December 22, 2014

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George Friedman of Stratfor was in Russia recently and his observations start some items on Russia.

I thought the economic problems of Russia would be foremost on people’s minds. The plunge of the ruble, the decline in oil prices, a general slowdown in the economy and the effect of Western sanctions all appear in the West to be hammering the Russian economy. Yet this was not the conversation I was having. The decline in the ruble has affected foreign travel plans, but the public has only recently begun feeling the real impact of these factors, particularly through inflation.

But there was another reason given for the relative calm over the financial situation, and it came not only from government officials but also from private individuals and should be considered very seriously. The Russians pointed out that economic shambles was the norm for Russia, and prosperity the exception. There is always the expectation that prosperity will end and the normal constrictions of Russian poverty return.

The Russians suffered terribly during the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin but also under previous governments stretching back to the czars. In spite of this, several pointed out, they had won the wars they needed to win and had managed to live lives worth living. The golden age of the previous 10 years was coming to an end. That was to be expected, and it would be endured. The government officials meant this as a warning, and I do not think it was a bluff. The pivot of the conversation was about sanctions, and the intent was to show that they would not cause Russia to change its policy toward Ukraine.

Russians’ strength is that they can endure things that would break other nations. It was also pointed out that they tend to support the government regardless of competence when Russia feels threatened. Therefore, the Russians argued, no one should expect that sanctions, no matter how harsh, would cause Moscow to capitulate. Instead the Russians would respond with their own sanctions, which were not specified but which I assume would mean seizing the assets of Western companies in Russia and curtailing agricultural imports from Europe. There was no talk of cutting off natural gas supplies to Europe.

If this is so, then the Americans and Europeans are deluding themselves on the effects of sanctions. …

… There was much more toughness on Ukraine. There is acceptance that events in Ukraine were a reversal for Russia and resentment that the Obama administration mounted what Russians regard as a propaganda campaign to try to make it appear that Russia was the aggressor. Two points were regularly made. The first was that Crimea was historically part of Russia and that it was already dominated by the Russian military under treaty. There was no invasion but merely the assertion of reality. Second, there was heated insistence that eastern Ukraine is populated by Russians and that as in other countries, those Russians must be given a high degree of autonomy. One scholar pointed to the Canadian model and Quebec to show that the West normally has no problem with regional autonomy for ethnically different regions but is shocked that the Russians might want to practice a form of regionalism commonplace in the West. …

… I came away with two senses. One was that Putin was more secure than I thought. In the scheme of things, that does not mean much. Presidents come and go. But it is a reminder that things that would bring down a Western leader may leave a Russian leader untouched. Second, the Russians do not plan a campaign of aggression. Here I am more troubled – not because they want to invade anyone, but because nations frequently are not aware of what is about to happen, and they might react in ways that will surprise them. That is the most dangerous thing about the situation. It is not what is intended, which seems genuinely benign. What is dangerous is the action that is unanticipated, both by others and by Russia.

At the same time, my general analysis remains intact. Whatever Russia might do elsewhere, Ukraine is of fundamental strategic importance to Russia. Even if the east received a degree of autonomy, Russia would remain deeply concerned about the relationship of the rest of Ukraine to the West. As difficult as this is for Westerners to fathom, Russian history is a tale of buffers. Buffer states save Russia from Western invaders. Russia wants an arrangement that leaves Ukraine at least neutral. …

… The United States and Europe have trouble understanding Russia’s fears. Russia has trouble understanding particularly American fears. The fears of both are real and legitimate. This is not a matter of misunderstanding between countries but of incompatible imperatives. All of the good will in the world – and there is precious little of that – cannot solve the problem of two major countries that are compelled to protect their interests and in doing so must make the other feel threatened. I learned much in my visit. I did not learn how to solve this problem, save that at the very least each must understand the fears of the other, even if they can’t calm them.

 

 

John Fund posts on Putin’s presser.

Vladimir Putin was his usual overbearing self today at his annual three-hour news conference in Moscow, swatting away questions he didn’t like and hyperventilating against the West to excuse his economic failures. However, there was a tense moment when a prominent anti-Putin activist and television journalist, Ksenia Sobchak, asked the Russian president whether he was fomenting hatred against others among Russians using state television propaganda. She specifically asked him why the state media hasn’t retracted a July story it ran falsely accusing the Ukrainian military of torturing and crucifying a three-year-old Russian boy in a public square. 

“Why did you give her the floor?” Putin snapped at the moderator. He then proceeded to ignore the question. …

… On the issue of his control of the Russian media, Putin denied any “campaign” was being conducted against his opponents in the Russian media. Instead he turned the question around, claiming the West was persecuting allies of Russia. His prime local example was Latvia’s ban on some pro-Kremlin pop stars who often use offensive lyrics. He then attacked the U.S. for “legalizing” torture of its opponents after the 9/11 attacks.

Never let it be said that Vladimir Putin’s favorite defense isn’t a strong offense.

 

 

Huffington Post with an article on Russia written in the expectation the current troubles will bring hardship for the government. Expectations George Friedman in the first item above, thinks are overblown.

Russian consumers flocked to the stores Wednesday, frantically buying a range of big-ticket items to pre-empt the price rises kicked off by the staggering fall in the value of the ruble in recent days.

As the Russian authorities announced a series of measures to ease the pressure on the ruble, which slid 15 percent in the previous two days and raised fears of a bank run, many Russians were buying cars and home appliances — in some cases in record numbers — before prices for these imported goods shoot higher.

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA already warned Russian consumers that its prices will rise Thursday, which resulted in weekend-like crowds at a Moscow store on a Wednesday afternoon. …

… Should the current attempts to shore up the ruble fail, then the Russian authorities could be imposing capital controls.

However, Russia’s Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev has denied the government is considering doing so. While easing pressure on the ruble, the move would shatter Russia’s already tarnished reputation to investors.

Russian officials, meanwhile, have sought to project a message of confidence on state television, dwelling on the advantages of ruble devaluation, such as a boost to domestic manufacturing.

There are fears that the ruble could come under further pressure this week as President Barack Obama is expected to sign legislation authorizing new economic sanctions against Russia.

Whatever happens with the ruble, the Russian economy is set to shrink next year by 0.8 percent, even if oil prices stay above $80 per barrel. If oil prices stay at the current level of around $60, the Central Bank said the Russian economy could contract by nearly 5 percent. …

 

 

Megan McArdle posts on what different oil producing countries can expect if the price continues to sag.

… Outside the Middle East, Venezuela is already well into a long economic crisis. The Hugo Chavez regime diverted investment funds from the state-owned oil company into social spending, which caused production to decline. That was a workable trade-off when prices were rising, but now that they’re falling fast, so is Venezuela’s economy, along with political stability.

Last week, I noted that this meant the risk of serious geopolitical repercussions. (The last time oil prices experienced this kind of run-up and decline, the Soviet Union fell.) In the modern global economy, it also means the risk of financial crisis, as problems in Russia and other oil-rich nations reverberate outward through our tightly interlaced networks of finance and trade. China is already fragile, the euro zone is struggling to hold everything together, and while U.S. growth finally seems to be back on track, we will not be immune if the rest of the world is reeling.

Bershidsky suggests that capital controls may well be next for Russia, though the central bank governor denies that they are being considered. Whatever Russia does next, we’d better hope it works. Because if not, the rest of us may be using our newly cheaper gasoline to fuel up for a very bumpy ride.

 

 

The Why File reports on the return of large carnivores to Europe. And they aren’t talking about the Russians.

A surprising new study shows that four big carnivores (brown bear, lynx, wolverine and wolf) are doing quite nicely in Europe, thank you very much, even without the wilderness protection that benefits some large predators in the United States.

“We find that in Europe we have twice as many wolves as in the lower 48 (American) states, on half the land area, with two times the human population density,” says Guillaume Chapron of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the corresponding author of the new study.

In Europe, as in North America, large carnivores face ingrained hostility. It’s not just their ferocity, but also their need for a large range and lots of meat that makes them natural competitors. …

December 21, 2014

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Sultan Knish writes on post-truth America.

Next month Americans will experience the fifteenth anniversary of the time that the President of the United States shook his finger at the country and informed it, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never.”

Bill Clinton was lying. But the lie was more significant than the thing that he was lying about.

When the lie came crashing down, Clinton and his defenders deconstructed the English language, questioning the meaning of every word in his sentence rather than admit that the lie was a lie.

Given a choice between telling the truth or challenging the definitions of such words as “sex” and “is”, they decided to burn their dictionary.

Clinton’s antics set the stage for a current administration which can never be caught in a lie because it’s lying all the time. Obama and his people don’t just lie, they lie about the lies and then they lie about those lies. Bringing them in to testify just clogs the filters with an extra layer of lies. …

… Obama doesn’t simply lie. He exists in a truth-free zone. He doesn’t stumble with any construction as clumsy as Kerry’s “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.” He does not start with truthful facts. His starting point is in an imaginary territory. It ends in an imaginary territory. If the two imaginary territories are different, it scarcely matters because neither place was ever real.

