Monday, February 23, 2009

Travel Blogging IV

Dateline: Alexandria, Egypt. The news this morning was about a bomb blast in Cairo that killed one French teenage tourist and injured maybe 20 more European kids and Egyptians, some quite seriously. The bomb went off yesterday by the Hussein mosque by the Khan el-Khalili where tourists visit the bazaar and drink tea in sidewalk cafes.

The bomb was hidden in one of these cafes, possibly the very one that the other DrC and I sat in two months ago, drinking soda and watching the passing parade. Timing, they say, is everything….

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first terrorist-caused fatality in the Nile valley since 2005. The Egyptian government works very hard to prevent, deter, and stop this kind of ugliness. They have literally thousands of “Tourism and Antiquities Police” whose only job is to protect tourists.

Every tour bus has a discreet armed guard aboard. Every popular tourist site has these special police standing guard, some with submachine guns or behind bullet-proof steel shields. The problem is that Egypt has literally millions of tourists from all over the world; you cannot protect them all without effectively imprisoning them.

Egyptians we’ve met are friendly people, not at all anti-Western. I believe the terrorists who do violence against tourists in Egypt do so primarily to harm the Egyptian government which is not susceptible to normal political pressure.

Such less-than-democratic governments can be relatively popular if they create good economic conditions, Singapore is an example of this. Every serious anti-tourist incident costs Egypt tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue as cautious people decide to visit somewhere perceived as less dangerous.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: Alexandria, Egypt. This is the main summer/beach resort in the Arab World. There are literally miles of resort developments strung out along the beaches west of this town, most of the way to the Libyan border. At this time of year, winter, they are deserted.

Whereas Alexandria looks old and run down, the resorts are new and not yet nasty looking. This is a part of the world which doesn’t much believe in maintenance. They build some nice looking buildings (as well as many ugly ones) and then never paint or maintain them. And cleaning up the environment isn’t a big value either, litter and trash are prevalent.

Our ship, the Norwegian Jade, is trying to fight off an attack of norovirus. Norovirus is what we called the “24 hour stomach flu” when we were kids. It is highly contagious, highly unpleasant, and passed by surface contact. It made its appearance in Izmir and will only be worse when the folks who overnighted in Cairo get back.

The extremes to which the ship goes to keep us from handling surfaces others will handle are interesting, and I suppose they work. No more “serve yourself” in the buffet, now it’s “they serve you” all the way. There are isopropyl alcohol dispensers in all the elevators as well as at every restaurant. Oh yes, the other DrC seems to have it as I write. I hope to dodge it, but who knows.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: Izmir, Turkey. This is Turkey’s largest port and third largest city, and it was formerly known as Smyrna. Not far from this port is Ephesus, a city that was in its glory during biblical times, first Greek, then Roman. Substantial parts of the Bible were written in this town, and specific exact sites in this town were mentioned there.

We had a cold, rainy day but the tour of the town was spectacular in spite of the weather. There is an outdoor amphitheater with acoustics so perfect that unamplified voices could be heard by an audience of 25,000 people. As a guy who spent much of his life lecturing, I was jealous of the venue - none I ever performed in was nearly so good.

Two days ago we were in Athens and had both good weather and good health, neither of which we had on our last visit. We went to the temple of Hephaistos in Athens which resembles the Parthenon but is smaller, in much better condition, and easier to get to. The Greeks did such a good job of imagining imposing architecture that we still use their designs today.

We also drove down the coast to a temple of Poseidon which is only partially standing but has a spectacular setting on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The drive itself was great, and Greece does look a lot like California. I think their politics are about as screwed up as California’s too. The day we were there the bus drivers were on strike. A couple of months ago the students rioted and burned shops and banks. In spite of this, the society “works” as does that of California.

