Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quote of the Day

Vaclav Klaus, elected President of the Czech Republic and current rotating President of the European Union, speaking at Davos about the threat to freedom posed by the Al Gore-led global warming alarmists:
Global-warming alarmism is challenging our freedom, and Al Gore is a leaderof that movement.
'Nuf said. This quote appeared in National Review here.

Steyn Isn't Stimulated

Mark Steyn writes, for National Review, about the pork-laden "stimulus" bill just passed by the House of Representatives over bipartisan opposition. The whole column is worth your time, I particularly liked this bit:
“In the long run, we are all dead,” Lord Keynes, the newly fashionable economist, famously said. But, if this bill passes, in the medium term, we’re all dead. It’s a massive expansion of the state in the same direction that has brought sclerosis to Europe.
And he concludes:
Big government is where nations go to die—not in Keynes’ “long run,” but sooner than you think.
Let your senators know they need to rein in the more egregious aspects of the House "stimulus" bill.

Dems Demonstrate Sleaze

First it was Democrat Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who couldn't figure out how to pay his taxes. Then it was Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich trying to sell a senate appointment and being arrested and impeached. Now it is Democrat Health and Human Services appointee and former Democrat leader in the Senate Tom Daschle who hadn't paid taxes on stuff worth over $100,000. Not to mention that Obama cannot staff his appointive jobs while abiding by his own rules regarding lobbyists not getting government employment. I wonder what is next?

No wonder Democrats like raising taxes, it turns out they simply ignore paying many taxes unless in the running for federal office.

The sleaze factor among appointed Democrats is achieving new highs with the Obama administration. Wouldn't it be nice if the MSM paid attention to these lapses?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Noonan Nails It

Peggy Noonan's work is uneven; sometime brilliant, sometimes bathetic. When she's on her game there are few better. This column for The Wall Street Journal is one of her good ones. Her topic is the stimulus bill just passed by the House without any Republican votes. Her key point is this:
The president will enjoy short-term gain. In the great circle of power, to win you have to look like a winner, and to look like a winner you have to win. He did and does. But for the long term, the president made a mistake by not forcing the creation of a bill Republicans could or should have supported.

I think she's right. This isn't the new politics we were promised by The One. It is the old gotcha, zero-sum pork barrel politics we've suffered through for the last 16 years. Only now we are in real economic trouble and we need a real government by adults, which we ain't got.

Doublespeak Award

Check out these two paragraphs from a single story about the Swedish military in The Local.
Sweden’s top military commander on Friday handed over to the government a lengthy report detailing a range of proposed reductions to the country’s armed forces.

Defense minister Sten Tolgförs, in a masterful piece of double talk, replied:
Today’s response from the Supreme Commander represents a powerful increase in Sweden’s defence capabilities when it comes to operability and readiness.

All this reminds me of the old question "How do you know when a politician is lying?" and the answer "His lips are moving." I think Sten wins the prize for this week.

Humor Alert

The editors of the website commenting on our Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (30 January 2009):
The Botox Paradox: You look better but you sound like a fool.

Not at all nice, but all true.

Gaia 1, Man 0

Guess what? The rain forests are regrowing in places where they were formerly cut down to provide agricultural land. This New York Times article spells out the controversy about this. I'm not surprised. We see the same phenomenon in the United States, with our temperate forests.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, most land east of the Mississippi River was completely forested. The wisecrack was that a squirrel could leap from tree to tree all the way from tidewater Virginia to the banks of the Mississippi without ever touching the ground. As European settlers arrived, they cut down this forest to clear land for farming. In the last fifty years much of that cleared land is no longer cultivated and is quickly reverting to forest.

It turns out this old Earth, Mother Gaia, is more resilient and self-healing than alarmists would have you believe. We need to trust her more, and doubt her less. Sol, on the other hand, has been behaving irregularly of late and that can have major effects on climate. Unfortunately, we have exactly zero, zip, zilch ability to influence or mitigate solar behavior.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A History of 'Global Warming'

Here is a long article by John Coleman, founder of The Weather Channel, about the origins of the concerns about atmospheric carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. If you read it all, you come away from it with the distinct notion that the motives of the concept's originators were considerably less than pure. They were grant-funded scientists looking for funding - if there was no problem, there would be no funding. Eventually, one of the founders began to urge caution, but of course no one wanted to hear this change of heart.

Warning: reading this article may leave you in the position of knowing more than you want to know about the history of the unfortunate global warming movement. It is long, it is detailed and it names names.

