Saturday, December 27, 2008

Travel Blogging V

Dateline: Aswan, Egypt. Today we visited Abu Simbel. For me, Abu Simbel represents what I came to Egypt to see. The pyramids were fun to see but were, after all, big piles of cut stone. The work at Abu Simbel reflects the ancient Egyptian culture. These carvings and bas reliefs are spectacular, the size is truly grand, and the efforts that were made to save this treasure from the waters of Lake Nasser were herculean. The original work is around 3500 years old, and the talent displayed by the workers is nothing short of magic.

The ancient Egyptian esthetic is quite different from ours, or from that of the Renaissance, or anything in between. Having said that, they did a marvelous job of executing their esthetic, and didn't sign their work, not that authorship matters millennia later. I'm the original monolingual American and Abu Simbel made me wish I could read hieroglyphs. What stories those wall must tell, straight out like posters, if one could read the picture writing.

We are afloat on the Nile, aboard the M/S River Anuket, basically a hotel on a shallow draft motorized barge. We have been told that there are like 300 such ships cruising the Nile, and we've seen maybe 60 of them ourselves here in Aswan, which is the southern terminus of their cruise pattern. I gather there may be more on the upper Nile cruising Lake Nasser which is backed up by the Aswan High Dam. This lake extends southward into the Sudan.

I love river cruising, that is one of the main reasons we're here. We cast off and head north tomorrow, yesterday we went for a felucca ride in the Aswan area, very quiet and serene. I understand the attraction of sailboating, it is peaceful without the motor drone, almost magical to be literally airborne or borne along by the breeze. I remind any readers who would see pictures of our travels to go to which is the other DrC's blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Zimbabwe in Extremis

The always readable Ralph Peters, who writes for the New York Post, has a truly discouraging article about the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe, how it got to where it is now, and who is to blame. If you have an interest in that part of the world, you owe it to yourself to read Peters' piece, even though it is a downer.

Christmas Greetings

Dateline Cairo: Merry Christmas to all of our regular (and new) readers. What follows are some random thoughts.

You'd expect political news to be somewhat quiet at this time of year. However the president-elect and his close advisors seem to have stepped in some metaphorical doggy poo with the totally charming Illinois governor. Obama, Emmanuel and Blagojevich, isn't the melting pot wonderful?

Ya gotta love Obama; he is so attuned to our needs that he 'manufactured' a scandal just to stay front and center in our attention. Then to top that he took a cue from Putin and appeared topless in Hawaii. What a guy! Perhaps the next four years will be fun after all, at least for the chattering class and its auxiliary in the blogosphere (us).

Can the first sex scandal of this administration, always a Democratic speciality, be far away? Remember when Bill C. starred as the Lecher in Chief? Who can forget the "presidue" on the blue dress? The intern follies? Questions about the meaning of "is?"

Enough nostalgia, I'm sure the next four years will have their own happy moments and on that cheerful note, let me wish you all Happy New Year.

Travel Blogging IV

Cairo. We saw the pyramids yesterday morning, amid a growing sandstorm. "Sahara" is Arabic for "desert," and the sand is very fine so the wind can pick it up and blow it around. By the end of the morning we were at the Sphinx which is a few hundred yards from the nearest pyramid and there was so much blowing sand and dust you couldn't see the nearest pyramid at all.

Subjective reaction to the pyramids and sphinx: they were huge structures for the time they were constructed but not by today's standards. By today's standards they are merely very large - no longer huge. I had the same reaction to the leaning tower of Pisa. On the other hand, St. Peter's in Rome is still huge by today's standards.

We also visited the so-called Solar Boat exhibit, which was found alongside the largest pyramid in a stonecut tomb of its own. It was part of Cheops' burial goods, his Nile cruiser, and an impressive piece of naval architecture several thousand years old. The joinery was of a high standard.

The other DrC took a camel ride and pronounced herself very satisfied with the experience. I think she liked it better than horseback, which she tried 2-3 years ago. Your humble scribe decided to forego a camel ride, I didn't need the experience and neither did some poor camel.

Most of the group is going to Alexandria today, we opted not to go. We were in Alex less than 3 months ago and didn't feel the need to "do it again" so soon. Alex is worth one visit, probably not two.

Political Humor Alert

Conservative economist Thomas Sowell reports a reader has suggested to him that members of Congress should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we could know who their sponsors are. Not exactly a joke, but certainly a funny image. I think maybe it should apply to the President, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: Cairo. Today we had a lecture on the old and new kingdoms and what to expect of each. I didn't learn much except pyramids are associated exclusively with the old kingdom. Royal burials in the new kingdom were all done in the Valley of the Kings. I think I slept through the rest of the lecture, the lady wasn't terribly dynamic.

This afternoon we did the Egyptian Museum, of story and legend. Wow, they really have some serious antiquities to display. Many of them are interpreted in English as well as Arabic, too. I particularly liked the Akenaton/Nefertiti room, the statues of old AK were amazing - not so much idealized as was otherwise typical for pharoahs. He had Asian eyes, African lips, a long thin face, and big hips and thighs, an odd looking dude, but he had presence, whatever that is.

My other favorite thing was the King Tutankaman, aka King Tut, collection. I took the opportunity to get reacquainted with the statue of Selket, a goddess with a scorpion on her head. I remember her from when the King Tut exhibit came to the U.S. in 1976 or 1977. We saw the exhibit at the Smithsonian on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, the only time the lines weren't prohibitive. The Selket statue was undoubtedly modeled on a living beautiful woman 3500 years ago. The model is unremembered dust, but her image still shines with intelligence and grace. That, dear reader, was an exceptionally talented sculptor whose identity, like that of the model, is lost.

It is fashionable to be down on this museum, but I think it is a decent space with some very amazing things on display. The rooms are huge, with very high ceilings, and there is no shortage of beautiful, ancient stuff to look at. You could spend a month there, but the time we spent was good, after awhile the feet gave out and eventually we found ourselves sitting on the steps resting. We understand they are building a new museum at Giza to house half or more of the collection near the pyramids.

It is windy today, and the wind blows dust and stuff around. It is also just short of cold - one of those days when you keep putting on and taking off your wrap. Tomorrow we visit Giza to see the pyramids and the sphinx. The other DrC says she wants to ride a camel there. Some day in the right spot I may ride an elephant but a camel? No thanks. She can ride and I'll take pix thereof.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: Cairo. Flying out of snowy New York City was no fun, we were maybe 3 hours late getting off the runway at JFK. Egypt Air may have a bad reputation but allowing for a not-updated business class cabin and my wife's reading light not working, it was okay. Clearly the cabin attendants did their best to make it nice, and the food was acceptable. No champagne offered as Egypt is a Muslim country but the orange juice was good, the movies relatively recent, and I got several hour of comfortable sleep.

Anyway, we left blowing snow and landed in shirtsleeves weather in Cairo. The locals think it is very cold here, they are wearing parkas. I'm comfortable outdoors at night with a light jacket, these are very different perceptions of the exact same thing. If they came to NYC now they would believe they were at the north pole. I guess they can tolerate heat that would leave me hospitalized. It is all about that to which one is accustomed. [I love the odd phrasing one must use to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.]

Cairo is an enormous third world city, which means large swaths of it are little more than garbage heaps. Other portions are nicer, of course, not everyone is poor. The terrain is flat, and snuggled up to the Nile River. Where it isn't built it looks very tan and sandy, no surprise. As with our experience in Alexandria, there is armed security everywhere. Again, no surprise. Tourism is the goose that lays golden eggs for Egypt and also an obvious target for those who wish the government ill.

A lot of man-years go into protecting the tourists, although how effective the protection is could be questioned. I suspect it is more in the nature of reassuring the tourists of their safety - it works, anyway. The tourists are here in droves. How can you not come? Egypt is the epitome of tourist attractions, Julius Caesar was interested 2000 years ago.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Travel Blogging I

Heigh-ho, we are off to ancient Egypt. I write this sitting in the Swiss Air Gold lounge viewing JFK airport through giant floor to ceiling windows. The view is of snow-covered ground, plowed runways, large planes from everywhere in the world, and all of the odd vehicles which call airports home.

The temperature out there is in the mid to low twenties (negative temps in Celsius) and headed down into the teens. Those are cold temperatures for a pair of native Californians. In about two hours we board a flight that will last 12 hours and on the other end the temperatures will be in the 70s. Call this trip "Great-great-grandson of Run for the Sun." We've been snowbirding most of our married life.

The DrsC are merely passengers and tourists on this trip; we plan to deliver no lectures but may listen to several. We've met some of our fellow travelers, a family named Lee from CA, three generations. The Internet doesn't say nice things about Egypt Air, I hope for our sake those pans represent the occasional sorehead, instead of the normal view of EA. Traveling as we are under the auspices of a tour firm, Grand Circle, we don't get a choice of airline - alas. I am reminded of the wisecrack an astronaut was supposed to have made just before blastoff, "A vehicle built by the lowest bidder doesn't engender confidence." I'm sure they book us on the airline with the lowest fares.

