Saturday, May 31, 2008

Eastern Oregon Impressions

The DrsC spent the last two days driving north through Oregon east of the Cascade Mountains, from Klamath Falls through Bend and Madras past Mt. Hood to hook up with I-84 and thence to I-5 north. This is attractive country, which doesn't feel at all like part of a coastal state. It has the "mountain West" feeling: conifers and sage and snow on the peaks. The city of Bend is growing rapidly, and is the regional center for trade and transportation, probably medical services too.

There are lots of RV parks in the area, being used, and lots of RV dealers too. I'd guess the latter are wishing they were in another business in this era of sky-high fuel prices. In the short to medium term people will be put off by the poor fuel mileage RVs or their pullers get. In the longer term, people will adjust their notions of what constitutes a high fuel price and probably start buying RVs again. The question for RV dealers is if they can stay in business long enough to see that happen ... many dealers won't make it. The marketplace is a fickle mistress, your sweetheart one day and gone the next. Success lies in guessing her whims before she experiences them, as well as providing good value for money to your customers.

South of Bend there is a very shiny (in the Firefly sense) development called Sun River, actually the former site of a WW II Army Engineers training base. The only thing that remains from that era is the officer's club, which is now called The Great Hall, and it is pretty darn great, too. Its architecture is national park rustic, not unlike the grand old hotel at Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The Sun River development looks like a very nice place to call home, or summer home, whichever works for you. The downside is that the homes look to be at considerable risk for forest fire. Highly combustible fir trees grow right next to the houses and if there are firebreaks I couldn't see them. I wouldn't want to write the fire insurance here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Spengler" on Iran

The pundit who writes as "Spengler" in the Asia Times of Hong Kong has some interesting things to say about the precarious state of the Iranian economy and the likelihood that this will push the country into imperial adventures, attempts to control or conquer adjacent countries. See his recent article for a full statement of the argument. His conclusion is sobering:
An old piece of diplomatic wisdom states that one always should give one's enemy a way out. But I see no way out for the pocket empire of Persia. Ahmadinejad and his generation of Revolutionary Guards will fight, and cautious old men like Rafsanjani will not be able to stop them.

Travel Blogging Alert

The DrsC will be traveling for the next couple of weeks. Driving to and from Seattle, cruising to and from Alaska. The other DrC will be lecturing aboard on digital photography - how to take better vacation pix.

We've driven to Alaska, perhaps 20 years ago. You see the inland part of the state plus Anchorage when you drive. This way we'll see the southern coastal "panhandle" along with the capital, Juneau.

As we approach the longest day of the year, and go ever farther north, we should experience what they call in St. Petersburg "the white nights." I remember reading a newspaper outdoors at 1 a.m. without artificial light in Fairbanks on June 21. I'll blog some impressions as we get the chance.

The Company He Keeps, Part II

On May 25, 2008, we wrote about the number of unfortunate endorsements that Barack Hussein Obama has received from America haters. Sure enough, now he has one more: Fidel Castro, the godfather of anti-Americanism in the Western Hemisphere.

Fox News reports here that Fidel, writing in the government newspaper Granma, was very positive about Obama:
(C)alling Obama “progressive,” and praising his “great intelligence” and “debating skills” and “work ethic.”

I wonder which enemy of the U.S. will endorse Obama next? Maybe Kim Jong-Il? How about Osama ben Laden?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Indiana Jones Not Factual

This Agence France Presse article complains that many aspects of Peru shown in the latest Indiana Jones movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," are incorrect. Ya think?

AFP reports Peruvians are upset about misconceptions like finding Mayan ruins in the Peruvian rain forest, and the Nazca lines shown being too close to Cuzco. For that matter, why couldn't a bilingual speaker of Spanish and Quechua be riding with Pancho Villa? Do Peruvian Indians never travel or emigrate?

My view: the Peruvians should lighten up. The entire Indiana Jones oeuvre exists in a parallel universe where the U.S. government quietly rounds up magical items and warehouses them in Fort Knox (first film) or in Area 51 in the Nevada desert (film four).

In the Indy universe, magic "works." The ark of the covenant melts the faces of various Nazi goons in film one. A shaman tears out a human heart with his bare hand in film two. Water from the holy grail saves the life of Indy's gut shot father in film three. And in film four ... oops, I almost included a spoiler here.

To complain about inaccuracies in Indiana Jones films is like carping that the curses and spells in Jo Rowling's Harry Potter series don't actually work. Like Potter, Indiana Jones is fantasy and should be enjoyed as such.

Iran: Nation State or Revolutionary Cause?