When he came into office Obama insisted that we had to pivot to fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan even though it was no longer in Afghanistan. He went on claiming victory over an enemy that didn’t exist while dismissing ISIS as a jayvee team even when it was capturing entire cities in Iraq.

These weren’t mere lies. This was a foreign policy being conducted in an imaginary territory. It was Wag the Dog being played out in real life. But then again what is real around Obama anyway?

Bill Clinton lied. Obama tells stories. None of these stories have anything to do with reality. Lena Dunham’s biography is a peek into a disordered mind that is incapable of grasping the concept of truth. In her world there are no facts, only stories that elicit emotional reactions. Obama’s entire career rests on the same technique of telling stories for emotional effect without any regard for reality.

ObamaCare was an ugly collectivist bureaucratic dinosaur clothed in imaginary stories. The stories about it, about the economy, about the war are still being told. Added to it are new stories about racism. The stories are passionate, compelling and appealing. They are also completely unreal.

Progressives don’t only live in a post-American world; they live in a post-Truth world. A world without facts and without truth is one in which the America that was cannot exist. …

  

 

Speaking of a post-truth world, K. C. Johnson of Duke lacrosse fame has a look at what he calls “UVA’s troubled campus culture.”

James Ceaser recently became the first UVA professor to publicly speak out regarding the deeply unhealthy climate on his campus, exposed by the publication of the now-discredited Rolling Stone article alleging multiple gang rapes at the school. (The sole source for each of these allegations appears to have been “Jackie.”) Ceaser lamented how few people on campus appeared to care about the truth, and instead bowed to the passions of the mob. Events on campus have suggested, Ceaser perceptively observed, that “far from being an end in itself, the truth on our college campuses is now treated as a mere instrument of combat. It is wielded with feigned righteousness when it promotes a preferred cause and then abandoned when it produces the opposite result. In the end, this is the sad message that universities now convey.”

Over the last several weeks, Ceaser has been a voice in the Charlottesville wilderness. The actions of President Teresa Sullivan’s administration—joined by an array of professors and, most disturbingly, by the student newspaper—have provided an almost textbook example of a campus culture gone awry, with a massive rush to judgment compounded by an inability to admit error. …

  

 

And continuing this thread, Ann Coulter wrote a column saying one in five people who write for Rolling Stone are morons.

In response to the total implosion of Rolling Stone’s preposterous story about a fraternity gang-rape at the University of Virginia, the media have reverted to their Soviet-style reporting. They’re not even saying: We’re choosing not to talk about UVA because it’s a side show. It’s more like: UVA? That’s a school?

Not only did the UVA gang rape turn out to be a hoax, but then President Obama’s own Department of Justice completed a six-year study on college rape, and it turns out that instead of 1-in-5 college coeds being raped, the figure is 0.03-in-5.

Less than 1 percent of college students are the victim of a sexual assault — 0.6 percent to be exact — not to be confused with the 20 percent, or “one in five,” claimed by feminists and President Obama.

But neither the DOJ report, nor the UVA rape hoax have dissuaded Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill from pushing their idea that the nation is in the grip of a college rape epidemic.

This week, Gillibrand dismissed the UVA outrage, saying, “Clearly, we don’t know the facts of what did or did not happen in this case.”

Actually, we know quite well what happened in this case. A disturbed young woman invented a fake boyfriend and a fake gang-rape to get attention, and an incompetent journalist acted as her transcriber. It was a total hoax — just like the Duke lacrosse case, the Jamie Leigh Jones case, the Tawana Brawley case, and every other claim of white men committing gang-rape. …

 

 

The Washington Post had an interesting article on the finance industry and how it has become a “black hole” for generations of the best and brightest.

The thing Deborah Jackson remembers from her first interviews at Goldman Sachs is the slogan. It was stamped on the glass doors of the offices in the investment bank’s headquarters just off Wall Street, the lure of the place in two words, eight syllables: “Uncommon capability.”

Jackson joined Goldman in 1980, fresh from business school and steeped in the workings of government and finance. She found crackerjack colleagues and more business than she could handle. She worked in municipal finance, lending money to local governments, hospitals and nonprofits around the country. She flew first class to scout potential deals — “The issue was, can you really be productive if you’re in a tiny seat in the back?” — and when the time came to seal one, she’d welcome clients and their attorneys to Manhattan’s best restaurants.

The clients would bring their spouses and go to shows. Everyone drank good wine. Her favorite place, in the heyday, was the 21 Club, which felt like an Old World library and went heavy on red meat. More than the perks, Jackson loved the work — the shared struggle of smart people trying to help the country, even as they banked big money. “It was all about solving problems,” she said.

Years later, she would come to see it differently, growing disenchanted with an industry she didn’t think was fixing much anymore.

Economic research suggests she was onto something. Wall Street is bigger and richer than ever, the research shows, and the economy and the middle class are worse off for it. …

… It’s not that finance is inherently bad — on the contrary, a well-functioning financial system is critical to a market economy. The problem is, America’s financial system has grown much larger than it should have, based on how well the industry performs.

To understand how and why that is, think of money as water and the financial system as a series of pipes. Ideally, the pipes deliver the water from people who have stockpiled it (investors) to people who want to put it to productive use (entrepreneurs, executives, home buyers, etc.).

Over the past half-century, America’s financial industry built a whole bunch of new pipes. The sector grew six times as fast as the economy overall during the past three decades. Other advanced countries didn’t see anywhere close to that growth in their financial sectors.

Some of America’s growth was driven by Washington. Lawmakers kept encouraging financial innovation, which built a market for smarter investment bankers. They did that by changing the tax code to encourage businesses to hire financial whizzes who could spin ordinary income into certain, preferred types of investment income, and by loosening restrictions on the kinds of financial activities that the titans of Wall Street could engage in.

Extra pipes attracted better plumbers — the more the finance industry grew, the more it tugged at highly educated workers. …

 

 

Kevin Williamson on the sad condition of New York City jails.

In April I wrote about the case of Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless ex-Marine who was remanded to RikersIsland for attempting to shelter in the stairwell of a Harlem housing project. Murdough was mentally ill, with multiple psychiatric diagnoses and what his mother referred to as “beer problems.” His bail was set bizarrely high for a homeless vagrant — $2,500 — and his mental condition necessitated oversight, with jail authorities ordering that he be checked every 15 minutes. He wasn’t. And neither was his jail cell’s heating system, which malfunctioned, and the abandoned homeless man was baked to death in captivity.

Naturally, nobody did anything wrong. Or so they said.

Thirty-five-year-old Carol Lackner is not a homeless ex-Marine, is not locked up at Rikers Island, and, unlike Murdough, has not had demanded of her bail amounting to more money than she ever is likely to see — or even the $2,500 that kept Murdough behind bars. She was released with no bail at all last week after being charged with falsifying records, filing false reports, and official misconduct. She was supposed to be watching over Murdough, but she neglected her duties, abandoned her post, and, according to prosecutors, lied about it. These are serious crimes. She was offered an indefensible plea deal — a mere misdemeanor — on the condition that she also resign from the New York Department of Corrections. She refused. …

… If Carol Lackner did in fact falsify reports and lie about leaving Jerome Murdough to be baked alive, she should never have been offered a misdemeanor deal, nor should she get away with whatever relatively light punishment she will endure if convicted on her current charges. We can tolerate many things from those invested with the power to do violence on our behalf, but we cannot tolerate lies from them. Carol Lackner, Lois Lerner and a good selection of the leadership at the IRS, corrupt Travis County prosecutor Rosemary Lehmberg (as low a specimen of human grotesquery as public life has to offer) — nobody deserves what goes on at Rikers Island, but if anybody does, that’s who it is. There’s no hole deep enough.

That’s our other national prison scandal: Who isn’t in them.

December 18, 2014

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Roger Simon posts on Diane Feinstein’s report.

… LET’S REVIEW:  Looking around the world today,  Libya (under control somewhat while Khadafy was alive) is an unholy mess;  with no real end in site to negotiations, Iran is continuing to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles while expanding its influence into Yemen and maintaining strength in Syria and Lebanon and cementing its alliances with North Korea and Venezuela (among others); putative NATO member Turkey is becoming more Islamist by the day under the rule of Obama’s pal Erdogan;  ISIS continues to control large portions Syria and Iraq and may secretly be in cahoots with Turkey; Russia has moved into Ukraine and has everyone from Moldova to Finland nervous;  China controls more of the Pacific every day, our Japanese and South Korean friends worried if they can trust us anymore;  Europe is a weak sister with an increasing Islamic population they don’t police and that runs rampant in their own ever-growing neighborhoods, the influence of Sharia law expanding over that continent and hardly anyone doing anything about it; and America, under Obama, has turned into the “pitiful, helpless giant” that it was accused of being during Vietnam, but really wasn’t (until now)…. And with all that, my senior senator Dianne Feinstein is worried the CIA has become a little brutal???   What an unbelievable, self-righteous idiot!