Super Political Humor Alert

The master of political drollery, Mark Steyn, has outdone himself in this Orange County Register article. It is as bitterly funny as anything I've seen this year. Some samples:
GM has a market capitalization of about $2.4 billion. For purposes of comparison, Toyota's market cap is $100 billion and change (the change being bigger than the whole of GM). General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a vast retirement home with a small money-losing auto subsidiary. The UAW is AARP in an Edsel: It has three times as many retirees and widows as "workers" (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people.
So much for the auto industry, how about newspapers?
I loved the American newsrooms you saw in movies like "The Front Page," full of hard-boiled, hard-livin' newspapermen. By the time I got there myself, there were no hard-boiled newspapermen, just bland, anemic newspaperpersons turning out politically correct snooze sheets of torpid portentousness.

Okay, that'll do for newspapers, how about iconic California?
When Gov. Girlyman has run out of state taxpayers to fleece for his ever-more-bloated bureaucracy, he'll go to Washington to plead for a federal bailout of Cantaffordya.
So California is a mess, New York must be okay, right? Nah....
Gov. Paterson is said to be considering appointing Princess Caroline of Kennedy to Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat. After two and a third centuries of republican experiment, America has finally worked its way back to the House of Lords.

Lets just say that Mark Steyn isn't really upbeat at this moment in our nation's history. Ya gotta read this column, it is priceless.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Trouble in Ecuador

Ecuador President Rafael Correa has defaulted on international debt payments, causing a crisis in the financial affairs of this Andean nation. See this Bloomberg article for details. This default is likely to cause Ecuador to stop using the U.S. dollar as its national currency, according to Bloomberg.

See this Reuters article for a slightly different "take" on the same subject, but one that reaches essentially the same negative conclusion. This article puts more emphasis on Correa's friendship with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Anthropocentrism Debunked

Check out this Business & Media Institute article reporting the views of a CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, who is certified by the American Meteorologists Society. He opines:
To think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant.

Another climate expert, a Dr. Jay Lehr, elaborates:
If we go back really, in recorded human history, in the 13th Century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now and it was a very prosperous time for mankind. If go back to the Revolutionary War 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We’ve been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period and now we’re back into a cooling cycle.
And why does Lehr think this happens? Does he blame humans?
The last 10 years have been quite cool. And right now, I think we’re going into cooling rather than warming and that should be a much greater concern for humankind. But, all we can do is adapt. It is the sun that does it, not man (emphasis added).

As this Bloomberg article reports, our new President has selected a rabid climate anthropocentrist as his primary science advisor. That suggests we will see our government taking vigorous action against a dubious-at-best problem, over which we likely have no actual control.


Social Class in America

Class distinctions are out in the open in nations like the United Kingdom and India. We in the U.S. falsely claim to be a classless society. Nonsense, of course social class matters in these United States, it is our dirty not-so-little secret.

For those of you who like to think social class doesn't matter in these United States, go read the article by Jonah Goldberg at
[please forgive the awkward-looking link, the automatic hyperlink function isn't working].

Goldberg compares the media treatment Sarah Palin recently got versus the media treatment Caroline Kennedy is now getting. Night and day. The most glaring difference between these two women in public life is social class: Kennedy has attended the 'right' schools, has the 'right' vocations and avocations, and speaks with the 'right' accent. Coming from piles of old money doesn't hurt, either.

The media jumped on Governor Palin because she has working class roots, hobbies, and values. How awful. Google "Sarah Palin" and "trailer trash" and you get 55,000 hits. Ugly treatment for a self-made woman who is her state's CEO and has high approval ratings. Ah, you say, but she lacks class, we can't have that, can we? She might pick up the wrong fork.

Are we in the process of developing the equivalent of noble families in the U.S.? The Bushes of Kennebunkport, the Kennedys of Hyannisport, the Daleys of Chicago, the Udalls of the Rockies, I'm sure you have your own favorite examples of dynastic behavior. Actually, Palin comes out of the Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman tradition, a pretty decent lineage in its own right.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Adios, California

Among other things, this blog follows the state of the California economy; a topic of particular interest to a CA native and former resident. See this Los Angeles Times article about net out-migration from California. The key graf for me is this one:

For the fourth year in a row, more residents left the Golden State than moved here from other states, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Department of Finance.
And the reason for this net out-migration?

Such declines usually occur when working Californians decide better opportunities lie elsewhere.
In particular, expensive housing was a problem:

People started leaving California because of housing prices -- particularly younger couples that (sic) just couldn't afford to buy a house.
I attribute many of California's problems to high state taxes, and the negative impact those have on job creation and employer plant-location decisions. These taxes make CA a high labor cost state in which to do business. As one of the experts cited in the article said:
I think [last year's out-migration] was because of the very high unemployment.

Eventually California may be populated mostly by the rich in gated communities and the poor who clean their pools and mow their lawns. Today's Palm Springs area is a prototype of this bifurcated demographic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Travel Blogging Soon

By Sunday the 21st the DrsC will be in Egypt, for a cruise on the Nile, followed by a visit to Petra in Jordan. Impressions will flow here as time and Internet connections permit. This trip we are purely passengers, no lecturing duties scheduled.

To all our regular readers, and particularly to our new readers, we wish you the best of year-end holidays: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and of course Happy New Year too.


Everywhere you look you see speculations concerning Caroline Kennedy's interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. Less visible have been a couple of articles reporting trial balloons by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush concerning his running for a Senate seat. There is a name for this kind of thing: dynastic politics.

Dynastic politics isn't new in the United States. Second President John Adams' son John Quincy Adams was elected our sixth President. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt. Maybe the most extreme example is the Udall family which, while containing no presidents, has spawned several senators and representatives in the mountain West. The Kennedys of Hyannisport are another current example.

However, just because we've done this before doesn't make it a good idea. I believe we are better off avoiding dynastic politics, the most extreme form of which is the inheritance of kingships in countries with royal families (the U.K., Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, etc.). Now that most kingships are essentially figureheads, inherited royal leadership isn't a big problem. It certainly was a problem when kings were true CEOs and some real dopes inherited thrones.

Dynastic political families are more typical of third world countries than of first world true democracies, or should be. When the U.S. elects people to national office the roles are anything but symbolic.

The bottom line: Having a famous name is not a qualification for office.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Travel Blogging: Coda

So the big trip is over, but our colds are not. Doing the long plane flight on the front end of the trip, when one is fresh and enthused, works out great. Coming home can be a downer anyway, so keeping that flight short is desirable. Today's flight was decorated with a crying baby in the next row, one of life's little joys. It caused me to remember how slowly time passed when I was small, entirely too many years ago.

If you would like to see photos from our trip, go to the other DrC's blog which is found at

Now it is time to stop travel blogging for a few days, and do some political blogging. Can you say Blagojevich? Blah-GOY-a-vich comes close.

Are you finding it hard to believe that a U.S. Senator and a Governor, both from the same political party and representing the same state, have hardly said more than "Hi" to each other? That seems highly improbable to me; given the level of improbablility, I'd say the burden of proof is on the individuals in question.

The presumption would be that they would consult, schmooze and strategize with some frequency. If Obama wants us to believe something that is very unlikely, it is up to him to prove that he truly has had little contact with the same-party Governor of his state, Illinois.

At this point, I remain unconvinced.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Travel Blogging VI: Dominica

Dateline: Dominica. Since last post we have cruised north from Fortaleza to a stop at Devil's Island, and beyond to this stop in Dominica. This is our last stop before Ft. Lauderdale and the end of the cruise. It is always weird to hear Christmas music in the tropics, under the palm trees, and intermixed with reggae. Still, it is the Christmas season so it is to be expected. The environmental cues one associates with carols just are not present.

Most of the people on board our ship have a cold, coughing is rampant. I fear the memsahib and I have it too, mine is mostly gone but hers is just beginning. Small, contained communities like a cruise ship are great for sharing respiratory disease.

Devil's Island isn't devilish, rather pretty in fact. The ugly part of being a prisoner here was the tropical disease and heat/humidity. My guess is most prisoners contracted malaria and/or yellow fever and died in the absence of effective treatment.

Dominica is rather charming, not over-developed, and seemingly safe. Tourism is clearly the income source of choice, and luckily for the locals the cruise ships literally tie up downtown. I bet our passengers spend a bunch of money here, I will spend a few $$ for internet time. So typically, the day is semi-cloudy but very dark clouds hover over the island as volcanic islands like this create their own climate, forming rain clouds as they push warm, wet air up into the cooler regions where it forms clouds and rains. More later....