Preferred Residence is Age Related

The young like living in cities, the more mature like living in the country according to a Pew Research Center study reported by USA Today. That makes sense to this senior who lives and vacations in rural areas. The article notes:
Adults 50 to 64 who live in cities are the least likely to say they live in the ideal place; two-thirds of those in that age group who live in the country say they couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

Only about 52% of those surveyed say they live where they prefer, I find that surprising and a little sad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

Michael J. Totten, writing in Commentary Magazine, about the Israel/Palestine area:
There is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now.

We need to remember this truth. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous "benign neglect" sounds about right as a prescription for our Palestine policy.

Which Army Do We Need?

Mackubin Thomas Owens, writing for The Wall Street Journal, argues that our military must not foreclose policy options for our leaders by its force structure decisions. He points out times in the last 50 years when it has done just that, with negative consequences.

Basically, the argument is between those who see the future dotted with insurgencies and asymmetrical warfare, calling for a military that is as much constabulary as it is army; and those who see the real threats coming from more traditional interstate warfare between real armies with heavy armor and artillery components and a real line of battle.

Owens, who teaches at the Naval War College, believes that we must maintain high level abilities to fight both kinds of conflict. Given the human propensity to kill each other, at both the wholesale and retail levels, he is very likely right.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Markets Still at Work

In spite of the very tough economic times in which we currently exist, the basic microeconomic forces of the market are still very much at work. See this news release from The Wall Street Journal which indicates that as home prices fall, home sales rise.

Home prices are down 15% from a year ago and this has caused home sales to rise 6.5% from just last month. The upside to the bursting of the housing bubble is that many more people will be able to truly afford houses if they can just avoid being laid off.

Apparently, in this year of the Obamessiah, supply and demand are still related. I hear the ghosts of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman chuckling softly.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inauguration Fun

The always readable Mark Steyn finds the inauguration festivities less-than-overwhelming, but ample grist for his humor mill. Written for the National Review, his basic thesis is that to the true believers none of the obvious shortcomings matter. My favorite:
Doesn’t matter that the new treasury secretary who’s gonna stick it to those greedy fat cats who don’t pay their fair share of taxes is a greedy fat cat who didn’t pay his fair share of taxes.

Have some fun, see the cannonization of Saint Barack through Mark's eyes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Churches Oppose Morales in Bolivia

See this Wall Street Journal article about the opposition church leaders are bringing to bear against President Morales' effort to revise the Bolivian constitution. Morales, himself an Aymara Indian, is trying to "straddle" the prevalent Catholicism and belief in the indigenous "Andean earth deity Pachamama," claiming belief in both.

Morales is a proxy for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Thus Bolivia continues to be a place where interesting things are happening.

New Personality Cult

Remember when China's Red Guards would rampage in Tienanmen Square waving their little red books of Chairman Mao's quotations? I sure do. China now looks back on that entire episode of cult of personality with great embarrassment, as it should.

Now we see the same sort of b*** s*** emerging in the United States. No, seriously. Go here to see an ad by an outfit called History Company for a pocket-sized edition of the quotations of President Obama. The ad observes:
It is an unofficial requirement for every citizen to own, to read, and to carry this book at all times.

Good luck, guys. I will carry your book when pigs fly and liberals get serious about illegal immigration and defense. Let's hope the ad is a spoof.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Smart Heroes

The other DrC and I were discussing an interesting phenomenon we've observed on television in the last few years. The phenomenon: very smart, highly educated people as heroes. We believe this to be a very positive trend, one that points young people toward higher education as a route to interesting, important careers.

It may have begun with the Grissom character on the original CSI, a scientist as hero. It continued with the young scientist Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds. One would have to include all of the "squints" on Bones, especially Dr. Temperance Brennan. A particularly vivid example would include mathematician Dr. Charles Eppes, physicist Dr. Larry Fleinhardt, and mathematician Dr. Amita Ramajuan, all of Numb3rs. This season we would add the Dr. Jacob Hood character on Eleventh Hour, and the Dr. Walter Bishop character on Fringe.

While most doctorally trained people of our acquaintance do not solve crimes, they do have interesting, worthwhile, well-paid careers. TV programs which illustrate the advantages of graduate education, which show educated people as winners are a good thing, we believe.

Fun with Obama, Part II

Jay Nordlinger, who writes for National Review Online, reports one of his readers saw a t-shirt that said:
Question O-thority

Maybe...if I were a bumper sticker kind of guy? Nope, not my style.

