Monday, August 24, 2009

Travel Blogging VI

Dateline: Bernkasel, Germany. One more pretty little town along the Mosel River. Practically every hillside hereabouts is covered with grapevines; this is the home of the German white wines. The valley is probably 3-400 ft. deep, with the river running at the bottom. It is a bigtime vacation area, people come to enjoy the views, boat, play in the water, drink the wines, and generally have a good time. The towns reflect this emphasis on wine and tourism, and the river is navigable at least as far up as Trier, courtesy of some small dams and locks.

As noted before, river cruising in Europe is one of the more pleasant things to do. People do day cruises, overnighters, and long ones like the one we’re on. I’m noting a substantial number of RVs here too, mostly modest sized Class C rigs with a few not-too-big Class As. I’m not seeing many trailers, or what the Brits would call “caravans.” I wonder how many of these motorhomes are rentals? Rentals would make sense here as most Europeans don’t have somewhere to park an RV when they’re not using it.

People do recreation along the Rhine but you get the feeling that it is mostly a cargo route. The Mosel is mostly about recreation, cargo and freight are secondary uses. One thing that puzzles me, why are there so many bulk carriers loaded with gravel? In the States we don’t much transport gravel long distances. Does this mean that gravel isn’t widely available in Europe? That would seem to be the conclusion.

I’ve talked about the work and passenger boats on these rivers but there are private pleasure boats too, cabin cruisers and runabouts. My guess is that you’d have to be very well-off to have a boat on the rivers here, as they aren’t all that common. In a day’s cruising we’ll pass maybe half a dozen. I’m thinking one could see most of Europe by boat, living aboard and popping ashore with your bicycle or motorbike to poke about there. I have no idea what the lockage and dockage fees would be like. I see people catching a free mooring here and there, but there’d be no getting around locking fees.

Travel Blogging IV

Dateline: Speyer, Germany. This little river town is something of a resort for Germans, the river bank is lined with biergartens (e.g., beer gardens). Like all residents of cold places, Germans like to be outdoors when it is warm and that particularly includes drinking beer outdoors. Speyer is home to a rather grand Romanesque cathedral; it was the seat of the bishops of Speyer who were powers back in the day.

We are spending just over 24 hours here, doing a walking tour of the town followed by home visits with German families. Those who choose can visit a biergarten literally just across the jetty from the ship for their evening’s entertainment. Most will not do so, but it is certainly there. We set sail downriver just after 1 a.m. A lot of our sailing is done at night, perforce, but I sort of resent it as daytime cruising is so pleasant. We did several hours of daytime cruising yesterday, while many of our number were off in the buses seeing Baden Baden. We’d seen the spa before so gave that trip a pass and enjoyed the downriver cruising instead.

For me, just being on the river is what I enjoy. Yes, the towns we visit are interesting but being “on the river” is my goal. Unlike the ocean there is always scenery to look at on shore. I love watching the river traffic, barges of all sorts carrying petroleum products, gravel, grain, containers, you name it. Then there are the passenger boats, essentially floating hotels. All river craft are long and slender to fit in the locks.

Particularly interesting is a type of barge we don’t see in the U.S. This is the “barge as home & workplace.” Imagine a barge with its own engine – no pusher or tug required. The engine and pilothouse are in the rear, along with the family’s living quarters and, usually, their car. If they have hired help working the barge with them the help lives in a forecastle at the bow. Normally this barge operates alone, without other barges attached. They haul cargo all over Europe, literally from Amsterdam to the Black Sea if needed. Husband and wife operate the barge, live aboard with their small children and dog, and the windows often have lace curtains. When they are at a destination they will use a crane to lift their auto ashore, and drive around running errands. Historically, their children have gone to boarding schools ashore and come home to the barge during vacations. The captains of most of the passenger ships are grown-up “river kids” whose parents were barge operators. It is a family business, generation after generation on the rivers.

Travel Blogging III

Dateline: Strasbourg, France. I suspect a French person looks at a map of Europe and sees a large France surrounded by small peripheral states. If you limit your view to Western Europe - the part that stayed outside the Soviet orbit during the Cold War - there is some justice to this view. France is geographically central to Western Europe, and Western Europe started the EU and nurtured it through the early years.

Strasbourg is an interesting town, site of a monument to French selfishness. The main headquarters of the European Union are in Brussels, Belgium – a good choice as Belgium is a small bilingual country that nobody will mistake for the power center of the continent. However, in order to get France to join the European Union, it was necessary to create a second EU administrative/legislative power center on French soil and it is here in Strasbourg. Ironically, Strasbourg is the capital of the department of Alsace, territory that has been German almost as much as it has been French.