 

 

Matthew Continetti says “national conversations” are worthless, especially when Al Sharpton is talking.

… National conversations are worse than useless. They are harmful. They presuppose, they live off of, the racial, ethnic, and sexual divisions they intend to mend. Separate the public into competing tribes, and not only will disagreements between them fester. Other tribes will feel unrecognized, excluded, alienated from the proceedings. Differences will become entrenched. Slights and peeves will multiply.

It happened in 1997. The panel was divided between those who wanted to focus on the state of black America and those who wanted to consider the full range of ethnic identities and grievances. The argument was intense, feelings were bitter. No consensus was truly reached, no injustices righted, no problems definitively solved.

So it is today. What the campaign and election of the first black president brought forth was nothing less than an unofficial national conversation on race, now about to enter its seventh year. First Bill Clinton was accused of blowing racial dog-whistles. Jeremiah Wright became a celebrity, and then it was Sarah Palin who was said to be exploiting white anxieties.

Holder called America a cowardly nation, Obama held a White House beer summit after calling a white policeman stupid, the Tea Party was written off as racist, the president said that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin. Democrats accused Republicans of using voter ID laws to return to Jim Crow. Ferguson, Staten Island—these are just the latest topics in an ongoing racial gabfest.

The result? The public says race relations are worse than when Obama took office. Nor has anyone explained how matters might improve by further highlighting cultural antagonisms and historical abuses. Quite the opposite: The most passionate race activists may actually want to incite conflict and distrust and Balkanization. It keeps them in business. And it’s good for ratings. …

 

 

QZ posts on why Google doesn’t care about hiring top college grads. Remember! The only 2016 presidential candidate on the horizon, without a college degree is Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin. We need government by dropouts and C students. Government by A students from the two left coasts is a disaster.

… Google’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, detailed what the company looks for. And increasingly, it’s not about credentials. …

… People that make it without college are often the most exceptional

Talent exists in so many places that hiring managers who rely on a few schools are using it as a crutch and missing out. Bock says:

“When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”

Many schools don’t deliver on what they promise, Bock says, but generate a ton of debt in return for not learning what’s most useful. It’s an “extended adolescence,” he says.

Learning ability is more important than IQ

Succeeding in academia isn’t always a sign of being able to do a job. Bock has previously said that college can be an “artificial environment” that conditions for one type of thinking. …

 

 

Popular Mechanics has a report on a study attempting to measure effects on human health of many alternative ways to power a car.  

… The findings showed a dramatic swing in the positive and negative effects on health based on the type of energy used. Internal combustion vehicles running on corn ethanol and electric vehicles powered by electricity from coal were the real sinners; according the study, their health effects were 80 percent worse compared to gasoline vehicles. However, electric vehicles powered by electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar energy might reduce health impacts by at least 50 percent compared to gasoline vehicles.

“We were surprised that many alternative vehicle fuels and technologies that are put forward as better for the environment than conventional gasoline vehicles did not end up causing large decreases in air quality-related health impacts,” Tessum says. “The most important implication is that electric vehicles can cause large public health improvements, but only when paired with clean electricity. Adapting electric vehicles without taking steps to clean up electric generation would be worse for public health than continuing to use conventional gasoline vehicles.”

EV batteries are a problem, too, but a changing one. According to Tessum, previous studies have suggested that emissions from electric car battery production make such vehicles worse for public health than gasoline vehicles, even when the electricity to power them comes from non-polluting sources. “However, battery technology is evolving quickly,” he explains.” Using updated estimates of emissions from battery production, and accounting for the fact that much of the pollutant emissions from the battery production supply chain occurs in remote areas far from people, we found that the health impacts of electric vehicle battery production are much lower than previously estimated.”  …

 

 

John Tierney, mostly retired now, writes on how not to try too hard.

The advice is as maddening as it is inescapable. It’s the default prescription for any tense situation: a blind date, a speech, a job interview, the first dinner with the potential in-laws. Relax. Act natural. Just be yourself.

But when you’re nervous, how can you be yourself? How you can force yourself to relax? How can you try not to try?

It makes no sense, but the paradox is essential to civilization, according to Edward Slingerland. He has developed, quite deliberately, a theory of spontaneity based on millenniums of Asian philosophy and decades of research by psychologists and neuroscientists.

He calls it the paradox of wu wei, the Chinese term for “effortless action.” Pronounced “ooo-way,” it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.

Dr. Slingerland, a professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, argues that the quest for wu wei has been going on ever since humans began living in groups larger than hunter-gathering clans. Unable to rely on the bonds of kinship, the first urban settlements survived by developing shared values, typically through religion, that enabled people to trust one another’s virtue and to cooperate for the common good.

But there was always the danger that someone was faking it and would make a perfectly rational decision to put his own interest first if he had a chance to shirk his duty. To be trusted, it wasn’t enough just to be a sensible, law-abiding citizen, and it wasn’t even enough to dutifully strive to be virtuous. You had to demonstrate that your virtue was so intrinsic that it came to you effortlessly. …

December 17, 2014

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Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College on wave elections.

We have had a wave election. For those of a conservative disposition, it is a satisfying wave. According to Michael Barone, speaking recently here at Hillsdale’s Kirby Center, this wave is like several recent wave elections in its magnitude and decisiveness. There was a wave in favor of the Republicans in 1980 and again in 1994. There was a wave in favor of the Democrats in 2006 and again in 2008. There was a wave for the Republicans in 2010. There was a stalemate in 2012. Now there is a Republican wave in 2014. Looked at one way, these waves appear more like tides, ebbing and flowing.

These waves have something to do with a change in opinion over the last 50 years. Increasingly large majorities of the people consistently profess themselves afraid of their government. They think it too big. They think it does not account to them—that it is beyond their control and does not operate with their consent. They think it should be smaller, even if that means they receive fewer services. It seems that the growth of government has not made people feel safe and happy.

Nonetheless, two of the recent waves elected people who support larger government, and Americans continue to depend upon government more than ever. At all levels, government consumes something close to 40 percent of the economy, not even counting regulatory costs, which are nearing $2 trillion. People seem to be groping for a solution to this, and they do not seem to think they have found it.

This picture is not unprecedented. In the period leading up to the American Revolution, loyalists or Tories contested with revolutionaries, and these two groups alternated having the upper hand between 1763 and 1776, and even later, after the war had begun. The people were making up their minds about something fundamental, and a consensus was slow in forming.

In the period before the Civil War, there were those who advocated destroying slavery in the slave states, where the national government’s constitutional authority to do so was weak or nonexistent. There were others who supported slavery where it existed, and even the extension of slavery into new regions. Others still would find some compromise that would do the least dramatic possible thing. And then there was the new Republican party, founded to stop slavery’s expansion and seek a constitutional path to its eventual abolition. This too was a fundamental question, and it took a long time and eventually much blood to decide it.

This controversy over slavery grew up in the course of one generation. One may mark it by two of the most important statutes in American history—the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The Northwest Ordinance brought the territory that became Michigan and other states into the Union, and it was the first time that a government like ours, ours being the first such government, had grown. It did not choose to grow by establishing colonies, but rather by treating the citizens of the new regions as full citizens as quickly as they could get organized. The Northwest Territory had belonged to Virginia, and Virginia, a slave state, on the motion of Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder, gave the land to the Union for free on condition only that there be no slavery allowed in it at any time. Although Virginia also insisted on a provision to return escaped slaves from Virginia back to their servitude, the document must be read as a sign of a consensus about slavery. We have it, those early Americans said, and we do not know what to do about it, but we know that it is wrong and should not be extended elsewhere. Many in the Founding generation stated this, often in beautiful terms. And eight states either abolished slavery or set up laws for gradual emancipation relatively quickly after the Revolution. …

 

 

The Smithsonian Magazine writes on the healthy benefits of sunlight.

The year’s darkest day is drawing near. December 21 marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of 2014. Thanks to artificial illumination, winter’s lack of sunlight doesn’t change our lifestyles quite as much as it did in the past. But our bodies definitely take notice—scientists are discovering that prolonged darkness can play a role in disorders from depression to diabetes. The consensus seems to be that sunlight is essential to humans, provided we can get the right dose on a regular basis.  

Most people know that too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause cataracts and skin cancer. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2 and 3 million rarely lethal non-melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year, along with 132,000 far more serious cases of melanoma skin cancers.

Protecting the skin with lotions and clothing and avoiding too much time in searing sun can drastically reduce the odds of developing of skin cancer. But avoiding sunshine altogether isn’t a great idea, because the light can produce a plethora of positive health impacts. For starters, UV rays in sunlight trigger a photosynthetic process in the skin that produces vitamin D. This vitamin’s active form may help to regulate more than 1,000 genes, which in turn govern most of the body’s tissues. Vitamin D is also crucial for bone health and for keeping the immune system going strong. …

 

 

Andrew Malcolm with late night humor.

