has a column by Chris Lehane who claims to have authored the memo introducing the phrase "vast, right-wing conspiracy." Asked if he still believes it, of course he does.

What Lehane describes, however, is the Internet giving conservatives a place to read material that told the truth as they perceived it, in contrast to the fanciful, unrealistic stuff in the MSM. What Lehane calls "a conspiracy" I define as the end of media censorship and the beginning of a freer press, describing political reality in more than one way.

Monopolists never welcome competition.

Churchill on Islam

In his book The River War, Sir Winston Churchill wrote the following opinion:
Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.
My source for this quote is the U.K.'s Daily Mail online. A Brit was arrested for repeating that quote in public.

Toyota Bails

Reuters reports Toyota Motors is moving their North American headquarters from California to Plano, Texas. One is tempted to echo the sentiment appearing on a Seattle billboard during a big Boeing layoff: "Would the last person leaving California please turn out the lights?" Of course the original said "Seattle" instead of "California."

I hope no COTTonLINE reader finds the Toyota move surprising. We've been following CA's sad story for some years, TX continues to eat their lunch.

Travel Blogging XI

Osaka Airport: The drive from Osaka Cruise Port to this airport lasted about 45 minutes on uncrowned tollways, at speed in the rain. We drove alongside various docks and harbors the entire way, it is an enormous port complex, very spread out.

The ship sent our luggage to the airport where it arrived intact without incident. We've put our "wets" in the to-be-checked luggage and are waiting for the United counter to be opened so we can check in and head for the business class lounge. It is now about 12:30 and our flight doesn't go until 4:45, lots of time to kill.

This was a nice cruise, we particularly enjoyed the day on Guam. It was a mite long at 26 days but not unbearably so. It had more back-to-back sea days than I'd ever experienced ... not a problem, more of a benefit if you take my meaning.

Travel Blogging X

At sea, enroute to Osaka, our destination port: Yesterday we visited Kagoshima, which has a dramatic setting on a bay across which rises a still-active volcano. At the southern end of the south-most of Japan's four main islands, Kagoshima would like you to believe it is tropical.

To that end they've planted palm trees at the cruise port. In summer it may be quite warm, yesterday it was gray, overcast, and cool without being cold. Luckily it did not rain. 

We did a shore excursion to two museums, a temple, a garden, and the mountaintop where the last samurai died. Our guide had a masters degree from a British University and her English was good. 

The Japanese esthetic was much on display at the temple, it is nicely understated and highly distinctive. Tomorrow we fly home Osaka to San Francisco nonstop, we will literally arrive in SF earlier than the time we depart Osaka, on the same day and date. 

Travel Blogging IX

At sea, enroute to Kagoshima, Japan: Walking down to my morning reading room I had a strange thought. More often than not a modern cruise ship is a floating retirement village. Especially on longer cruises if you see a young person the odds are high that person is crew or an entertainer (or both).

The ship gathered the children on board for an Easter treat and there were about five. Unusually, one couple at our supper table actually have jobs to return to. 

A common question is "What did you do? What were you (implicitly ... when you actually amounted to something)?" While retirement is a great leveler socially, a cruise ship has few passengers retired from menial occupations as they'd normally not be able to afford the fares.

Walkers are somewhat common and a few pax have powered chairs to zip around the ship in. I started to call those "electric chairs" and realized that term has another, more sinister meaning that I didn't intend.

This cruise has many Asian pax who can be noisy, loud and sometimes boisterous in inappropriate settings. I predict Princess will find their Japan-based ships draw fewer-than-expected non-Asian pax after an initial period when "the word" hasn't gotten out. 

When travel agents hear negative reports from their clients they'll recommend cruises based in the U.S. or Europe, or even Singapore. Posters on the Cruise Critic boards will also be influential. The DrsC have wondered if the basing-in-Japan experiment Princess is trying may turn out the way Norwegian's experiment in Honolulu-basing did ... overly optimistic. 

This post written two days ago.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Travel Blogging VIII

Shanghai, China: The DrsC have been here before and chose not to go ashore this visit. There isn't a whole lot to see here, Shanghai doesn't have the imperial relics that are most of what we enjoy about Beijing. Shanghai's role in China roughly parallels that of New York City in the U.S., a financial center.