Enough geopolitics, let us observe this corner of France and its people. You’ve heard the French love their dogs? This is no exaggeration, they take them everywhere. I don’t think I’ve seen a single cat, but hundreds of dogs – all sizes and shapes and all looking well-cared for and sleek. These are for the most part city dogs, apartment dwellers which take their masters for walks in the park or alongside the canal. Inevitably some places smell of dog, too, although it would appear most owners are picking up after Fifi.

Yesterday I was going to write that Europeans are a race of apartment dwellers, today I must modify that view. Today we drove through the wine country of Alsace and in the small villages most folks live in individual homes with steeply pitched roofs, stucco walls, and amazing flowers hanging from every window box. In the States farmers tend to live on their farms, in much of Europe they live in farming villages and commute out to their farms. This makes the farms look tidier but I wonder where the farmers stow their equipment when it is not in use?

This is pretty country, growing the grapes that make the famous white wines: Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and the white Pinots. When you get out into the flatter land, the region grows thousands of acres of maize, what Americans call “corn.” Europeans tend to view maize as animal feed, but most corn grown in the States is fed to non-humans, too.

Travel Blogging II

Dateline: cruising the Rhine River. As I write this we are some miles/kilometers downstream from Basel, no longer in Switzerland and in territory that has been disputed between France and Germany for centuries – Alsace. Tomorrow morning we tie up in Strasbourg, adjacent to a barracks of the French Foreign Legion, or la Legion Etrangere, literally the “legion of strangers.” I’d read that the Foreign Legion was always garrisoned outside France but I know this barracks has been here for at least 6 years. It was here last time we were on this river cruise in 2003.

France gets a lot of mileage out of their Foreign Legion. When, for diplomatic reasons, they need to send troops to a dangerous and difficult place, they send the Legion. The body bags don’t go home to grieving families in France. There is a famous quote from a Legion commander to the effect that “It is your duty to die for France and my duty to send you where you can do that.”

Basel is one of those European towns that experienced a lot of grief as a result of the Reformation. The cathedral had most of the Roman Catholic decoration stripped out by the dour Protestants, leaving it relatively austere. On the other hand the town hall is highly decorated. It appears to be a city in which trolleys , motorcycles and bicycles are the main forms of transportation.

I rode the streetcars today and was impressed with their cleanliness, quiet, smoothness, and carrying capacity. The streets are narrow and winding, so the streetcars are narrow and multi-sectioned so they can twist and turn accordingly. Each train is made up of several short cars linked together and operated by a single driver. They climb hills, snake around corners, pass each other with inches to spare and cross the Rhine on bridges. Still, if you had to walk several blocks in the alpine winter to reach the line and then wait several minutes for it to arrive, the streetcars’ charm might be lessened.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Travel Blogging V

Dateline: Boppard, Germany. If there are typos, blame them on the German keyboard which has the y and z keys transposed, and the : is in the wrong place too. Oh, the joys of overseas travel. We cruised the Rhine this morning, past the Lorelei rock and statue, and past a whole bunch of castles including one on an islet in the middle of the Rhine. Very picturesque places.

Yesterday we were docked in Speyer, a cathedral town upstream from here. The Romanesque dom or cathedral there is very impressive, although not so stunning as the Gothic cathedrals from later periods.

Cruising the river is much like driving on an Interstate highway. It is a main thoroughfare for moving cargo and, to a lesser extent, passengers. Cargo is serious business on the Rhine, lots of river tankers, bulk carriers, container ships, as well as specialized ships dealing with particular cargoes like gases. All of the above are long and slender so they'll fit through the locks. All are shallow draft as the river isn't always very deep, maybe only a couple of meters.

Passenger travel on the river is mostly touring rather than serious point-to-point travel. That latter is handled by high speed trains which run freqently. Many firms run hotel boats on the Rhine, Viking is a big one, KD for Koln-Dusseldorf is another, and our firm - Grand Circle - is no slouch either, although it limits its passengers to Americans and a few Canadians. GC runs maybe half a dozen or eight ships on the Rhine and Danube.

Note: Travel blog posts II thru IV are already written but will be posted later when I get access to a place to plug in a thumb drive.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Care Craziness

This Wall Street Journal article drags out into the open one of the real sleeper issues in the whole health care debate - what to do about health care for illegal immigrants. As the article points out, half of the 12 million illegal immigrants have no health insurance. So, when they get sick they go to hospital emergency rooms where, the article says, a 1986 law requires they be treated whether or not they can pay. And, get this:
A provision in the House's health-care-overhaul bill rules out federal funding for illegal immigrants.
So...emergency rooms are required by law to treat six million uninsured illegal immigrants, but the government won't reimburse them for doing so. Can you say "Catch-22?" Is it any wonder that health care costs are spiraling upward? To whom do you think the hospitals are passing along the costs of this required care? Maybe to us, ya think?

