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July 31, 2012

Obama Donates To Own Campaign So It Can Afford to Outsource More Jobs

...Because true charity begins at home:

President Obama has given $5,000 to his own reelection campaign, an official confirms to POLITICO.

In an email to supporters this morning, Obama said that he had given to his own reelection campaign for the first time as a symbolic gesture.

"On its own, what I gave won't be enough to surmount the unprecedented fundraising we've seen on the other side, both from our opponent's campaign and from the outside groups and special interests supporting him," Obama wrote. "But we have always believed that there's nothing we can't do when we all pitch in. That includes me."

Let's see if we've got this straight:

1. Obama has made a personal donation to his own campaign.

2. You know... the campaign that, instead of creating jobs here at home, outsourced jobs to Canada and the Phillippines...

3. So it could afford to make more outraged ads about selfish, out of touch politicians who care more about saving money than about creating jobs for out of work Americans during "the worst economy since the Great Depression".

There's a certain shameless circularity about this President that you have to admire. The man really does raise it to an art form.

****************

Update: speaking of shamelessness:

Barack Obama's White House has been forced to admit that it did return a bust of Sir Winston Churchill to British diplomats, after describing such claims as "100 per cent false".

We couldn't have said it better ourselves: "Hopefully this clears things up a bit and prevents folks from making this ridiculous claim again".

Posted by Cassandra at 01:32 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Profiles In Courage, "Our Position Has Not Changed" Edition

Say what you will about Barack Obama - at least there's no doubt where he stands when it comes to foreign policy:

President Obama’s press team responded to Mitt Romney’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel with their most explicit statement on the issue in recent days: he’s wrong.

“Well, our view is that that’s a different position than this administration holds,” Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during today’s press briefing. “It’s the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties.”

...Obama’s spokesman said that Romney is “disagreeing with the position that was taken by Presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.”

Hmmm...what kind of a political yahoo would do that? Wait a minute! We know!!! Barack Obama, 2008:

"...Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided..."

We must say that it's truly refreshing to see the Obama administration take an unequivocal stand on such a contentious issue:

Jay Carney, White House press secretary: Um... I haven't had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh...

Reporter: What is the capital [of Israel]?

Jay Carney: You know our position.

Reporter: I don't.

Lester Kinsolving, World Net Daily: No, no. She doesn't know, that's why she asked.

Carney: She does know.

Reporter: I don't.

Kinsolving: She does not know. She just said that she does not know. I don't know.

Carney: We have long, lets not call on...

Kinsolving: Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?

Carney: You know the answer to that.

Kinsolving: I don't know the answer. We don't know the answer. Could you just give us an answer? What do you recognize? What does the administration recognize?

Carney: Our position has not changed.

Must be one of those evolving positions we hear so much about:

Posted by Cassandra at 08:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Signs of the Coming Socialist Apocalypse

A while back the Editorial Staff raised the intriguing possibility that we are nearing an economic tipping point that will motivate progressives to support cuts in entitlement spending:

What if the solution to our current economic difficulties turns out not to be a top down, but a bottom up solution? Stories like this suggest that a sea change in the way Americans think of government is more likely to flow organically from current events than from political rhetoric...

What interests me here is the suggestion that even the most ardent supporters of big government can be persuaded to support cuts in entitlement spending, once it becomes apparent that such cuts are necessary to ensure the survival of the social safety net. What if all We the People need to unite behind sensible budgetary reform is a powerful object lesson?

As if on cue, here's Bill Keller in the NY Times:

We are an entitled bunch.

This brings me to a soon-to-be released study by the incorrigible pragmatists at Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank. The study takes a familiar refrain and presents it with a graphic wallop. Though it was intended as a wake-up call, not an indictment of a generation, it can be read as both.

The authors examined two categories of federal spending over the past 50 years, representing two of government’s fundamental missions. One was “investments,” which includes maintaining our national infrastructure, keeping our military equipped, helping assure that our work force is educated to a high standard, and underwriting the kind of basic scientific research that is too risky or long-term to attract private money. The report calls this the legacy of President Kennedy’s New Frontier, though the largest infrastructure project in our history, the interstate highway system, was Eisenhower’s baby, a reminder of the days when Republicans still believed in that stuff. The other category was “entitlements,” a catchall word for the safety-net programs that provide a measure of economic stability for the aging and poor: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

You will not be surprised to hear that the red line tracking entitlements goes up while the blue line reflecting investments goes down. What is alarming is the trajectory.

In 1962, we were laying down the foundations of prosperity. About 32 cents of every federal dollar, excluding interest payments, was spent on investments, only 14 percent on entitlements. In the mid-70s the lines crossed. Today we spend less than 15 cents on investment and 46 cents on entitlements. And it gets worse. By 2030, when the last of us boomers have surged onto the Social Security rolls, entitlements will consume 61 cents of every federal dollar, starving our already neglected investment and leaving us, in the words of the study, with “a less-skilled work force, lower rates of job creation, and an infrastructure unfit for a 21st-century economy.”

His op-ed contains the raw materials of a powerful argument, especially when combined with Obama's recent "you didn't build this" gaffe. The catch 22 is that no matter which way you take the President's comments, they are damaging.

If you believe Obama meant that business owners didn't really build their businesses, that's bad enough. But if you believe the President was referring to the infrastructure needed to support prosperous free markets, it's even worse, because this makes it painfully obvious that his administration is charging in the wrong direction at breakneck speed:

crowding out.png

We looked at public investment since the 1950s and compared investment levels to the economy’s average rate of growth. We saw that periods with high levels of investment experienced higher growth, and as investments declined, so did our economy’s rate of expansion. Investments averaged roughly 5% of GDP in the 1950s and 6% in the 1960s. These decades were marked mostly by robust growth. Following the height of public investment in the 1950s and 1960s, our nation’s economy grew at an annual average of more than 3% from the 1960s through the 1990s. As we’ve devoted a dwindling share of resources to priorities like cutting edge technologies and better roads, however, economic growth has declined. Our growth rate fell below 2% in the 2000s, and CBO projects growth rates around 2.3% in the coming decades. While we understand that there are numerous factors affecting the nation’s growth, this overall trend threatens middle class opportunity and our nation’s ability to compete and prosper.

This is a winning message for conservatives, as it allows them to tie misplaced government spending to economic decline. When the former editor of the NY Times writes, "We should make a sensible reform of entitlements our generation’s cause", clearly the political ground is shifting beneath Obama's feet.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:35 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

July 27, 2012

Friday Morning Tune

Something peaceful to listen to while you drink your coffee:

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down...

Posted by Cassandra at 08:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dumbed Down

Last week, the Editorial Staff noted that today's pop music is sadder and more emotionally ambiguous, but also more narcissistic and self absorbed than the pop music of yesteryear:

Vocalists often warm up by singing “Mi, mi, mi, mi, mi.” But increasingly, the songs they perform — or at least those that make the top 10 lists – are odes to “Me, me, me, me, me.”

Clear evidence of American society’s increasing narcissism can be found in our best-selling popular songs. That’s the conclusion of a study just published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts.

Compared to a quarter-century ago, “Popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self,” reports a team of researchers led by University of Kentucky psychologist C. Nathan DeWall.

Yesterday, we posted a half-serious retrospective on the evolution (or should we say, devolution) of songs about wooing women.

And the hits just keep on comin'!

It is a familiar complaint from those of a certain age: today’s pop music is louder and all the songs sound the same. It turns out they are right.

Research shows that modern recordings are louder than those of those of the 1950s and 60s. They are also blander, with less variety in terms of chords and melodies.

The finding, which will come as no surprise to all those over the age of 35 or so, comes from Spanish researchers who carried out a computer analysis of the key features of almost half a million pop, rock and hip hop songs from 1955 to 2010.