Here is a very thoughtful Wall Street Journal article about the problems in dealing with Iran. As the article points out, when Iran acts like a nation state, it can negotiate reasonable deals with others. However, when it acts like the headquarters of a world-wide Shia-led revolution, it is not amenable to negotiated deals.
Mr. Ahmadinejad is talking about changing the destiny of mankind, while Mr. Obama and his foreign policy experts offer spare parts for Boeings or membership in the World Trade Organization.

The bottom line here is that Obama is wrong; you really cannot talk to Iran about the major things that matter to the U.S.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trouble in South Africa

Black-on-black violence in South Africa is the subject of this Wall Street Journal article. The author, who is the southern Africa correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, says the government of South Africa totally misunderstands the nature of the problem.

As is often the case, the misunderstanding arises out of a conflict between ideology and the facts on the ground. Here is a key graf:
ANC leaders have preferred to give homilies, from a safe distance, about how when the ANC was in exile they received hospitality from many African countries and everyone must accordingly treat other Africans as brothers now. This fails to understand the difference between a country hosting a few thousand ANC exiles and the competitive impact in the labor, housing and other markets of millions of illegal immigrants.

The unemployment rate in South Africa is 58%, and the government wonders why their citizens resent millions of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi? It would appear that world travelers should add South Africa to their list of places where it is safer not to travel at this time.

Coburn's Rx for the GOP

Senator Tom Coburn (R, OK) writes a Wall Street Journal opinion piece concerning what went wrong with the GOP and what is needed to set it right. His view of what went wrong: big spending. His view of what is needed to set it right: cut the big spending, big borrowing, expansive government actions.

Who knows if he is right? I'd guess we won't get a chance to find out if 'Doctor' Coburn has the right Rx for the GOP, since the incumbents seem to be trying to be Democrats light.

Economic Migrants a Worldwide Phenomenon

Ralph Peters, who writes for the New York Post, often has interesting things to say. See this article about the worldwide nature of illegal immigration for economic reasons. Peters takes a balanced view of the issue.

Peters points out that illegal immigration is a problem for places as different as South Africa and France, as well as the United States. He may be more sanguine about the future of the 12 million illegals now in the U.S. than I am, but he proposes what might be workable policy.

One of his recommendations I can heartily endorse:
What's the worst thing we could do about the new global migration? Ignore it. Postpone solutions. Pretend - as we did 20 years ago - that illegal immigration is a temporary phenomenon curable with a "one-time" amnesty.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pres. Ortega Praises Terrorist

See this brief Associated Press article which shows Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega praising the recently deceased FARC Colombian terrorist leader Manuel Marulanda as "our brother" in the fight against free markets and capitalism. If Ortega isn't careful, he might find his government dealing with, and losing to, the contras again.

Counterterrorism 101

This article in the journal Foreign Policy lays out some highly successful counterterrorism efforts in nations as different as France, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and Singapore. It is a quick read and serves as a decent primer on fighting terrorism.

The common thread in all of the efforts is that civil liberties are often infringed upon in the process. At some point, people have to decide the extent to which they are willing to compromise civil liberties to squelch terrorism.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The other DrC and I viewed the new Indiana Jones film this afternoon. Since you may not have seen it, I will avoid including "spoilers" here.

The new film has all of the features we've come to expect from an Indy movie. The action is non-stop, the settings are exotic, the villains are bizarre, the sidekicks are interesting, and a willingness to suspend disbelief is required. The plot "works," it doesn't have too many holes.

I give nothing important away to say that the overseas settings are in Peru. This setting made the film particularly interesting to us since we were in Peru for a couple of weeks earlier this spring. We'd seen some of the settings used in the film.

The bottom line is the film was fun and we'll probably see it again when the DVDs become available.

The Company He Keeps

In this article the Los Angeles Times states categorically that Iran, surely no friend of the United States, hopes Barack Obama wins the U.S. Presidency. In earlier posts we've linked to articles which say the Palestinians hope BO wins. And he started his political career in the home of a convicted terrorist. And posters of Che Guevara tend to show up in his campaign headquarters, and his pastor of 20 years is a crazy black liberationist, and Hamas seems to like him, and, and, and....

Clearly the evidence mounts that Barack Hussein Obama is very comfortable in the company of, and is congenial in the eyes of, people who do not wish the United States well. At some point the fact that Obama does not endorse these enemies of the United States, who nevertheless endorse him, becomes irrelevant. A person is often known by the company he keeps, and Barack Hussein Obama looks good to too many people who hate the United States.

It is the belief of this blogger that the United States needs a president who is feared by our enemies, not one they feel good about. In this context, let me repeat here a quote from Dean Acheson that we posted on May 21, 2008:
No people in history have ever survived, who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.