Travel Blogging I

Dateline: Denver. The drive up the Snake River canyon today was beautiful, as always. It is only mid-August but the green of the trees is getting that tired look that presages autumn. The local mountains got snow last night, although the valleys didn't.

I was amazed at how polite, friendly and generally unbureaucratic the TSA people at Jackson airport were. Props to the Feds for a good crew. They have an unpleasant job to do but have found a way to do it without being cranky.

Flying over the so-called Front Range was as nasty as ever, bumpy and shaky. The plane that flies from Denver to Colorado Springs is called "the Vomit Comet." The last time I flew it it had hard surfaced floors, I presume so they can mop up the sick. Locals, I'm told, don't fly along the Front Range. They fly into Denver, rent a car and drive to Colo. Springs - it is almost a quick and a whole lot smoother.

Next stop is Frankfurt, with a final destination of Basel, Switzerland. There we board a river cruiser and sail down the Rhine. More later....

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Travel Blogging Alert

Starting tomorrow, the DrsC will be wandering the globe once again so for awhile most postings will be travel blogging. I hope to give you updates from Internet cafes along the Rhine and Mosel (in French, Moselle) rivers where we will be cruising.

The downside of this is that I won't be doing much with COTTonLINE's usual emphasis on domestic politics and world affairs for the next couple of weeks. Never fear, we will be back at our usual stand around September 1.

Quote of the Day II

Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Governor and GOP presidential aspirant, speaking to the GOPAC conference in Chicago and alluding to the health care proposals. As cited in Politico:
It appears that President Obama is making great progress on climate change, he is changing the political climate in the country back to Republican.
One can hope.

Barone Nails It

This New York Post article by Michael Barone looks at the offsetting issues faced by the Democratic and Republican parties. Examining the data, his underlying finding is this:
There are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals.
In other words, there are conservative Democrats out there, and some relatively conservative independents too. His article explores the consequences of this imbalance for both parties.

He also finds that the Democrat leadership comes from very liberal districts, while the Republican leadership comes from moderately conservative districts. This explains why recent legislative action hasn't been popular with the public.

Read the article, nobody crunches numbers better than Barone.

Quote of the Day I

Doug Bandow, writing in The American Spectator, cracking wise about the health care reform proposals being considered in Congress:
It's a lot easier to campaign against the incompetent, big-spending, war-mongering Republicans than to convince the American people that they would be better off if the post office provided their health care.
I love that line: "convince the American people that they would be better off if the post office provided their health care." It reminds me of the satiric view of the post office taken in the film Men in Black II - as a place mostly staffed by space aliens.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who Is Uninsured

Paul Mirengoff, one of the three authors of the Power Line blog, writes an interesting column answering the question "Who are the uninsured in America?" The President and his minions keep throwing around the number 46 million. Mirengoff shows this inflated number is far from realistic.

It turns out that the real number is about one third of that, or 15.5 million who are citizens or lawful residents, truly cannot afford to purchase health insurance, and cannot qualify for a government program like Medicaid.

Mirengoff reports in considerable detail on the various categories into which the balance of 30.5 million uninsured fall. Roughly 11 million are either covered by Medicaid or S-CHIP or are eligible to be covered but have never applied. Another 9.5 million are non-citizens. A third group of 10 million earns three times the poverty line income but chooses not to purchase insurance. Mirengoff explains why this may be a rational choice for young, healthy people.

That number of the true uninsured, 15.5 million, is still a lot of uninsured Americans, but it is only about 5% of our population, or one individual in twenty. We shouldn't need to completely revamp our health care system to insure the 1/20th of our population who need coverage.

Quote of the Day III

Mark Steyn, writing for the Orange County Register, about the perils of government health care:
The problem with government health systems is not that they pull the plug on Grandma. It's that Grandma has a hell of a time getting plugged in in the first place. The only way to "control costs" is to restrict access to treatment, and the easiest people to deny treatment to are the oldsters.
As a Canadian who now lives in New Hampshire, Steyn knows all about government health care. He has been there, done that, and doesn't want it to follow him to the States. The whole article is worth your time.

Quote of the Day II

Carl Bialik, writing his Numbers Guy column for The Wall Street Journal, talking about the difficulties in forecasting over the last year:
The spate of cloudy crystal balls highlighted an uncomfortable reality about telling the future: It is hardest when it is most important.
Another home truth is this: What you really want to be able to predict is the changes in direction. That is, when the economy turns a corner in either direction. It is easy to say that we'll get more of the same, a prediction that is often true but not very interesting or helpful.