Friday, December 5, 2008

Travel Blogging VI: At Sea

Dateline: Equatorial Mid-Atlantic. “Sea days” are days when the ship is not in port. I once thought they were a drag; now they are my favorites. That is when I can get some reading done, and when I “work” - give one of my lectures.

Port visits are often a letdown. Ships are rarely in port long enough for one to get beyond the city limits and see the countryside. And port cities are often sort of tawdry. Cities are seldom my favorite part of a country so a port visit starts with a strike against it. The exception in my experience is the little towns and cities along the Rhine – many are very pleasant.

Travel Blogging V: Senegal

Dateline: Dakar, Senegal. Seen from the ship Dakar looks modern and upscale for a third world capital. When you get closer, it isn’t so impressive. When there are potholes in the sidewalks by the President’s Palace, as there are here in Dakar, you know you are deep in the third world.

What is really a downer is the number of people on the street with not much to do, just hanging out. The unemployment rate is said to be nearly 50% and the GDP per capita is lower than that of Haiti. I think most of the unemployed were on the street this afternoon.

The populace is mostly Moslem but the prevailing ethos isn’t Arab, it is definitely African. In other words, it is colorful instead of drab. We saw the national folkloric ballet this evening and the costumes were too revealing for a classical Islamic society, although relatively modest by Western standards. That is, women’s bare shoulders, midriffs and legs were on display.

We were taken to see “the world’s largest French-speaking university” which is in Dakar. It has roughly 50,000 students. No one there has heard of landscaping; weeds are a meter tall in places while goats and sheep graze in others, and there are smoking fire pits too. You would think in a country with 50% unemployment they’d hire a few souls to keep the grounds tidy, you’d be wrong of course. We concluded we wouldn’t visit on the faculty there.

Now we are off across the Atlantic to Brazil, a three day crossing to Fortaleza.

Travel Blogging IV: Casablanca

Dateline: Casablanca. The run here from Gibraltar isn’t a long one, basically overnight. One thing to know for sure, this isn’t the sleepy colonial outpost of the Bogart/Bergman movie. It is the third busiest port in Africa, after Durban and Alexandria.

We moored at a pier just across from the Royal Maroc Navy yard; as a nation with a long coastline they spend some money on navy. There was nothing in port as large as a modern destroyer, but there were coastal patrol vessels, and a couple of frigates or corvettes, including one quite modern one with a chopper pad on the aft deck and a hangar for the bird built into the ship’s superstructure. There were maybe 8 vessels in port, all in quite modern navy gray livery.

Casablanca is the home of the world’s third largest mosque, built to honor an earlier king. It is quite beautiful, modern, and sited in a picturesque seaside location. On the other hand, the fountains had no water in them and although it was Friday, the holy day, there was essentially nobody around. Adjacent to the mosque are buildings which are supposed eventually to become a “university of religion” or seminary. The buildings look complete but the seminary doesn’t yet exist. Go figure….

Women in Morocco are free to “go Western” or “go Moslem” in dress and maybe 70% do the latter. We seemed to notice that as women get older and fatter, they are more likely to cover up. A smaller number of men here “dress Eastern” and wear what amounts to a nightshirt as their outer garment. Casablanca has synagogues and churches as well as many mosques, the official policy is religious tolerance. The reality is probably not quite so harmonious.

Our guide claims that the nation has a truly democratic elected government, in addition to its hereditary monarch who is the head of state. He also makes the point that whereas the language is Arabic, the people are not Arabs but Berbers and the local dialect of spoken Arabic is incomprehensible to Saudis and Egyptians.

The point in visiting Casablanca is to be able to say you’ve visited Casablanca, there really isn’t much here to see. It is a relatively prosperous-looking third world city, with some squatter slums, some tenements, and some nice looking residences. The nation apparently cannot generate enough jobs for all the young people who need them, so many infiltrate Spain illegally looking for work. Sounds like Mexico, eh?

Our next stop is Dakar, Senegal – the western terminus of the Trans-African Highway that crosses the Sahel and ends in the Sudan. Dakar was also the northernmost port of the eighteenth century slave trade.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: At Sea off Africa. This is my first chance to add to the travel blog since Rome. We were late boarding the ship as she was late into port, having hit some very rough seas the night before. How rough? She sustained some minor damage, broken windows and the like. I guess many passengers were scared.

First day out we moored in Livorno and motored to Pisa. Pisa was neat, small in area and very atmospheric. Normal pix of the leaning tower don’t show that it is, in fact, the detached bell tower of a large church or basilica. The church leans some but the tower leans plenty. At the other end of the basilica is a separate building called the baptistery, which is a perfect wedding cake of a building, circular, heavily decorated, and topped with a dome. Everybody comments that the Italian countryside looks like California. Yes, but it is wetter than CA.

Second day out we were supposed to moor at Cannes and motor to Monaco. Cannes didn’t happen – a combination of rough seas and winds from Africa made it infeasible to tender passengers ashore so we skipped Cannes and sailed slowly toward our next port: Barcelona. It was a shame to miss the Riviera.

Barcelona is a charmer, a clean city without super tall buildings and with the oddest cathedral you will likely ever see, the Gaudi. The Gaudi is gaudy, no doubt about it. It resembles what you’d get if you crossed a gothic cathedral with the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Way weird. It is still under construction, I might live long enough to see it completed. The rest of the city has charm, and we saw it on a lovely day, which helps. There is other odd architecture in Barcelona, must be something in the water.

Next day we spent at sea, cruising the coast of Spain, and the following day we came to Gibraltar. For a guy who spent his youth reading World War II history, and his adulthood reading sea yarns like the stories of Hornblower, Bolitho, and Jack Aubrey, visiting Gibraltar was a hoot. We took a tour of the World War II tunnel complex and it was amazing. Canadian mining engineers dug 30+ miles of tunnels in The Rock, and people lived, worked, and played in the tunnels. I had no idea that the limestone of the rock is so porous that after a rain outside it rains inside. We were told to take our umbrellas and it was a good thing. Gibraltar has, for most of its history, been a fortress, pure and simple. It is that no longer, now it is a British outpost that is booming, building going on in many places. All this irks Spain, which has never renounced its claim to Gibraltar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Blogging II

Dateline Rome: One thing the flight just finished proved for sure, business class is a vast improvement over coach or "cattle car." We were on a brand new United 747 and it was very nice.

We had a choice of maybe 30 different recent films from which to select and each was individually available upon demand at whatever moment the chooser wanted to see it. I viewed four films in the 9 hour crossing, Dark Knight, Wanted, Kung Fu Panda, and Get Smart. All were fun, in different ways but the upshot was that I didn't get any sleep.

Now I'm sleepy. The 10 hour time differential between the left coast and Rome is tough to adjust to, it is almost like night becomes day and vice versa.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Travel Blogging I

We are doing this set of flights on Business Class, courtesy of frequent flyer miles upgrade. It is particularly nice to use the Red Carpet lounge to kill time between flights, much more civilized.

We actually have a blue sky day in San Francisco, quite rare except at this time of year. Next stop - Frankfurt - followed by Rome, or Roma for purists.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Travel Blogging Alert

The DrsC will be traveling for the next 3+ weeks. I'm not certain what the opportunities will be for travel blogging, I will if I'm able. Some of the places we'll be are probably off the grid. Before it begins there is the hateful daylong flight to reach our start point, those are getting really old. More later....

Two Out of Three Isn't Bad

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is thought to be one of the GOP's rising stars. In this article, coming out of an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation, Jindal offers his Rx for the party in three points:
Number one, we have got to stop defending the kind of ... out-of-control spending that we would never tolerate in the other side.
He got that point right. His second point:
Number two, we've got to stop defending the kinds of corruption we would rightfully criticize in the other party.
That is two right out of three, he is on a roll. And his third point:
Number three, we have got to be the party that offers real solutions to the problems that American voters ... are worried about. We don't need to abandon our conservative principles; we can't just be the 'party of no.'
I am less sure Jindal is right on this one. Republicans are the "daddy" party and good daddies have to say "no" with some frequency. It isn't always popular when they say it, but it needs saying nonetheless. If the voters sometimes prefer mommy to daddy, we shouldn't be surprised or alarmed.

The G.M. Problem

We dealt with the General Motors dilemma in this space on Thursday, with an entry entitled "No Life Support Please." I believe we made a reasonable argument for letting G.M. go.

Now here is an article from The Wall Street Journal that makes a much more comprehensive argument for passing G.M. through Chapter 11 bankruptcy than we did. You owe it to yourself to go read Michael E. Levine's article.

I'm not certain a Democratic President and Democratic Congress can be mean to their allies in the U.A.W. and the rest of the union movement.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Mexico

See this New York Times article on the level of violence in Mexico, and the widespread use of bodyguards by the rich and famous. It would appear that private security is a real growth sector of the Mexican economy.