Our guide today asked how the “crisis” had happened in the U.S. We replied that the average American wasn’t experiencing a crisis, only reading about it in the papers or seeing about it on TV. U.S. “crisis” unemployment has yet to reach levels viewed as normal-for-good-times in the EU. Yes, home values are down but that is only important to those who need to sell or who purchased recently and now owe more than their home is currently worth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Travel Blogging I

I write from Barcelona, one of the pretty cities in Europe. I suppose it is mostly known for its Spanish-French fusion culture called "Catalonian" hereabouts. That and the architecture by Gaudi, which is often gaudy. His Cathedral of the Sacred Family is amazing. Barcelona has wide streets, buildings with a sense of place, and it sits right on the Mediterranean coast with a harbor full of cruise ships. Like many Mediterranean places, it feels somewhat like California.

London was freezing (literally) as we flew through there early this morning. By the time we got to Barcelona in early afternoon it was quite comfortable, our cab driver didn't have a jacket on. Perhaps cruising on the Med at this time of year won't be too cold after all. Tomorrow we board the Norwegian Jade and sail off for Italy, more about that later.

GM Fate in Balance

See the two stories here and here as the fate of General Motors hangs in the balance. It all comes down to whether current GM employees are willing to allow serious cuts in pay and retirement benefits, cuts that will bring GM costs down level with, or below those at Toyota and Honda plants in the U.S.

It may be that GM's hourly workers cannot or will not bite this proverbial bullet. In that event, GM as the present firm will cease to exist and all current stockholders' equity will disappear as the firm reorganizes in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

GM executives whose bonuses were paid in stock will be hurt as will the many tens of thousands of former shareholders and like numbers of employees who will be terminated without the supplemental unemployment benefits to which they've become accustomed.

Also likely to disappear will be product lines like Pontiac, Saturn and GMC, perhaps also Buick in the U.S. although Buick will likely continue in China where the brand has glamour. Tens of thousands of GM retirees will find their retirements have become hard-scrabble. Much GM parts and subassembly production will be shifted to plants elsewhere, maybe Guatamala or Bangladesh? Many supplier firms will disappear.

If all of this comes to pass, it will be because the UAW workers have collectively made the same decision as that made by a person who'd rather commit suicide than go to prison for life. It is a "I'd rather not work in the auto industry at all than work under the conditions you offer" decision. Oddly, I think that is an okay choice for workers to make. Maybe it's not economically rational, but it is their lives after all, and they get to decide what to make of them.

This reflects a classic piece of DrC wisdom: everybody does what they have to do, and then they live with the consequences of their behavior.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Judd Gregg Bails

Another cabinet appointee won't become secretary after all. This time the appointee for Commerce, Judd Gregg (R-NH), has withdrawn his name because he could see he would have to support too many policies in which he didn't believe. How refreshing, a nominee about whom there are alleged no failure-to-pay-tax problems.

The MSM is playing it down but it looks to me like he also bailed because he learned that he wouldn't have effective supervisory control of the 2010 census. How the census is done has far-reaching political implications. Artificially inflating the actual count to increase the apparent numbers of new immigrants and minorities who avoid being counted benefits one party over the other.

I expect Gregg believed he'd have trouble being reelected in New Hampshire; a formerly conservative state which is becoming more liberal as Massachusetts leftists move north. Seeing that, perhaps he thought being Cabinet Secretary would be interesting for a few years. That is, until he saw what kind of left-wing nonsense it would require him to put his name on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Travel Blogging Alert

The other DrC and I will be traveling for the next three weeks or so. Travel blogging will be in order as we get access to the Internet. Political and world affairs blogging may happen, but will be more intermittent than usual. We ask your indulgence.

Good News

See this Rasmussen Report poll data which indicates that people asked whether they would vote for a generic Republican or Democrat for Congress, responded 40% Democratic, 39% Republican. Scott Rasmussen writes:
This marks the lowest level of support for the Democrats in tracking history and is the closest the two parties have been on the generic ballot.
If you lean right politically, as I do, this is good news indeed. My conclusion: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Go read the whole column for a more fine grained analysis: women vs. men, investors vs. others, etc.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Unfairness Doctrine

Democrats argue that the so-called "fairness doctrine" should be reinstituted. Here is an article in that makes this point. The fairness doctrine required that for every hour of a station's radio or television airtime devoted to material that leans right politically, they must broadcast another, equally prime time hour, leaning left. Superficially, this sounds fair. In truth, it is not.