Heads Up

This story in The Scotsman implies strongly that Israel will attack Iran's nuclear weapon development sites within the next 18 months. If it happens, that attack is likely to precipitate all sorts of violent reactions by players on all sides, and the United States will get drawn into it, albeit reluctantly.

Presumably, the first reaction would be attacks on Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Iran. Another possible outcome could be an oil crisis of the sort we had during the Nixon and Carter eras. This could happen if the Islamic oil producers, furious over our likely support of Israel, decided to turn off the oil spigot.

We live in interesting times....

Memorial Day Musings

Take a moment this Memorial Day weekend to remember the sacrifices made on our behalf by the nation's men and women in the military. For over two hundred years they have stood between us and our enemies abroad.

Don't forget in your meditations the service of our first responders: law enforcement, fire fighters, and EMTs. They stand between us and the threats here at home.

Finally, for those of us whose parents are gone, remember their love and labor that provided our 'launching pad.' So much of what we are, we owe to them.

Quote of the Day

Former senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson writes in The Wall Street Journal an article entitled "The Death of Conservatism Is Greatly Exaggerated." The entire article is worth your time; I particularly resonated with the following:
An education system cannot overcome the breakdown of the family, and the social fabric that surrounds children daily.

That pretty much sums up what is wrong with the President's well-intentioned No Child Left Behind initiative. Holding teachers responsible for the poor outcomes of children from dysfunctional homes in ruined neighborhoods is like blaming the Salvation Army for homelessness.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Foreign Students: Good or Bad?

The conventional wisdom has been that foreign students who come to the U.S. to study develop an appreciation for our finer qualities. If they go home (many never do) they are believed to go home as U.S. allies.

The evidence that there is little correlation between studying in the U.S. and liking the U.S. is becoming too strong to ignore. For example, see this Associated Press story about Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and recent graduate student in Illinois. He is a strong supporter of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, leader of the anti-American movement in Latin America. Correa's recent years as a doctoral student at the University of Illinois apparently did not convince him of our benign goodness.

The implications of a reevaluation of foreign student policy are relatively clear. Spending U.S. tax dollars on subsidizing foreign students at U.S. universities may not be a good investment, unless the intent is to keep the graduate here as part of the "brain gain." Even this can be problematic, as we have found with several Chinese students who came here, studied, got technical work, and were later nailed by the FBI for espionage - sending secrets home.

The bottom line: at minimum, the policy of opening our doors to tens of thousands of foreign students should be reexamined by officials who, unlike universities, don't stand to gain (or lose) from their presence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Coulter: Obama = Appeasement

Ann Coulter's current article at HumanEvents.com is absolutely dead accurate about the futility of talking to tyrants. And of course she manages to be fun to read at the same time that she is historically accurate, that is a nice combination. She concludes:
Liberals refuse to learn from history because they put their hands over their ears and tell themselves over and over again: "Hitler was different.

Quotes of the Day

Secretary of State Dean Acheson, cited by Sen. Joe Lieberman here, discussing the limitations of diplomacy:
No people in history have ever survived, who thought they could protect their freedom by making themselves inoffensive to their enemies.

Then Lieberman opines:
This is a lesson that today's Democratic Party leaders need to relearn.

Smokin' Joe

In a Wall Street Journal article, Sen. Joe Lieberman says some things about the Democratic Party that seriously need to be said. It has become defeatist, and sees the United States as the main threat to world peace.

To be sure, he is too quick to defend Bill Clinton as a New Democrat. Clinton allowed provocations like the bombing of the USS Cole to go essentially unchallenged.

Even so, Lieberman understands that there are real enemies out there, folks who wish us dead. He is the only Democrat on the national stage today who has any courage vis-a-vis our enemies. I wonder if he could be convinced to become a Republican?

Maureen Nails It

Giving you a link to a Maureen Dowd column isn't a common occurrance in this space. She normally works the left side of the street, we normally work the right.

Having said that, you've got to go read her New York Times column reporting an imagined "last debate" between Hillary and Barack. It is wickedly funny and doesn't spare either of these talented, flawed people. Here is a sample, Obama speaking:
I would be polite and ask you to be my vice president, but you’d accept, just the same way Lyndon Johnson sandbagged Bobby Kennedy, so I can’t. You and Bill are just too much drama for me. Bill is off-the-charts crazy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quote of the Day

James Taranto, writing in The Wall Street Journal online, cracking wise about the catering requirements at the Democratic convention in Denver.
Hey, if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

That is a reasonable question to pose to the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It reminds me of that other well-known question:
If tin whistles are made of tin, what are fog horns made of?