Quote of the Day I

Peggy Noonan, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, writing about our President and his New Hampshire town hall on health care reform:
The president seemed like a man long celebrated as being very good at politics—the swift rise, the astute reading of a varied electorate—who is finding out day by day that he isn't actually all that good at it. In this sense he does seem reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, who was brilliant at becoming president but not being president.
COTTonLINE has maintained for some time now that the best historical model for understanding the Obama administration is its resemblance to the Carter administration. This is an omen of a one-term presidency, perhaps Noonan agrees.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who Pays Taxes

Charles Murray, writing in The Wall Street Journal, cites some very interesting statistics. Lets look at a few of his gleanings from IRS data:

Let's start with the rich, whom I define as families in the top 1% of income among those who filed tax returns. In 2007, the year with the most recent tax data, they had family incomes of $410,000 or more. They paid 40% of all the personal income taxes collected.

The families in the rest of the top 5% had family incomes of $160,000 to $410,000. They paid another 20% of total personal income taxes. Now we're up to three out of every five dollars in personal taxes paid by just five out of every 100 American families.

Murray continues:
Turn to the bottom three-quarters of the families who filed income tax returns in 2007—not just low-income families, but everybody with family incomes below $66,500. That 75% of families paid just 13% of all personal income taxes.
Sounds to me like we are already socking it to the rich, what do you think?

Funny Truth or Truthful Fun?

I don't expect something this hip to be in the Charlotte Observer, which just shows that I don't know everything. Check out this funny column by Tommy Tomlinson, one of their regulars. He draws some very droll, and relatively accurate, parallels between the conservative movement of today and the hippie movement of the 1960s. For example:
Right-wingers are the new hippies.
They're Rippies.
These days Rippies are the ones disrupting town-hall meetings and shouting down authority. They're the ones chanting for a revolution. They turn on (Fox News), tune in (to Rush) and drop out (of the taxpaying public).
Read the whole article, there is lots more fun stuff there.

The Truth Hurts

Do yourself a favor and read this article by British journalist Stephen Glover in the online version of the UK Daily Mail. The article's title will give you the general flavor of his view of the National Health Service, their government health care:
I deeply resent the Americans sneering at our health service - but perhaps that's because the truth hurts.
Glover elaborates:
I'd say that under the present system which President Obama is hoping to improve, most middle-class Americans are liable to receive better health treatment than their British counterparts.
He says ask any American who has had an encounter with Britain's NHS, you'll hear:
They cannot believe what has happened to them - the squalor, and looming threat of MRSA; the long waiting lists, and especially the official target that patients in 'accident and emergency' should be expected to wait for no more than four - four! - hours.
Doesn't government health care sound wonderful? Read the whole article, the above is just a sampler.

Overall Approval at New Low

Scott Rasmussen, who runs the Rasmussen Reports polling outfit, finds the President's approval continues to fall, today he reports:

Overall, 47% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President's performance. That’s the lowest level of total approval yet recorded. The President’s ratings first fell below 50% just a few weeks ago on July 25. Fifty-two percent (52%) now disapprove.

For comparison, note that Rasmussen's "somewhat approve" percentage for George W. Bush was 35% when he left office. This is a difference of only 12%, not a long way to fall in the next 3+ years.

One of the downsides of living a long time is remembering that all of this has happened before. LBJ didn't run for reelection, Nixon resigned because of Watergate, and neither Ford nor Carter could be reelected. The pundit class speculated on "the decline of the Presidency." Then Reagan restored the luster of the office.

Now we have a new down cycle: Bush 41 wasn't reelected, Clinton was impeached and seemingly lied under oath, unpopular Bush 43 left office as a recession set in, and now Obama's popularity ratings are predictably nosediving.

Who will restore the power of the presidency this time? Will we elect that person in 2012 or have to wait until 2016 or beyond? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Government Involvement in Medicine

It would appear that, on health care reform, President Obama waded out into a political swamp and discovered alligators chewing on his tender parts. The popularity of his plan keeps going down, as people realize what government will have to do to keep the costs of health care down.

Very simply, the main thing government can do to make the cost of health care go down is to ration its availability, particularly to the old and terminally ill. Most developed countries have done exactly this, and their affluent elderly come here for pain-easing surgeries. Where will we (and they) go when our system becomes like theirs?

Another step government can take is to cut back spending on medical research, thus condemning some of us to deaths or disabilities we could otherwise avoid or postpone for years or decades. As they do on defense, much of the world relies on the U.S. for medical/pharmaceutical research - we do the spending and they reap the benefits, along with us. Who will do it when we don't, or will we all do without?

The one useful thing government could do to restrain medical costs is to replace the tort lawsuit system of constraining bad doctors with a system that examines alleged medical malpractice, punishes it, and awards only actual costs to those injured. This would avoid sending billions of dollars to lawyers, more billions to malpractice insurance firms, and even more billions on unnecessary tests and procedures done to protect doctors against lawsuit. Presumably this could reduce medical costs in this country by 10-15% - worthwhile but not dramatic.

The main reason we spend a lot on health is that we want to feel good, and we are willing to spend the money to do so.