...Wannabe musicians looking for a hit should turn to the past for inspiration, said the researcher Joan Serra, of the Spanish National Research Institute.

Old tunes re-recorded with increased loudness, simpler chord progressions and different instruments could sound new and fashionable.

So let's recap. According to Scientists And Other Experts, compared to the music we grew up with, today's music is:

- more depressing
- more emotionally ambiguous
- more narcissistic
- crudely sexual
- less musically complex
- louder
- less creative/original

We hate to be gloomy on a lovely Friday morning, but wethinks a generation that ceases to improve upon the achievements of previous generations is not a good sign. As the article points out, musicians tailor their music to their audience.

What does it say about today's pop music audiences that what is - rightly or wrongly - perceived as appealing is a dumbed down version of the music their parents and grandparents listened to?

We lost patience with contemporary pop about a decade ago when we noticed how many artists recycle riffs from older music. Having grown up with a transistor radio all but glued to our shell-like ear, we are quite good at recognizing pop songs after just a few bars. So much of what we hear on the radio is repetitive and derivative. It's depressing, really.

Yikes. Mirror, mirror on the wall. We are our Mother, after all.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:02 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

July 26, 2012

Shorter Capehart: DNC Must Play the Race Card?

Via Memeorandum comes a post that might as well have been titled, "Why the DNC *Must* Play the Race Card". The author, Jonathan Capehart, suggests something that ought to be deeply disturbing to anyone who cares about race relations in America:

By telling potential voters “It’s OK to make a change,” the RNC is acknowledging all that I mention above. It’s OK to like the guy personally but not vote for him again. This is not a popularity contest. It’s OK to vote against the black guy. You gave him a shot. He gave it his best shot. He failed. And the most effective message is: “It’s OK to make a change” — and not be thought of as a racist.

Throughout Obama’s presidency, I’ve received more than a few e-mails and tweets from folks complaining that they are branded racist if they disagree with anything the president says or does. And it doesn’t help matters that I have seen more than a few e-mails and tweets from ardent Obama supporters doing exactly that. I have also seen instances of this on television and in print.

That’s why the “It’s OK to make a change” ad is the most dangerous for Obama’s reelection efforts. It give those few, yet crucial, undecided voters the pass they might be looking for to vote against Obama. So, squawk all you want about the unfairness of the “You didn’t build it” knock against Obama. It’s the “It’s OK to make a change” message that the campaign needs to counter as aggressively as the RNC is pushing it.

Someone please convince me that Mr. Capehart did NOT just suggest that the DNC "aggressively push back" against the idea that voting against a black President does not mean you're a racist. If you like the President personally, but are disappointed in the job he has done and think another candidate would do a better job of solving the problems we're facing, shouldn't you vote for the other candidate?

You should, if you want what's best for the country.

You should, if you believe elections are not popularity contests.

You should, if you think that competance is more important in a leader than charm.

The suggestion that voters should apply a lower standard to Barack Obama than they would to a white President is without a doubt the most profoundly cynical and "racially tinged" idea I can recall hearing during either the 2008 or 2012 race. It suggests that skin color trumps doing what's right for the nation. It implies that it's unacceptable to judge black leaders by their accomplishments - no, we should take their skin color into account too.

Isn't judging by skin color rather than ability what blacks have fought for generations to overcome? Isn't that precisely what Martin Luther King meant when he prayed for a day when the content of a man's character would be more important than the color of his skin?

How, by the way, would the DNC go about countering '“It’s OK to make a change” — and not be thought of as a racist' without arguing that "It's NOT OK to make a change when the President in question happens to be black... and if you do you're a racist."

In 2008, Barack Obama made an historic speech about race. That speech made me think. And it caused me to remember the people who shaped my beliefs about what race relations should be like:

When I was in high school, I dated a young black man for a while. During this time my father received PCS orders and we moved away. He, also, graduated high school and went away to a historically black college. In fact, it was my parents and I who dropped him off, freshman year. But though we no longer saw each other physically, we kept in touch.

We wrote each other long letters, and called when we could. I wondered at times, as young girls are wont to do, whether I would marry him one day. I can't say I thought much about the question of race. You see, this is not the way I was raised. It was not a topic that was ever entertained by my conservative Republican parents. To me, he was a boy I liked. He spoke as I do. He was intelligent and ambitious and good looking.

After several months, he invited me back to my former school for Homecoming. I was excited; so much so that my mother and I rushed out and began an orgy of sewing, working on my dress for the dance. Until just a few years ago, I still had that dress, believe it or not; made when I was quite young. I wore it to many a Marine Corps Ball.

When I arrived at my old school, however, I found that some things had changed. My boyfriend had brought new friends home with him from college; friends who didn't attend our high school. And they did not like me one bit; not that they ever said one word to me. So their dislike cannot have been personal. It was just, as it turned out, that I was white and they were not.

Despite my efforts to be sociable, it was clear I was unwelcome and he did not know what to do. And so, I left. I left, actually, in tears (though I did not let him see me crying). I was crushed. None of this is a big deal, or even the point of this story. The point is what happened next.

His mother found out.

And that woman, God bless her, taught her son the right thing. She made him take me to that dance and honor his invitation. She shamed him into apologizing to me and standing up to his new friends. And she herself, though she had done nothing wrong, apologized to me. I was stunned by the majesty of her anger with those boys, and made uncomfortable by her evident embarassment, and moved by her dignity and grace. And at the same time her actions healed something ugly.

What she did was to uphold a standard of right and wrong that applied, no matter what the color of someone's skin might be and no matter whether she personally approved of our relationship. This united her with my parents, of a different race and a different culture (for when I had spent time at his house before, it was often clear to me that he had been raised in a different culture from my own).

But we shared the same values. And though I was hurt and embarrassed, I tried hard that night to make it pleasant. And it was not so bad.

We never dated after that. But we remained friends. He came to visit me, years later. His best friend from high school (who happened to be be white) also came to visit me. He told me that my boyfriend felt he had let himself down. He was harder on himself than I ever was on him.

I am not sure we have to get inside each other's skin, to get along. I do think it is tremendously important that we try to come to some agreement about the broad standards of equity under which we plan to live our lives. These values are eternal, and they know no skin color. This is what Martin Luther King preached: what ought to matter to a man or woman is not the prism through which they view the world because if you will not resist the tendency to think and act as a white or black person rather than as a human being, you are part of the problem with race relations in America. What matters, is not the color of a man's skin, but the content of his character.

That is the conversation we should be having about race in America. We should be talking about color blind values and trying to take an honest look at whether our own experiences sometimes interfere with our efforts to live up to those values. Because the pain that lies behind the debate on race in America lies, not in "not understanding each others' anger", but in the refusal to see that if we can only learn to set aside the subjective prism of race when it threatens to betray our better natures, the rest will follow.

What is needed, in the post-civil rights era, may not be so much a thundering "Let my people go", but "Let go of identity politics." Treat those of all races as you would be treated.

This requires courage; the kind of courage my then-boyfriend and his mother showed many years ago, the kind of courage my parents displayed when they welcomed him into our home despite the prevailing opinions of the day. But imagine what the world could be like, if everyone just adopted that single standard?

Remembering the spirit (and the values) of those people - black and white - who shaped my view of the world, I have to ask Mr. Capehart the same questions I asked back in 2008 after hearing that speech on race:

If you claim the right to use race as the most important determinant of your identity, how you dress, how you talk, who you do business with, of your loyalties and your vote; by what right do you complain when those of different races employ that same standard?

If you rail against and reject the values and mores of the community you claim to want to join, by what right do you complain of not feeling accepted? Should society assimilate you against your will, forcing you to give up your cherished separateness?

If you say, "Don't treat me differently because I'm black", by what right do you then say, "You have to treat me differently, because I'm black."

