Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

Michael Barone, writing for RealClearPolitics, about public employee unions:
In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.
Ain't it the truth? Meanwhile, Barone quotes FDR as opposing strikes by public employees.

Travel Note

COTTonLINE goes dead tomorrow for about five days, while we cruise back to "the big island." That is what the DrsC whimsically call the U.S. mainland.

Keep a weather eye on unfolding events in North Africa and the Middle East. Our condolences to the nice people of New Zealand, especially our friend Peter Dowling.

As we are often reminded, we all live in interesting times.

Klein on Public Unions

Joe Klein writes for Time and normally he is too far to the left for my taste. Here he writes about public unions and does a surprisingly balanced job. No, he doesn't want to do away with public unions. However he does see they have engaged in excesses and abuses. You may want to give his article a look.

What Klein forgets is that public jobs like school bus driver shouldn't be full-time, unionized career positions. Such jobs should be part-time, supplementary employment. What do I mean? I mean the sort of job graduate students do in return for support, or moms do while their kids are at school.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Travel Blogging

If you've wondered why nothing was posted for several days, it was because I was traveling. Actually I was cruising from San Pedro to Hilo, and experiencing somewhat rough water for much of the crossing.

We spent all day yesterday in Honolulu moored by the Aloha Tower. We're in Kauai today, sitting alongside in Nawiliwili Bay. Tomorrow is Lahaina, Maui, a tender port. Then we head back to San Pedro, making a brief stop at Ensenada to make the cruise "legal" vis-a-vis the Jones Act. Google the Jones Act if that reference puzzles you.

Weather in the islands is nice, we've hardly been rained on at all. Sure, it is warm and humid, that is to be expected here any time of year. The DrsC have been to Hawaii several times, probably more than 10 - it is easy and cheap if you live in CA as we did for most of our careers.

There isn't much new left to visit so we just enjoy the weather and scenery and "being here." Hawaii is a great "being here" place.
Aloha, gentle reader.

Home, Sweet Home

The Gallup polling organization reports on the President's declining popularity, it has declined in all 50 states. My favorite line concerns my adoptive home state of Wyoming, here it is:
Obama's lowest average state approval rating in 2010 was 28% in Wyoming.
That's my favorite line but not necessarily the most important information contained in the poll. I believe the most important line may be this:
Obama's overall average approval rating in 2010 was 47%, down 11 percentage points from the 58% he recorded in his first calendar year in office.
The author, Frank Newport, also makes some guesses about where the hardest campaigning will happen in 2012. This is a very good article, worth your time and energies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Milbank: Obama Kicks Can Again

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank is inclined to be pro-Obama, both he and WaPo lean left. That makes his summary of the roll-out of the president's budget all the more damning, it's entitled: "In his new budget, Obama kicks the can one more time."

Milbank makes fun of the Obama budget people and their stumbling defense of the president's lame budget. He quotes just about everybody in Washington saying "we can't kick the can down the road again." Kicking that old can is exactly what the new budget does: it contains no hope and no change.

Neither party wants to propose the really painful, necessary cuts. They know the other party will instantly jump on them for being brutal and heartless.

Can you say "catch 22?" One has to wonder if there is a way out of this mess short of the kind of disaster Greece found itself in?

No Gender Bias in Science

Two Cornell scholars have done a serious job of looking for gender bias in science and they find none. A summary of their findings is here in National Review Online, the actual research can be read here in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What do they conclude explains the underrepresentation of women in science?
Ceci and Williams demonstrate that the real problem most women scientists confront is the challenge of combining motherhood with a high-powered science career. This issue, they say, will never be solved by the “misplaced focus on discrimination.”

Governor Christie

New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie is attracting a lot of interest among Republicans, much of it for his combative style vis-a-vis the teachers' unions in his state. Here is a Politico article which gives him a chance to have his say about things in his state, and beyond.

Christie may be in his career about where Reagan was as governor of California. That makes him someone to watch. Full disclosure, I could possibly be a distant relative of Governor Christie.

Everybody Dies

Every now and then I'll read an article like this one in The Scotsman about this or that factor making one more likely to die. Such articles almost make me laugh. Let's be clear, everybody dies.

None of us want to die young, and the older we are the older we think "young" might be. So let's suppose you fend off heart attack and stroke, and dodge the early cancer bullet. That buys you a few more years.

On the other hand, if you live long enough your mind rots: you get Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or senile dementia. And your chance of getting cancer only goes up with the years. Plus your hearing goes to hell and blindness from macular degeneration looms.