Optimistic Polling Data

Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports shares some optimistic polling data. In a national telephone survey, he finds that 62% of respondents would prefer fewer government services with lower taxes. Only 29% would prefer more government services with higher taxes. Interestingly, an identical 62% think American society is generally fair and decent. Only 27% think it is unfair and discriminatory. These are optimistic findings.

Less optimistically, 47% of respondents think America's best days have come and gone, while 39% think our best days lie ahead. I suspect this last is a reflection of the fact that we are an aging population and, as we age, we tend to think that our personal best days have come and gone.

Overall, these findings are conservative and that is good news for us on (as well as "in") the right.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Apolitical Humor Alert

The following has been making the rounds on email for about a year. I have no idea the original source, a Google search turns up 15,000 hits. I love words, and that is what this humor is all about - wordplay.

HUMOR FOR LEXOPHILES (lovers of words)
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
  • Police were called to a day care where a toddler was resisting a rest.
  • This fellow's whole left side was cut off. He's all right now.
  • To write with a broken pencil is pointless.
  • The short fortune teller escaped from prison - a small medium at large.
  • When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.
  • The math professor went crazy at the blackboard. He did a number on it.
  • The professor discovered her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.
  • The dead batteries were given out free of charge.
  • A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.
  • A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.
  • A will is a dead giveaway.
  • A backward poet writes inverse.
  • A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.
  • With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.
  • A grenade fell into a kitchen in France, resulted in linoleum blown apart.
  • A calendar's days are numbered.
  • A boiled egg is hard to beat.
  • If you jump off a Paris bridge, you are in Seine.
  • When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.
  • Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis
Hint: Some find reading these aloud helps.

Pity the Poor Roo

This Agence France-Presse article reports the "culling" of kangaroos in Australia as though this was something new. It is not new and I'm not sure why it is being reported as such.

The other DrC and I were in Oz (aka Australia) last October and were served kangaroo steak on The Ghan, Australia's north-south cross-country passenger train. I didn't much care for it, because it was gamy, as venison often is. We were also served a sort of kangaroo-based salami that was quite good.

The folks who run Australia's huge sheep stations (i.e., ranches) have been killing kangaroos forever, as the roos compete with the sheep for scarce grass. We were also in Oz in 1985, riding the east-west cross-country passenger train called the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth. Somewhere in the countryside not far from Broken Hill the train passed a truckload of dead kangaroos, stacked like cord wood, headed for a knacker or pet food plant.

Pity the poor roo....

Men, Women Choose Differently

See this article in The Boston Globe, which reports the results of two new studies showing that men and women make different occupational choices when equally prepared. Here is the essence of the findings:
When it comes to certain math- and science-related jobs, substantial numbers of women - highly qualified for the work - stay out of those careers because they would simply rather do something else.

Poor Larry Summers lost his job as President of Harvard for saying something very like this. One of the interesting findings was this:
That men, relative to women, prefer to work with inorganic materials; women, in general, prefer to work with organic or living things. This gender disparity was apparent very early in life, and it continued to hold steady over the course of the participants' careers.

Kristol Sees a Pattern

Look at this piece by Bill Kristol in The New York Times, which takes an optimistic view of McCain's chances in November. Maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong, we'll know in six months. Meanwhile, if you've been looking for a ray of sunshine in all the negativity vis-a-vis the GOP, as I have, here it is.

I Told You So

On March 4 I did a column on the strangeness of Oregon. Here is a further example: Obama gets a quite literally huge crowd in Portland. The estimated turnout equals something like 15% of the entire population of Portland. The New York Times article includes a photo of the event that looks like turnout for the Pope or the Rose Parade.

That a youngish lawyer with an America-hating, counterculture mother, an absentee Islamic father, and a chip-on-the-shoulder America-hating wife, whose political experience is based mostly on advocacy in the fever swamp of Chicago identity group politics and whose few identifiable political stands are to the left of Ted Kennedy can draw such a large crowd is testament to Oregon's weirdness. Oregon is definitely Twin Peaks country.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

In a blog posting at The Weekly Standard online, Dean Barnett gives several examples of Obama's misunderstandings of U.S. history. He summarizes as follows:
Obama showed trademark characteristics of a callow, young Ivy League grad – he thinks he knows more than he does, and has the audacity to lecture others when he doesn't know what he's talking about. Obama seems perversely intent on transporting an old adage regarding Harvard over to the Crimson’s law school: “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.”

You can't tell him much...yeah, that works.