Quote of the Day

The Boston Herald's Michael Graham leads his column with the following:
President Barack Obama has an unusual ability to bring out the best in his enemies and the worst in his friends.

He goes on to give examples of what he means by this, but his examples aren't nearly as interesting as the basic thought. Here at COTTonLINE we look forward to having our best brought out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Democracy in Latin America

See this Christian Science Monitor article concerning the state of multi-party democracy in Latin America. The evaluation is relatively positive. However, given current worldwide economic conditions, they conclude:
As the downturn hits, policymaker attention will prioritize anticrisis planning over institutional reform, and it is certainly conceivable that democratic rights could be seriously stressed should problems deepen or persist for several years. Citizens and leaders in the Andean countries and Central America, where democracy is most fragile and polarized, will be particularly tested. (emphasis added)

Pay particular attention to developments in Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

7 Questions About Obama

Politico's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei have come up with seven key questions about Obama's views, the answers to which are unknown at this time. Go here to read the whole thing with elaborations, in the Jan. 22, edition of Mike Allen's Playbook. The questions are:
1) Does he really think Afghanistan is winnable?
2) Do deficits matter?
3) How fast is too fast in Iraq?
4) What's in the files?
5) Do unions wear white hats?
6) Can U.S. power save Darfur?
7) How much does he have to placate the left?

Not necessarily the identical seven questions I'd come up with but these two reporters eat, sleep, and breathe Washington politics. Their opinions are worth your consideration.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unintended Consequences

This article in the Washington Times reports that Obama will move to close detention centers where terrorism suspects were held and interrogated overseas. This move will undoubtedly be popular with both civil rights advocates and terrorists, but it should not be.

In the absence of such sites, many more enemy combatants will die "on the battlefield" or "attempting to escape." Such deaths generate less bad publicity for the U.S. than detention centers do. What will be missing will be the intelligence gained from interrogating enemy individuals.

Well-intentioned efforts often have unintended consequences, sometimes fatal ones.

Government by Mature Adults...Not

Ponder this Reuters photo of the new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, sourced from Yahoo. The picture was taken as Emanuel awaits the inauguration ceremony.

Pre-adolescent behavior from a key aide to the President...metaphors about loose deck guns come to mind. Wedgies in the Oval Office, anyone?

Seven Reasons for Doubt

Mike Allen's Playbook for January 21, 2009, on the Politico website contains the following by Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, worth your time to read:
Here are seven reasons to be skeptical of Obama’s chances — and the Washington establishment he now leads:
1. The genius fallacy … Everyone seems to agree Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner are smart, vastly qualified to manage and repair the economy. Everyone was saying the exact same things about the two economic geniuses of the 1990s: Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan. …
2. The herd instinct … Some of Washington’s biggest blunders occur when the government moves to do big things with big support. Bush won the much-regretted Iraq war resolution of October 2002 with strong Democratic backing. The current economic crisis produces similar pressure to get on board the train — never mind for sure where it’s going. …
3. We are broke. …
4. Words, words, words … Clinton often waved away speech drafts bloated with lofty language by saying: ‘Words, words, words.’ … [Obama] is almost certain to face many tests, probably imminently, in which the test will be Obama’s ability to act quickly and shrewdly — and not merely describe his actions smoothly or impress people with nuance. …
5. He rarely challenges the home team. … Has Obama ever delivered a ‘Sister Souljah speech’? Ever stood up to organized labor in the way that Clinton did in passing North American Free Trade Agreement? …
6. Everyone is winging it. … People who used to bemoan deficits want to spend like crazy. Improvisation is the only proper response. But the chances that improvisation will take the country to exactly the right destination — without some serious wrong turns along the way — seem very slight.
7. The watchdogs are dozing. The big media companies that once invested in serious accountability journalism are shells of their former selves. … The end result: There are few reporters in this country doing the kind of investigative reporting that hold government officials’ feet to the fire.”

Wouldn't you think they might have mentioned some of these quite reasonable doubts prior to the election?

Fun with Obama

The various pundits are going to have such fun playing with the name "Obama." We start here an occasional series chronicling some of the choicer examples of Obama neologisms.

1. Q. What do you call an unquestioning follower of our new President?
A. An "Obot."

2. Q. What do you call the thrill felt by the likes of Chris Matthews when watching the new President?
A. An "Obasm."

3. Q. If you aren't impressed with the new President, what do you call it?
A. "Barack O. Bummer."

4. Q. What do you call the excitement the new President's enthusiasts feel?
A. It is "Obamania" or "Obamamania" (your choice).