One is reminded of the 2004 Denzel Washington/Dakota Fanning film Man on Fire, which depicts this milieu with some precision. It is a good flick, by the way, worth renting but not cheerful.

Our southern neighbor, Mexico, isn't doing well.

Quote of the Day

Karl Rove, in an interview with Deborah Solomon in The New York Times Magazine. Asked if he liked vice president-elect Joe Biden, Rove replied:
I think he has an odd combination of longevity and long-windedness that passes for wisdom in Washington.
It is a great, short interview. Rove was barely civil most of the time if Solomon transcribed it accurately. At that, it was more gracious than the Times deserves.

Obama I = Clinton III

All the old Clintonistas are heading for jobs in the Obama administration. This BBC article has the details. Is this the change Obama promised? So much for Obama's "new politics."

It represents "change" in the sense that it is going from the Bush era back to the Clinton era. This move should be no surprise. Each time the administration changes from one party to the other, you see experienced people from the last time the party held power getting jobs in the new one. It is how Washington works.

A third "Clinton" term may even reassure many people who voted for Hillary and who remember the Bill Clinton years with fondness. I suspect they will be disappointed.

Bill was luckier than he deserved; the country was enjoying a "vacation from history." These times are unlike those, the vacation is long over.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Lessons of 2008, Part II

In this CNN article, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R) is quoted giving the most succinct list of McCain's policy shortcomings I've seen. Here it is:
McCain, who is proponent (sic) of campaign finance reform that weakened party organizations and basically put George Soros in the driver's seat. His proposal for amnesty for illegals. His support of global warming, cap-and-trade programs that will put another burden on our economy. And of course, his embrace of the bailout right before the election was probably the nail in our coffin this last election. And he has been an opponent of drilling in ANWR, at a time when energy is so important. It really didn't fit the label, but he was our package.

No wonder Republican turnout wasn't what it had been four years earlier. Let us commit ourselves to make a truly Republican choice in 2012.

Closing Gitmo

Our president-elect says he intends to close the detention center for jihadis at Guantanamo Bay. Well-intentioned actions like closing Gitmo often lead to unintended consequences.

What to do with the nogoodniks held there is an interesting question. If trying them in civilian courts is the answer, most are likely to be set free because the combat forces who apprehended them were not police collecting evidence to support convictions, preserving chains of custody, etc.

If the jihadis are let go, a very clear unintended message will be heard by our combat forces in Afghanistan: don't take prisoners. I don't suppose Obama's intent in closing Gitmo is to make the war on terror more bloody, but that is likely to be the outcome.

Perhaps we could declare the internees to be prisoners of war? Prisoners of war are not tried in courts, they are held until the war ends. This has been wisely called "the long war." If this war doesn't end in their lifetime, then they will die of old age in captivity.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Life Support, Please

General Motors and Ford are in trouble, and seek a government bailout. Bailouts are generally a mistake, and I believe would be one in this case. These companies are poorly managed, subject to bullying by the UAW, and seemingly unable to make fuel efficient cars of high quality at reasonable prices. And in terms of new product development, they are whatever the opposite of "agile" is: the terms slow, clumsy, and ponderous come to mind.

Good friends recently took two auto plant tours while doing a cross-country RV trip. They visited a GM plant and a Toyota plant and said the differences were night and day. The Toyota plant was, they said, clean and modern and robots were doing a lot of the work. They reported the GM plant was old, dirty, and most of the work was being done by (highly paid) unhappy-looking people.

A bailout would reward failure at these firms, and that isn't a good idea. It is possible that spending a year in Chapter 11 bankruptcy would give them the opportunity to dump their UAW contracts, close their oldest and least efficient plants, and rationalize their international production. Then again, they may be beyond help.

The Lessons of 2008

An interesting article from The Wall Street Journal, by Jennifer Marsico, argues that the election has not realigned the country politically. I find the following quote most intriguing:
Mr. Obama got about 40,000 fewer votes in Ohio than John Kerry got four years ago. Mr. Obama carried the state when Mr. Kerry did not because Republicans stayed home. (emphasis added)
If that isn't an indictment of the McCain campaign 'organization,' I don't know what it is. Pretty clearly Karl Rove ran a much better "ground game" of get-out-the-vote for Bush 43. Here is a USNews blog entry by Michael Barone that makes the same point.

Marsico's article is also an argument for running a Reaganite Republican as the party's nominee. In 2008 we ran a RINO maverick with good commander-in-chief credentials and not much else.

We need a nominee with whom Republican voters can identify. We should include in our candidates' oath the precept "first, lose none of the base." If he or she can also attract some independent voters, that is of course a plus.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Was Bush 43 Conservative?

Jonah Goldberg raises some interesting questions in a column for RealClearPolitics. He summarizes his issue thus:
Was George W. Bush a conservative president? Does back-to-basics mean breaking with the precedents of the last eight years or building on them?

Goldberg then goes through a series of "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" looks at the 8 years of the Bush presidency. He tries to be evenhanded in his retrospective but it doesn't work for me. Bush did too many things that were RINO.

My conclusion: Bush 43 was a not-conservative president who nevertheless did some conservative things. In this he was like Clinton who was also a not-conservative president who nevertheless did some conservative things. And I'm afraid John McCain was a not-conservative candidate who took some conservative stands.

I don't want my party to be Democrat-lite. We already have a "mommy" party, it is the Democrats. We need the Republicans to be the "daddy" party, not the "metrosexual" or androgyny party.

In 4 or 8 years there will be a reasonable chance to elect a president. I want the GOP to nominate an attractive candidate who runs on a Reaganite platform of "limited government, low taxes and strong defense." Being the "daddy" party doesn't prevent the nomination of a woman candidate in the Margaret Thatcher mold.

Perhaps David Brooks, et al. are correct that Reaganism won't sell any longer. I hope they are wrong; we won't know unless we try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trouble in Mexico

See this article in the National Post of Canada which describes a apparent assassination of the Interior Secretary of Mexico, as well as other key drug enforcement officials. They were passengers in a Lear jet that crashed without warning into a Mexico City rush hour.

The Interior Secretary is described as "the second-highest official in the Mexican government." The author believes, with good reason, that the drug cartel situation in Mexico is reaching a critical stage. In the U.S. we were so obsessed with presidential politics that the story got little coverage.

The same news cycle brought this Associated Press story of over-the-top bloodshed and murder in Ciudad Juarez, a border town. Once again the perpetrators were thought to be drug cartel enforcers. Stories like this one have become so common as to be taken for granted in the U.S.

The U.S. should take the drug lord situation in Mexico more seriously. Think of it this way: suppose the owners of the house next door to yours turned it into a crack house. Would you shrug it off? Conclude it was their affair and none of your business? Ignore the occasional bullet that came your way?

Mexico is our next door neighbor, what happens there affects our neighborhood. That makes it, to some degree, our business too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

2008 a Cold Year

This chart from the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA shows that most of the lower 48 states experienced "below normal" or "much below normal" temperatures in the first ten months of 2008.

What a strange way for global warming to manifest itself. Al Gore could not be reached for comment.

CA Dreamin'

My native state of California did some interesting ballot splitting in the election just concluded. As noted on the Secretary of State's General Election Results website, California voters went for Obama by more than a 6 to 4 ratio, actually 61% to 37.3%. Both parties felt so sure CA would vote Democratic that neither bothered to campaign there for president.

Superficially, those results would lead you to believe that Californians are reliably liberal. If they are so liberal, then it is difficult to explain why a majority (52.3% to 47.7%) of those same California voters supported a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to relationships between one woman and one man. That is a socially conservative vote for Prop. 8.

Let us suppose, for purposes of argument, that every one of the 4.1 million Californians who voted for McCain also voted for Prop. 8. That means that at least 1.6 million Obama voters voted against gay marriage. Fascinating. One has to wonder who these individuals are, probably some combination of Hispanics, African-American evangelicals, and blue collar white voters. The interplay of demographics and voting is endlessly interesting.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds, writing at and reprinted in The Wall Street Journal Notable & Quotable feature:

Once someone is duly and legally elected president, you do owe some respect to the office and the Constitution. And to your fellow Americans.

I'm not an Obama fan, particularly, but a lot of people I like and respect are. To treat Obama as something evil or subhuman would not only be disrespectful toward Obama, but toward them. Instead, I hope that if Obama is elected, their assessment of his strengths will turn out to be right, and mine will turn out to be wrong.

Well said, Glenn. You speak for me as well. Obama has been elected and I hope he does well for all our sakes.

Socialism = Lawful Plunder

Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes a column on Latin America for The Wall Street Journal. Her column this week is entitled "Argentina Impoverishes Itself Again."