California Budget Blues

Dan Walters writes about California government for the Sacramento Bee. For decades he has been the best observer of CA state government issues.

Walters has written a truly depressing column about the budgetary situation in the Golden State. In this piece, he summarizes the gloomy findings of the Legislative Analyst, Mac Taylor, about CA's budgetary future. Paraphrasing Taylor, Walters summarizes:
He tells the Legislature that even were the economy to recover, California faces many years of gaps between income and outgo. Indeed, the situation could worsen in a couple of years as the temporary taxes expire and the temporary spending deferrals and debts come due.
Note: the CA Legislative Analyst is technically non-partisan but works for a state legislature dominated by Democrats.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Travel Blogging: the Long Weekend

The DrsC took our RV up to Yellowstone National Park over the past weekend to spend a few days "camping" with our nephew and his wife who brought their camper too. The weather was mixed - some good and some bad - but the experience was excellent.

Yellowstone is widely viewed as the world's first truly national park. It existed for decades before the National Park Service was set up to manage it and other parks. A U.S. Army cavalry unit ran the park for 30+ years, from their headquarters at Fort Yellowstone, located at Mammoth Hot Springs in the northern end of the park. Students of military history will find the horse soldiers' post worth seeing.

Yellowstone National Park is really four parks in one, let me explain. First, it is a large place of great natural beauty. There are canyons, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, peaks, meadows and forests. Throughout most of it, the only sign of the hand of man is the road on which you drive. And this year the crop of wildflowers has been exceptional - maybe the best we've seen in 35 years of coming here. We attribute this flowering to the extra rain we've gotten this summer.

Second, it is the site of Yellowstone Lake, the largest high altitude (7700 ft.) fresh water lake in North America and one of the largest in the world. The water is amazingly clear and cold, though not nearly as deep as Tahoe or Crater Lakes. Unlike Tahoe, this lake's shoreline is 95% undeveloped and natural. And yes, the fishing here in Yellowstone is legendary, although much of the river fishing is "catch and release" only.

Third, Yellowstone is an enormous wild animal park, with the animals not fenced or constrained in any way. In two days we saw many hundred bison, including those that walked right down the road holding up traffic. Seen up close, alongside your car window, a bull bison is huge and he doesn't smell nice. Bison behavior is mostly placid; they are after all North America's wild cattle and they act a lot like cattle. They can even interbreed with cattle. They can also be dangerous to overeager photographers seeking a closeup on foot.

We also saw elk in several locations, including one bull elk with a rack of antlers that spread 4-5 feet, still in velvet, grazing right along the highway not paying any attention to the cars stopping and the cameras snapping. We also saw several deer. On this short trip we saw no bear, although we met folks who had better luck in this regard. We also saw no moose or wolves, but that is because we limited our travel to the southern loop, where they are less prevalent.

Bird watching in Yellowstone is great too. It is a summer home to a large group of white pelicans; eagles, osprey and hawks are common too. One of the medium sized birds worth watching is the Clark's nutcracker, aka "the camp robber." These birds are what the Brits would call "cheeky;" they are known to steal food right off a picnic table with the diners sitting there. Animal watching is a major tourist activity in Yellowstone.

Fourth, Yellowstone is the home of the greatest collection of thermal features in the world: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents. There are hundreds of each. These exist because Yellowstone contains the caldera of an enormous volcano, the magma of which is still very hot a couple of miles down. The caldera also forms much of Yellowstone Lake. The second largest grouping of such features is in Rotorua, New Zealand. If you've seen Yellowstone, don't bother with Rotorua; New Zealand has plenty of other great things to visit.

I guess my point out of this catalog of wonders is that the park would be great if it had only one of these things going for it. It has, however, four world-class natural features in one location for a single admission fee.

Postscript: Wouldn't it have been wonderful if Lake Tahoe and the surrounding basin had been made a national park? I suppose it is too late, we'd have to buy out thousands of vacation homes, not to mention casinos, restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

Scott Rasmussen, pollster, writing in The Wall Street Journal about public attitudes toward government:
Our polling in February found that by a 2-1 margin, voters believe that no matter how bad things are Congress can always make matters worse.
As Mark Twain said, "there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." I guess that makes Dona Pelosi the Godmother.

Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies

Bolivia's President Evo Morales is expressing concern about the possibility that rightist forces might win the upcoming elections in Chile and Argentina. This article in MercoPress has the story and suggests the right has a real chance to win in both countries.

I suspect Morales' concern is well-founded. If the right should win elections in either or both of those neighboring countries, it would probably be bad news for leftist Morales. Such governments-of-the-right might well give aid to the forces in Bolivia that oppose the nativist/leftist government of Morales.

Unintended Consequences

For Yahoo News Ted Rall has a column arguing that the U.S. should have the same rules against layoffs that Europe does. The article is philosophical and makes the usual liberal arguments against labor mobility.