Feel free to suggest other examples you particularly enjoy, for listing in future editions of this feature.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wyoming Is a Red State

See this CNN story headlined "Obamamania Hasn't Reached Wyoming." The story notes only 33% of Wyoming voters voted for Obama.

These folks in a Cheyenne coffee shop speak for most of us residents of the nation's least populous state. Ted Mueller, 57, an insurance salesman, says
I wish President[-elect] Obama well, but I do not wish him success in the things he is proposing.

That is an interesting way of parsing the situation.

No Lack of Ambition

Certainly you wouldn't accuse Barack Obama of a lack of ambition in his inaugural address, text here courtesy of the BBC. He promises to tackle every threat facing anyone anywhere in the world in the next four years.

Was it soaring rhetoric? Sure. Can he deliver? That is much less certain. Will anybody hold him accountable for the inevitable failures to execute? We will try.

It is likely some of his greatest obstacles will be in his own party's congressional delegation. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are ugly, little people with ugly, little agendas driven by class warfare and victim group politics.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

The following gem from Power Line blog:

Dr. Takeda Kunihiko, vice-chancellor of the Institute of Science and Technology Research at Chubu University in Japan:

CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or another. ... Every scientist knows this, but it doesn't pay to say so.

Humor Alert

A hedge fund manager on Wall Street, commenting on the current economic meltdown:
This is worse than a divorce... I've lost half of my net worth and I still have my wife.

Hat tip to my SD buddy Earl C. for the funny.

Political Apartheid

If political/sociological trends interest you, go read this article from the Chicago Tribune. The author's basic thesis is that the American electorate is sorting itself out geographically on the basis of how it votes.

Almost half of Americans now live in a "landslide county," a county where one or the other presidential candidate won by at least 20 percentage points in the 2008 election. That is up from merely a quarter in 1976 and about a third in 1992.

Why this is happening is fascinating stuff. You can argue that it is partly a fallout of geographical racial sorting. People tend to live in segregated neighborhoods and race is related to voting. The article notes:
Nationwide, Democrats have not won a majority of white votes in a presidential election since 1964.

The author prefers another view, that we choose where we live based on lifestyle, and lifestyle in turn determines how we vote.
Political polarization, according to this explanation, is a consumer phenomenon. Lifestyle choices...determine political loyalties as voters search for candidates who feel like "one of us."

Whatever you think is causing the phenomenon, it is darned interesting reading for political mavens.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

China Fears Taint of West

The fourth highest official in the Communist Party of China, one Jia Qinglin, has written the following political prescription in the Party's ideological journal. Reuters reports Jia Qinglin said China must:
Build a line of defence to resist Western two-party and multi-party systems, bicameral legislature, the separation of powers and other kinds of erroneous ideological interferences.

It certainly sounds like China is trying to copy the alternative model pioneered by Singapore with its mix of market economics and oligarchic politics.


Some Americans, including this one, get tired of being lectured about their supposed shortcomings by European elites who imagine they've always got it right. How delicious when the worm turns.

I have to admit schadenfreude* was what I felt when I read this article from the Telegraph (UK) which describes the economic malaise sweeping much of Europe. To be sure, the author has an axe to grind concerning the Euro zone, but the European troubles he describes are nevertheless real.

*Schadenfreude is defined by Wikionary as "Malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else's misfortune. "

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration Musings

The current press is full of nothing much except inauguration news. No surprise, I guess, but not very interesting reading for those of us non-obots who didn't vote for BHO and aren't excitedly awaiting his manifold blessings.

Our feelings during the inauguration are like those you have watching the celebrations of the other team that beat your team in the post-season bowl game. There is an intense desire to change the channel and think about something else.

I suspect a lot of us are out here experiencing emotions not unlike those of a person just coming down with flu and knowing the next couple of weeks will be really miserable. Only, in our case, we are thinking the next four years are likely to be mostly unpleasant.

Not that we looked forward to four years of McCain with glee, more like with anxious, guarded optimism. Still, it was definitely the lesser of two evils.

Future GOP Policy

Matthew Continetti, writing for The Weekly Standard, has an interesting take on the direction that GOP policy proposals should take in the coming years. His bottom line, the GOP needs to come up with popular conservative programs aimed at solving problems worrying the voters.

His essential point, it isn't enough to stand in the doorway saying "no" to whatever the Dems want to do. It feels like he could be right, see what you think.

Latino Immigration Down

Michael Barone, writing for Creators' Syndicate, has a thoughtful column on the ebbing tide of Latino immigration in the United States. He makes some good points, and recalls some useful history regarding earlier immigration surges.