Stephen Colbert to President Obama the other night on jobs: “I’ll give it to you. You’ve employed a lot of people—mostly as secretary of Defense.”

Conan: President Obama met with Britain’s Prince William in the Oval Office. A meeting between a symbolic ruler with no real power and the future King of England.

Fallon: Joe Biden will help with the 35th annual lighting of the National Menorah at the White House. Hearing that, Smokey the Bear said, “Hold my calls.”

Meyers: California’s DMV is issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. After about two hours at the DMV, they all asked to be deported.

December 16, 2014

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Chris Cillizza awards the president with ”The Worst Year in Washington.” Last year the same deserving recipient also received the award and Pickerhead thinks he’ll win again in 2015 after the Supremes toss out the immigration power grab along with the Affordable Care Act.

In 2014, President Obama’s past caught up with him.

His sixth year in office was, inarguably, his worst, when the problems that had been building throughout his second term all came crashing down around him.

The year began with Obama proposing a set of reforms to the National Security Agency, a result of ongoing national security leaks, and ended with midterm elections that saw his party lose its Senate majority largely because of the president’s unpopularity.

In between were continued challenges to the Affordable Care Act, America’s reentry into Iraq — a war the president had long vowed to exit — and memoirs from former Cabinet officials questioning Obama’s decision-making and judgment.

Twelve months ago, we also awarded Obama the worst year in 2013, calling 2013 his “lost year” because he spent it salvaging old accomplishments rather than building his legacy. But even then, we saw a possible path back to relevance. Now, all that appears left for the Obama presidency is a narrowing of both vision and accomplishment.

What tied together all of 2014′s failures, stumbles and necessary evils was a growing sense among the public that Obama simply isn’t up to the job to which he has been twice elected. …

 

 

Speaking of pathetic people, Jonathan Gruber’s congressional testimony is covered by John Fund.

An old Soviet joke had men carrying briefcases marching alongside tanks and soldiers in a Kremlin parade. “Why are those men in a military parade?” a boy innocently asks his father. He replies, “Those are the economists. They are the most dangerous of all.”

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber’s factually impoverished testimony on Obamacare didn’t get nearly the attention it should have, as congressional Democrats cleverly decided to release a report on CIA torture abuses on the same day. Gruber’s stonewalling about videos in which he boasted that the “stupidity” of the American people and their “lack of transparency” had been the key to passing Obamacare was buried deep inside major papers and ignored by the next morning’s network-TV shows. John Harwood of CNBC dismissed his testimony: “I’m sorry, Gruber is a nothingburger and always has been.” Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News chimed in: “This has been a sideshow. . . . It has no impact whatsoever.”

Halperin will be right if journalists continue to look the other way and fail to probe more deeply into the issues Gruber has raised. The lack of curiosity many of them display about a witness who used variations of “I don’t recall” 20 times during his testimony is remarkable. One journalist explained to me that many of his colleagues have bought into the liberal argument that Gruber was just a bit player in the Obamacare spectacle, even though many journalists played up his role just a few years ago. “He’s not a legislator. He’s not a staff guy. He’s like 300 million other Americans who can have their opinion,” now sniffs Jay Angoff, a Department of Health and Human Services official who worked on implementing the health-care legislation.

Everyone behind Obamacare appears desperate to deflect attention away from Gruber. It’s like the scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi uses an old Jedi mind trick to convince adversaries they’re going down the wrong path: “Those aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

In fact, Gruber was the most influential economist advising Congress and the Congressional Budget Office on how to score the budget impact of Obamacare. …

 

 

Kevin Williamson writes on Sen. Warren.

… No doubt aware that 99 percent of those who look to her for guidance on financial regulation could not explain what a derivative is, Senator Warren did her usual dishonest shtick, engaging in her habitual demagoguery without ever making an attempt to actually explain the issue, which is a slightly complicated and technical one, to the rubes who make up the Democrats’ base. Angrily insisting that the reform is about nothing more than ensuring that “the biggest financial institutions in this country can make more money” is cheap, and it’s easier than trying to explain why many midsized banks believe that the rule puts them at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the big Wall Street firms, to say nothing of exploring the convoluted question of why agricultural swaps are covered by the rule while interest-rate and foreign-exchange swaps are not. This led Maggie Haberman of Politico to admire Senator Warren’s “authenticity,” the choice of precisely that word being the cherry on this sundae of asininity. Senator Warren is as much an authentic champion of ordinary working people as she is an authentic Cherokee princess — and Mel Brooks and those Yiddish-speaking Indians from Blazing Saddles were more convincing in that role.

Bailout politics is still very much with us: People resent — rightly — what was done and how it was done. Many on the Tea Party right and the Occupy left intuit that there exists a dysfunctional relationship between Wall Street and Washington, though Senator Warren et al. maddeningly believe that the way to ameliorate this is to invest Washington with even greater powers, enabling even worse misbehavior and even more remorseless rent-seeking. And those who bother to keep up with such things know that neither Dodd-Frank nor anything else that has happened in Washington since the financial crisis has in fact eliminated, or even reduced, the phenomenon of financial institutions’ being considered — inevitable phrase — “too big to fail.” …

 

 

Since she is a genuine idiot, David Harsanyi thinks Liz should run. 

There’s no good reason for her not to run.

When Elizabeth Warren rallied beleaguered House liberals to push back against a bank-coddling omnibus bill and the spineless White House that enabled it, she showed us some of her dynamic appeal. Her only leverage? An implicit threat to shut down the government. Hypocrisy? Sure. Consider the agitated criticism Warren and her allies threw at Republicans not very long ago. And yes, St. Warren’s righteousness was aimed at some inconsequential riders. Still, passing trillion-dollar pieces of legislation should never be easy, and disrupting the current cozy, bipartisan environment surely can’t be a bad thing.

At the same time, it’s not difficult to imagine Hillary Clinton ensconced in her penthouse suite in whatever city she’s about to give a six-figure lecture in, contemplating every conceivable political angle of this debate, tabulating every potential big-money donor’s interests, and asking obsequious staffers how polling looks before composing her own opinion on the matter. That’s because Hillary is the Democrats’ Mitt Romney. And Democrats would be engaging in a historic act of negligence if they allowed her to run unopposed for presidency. …

 

 

Seth Mandel thinks the biggest budget battle losers were Barry and Hillary.

… The big losers from last night are Obama and Hillary. The president, to borrow Bill Clinton’s quote, may still be relevant here, but not very. Obama had to use his office and his influence and his spokesmen and his advisors just to beat back a freshman senator from his own party, and just barely. Democrats, as Dave Weigel notes in an excellent tick-tock on last night’s mess, “proudly told reporters that calls from the White House — especially calls from Citigroup’s Jamie Dimon — did nothing to move them.”

Obama has dragged his party down enough. The midterms were the end of Obama as the leader of the Democratic Party, because even Democrats now understand they can win by separating themselves from Obama’s toxic legacy. And what about Obama’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton? The Cromnibus chaos was a nightmare for her.

What the Democrats proved last night was that there exists a significant and restive segment of the base. Being Democrats, they still need someone to fall in line behind; unlike the Tea Party, these restive Democrats prefer to take orders from someone. They just would like to take orders from a different brand of statist. Elizabeth Warren is the one they’ve been waiting for.

Warren’s populism is very different from that of the Tea Party. Conservative grassroots value liberty; Warren argues for increasing state power over its citizens and is not above abusing that authority when she has the opportunity. What Warren wants is power concentrated in her hands. What Hillary’s supporters should fear is the possibility that Warren will pursue her quest for power to its logical conclusion and run for president. …

 

 

Howie Carr says you can always tell a Harvard man.

… Then there are those Harvard Law School students asking to postpone taking their final exams because of the “trauma” of Ferguson and Staten Island. Does this include the Harvard Law student who was arrested last week after he allegedly assaulted some Harvard cops in a law school dorm while intoxicated?

The biggest embarrassments, though, are Jonathan Gruber and his younger separated-at-birth brother, Ben Edelman. A couple of “doctors” from Harvard. One is the scourge of American health care, the other of local Chinese restaurants.

As a former condo owner on Harvard Street in the square, diagonally across from Pennypacker Hall, I feel eminently qualified to diagnose the causes of the Goober boys’ despicable behavior — post traumatic stress disorder.

You’d be a braggart and a bully too, if you’d spent your junior-high years getting stuffed into lockers, or enduring the indignity of daily atomic wedgies, as these two greedy geeks so obviously did.

There’s only one cure for PTSD — and that’s a Harvard Ph.D. Piled Higher and Deeper. …

December 15, 2014

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Instapundit post kicks off today’s look at developments in the Rolling Stone/UVA fiasco. Reynolds segues from statements from Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill to wonder about the people behind this story going forward. He notes that Emily Renda who worked on Pres, Sullivan’s staff at UVA was also part of a White House ”campus rape group.” 

… What is clear is that Gillibrand and McCaskill leaped on this storyline when it looked good, and are now backpedaling. And Gillibrand also hung her hat on the Erdely military-rape story, which I predict won’t hold up well under investigation either.