Today the market decides what is on air. Programs run if they can attract advertisers, advertisers demand proof of listeners. In most markets there are listeners for conservative talk radio but no listeners for liberal talk radio. However, in any market for which there is listener demand for liberal talk radio, it exists. For example, in the ultra-liberal San Francisco Bay market liberal talk radio exists. I know this because my Democratic in-laws listen to it.

Why is there much wider demand for conservative talk radio? Because in most markets liberals find their views echoed in the op-ed pages of their papers and the news programs of every television network except Fox. Conservatives listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Tom Sullivan and others because, in most markets, they don't find their views reflected in the mainstream media.

It is accurate to say that the existence of conservative talk radio balances the preponderance of liberal views in the mainstream media. It thereby creates a sort of rough fairness where fairness would otherwise not exist.

If the old fairness doctrine is reinstituted, political commentary will disappear from radio entirely. Radio stations cannot afford to devote hours to no-listener/no-advertiser liberal talk programs which would be required to balance the listener-rich/advertiser-rich conservative programs. Meanwhile the mainstream media would continue to exhibit the liberal bias for which they are now known. You can understand why this would be attractive to Dems.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quotes of the Day

James Taranto, writing in his Best of the Web column for the Wall Street Journal online, is on a real roll today. He says:

We kept hearing during the Bush administration that dissent was "patriotic." Does anyone who said that then believe it now, when the other party is in power?
Taranto also repeats a quote attributed to President Harry S. Truman:
My choices early in life were either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.
And he quotes one Stormy Daniels, a porn star who is considering a career in politics:
Politics can't be any dirtier of a job than the one I am already in.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wal-Mart Not So Bad

A journalist takes a job at Wal-Mart and learns a lot about economics, management, and life. This article reflects his experience working there.

Guess what? He ends up a Wal-Mart fan! Imagine that. The New York Post article is worth your time. Hat tip to the fellows at Power Line blog for the link.

Training Wheels

We all hate hearing "I told you so," especially when it is true that we were told and chose not to listen. Nevertheless, it has to be said. COTTonLINE noted six months ago that Barack Hussein Obama was about three years away from a job as an Illinois state senator; not a position widely touted as preparation for the U.S. presidency.

When I read about the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal going hard aground outside Pearl Harbor I thought, this is a metaphor for what is happening in Washington. The ship of state is aground and in danger; while "Captain" Obama is like a wet-behind-the-ears ensign fresh out of NROTC.

The first three weeks of the Obama presidency have been a comedy of errors, very nearly an unmitigated disaster. Pretty clearly we have elected another President with training wheels; a fellow who happens to be one hell of an orator but brings almost nothing else to the job. Now we see if he can learn on the job and if he can do it before he commits so many screw-ups that his image, in the minds of everybody who matters, is irreparably destroyed. I am not optimistic about his chances, or ours, for that matter.

Later... Rasmussen Reports does a daily calculation they call the Presidential Approval Index, explained here. When he was first inaugurated, Obama had a rating of +29. Today that rating has dropped to +11. That is a lot to lose in less than 3 weeks.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Underlying Causes

See this article in The American Spectator which lays out a persuasive description of how we got into the current financial mess. Their conclusion: the government was at fault.

Government was at fault, not for under regulating but for over regulating. At fault for pressuring lenders into making loans to poor persons who manifestly could only repay them under very special circumstances. Those circumstances: continuously rising home prices. As soon as home prices stopped rising, mass defaults were inevitable.

So...home prices stopped rising and the inevitable happened. That's why, as a conservative, I'm not opposed to government bailing out banks. Because the trouble banks are now in was caused by our government.

We live in perilous times.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Alliteration Alert

Aaron Reichel, writing in the Canada Free Press, concerning the "stimulus" bill that passed the House. He calls it a
putrid package of pork.
That's a cute name for an ugly business.