As a major city it probably only dates back to the colonial period. The famous Shanghai Bund dates to that era and was constructed by Westerners on the riverfront.

We are one of two cruise ships tied up here today, the other is Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. Shanghai has a shiny new cruise terminal to welcome ships like ours. It's a busy port, much ship traffic in and out, though not as busy as Singapore.

Tomorrow we'll set our clocks for Japan, which is not in the same time zone as China. Tonight we will watch local acrobats perform on board before we depart. The cruise is winding down, GIs call what we have left "three days and a get-up."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Travel Blogging VII

At sea, enroute to Shanghai: Yesterday we returned to Okinawa, this time we visited the peace memorial, which honors everyone on both sides who died during the 1944 Okinawa invasion. Maybe 13,000 Allied troops died, most of them GIs. Something like 90,000 Japanese troops were killed, and that many more Okinawan civilians. 

Some number of both latter groups may have been suicides who preferred death to surrender. I understand that horrifies many Westerners, but not me. My view: your life is your own, to end if you choose to do so. 

The museum associated with the peace memorial is interesting but was hard to enjoy since it was overflowing with Japanese schoolchildren in matching t-shirts. Our guide says they are here on a school fieldtrip from "the mainland" which means something different to Okinawans. To them it means the four major islands of Japan, not the continent of Asia.

On our way back to the ship we visited a glass factory and its associated factory store. Watching the glassblowers was fun but they don't make decorative paperweights, the one thing we might have been tempted to buy. Interestingly, all of their glass was labeled as not safe for dishwashers or for boiling water.

Okinawa's capital Naha looks prosperous, apparently tourism is the number one "industry" for this southernmost prefecture of Japan. I suspect most of those are Japanese tourists who come south in winter to warm up. 

Speaking of which, as we've gone north the temperature keeps dropping. I'm wearing a light jacket today for the first time since we approached Hawaii. Japan may still be quite cool.

Monday, April 21, 2014


The Daily Mail has an interesting article concerning the impact of a rise in sea levels on inhabitable land. No question, many coastal cities are near sea level and could be inundated.

The maps show the central valley of  California as a giant bay. I'd hope we'd be smart enough to build a dam across the Golden Gate, install locks to facilitate shipping, and pumps to maintain internal water levels. The Dutch have shown the way on such projects.

Travel Blogging VI

Keelung, the port of Taipei, Taiwan, ROC: We took a tour into Taipei this morning, visited an elaborate temple with many worshipers, most of them not young. The local religion is Taoism with a smattering of Buddhism added.

Worship here appears to consist of purchasing several incense sticks, lighting them, holding them upright in a grouping such that the backs of your hands either touch, or nearly touch the forehead, while bowing repeatedly before one of the several highly ornamented altars. Those are the outward manefestations of worship, what was in the worshipers' minds is another matter.

Worshipers bring flower arrangements and decorative food displays which they leave briefly on one of several very shiny tables. The food later goes home with them, if I understood the drill.

We also revisited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial that occupies roughly 50 acres in downtown Taipei. It is a spectacular area with three major buildings: the Memorial itself, the national theater, and the national concert hall. These latter two are highly decorated in the classical Chinese style, and quite large. The Memorial by contrast is beautifully simple, and even larger. We saw part of the changing of the guard ceremony therein ... wow ... the precision was outstanding.

Our third stop was the Handicraft Center which we first visited 28 years ago. We found the merchandise much less enticing this time around, you could call the current inventory "jewelry and junk." It was a letdown.

Our final stop was Taipei 101, a unique-looking skyscraper that is ... 101 stories tall and supposed to be the second tallest building anywhere. I can't independently verify that particular claim. We just did a photo stop, we didn't have time to queue for the elevator trip to the top.

Our guides were a multilingual Dutchman and his Chinese wife who reside here. They confirmed the Taiwanese fondness for the Japanese; it is probably the only place in Asia where the Japanese are well-liked. 

I learned why this is so. For their own selfish reasons the Japanese encouraged the Taiwanese to be a unique people whereas the Chinese want Taiwan to be purely Chinese. Can you guess which approach the locals prefer? Many aren't enthused about the Sinification of Taiwan. 