On the other hand, I've seen articles saying that the narco-terrorism violence in Mexico is keeping immigrants in the U.S. This in spite of the fact that many of the jobs for which they came are gone in the recession.

Who knows what to believe? Barone says one thing I believe you can hang your hat on:
History tells us that trend lines don't go on forever. Sometimes they turn around and go downward.

Let us hope he is right with regard to the illegal immigration we now experience.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good News from Sri Lanka

This article from the Wall Street Journal Asia describes how the government of Sri Lanka is beating the Tamil Tiger rebels using military force, instead of political compromise. It is a lesson that should not be wasted on the decision makers in Tel Aviv.

Humor Alert

Ed Morrissey, posting at Hot Air, cracks wise:
Disillusionment (is) watching your martial-arts instructor getting badly beaten in a bar fight.

This wisdom arises in the context of describing the Iranian attitude towards their Hamas client's debacle in Gaza.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CA in Financial Toilet

See this Bloomberg article about the mess in California state finances. The basic issues are these: CA's income is heavily dependent on income and sales taxes, which are very cyclical, right now the cycle is headed down as are state revenues.

Both houses of the CA legislature are today reliably majority Democratic but also reliably less than 2/3 Democratic. CA has a constitutional provision that any tax increase must pass the legislature by a 2/3 vote. A minority larger than 1/3 can stymie any tax increase proposed by the majority; the Republican minority is larger than 1/3.

In the current situation, Republicans want the state to cut its spending to the level of its projected income. They won't vote for tax increases. Democrats, on the other hand, have promised their voters no cuts in state services and therefore wish to raise tax rates. Neither side will give an inch. Result: deadlock.

You might think the Democrats would go along with the Republicans, cut state services, and then run against those Republican-forced service cuts in the next election. In another state, that might work.

The legislature districts in CA have been so carefully gerrymandered that virtually every Republican seat is a "safe" seat. Majorities in those districts agree that the state should cut services to a level commensurate with state income. Likewise, virtually every Democratic seat in CA is a "safe" seat. Again, the result is deadlock.

Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about CA state politics and finances. If you follow the precepts of the famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, you will do your level best to forget this knowledge unless it is somehow relevant to you.

Latvia Gets Greek 'Disease'

They're rioting in Latvia, to paraphrase the Kingston Trio. Actually, they truly are rioting in Latvia as this New York Times article points out. That isn't good news for this small Baltic nation that suffered under the yoke of the Soviets for 50 years, and is now a member of both NATO and the European Union.

According to the CIA website almost 30% of Latvia's population is ethnically Russian. Ethnic Latvians are less than 60% of the population. As the article points out, rioting that started in Greece in early December has spread to Bulgaria and now Latvia. Can those famous French "youths" be far behind?

Comments about this being Europe's "winter of discontent" require hat tips to William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck. Poor little Latvia....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How to Keep Warm

Our readers east of the Rockies are freezing their earlobes off (see this story for details). While shivering around the meager output of your heater, try to remember that we are experiencing really serious global warming which obviously requires our immediate attention.

If you don't believe global warming is serious, I ask you to examine our president-elect's picks for science advisor, etc. All are confirmed AGW believers. It appears to be irrelevant (to him, at least) that most of the evidence points in the other direction. It promises to be a long four years.

International Non-Political Humor Alert

From a South African website, the following:
Euro is something you say when you hop into a dinghy.

Say it aloud if you don't get it.

Sudden Collapse Next Door?

The El Paso Times, which for obvious reasons is quite interested in the status of Mexico, reports on a U.S. military finding that Mexico is one of two nations in danger of "sudden collapse." The other is Pakistan, no surprise.

The Joint Operating Environment report of the U.S. Joint Forces Command made the prediction. The Times says of the group:
The U.S. Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., is one of the Defense Departments combat commands that includes members of the different military service branches, active and reserves, as well as civilian and contract employees. One of its key roles is to help transform the U.S. military's capabilities.
Mexico has enough troubles without narco-terrorism. Sadly, a major cause of Mexico's current troubles is the demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. As Pogo Possum famously said, "we have met the enemy and he is us."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Richard B. Cheney, a Valedictory

Jay Nordlinger of National Review reports on a lunch/interview he and several colleagues had with Vice President Dick Cheney. Most of the piece is Cheney in his own words, responding expansively to reporters' questions. At the end Nordlinger gives his own assessment of Cheney:

I am one of those who consider Dick Cheney — Richard B. Cheney, to get formal — one of the best public servants of recent times. He is smart, decent, and versatile. He is thoughtful about big issues and impressive with details. He knows the government inside out. He is part politician, part policy wonk. He is also a leader. His opinions, and the ways at which he arrives at them, are utterly sound. He is a superb communicator (when he chooses to communicate). His temperament is so good as to be enviable.