The MSM Finally Catches On

We discussed Barack Hussein Obama's Muslim upbringing and current status as an apostate Muslim in this column months ago. Now I see the topic finally showing up in The Christian Science Monitor here. It is nice when the mainstream media finally catches on to the more obvious issues like this one.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barone: It's a Weird Year

Michael Barone, one of the best political analysts, writes a very interesting summary of the primary election season to date for the National Review Online. He notes that neither McCain nor Obama is the overwhelming choice of the voters in his own party. Barone being Barone, he gives you the numbers to prove his contention.

He points out that both Obama and McCain have benefited from the mistakes of their competitors. McCain essentially hoping that none of the other candidates would "catch fire" with the electorate, and they didn't. Obama's lead in pledged delegates a result of Clinton's failure to organize in the caucus states.

McCain is not terribly popular with conservative Republicans and Obama is not terribly popular with blue-collar Democrats. We could possibly see cross-over voting, ticket-splitting, and/or maybe voting "no" by staying home. We might even see non-trivial numbers of Democrats voting for Ralph Nader and Republicans voting for Bob Barr. These, by the way, are my conclusions, not Barone's.

Paraguay: Cautious Optimism

This article by Jaime Daremblum in The Daily Standard online site of The Weekly Standard magazine, says the new leader of Paraguay may follow a path like that of Peru, instead of like Venezuela or Bolivia. It is early days, but the initial signs are encouraging. Former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo, the new President of Paraguay, may be taking the direction that "works," that produces economic growth and a rising standard of living.

As the article notes, there are two routes national leaders are taking in Latin America. One is the anti-American, anti-markets route of the "little Castros:" Chavez (Venezuela), Morales (Bolivia), and Ortega (Nicaragua). The other is the market-oriented, entrepreneurial tack taken by Lula da Silva (Brazil), Bachelet (Chile), Vazquez (Uruguay) and GarcĂ­a (Peru).

Undoubtedly, the emotionally satisfying tack to take in Latin America is to blame the U.S. for whatever is wrong with your country. That tack relieves people of asking the hard questions: What are we doing to cause our own problems? What can we do to solve them? The countries which have been willing to 'look in the mirror' and say "We are causing our own problems and we can solve them" are the ones which have made real economic and social progress.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sub-Prime Mess Explained

Here is a link to a newsletter by Marotta Asset Management that has a quite different 'take' on the whole sub-prime lending debacle. The basic argument is that the bad loans were made because the Clinton administration pushed lenders to make risky loans to unqualified borrowers in the name of civil rights and affirmative action.

Marotta argues that banks and other lenders were forced to make loans they knew were iffy in order to keep the likes of Jesse Jackson off their collective backs. He views it as an example (one of many) of well-intentioned public policy generating spectacularly bad unintended consequences.

I don't know if he is right. However, his argument makes sense in terms of my experience with public policy which is often economically illiterate.

Belgium Bilingually Bemused

Sixty percent of the population of Belgium speaks Dutch, lives in the northern region called Flanders, and are called "Flemish." The other forty percent speak French, live in the southern region called Wallonia, and are called "Walloons." There is a peaceful (so far) independence movement in the affluent Flemish region of Belgium. We hear very little about it here in the U.S.

This article from the International Herald Tribune is a decent introduction to the issue. Countries with two official languages, like Belgium and Canada, are inherently unstable. Understanding this fact makes it important to require that everything we do here in the U.S. be done in English.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Morris on the Veepstakes

The always readable, often insightful Dick Morris, writing for Real Clear Politics.com, says Obama cannot select Clinton as the vice presidential nominee. His basic position is that:

It would not help him get elected, it would drag all the Clinton controversies into the general election, and having her down the hall in the West Wing would be a recipe for disaster, dissension and civil war. Other than that, it’s a hell of an idea!

Do read his analysis of her inability to bring additional votes to the Democratic ticket. He concludes:
Hillary would add no votes to Obama, she would dog his campaign with scandal, she would be disloyal in office, and her husband would be, at best, a huge distraction. Case closed.

Obama's Arab Supporters

It would appear that Barack Hussein Obama has some ardent supporters among the Palestinians in Gaza. I am taking National Review Online's word for the appearance of this on Al Jazeera as I don't read their stuff myself.

If this is on the level, it cannot help him with a key Democratic voting bloc: American Jews.

Einstein: Religion Childish

An auction house in the UK is selling a German-language letter by world-famous physicist Albert Einstein which says that the Jews, his people, are not a chosen people. The key quote is the following:
For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.

See the article which reports the sale and the content of the letter here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Veep Stakes

Speculation is rife about McCain's choice for a nominee for vice president. McCain's age makes the identity of his vice president running mate more critical. James Pethokoukis, writing in U.S.News & World Report, says Mike Huckabee is at or near the top of the short list. He would be an interesting choice, so let's think about him for a bit.