Like South Korea, Chile and the Philippines, Taiwan is a former military dictatorship that peacefully became over time a multi-party democracy. Meanwhile the island is more mountainous than Switzerland (local claim, not independently verified) so its many residents are jammed together in the valley bottoms where they await the frequent earthquakes and occasional typhoon while hoping the PRC won't invade ... so far it hasn't. That crowding probably contributes to the shrinking population.

The first time we were here we stayed at the Lai-Lai Sheraton Hotel, it was relatively new and modern. It was strange today to hear our guide describe it as one of the older hotels; it no longer uses the "Lai-Lai" appellation. I wonder if the Grey's Tailor shop is still in the basement? We were staying at that Sheraton when we learned the tanks were rolling into Tienamin Square to squelch the nascent freedom movement. 

This post written yesterday in Keelung, today we are at sea enroute to Okinawa, where we'll be tomorrow.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Travel Blogging V

A day's sailing east of Keelung, the port of Taipei: Earlier I was online and noted that whereas it is Easter Sunday here, it is still Saturday in the States. The Internet's instantaneous access makes one aware of such anomalies. We once confronted that apparent paradox every time we called home from Guam, when it was "home" for a year in the mid-1980s.

The part of our cruise which consisted of many back-to-back sea days is past. Tomorrow we're in Taipei, followed by a single sea day, and another port day. From here on we're in port literally every second day until the cruise ends at Osaka. As an old hand at cruising, I prefer the sea days but a port day I don't go ashore is as good.

As a cruise to Asia this trip on the Sapphire Princess has many ethnically Asian passengers, and a surprising number of couples where only the woman is Asian. There are two such couples at our dinner table. 

Modern cruising is largely a "couples" thing, single or widowed ladies are here but not in big numbers. The couple aboard with the most days on Princess has spent over 1300 days traveling with the company, that's close to four years. 

Film Review: Elysium

Earlier this evening the other DrC and I watched the Matt Damon, Jodie Foster science fiction film Elysium. It is a highly dystopian future (aren't they all for Hollywood?) set a hundred years from now in a Los Angeles that looks worse than but sounds the same as the back streets of Ensenada. The poor live dirtside.

The wealthy live on a space station shaped like a giant wheel which spins to simulate gravity. The station is named Elysium, and it looks much like Beverly Hills. Apparently current trends have continued, essentially eliminating the middle class.

Damon plays slum-dweller Max whereas Foster plays Elysium's Defense Minister. The rest of the cast are talented unknowns. The film has a fully-realized "look" that isn't pretty but definitely "works."

This isn't the cute Matt Damon of the Bourne trilogy, here he's ugly and spends much of the film wearing a cyborg rig that makes him both more-than-and-less-than-human.

The film Elysium isn't as bad as some reviews have alleged, but it probably won't win many prizes either. We liked it, but didn't love it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Travel Blogging IV

Three hundred odd miles west-northwest of Guam: Yesterday was a special day for the DrsC; we returned to Guam after an absence of nearly 28 years. We lived there for a year in the mid-1980s, employed as visiting faculty at the University of Guam.

We were met by our friend Dottie who still lives on-island and we spent the day together chatting and sight-seeing. We went back to the University where the buildings in which we had offices and taught no longer exist. In their places are new, modern buildings for both the School of Business and Public Administration and the School of Education ... very up-scale.

We also saw something we were too lazy to see 28 years ago - Talafofo Falls. Back in the day you had to park and hike in to see them. Given Guam's heat and humidity that was too punishing for us. Now there is a cable car that took us from the parking lot to the base of the falls.  

Item of Guam trivia: reliable availability of fresh water made Guam THE important watering stop for the Spanish empire's Manila galleons making the transit to and from Acapulco. Mexicans came to Guam with those ships, bringing hot peppers and leaving behind DNA and several items of cuisine.

Guam looks much less down-at-the-heels than it did 28 years ago. Things are cleaner, better maintained and less junky than formerly, the DrsC were impressed. It is today a place of which the U.S. can be proud, which was not true three decades ago.

A highlight of our return to Guam was lunch at Shirley's, a true Guam tradition. I had an enormous plate piled high with savory hot and spicy Spam fried rice, after an excellent bowl of egg drop soup. I topped the fried rice with finedine sauce, a Guam specialty concocted from onions, soy sauce, hot peppers, and vinegar (pronounced FIN-ah-DIN-eh). Shirley's claims to make the best-ever fried rice and I sure can't argue with the claim.