This blog has noted the puzzle of Argentina's poverty before; how a nation with wonderful natural resources, an educated population, benign climate, and varied terrain that should be rich is in fact poor. We've blamed Peronism - Argentine socialism.

O'Grady is worth quoting at some length:

Argentina is a constitutional republic with many historical similarities to the U.S. It has a rich immigrant heritage and an abundance of natural resources. But the U.S. is a rich, advanced country and Argentina is poor.

How did the breadbasket of South America fall so far behind? One explanation goes back some 90 years, when the Argentine Supreme Court began chipping away at property rights as a way of addressing economic inequality. Argentine politicians quickly learned that lawful plunder was their path to power.

Juan Peron and wife Evita accelerated the socialist thrust in Argentina, and gave it their name. The moral of the Argentinian story is this: socialism is not a way to share the wealth, it is a way to share the poverty.

Today, everybody in Argentina wants to share the wealth earned by others, nobody much wants to earn any wealth that they then will have to share with others. Argentina still awaits its Margaret Thatcher; a politician who will reverse the socialism and revitalize the economy.

Beyond this blog's interest in Latin American affairs, we emphasize this redistributive issue here is as a object lesson for what we must not do here in the United States.

What Is "Wrong Track?"

Various pundits and opinion writers make much of the finding that large percentages of the American public believe the nation is on the "wrong track." For example this Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, done before the election, found that 86% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans believed the U.S. "has gotten off on the wrong track." The survey question normally asked in polls of this sort is the following one.
In your opinion, do you believe that the country is moving in the right direction or do you believe it has gotten off on the wrong track?

As you can tell, it does not provide any clues as to what aspects of the country the respondent believes "have gotten off on the wrong track." So...what does this statistic mean, if anything? I intend to argue here that it means many different, and conflicting, things to different people.

Conventional wisdom suggests a substantial number of those "wrong track" Democrats believe the U.S. should never have invaded Iraq, should not be holding Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo, etc. Some further number are concerned about the drop in housing values, and other negative sequelae from the bursting of the housing bubble.

A substantial number of the "wrong track" Republicans are unhappy about the coarsening of the culture (i.e., erectile dysfunction ads and gay sex on TV, the "streetwalker/gangsta" fashions of our teens), the widespread availability of abortions and a presidential candidate who doesn't agree with them on illegal immigration. Some additional group are disgusted with their own party's big spending ways in Congress.

So, what attitudes does the above question really tap? Perhaps free-floating hostility? Angst? Generalized willingness to engage in road rage behaviors? Ironically, lots of "wrong track" opinion appears to result in decreased voter participation by the party which is incumbent and increased participation by the party that is "out." They may be cranky about quite different things but, their behaviors are opposite and symmetrical. As we reported here, Republican voter turnout was down in the election just concluded.

My question is this: Is the converse true? Do high "right direction" numbers result in big votes by incumbent party voters and apathetic turnout among the "outs?" This sounds like a research question for a real voter analyst like Michael Barone. Logic suggests it could be true.

Note to President-elect Obama: four years from now those "right direction" numbers had better be up a lot, even for Republicans. Presumably, if the "outs" are happy with the country's direction, they are less likely to vote while the "ins" will turn out in droves. That is the electoral outcome the President will want in 2012.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Political Humor Alert

James Taranto, author of the Best of the Web column in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal which he edits, cracking wise on First Dog Barney biting a reporter:
Just remember, one man's terrier is another man's freedom Fido.

Apathetic Republicans

This research report from American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate carries some interesting insights for Republicans. It reports:
The percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots in the 2008 presidential election stayed at virtually the same relatively high level as it reached in the polarized election of 2004.
With respect to reduced turnout among Republicans, it concludes:

A downturn in the number and percentage of Republican voters going to the polls seemed to be the primary explanation for the lower than predicted turnout.
Karl Rove's strategy of energizing the base wasn't so bad after all. Clearly Rove ran a better campaign for Bush than McCain's minions did for him. The McCain candidacy did nothing for the voters motivated by illegal immigration, and his platform wasn't truly a small government platform.

We have three 'schools' of conservatism in the U.S.: social, fiscal and defense conservatives. Social conservatives weren't entirely convinced McCain was on their side, nor were fiscal conservatives. Only defense conservatives could wholeheartedly support McCain without reservations.

Given the untimely meltdown of the economy right before the election, I don't know that a candidate who more energized the Republican base would have beaten Barack Obama. Such a candidate could have run a closer race and, by raising turnout, might have cut the GOP losses in the Senate and House.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What About Immigration?

Presidential candidates Obama and McCain never talked about illegal immigration. The reason: they agreed about immigration. Both candidates favored "comprehensive immigration reform" - code words meaning a sort of amnesty for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants now in the country.

Republicans have argued they can get a substantial portion of the Hispanic vote if they favor "comprehensive immigration reform." McCain conclusively proved these arguments wrong. He was known for his support of immigrant rights, never spoke about illegal immigration and still got relatively few Hispanic votes.

So...we are left to wonder in what ways the contest just ended would have had different contours if one of the candidates, probably the Republican, had made an real issue of illegal immigration. Is it possible a tough stance on illegal immigration would have given the Republican access to more of the blue collar workers who were once so-called Reagan Democrats? A reasonable argument can be made that this is the case, but now we will never know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama in 2012

President George W. Bush is widely unpopular, even with a fair number of Republicans. Barack Obama won by running against George W. Bush. Voters rejected McCain as more of Bush and elected Obama.

That scenario won't work for Obama in 2012. As former Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said, "A week is a long time in politics." If a week is a long time, four years are an eternity. In 2012 nobody will remember how much they wanted to get rid of W.

In 2012 Obama will have to run on his record. The 2012 election will inevitably be a referendum on Obama's performance in the first term. A majority of Americans will need to be pleased with his performance if he is to be reelected. His Republican challenger will be the one offering people "change." Obama will be the one defending the status quo.

As Obama decides what to do in the coming months and years, he needs to keep that truth firmly in mind. If he fails to do so, historians will view him as another Jimmy Carter; a well-intentioned loser who could get elected given favorable circumstances but could not perform once in office.

It Is Over

This blog did not support Barack Obama for president, viewing John McCain as the lesser evil. Having said that, it would be less than gracious not to extend congratulations to President-elect Obama.

We wish the new president well because he is the president we're going to have for the next four or more years. We wish him well because we wish our great nation well, and well-governed is a part of that.

Tomorrow will be time enough to parse out what the down-ballot election returns mean. Tonight it is enough to wish all of you pleasant dreams.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Campaign Valedictory

Okay, the long, long, long presidential campaign is over. We have had all manner of teapot tempests and seven-day-wonders, rumors and gaffes. Both vice presidential picks turned out to be at least somewhat embarrassing. People like Hillary and Rudy who were supposed to be winners, turned out to be losers.

Now the voters get to have their say for real, not just to pollsters. A lot of us have voted already, my absentee ballot went off to Wyoming weeks ago. The rest will vote tomorrow. Then we'll add up the results and see what it all means.

A quick prediction: the United States of America will survive four years of whichever of these two second-raters is elected. We survived Nixon and Carter, we can survive Obama or McCain. A second prediction: it won't be pretty.

Segregation Lives

This Chicago Tribune article reports African-American students holding separate homecoming ceremonies on a variety of mainstream campuses. What is revealed here is academia's dirty little secret: Minorities on campuses self-segregate and the cowardly school administrators allow it to happen and even facilitate it.

What makes this so immensely ironic is that university presidents insist on admission quotas or the equivalent in order to have a racially representative student body. Once they have this diverse student body, do they insist that everyone live, work, study, play, and celebrate in an integrated fashion? Study and work: yes. Play and celebrate: no. [The "live" is equivocal, some campuses have a la Raza dorm, an Asian dorm and/or a black dorm, other campuses don't.] And some campuses have racially separate fraternities and sororities organized by and for minorities.

I've kicked around academia for too many years; I've taught on 9 campuses in 3 states and a territory. My classes were always integrated. However, when I'd walk over to the student union and look at the students sitting around the tables eating, talking and studying, the tables were almost invariably segregated by race. Here an African-American table, then a couple of white tables, there a Hispanic table, or an Asian table, and a couple more white tables. Left to their own devices, college students self-segregate by race or ethnic group. The same pattern is generally true in the library, or in social groups of students walking across campus.

Many campuses have separate graduation ceremonies for students of this or that minority group. I hadn't heard about separate homecoming ceremonies but it makes sense and fits the pattern. Whatever happened to Brown v. Board of Education? I thought we'd established that "separate but equal" was nasty. Apparently it is only nasty if whites do it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ready for a Rest

Are you tired of presidential politics? Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that this presidential race has gone on forever? Can you imagine a life without political chatter? Even though this blog has seemingly been obsessed with the presidential horse race, I am suffering from political fatigue.