What Rall doesn't say is the consequences of making layoffs and terminations somewhere between difficult and impossible, as they are in France. The main consequence is that firms don't want to hire workers. As noted here, the unemployment rate in France has averaged nearly 5% higher than the U.S. rate over the last 15 years.

Firms that can let workers go when no longer needed are willing to hire workers when they are needed. Firms that cannot let workers go in tough times don't hire extra workers in good times.

French firms have found that they are better off to give up market share and hold their work force levels down to what they will need in hard times. The result of this is anemic economic growth in what should be good times.

The really talented young people in France aspire to government jobs. The French private sector is completely shackled with government regulations. A major reason the U.S. is the economic engine of the world is its labor mobility; something that, for all of its costs, we cannot afford to give up.

Parking at WalMart

See this Fox News piece on Supreme Court Justice Thomas and his wife parking in WalMart parking lots in their RV. The whole article is delightful, and is reflective of the activities of many RVers. The other DrC and I have RVed since 1972, and we agree that it is a wonderful life. We've driven our RVs all over the US and Canada, and toured New Zealand in a rented RV.

I only have one gripe with the article: the anonymous author doesn't know much about RVing. The article paraphrases Mrs. Thomas as follows:
In fact, the Washington power couple spends each summer touring the United States in a mobile home, she said.
You can be certain that is not what Mrs. Thomas said. The anonymous author at Fox doesn't know the difference between a mobile home and a motor home. This mistake is made often by people who live in New York City and write for news organizations. They know nothing about either mobile homes or motor homes, and display their ignorance in articles such as this.

The confusion arises out of the fact that mobile homes are much less mobile than motor homes, although their names suggest otherwise. A "mobile home" is a manufactured house that probably moves once or twice in its whole existence. Once set up on the homesite, its wheels and tow bar are removed and used again. In other words, a mobile home is not a recreational vehicle.

A "motor home," which is what I'm sure the Thomases have, is a recreational vehicle (RV) with home-like qualities. It is designed to move frequently. It may resemble a bus (called a "class A") or it may look like the front end of a full size van grafted onto an RV body (called a "class C").

I wish news organizations would get this distinction straight.

Obama Worse Than Bush

See this CNN poll which asks in question number three:

Do you consider the first six months of the Obama administration to be a success or a failure?
The results: 51% consider the Obama administration to be a success, 37% consider it a failure.

Compare these results with those for the Bush administration (asked at the same point - August, 2001) where 56% considered it a success and 32% considered it to be failure.

1. These ratings for the Bush administration were taken before the tragic events of September 11 which caused approval for the Bush administration to rise.
2. CNN tends to be more favorable to Democrats than Republicans.
3. Hat tips to Matt Drudge and RealClearPolitics for the links to CNN.

Quote of the Day

John Hinderaker, one of the three authors of the PowerLine blog, taking a swipe at the President:
Increasingly, it seems that Barack Obama's affinity for the regime in Iran is that of one corrupt government for another.
Ca-ching! Don't hide your feelings, John.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Missing the Point

This article from The Nation, and others like it, go on at great length about how bottled water is no more pure than tap water. Who knows, they are probably right. And yes, the plastic bottles do clutter up our landfills.

I believe all such screeds miss the point of bottled water. Except in third world countries where tap water is clearly unfit for drinking, people don't buy bottled water because it is safer. In developed countries, people buy bottled water because it is convenient and because it tastes better than tap water.

Much municipal tap water tastes awful. It is so heavily chlorinated it could almost be used to bleach clothes. Running tap water through a charcoal filter makes it taste as good as bottled water. Perhaps we should filter tap water and use refillable containers. However, that is inconvenient.

I am somewhat sympathetic with the viewpoint that bottled water is wasteful. However, the way to get people to stop buying bottled water is to have good tasting municipal tap water. Simply scolding people to stop buying bottled water won't do the job.

Elegant Phraseology

Scott Johnson, one of the three men who create the PowerLine blog, writing about the 2003 Obama health care quote we cite below and the White House's semi-denials since:

He (Obama) nevertheless finds it useful to deny his support for such a government takeover. But it is the object of his desire, and it is the direction in which he is moving, Linda Douglass to the contrary notwithstanding.
I love it when someone correctly uses a phrase like "Linda Douglass to the contrary notwithstanding."
Way to go, Scott.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Isn't It Obvious?

The Washington Post runs this article which expresses amazement that Republican senators opposing the Sotomayor nomination aren't worried about Hispanic backlash. I believe the Post knows better.

Republican senators might worry about Hispanic backlash if any substantial number of Hispanics had voted Republican in the last two elections. Since few Hispanics voted Republican, I suspect the GOP senators are of the opinion that you cannot lose what you (a) don't have, or (b) don't have a reasonable chance of getting.