Guam and two Aleutian Islands (Attu, Kiska) were the only U.S. territories invaded by the Japanese during World War II. War In The Pacific National Historic Park on Guam commemorates that occupation in 1941and the subsequent liberation in 1944. It was our last stop before reboarding our ship, the Sapphire Princess.

Thanks to Dottie W. for the excellent day on Guam, you're the best. Our next stop is Taipei, Taiwan, ROC. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Travel Blogging III

West of Hawaii, headed for the International Dateline: I've been musing on the simple vastness that is the Pacific Ocean. We have 'steamed' west from Hawaii for two days and haven't seen another ship or anything else reflecting human intervention.

Having heard the horror stories I've been looking for all the floating garbage that is supposed to litter the surface of the sea. I have yet to see the first piece of anything man made, or any other flotsam and jetsam - all I see is blue water and the odd white wave.

Start with the fact that the Pacific alone is larger than ALL of the planet's landmasses combined. Then add the not inconsiderable Atlantic (North & South) Ocean and the large Indian Ocean, plus the Med, Baltic, Black, Red seas and this is one wet planet. 

We have sailed across every one of those seas and rarely have we seen other people or ships. To grasp how thinly we are spread on this globe is to doubt our ability to modify it in meaningful ways, in other than highly localized regions.

Yes, it is possible to overfish the Grand Banks or smog up Southern California's skies. Modifying the climate of the planet is many orders of magnitude more ambitious, I doubt we're up to the task.

Film Review: Oblivion

We recently watched the dystopian Tom Cruise SciFi film Oblivion. The tech is wonderfully realized, lovingly filmed. The film doesn't do crowd scenes, much of the time there's no more than two people on-screen, and often only one.

The story is, in a word, complicated. I'll not spoil the plot twists for you with a story summary, except to say the story turns out to be about other than what you initially surmise it to concern. That is very much in the SciFi tradition.

In Oblivion Cruise does a good action hero turn, without overdoing it to the point of being a cartoonish superhero. The three women portraying his work-partner-with-benefits, his boss, and his love-from-a-former-life all are believable in their roles. Morgan Freeman plays an unusual-for-him role and does his usual good job. 

As a lifelong enjoyer of science fiction, I liked Oblivion. I'm not sure the other DrC would entirely agree.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Travel Blogging II

Half way to Honolulu, we actually saw a ship today, a car carrier RORO - roll on, roll off. ROROs are huge empty sea-going boxes (mostly) used for bringing Asian cars to North America. Imagine a multistory parking garage with a ship-shaped footprint, wrapped in sheet metal, and you have the concept.

The ship we slowly passed is also headed west, so it is probably empty unless it is taking Fords or Chevys to Hawaii, or military service members' personal cars to Hawaii. Uncle Sugar pays to ship these.

Across the Pacific we seldom see another ship. Mid-Atlantic is the same story. There are "sea lanes" where we do see lots of other traffic. South along the eastern coast of Spain from Barcelona to Gibraltar is a watery freeway; a ship there is rarely out of sight of several others 'steaming' in either direction. 

The seacoasts of Italy are also busy. The Mediterranean is criss-crossed by hundreds of ferries, many quite large enough to take a number of large semi trucks aboard. You see these in the Baltic Sea too.

This is a long cruise - 26 days. There are essentially no inexperienced cruisers aboard. Because our destination is Asia there are a substantial number of Asian passengers. 

The Sapphire Princess is headed for a new home port in Japan, she and two sister ships will sail from there for the next several years, catering to Japanese travelers while cruising Asian waters. 

I've been wondering if that venture will prove successful for Princess. American firms often find their wares do not find automatic acceptance in Asian markets, but must be tailored to local tastes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Travel Blogging I

Dateline: At sea west of San Pedro, CA: The DrsC are traveling again, this time a cruise to Osaka, Japan, via Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, Taiwan, Shanghai, and a stop somewhere in Japan prior to Osaka. We are returning to Guam after spending a year there from mid-1985 to mid-1986, as visiting faculty at the University of Guam in Mangilao.