If you constantly demand special preferences and race-based exceptions, by what right do you complain that you aren't treated equally under law? By what right can you object to "white privilege" or "Hispanic privilege"? Do not other racial and ethnic groups possess the same rights to promote their race-based interests over the general welfare of their communities, states, or country?

Racial solidarity and racial privilege always sound like such good ideas ... until they are used against you. This is not the way a great nation moves beyond a troubled past.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:07 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Evolution

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:24 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

July 25, 2012

Games Presidents Play

Barack Obama is losing patience with all these political games. Adults understand that during an election, things may heat up but there's a line that shouldn't be crossed. Where is that line? It depends on which Obama you ask.

There's the Obama of 2008, who promised to bring change to Washington, to raise the tone of the debate, to put aside the tired, partisan rhetoric of smaller minds for the enlightened tolerance and respect for our shared love of country:

"...what you don't deserve is another election that's governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won't hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon - that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first."

Or there's the Obama of 2012, who demonizes private citizens for supporting his opponent and (at best) allows his administration to persecute them in a way that makes the Nixon Enemies List look amateurish:

This column has already told the story of Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who last year contributed to a group supporting Mitt Romney. An Obama campaign website in April sent a message to those who'd donate to the president's opponent. It called out Mr. VanderSloot and seven other private donors by name and occupation and slurred them as having "less-than-reputable" records.

Mr. VanderSloot has since been learning what it means to be on a presidential enemies list. Just 12 days after the attack, the Idahoan found an investigator digging to unearth his divorce records. This bloodhound—a recent employee of Senate Democrats—worked for a for-hire opposition research firm.

Now Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted by the federal government. In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been "selected for examination" by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot's wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009).

Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more—that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC.

Two weeks after receiving the IRS letter, Mr. VanderSloot received another—this one from the Department of Labor. He was informed it would be doing an audit of workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers.

Unexplained in all of this is why an administration that not only refuses to enforce standing immigration laws but sues to stop states from enforcing them either suddenly thinks violations of those laws are worth investigating?

The Obama of 2012 clearly believes calling his opponent a liar and a felon is just "politics as usual":

No, we won’t be apologizing [for calling Romney a liar and a felon] and you know, sometimes these games are played during political campaigns.

The Obama of 2012 sees nothing wrong with publishing outright lies about his opponent:

As we noted previously and to its credit, the Washington Post has been critical of misleading Barack Obama attack ads on Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Now Time magazine has taken to fact-checking an Obama ad which hits Mitt Romney on a hot-button social issue: abortion.

Time magazine's Michael Scherer -- no Romney backer he -- slammed the Obama spot as "centered on a clear untruth," and delved into the comments the ad took wildly out of context in order to appeal to women voters on the basis of a "scary falsehood" (emphases mine)...

Here is the part that is false: “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion even in cases of rape or incest.” Romney has not backed a law like that.

His stated position since 2005, when he went from being a pro-choice politician to a pro-life politician, is that he supports an exemption for rape, incest and risk to the life of the mother. He said it here to the Des Moines Register in December of 2011, and here in the National Review in June of 2011. He said it all through the 2007 campaign. He even said it in 2005 in a Boston Globe Op-Ed announcing the end of his pro-choice approach to politics. “I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother,” he wrote. Not much nuance there.

According to the Obama of 2012, both candidates are grown men and grown men accept responsibility for what happens on their watch:

... as President of the United States, one of the things I’ve learned, and we just talked about was anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility. That’s what people expect. Harry Truman said the buck stops with me...”

Let's see if we have the Obama of 2012 straight. If you're in a leadership position (not on paper, or on an SEC filing, but actively doing the job), everything that happens on your watch is your responsibility.

Except, of course, for high unemployment, which is Europe's fault.

D'oh! Did we really say Europe? We meant Automatic Teller Machines

... and Congress. Definitely Congress.

Or was it The Shrub?

The list goes on and on:

the Internet.
the Arab Spring.
the Japanese Tsunami.

Automation.

The Obama of 2012 has blamed so many people (not to mention inanimate objects and natural disasters!) for so many things that there are entire web sites devoted to cataloging his serial refusal to take responsibility for anything.

Where is this mysterious line Obama claims should not be crossed? It's hard to tell from his own actions.

Attributing accusations from anonymous sources to your opponent? Doesn't everyone?

Calling out private citizens for donating to his opponent? Fine.

Allowing (and this is the charitable construction) your administration to persecute them? No problem.

Calling your opponent a liar and a felon? Perfectly legit.

Putting out ads media fact checkers characterize as "misleading, unfair, and untrue"? Or citing a fact check that previously debunked your claims as a source? Hey, these are games that get played.

Based on the President's record so far, we think we've found the perfect campaign song for him:

Just don't try the same tricks, because that would be crossing a line. And Obama is losing patience with such tactics. When it comes to this President, the buck stops there.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 24, 2012

Random Science Trivia

1. Well *that's* certainly a relief!

Don't pretend this hasn't been keeping you up nights.

2. Does this mean that Republicans were right to threaten to shut down the government over the debt ceiling hike?

Next time you are locked in a fierce negotiation, whether it's over a salary, a house sale or a business deal, it may not be a bad idea to make a few subtle, or even overt, threats, new research suggests. When negotiating, you're more likely to get what you want with a threat than by getting angry. ... both anger and threats led to concessions. Threats, however, were more likely to lead to a concession, though, because the research found that a perceived poise came with people who were making them. Threats, such as walking away from the negotiation, were seen as being most effective late in the negotiation process.

Of course calmn resolve may not matter much if the media characterize everything you do as unreasonable or motivated by anger.

3. If it doesn't work, maybe you're doing it wrong:

Even if all of the premises are true in a statement, inductive reasoning allows for the conclusion to be false. Here’s an example: Seventy-five percent of humans have brown eyes. John is a human. Therefore, John has brown eyes. That logic doesn’t work in the scientific method because it would be false 25 percent of the time.

A better "Therefore" conclusion would be, "There's about a 75% chance that a representative human selected at random would have brown eyes. But if John is a real person, the chance that he has brown eyes has more to do with his genetic heritage than with the frequency of brown eyed men in the general population."

I could tighten up the wording even more, but I'm on my lunch break.

4. Which doll does your 6 year old daughter identify with most?

sexy-plain-girl-dolls.jpg

Across-the-board, girls chose the "sexy" doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.

Monkey see, monkey do.

5. Yikes!

Women whose firstborn infants have a high birth weight may have more than double the chances of having breast cancer decades later in life, a new study suggests. Researchers found that women with big babies — those weighing in the top fifth of babies on a growth chart, or more than 8.25 pounds — had a risk of breast cancer that was 2.5 times higher than that of women with smaller infants. "We were surprised at how strong this effect was," said study researcher Dr. Radek Bukowski, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. "We were not expecting a large baby to be that strong a predictor of breast cancer."

6. The Blog Princess must be a cheap friend.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:02 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

July 23, 2012

Fun Facts About IQ

Since we're talking about the meaning of IQ scores today, here's some more grist for the mill:

Via The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement:
The single strongest predictor of a person’s IQ is the IQ of his or her mother.

We had never heard this before, but as a mother of two brilliant sons we're more than happy to take full credit :p

[drum roll]

Also interesting:
However, once you get beyond the school environment, it’s not a very reliable predictor of performance. Controlling for other factors, people with high IQs do not have better relationships and better marriages. They are not better at raising their children. In a chapter of Handbook of Intelligence, Richard K. Wagner of Florida State University surveys the research on IQ and job performance and concludes, “IQ predicts only about 4 percent of variance in job performance.” In another chapter of the handbook, John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David Caruso conclude that at best IQ contributes about 20 percent to life success.
And:
One famous longitudinal study known as the Terman study followed a group of extremely high-IQ students (they all scored 135 or above). The researchers expected these brilliant young people to go on to have illustrious careers. They did fine, becoming lawyers and corporate executives, for the most part. But there were no superstar achievers in the group, no Pulitzer Prize winners or MacArthur Award winners. In a follow-up study by Melita Oden in 1968, the people in the group who seemed to be doing best had only slightly higher IQs. What they had was superior work ethics. They were the ones who had shown more ambition as children.