There is, however, good news. Starting on Wednesday we will get a break in presidential politics before the cycle begins anew. I, for one, am ready for that break. For about a week after Tuesday we will have post mortems of the race, and I can live with that. Then, blessed peace.

This blog will shift gears to travel blogging, international commentary, management wisdom, Harry Potter trivia, and such like. Two years from now we do it all again, but I don't have to think about that for many months.

Mouth of the South

President Evo Morales yesterday announced the end of operations of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration personnel in Bolivia. He accused them of aiding groups opposed to his government. See this New York Times article for details.

Mordant humor suggests that he is unsuccessfully competing with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez for the title "Mouth of the South." As the weeks go by, I see less reason to view Morales as different from a Colombian or Mexican drug lord.

U.S. tourists or NGO staff should avoid Bolivia in the near future. There is real chance of civil war between Morales' highland Indios and the more European people of the eastern lowlands.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Legal Musings

I don't have an aunt who is an illegal alien. If I did, and was an elected official of the U.S. government like a Senator, wouldn't I be legally bound to report it?

If I didn't report it, wouldn't I be an accessory after the fact? I am no expert, but I'd guess that would be a felony, and for sure a violation of senatorial rules.

Good Polling News

One robin does not make a spring, and one poll result does not necessarily signal a turn around. That said, it is worth noting the following finding from pollster John Zogby:

McCain outpolled Obama today, 48% to 47%.

Zogby goes on to to elaborate his findings as follows:
He is beginning to cut into Obama's lead among independents, is now leading among blue collar voters, has strengthened his lead among investors and among men, and is walloping Obama among NASCAR voters. Joe the Plumber may get his license after all. "Obama's lead among women declined, and it looks like it is occurring because McCain is solidifying the support of conservative women, which is something we saw last time McCain picked up in the polls.
Maybe these findings represent a statistical oddity, but good news is always welcome.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Political Angst

The U.S. is the sole remaining superpower, and the U.S. president is supposed to be the most powerful person in the world. If you didn't know better, you'd think such a job would attract a swarm of highly qualified, very able candidates. It doesn't.

How is it that our political system is so screwed up that the best our two major parties can give us is an abandoned by his parents freshman Senator with no accomplishments beyond oratory and a decent jump shot, and a ready-for-retirement curmudgeonly senior Senator whose decision-making is highly suspect and who is almost as unpopular among Republicans as Democrats.

Oddly, either of these paragons could be the proverbial Manchurian Candidate. Obama because he was raised a Muslim in Indonesia, and has hung out with Communists, domestic terrorists, and black nationalists ever since. McCain because he was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese Communists for several years and may have been brainwashed like the fictional Manchurian Candidate. These are not, by the way, serious allegations, they are instead merely ironic coincidences.

Back to my original question: what do we need to do to spur attractive, talented, experienced people to run for president? Shorten the race? Compel public funding?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

Mark Steyn, writing politics with tongue in cheek for the National Review:

This is an amazing race. The incumbent president has approval ratings somewhere between Robert Mugabe and the ebola virus. The economy is supposedly on the brink of global Armageddon. McCain has only $80 million to spend, while Obama's burning through $600 mil as fast as he can, and he doesn't really need to spend a dime given the wall-to-wall media adoration.

And yet an old cranky broke loser is within two or three points of the King of the World. Strange.

Maybe not so strange. Some of us believe "commander in chief" is the most important part of a president's duties.

Egypt Is Complex

I just read this Wall Street Journal interview with Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany, who is a best-selling novelist in the Arab world. The interview covers what you'd expect, comments about Egyptian poverty and lack of democracy. I daresay all of that is to some degree true.

However, on a recent visit to Alexandria we took a drive 50+ miles west to the World War II battlefield at El Alamein. During that entire drive we passed huge seashore condo developments. We estimated we saw many tens of thousands of units, in literally dozens of developments. These are obviously new and only occupied during the summer. We were there in late September and almost nobody was around.

The sheer size of this "second home" phenomenon in Egypt argues that there is a very substantial upper middle class with sufficient disposable income to afford a summer place at the beach. We take such developments for granted in the U.S.; we were stunned to see them in a supposedly impoverished country like Egypt which lacks oil wealth.

My conclusion - there is more to Egypt than the standard litany of poverty and dictatorship. Perhaps, like Singapore and China, the Egyptian government has discovered that if you can create economic opportunity for many of your people, they will not complain about a lack of governmental representativeness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Global Cooling

This article from The Register [U.K.] tells us that very early snow has fallen in London. The last time snow fell in October was 86 years ago in 1922. Ironically, while the unseasonably early snow fell, the House of Commons was debating a bill to control human contributions to global warming.

It a shame that the climate doesn't seem to have gotten the word about being hotter. Fortunately for its advocates, belief in global warming doesn't require proof, only a sense of guilt.

Quote of the Day

Howie Carr, writing for the Boston Herald:
Try not to let this destroy your faith in the integrity of the Massachusetts Legislature. Look on the bright side: Only 5 percent of the state Senate has been indicted this year.
That sounds like Chicago politics...pervasive sleaze.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McCain as Gadfly

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, argues that John McCain's natural political posture is as a gadfly, someone who often as not finds fault with his own party as well as the opposition. Lowry's view is that this gadfly tendency has made him a singularly ineffective presidential candidate.

I think I might agree with Lowry. His point that in taking the Jeremiah Wright association off the table, he lost one of his most effective arguments makes sense to me. You might find the article interesting.

Another View

It is received wisdom among conservatives that we don't get a fair shake in the mainstream media, or MSM. In this article the guys at Politico respond to the bias charge.

The article is an apparent response to complaints made by the authors' mothers; whether true or not, it is a cute way to frame the piece. Right up front they admit that maybe 80% of journalists vote Democrat. This, they say, is unimportant.

Their basic argument is that the McCain campaign has been poorly run. Their secondary argument is that the McCain of 2008 is less fun to cover than in 2000 because he is less press-available and maverick and more scripted and traditionally conservative. Their tertiary argument is that reporters fear being thought racist, and treat Obama with kid gloves.

I suspect all three allegations are true. I am less sure that they explain the observed difference in press coverage of the two candidates.

My guess is that you won't be converted to their viewpoint. Even if you are not, it is interesting to see how they explain it to themselves, or justify it, or whatever. And, the article is well written as is most stuff John Harris has a hand in.

Tony Hillerman

The press is reporting the death of author Tony Hillerman, age 83 in Albuquerque, NM. Tony was the author of the Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels featuring sleuths Sergeant Jim Chee and the "legendary" Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.

Hillerman wrote of the peoples of the Four Corners region with sympathy, insight and, I believe, genuine affection. I am no expert on the area but after reading his books I end up thinking I might know something of it.

I've read all of Hillerman's novels, some repeatedly. If you enjoy mysteries and you haven't read Hillerman, you have a treat in store for you that I wish was still in store for me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote of the Day III

Michael Barone, writing in his U.S. News & World Report blog, has some very interesting ideas about the changing demographics of the Democratic Party. He concludes:
The irony here is that voters motivated by anger at the decline in their wealth seem about to elect a president who has promised to embark on wealth-destroying policies.
An alternate title for this piece: "Being your own worst enemy in the polling booth."

Media Musings

As Jon Meacham says in a recent Newsweek article, politically the U.S. is a center-right nation. Current political fancies notwithstanding, the U.S. remains essentially a center-right nation.

In spite of this fact, most of our mainstream media are overwhelmingly liberal; Fox News and The Wall Street Journal being notable exceptions. Not coincidentally, most of our mainstream media outlets are hurting. Newspaper circulation is down, viewship of the major TV networks is down. Ad revenues which pay for our news operations are down too. As a marketing guy would say, what they're selling, we aren't buying.

Here is a radical concept. Do you suppose there might be a market for newspapers and television news that share values with their viewers and readers? This is not rocket science.

Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report reports viewership at the various news and opinion programs on the cable news channels (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) and week after week Fox has the highest rated programs. Partially, one supposes, this is because they are the only news outlet that leans right, while the other two cable news channels have to share left leaning viewers with ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS.

I think that Murdoch fellow may be onto something; he owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox. That gives him a near-monopoly on providing news for the half or more of the U.S. electorate whose values place them on the right.

Quote of the Day II

Barack Obama, from the transcript of a radio call in program, cited in a National Review article, and linked to the original audio from the Drudge Report here:
The Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.
Obama continues:
One of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.
"Redistribution" is lawyer-speak for the government stealing from those who earn the money to give it to those who don't, won't, or can't. Go read the entire interview, which took place on WBEZ, Chicago public radio in 2001, or listen to it on YouTube.

Quote of the Day I

Barack Obama, spoken to the Associated Press and repeated in a New York Times article:
I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me.