On the plus side, of all the people running in both parties this year, Huckabee is probably the best natural campaigner. Put him in front of an audience and they soon will be eating out of his hand. He comes across as a nice, relaxed person, a guy you'd like to carpool with.

On the minus side, the populist stands Huckabee took as governor and while campaigning don't work very well for us economic conservatives. Add to that, his history as a Baptist minister can leave independents, and others who worry about the evangelical influence upon the Republican Party, feeling uncomfortable.

On balance, Huckabee is easier for most folks to identify with than a glossy, high-powered business executive like Mitt Romney. So, the decision looks like the following: does McCain already have sufficient appeal to independents, because of his own maverick ways? If so, go with Huckabee and nail down the social conservative part of the base. If it looks like Obama can compete effectively for the independent vote, Huckabee is a poor choice. Lieberman, anybody?

The Worm Turns

I've been wondering when I'd see this story, and here it is on the Bloomberg site. Chinese manufacturers outsourcing work to factories in Vietnam and India. A few years from now it will be on to Bangladesh and Haiti and after that, Somalia.

It was almost inevitable that demand would push up wages in China. When that happened, the famous "race to the bottom" would take work elsewhere. Here is evidence that the process has begun.

Remember when everybody thought that Japan, Inc. would own the world? It didn't happen, and it won't. Looks like China, Inc. won't own the world either.

Globalization has a way of humbling the mighty, us included.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tit for Tat

Fox News reports an effort by San Franciscans to put on the November ballot an initiative to rename the Oceanside sewage treatment plant in 'honor' of President George W. Bush. There is a good chance the effort will succeed.

Two can play this game. The President should consider attaching the name to an outhouse on his Crawford, TX, ranch, call it "the San Francisco Sitting Room." Or perhaps place a small sign saying "Welcome to San Francisco" atop a large, ripe manure pile.

Perhaps conservatives might get into the spirit and begin using the words "San Francisco" in lieu of the four letter Anglo-Saxonism describing what one does in an outhouse, as in "I need to take a San Francisco" or "what is this San Francisco?" or even "no San Francisco" as a synonym for "seriously."

This could be too much fun.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Definitional Humor Alert

My old buddy Earl C. sends the following in an email. I do not know the source of this but I'm reasonably sure he didn't write it. Arriving right before Mothers' Day seems very appropriate.
We've all heard about people having guts or balls, but do you really know the difference between them? In an effort to keep you informed, the definitions are listed below:

GUTS - Is arriving home late after a night out with the guys, being met by your wife with a broom, and having the courage to ask: "Are you still cleaning, or are you flying somewhere?"

BALLS - Is coming home late after a night out with the guys, smelling of perfume and beer, lipstick on your collar, having the courage to slap your wife on the butt and say: "You're next, Chubby."

I hope this clears up any confusion on the definitions. Philosophically speaking, there is no difference in the outcome, since both more or less immediately result in death.

Ladies, ladies, chill out, it is just a joke, okay?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Out-on-a-Limb Predictions

You know how you "get a feeling" about something? Probably it is my subconscious trying to communicate with my conscious mind, or whatever. Anyway, I've got a feeling about this presidential election we've all been obsessing about for lo, these many months.

Barring health catastrophes or revelations of hidden misdeeds, I think the election will go as follows:

Obama beats Clinton (a gimme, I know) and then loses to McCain in November.

Maybe it is wishful thinking, but that is the way I predict it will go. I'm thinking we'll see the reemergence of the Reagan Democrats: blue-collar folks voting Republican.

My guess is that McCain won't have coattails. The conventional wisdom is that the House and Senate races will favor the Democrats, and I suspect the conventional wisdom is correct. What could change the legislative outlook? Something none of us wants: a serious terrorist attack on the U.S. or a close ally.

If I'm right, you read it here. If I'm wrong, well ...it was written after 1 a.m. so maybe I was dreaming.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Conservative Humor Alert

Ann Coulter, she of the acid-dipped pen, does a cute little tap dance on the purple face of Bill Clinton. She identifies him as having ruined the campaigns of both Al Gore and wife Hillary. Here is one of the choicer bits from her article, in the form of a parody of Obama's mantra:
So before remembering that we are now left with two dangerous choices for president -- a young liberal who is friendly with terrorists or an old liberal who is friendly with Teddy Kennedy -- take a moment to revel in the fact that our long national nightmare is over. It turns out getting rid of the Clintons was the change we've been waiting for.

Miss Ann can certainly craft a feisty phrase. There are other choice bits for you to enjoy.