And Nordlinger concludes:

One of the best decisions George W. Bush ever made was to ask Cheney to run with him — and to be his partner in government. I wish Cheney could have been president — not instead of Bush, but at some point in his career. I wish he could be president still.

This is no popular view but one with which I concur. I am happy to have Dick as a WY neighbor.

This Nothing Like the Real Depression

This Associated Press article says seniors who remember the Great Depression say what is happening today is nothing like that (yet). They are, of course, correct. At its height, the Great Depression of the 1930s ran unemployment rates around 25% while today we aren't at half that.

We are likely to have a relatively serious recession but a 1930s-style depression is not likely. And perhaps, at the far end of the recession, we will have housing prices that make home ownership affordable for average people.

Sad Sandinistas

A British view of the goings-on in Nicaragua, from the The Observer, sees Danny Ortega becoming another Latin American caudillo or dictator. We noted this dangerous trend some months ago in COTTonLINE.

Apparently the trend continues. If so, it will generate unhappy fallout for Nicaragua's neighbors, particularly Costa Rica.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

CA Is Self-destructive

After years of positive population inflow, my native state of California is suffering net internal out migration and high unemployment. It also has the 6th highest tax burden among the 50 states. That both are found in the same state is no coincidence.

As we have noted before in this blog, raising taxes is not the way to encourage economic growth and the jobs it brings. The CA legislature cannot accept this truth. A Wall Street Journal article drives the point home:
Idaho, Utah and Wyoming all have unemployment rates around 5% at a time when California is suffering an unemployment rate of 9%. Californians are moving east and creating jobs in their new home states.
As regular readers know, Wyoming is my adoptive home state. Like the folks described in the article, I have moved out of CA. Taxes were certainly a major reason why I did so.

Ghana Gets It; Zimbabwe, Kenya Don't

See this Washington Post editorial which comments favorably upon the electoral process in the African nation of Ghana. The Post contrasts it with the unfortunate political happenings in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

What happened in Ghana? Simply an honest election was held in which an opposition candidate won the presidency, took office peacefully, and was congratulated by the loser. In other words, a process we take for granted in the United States but is exceedingly rare in Africa - multiparty democracy at work. Props to Ghana, a hopeful model for governmental process in Africa.

Travel Blogging Coda

The trip is over, the two long flights merely unpleasant memories. Our tour group consisted of around 40 people and virtually everybody came down with a cold that resulted mostly in much coughing. There were times when the tour bus sounded like an early morning TB ward. Our luggage made it through relatively unscathed, only one small broken loop on a zipper pull. Some good friends had one suitcase go missing somewhere between JFK and SFO, and of course it was the one with the clean clothes in it.

Looking back, there were things we could have done differently that would have made the trip better but, on the whole, it was well done. The organizer, Grand Circle Tours of Boston, generally does nice work. They do an especially fine job of the European river cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Moselle, and Volga. We haven't tried the ones in France. They are small ship specialists, although they do plenty of bus-transported land tours too. We avoid those because we tend to fall asleep on buses and don't need to pay GCT to organize naps for us. The fault is ours, not theirs. Bus rides of over 1/2 hour just put us to sleep.

One thing that really strikes us about the so-called "third world:" nobody seems to be interested in doing any maintenance on buildings. We stayed in nice hotels in Egypt and Jordan which had what the other DrC calls "good bones," that is, they were nice when new. If their operators had kept them up they would be nice yet, but of course they have not done the day-to-day repairs and upgrades that hotels need. Somehow the cultures don't emphasize taking care of what exists. Yet another example of dysfunctional culture

One of these days I need to do a column about the relative functionality of cultures; not all are created equal in their ability to produce relative affluence for their adherents.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Travel Blogging IX

Dateline: Petra. When you see pictures of Petra, you always see the "Treasury" which was featured briefly in Indiana Jones III. Who knew they darn thing was a city in stone with dozens of building fronts carved into the cliffs, covering 13 square miles. It is likely they were tombs and the whole thing was a Nabataean/Roman necropolis or city of the dead - think Forest Lawn starting about 100 b.c. The stories feature the Treasury because it is the most complete and elaborate, but many of the others are impressive too.