If you manage to be too healthy to avoid heart attack and stroke, you get a lingering, messy, and possibly painful death - what a treat! COTTonLINE is morbid tonight.

As philosopher Kenny Rogers says in The Gambler "the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep." Implicit in that lyric is not to wait too long to do it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not a Weak Field

You will see commentary like this concerning the GOP having a weak field of presidential candidates for 2012. People see a field with no obvious front-runner and mistake it for a weak group of candidates.

The field includes at least four successful governors, during a period when being a successful governor isn't easy: Pawlenty, Daniels, Barbour and Christie. Add to that Senator John Thune and you've got five substantial candidates.

Notice that I've left out bomb-throwers like Newt and Sarah, and others like Trump, Huckabee and Giuliani. They are fun to listen to but probably not widely viewed as presidential.

Even if you take Christie at his word that he doesn't see himself going for it, and set aside Barbour for his, to some, excessive Southernness, you've still got three strong candidates. Plus add to the list wild cards like Jeb Bush, another successful governor.

People are mistaking for a weak field a flock of candidates with no clear leader. Never fear, a leader will emerge.

Wrong Focus

Here is an article from The Wall Street Journal concerning battles with public employee unions over wage and benefit cuts. I believe this to be a case of misplaced energies. What really needs to be done is rolling back the rights of public employees to unionize and bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions.

This right hasn't always existed; for most of our history public workers were not permitted to form unions. Most sources suggest permission began in 1958 with Mayor Robert Wagner of New York City, spread throughout the states, and was extended to federal workers by JFK in 1962.

This history suggests state governments should be able to roll back unionization rights for public workers state by state, until only blue states are left with it. Getting to the point where we can deny bargaining rights to federal workers would require a GOP majority of both houses of Congress plus a president all willing to go along.

This situation has only existed during four years since the end of World War II - the middle four of George W. Bush's eight years. In other words, it is a desirable condition but one not easy to achieve nor one that has often existed in recent times. And, it should be noted, during that four year period the votes existed but not the will or interest, unfortunately.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quote of the Day

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, speaking at the CPAC conference, the text of which is repeated in its entirety in The Daily Caller:
We face an enemy, lethal to liberty, and even more implacable than those America has defeated before. (snip) I refer, of course, to the debts our nation has amassed for itself over decades of indulgence. It is the new Red Menace, this time consisting of ink.
The "new Red Menace," referring to red ink, debt, the deficit - that is great imagery.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sarkozy Agrees

On Wednesday we wrote about European leaders condemning multiculturalism. We identified Angela Merkel and David Cameron as having done so.

Now here is a story from Agence France-Presse indicating that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has likewise rejected multiculturalism. He argues that immigrants to France should become French.

Merkel, Cameron and Sarkozy are "the big three" in Europe. The article also indicates similar comments have been made by prominent Australians and Spaniards.

When do you suppose any important American will have sufficient courage to criticize multiculturalism?

Cutting Government Jobs

I was reading a Washington Monthly article which suggests that the public is probably ambivalent about deep cuts in federal spending. Cutting government budgets means laying off government workers, no surprises there.

Surveys show most government employees vote Democratic. For a Republican congress to cut funding for government programs is a way to make a group of not-poor Democrats take the hit.

We often write about unintended consequences that are bad. Cutting government workers has unintended consequences that are good, a kind of virtuous circle.

Whither Egypt?

Mubarak has resigned and gone off to his retirement home, turning the government over to the Egyptian military. At this point you hear pundits waxing rhapsodic about the thirst for democracy this event represents. An example of this was in last night's Shields and Brooks segment on the PBS News Hour.

I say mistaking a revolution for democracy is nonsense. All we can say for sure at this point is that many of the Egyptian people sure-as-heck didn't want Hosni Mubarak to continue in office.

Tonight those same people seem delighted with the military in control, and military governments are rarely bottom-up democratic. A more accurate description would be top-down autocratic.

Will Egypt end up a Western-style democracy? Maybe so, but the odds are against it. We will have to wait and see. The outcome is up to the Egyptians, not up to us.

Weird Science 3.0

Few Americans still heat their homes with coal, which it turns out is a good thing. This article on the United Press International website reports research that children raised in homes where coal is the primary fuel for cooking and heating are significantly shorter.

Oddly enough, the use of wood for heat and cooking does not have this effect. So all the rural folks with wood stoves, like the one in my living room, can keep on using them without compromising their children's health.