Hmmmm... that last study doesn't seem to bode well for the theory that higher proportions of males in the top 5% of the bell curve explain The Patriarchy, does it? :p

This was interesting, too:

The Flynn effect has always been tinged with mystery. First popularized by the political scientist James Flynn, the effect refers to the widespread increase in IQ scores over time. Some measures of intelligence — such as performance on Raven’s Progressive Matrices in Des Moines and Scotland — have been increasing for at least 100 years. What’s most peculiar is how scores have increased:

1) Scores have increased the most on the problem-solving portion of intelligence tests.
2) Verbal intelligence has remained relatively flat, while non-verbal scores continue to rise.
3) Performance gains have occurred across all age groups.
4) The rise in scores exists primarily on those tests with content that does not appear to be easily learned.

What’s puzzling about this increase in general intelligence is that it appears where we’d least expect it. While one might assume that IQ scores could increase over time in terms of crystallized intelligence — the part of the test that measures particular kinds of knowledge, such as being able to count or vocabulary words — it’s actually increased on measures of fluid intelligence, which is the ability to solve abstract problems. This has led some psychologists, such as Ian Dreary, to conclude that “large differences in scores [between generations] are demonstrated in just those situations where similarity would be expected.” Flynn, meanwhile, marveled at the magical constancy of the effect: “It’s as if some unseen hand is propelling scores upward,” he wrote.

There is, of course, no unseen hand. In recent years, many psychologists have embraced the “multiplicity hypothesis” which argues that the Flynn effect is explained by a long list of factors, such as improvements in early education (especially for girls), removal of lead paint, increased sophistication of tests, better test taking attitudes and adequate nutrition.

However, despite the flurry of interest in the Flynn effect, one lingering question has remained unanswered: Does the effect apply to everyone? More specifically, does it apply to the right tail of the ability distribution, or those 5 percent of individuals who score highest on the IQ test? What makes this mystery particularly noteworthy is that many of the explanations for the Flynn effect seem particularly relevant to the left side of the bell curve, or those with below average scores. This suggests that most of the intelligence gains have come from solving low hanging fruit, fixing those glaring societal inequalities that meant millions of children lacked access to adequate food, education and medical care. Since we’ve made progress on these problems, one might suppose that the Flynn effect would start to fade, at least in developed nations. (All the low hanging fruit is gone, as Tyler Cowen might say.) Sure enough, some studies have concluded that the Flynn effect has begun to disappear in Denmark, Norway and Britain.

A brand new study, “The Flynn Effect Puzzle,” currently in press at Intelligence, and led by Jonathan Wai at Duke University, has found an interesting way to assess the right tail of the distribution. By looking at approximately 1.7 million scores of 7th grade students between 1981 and 2000 on the SAT and ACT, as well as scores of 5th and 6th grade students on the EXPLORE test, the psychologists were able to investigate the extent to which the Flynn effect exists in the right tail of the bell curve. The results were clear:

The effect was found in the top 5% at a rate similar to the general distribution, providing evidence for the first time that the entire curve is likely increasing at a constant rate. The effect was also found for females as well as males, appears to still be continuing, is primarily concentrated on the mathematics subtests of the SAT, ACT, and EXPLORE, and operates similarly for both 5th and 6th as well as 7th graders in the right tail.

In other words, the Flynn effect doesn’t appear to be solely caused by rising scores among the lowest quartile. Rather, it seems to be just as prevalent among the top 5 percent. The smartest are getting smarter.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:03 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

July 22, 2012

If A Tree Falls, Who's to Blame?

Coincidence? Or evidence that no good deed goes unpunished?

treefalls.jpg

It's never funny when someone dies, but the comments are priceless.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:09 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Trees as Exclusionary Weapons of Income Inequality

For the insufficiently outraged among the villainry, the Editorial Staff offer fresh evidence of the selfish, resource hogging perfidy of the Evillest One Percent. Arboreal inequality:

It isn’t always easy to spot income inequality. The disparate distribution of money among a population based on race, gender and other factors could take place in your own neighborhood, and you may not even realize it. Even when college courses and movements, such as Occupy Wall Street, try to teach people about the subject, it still remains difficult to comprehend.

On Google Maps, however, it’s pretty simple to see definitive lines of income inequality. And the tool can help us better understand how this inequality affects the integration of communities.

Tim De Chant discovered this phenomenon last month. De Chant is a journalist and ecologist who writes about population density and urbanization on his blog, Per Square Mile. He came across a March 2008 study that showed a correlation between tree density and income in urban areas.

According to the authors of the study, who surveyed 210 U.S. cities with populations greater than 100,000 people, when the population’s average income increases in a given area, the demand for trees also increases. Therefore, wealthier neighborhoods often have denser tree cover than poorer areas, making the tree a luxurious commodity.

... “The study says the relationship between tree cover and income is purely correlational, and I agree — to a point,” De Chant says. “Trees [also] provide numerous benefits that can save people money, which would make them wealthier in real terms, even if their incomes didn’t rise. Shade can reduce cooling costs in the summer. Trees filter out particulate pollution, which in turn reduces asthma incidences, cutting health expenses. They reduce stress and make people more productive at work. Tall trees also reduce crime, which can definitely help your bottom line if you live in a robbery-prone neighborhood.”

If ever we've seen an issue urgently requiring the swift intervention of the federal government, this is it. After all, as our author boldly asserts, arboreal inequality "affects the integration of communities"! To the trained eyeball, the weapons of exclusion and privilege are as obvious as the unearned gender privilege that oozes from a capitalist's every pore:

The partners tell Mashable about a book called Landscapes of Privilege by James and Nancy Duncan, which tackles the issue of “how the aesthetics of physical landscapes are fully enmeshed in producing the American class system.”

Never mind that these same experts attribute the alarming rise in Arboreal Inequality to misguided government intervention:

... our cities haven’t developed according to some natural law of urbanization or according to some invisible hand,” Armborst, D’Oca and Theodore write collectively in an email to Mashable. “They have been shaped by big and small decisions, many of them bad.”

The partners explained that suburbanization probably wouldn’t have bloomed without federal mortgage insurance, the mortgage deduction or the Interstate Highway Act. Nor would the suburbs be so segregated were it not for policies that made it easy for suburban communities to write and enforce exclusionary zoning codes, even when they violated the Fair Housing Act.

“The point is that things don’t ‘just happen.’ Behind every outcome in the built environment is a decision and tool crafted to enforce that decision,” says Interboro Partners.

There's a beautiful symmetry to the notion that the remedy for government intervention that had the unintended consequence of increasing income inequality turns out to be more government intervention. Surely, the only thing keeping the Evil One Percent from indulging their beautiful and natural desire for diversity and social justice is an insufficient appreciation for the subtle ways in which trees create and then reinforce artificial class divisions.

The sooner the rich are forced to give up their exclusionary gated communities and Landscapes of Privilege and move to the projects, the better we'll all be.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:01 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

IQ, Self Discipline, and Success

The Editorial Staff have a backlog of interesting items and not enough time to write about them. We saw this last week and wanted to sit on it (well not literally, because that would be uncomfortable) for a few days:

We accept that some people are taller than others, or darker- or lighter-skinned, or better at running. We also accept that these differences are due, at least in part, to genetics. Yet there is one area where we continue to insist that there cannot be any innate biological distinction between different people, or groups of people, and that is in our minds. The merest suggestion that there may be hard-wired disparities in intelligence causes the most terrible wailing and gnashing of teeth, even though such physical and mental variations – dictated by genes and environment – are exactly what you would expect in an abundant species that has adapted to just about every corner of the globe.