The cliffs of Petra remind us both of Zion National Park in Utah. The same red sandstone, the same weird erosion, the same narrow canyons that here are called "siqs" (pronounced "seeks"). That reminds me of Frank Herbert's Dune where the Fremen live in sietchs. Herbert did a lot of semi-Arabic in that book, which made sense as thousands of years had passed and terminology mutates or drifts over time.

Going to Petra involves a whole bunch of walking, several miles on less than smooth trails. A bunch of it in soft sand about 3 inches deep, a bunch more on Roman roads that were probably smooth stone when new but now, 2,000 years later, and no maintenance in the last 1500, it is darned uneven and hard to walk on. Our bunch of old crocks were pooped last night at supper.

This is one of those things you want to for sure see once, but probably wouldn't do a second time. It is an archaeological wonder, but isn't decorated inside like the Egyptian tombs. We are glad we came.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sea Ice at 20 Year High

Hey, climate change fans, check out this Daily Tech article about the level of sea ice generated so far this winter. We've got the most sea ice we've had since 1979. The article explains why. Looks like more evidence of global cooling, maybe we'd better produce some more SUVs.

Travel Blogging VIII

Dateline: Amman. Here we sit some 80 miles from the fighting in Gaza. Yes, the local media are covering it intensively and with bias. But then, so is CNN. Everything here is serene. The only military thing we've seen was an overflight by a largish military cargo plane.

Amman is a very attractive city. The late king decreed that all buildings built after a certain time were to be made of the local limestone. That stone has a warm ivory color and the buildings look clean and tidy. I think HM (as his friends called His Magisty King Hussein) had a good idea, given the lack of interest in maintenance in this part of the world. These buildings will never need paint or much of anything else except new roofs. The upshot is that they call Amman "the white city," an apt descriptor.

In addition to the uniform color, the city is much cleaner than Cairo, and the drivers here actually stay in their lanes most of the time. If you can ignore that half the signs are in Arabic, you could be in a city in California. All the usual franchises are here: Pizza Hut, KFC, McDonalds (known everywhere as "the American embassy"), Subway, Radio Shack, Western Union, Mobil, etc.

The actual U.S. embassy here is huge, reputedly the second largest in the world. The Jordanian government provides protection for the embassy, two armored cars, a couple more machine gun mounted trucks, and an reinforced platoon of troops stand guard. I guess unfriendly demonstrations are a definite possibility. By contrast, every Jordanian I've talked to (maybe 8) has been not just polite but very friendly. Of course I haven't expressed any opinions about Gaza either; I see no point being unduly provocative.

We visited the Dead Sea yesterday and, earlier in the day, saw some small part of the Dead Sea scrolls in the Jordanian Archeological Museum. It is a small museum but there is a very large one under construction. There is so much history here that they can really show some good stuff.

One last piece of comparison between Egypt and Jordan. We flew in and out of three different airports in Egypt, including a really new one at Luxor. Nowhere in Egypt did they have the 'snorkel' ramps that are common in the U.S. At every airport we loaded and disembarked via truck mounted stairways that took us to the tarmac where we boarded buses to the terminal. In Jordan, by contrast, we walked out of the plane and were faced with no stairs, just the usual telescoping tube we use in the U.S. - believe me, it was appreciated.

Home Schooling on Rise

This USA Today article reports an increase in home schooling. In the last five years the number of home schooled children has increased 36% and now represents about 3% of school-age children.

When I was a child almost nobody was home schooled unless they were severely handicapped in one way or another. A few non-Catholic youngsters with "behavior problems" were sent to Catholic schools so the nuns could rap their knuckles or to military school so the upperclassmen could beat them into submission; I had one cousin in each category.

Of course, when I was a child our teachers were not unionized. Oddly, the public schools were held in higher esteem then than is the case today. Can these factors be related? Instead ask, can they not be related. Who has higher esteem, professionals who work for the love of their calling or wage slaves who periodically go on strike?

Another relevant factor is that some of the subsegments of the population today having the most children are the same subsegments of the population placing the least cultural emphasis on education. The preponderance of such pupils in a school can be a motive for parents who do care about education to home school their children.

Whatever the causes, I believe we can conclude that the public schools are held in lower esteem today than in was the case a few decades ago.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Travel Blogging VII

Dateline: Cairo. It is morning in the Middle East and according to the Jerusalem Post Israeli tanks haven't rolled into Gaza yet. Perhaps the London Times had it wrong, or maybe it just hasn't happened yet, who knows? Stay tuned.