Spengler on Egypt

David P. Goldman writes as Spengler for the Asia Times of Hong Kong. Here he focuses on the miserable economic conditions in Egypt and the extent to which they interact with a world shortage of wheat, especially in China. He sees it as a motive for the revolution happening there.

For pundits, pessimism is always the preferable pose. Spengler would have you believe we were mere months away from world-wide starvation among the poor. Who knows, maybe he is right?

We live in interesting times....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

California's Problems

Much is written about the problems faced by trend-setting California. Here Victor Davis Hanson, writing for, comes up with the most comprehensive CA "balance sheet" I've yet seen. He itemizes the state's assets and liabilities, with emphasis on the former. For those of us who care about the Golden State, it is a good read. His conclusion is particularly apt:
The state's problems involve a larger "California philosophy" that is relatively new in its history, one that now curbs production but not consumption, and worries more about passing laws than how to pay for them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gallup: Deficit Not POTUS's Strength

Gallup finds nearly 70% of Americans disapprove of President Obama's handling of the federal deficit. Only 27% approve of his actions vis-a-vis the deficit. It is by far his worst rating, and it is one of the nation's most serious problems.

Majorities also disapprove of his handling of the economy, healthcare policy, and taxes. His strongest ratings are in foreign policy and there he is just barely ahead.

Egypt's Future

Every pundit with a keyboard is having a say about Egypt. Like as not, most will be quite wrong about how the current upheaval will eventually turn out. For a balanced, sensible treatment of the situation in Egypt, see this article in National Review Online by Andrew C. McCarthy.

The Egypt I saw when visiting there very much paralleled McCarthy's description of the country. Most Egyptians seemed to be getting along with their lives. Yes, the country is poor but has much more middle class than anyone in the West imagines.

Cairo's drivers are undisciplined and its traffic jams are legendary. Few of us know that the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, west of Alexandria, is wall-to-wall vacation condos for 40 miles or more. Visit here in winter and the area is a modern ghost town, thousands of newish buildings with nobody around. In summer the cool breezes off the Med draw hundreds of thousands of people escaping Egypt's blistering heat.

My bottom line is that Egypt is complicated, there are many different strands of public opinion at work. McCarthy's notion that it may go the way of modern Turkey makes sense.

About the Economy

Recently the other DrC tried to make reservations in Yellowstone National Park for two rooms for three nights in July. We will have guests who want to spend two full days seeing the park, two days being the absolute minimum for a quick look at most of Yellowstone.

Six months in advance the only place in the park she could find the rooms was at Grant Village, one of the less attractive locations. That tells me the economy isn't doing too badly. Many people feel sufficiently secure in their economic status to have already made their summer travel reservations.

To be sure, perhaps as many as 20% of Americans are in some kind of economic bind. We tend to forget that the glass is 80% full, most Americans are living more-or-less as well as they did five years ago.

For that 80% their house is worth less, but they've gotten over that downward swoop. It appears they have enough money to buy high priced gasoline to drive the family car to northwestern Wyoming to see the critters and the geysers. Plenty of them don't plan to stay in a tent either.

Yellowstone is beautiful, they'll get their money's worth.

A Wake Up Call

Major leaders in Europe have announced that multiculturalism doesn't work. Most recently it was British Prime Minister David Cameron, a few months ago it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We in the U.S. need to be paying attention.

We write to support the concept of the melting pot, the idea that immigrants need to adopt American values, speak English, and fit in. We write in opposition to the idea of the salad bowl, the idea that a society of distinct groups works in the long run - it doesn't.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quote of the Day

Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel who teaches government at Boston University, is quoted in this USA Today article. Bacevich says:
The Long War is establishing itself as the new normalcy.
COTTonLINE agrees. We become accustomed to it as the Brits were accustomed to IRA violence, which went on for decades.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quote of the Day II

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, law professor and blogger extraordinaire as, writing for The Washington Examiner about whether the U.S. has a lawyer problem:
A lot of people out there don't like lawyers, and think that the legal profession is harming the country. And I'm beginning to think that they might have a point.

Quote of the Day I

Daniel Pipes, writing for Canada's National Post, about the doubtful coexistence of Islam and representative government:
With enough effort and time, Muslims can be as democratic as Westerners. But at this time, they are the least democratic of peoples and the Islamist movement presents a huge obstacle to political participation.
As the article indicates, Pipes' notion of "enough time" is on the order of hundreds of years. In other words, don't hold your breath.
Hat tip to for the link.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Most people think the extended magazines for semiautomatic pistols are serious offensive weapons. Here is a Washington Post article which argues they are mostly for home defense.