That taboo, however, may be breaking down. In his new book, the brilliant psychologist James Flynn, of Otago University in New Zealand, has revealed that, for the first time, women (in some developed countries) are systematically outperforming men in standardised tests of intelligence. This contradicts earlier findings which suggested that, historically, men have had IQs that were a couple of points higher – or rather, have performed marginally better on a whole slew of intelligence metrics, which measure subtly different things.

The reaction to this finding has been largely positive. Most reports have concentrated on women’s ability to “juggle” and to “multi-task”, with the conclusion: “Didn’t we know this all along?” Expect to hear the old clarion call of “men are redundant”, with the human male reduced to a shambling, knuckle-dragging brute lost in a sea of feminised modernity.

Imagine, however, that Flynn had found the opposite. Suppose that his trawl of standardised measures of intelligence in schoolchildren and young adults, in countries as disparate as Estonia, Argentina, Israel and New Zealand, had confirmed, once and for all, that men had slightly higher IQs. Would that finding be celebrated?

Of course not. Howling columnists would queue up to pour scorn on the very notion, stating that the idea of innate sex differences in IQ is utterly chauvinist. Others would take issue with the whole notion of measured intelligence: “What is IQ,” they would ask, “but a measure of the ability to do intelligence tests?”

We had to laugh at this a bit, because the whole "How much does IQ matter?" meme was lauded by much of the feminist crowd (and denigrated by the anti-feminists) during the many years in which the marginal superiority of male IQ scores was pretty much unquestioned. Expect to see the usual suspects perform a startling about face now that women may be (so to speak) coming out on top: anti-feminists will claim the test and the system are biased against men, while feminists who questioned the significance of that tiny difference in scores when men outscored women will fall all over themselves in their eagerness to drink the scientific Koolaid.

The recent rise in women's IQ scores strikes us as less interesting than people's reactions to it. For as long as I can remember, average IQ scores (and their variability and range) have been used to explain everything from why it's only natural for there to be more male than female scientists to why it is just silly to expect women to compete with men in the workplace. So, while we wholeheartedly agree with the idea that IQ is just one of many factors that determine success, we can't help shaking our pretty little head at all the times relatively higher male IQ scores were used to "explain" disparate participation and/or achievement in various endeavors.

We found this part especially intriguing:

First, we have to dismiss the pernicious but persistent fallacy that IQ is meaningless. The tests used today attempt to measure something called g, a measure of innate general intelligence that is divorced, as far as possible, from cultural and social bias. Thus questions tend to involve not word associations (which are influenced by your level of literacy and knowledge) but connections between patterns and shapes, order and structure.

Most psychologists now accept that while IQ (or g) may not be a measure of pure intelligence per se, it is certainly a measure of something that correlates very well with it. People with high IQs tend to end up with better qualifications, better jobs, higher earnings and longer lives. Crucially, they are also perceived as “cleverer”. Like it or not, being a successful human has a lot to do with being smart – and IQ, or g, does seem to be a fair measure of smartness.

This brings us to one of the most interesting – and scientifically counter-intuitive – findings to have emerged in the last 100 years: namely, that we are all, men and women alike, getting brighter.

I've always thought that IQ, or mental ability, or whatever you want to call it, was far more influenced by culture, environment, and education than we suspected. Moving around every few years, I couldn't help noticing that putting my sons in more challenging schools was inevitably followed by a sharp increase in their performance on not only tests of knowledge, but aptitude tests. I think the brain responds to being challenged - without enough stimulation, our ability to solve problems atropies just as muscles lose strength and size when we don't exercise. I also think that part of these increased scores reflects the fact that one side effect of mastering difficult coursework is increased persistence.

Simply put, part of the reason children need to be challenged in school is that they need to develop an appreciation for the relationship between self-discipline and success. Some studies have concluded that persistence and self discipline are better predictors of success than intelligence:

Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable, including report-card grades, standardized achievement-test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance. Self discipline measured in the fall predicted more variance in each of these outcomes than did IQ, and unlike IQ, self-discipline predicted gains in academic performance over the school year.

Thus, I found this article fascinating:

In a 1978 study, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and a colleague gave a series of puzzles to children, all of them about 10 years old. The first eight problems required some careful thought, but none was too demanding. The next four, however, were far too hard for anyone that age to solve in the allotted time. On the first eight, all of the youngsters solved the exercises and appeared to enjoy them. But everything changed with the impossible second set.

Reactions differed enormously. One group of students said things like, "I can't solve these problems. I'm not smart enough." They wilted in the face of failure. Children in the other group took a different approach: They kept telling themselves that they could solve the difficult problems with more effort.

Dr. Dweck and other psychologists have assigned labels to these two types of students. Students of the first sort are called "helpless" because they develop the idea that they just can't do something. If they continue to believe that they are generally smart, they still often become helpless because they are afraid to try anything new for fear that failure will undermine their self-image as "one of the bright ones."

Girls (and gifted students) are particularly vulnerable to the notion that their ability to solve complex problems is a fixed attribute outside their control:

... in Dweck and Mueller's study, there were no mean differences in ability between the kids in the "smart" praise and "effort" praise groups, nor in past history of success — everyone did well on the first set, and everyone had difficulty on the second set. The only difference was how the two groups interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when the problems were hard to solve. "Smart" praise kids were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective performers as a result.

The kind of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children has a major impact on the implicit beliefs we develop about our abilities — including whether we see them as innate and unchangeable, or as capable of developing through effort and practice. When we do well in school and are told that we are "so smart," "so clever," or "such a good student," this kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't. The net result: when learning something new is truly difficult, smart-praise kids take it as sign that they aren't "good" and "smart," rather than as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

Incidentally, this is particularly true for women. As young girls, they learn to self-regulate (i.e., sit still and pay attention) more quickly than boys. Consequently they are more likely to be praised for "being good," and more likely to infer that "goodness" and "smartness" are innate qualities. In a study Dweck conducted in the 1980's, for instance, she found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up compared to bright boys — and the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses.

We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because bright kids are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be adults who are far too hard on themselves — adults who will prematurely conclude that they don't have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

Even if every external disadvantage to an individual's rising to the top of an organization is removed — every inequality of opportunity, every unfair stereotype, all the challenges we face balancing work and family — we would still have to deal with the fact that through our mistaken beliefs about our abilities, we may be our own worst enemy.

This may just be my own confirmation bias talking, but I keep coming back to the conclusion that we're far too quick to attribute disparities in academic performance to forces beyond the student's control (overcrowded classrooms, sexism or "anti-male"/feminized schools, etc) rather than concentrating on what we know works: teaching children that success is a function of persistence, hard work, and self discipline - and then demanding from them the kind of effort that will make them successful adults?

We keep thinking the solution to every outcome we don't like is to lower our standards: to make things easier. I can't help wondering whether in our never ending struggle to remove every barrier to success, we're raising adults who are less resilient, resourceful, and persistent? What if the real solution is to make things harder?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:26 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

July 20, 2012

The Price of Civilization (And What We Take For Granted)

“I try to be very accepting. But I feel hate. I normally do not feel hate. But I hate Pepco.”

- An Unsatisfied Customer

My post on NIMBY power consumers who complain when their power goes out because of fallen trees but don't want the power company to trim trees on *their* property seems to have touched a nerve.

Here is a list of things that are not clear to me:

1. What kind of person plants a tree under or near a power line in the first place?

2. If a homeowner moves onto a property with existing trees under/near the power lines, isn't it the homeowner's responsibility (not to mention just plain common sense/enlightened self interest) to keep limbs clear of the power lines?