Odd coincidence: a colleague from CSUChico - Charlie Urbanowitz - is lecturing on this cruise, doing (I think) "the war in the Pacific." I hope to get up early enough tomorrow a.m. to see his first lecture.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fort Hood Update

Here is an update on the Ft. Hood situation. The alleged gunman, 33 year old Army specialist Ivan Lopez, is dead at the scene of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Three others have died, and several more are in hospital with wounds of varying degrees of seriousness.

At least one source I've seen suggests Lopez suffered from PTSD and was supposed to be on meds. He was reported to be in uniform when he died. Information about a motive is not yet available. See a Washington Post article for details.

Breaking News

What is the story with Fort Hood? We now have a second shooting, and this after I thought I had read that the FBI had discounted the possibility of such happening.

Here is the NBC News story, link courtesy of Drudge Report. No news sources have much info at this point, perhaps 40 minutes after the shooting. Some sites claim at least one dead at the Fort.

Trophy Wife Next for Putin?

Agence France-Presse reports for Yahoo News that Russian President Vladimir Putin's divorce is final. How soon do you suppose we'll see him hanging with former Olympic gold medal gymnast Alina Kabaeva, now in Russian politics?

See Kabaeva photos here and here. As some wag remarked, he'd better stay in shape considering her level of athleticism and youth.

The Declining Middle Class

The CNBC website carries an Associated Press article about the declining percentage of Americans who self-identify as middle class. The article offers two different statistics relevant to this issue:
Since 2008, the number of people who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53 percent to 44 percent. Some 40 percent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class, compared with just 25 percent in February 2008.

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they're middle or upper-middle class fell eight points between 2008 and 2012, to 55 percent.
The article's discussion of why self-evaluated status recently has declined brings up several different points:
The trend reflects a widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else, one that's emerged gradually over decades and accelerated with the Great Recession.

More people now think "it's harder to achieve" the American dream than thought so several decades ago.

A key reason is that the recession eliminated 8.7 million jobs. A disproportionate number were middle-income positions.

Many of the formerly middle class are still struggling with student debt.

Some people feel they've fallen out of the middle class even as their incomes have remained stable, because their costs have risen.
I accept all of those reasons except the first. People don't decide whether or not they are middle class based on how much money Bill Gates or Warren Buffett has, or Mark Zuckerberg, for that matter.

People understand their status from their own financial and social situation, whether they are or are not living paycheck to paycheck one large bill away from bankruptcy. The biggest reason people feel reduced status is the elimination of millions of middle class jobs that didn't require specialized higher education.

A reason the article totally overlooks is the decline of marriage among the less-educated former middle class. People who cannot afford to marry understand themselves to be less-than-middle-class; marriage is a key marker of middle class status.

Animal Behavior

Drudge Report provides a link to a story in something called Epoch Times about animals (elk, bison) supposedly fleeing Yellowstone National Park in fear of an impending earthquake/volcanic event. It isn't impossible but read the following.

Several years ago the other DrC and I sat in our truck and watched a herd of about 200 bison trot across the highway between Jackson, WY, and Moran Junction, perhaps 50 miles south of Yellowstone NP. It took a few minutes for the whole herd to pass before us happy spectators.

Some years before that we watched a herd of perhaps 20 elk, beautiful creatures, loping alongside the interior park road north of Moose, WY. Ungulates do group "runs" on occasion, albeit not very often. When it's a group of cattle running we call it a "stampede."

Did those sightings mean we were expecting a seismic event? No, at least none followed. Do we get seismic activity in the greater Yellowstone region? We do, much of the national park is in fact a giant volcanic caldera, which is why there are thermal features: geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and yes, earthquakes.

As long-time summer residents in the region, we have no increased expectation of quake or eruption as a result of reported animal groups traveling toward the park boundaries. Relatively soon large groups will migrate back into the park as the weather warms, the snow melts, and the elk and bison move back into the Yellowstone high-country summer range. It is a migration the DrsC will join at some point.

Vegetarians Less Healthy

An issue we've come back to several times here on COTTonLINE is the confusion surrounding correlation. Let's say data shows that when A occurs, B is more likely to occur than would otherwise be the case. We call that a positive correlation. It does not mean that A causes B, or that B causes A, although either is possible. Some other factor C may cause both, or the correlation may be the result of chance alone. Apologies for the boring mini-lecture.