An Oldie But Goodie

That "resignation speech George W. Bush would like to give, but won't" has reappeared, this time in an article by Westley Pruden of The Washington Times. I think we blogged it maybe a year ago, but in case you missed it, here is an up-to-date link to it with some historical context thrown in for good measure. One of my favorite parts is the following:
(A)ll you can do is whine about gasoline prices, and most of you are too dumb to realize that the price of gasoline is high because the Chinese and the Indians are driving cars now, and because Al Gore and a handful of wacko greenheads are more worried about polar bears and their beachfront property than they are about you.

Read the whole thing, including former Congressman Davy Crockett's parting shot at his Tennessee constituents:
I'm going to Texas and the rest of you can go to hell.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Quote of the Day

James Pethokousik, writing in U.S. News & World Report, repeats the following description of Obama:
It turns out Obama really is the black Kennedy—but he's not Jack, he's Teddy.

That is witty, but harsh. I can't think of any deaths in which B.O. has been implicated. On the other hand, B. O.'s policy prescriptions all do seem as blandly liberal as ol' Ted's.

Huffington Shoots Own Foot

In this article by ABC News' Jake Tapper, he reports that Ariana Huffington claims John McCain told her in 2000 that he did not vote for George W. Bush. Given Huffington's left wing credentials, one supposes her intent is to hurt McCain with Republican voters. It won't work. Republican voters will hold their collective noses and vote for McCain anyway, as the clear lesser of two evils.

What Huffington has inadvertently done is helped McCain with independent voters. By increasing the perceived distance between him and our unpopular President, she has made McCain more attractive to folks who, for whatever reason, don't want to vote for whichever damaged Democrat ends up with the nomination.

Moral: Unintended consequences are everywhere.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Quote of the Day

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' complaint about telling lawyer jokes, reported on a website of The Wichita Eagle:
I find that when I tell lawyer jokes to a mixed audience, the lawyers don’t think they’re funny and the nonlawyers don’t think they’re jokes.

He is braver than I am; I never tell professor jokes to any audience. Professors as a rule have no sense of humor and non-professors don't know enough about academia to know why the jokes are funny.

Bolivia Watch

Interesting things are happening in Bolivia, as this article in The Washington Post indicates. Evo Morales, the first Aymara Indian elected President there, is a great admirer of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and of Cuba's Fidel Castro, but not of the United States. Morales' electoral constituency is concentrated among the Quechua and Aymara Indians in the highlands, who make up perhaps 55% of Bolivia's population.

However, most of Bolivia's wealth comes from the eastern lowlands, based on agricultural production and natural gas. The eastern Santa Cruz province held a referendum this past weekend on whether to take some power back from the central or national government, and the referendum passed. The underlying motive of the referendum was to keep their locally generated wealth at home, instead of subsidizing poor Indians in the highlands. Other lowland provinces are considering similar referenda, all of which Morales and the Bolivian army say are "illegal."

If you have an interest in Latin America, this is a situation to which you should attend. We haven't heard the last of this matter. It could degenerate into civil war, although there is little sign of that yet.

Quote of the Day

Democratic political guru James Carville, talking to Eleanor Cliff of Newsweek, says the following of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:
If she gave him one of her cojones, they'd both have two.

As somebody once said, "Do the math."

Peru, A Land of Contrasts

Yesterday I mentioned that Peru is one of the few nations in Latin America that is leaning to the right, relying on free markets, and doing very well. Today comes an excellent article by Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal on this very subject. Her observations exactly mirror what the other DrC and I experienced while there a month ago. She says
After almost two decades of gradual reforms by the central government, Lima is today home to first-world services, globally competitive businesses, shopping malls and an emerging middle class. But here (Iquitos) in the hub of the Peruvian Amazon, living standards are all too similar to what they were 30 years ago.

Very true, it is hard to believe these cities are part of the same country. Lima and its port, Callao, have "turned the corner" into modernity; Iquitos and Ica haven't discovered a corner exists, and Cusco knows there is a corner but hasn't gotten there yet. Go read O'Grady's article, if you are interested in Latin America.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Conservative Humor Alert

Read P. J. O'Rourke's idea of what a commencement address should be, but almost never is. The L.A. Times article is funny and pretty much truthful at the same time. For example, he says:
I am here to advocate for unfairness. I've got a 10-year-old at home. She's always saying, "That's not fair." When she says this, I say, "Honey, you're cute. That's not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That's not fair. You were born in America. That's not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don't start getting fair for you." What we need is more income, even if it means a bigger income disparity gap.

O'Rourke is mining the same vein that Ann Coulter works, give it a look. I've got a nephew whose 17 year old stepdaughter needs to hear these exact words.