3. Whose responsibility should it be to remove dead trees and dead limbs on private property that will interfere with the rights of others outside the property lines if they fall?

4. Why should the power company EVER have to prune trees on private property?

Back in December of 2000, the Spousal Unit and I were looking forward to his retirement from the Marine Corps after 20 years of service. At the time, we were renting a nice brick townhouse in downtown Rockville, Md. We liked the area - the Editorial Staff went to high school there and it was near my parents' home - but real estate prices were sky high there.

So we looked farther away from the DC metropolitcan area. Eventually we found a lovely, lakefront lot in a quirky, crunchy granola neighborhood in western Maryland. The lot was fully wooded, as were all the lots across the street from us. The road was unpaved, but maintained by the PUD. It was in fairly good shape. The other homes on our street were 15-20 years old.

The interesting thing about our development is that it is mostly self governed. Libertarians often pine for a world with less government and fewer rules. There's just one problem with this: government and rules don't create themselves. People create them because the vaguaries of human nature bring us into conflict with each other, and competing rights must be balanced and disputes ajudicated.

I may have mentioned that the road in front of our idyllic lakefront lot was unpaved. "Not to worry!", we were told. The PUD is working on it and the road is scheduled to be paved within the next few years. Neighbors we talked to as we walked what would soon be our lot and poured over house plans told us, "Yeah... they've been saying that for years." There was a lot of good natured grumbling: no one believed the road would be paved anytime soon, but everyone loved living there. We all paid into a Community Development fund that financed improvement projects in the neighborhood.

When we went to close on the lot, we got the first of many surprises. The plat clearly showed we already had a sewer hookup adjacent to the house on our left. But the plat was wrong: when the house on our left was built, the developer took "our" hookup. So we had a last minute negotiation with the seller of the lot. He dropped the price and absorbed half of the $11 thousand dollar hookup fee.

Construction began on our home and it was scheduled to be completed in November of 2001. We visited our lot every weekend, altered the plans and made a number of improvements to the blueprints, shopped for custom lighting fixtures, added a stone fireplace and picked out tile for the kitchen, front hall and master bath. We moved the ceilings up a foot and moved several interior walls to improve the flow and added transoms over the french doors on either side of the fireplace to let in the filtered light from our wooded back yard. The house began to seem substantial - no longer the stifled dream of two people who had never lived anywhere longer than three years. This was to be our retirement home: eventually we'd finish the basement and our grandchildren would come visit us and we'd have that sense of permanance - of home - that military brats long for all their lives. We were near both sets of parents and most of our brothers' and sisters' families and if we were very, very lucky, maybe our kids would settle in the same area and we'd know what it was like to belong somewhere; to have roots.

It turned out that Osama Bin Laden had other plans for our lives.

We lived in our new home a mere 10 months before moving to California. The house was rented out and I didn't see it again for 2 years. By now, the road should have been paved. Once or twice a year, Miss Utility trucks would come out and spray paint lines on the ground and hope would rise like the sap in the hardwoods that surrounded us does at the first touch of Spring.

Three more years passed. It was 2007 and the Spousal Unit went to Iraq for a year. The neighbors down the street were getting madder and madder about the road. These were people who had built new houses (and apparently didn't do their homework before moving in). We decided to attend - for the first time, because now you see we wanted something - one of the community board meetings. We had complaints.

I wasn't too sure about the complaints, but felt mildly ashamed at never having offered to help run our small community. And I was curious about the holdups on the road paving. So I signed the complaint and attended the next meeting.

And my eyes were opened to a whole world I never knew existed. I should have known, because things don't "just happen". People don't twitch their noses like Samantha in Bewitched and presto! there's a pool or a playground or a lovely landscaped area or walking trails around the lake! It's magic!

Only it's not magic. It's hard work, and these people were doing it for no pay. And what I took away from that meeting is that you could not have gotten me to do that job for any amount of money. Patiently, these volunteers explained to us what was involved in getting our roads paved: the negotiations with lot owners who, although there were existing sewer easements on their properties, threatened legal action if trees and brush were cut back or trenches were dug. There was stormwater management, and negotiations with the county, and competitive bids that expired when the PUD couldn't get lot owners to cooperate.

In 2011, the Spousal Unit finally retired from the Marine Corps. Our road was still not paved, but paving had begun elsewhere in our village and big trucks came through and cut down trees in our beautiful woods to make way for sewer lines and storm drains and ditches. We decided that we had waited long enough. We wanted to build a garage on our property, but we couldn't do that because of the easements that were disclosed to us when we bought the house. They were right there on the plat.

Fair enough.

It is now 2012. The Unit and I drove past our old retirement home a while back and the road is still not paved. But it's getting closer.

In the end, my neighbors prevailed and the PUD spent a ridiculous amount of money to pave a small section of the road that stopped - I kid you not - just short of our driveway. They did this knowing that this temporary road would have to be torn up when the permanent road went in. I withdrew my support for the complaint and mostly kept silent when my neighbors complained about the stupid, evil PUD that solved complex problems and somehow managed to balance the interests of developers, lot owners, home owners, state officials, and a host of other folks.... slowly, because they had to forge compromises and build support for every.darned.thing.they.did. And they had to handle complaints from people who were too busy to learn about what was going on under their own noses, who weren't around when lot owners had to be contacted, and bargained with, and cajoled into "allowing" roads and sewer lines and stormwater management systems to be constructed. I had gone from wondering why it was taking so long to utter amazement that there had been any progress at all.

It's easy to complain when you have absolutely no idea what goes into the hundreds of amenities we take for granted every day: roads, schools, power and water, cable and DSL and phone lines. All of these things involve some diminution (heh...) of our rights. We have to pay taxes or respect easements, or deal with inconveniences like having to ask permission from Miss Utility before digging a hole on our own property and taking out half the street's electricity or cable.

But it's OURS, dammitalltohell!!! We should be able to do as we please on our own property. No more of those stupid, evil, ignorant bastards spending money just for the pleasure of descrating those cherry trees we planted under the power lines (because Lord knows, trees don't grow any taller over the years, do they?). Do they even know what they're doing? Why yes, it turns out they do know what they're doing:

Our foresters are licensed professionals who take great care and pride in the work they do with the trees in the communities Pepco serves. Combined, they bring more than 80 years of experience to work each day. Their educational background includes a Master of Forestry from Virginia Tech, Bachelors of Science in Forestry and Wildlife from Virginia Tech and West Virginia University and a Forestry degree from Paul Smith's College (AAS) just to name a few.

Their experiences have taken them to Bolivia and El Salvador working in agro forestry and soil conservation efforts for the United States Peace Corps to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate as the assistant grounds supervisor.

All are certified arborists and members of the International Society of Arboriculture.

I get it: we don't like big government or big corporations. And it's a natural human tendency to take things for granted, to resent what we have not taken the time to understand, not to consider how our little beefs fit into the mosaic of competing interests, opinions, and rights we call civilization.

But you'd better believe we expect our power to stay on. We paid our bill! Nevermind that trees are the #1 cause of outages, or that our failure to maintain trees growing on our property can impact countless others; even cost them their lives. Not our problem, really.

Unless, of course, the lights go out.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:06 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

July 19, 2012

Aieeeeeeeeee!!! Not In *MY* Back Yard!!!!!

Un.believable.

The big orange trucks emblazoned with the words “Tree Experts” rumbled into the neighborhood off Connecticut Avenue Tuesday with one mission, one target. Pepco had ordered them to slash limbs from the half-century-old Yoshino cherry trees that line the streets of Rock Creek Woods — part of the utility’s efforts to minimize frequent and sometimes lengthy power outages in Montgomery County.