Probably the only candidate the GOP could run who would have a decent shot at the Hispanic vote is former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Jeb has an Hispanic wife and is a Roman Catholic convert.

What He Really Wants

President Barack H. Obama, speaking in 2003 at an AFL-CIO Civil, Human, and Women's Rights Conference, about what he would prefer in a health plan:
I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see.
Please forgive the lengthy quote. You can find the video of this speech and the rest of the text of the quote here on The quote doesn't make clear the identity of the "Jim" he mentions, presumably the prior speaker.

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

Monday, August 3, 2009

Quote of the Day

Robert Samuelson, speaking of the lesson we should learn from California's budget problems:
The state's wrenching experience suggests that, as a nation, we should begin to pare back government's future commitments to avoid a similar fate.
This is an amazing thing to hear from a liberal economist. The article can be found at RealClearPolitics.

Travel Blogging, Epilogue

We've been home from Canada for a week or more, enough time for impressions to ripen and thoughts to emerge. On this trip we traveled only to the province of Alberta, which Canadians say is the most like the U.S. Take that as a caveat for what follows.

As an American, traveling to Canada, I experience the two countries as very similar. So similar, in fact, that there is virtually zero culture shock. As an experienced traveler, I look for differences and, if I look very carefully, see a few. What amazes me is how few I do see, substantially fewer than there were 30+ years ago when I first started going north.

Canadians focus on the few differences that do exist; they magnify and value them as indicators of their independence. For example, they converted to metric and do business in kilometers and liters. On the other hand, they didn't choose to drive on the left or use 220 volt, 50 cycle power as the rest of the Commonwealth does. So be it.

The difference that most fascinates me is how much the average Canadian knows about the U.S., and how little the average American knows about Canada. It's like when a mouse lies down to sleep alongside an elephant, the mouse sleeps with one eye open, the elephant doesn't. That is, things that happen in the U.S. can really affect life in Canada; things that happen in Canada are much less likely to affect life in the U.S.

However minor the differences, I like Canada a lot - enough to want to visit every 2-3 years during the short but pleasant summers.

Social Class in Politics

Go here for a very interesting discussion in the San Francisco Examiner of the conflict between the "elitist left" and the "populist left." I have nothing to add to this discussion as I have no particular expertise concerning the left.

On the other hand, perhaps this dichotomy gives us insight concerning what has recently happened on the right - our operational territory. The populist right was excited about Sarah Palin, whereas the elitist right couldn't stand her. Ditto the division of opinion between the social conservatives (i.e., religious right) and the fiscal/foreign policy conservatives (i.e., "country club Republicans"). The former tend to be populist while the latter tend to be elitist.

I suspect each of the "big tent" major parties struggles with a social class division between the populist (i.e., "lower middle and working class") and the elitist (i.e., "upper and upper middle class") wings of the party. We seldom get so clear an opportunity to consider it.

Peters: Afghanistan a Mess

Ralph Peters writes knowledgeably about military matters for the New York Post. He has here a very gloomy assessment of our situation in Afghanistan; which we at COTTonLINE have labeled "Obama's War" and Peters calls "Vietnam-istan."

Peters' key point is that Afghanistan has never considered itself a country and is therefore unlikely to do so under our tutelage. His conclusion is chilling:
The echoes of Vietnam keep getting louder. Our well-intentioned aid only corrupts. We never pause to try to think like Afghans. And we comfort ourselves with platitudes, then lie about our prospects.

Resort Whimsies, Part II

I forgot to include in my last post on this topic what was perhaps our most interesting encounter with celebrities here in western Wyoming. About 10 years ago we sold our first Wyoming house to NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty and his wife Lynda.

"The King" looks in person exactly as he does on TV; wife Lynda is no latter-day trophy wife, but an authentic real person and very nice. She does most of the talking when they're together because Richard's hearing is shot from all the years of screaming engines.

Our little place was around the corner and down the road from their much bigger place. They bought it so their pilots would have a place to stay when the Pettys flew in to spend a few days.

According to our realtor, the Pettys flew an electrician, a plumber, and a carpenter in from North Carolina. We hear these three climbed all over (and under) our house inspecting everything before the Pettys closed the deal.

Pew: Obama's Approval Slips

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a polling group that tries to be neutral but ends up leaning somewhat left, reports some interesting results here. Between June and July, Obama's approval rating among their white respondents dropped from 52% to 48%. His ratings among blacks dropped even more, from 93% to 85%.

On certain policy issues, Obama's approval ratings are much lower, and have dropped substantially since April.

Just less than four-in-ten Americans (38%) now say they approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, down from 52% in June and 60% in April. In total, this rating has dropped 22 points from April to July.