Remind me, doesn't most of the "middle class" Obama wants to protect and nurture live in the suburbs?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Babbling Brooks

For some years David Brooks was the only "house conservative" at The New York Times. For most of that time Brooks has been worth reading. Recently he has been joined in that role by William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

In the last couple of months Brooks has been dumping on Palin and, to a lesser extent on McCain. This column is an example of his disaffection with the current directions of the Republican Party, the McCain campaign, and the dearth of what we used to call derisively "the Rockefeller Republicans." I agree with him that the McCain campaign has been less-than-skillful much of the time.

Brooks identifies three strains in American politics and implies that they are of equal size: liberals, conservatives, and [his term] "progressive conservatives." He whines that in this election McCain gave up claims to this third group.

My sense of modern American politics is that we have become more and more polarized, and that there isn't much "middle" in the electorate. The folks who would be the middle often don't bother to vote.

If Brooks can't stomach the current Republican Party, and yet doesn't much like the Democrats either, he could end up sounding like one of those non-voters. A political columnist who might as well be a non-voter?

I suppose the real issue for Brooks is that he no longer has a clear role at the Times. I don't see how he can lay claim to "house conservative" any more, and the Times is downsizing as they make less and less money. Peggy Noonan may have the same problem at The Wall Street Journal. In both cases this is unfortunate as they have been talented writers.

Scenario Shift

On October 10 and 12 of this year, we speculated that an Obama victory on Nov. 4 would raise the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran in the immediate post-election period. Ceterus paribus, that would still be the case. [Ceteris paribus is Latin meaning "all other things being equal," a usage much beloved by academics.]

However, it turns out that in recent Israeli domestic politics, ceteris is definitely not paribus. As this New York Times article notes, the present Prime Minister, Olmert, has resigned over ethics issues and Livni, the woman who replaced him as leader of the Kadima party, has been unable to assemble a new governing coalition.

Early elections have been called to happen in February or March, 2009. The article speculates that Olmert will probably continue as acting Prime Minister until the elections. What all this means is that Israel will have a weak government between now and the inauguration of a new U.S. president in late January.

Lame duck governments tend not to launch military strikes as such governments are perceived to have little public support. Obama victory in November may not increase the immediate likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran. In this case Israeli domestic politics probably trump their foreign policy concerns.

Wishful Thinking

There is a well-known human phenomenon whereby we tend to believe true those things we want to be true. The everyday phrase for this is "wishful thinking." If you don't believe wishful thinking is widespread, stop reading here.

Everybody except the netroots left now agrees that the MSM wants Obama to win the presidency. A quick survey of MSM sources suggests they also report that Obama will win the presidency.

The real question now is the extent to which that assessment of probable outcomes is a result of wishful thinking versus actual data. I've read the polls and if you read this blog, you probably have too. The polls say Obama will win.

I say we will know who won on Wednesday, November 5. Let's let the voters have their say and then we'll live with their collective judgment, whatever it is.

The U.S. has, in my lifetime, survived some bad presidents chosen by our electorate. Whichever candidate wins this time, we will probably have another bad one.

Hang in there, friends. I expect we have sufficient institutional inertia to survive the next one. Of course, that too may be wishful thinking.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Steyn: Obama as President

The always-interesting Mark Steyn writes in the National Review concerning his view of the probably nature of an Obama presidency. My favorite line in the article is a quote he has taken from President Calvin Coolidge:
I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people.

The truth of these words cannot be exaggerated. If you would destroy people, give them things they didn't earn. It is the quickest possible way to destroy initiative and the work ethic, to turn self-reliant folks into welfare drones.

Steyn believes an Obama presidency would take the U.S. in the feckless direction of old Europe. The column is worth your time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy, Happy

David Montgomery, writing in The Washington Post, reports survey results from the Pew Research Center and they are fun. In short, their finding is that conservatives are happier than liberals, Republicans are happier than Democrats, and this is even true today in tough times for Republicans.

Montgomery puzzles at length about why this might be so. As is often the case in correlational studies, he has the causal arrow pointing in the wrong direction. Being Republican doesn't make you happy, being happy makes you Republican.

If life is working out just fine for you, you are likely to believe it doesn't need changing. Not changing the status quo is a decent working definition for "conservative." On the other hand, if you aren't happy with your lot, then change might make your situation better.

If you have life under control and working for you, you don't feel a need for government help and won't want to pay for same. You'll become a Republican. If, on the other hand, life isn't working out very well for you, government help would be welcome and you probably won't have to pay for it anyway, the Republicans will. You'll become a Democrat.

So, fellow conservatives, go read the article and have even more fun in your life.

Palin Was Right

Joe Biden and the MSM have been giving Sarah Palin a hard time about her assertion that some parts of the country are more patriotic than others. Those of us who've lived in both city and country don't find her claim outlandish at all.

This National Review article reports University of Michigan research data that totally supports her claim. Small town residents are 50% more likely to say they have extremely strong love for the U.S. than their big city counterparts. Roughly half of big city residents have extremely strong love of the U.S. while three quarters of small town and rural residents hold that view. As we social scientists like to say, that difference is both statistically significant and meaningful.

Border Tensions

This New York Times article reports unrest and tensions along the Brazil-Paraguay border. Paraguay has a new populist president, Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop. His primary constituency is among the poor, who are agitating to take back land from Brazilian farmers who have farms in Paraguay. Meanwhile, the article reports recent Brazilian military maneuvers along the border, making Paraguay nervous.

Paraguayans have every right to be nervous. Brazil has 28 times the population of Paraguay and 21 times the land area. Compared to giant Brazil, Paraguay is militarily (and economically) insignificant. I presume the Brazilian army could occupy landlocked Paraguay in a weekend, and I presume Paraguay knows this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Inexact Something

Polling has got to be the most inexact thing (art? science? seance?) going. There are polls that show Obama ahead by 10 points, and others that show him and McCain essentially even. AP-GfKRoper poll shows them even, as does the George Washington University Battleground poll. Today's RealClearPolitics average of several polls shows Obama ahead by 7.1 percentage points. I guess you believe whichever poll has the results you like.

One thing I do know, none of the polls shows McCain ahead by 10 points, or even 2 points. Certainly outcome-changing events can happen between now and Nov. 4. However, absent something big happening, McCain's last clear chance would seem to rest on the Bradley effect. That is not a good place for him to be, but it could win him the presidency.

Later...since I wrote the comment above, I ran across this Associated Press article that explains how the variance among polls occurs. I found it helpful, maybe you will too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Man Bites Dog

This article in reports that a senior official in an Iranian strategy think tank, Dr. Seyed G. Safavi, told diplomats in London that he is recommending Iran make a preemptive strike on Israel. The intended purpose would be to head off an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The real question is this: Is this story disinformation, or is it for real?

If Iran should actually attack Israel, the only thing you can imagine President Bush saying to Israel is"You certainly have the right to defend yourself, with our help." Ditto a President McCain.

I'd guess a President Obama would echo Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" And I think Israel knows this.

AP: Obama, McCain Essentially Even

The Associated Press, which has favored Obama throughout much of this race, reports that their AP-GfK poll shows Obama with 44%, McCain with 43%. Their evaluation of these numbers:
McCain and Barack Obama (are) essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.
This represents a real shift after the third debate.
Three weeks ago, an AP-GfK survey found that Obama had surged to a seven-point lead over McCain.
Here is where early voting via absentee ballot makes a difference. Early voters can change their minds but not their votes.

Whoever wins, a close race is more fun than a landslide. On the other hand, one could reasonably argue that a landslide gives whoever wins a real mandate, where a close race does not.

Crisis, Cause of

This Christian Science Monitor article explains the root causes of the current economic crisis. You owe it to yourself to read it. As Ronald Reagan was fond of telling us, government is not the solution, government is the problem. Or as the article says,
Government regulations and other interventions – not greed – are the major cause of our current problems.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seeing Racism Where None Exists

This article in the Kansas City Star argues that "socialist" is an old code word for "black." Perhaps that was once true, half a century ago. Nowadays socialism is most often associated in people's minds with either Scandinavia or China; residents of neither are black.

If a politician embraces redistributionist policies, those can fairly be called "socialist." Perhaps we should stop calling people racists unless their behavior is so extreme as to leave no doubt. For as Sigmund Freud said in making fun of some of his followers who saw so-called Freudian symbols everywhere, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

U.S. Culture Is Viral

U.S. culture has a high contagion factor; in modern Internet terms, it would be called "viral." Here is a great example from Bloomberg, saying McDonalds is kicking butt in the lunch market in France. Beau coup bistros are closing their doors, while Mickey D is doing well. I love it.