As the men in hard-hats hacked away, Julie Marcis and her husband confronted the crew, pleading with them to stop ruining the trees.

“You feel like your insides are crumbling when you look at what they did,” Marcis said. “You have no control, you can’t do anything, short of throwing yourself in front of one of their trucks to stop them, which I considered.”

Like so many other Washingtonians, Rock Creek Woods residents were already furious with Pepco for the multiple days they endured without power during a relentless heat wave a few weeks back. Now neighbors here are angry over Pepco’s tactic to prevent future outages: the slicing and dicing of much-beloved Yoshino cherry trees.

The outrage in Rock Creek Woods and elsewhere in Maryland signifies the conundrum faced by Pepco: People get mad when trees fall on power lines and cause long outages. But residents also rage when they feel Pepco prunes too aggressively and spoils their neighborhood’s aesthetic charms.

If you think this is bad, imagine the reaction when PEPCO requests a rate hike to cover their lost revenue and the added expense of bringing in crews from all over the United States to restore power after the last storm? We're guessing it will sound something like this:

If you're beginning to worry that the situation is getting out of hand, don't. This gentleman is from the government, and he's here to help:

Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) [Admit it - you're shocked...] is so alarmed about aggressive tree pruning that he recently proposed a bill that would require utilities to make a “reasonable attempt” to notify property owners of tree trimming and to provide them with a “customer bill of rights.” Berliner’s bill would also generally prevent trimming trees along rural roads or in county-marked historic areas.

But wait - just when you think the existential angst can't get any more over the top, there's this:

“I feel pain in my chest,” said Val Campbell, a massage therapist who stopped her car in the middle of the road to talk with Marcis. “I try to be very accepting. But I feel hate. I normally do not feel hate. But I hate Pepco.”

“My head hurts,” Marcis said.

“I had a cherry tree that died about 10 years ago. I cut out a part, and had a ceremony for it,” Campbell said. “I burnt it as part of an offering. I was thinking of getting others in the community to do it, and have a healing ceremony.”

“Yes,” Marcis said, smiling. “We need healing.”

"I HATE PEPCO???" We can understand hating terrorists, or kitten bouncers, or Madonna but the guys who just worked around the clock to get our power back on? Really? The Editorial Staff take consolation in the thought that if the bill passes, the more vocal of these twits will be inspired to become human shields (thus delivering The Old Growth of Chevy Chase from the uncaring, specie-ist chainsaws and recklessly human centric folly of these ignorant, Gaia raping, Patriarchal Hegemonist Bastards).

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
No sooner is power restor'd,
But there springs forth some new distress.
To see Auld Growth used so savagely! 'Tis passing hard,
As evidenced by the plaintive cry: "Not in MY backyard"!

– Alexander Dope, An Essay on Disgruntled Consumers

Posted by Cassandra at 05:05 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Tax Shenanigans, In Context

Because the blog princess is a truly amazing human being who cares deeply about the wellbeing of each and every one of you angry, snake handling, self aggrandizing Red State types, she has constructed what may well be The Most Confusicating Tax Chart Ever.

You may now grovel abjectly before her. Her latest effort is prefatory to a delightful discussion of tax policy, which (due to her unceasing efforts on your behalf) will hopefully be an informed one.

On the bright side, the Princess now has a renewed appreciation for the transporting unhelpfulness of most tax charts. It makes little sense to look at how marginal tax rates for the highest earners have changed over time (as this chart, and about 90 gazillion others do) without also taking the changing composition of the highest tax bracket into account.

This may enhance your understanding of how our tax policies have changed over the last 60 years. Or it may cause you to head for the liquor cabinet. Three guesses which effect it had upon Moi?

At any rate, enjoy:

taxttrends.png

Data source: ABC News and the Tax Policy Center. I should note here that I strongly suspect the historic cutoffs for the top tax bracket are not in constant dollars, but don't have time to prove it. If I find out, I reserve the right to revise the chart but given the wild swings in the cutoff, I'm not sure that matters as much as I hope it doesn't.

Confused and vaguely frightened? You're not the only one.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:49 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Men of VC...

...take notice:

It was revealed today that Channing Tatum has the bottom that most men desire.

So for all the men lacking in the bottom department wanting to add a little something extra to their behind, there is finally a solution.

And it comes in the form of the first ever derrière enhancing pants.

We have often wondered to ourselves (mostly because wondering to other people is difficult) who had the bottom that most men desire? We are surprised - we would have thought it was Kim Kardashian's.

Just remember: you heard it here first.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:40 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

July 17, 2012

Economic Tipping Points and Top Down Solutions

On both sides of the political aisle, election rhetoric has been dominated by a Big Idea: that we should place our faith in top down rather than bottom up solutions. The big idea is articulated differently, depending on the audience. On the Left, we have the President arguing that capitalism is the problem and big government is the solution. In an inherently unfair world, individuals can't succeed without outside help:

... look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet." . . .

To a nation bombarded by daily reminders of income inequality, a stagnant job market and an out of control federal budget, it's an emotionally seductive argument. Those horrid rich people didn't really earn what they have - they just figured out a way to freeload on the hard work of others. And if they didn't really earn what they have, then there is no real moral argument against the public confiscating those ill gotten gains ... for the public good, of course.

But there's an even more seductive corrollary to this argument: if the well to do don't deserve the credit for their success, then it would seem to follow that the less well off aren't to blame for not being able to realize the American dream. Someone moved cheese that rightfully belongs to them.

The argument on the right amounts to the same message - individual helplessness against larger forces - couched in different language:

I've been trying to figure out what bothers me so much about Newt Gingrich's impressive ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth. I've finally decided that my disgust has less to do with Gingrich himself than with our, and by "our" I mean Republican-leaning voters, odd belief that if we can just get the right person in the Oval Office, he will magically reverse over 75 years of steady growth in the federal government.

I have some doubts on that score, and so should you.

We seem to be taking that old chestnut about conservatives standing athwart history and yelling, "Stop" literally. Faced with runaway government spending and runaway government debt, it's a seductive fantasy. If only we could shout, "Enough!" - no need to discuss anything, no need for debate or compromise, the law be damned. I have a problem with this: I don't want a single person in either party to have that much power. And in point of fact the President of the United States doesn't have that much power under the Constitution. Our system of government was designed to ensure than no one branch and no one person would be able to bring about sweeping changes in the law without first building support for those changes.

We're still looking for a hero to save us from ourselves, but there's a problem: our elites aren't like the elites of yesteryear. We just can't manage to get excited about a pivotal election in a time of crisis because none of the candidates has a snowball's chance in hell of living up to our inflated expectations:

... people know that what America needs right now is the leadership of a kind of political genius. Second, they know neither of the candidates is a political genius.

That's why it seems so flat when you talk to voters or political professionals.

It's as if the key job opened up just when the company might go under. A new CEO would make all the difference. But none of the applicants leaves the members of the board saying, "This guy is the answer to our prayers." In the end, they'll make a decision, and it will be a prudent, tentative one: "This one seems a bit better than that one."

Why do people think we need a kind of political genius? Because they know exactly how deep our problems are and exactly how divided our nation is. We need a president who knows and understands politics because he knows and understands people and can galvanize them. When he speaks, you listen, in part because you believe he'll give it to you straight, in part because his views seem commonsensical, in part because something in his optimism pings right into your latent hopefulness, and in part because he's direct and doesn't hide his meaning in obfuscation, abstraction, clichés and dead words.

I think maybe we're selling ourselves a bit short. What if the solution to our current economic difficulties turns out not to be a top down, but a bottom up solution? Stories like this suggest that a sea change in the way Americans think of government is more likely to flow organically from current events than from political rhetoric, no matter how inspired:

North Las Vegas city leaders, prohibited from declaring bankruptcy, unanimously decided last month to declare their own state of fiscal emergency. The unprecedented move has drawn mixed reviews from town residents and a lawsuit from police brass who claim the novel twist on what makes for an emergency is nothing more than an attempt by conservative activists to bust their union.