I’d also like to know how much coordination there was among folks at UVA — Emily Renda worked in UVA President Teresa Sullivan’s office, and on the White House “It’s On Us” campus rape group, and I believe was the one who told Erdely about Jackie’s case — and Rolling Stone, and the White House, and Sens. Gillibrand and McCaskill. Perhaps someone will ask them, or submit a FOIA request to the White House and a state FOIA to President Sullivan’s office. Conveniently, McCaskill and Gillibrand aren’t subject to FOIA, but that doesn’t stop intrepid reporters from asking them.

I’d also be interested in hearing from reporters themselves: Was the White House pushing this story?

 

 

Richard Bradley, editor of Worth magazine, was one of those who broke the UVA story wide open. We featured a post from his blog in December 3, 2014 Pickings. He has another worthy post today.

Last Friday, Rolling Stone put out a statement backing off Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story, “A Rape on Campus,” and the account of its protagonist, a young woman named Jackie.

“There now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” the magazine said.

That was an artfully chosen term. …

… Which brings me to a Washington Post story by T. Rees Shapiro, just posted about an hour ago, which, I think, is going to have an enormous impact.

Rees interviews Jackie’s three friends—the three friends whom, we now know, Sabrina Rubin Erdely did not even try to interview—and they tell a wildly different story of that night than Rubin Erdely recounted in her article.

In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how Rolling Stone portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack, and suggest that the friends are skeptical of her account.

It gets worse for Jackie—and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who now appears to have lied when she said that “Randall” would not speak to her “out of loyalty to his frat.” (Randall tells the Post that Rolling Stone never contacted him—and that he would have spoken to Rubin Erdely if she had. Rubin Erdely, if you had a career left—now you don’t.)

But here’s where the plot really thickens: …

 

 

Here is T. Rees Shapiro’s piece from WaPo.

It was 1 a.m. on a Saturday when the call came. A friend, a University of Virginia freshman who earlier said she had a date that evening with a handsome junior from her chemistry class, was in hysterics. Something bad had happened.

Arriving at her side, three students —“Randall,” “Andy” and “Cindy,” as they were identified in an explosive Rolling Stone account — told The Washington Post that they found their friend in tears. Jackie appeared traumatized, saying her date ended horrifically, with the older student parking his car at his fraternity, asking her to come inside and then forcing her to perform oral sex on five men.

In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how Rolling Stone portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack and suggest that the friends are skeptical of her account.

The scene with her friends was pivotal in the article, as it alleged that the friends were callously apathetic about a beaten, bloodied, injured classmate reporting a brutal gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The account alleged that the students worried about the effect it might have on their social status and how it might reflect on Jackie during the rest of her collegiate career and that they suggested not reporting it. It set up the article’s theme: That U-Va. has a culture that is indifferent to rape.

“It didn’t happen that way at all,” Andy said.

Instead, the friends remember being shocked. Although they did not notice any blood or visible injuries, they said they immediately urged Jackie to speak to police and insisted that they find her help. Instead, they said, Jackie declined and asked to be taken back to her dorm room. They went with her — two said they spent the night — seeking to comfort Jackie in what appeared to be a moment of extreme turmoil.

“I mean, obviously, we were very concerned for her,” Andy said. “We tried to be as supportive as we could be.”

The three students agreed to be interviewed on the condition that The Post use the same aliases that appeared in Rolling Stone because of the sensitivity of the subject. …

 

 

Reason has a blog post.

… Lest anyone think that this debacle is solely the fault of someone who falsely claimed rape, keep in mind that these fraudulent charges were put forth by a national magazine that made no effort to verify them, and ignored every red flag in its haste to publish the story of the century—even when Jackie refused to name her attackers and attempted to withdraw her story. Whatever the truth is—whatever the excellent reporters at WaPost manage to uncover next—the fact remains that Rolling Stone and Erdely should have known better.

The degree to which everyone involved in this travesty of journalism failed at their jobs is almost unbelievable. But unlike the story of a gang rape at UVA, we now have incontrovertible proof of it.

 

 

We’ll close this subject with a post from Daily Caller. Jim Treacher who wrote the post is a UVA grad and a member of the frat named in the Rolling Stone article.

Rape is a very serious crime, which is all the more reason to make sure a rape claim has some basis in fact. All the more reason to make sure innocent people aren’t smeared with a false accusation. The horror of rape doesn’t excuse the abrogation of due process. Whether the charge is witchcraft, communism, or rape, the human impulse to treat an accusation as its own proof must always be resisted.

Now there’s nothing left to do but wait for the lawsuits. As a Phi Psi myself, I was ready to throw these guys under the bus for committing such an awful crime, disgracing themselves and our fraternity. That is, if it was true. But it’s not. They’ve been libeled, their house has been vandalized, and the entire Greek system at UVA has been suspended. They don’t deserve that, just because feminists hate fraternities almost as much as they hate facts. 

I hope my UVA brothers have fun with Jann Wenner’s money. (Jann Wenner is Publisher of Rolling Stone)

 

 

Had to add two more items.  Howie Carr draws the connection from Rolling Stone back to Dan Rather.

… Ten years ago, “60 Minutes” ran a fake story about President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service. Turned out the memos were utterly bogus. It took bloggers about an hour to figure that out after the piece aired. For more than a week, CBS (also known as See B.S.) refused to retract the obvious hit piece on the GOP president in the heat of his re-election campaign.

See B.S.’s ultimate excuse was immortalized in a headline in The New York Times (another member of the Rolling Stone-CBS media make-it-up conglomerate). The Times quoted another Democrat as describing the memos as “Fake But Accurate.”

Fake but accurate. You can’t make this stuff up — and you don’t have to! Memo to Rolling Stone: Truth really is stranger than fiction. All those Globe columnists didn’t have to pipe it, or lift stuff from the WBUR website. There’s this amazing new invention, and I’m not talking about the Internet. I mean the telephone. It’s amazing, the stuff you can turn up with a phone, and most of the time, all it takes is one or two more calls to see if it’s true….

But now, in a decade we have gone from the “60 Minutes” fake but accurate story to Rolling Stone’s scoop, which turns out to be fake and inaccurate. …

 

 

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit wrote his weekly TODAY column on the campus rape hoax. So today, we start with Glenn and end with him.

… For months we’ve been told that there’s a burgeoning “epidemic” of rape on college campuses, that the system for dealing with campus rape is “broken” and that we need new federal legislation (of course!) to deal with this disaster. Before the Rolling Stone story imploded, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., were citing the Virginia gang rape as evidence of the problem, but now that the story has been exposed as bogus, they’re telling us that, regardless of that isolated incident, there’s still a huge campus rape problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

And that’s the real college rape hoax. Because the truth is that there’s no epidemic outbreak of college rape. In fact, rape on college campuses is — like rape everywhere else in America — plummeting in frequency. And that 1-in-5 college rape number you keep hearing in the press? It’s thoroughly bogus, too. (Even the authors of that study say that “We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic,” because it sampled only two schools.)

Sen, Gillibrand also says that “women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus.”

The truth — and, since she’s a politician, maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise — is exactly the opposite. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of rape and sexual assault is lower for college students (at 6.1 per 1,000) than for non-students (7.6 per 1,000). (Note: not 1 in 5). What’s more, between 1997 and 2013, rape against women dropped by about 50%, in keeping with a more general drop in violent crime nationally.

Upshot: Women on campus aren’t at more risk for sexual assault, and their risk is nothing like the bogus 1-in-5 statistic bandied about by politicians and activists. So why is this non-crisis getting so much press? …

December 14, 2014

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Mental Floss tells the story of the woman whose discovery shook the foundations of the science of geology.

Marie Tharp spent the fall of 1952 hunched over a drafting table, surrounded by charts, graphs, and jars of India ink. Nearby, spread across several additional tables, lay her project—the largest and most detailed map ever produced of a part of the world no one had ever seen.

For centuries, scientists had believed that the ocean floor was basically flat and featureless—it was too far beyond reach to know otherwise. But the advent of sonar had changed everything. For the first time, ships could “sound out” the precise depths of the ocean below them. For five years, Tharp’s colleagues at ColumbiaUniversity had been crisscrossing the Atlantic, recording its depths. Women weren’t allowed on these research trips—the lab director considered them bad luck at sea—so Tharp wasn’t on board. Instead, she stayed in the lab, meticulously checking and plotting the ships’ raw findings, a mass of data so large it was printed on a 5,000-foot scroll. As she charted the measurements by hand on sheets of white linen, the floor of the ocean slowly took shape before her.

Tharp spent weeks creating a series of six parallel profiles of the Atlantic floor stretching from east to west. Her drawings showed—for the first time—exactly where the continental shelf began to rise out of the abyssal plain and where a large mountain range jutted from the ocean floor. That range had been a shock when it was discovered in the 1870s by an expedition testing routes for transatlantic telegraph cables, and it had remained the subject of speculation since; Tharp’s charting revealed its length and detail.