Approval ratings for Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit show a similar pattern. His performance rating on this issue dropped 18 points since April, going from 50% to 32%.

Approval for Obama’s handling of foreign policy has slipped from 61% in April to 47% – a decline of 14 points.

On the other hand, people say they like the President as a person. As JFK demonstrated, that is a valuable trait for a public figure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Easter Island

Jeremy Hildreth has written an interesting article about Easter Island for The Wall Street Journal. He captures the feel of the island, which is a very special place. The other DrC and I visited Easter Island a couple of years ago.

The article is worth your time if you can filter out the environmentalist cant. He alleges that the Polynesians (our term) or Rapa Nui (their term) destroyed the island's trees and thus trapped themselves on the island without boat-building materials. This is likely true.

Hildreth then tries to make an analogy from isolated Easter Island to planet Earth. For me, at least, that analogy doesn't work. Easter Island is an isolated, homogeneous environment whereas Earth is a interconnected, highly diverse environment; in my eyes they are not analogs. See what you think.

Hat tip to Roger Baum for alerting me to the article.

A Hymn to America

Read this "hymn" to life in the United States by a BBC correspondent who is headed home to Blighty, and isn't sure he should. Justin Webb writes a sort of sweet-and-sour love song about his experience in the U.S.

He sees the bad along with the good, and admits to both. If you can handle the ambivalent nature of the American experience, you'll enjoy this article.

Shribman on Obamacare

David Shribman writes a very interesting article for Yahoo News on the politics of enacting major social programs. He compares what is proposed with the passage of social security and medicare, and notes both passed with substantial majorities of Republican legislators. For a historical perspective, this is a good article.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Resort Town Whimsies

Spending an afternoon almost every summer week in Jackson, WY, is an interesting proposition. Most days you don't see famous folk but every now and then you meet a celebrity. Today the folks eating hamburgers next to us were Mario Gabelli and his family. He has been a frequent guest on financial programs like CNBC and some years back Louis Rukeyser's show on PBS. He is, by the way, a very pleasant fellow as well as being an investment guru.

On other occasions, in that same burger joint - Billy's, we've chatted with Dick Cheney's Secret Service detail. Dick would spend August here during the 8 years of the Bush presidency, his plane parked on the apron at Jackson's airport. We privately called it "Air Force Two" although we know that isn't what the Air Force calls the Vice President's plane.

Cheney's Secret Service detail were a fit looking group of young men each with a curly cord running from his ear piece down into his shirt. They viewed spending August in Jackson Hole as much better duty than if they'd been in Crawford, Texas; the temperature probably averages 20 degrees cooler here.

Probably the best known local resident is Harrison Ford. We've seen him in KMart and also walking down the sidewalk outside the Cadillac restaurant, carrying a sixpack of exotic beer. Ford is very fit looking, but perhaps not as tall as you'd gather from his films.

The last time we lived in a place where seeing celebrities was normal was some decades ago when we spent 2 years living and working in the Washington, D.C., area. We'd see senators walking with their aides on Capitol Hill and run into famous folk at the region's three airports. When you live in DC your local news is everyone else's national news.

Protest = Solution

The largest public employee union in California has voted to approve a strike, in protest against the monthly furloughs the Governator has imposed to balance the budget. Here is a Reuters article which indicates that unfortunately strikes are only one of the possible things to be done in protest.

If the union goes on strike, then the State won't have to pay the strikers during the time they are AWOL. If they stay on strike long enough they could be the solution to the State's budgetary problems. Therefore, they probably won't go on strike.

Perhaps, if the union employees' behavior is disruptive enough, the State might lock them out. The dysfunctional possibilities are endless and fascinating.

Quote of the Day II

Bradley R. Gitz, writing for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, about the falling ratings for President Obama reflecting buyers' remorse:
However historic his presidency, however much the media serve as his auxiliaries and however personally appealing he might be, there is still no way to forever disguise the fact that he is a left-wing ideologue trying to govern, in conjunction with other left-wing ideologues like Nancy Pelosi, a fundamentally conservative country.
No kidding.

Quote of the Day I

The ever-insightful Mark Steyn, writing for National Review, about why government-controlled health care is just wrong:
Freedom is messy. In free societies, people will fall through the cracks — drink too much, eat too much, buy unaffordable homes, fail to make prudent provision for health care, and much else. But the price of being relieved of all those tiresome choices by a benign paternal government is far too high.
In other words, the price is the loss of personal freedom. Well said, Mark.

US Healthcare Not Broken

You really owe it to yourself to read this Hoover Digest article by Scott W. Atlas, who is chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical School. In it he lists ten reasons why US health care is better than that of Europe or Canada.

The article is not long, and not so technical you can't understand it. If you want facts to back up your sense that our health care system isn't really broken, and doesn't need radical repair, here are those facts.

Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg of National Review for the citation.