The reason we review correlation is because of an interesting study done by epidemiologists at Medical University of Graz, in Austria. Surveying 1320 individuals, they found the following, cited from the abstract of their article in the journal PLOS
Our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life. Therefore, public health programs are needed in order to reduce the health risk due to nutritional factors.
This otherwise fascinating finding leads the researchers to an entirely unwarranted conclusion, namely that we need to help poor vegetarians get better nutrition. In truth, they do not know why vegetarians have poorer health, all they know is an association between not eating meat and poorer health.

It is highly likely that poor health leads people to experiment with a vegetarian diet, so that not eating meat may be more often a result of poor health, rather than a cause.

A Cold Winter

Anthony Watts knows weather. His cleverly named website reports that Chicago just completed the coldest four months (Dec.-Mar.) since record-keeping began in 1872.

To substantiate the claim, Watts reprints the National Weather Service press release which describes this situation. Global warming this was not. Was it climate change? Perhaps.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Russian Nostalgia

The Moscow Times, an English-language Russian paper, runs a story entitled "Why Russians Long for the Soviet Union." Hat tip to for the link.

The simple answer to that question is the same one the French might give, namely "We were once consequential, we mattered then, but no longer and it bums us out." What fascinates me is that Brits aren't similarly nostalgic for their much bigger, wealthier empire.

2016 Musings on the Right

While Democrats try to coronate Hillary Clinton as their 2016 candidate, there are as many as 15 Republicans considering a run. See a Wall Street Journal column by Gerald Seib which identifies the 15 in five different "lanes" or tracks.

Seib believes the contenders fall into one (or in a couple of cases two) of the following five lanes: the establishment lane, the newbie lane, the governors lane, the congressional lane, and the evangelical lane.

See if you can sort into the 5 categories the following fifteen wannabes: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rob Portman, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Mike Rogers, Mario Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, John Thune, and Scott Walker. Go to Seib's column to check your answers.

At a guess, I'd say at least two-thirds of those possibles could do a better job than the incumbent or Hillary. It's clear as anything Romney would have been better than Obama, about McCain I'm less sanguine, but in any case we'll never know, will we?

Medical Policy a la Obama

Fred N. Sauer has written for American Thinker a reprise of the medical philosophy of Ezekiel Emanuel, a physician, leading bio-ethicist, co-author of Obamacare, and older brother of Chicago Godfather Rahm Emanuel.  You might want to read what this influential medical policy wonk believes.

The two times in life when people are most likely to die are when very young and very old. Those are the exact times Dr. Emanuel would rather not "invest" in your good health. The subtext is that people born screwed up should be allowed to die young, and old people on their way out should not be artificially sustained for a few extra months of low-quality life.

From a macro/society-wide perspective of getting the most good from a limited medical budget, Emanuel is probably correct. However, it sure feels cold and inhuman, particularly if one is no longer young.

Democrats: Party of the Rich

A usual knock on Republicans is that they represent the rich ... except it isn't true. The Associated Press has a study appearing at Yahoo News that reports Democrats represent most of the wealthiest congressional districts. Hat tip to Mediaite for the link.
In Congress, the wealthiest among us are more likely to be represented by a Democrat than a Republican. Of the 10 richest House districts, only two have Republican congressmen. Democrats claim the top six, sprinkled along the East and West coasts.

Across the country, Democratic House districts have an average per capita income of $27,893. That's about $1,000 higher than the average income in Republican districts. 
The only county in Wyoming Democrats regularly carry is wealthy Teton County, home of Jackson Hole, the national park, and two ski areas. Real estate brokers in Jackson joke that billionaires are buying out mere millionaires; there are often dozens of executive jets parked at Jackson Airport.

Policy Statement

As a matter of site policy, COTTonLINE will not run any hoax stories on this, the first day of April. I don't find the April Fools tradition particularly funny or charming.

Quote of the Day

Rupert Edis, writing in The Telegraph (U.K.) about Europe's problems integrating large numbers of African and Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants. Edis doesn't see much future for multicultural nations:
Multicultural society died in Algeria after independence. (snip) Multicultural societies have died in the Balkans, and are dying across the Middle East. These are minatory reflections for those currently grappling with immigration policies across Europe, and a rising concern of voters.
Does anybody actually prefer living in a multicultural society?