Her maps also showed something else—something no one expected. Repeating in each was “a deep notch near the crest of the ridge,” a V-shaped gap that seemed to run the entire length of the mountain range. Tharp stared at it. It had to be a mistake.

She crunched and re-crunched the numbers for weeks on end, double- and triple-checking her data. As she did, she became more convinced that the impossible was true: She was looking at evidence of a rift valley, a place where magma emerged from inside the earth, forming new crust and thrusting the land apart. If her calculations were right, the geosciences would never be the same.

A few decades before, a German geologist named Alfred Wegener had put forward the radical theory that the continents of the earth had once been connected and had drifted apart. In 1926, at a gathering of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the scientists in attendance rejected Wegener’s theory and mocked its maker. No force on Earth was thought powerful enough to move continents. “The dream of a great poet,” opined the director of the Geological Survey of France: “One tries to embrace it, and finds that he has in his arms a little vapor or smoke.” Later, the president of the American Philosophical Society deemed it “utter, damned rot!”

In the 1950s, as Tharp looked down at that tell-tale valley, Wegener’s theory was still considered verboten in the scientific community—even discussing it was tantamount to heresy. Almost all of Tharp’s colleagues, and practically every other scientist in the country, dismissed it; you could get fired for believing in it, she later recalled. But Tharp trusted what she’d seen. Though her job at Columbia was simply to plot and chart measurements, she had more training in geology than most plotters—more, in fact, than some of the men she reported to. …

 

 

 

NY Times compares wheat and rice cultures; individualistic and cooperative.

… In May, the journal Science published a study, led by a young University of Virginia psychologist, Thomas Talhelm, that ascribed these different orientations to the social worlds created by wheat farming and rice farming. Rice is a finicky crop. Because rice paddies need standing water, they require complex irrigation systems that have to be built and drained each year. One farmer’s water use affects his neighbor’s yield. A community of rice farmers needs to work together in tightly integrated ways.

Not wheat farmers. Wheat needs only rainfall, not irrigation. To plant and harvest it takes half as much work as rice does, and substantially less coordination and cooperation. And historically, Europeans have been wheat farmers and Asians have grown rice.

The authors of the study in Science argue that over thousands of years, rice- and wheat-growing societies developed distinctive cultures: “You do not need to farm rice yourself to inherit rice culture.”

Their test case was China, where the Yangtze River divides northern wheat growers from southern rice growers. The researchers gave Han Chinese from these different regions a series of tasks. They asked, for example, which two of these three belonged together: a bus, a train and train tracks? More analytical, context-insensitive thinkers (the wheat growers) paired the bus and train, because they belong to the same abstract category. More holistic, context-sensitive thinkers (the rice growers) paired the train and train tracks, because they work together. …

  

 

19 secrets of UPS drivers from Mental Floss

You may have a good relationship with your UPS driver, but how much do you really know about his or her job? The brown-clad United Parcel Service workers deliver more than 15 million packages a day to more than 220 countries and territories around the world; they even deliver to the North Pole. But what’s it really like to be a UPS driver? Here are some little-known facts from drivers who did their time.

1. They’re always being watched.

UPS knows time is money, and it is obsessed with using data to increase productivity. Jack Levis, UPS’s director of process management, told NPR that “one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million,” and “one minute of idle per driver per day is worth $500,000 of fuel at the end of the year.” The hand-held computer drivers carry around, called a DIAD (short for Delivery Information Acquisition Device), tracks their every move. Ever wondered why your UPS man can’t stick around to hear your life story? He probably has between 150 and 200 stops to make before the end of the day, and he’s being timed. “You’re trained to have a sense of urgency,” says Wendy Widmann, who drove for 14 years. “Be polite, but you gotta go.” Sensors inside the truck monitor everything from whether the driver’s seat belt is buckled to how hard they’re braking, and if the truck’s doors are open or closed. All this data is compiled for UPS analysts who use it to come up with time-saving tactics.

2. They go to bootcamp.

All drivers must attend and graduate from a specialized training class called “Integrad,” which teaches them everything they need to know out in the field. They learn how to handle heavy boxes, which are filled with cinder blocks to simulate real packages. They’re taught how to start the truck with one hand while buckling up with the other to save time. And the “slip and fall simulator” teaches them to walk safely in slick conditions. There’s even a miniature delivery route complete with tiny houses “where they will drive in their truck and make simulated deliveries at houses,” says UPS representative Dan Cardillo.

3. Driving in reverse is discouraged. …

 

 

USA Today writes on the Grand Canyon filling with clouds. Good pictures of the rare event. 

The Grand Canyon was a little grander Thursday in a very different, unusual way: It was fogged in. At least, if you were standing on the rim.

The rare climatic event was caused by what meteorologists call a temperature inversionThat happens at night when skies are clear, winds are calm and the ground rapidly loses heat stored during the day. …

… “Almost looks like the tide coming in and going out,” the Grand CanyonNational Park staff wrote on its Facebook page.

“Rangers wait for years to see it. Word spread like wildfire and most ran to the rim to photograph it,” a ranger wrote about last year’s fog. “What a fantastic treat for all.” …

December 11, 2014

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So how’s the Hillary campaign you ask? We will spend some time looking at it today. Michael Barone is first up. He says her futures are not doing well.

Is the market in Hillary Clinton futures collapsing? Quite possibly so.

A year ago Clinton seemed likely to become the next president. Presumably she and her husband had not yet started to call themselves, Bush style, 42 and 45. But she had an overwhelming lead in the polls for the Democratic nomination and was getting 50 percent or more in most polls against possible Republican candidates in general election pairings.

Ratings of Clinton’s performance as secretary of state were positive. She seemed poised to hold and add onto Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 majorities.

Things look different now. Obama now gets negative marks on foreign policy, and some of the luster is off Clinton’s record as well. With the Islamic State ravaging much of Iraq and Syria, the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq looks dubious. With Vladimir Putin’s Russia rampaging through much of Ukraine, Clinton’s reset button looks ludicrous. 

Most Americans may have been content with a foreign policy of “leading from behind.” But as the world spins out of control, they don’t like the results. …

 

 

Roger Simon tries to make sense of her “empathy” remark. 

When I first read that Hillary Clinton said we should have “empathy” for our enemies, my first thought was — is she senile?  Who is she talking about? Empathy for Hitler?  Pol Pot?  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Surely if we only empathized with the ISIS leader a bit more, they wouldn’t be slicing off as many heads or placing as many women in sexual slavery, not to mention shooting large groups after having had them dig their own mass graves, Nazi-style. All that business about global jihad and caliphates and “see you in New York” would go away with a little sympathy.  (Cue Mick Jagger.)

Yes, I know sympathy is often defined as “feeling for” someone and empathy “feeling into,” but let’s not get bogged down in minor distinctions.  It’s hard for anyone with basic morality to have empathy or sympathy for ruthless transnational mass murderers motivated by extreme religious fanaticism. On Fox News Sunday, even Hillary’s normally complaisant supporter Jane Harman seemed repelled.  George Will rose to her defense (sort of) by explaining Hillary’s peculiar word choice by saying Clinton employed “gaseous new-age rhetoric” about respect and empathy.  True enough, and witty, but I suspect it’s more than that. Why would her mind even go in that direction?

Hillary, as most know now, is not a master of the English language in general. …

 

 

Jennifer Rubin doesn’t think bad polls will stop her.

Henry Enten at Five Thirty Eight asks what it would take for Hillary Clinton to decline to run for president. My first thought was: Embalming fluid. This is a woman who, since her days in Arkansas, has craved money and power — and now, thanks to her ludicrously excessive speaking fees and delayed presidential announcement, she has found a way to do both.

Enten earnestly looks at polls suggesting Hillary Clinton’s numbers are not all that impressive. (“The current environment suggests Clinton would need to be stronger than a generic Democratic candidate to be considered the favorite. Instead, her standing has deteriorated. …

 

 

Besides, Jennifer points out that Clinton, Inc. is a profitable enterprise. 

Hillary Clinton’s greed knows no bounds. “Hillary Clinton is scheduled to deliver a paid speech in March 2015, a point on the calendar that raises questions about when she will announce her decision on running for president and whether she intends to leave the Democratic Party uncertain of her plans until next spring,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The report continues: “[I]it would seem unlikely that she would be an announced candidate for president and still be delivering paid speeches. Were she to do that, she would open herself to criticism that her interests are divided. She would also be vulnerable to criticism that private interests were trying to curry favor with a potential president of the U.S. by paying her speaking fees. Such considerations would suggest that she won’t announce her candidacy until at least the spring of 2015 — after she is done with her paid speeches.”

For starters, it is a little late to be worrying about private interests “trying to curry favor with a potential president of the U.S. by paying her speaking fees.” That has already happened, and she will have to explain, especially to the newly energized populist left, why she has taken millions of dollars in speaking fees from hedge funds, banks, car dealers and other big-business groups.