Rightward and Leftward Trends

Take note of this article by Paul Wells, in Macleans, Canada's news magazine. He is a leading political observer for Canada. Wells observes that polling data shows there is a conservative trend among young Canadian voters. Add that to the recent elections of conservative national leaders Sarkozy, Merkel, Berlusconi, and the new mayors of Rome and London and you have something of a movement, perhaps a trend rightward in the developed world.

I wonder if that same trend exists in the U.S.? The only polling data which reveals that trend in the U.S. is the data which shows that McCain is running even with Obama and Clinton. This in spite of the unpopularity of the President.

Meanwhile much of Latin America seems to be trending left: Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Paraguay are relatively recent examples. Mexico, Colombia, and Peru appear to be exceptions.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A (Mostly) Fallacious Argument

The Wall Street Journal reprints a short article by William Tucker from The Weekly Standard in which he observes that the problem with alternative energy sources is that they take up too much land. Generally, his observations are accurate enough with respect to biofuel, somewhat less so with solar. I find his arguments unpersuasive with respect to hydroelectric and wind.

Tucker says it would take a wind farm 75 miles square to replace a conventional generating station. I think he overlooks the fact that most of the land under the giant windmills can still be farmed. I suspect that the 750 wind turbines would take up not much more than 5 square miles of that 75 square miles, leaving 70 square miles to grow wheat, corn, or use as pasture.

With respect to hydroelectric taking up pretty canyons, it does do that. However, it turns pretty canyons into pretty mountain lakes, not a bad transformation. I've lived most of my adult life near medium and large hydroelectric projects which are generally viewed by my friends and neighbors as amenities, not detriments. I know that is not the Sierra Club view, just the view of us local folks who boat and fish.

Solar can be installed on roofs and a local brewery has installed solar as shade for its relatively large parking lot. This means that land underneath solar panels is generally in use for something else, although not normally for agriculture which typically requires full sun.

Reading the Tea Leaves

Today the Dow Jones Industrials Average closed above 13,050. This after being below 11,000 only 18 months ago and below 12,000 two months ago.

The DJI and the broader market are both generally viewed as leading indicators of the economy. Since we see a value this high in spite of oil prices at all time highs and the subprime mess still out there, that suggests major investors are essentially bullish on the U.S. economy 6 months to a year ahead.

It is impossible to overlook the political implications of this stock market rally. We are exactly six months away from the general election. If the economy begins to improve then, it will take a few months for the public to sense the improvement, meaning it will come too late to influence the election.

I can envision a replay of the economic situation at the end of George H. W. Bush's single term, where the upturn happened after the election. Even though it began before he was inaugurated, Bill Clinton got credit for the economic upturn that should have been attributed to Bush Senior. How positive this likely outcome will be for the eventual Democratic nominee is yet to be determined.

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)

Check out this Canadian article concerning the roughly 25 year cycles of warming and cooling that have been going on since at least 1650. Warning: this article contains serious science, not Algore/Chickenlittle fear mongering. The bottom line is the following:
The new Jason oceanographic satellite shows that 2007 was a “cool” La Nina year—but Jason also says something more important is at work: The much larger and more persistent Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) has turned into its cool phase, telling us to expect moderately lower global temperatures until 2030 or so.

Golly, do you suppose there are more important forces at work in the world than the by-products of human activity? Really? No kidding....

Thursday, May 1, 2008

People Don't Resist Change

That is a controversial statement. Let me explain from where it comes. An old-time organization development (OD) consultant named Jerry Harvey came up with this notion, and I've never forgotten it. Jerry said, and I believe, that people don't necessarily resist change, what they resist is pain, the pain associated with some but not all changes.

Folks play the lottery in the hopes of winning a life-changing amount of money, not much resistance there. Other folks accept career-changing promotions, without resistance. Lots of my students over the years would be the first-ever college graduate in their families, a financially difficult sacrifice on the family's part but one happily made. When the crime rates in the U.S. dropped over the last twenty years, nobody wanted to bring back the higher rates. I remember when we all got immunized for polio and it was no longer a risk, we loved the change. All of these represent changes that were not resisted. Why? Because they all were viewed as improvements in the lives of the people involved.

On the other hand, many organizational changes represent, in one way or another, pain. New technology causes a worker's hard-earned skills to be devalued - that hurts. A reorganization causes disruption in, or termination of, friendship patterns among coworkers - that is painful too. A new boss brings the risk of worsened boss-subordinate relations, raising anxiety. Changes that make your life less good are resisted.

As managers, we need to structure changes affecting our employees in ways that are widely perceived, on balance, as positive. This is easy to say and often difficult to do. However, understanding the underlying principle helps. A colloquial way of remembering it is to think of the song lyric from Mary Poppins, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."