Quote of the Day

Peggy Noonan, in her weekly Wall Street Journal column, evaluating the performance of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:
One senses in a new way the disaster that is Nancy Pelosi. She's not big enough for the age, is she? She's not up to it.
The whole column is worth your time; Miss Peggy even has some nice things to say concerning Dick Cheney's dismal prognostications about terrorism.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gaddafi on African Politics

Col. Muammar Gaddafi, leader of Libya, is the Chairman of the African Union for the next year. The BBC reports his comments at an AU summit in Ethiopia. His view: that multi-party politics don't work in Africa because the society is essentially tribal and thus political parties become tribal parties. Tribal parties, Gaddafi argues, lead to bloodshed and civil war.

Pretty clearly the BBC expects you to be outraged at Gaddafi's comments. If you are a regular reader of this blog you probably do prefer multi-party democracy, warts and all. So do I. However, the odds approach 100 to 1 that you do not belong to a tribe, most Americans don't, I don't.

Before you reject Gaddafi's views out of hand, think carefully about the political violence in Africa over the last half century, since the end of colonialism. Almost all of it has been essentially tribal in nature. From the Nigerian Civil War to the current fighting in Darfur, tribalism has been at the root of it.

However much we may feel uncomfortable with the idea, perhaps Gaddafi is at least partially correct in identifying the problem. His notion that a one-party strongman state like Libya is the answer for Africa is likely to find few takers in the developed nations.

It may be that post-tribal multi-party government as practiced in developed nations won't work among still-tribal people. The question is then: what will work that allows the will of the majority to guide the state while protecting the rights of the minorities in a multi-tribal society? Africa needs the answer to that question

Quote of the Day

See Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on a Youtube amateur video apparently saying that "500 million Americans lose their jobs" while we try to pass a stimulus bill. Really, Nancy?

Since there are only just over 300 million Americans total, including newborns, school children and the aged and infirm, I suppose she has exaggerated wildly by multiple orders of magnitude. The actual number is probably more like 5 million, or even 500 thousand or 50 thousand.

And we are letting someone so mathematically challenged decide how much taxes we pay, how much the government will spend? Madness....

Hat tip to Matt Drudge for the link to the video.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daschle, Killefer Pull Plug

Obama nominees Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer have withdrawn their nominations for high office in the administration over tax problems, see the stories here and here. Now, as Larry Kudlow points out in a National Review column, it is time for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, whose tax problems are well-documented, to go too.

President Obama seems to be having trouble finding prominent Democrats whose tax records can pass scrutiny. I cannot understand why his vetting squads seem unable to do their jobs properly. Perhaps he should appoint more Republicans? Gregg at Commerce is the third Republican in the Obama cabinet, following La Hood at Transportation and Gates at Defense.

I predict the next four years in Washington will be, in the words of Laugh In's Arte Johnson, "verrrry interesting, but not funny."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl Musings

As the saying goes, I didn't have a dog in this fight. In other words, I didn't care which team won the Super Bowl game played yesterday. I have no ties to either Pittsburgh or Arizona.

On the other hand, I do have a bias in favor of close games, which this one was. Who would win was still in doubt in the last couple of minutes. That makes for an interesting game, one where a last-minute fumble, interception or hail-mary can change the outcome. So...this game rewarded by being close. Two good teams played to a near-draw.

One thing that wasn't impressive was the number of penalties called and, I presume, committed. It seemed to me, and to the talking heads commentating, that there were a lot of penalties in this Super Bowl. On the other hand, while I didn't see the first quarter, there were few injuries in the balance of the game, none seemed serious enough to make a fuss over. That is good news.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Latin America: An Optimistic View

Read this global assessment of Latin America by Stephen Haber, a Stanford professor and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, in The Wall Street Journal. While admitting that there are problems in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc., Haber ends up with a generally optimistic conclusion about the region. He finds much to praise in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Panama, and even Mexico. Here is a quote that had my head spinning:
After falling for a decade, Mexico's homicide rate increased in 2008, because the Calderón government courageously decided to take on the drug traffickers. If it keeps rising, it may soon be as high as that of...Louisiana.
That doesn't seem to jibe with the alarmist rhetoric we've been hearing about the drug war assassinations in Mexico. But then, I'm not really acquainted with the murder rate in Louisiana, which may be sky high.

On the other hand, his positive view does agree with our experiences in Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica and the positive things he says about Mexico and Brasil seem to be only slight exaggerations.