Cultural artifacts that survive in a market environment featuring highly varied customers (i.e., the U.S.) tend to do well in other countries. It is the most insidious form of cultural imperialism, the most difficult to resist. Le Big Mac is but another example to add to a long list that includes Coca Cola, blue jeans, American slang, rock music, and Hollywood films.

Battleground Stunner

The Battleground Poll has Obama's lead down to 1%, they have Obama at 48% and McCain at 47%. No explanation, just see the numbers here.

Check out the trend lines on their graph. If those slow trends continue, the only question is whether there is enough time left for McCain to pull into the lead. You can understand why Obama is encouraging people to go vote early, before they change their minds.

Now, one more time, tell me about the Obama landslide that is expected by some.

Quote of the Day

Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post,

The truth is that an Obama administration would be a second Carter presidency - only far worse. Think Bush weakened America? Just wait.

I think Peters exaggerates slightly. Read the whole article and decide for yourself.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spin Matters

Mike Allen's Playbook column at quotes ABC News' George Stephanopoulos as saying of the Powell endorsement of Obama:
His endorsement is a real signal to moderate Republicans and independents that Barack Obama is OK.
I prefer the interpretation that it is a real signal to all Republicans and conservatives that RINO Colin Powell is not OK. I'm not sure what independents make of the endorsement, probably not much.

Spin matters.

Ahead of the Curve

Yesterday, commenting on the Powell endorsement of Obama, COTTonLINE said the following:
Retirement can be boring if you've been somebody important. It appears General Powell is angling for a job in an Obama administration.
Today, we see this proved out in an Associated Press article which says:
Colin Powell will have a role as a top presidential adviser in an Obama administration.

We at COTTonLINE love it when we can identify an issue ahead of the MSM.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nicaragua Status Report

Jackson Diehl writes an interesting Washington Post article about the situation in Nicaragua, and the thuggish behavior of the Ortega government there. Diehl makes the interesting point that nobody in the U.S. State Department seems at all worried about Ortega's anti-democratic activities, activities that we have noted before on this blog.

It turns out the main vocal opponents of the regime are a group of leftist Latin American intellectuals. Diehl managed to elicit this off-the-record response from State Department 'sources:'
Nicaragua doesn't pose any particular threat to the United States. And the lambasting the caudillo (Ortega) is getting from his former comrades is probably more effective than anything the United States could say.
I'll bet the Ticos are very unhappy about this situation, for it will trigger even more "Nickies" to become illegal immigrants to Costa Rica.

Powell Looks for Work

Former RINO Secretary of State and General Colin Powell today endorsed Barack Obama for president. That is the political equivalent of selecting a young, newly promoted brigadier to command all U.S. forces in Iraq.

Powell claims Obama's race had nothing to do with his choice. If you believe that, you are almost certainly too naive to be allowed outdoors without adult supervision.

Do you suppose Powell is getting even with Bush for first not listening to him and then replacing him with Condi Rice? If so, he may have waited almost too late.

Retirement can be boring if you've been somebody important. It appears General Powell is angling for a job in an Obama administration.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

Doug Giles, writing for
I guarantee the hard-working “Joes” out there who have worked their plumber butts off 10-12 hours a day for the last decade aren’t too jazzed at the prospects of Obama Robin Hooding their hard-earned cash on behalf of a crack whore.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Noonan's Moonin'

Peggy Noonan, who has written some good columns for The Wall Street Journal, as well as a lot of gushy tripe for the same source, has really stepped in the doggy poo this time. She writes a column entitled "Palin Failin'" and reveals, quite unintentionally I'm sure, that she is an awful elitist, the worst kind of country club Republican.

Peggy lives in New York City and pretty clearly doesn't understand [or feel comfortable with] those of us who live "out in the hinterlands." Sarah Palin is the kind of spunky small town gal we see a lot of in Wyoming, or for that matter in rural California. Wyoming was the first state to give women the vote, and Jackson was the first town in the nation to have an all-female town council.

Noonan complains that we don't know what Palin stands for. Get real, Noonan. Vice presidential candidates stand for what the presidential candidate stands for. To the extent there is variance, and there has been some between McCain and Palin, the veep candidate ends up having to explain how they will stifle their differences and toe the party line.

Noonan's real problem with Palin is stylistic. Palin wouldn't fit in to New York salon society. Most Americans wouldn't fit either, and have no interest in so doing.

In truth, most Americans have met few New Yorkers they've liked at all. 'Noo Yawkers' are normally abrasive and obnoxious. In a long life I have known exactly two New York natives who overcame their upbringing, lost the chip on the shoulder, and evolved into real, likable human beings. Sad....

Whole Lot of Hatin' Goin' On

Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald F. Seib, reporting the findings of pollster Peter Hart, co-director of the Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll:
In surveying voters over the weekend, Mr. Hart found that more than a third of each candidate's supporters say they have grown to "detest" either John McCain or Sen. Obama so deeply that they would have a hard time accepting the one they don't support as president.*
There is nothing particularly new about this phenomenon. I suspect at least 1/3 of Republicans hated and didn't accept Clinton and at least 1/3 of Democrats feel the same way about Bush.

For reasons I don't understand, it is now okay to hate the other party's candidate, and the horse he rode in on. I mean really hate, as in be happy if the miserable SOB develops incurable cancer. COTTonLINE deplores this trend.

*Source: Wall Street Journal print edition for Tuesday, October 14, 2008, page A10. No web link to an open source at the WSJ could be found.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gallup Shocker

Gallup finds Obama leads McCain by 49% to 47% among likely voters. This is within the poll's margin of error. In other words, they are essentially tied. Even more important is the following caveat:
Almost all of the interviews in this three-day rolling average were conducted before Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate at Hofstra University.
Since McCain is widely thought to have won the third debate, can we expect their numbers to be tied by Saturday?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quote of the Day II

John McCain, speaking at the last presidential debate:
Senator Obama, I'm not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.

Quote of the Day I

Melanie Phillips, writing in The Spectator (U.K.):
The contrast between, on the one hand, the huge amount of material about Obama’s radical associations that has been published in on-line journals and in a few brave newspapers, and on the other the refusal by big media to address it and to vilify those who do, becomes more astounding by the day.
Sometimes the truth is more apparent when seen from a distance, like across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Conservative Harper Wins in Canada

The Washington Post reports here that Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, has won reelection as Prime Minister of Canada. Harper had hoped for an outright majority of the 308 seats in Parliament, but fell short while improving his party's position by something like 17 seats.

If, as is expected, Obama wins in the United States, he will soon be the only liberal among the leaders of the G-7. How ironic. Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada all have conservative leaders now and the U.K. is expected to go conservative at the next general election which will likely be in 2009.

Resurgent Islam in Turkey

This New York Times article about the conflict over women adopting Islamic wear in previously secular Turkey is worth reading. The DrsC were in Turkey a month ago and saw lots of women covered from head to ankle, in hot weather. The other DrC has pix on her website,

It would appear that at least some of the apparent orthodoxy is merely youth rebellion against the status quo. My on-scene observations suggest the Times has given this aspect of the movement too much emphasis. We saw plenty of older women covered up too, no youthful rebels they.

If Turkey loses its secular emphasis and slips into Islamic orthodoxy, a large and relatively developed country will have joined "the other side" in what many of us are calling "the Long War."

Quote of the Day

The New York Times' David Brooks, writing about the probable outcome of an Obama victory:
What we’re going to see, in short, is the Gingrich revolution in reverse and on steroids. There will be a big increase in spending and deficits. In normal times, moderates could have restrained the zeal on the left. In an economic crisis, not a chance. The over-reach is coming. The backlash is next.
So...Reid and Pelosi get to buy the votes of the poor using your hard-earned money. Brooks doesn't mention how inflationary this deficit spending will be, how it will devalue your savings.

Golly, I can hardly wait for all this fun to begin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Peoples Separated by a Common Language

Every time I think about how all the talk about bailing out Fannie and Freddie must be playing in the U.K. and Australia I snicker. Given the general state of current economic news (i.e., mostly bad), laughs are not that common and are consequently highly valued.

The reason for this is that "fanny" in the U.K. is slang for vagina. Don't take my word for it, Google it for yourself. I was reminded of this linguistic quirk by some Brits I met on a recent cruise. I wonder if news readers on the BBC can do stories about Fannie and Freddie with a straight face?

Come to think of it, I wonder what the Brits and the Oz think of that famous old U.S. cookbook, generally known by the name of its author: Fannie Farmer? No plowing jokes, please.

Travelers' Alert

As this Associated Press article indicates, there is increased potential for sudden armed conflict between the armies of Cambodia and Thailand along a disputed border region. While neither country's military is equipped for a highly mobile war of maneuver, it is still the sort of situation in which tourists should be wary. Note that Thailand is alleging that Cambodia is planting land mines, which could easily destroy the leg of an unsuspecting tourist.