Mother Jones described the problem thusly: “Hillary’s for-profit speaking gigs raise a serious question for a possible presidential candidate: …

 

 

Jonathan Tobin wonders if the Dem left can get Liz Warren to challenge Hillary. 

While conservatives eagerly seize on each new Hillary Clinton gaffe as proof that she is not the invincible presidential candidate Democrats believe her to be, the political left is looking at the former secretary of state’s struggles from a different perspective. Tired of being the doormat for their party’s establishment wing led by the Clintons and unhappy with the former first family’s level of comfort with Wall Street, the so-called progressive wing of the Democrats is ready to assert itself. That’s the dynamic that is driving both a new assertiveness on the part of congressional liberals as well as the decision of Moveon.org to try to derail Clinton’s coronation in 2016 by starting a movement to draft Senator Elizabeth Warren to run against her.

The Moveon.org effort may be nothing more than a stunt by a group that has struggled to maintain its once central role in pushing the liberal agenda in recent years. …

 

 

Bret Stephens closes out the Hillary items.

… Here’s another question: If Mrs. Clinton is at least prepared to attempt a show of empathy for the Putins and Khameneis of the world, why so little empathy for American allies? In March 2010 a minor Israeli official announced the approval of some additional construction in a Jerusalem neighborhood, mischaracterized as a “settlement,” when Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. It was an ordinary bureaucratic bungle by the Israeli government.

So what did Mrs. Clinton do? She called Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to yell at him. “I told the Prime Minister that President Obama had viewed the news about East Jerusalem as ‘a personal insult to him, the Vice President, and the United States,’ ” as she recounts in her memoir.

Such has been the pattern of the Obama administration, whose foreign policy record Mrs. Clinton cannot escape or finesse: misplaced understanding toward our adversaries, shrill lectures for our friends. The next president needs to make it the other way around.

 

 

The NY Times had an interesting picture essay of Detroit by Air in last Sunday’s edition.The pictures are intriguing. The first is a long shot of the downtown area but with enough foreground to show how the city’s homes are being disappeared. Close to downtown in the center of the shot is ComericaPark where the Tigers play and just to the left is Ford Field, the covered stadium for the Lions  The writer/photographer is a typical liberal weenie. Here’s how he closes;

… I think that the inner ring of Detroit will win out in the long run, as cities are and will continue to be the greenest places to live on a per-capita basis. This is made only more striking when I fly over the suburbs and see the inefficiency of single-family homes. They are dependent on cars, for one thing, and are connected by miles of paved roads to single-use zones of office and retail developments. These areas will not fare well, if we begin to mitigate climate change through measures like a carbon tax.

Detroit’s rebound is just a matter of time. Someday, I believe, it will be comparable to the once rundown sections of New York, Boston, Minneapolis and San Francisco, cities that are now thriving.

 

 

Quelle horreur! A Harvard prof was overcharged $4 on a $50 Chinese take-out order and he makes a federal case of it. Power Line has the story.

Everyone remembers Bill Buckley’s famous axiom that he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than the faculty of HarvardUniversity. My great teacher Harry Jaffa had a corollary to the Buckley Theorem, which held that it would be better to be educated by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than the faculty of Harvard.

Either way, fresh evidence of the Buckley Theorem and Jaffa Corollary comes this week from Harvard Business School’s professor Ben Edelman, who, though a mere associate professor, is clearly striving for tenure as a full jerk. (This adds evidence, by the way, that business schools are succumbing to political correctness and intellectual triviality as much as any law or other graduate school.)

It seems the good Prof. Edelman recently ordered about $50 worth of food from a Chinese take out, and—sit down for this outrage—was overcharged $4 on his bill. Okay, so maybe this immigrant merchant, who suffers from not having a favored Hispanic surname*, cheated a little on the bill. Or maybe, just maybe, it was an honest mistake. Whatever the truth of the matter, the shriveled soul that is Prof. Edelman wants to make a federal case out of the $4, though I suspect Prof. Edelman’s salary at HBS is likely greater than the profits of this Chinese takeout joint, and I thought Harvard profs were all about sharing the wealth. …

 

 

December 10, 2014

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Mort Zuckerman writes on the anti-president. 

… In his first year in power, Obama decided to focus on health care reform. And careful reform was necessary to help millions of uninsured. But many thought a more urgent demand was the economy — jobs, jobs, jobs. The public ranked lack of work as its most important concern. Obama chose health care reform because he thought this would give him a place in American history. He misjudged his ability to “bend the cost curve” of health care. Alas, his political relationships with Congress were so limited and so susceptible to partisanship that they ultimately overwhelmed whatever he might have been able to do to advance his health care program. Indeed, Obama’s signature legislation ultimately became a political burden, dramatically undermining his public support and diminishing his political capital.

It is almost mysterious how little he connects with people. In his six years in office, his relationships have been impersonal, and his lack of rapport with Congress has become a serious issue. …

… Obama’s personality over time has been hard to read and hard to trust, particularly when he has seemed to be seeking to transform America into a European-style nanny state, marked by a bloated public sector, burdensome regulations, high taxes, unsustainable entitlements and, accompanied as these factors usually are, by weak economic growth. This was not the vision of Americans, who are increasingly unhappy that we seem to have a leftist-leaning ideologue in the presidency. As The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd put it, this was a man who doesn’t seem to like the bully pulpit, just the professor’s lectern. Even the millennial generation, one of his core voting groups, has begun to drift away. The result is that America today is even more deeply divided than when Obama started his first term. …

… Looking at other dimensions of Obama’s performance, Kimberley Strassel contributed a devastating portrait in a recent Wall Street Journal article. He is, she asserted, “a lousy boss.” Although every administration has dysfunction and churn, “rarely, if ever, has there been one that has driven more competent people from its orbit — and chewed up more professional reputations.” She goes on to say that “The president bragged in 2008 that he would assemble in his cabinet a ‘Team of Rivals.’ What he failed to explain to any of the poor saps is that they’d be window dressing for a Team of Select Brilliant Political Types Who Already Had All the Answers: namely, himself and the Valerie Jarretts and David Axelrods of the White House.” She described Obama as a boss who doesn’t listen, views everything politically and always thinks he’s right.

And then there’s this: Obama has had over 195 golf outings, over 400 fundraisers, and over 130 vacation days. It seems like he spends as little time as humanly possible doing his job as president. Governing seems to be secondary to being a celebrity. When he came back from his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, he immediately left Washington to attend several fundraisers and then claimed we don’t have a strategy for ISIS terrorists.

All this at a time when pessimism about the economy is widespread. The U.S. has lost 3 million full-time jobs and now has over 3 million more part-time positions than at the start of the economic meltdown in 2007. Roughly 45 percent of American families today have a median income that is lower than at the end of the recession, with an average drop of roughly $4,500 in spending power annually. No wonder too many families still work too many hours for too little to show for it. If income inequality is the defining issue of our time, Obama has failed here more than any president in the modern era.

Obama is seen as the anti-president. He sometimes acts in manners at odds with the framers of the Constitution. For example, as University of California-Berkeley law professor John Yoo points out in the National Review, rather than negotiate with Congress, Obama granted executive exemptions from immigration law to a large class of illegal immigrants. Rather than seek legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, “the president ordered his Justice Department to stop defending the law in court,” says Yoo. He changed the work requirements of welfare reform by executive order, even though the measure had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Keep in mind that Obama told us again and again that this time would be different. But he is responsible for the long painful slide from hope and change to partisan gridlock. He turns out to be the odd case of a pragmatist who can’t learn from his mistakes. He has failed to fill the leadership void. He doesn’t lead, and he doesn’t understand why we don’t feel led.

 

 

 

Andrew Ferguson has fun with a presidential speech writers’ tick.

Perhaps you too have been wondering why it is that President Obama is always, always telling us who we are as Americans and who we are not. Obviously, why he does this is a complicated question. And I guess “always” is an exaggeration. Frequently, though—he does it very frequently.

To pull one little item from the Google hopper: He was asked earlier this year about football players and the concussions they always (frequently) seem to be getting. There are few subjects the president won’t comment on. 

“We have to change a culture that says you suck it up,” the president said. At the same time, he went on, football will continue to be, even after we stop sucking it up, “fundamental to who we are as Americans.” Boola boola.

The little clump of words about who we are as Americans pops out of the president’s mouth so often it’s easy to miss it, even when he says it twice on the same occasion, a few sentences apart, as he sometimes does. It’s not necessarily annoying. Often when he tells us who we are the phrase has a nice, friendly lilt to it, as though the president were giving us a pat on the back. You hear him at the 9/11 museum saying, “Nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans,” and you think, Thanks, Obama!

Unfortunately, Americans might also get confused about who we are, assuming we’re paying attention to our president. It’s easy to lose track. 