The reasoning is too complex to repeat here. Mostly it has to do with such clips making the weapon impractical to conceal. Attempts to ban such magazines will be made soon, see which side you're on.

Rearguard Action

Read a funny, sad article about how the French keep trying to stave off the infiltration of English terms into their language. You'll find it here in The Los Angeles Times.

I think it is great that we don't do this in English. We absorb words from other languages on a regular basis without any heartburn.

To the extent that nations can be said to have, or not have, self confidence, the Anglosphere has it and the Francosphere doesn't. The reasons for this are historical and geopolitical.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chinese Racism

Check out this interesting little story in The Independent (U.K.) about China pulling, from a Pennsylvania exhibition, a 4000 year old mummy with Caucasian features. The well-preserved mummy from western China looks European.

The probable cause for this action is the conflict in Xinjiang province between China's dominant people, the Han, and Xinjiang's Uighurs. The Uighurs are more Turkic than east Asian, and in addition are Muslim. The Han make up roughly 90% of China's population and are in conflict with China's minority populations, including the Tibetans and Uighurs.

The existence of this mummy strengthens the claim of the Turkic Uighurs on their part of Western China, a claim the Han do not accept. Don't be surprised if this mummy gets "lost" in transit.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Reagan Remembered

Peggy Noonan writes about politics, and other things, for The Wall Street Journal. At her best she is very good indeed. Here she writes an appreciation of Ronald Reagan as we celebrate his 100th birthday.

This remembrance is very good; she worked for Reagan, which helps. Interestingly, she has Reagan being less a "great communicator" than being a good man with ambition.

Antarctic Adventures

Cruising from Ushuaia, Argentina, across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula is no picnic. Some 40 small expedition ships make the crossing during the summer season (December - March), each carrying less than 100 passengers.

The Drake Passage is some of the world's roughest ocean, and the ships are small by legal requirement. That combination of small ships and rough seas makes for exciting sailing. The other DrC and I made the crossing and, looking out our cabin portholes sometimes saw, not sky or foam, but green water on the other side of the thick glass - our portholes were temporarily underwater.

So far this season there have been two nautical mishaps, the most recent a hulling of the MV Polar Star four days ago, here is a link to CNN's story of the event. Two months ago another ship, the MV Clelia II, was damaged by the extremely rough seas of the Drake Passage; here is that CNN story.

Most cruises are just pleasant interludes, the crossing to Antarctica is an adventure.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Krauthammer: Optimism for Egypt

The Egyptian military is that institution in the country within which the U.S. has the most influence. Charles Krauthammer, who writes for The Washington Post, has an interesting take on the situation in Egypt.

Krauthammer is of the opinion that the Egyptian military will channel the post-Mubarak government in a non-Islamist direction, away from the Muslim Brotherhood. It would be nice if his prediction turns out to be correct.

The Not-So-Big Easy

According to this USA Today article, reporting Census Bureau data, New Orleans has lost nearly a third of its population in the years since Hurricane Katrina. The article wants you to think this is bad.

I think this is good. The United States is the third largest nation by area on the globe. Unlike The Netherlands, there is no reason to have a major U.S. city with substantial portions below sea level.

In the medium-to-long run it will be cheaper to buy out those living below sea level via eminent domain so we can stop spending money on levees, sea walls and pumps. New Orleans should zone all below-sea-level areas non-residential/non-developmental, and prevent rebuilding where it has not occurred.

Then convert the empty land into parks. Parks can flood occasionally without harm, as those in Sacramento demonstrate clearly. Most of the year they will be available.

Mujahideen = Crusaders

Radical Islam puzzles many today who wonder why, or perhaps how, people can be willing to fight, kill, and die for their religion. Looking at today's Christianity, they don't see any signs of that level of fervor.

We make the wrong analogy, comparing today's Islam with today's Christianity. Compare instead today's Islam with the Christianity of roughly 800 years ago and you find the comparisons you seek.

Today's mujaheedin or jihadists are very like the crusaders of the period of 1090 to 1290 and perhaps for 200 years more in Spain and eastern Europe. Crusaders fought against Islam to capture the "Holy Land" or Palestine for Christianity. They also recaptured Spain from the Islamic Moors.

Today's Al Qaeda and Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah are rough analogs of the Knights of St. John, the Templars and Hospitallers, orders of religious fighters. Compare Osama ben Laden with Richard Lionheart, Balien or el Cid.