Predictions for 2009

Several pundits for the National Review Online make predictions for the coming year in this column. To be sure, in any such list some will be right or partially so, others glaringly wrong. Still, it is an interesting list and worth your time. Here are three of my favorites:
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe will make a speech at the African Union blaming all his country’s woes on Western powers. He will receive a standing ovation.

Latin America: Violence will flare again in Bolivia, bringing revolution and/or civil war in the nation one year closer, if it does not precipitate them/it.

The push for climate-change legislation will intensify as the Obama administration targets more dollars to “green jobs,” even though 2009 will be the coldest in years and the “temporary halt” of global warming will enter its second decade.
It sounds like a wild ride.

French New Year's Celebration

Reuters reports the claim by the French Interior Ministry that 1147 cars were torched over the New Year's holiday. The overwhelming majority of this violence took place in the poor immigrant "banlieues" or suburbs that surround its cities.

As ususal, Reuters carefully omits mentioning that these banlieues are overwhelmingly Moslem, and that many are "no go" places for French police. Moslem immigrants now make up perhaps 10% of the French population, and are largely unassimilated into French society.

They constitute a problem that French politicians keep kicking down the road, hoping against all evidence that it will go away. If the current world-wide economic crisis is bad enough, perhaps it will "go away" to some degree. At least the U.S. is currently seeing some reverse migration attributed to hard times among its illegal immigrant population.

Travel Blogging VI

Dateline: Cairo. Sadly, the week on the Nile is over. We didn't cruise far, probably no more than 100 miles. The hotel ships run from Aswan to Luxor, and sometimes as far north as Quena, with one group of passengers, then they sign on a new group of passengers and run the pattern in the opposite direction.

In that 100 miles of river there are supposed to be 300 of these ships, which run between 3 and four decks. Ours, the M/S River Anuket, held about 140 passengers in 70 cabins, and is owned by Grand Circle Travel out of Boston, MA. They also own two smaller ships which cruise under the Overseas Adventure Travel label, the small-group subsidiary of GCT.

After leaving Aswan we stopped one night at Edfu, and another at Kom Ombo, before making Luxor on the third day of cruising. Luxor was formerly known as Thebes; it is the location of the Temple of Karnak on the east bank and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens on the west bank. We were in Luxor three nights, one more than planned, because the water was too shallow for cruising north of Luxor to Quena.

Low water, and high water, are both problems with river cruising. If the water is too low you don't have sufficient clearance to navigate. If the water is high you don't have sufficient clearance to get under bridges. In spite of this touchiness, river travel is big business because it is intrinsically sweet. There is no motion sickness on the smooth river water and there is always something to look at on the banks.

One runs out of superlatives to describe the size and grandeur of the various temples and tombs. Suffice it to say they are very grand and awe inspiring. They reflect a society obsessed with the (imagined) afterlife and what it must take to get through its challenges to an eventual resurrection. The guidebook for this journey came to be called The Book of the Dead. Its rules were etched and painted on the walls of tombs and compiled into papyrus scrolls, for handy reference by the deceased.

One great irony is that the goods they were buried with, both riches and everyday necessities, were looted by their own people quite soon after burial in most cases. Some of the thieves were the very priests who taught the religion upon which the whole Book of the Dead ritual was based. That makes me wonder about the extent to which they believed in the efficacy of what they did.

Egypt has been amazing, tomorrow we fly to Jordan, just 80 miles from where the Israeli army is predicted to be rolling into Gaza tomorrow. Damn, touring next door to a war zone doesn't make the greatest sense but we're going to do it.

Egypt has felt very safe, the government obviously spends millions on tourist safety. Plus the Egyptian people don't seem to be an angry lot, quite the reverse, they are basically happy. Interestingly, they come in all colors from African black to southern European light tan. You see a lot of faces that look like Nasser or Sadat or Mubarak, these leaders were/are normal Egyptian types.

New Harry Potter Trailer

There is a new trailer out for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the film of book six. This Potter film was completed in time for Christmas, 2008, release but Warner decided to hold off on the release until summer, 2009, in hopes of a larger audience. Go here to see the new trailer.

It appears to me that they have done a bad job of casting Horace Slughorn, just as earlier films have done with Fleur Delacour and Dolores Umbrage. To my way of thinking the actress playing Dolores was too pretty and the young Frenchwoman playing Fleur not beautiful enough. Chris Colombus cast the main characters in films one and two and he did a brilliant job.