“That’s who the American people are—determined, and not to be messed with,” the president said again last summer. So, number one, we’re bad ass. This is probably related to our being football fundamentalists. But make no mistake: We have a gentler side. All the Christmas parties, Seders, and Muslim religious ceremonies the president hosts at the White House “are an affirmation of who we are as Americans.” So, number two, we’re religious, without overdoing it.  …

 

 

 

Instapundit had a couple of posts on the president. The first was about the prez’ unhappiness with the press and closed with a great description.

But what a thin-skinned, narcissistic little putz. No President has gotten such adulatory coverage, and he’s still unhappy? 

 

 

The next post was on a survey showing race relations have gotten worse.  

… He ran as a post-racial uniter, but he’s been a race-baiting divider in office.

 

 

Here’s that survey from the Examiner.

… In the Dec. 3-5 poll of 1,001 adults, 53 percent said race relations had gotten worse since Obama, the nation’s first black president, took office in 2009. That figure included 56 percent of white respondents and 45 percent of black respondents.

Only 9 percent of respondents said race relations had gotten better under Obama, including just 3 percent who said they had gotten a lot better. Thirty-six percent said relations had stayed about the same. …

 

 

The new Exodus movie led to a WSJ article explaining how Moses might have crossed the Red Sea.

… There is a much better natural explanation for how a temporary path across the Red Sea could have been revealed. It involves the tide, a natural phenomenon that would have fit nicely into a well-thought-out plan by Moses, because Moses would have been able to predict when it would happen.

In certain places in the world, the tide can leave the sea bottom dry for hours and then come roaring back. In fact, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte and a small group of soldiers on horseback were crossing the Gulf of Suez, the northern end of the Red Sea, roughly where Moses and the Israelites are said to have crossed. On a mile-long expanse of dry sea bottom exposed at low water, the tide suddenly rushed in, almost drowning them.

In the biblical account, the children of Israel were camped on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez when the dust clouds raised by Pharaoh’s chariots were seen in the distance. The Israelites were now trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. The dust clouds, however, were probably an important sign for Moses; they would have let him calculate how soon Pharaoh’s army would arrive at the coast.

Moses had lived in the nearby wilderness in his early years, and he knew where caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. He knew the night sky and the ancient methods of predicting the tide, based on where the moon was overhead and how full it was. Pharaoh and his advisers, by contrast, lived along the Nile River, which is connected to the almost tideless Mediterranean Sea. They probably had little knowledge of the tides of the Red Sea and how dangerous they could be.

Knowing when low tide would occur, how long the sea bottom would remain dry and when the waters would rush back in, Moses could plan the Israelites’ escape. Choosing a full moon for their flight would have given them a larger tidal range—that is, the low tide would have been much lower and the sea bottom would have stayed dry longer, giving the Israelites more time to cross. The high tide also would have been higher and thus better for submerging Pharaoh’s pursuing army. …

December 9, 2014

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Finally the election is over, and now that we have results from Louisiana. John Fund writes on Mary Landrieu’s ugly exit.

Senator Mary Landrieu comes from a political dynasty in Louisiana — her father was mayor of New Orleans, and her brother is the current mayor. But as she heads into Saturday’s runoff election as a clear underdog, she is tarnishing her political inheritance by fighting ugly. She is resorting to lies and distortion to accuse her GOP opponent of backing the impeachment of President Obama and endorsing a documentary that, as she describes it, says slavery was better for blacks than welfare.

“Landrieu has flailed, veering from one issue to another,” concluded a Washington Post article this Thursday. When it hasn’t been haphazard, her campaign has been, at best, factually challenged. …

 

 

Kevin Williamson (ever heard of him?) also writes on Landrieu’s loss and also provides a needed history lesson about GOP success in the South.

… Naturally, this will be seized upon as an opportunity to proclaim the grapes sour: The Democrats, being intellectually dishonest, cling to the myth that the two parties “switched places” on racial issues in the 1960s, that Senator Landrieu’s troubles are a consequence of that reversal, and that the general Southern realignment is evidence that the Republican party is a comfortable home for bigots, Confederate revanchists, and others with dodgy racial politics.

This is a strange line of argument, and an indefensible one once the evidence is considered. Democrats remained the favored party in the South for decades and decades after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, controlling a majority of governorships, Senate seats, state legislative bodies, etc., well into the 21st century.

A few obvious questions: If white Southerners were really so enraged about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and if they switched to the Republican party to express their displeasure, then why did they wait 30 years before making that preference felt in House elections? Why did Dwight D. Eisenhower — a supporter of civil-rights legislation who insisted on the actual desegregation of the armed forces (as opposed to President Truman’s hypothetical desegregation) and federal agencies under his control — win a larger share of the Southern vote in 1956 than Barry Goldwater, the most important Republican critic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, did two cycles later? Why did Mississippi elect only one Republican governor in the entire 20th century, and that not until 1992? Why didn’t Alabama have a Republican governor until 1987? And why did Louisiana wait 60 years to eliminate its last Democratic senator in favor of a candidate from the party of Condoleezza Rice, Ben Carson, Allen West, Mia Love, Tim Scott, and that not-very-white guy who serves as governor of Louisiana? White supremacy should be made of sterner stuff: Did somebody forget to tell Louisiana state senator and newly confirmed Republican Elbert Guillory that he’s black?

Strange that redneck bigots would wait for so many decades to punish the Democrats for giving up cross-burning; my own experience with that particular demographic suggests that its members do not in general have that sort of attention span. …

 

 

Matthew Continetti on the fraud that is liberalism.

… Liberal myths propagated to generate outrage and activism, to organize and coordinate and mobilize disparate grievances and conflicting agendas, so often have the same relation to truth, accuracy, and legitimacy as a Bud Light commercial. Marketing is not limited to business. Inside the office buildings of Washington, D.C., are thousands upon thousands of professionals whose livelihoods depend on the fact that there is no better way than a well-run public relations campaign to get you to do what they want. What recent weeks have done is provide several lessons in the suspect nature of such campaigns.

The 2006 Duke Lacrosse case is the paradigmatic example of a liberal rush to judgment when the perceived victim is a minority (in that case, a black woman) and the alleged perpetrator a straight white male. But it is not the sole example.

In 2007, an instructor at Columbia’s Teachers College specializing in racial “micro-aggressions” and under investigation for plagiarism discovered a noose hanging from her office door; when she was fired the following year for academic malfeasance it was widely suspected that she had put the noose there herself. The racist graffiti and Klan sightings that rocked the Oberlin campus in 2013 and served as the basis of an antiracism campaign were later revealed to be a left-wing “joke.” And of course the leader of the Michael Brown protest movement, tax cheat Al Sharpton, was involved in the Tawana Brawley hoax of 1987.

Recently critics noted serious flaws in the reporting and writing of a Rolling Stone article that purports to describe a violent gang rape in a University of Virginia fraternity house. The article was the basis for the university’s decision to suspend Greek life on campus for the duration of 2014. The magazine was evasive in its response to the challenges. Then, on Friday afternoon, it released the following statement: “There now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s [the alleged victim's] account, and we have come to our conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” The story is false.

Does it even matter? Some liberals are upfront that the factuality of these cases is secondary to their political import. “Actually, in both the case of the UVA rape and in the case of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,” says a writer for the New Republic digital media company, “the major takeaway of recent weeks should be that our systems do not work” (emphasis in the original).

What the NewRepublic means by “our systems” is our systems of power: the institutions through which a free society allocates resources and decision making, chooses priorities, delegates responsibilities and authority. It is the goal of contemporary liberalism to command these institutions—in particular institutions resistant to the left such as police and fire departments, fraternal societies and private clubs, the military and extractive industry—and to alter them according to fashionable theories of equality and justice. The details are unimportant so long as the “takeaway” is communicated, the desired policy achieved.

It is sometimes difficult to understand that, for the left, racism and sexism and prejudice are not ethical categories but political ones. We are not merely talking about bad manners when the subject turns to Michael Brown or UVA or Thomas Piketty. We are talking about power. …

 

 

 

The Business Insider list 9 lies we have been told about fat. Number 8 is the favorite because margarine has never passed Pickerhead’s lips. Called BS on that decades ago.

8. Processed Margarine is Better Than Natural Butter

Because of the war on saturated fat, butter became recognized as an unhealthy food. Food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started producing butter replicates like margarine.

Most margarines contain large amounts of processed vegetable oils, often with trans fats added to the mix. It is hard to imagine how people could think that processed, factory made margarine would be healthier than butter, which is completely natural and humans have been eating for a long time.

The studies also do NOT support the idea that margarine is healthier than butter. In the Framingham Heart Study, margarine was associated with an increased heart disease risk compared to butter (66):

Many other studies have looked at high-fat dairy products and found no evidence that they contribute to any disease… in fact, high fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of obesity (67, 68).

Despite all the fear mongering, high fat dairy products like butter are extremely healthy, especially if they are derived from grass-fed cows.

Bottom Line: Margarine is an unhealthy fake food produced in factories, usually containing trans fats and processed vegetable oils. Butter is a much healthier choice, especially if it comes from grass-fed cows.