Muslims hate the memory of the Crusaders, with good reason. Oddly, they do not recognize as such the new crusaders in their midst.

Weird Science, Revisited

Here is another thought about the weight gain story below. Ranchers feed antibiotics to cattle to foster weight gain in meat animals.

We humans take antibiotics for a variety of illnesses, many of which are viral and therefore entirely inappropriately dosed. Plus we eat the beef which has been dosed with antibiotics.

If antibiotics are widely dispersed in the environment, and if they cause weight gain in cattle, might they not also be causing weight gain in other species including ours?

Weird Science

Is there some mysterious factor making most of us gain weight? Scientific American reports biostatisticians have found species other than humans have also been gaining weight over the last several decades - including rats, marmosets, cats, dogs, macaques, and mice.

I will propose a possible cause: we are healthier. My reasoning: our weight-gain biostat is set to compensate for weight loss caused by a variety of diseases. We are having fewer of those diseases, so our pre-civilization setting is "compensating" for presumed weight loss that no longer happens.

My reasoning comes from the outcome that followed when children stopped playing in bacteria-laden soil of barnyards; they began getting polio. Their environment was too clean. Maybe that is also our problem vis-a-vis weight gain.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Deficit Cutting

Here at COTTonLINE, we've talked about cutting federal spending and suggested some things the nation could do without. Now John Stossel of Fox News, formerly of ABC News, writes for RealClearPolitics on the same topic - cutting the federal deficit.

Stossel's list of cuts is somewhat different than mine, it's probably better. I have a feeling this idea of cutting the deficit by pruning the federal system could catch on.

A Somber Thought

Looking back, historians will view the crumbling of various U.S.-supported Arab autocracies and the rise of Islamist militant governments as a major development of The Long War. Misquoting Winston Churchill, we may be nearing the end of its beginning.

We do so with a President whose instincts are those of Neville Chamberlain. Opponent John McCain, with all his faults, would have been a much better war president.

No Kidding

Mobs in Egypt scream they hate the U.S. and ABC News' Christiane Amanpour seems surprised. Practically the oldest adage in the region is "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Its less quoted corollary is "the friend of my enemy is my enemy."

Who are the Egyptian protestors screaming they hate and want gone? President Mubarak. Who has been President Mubarak's biggest friend and supporter with aid and diplomatic politesse? The United States. Why? Because he opposed the Islamists and supported the hated Camp David accord with Israel.

We are the friend of those Egyptian protesters' enemy Mubarak, so we are also their enemy. That isn't rocket science. It is elementary political science.

A Mixed Blessing

The traditional dictatorships in the Arab world are beginning to crumble, think Tunisia and Egypt. It is possible they will be followed by governments that are more representative of their people's wishes, maybe even true elected governments.

That may sound like good news, and in fact may be good news, or it may not. If popular governments emerge in various Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, they may be virulently anti-Israel. If so, they may go to war with Israel. If that happens the U.S. may find itself defending Israel.

An outbreak of popular governments in the Arab world could lead to several governments being openly in opposition to the U.S. and its aims for the region. One hopes that would lead to the U.S. cutting foreign aid to these nations. In the case of Egypt, a current recipient of large amounts of our aid, cutting off aid would be tough for that poor nation to withstand.

We live in interesting times....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Army Seeks New Rifle

The U.S. military is in the market for a replacement for the M16/M4 weapons systems now in use. This Wall Street Journal article reports on the history of dissatisfaction with the current M16 and the search for a replacement.

Eleven Percent Vacant

Diana Olick covers real estate for CNBC, NBC's business network, and does a good job. On her Realty Check blog she reports that nearly 11% of U.S. housing units are standing vacant. In other words, one out of every ten. Wow, that is a lot.

What isn't clear to me is whether this represents overcapacity (more houses and apartments than we need) or underutilization (families doubling and tripling up to save money). Probably it is some of both.

During the housing boom firms built houses, condos, and apartments as fast as they could build, without much consideration for actual demand. Many families who couldn't afford to buy a house were nevertheless sold one. Now, during the Great Recession, those families, and others with little or no income, have moved in with relatives to save money.

When unemployed people eventually get jobs they will start to buy, rent, or otherwise occupy that "almost 11%." Until much of it is filled there won't be much demand for new construction.

No new construction means continuing high unemployment since construction is one of the main occupations that cannot be outsourced to China. Continuing high unemployment has political ramifications.