"We've balanced our budget, we've paid all of our bills [and] all of our bonds are paid," Mayor Sharon Buck recently explained before addressing a community meeting to go over North Las Vegas' finances. "Our biggest issue is salaries and compensation and benefits. And they're very unsustainable. We can't continue to do what we've done in the past."

What if the current trickle of cities signaling impending bankruptcy becomes a torrent? Reality has a funny way of cutting through abstract political arguments. It gets to the heart of things: to our growing sense that trends that can't continue indefinitely, won't:

Because transfer payments are, in effect, the opposite of taxes, it makes sense to look not just at taxes paid, but at taxes paid minus transfers received. For 2009, the most recent year available, here are taxes less transfers as a percentage of market income (income that households earned from their work and savings):

Bottom quintile: -301 percent
Second quintile: -42 percent
Middle quintile: -5 percent
Fourth quintile: 10 percent
Highest quintile: 22 percent

Top one percent: 28 percent

The negative 301 percent means that a typical family in the bottom quintile receives about $3 in transfer payments for every dollar earned.

The most surprising fact to me was that the effective tax rate is negative for the middle quintile. According to the CBO data, this number was +14 percent in 1979 (when the data begin) and remained positive through 2007. It was negative 0.5 percent in 2008, and negative 5 percent in 2009. That is, the middle class, having long been a net contributor to the funding of government, is now a net recipient of government largess.

I took the liberty of creating Yet Another Scary Chart from Mankiw's calculations:

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What if there's an alternative to the nightmare scenarios posed by both sides? (Grandma will have to go back to eating dog food!!!11! Communists will take over and steal our cornflakes!) Such a middle way is hinted at in an article written to convince us that socialism is the key to prosperity:

Martin also slashed funding to social programs. He foresaw that crippling deficits imperiled Canada’s education and health- care systems, which even his Conservative predecessor, Brian Mulroney, described as a “sacred trust.” He cut corporate taxes, too. Growth is required to pay for social programs, and social programs that increase opportunity and social integration are the best way to ensure growth over the long term. Social programs and robust capitalism are not, as so many would have you believe, inherently opposed propositions. Both are required for meaningful national prosperity.

I'm not convinced of the superiority of the Canadian system. What interests me here is the suggestion that even the most ardent supporters of big government can be persuaded to support cuts in entitlement spending, once it becomes apparent that such cuts are necessary to ensure the survival of the social safety net. What if all We the People need to unite behind sensible budgetary reform is a powerful object lesson?

Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle dragging fascists :)

Posted by Cassandra at 08:24 AM | Comments (66) | TrackBack

This Week's Traveshamockery

In the comments to another thread, Texan99 brought up a popular meme: first world problems. You know something is catching on when even dogs can't wait to one-up their owners:

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In today's Ideas Market, Christopher Shea serves up a deliciously named first world problem - time famine. The solution, it turns out, to that gnawing sense of time inequality is to stop thinking about yourself:

A sense of ”time famine,” which has reached epidemic levels in modern society, can wreak havoc on one’s psychological and physical health. A new study suggests a counterintuitive remedy: Give some of your precious time away to other people.

In one of several experiments exploring variations on this theme, 45 minutes into a one-hour laboratory session at an East Coast university, 136 students either were asked to help an “at risk” student by editing a college essay, for 15 minutes, or told that someone else had already done the editing — so they were free to leave class early, and spend the time windfall however they pleased. The students who stayed to do volunteer work were less inclined than the others to say that time was their “scarcest resource,” and they also reported (on a 11-point scale) the impression that, in general, they had more time to spare.

Questions of cause and effect aside (did the students who stayed to help, do so because they already felt less time-famished (/drama), or was enhanced "time affluence" a result of giving to others?), the study's conclusions were interesting in light of yesterday's discussion about how self absorption tends to make us miserable.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Apparently, Reading Really *Is* Fundamental...

...to honing our use of the English language. A college professor talks about how the decline of reading affects a generation's communication skills:

Is it true that college students today are unprepared and unmotivated? That generalization does injustice to the numerous bright exceptions I saw in my 25 years of teaching composition to university freshmen. But in other cases the characterization is all too accurate.

One big problem is that so few students are readers. As an unfortunate result, they have erroneous, and sometimes hilarious, notions of how the written language represents what they hear. What emerged in their papers and emails was a sort of literary subgenre that I've come to think of as stream of unconsciousness.

Some of their most creative thinking was devoted to fashioning excuses for tardiness, skipping class entirely, and failure to complete assignments. One guy admitted that he had trouble getting into "the proper frame of mime" for an 8 a.m. class.

Then there were the two young men who missed class for having gotten on the wrong side of the law. They both emailed me, one to say that he had been charged with a "mister meaner," the other with a "misdeminor."

Another student blamed "inclimate weather" for his failure to come to class, admitting that it was a "poultry excuse." A male student who habitually came late and couldn't punctuate correctly had a double-duty excuse: "I don't worry about my punctual errors."

To their credit, students are often frank when it comes to admitting their shortcomings and attitude problems. Like the guy who owned up to doing "halfhazard work." Or the one who admitted that he wasn't smart enough to go to an "Ivory League school." Another lamented not being astute enough to follow the lecture on "Taco Bell's Canon" in music-appreciation class.

For some reason, the Editorial Staff are reminded of an old joke about the ability of alcohol to make English one's second language. This would be more amusing if we weren't talking about native English speakers.

We laughed, anyway :)

Posted by Cassandra at 07:27 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

And In Other News, Chivalry Not Dead...

A Grim's Hall Reader? VC asks, you decide:

A 22-year-old Quebecois man is a on a quest to revive the values he says have been lost to the modern world: devotion, honesty, respect and goodness.

Taking matters into his own hands, Vincent Gabriel Kirouac has decided that by trekking across Canada, dressed in full knight regalia atop his trusty steed Coeur-de-Lion (Lionheart), he will single-handedly usher in a new era of chivalry.

...He was inspired by his devout Catholic faith to undertake the curious quest and he has not yet been disappointed.
A section of his website is devoted to religion, as people inspired by his journey often are called to prayer, wishing him only the best experiences on his trip.

This is only the first trip he plans to take. In 2014, Mr Kirouac will venture across Europe from Edinburgh to Jerusalem.
'I think this adventure is worth living. Not only for me but more because I hope to answer a problem that our society has: isolation,' he says.

'Holiness, Faith, Courage and Forgiveness, Respect, Humility, Justice, Devotion, Honesty, Goodness and prowess are the virtues of a sincere heart... [This] is the key of the project.'

Note the last name.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:19 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 16, 2012

"Artists" Gobsmacked by Human Nature

Today in Chronicles of the Intuitively Obvious, art curators at the tony National Gallery are shocked to find that the unwashed masses have a better feel for Art than they do:

It was supposed to be a tribute to a Renaissance master. But the National Gallery’s latest exhibition – which features women recreating nude scenes from Titian’s paintings – is attracting a type of visitor not normally found in the capital’s cultural landmark. Curators are disturbed at the plethora of ‘dirty old men’ who come to look through peepholes at the naked models, ignoring the masterpieces on the wall.

...Since the show opened last week, men have been sidling up to staff and asking for directions to ‘the peepshow thingy’.

One has visited five times in just seven days, while some older men have even complained to staff about the quality of the nudes – and the small size of the peepholes.

Apparently, the appreciation of Great Art requires gobs more education than is possessed by the average bear:

The Diana installation, part Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, was conceived by Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger, whose previous work includes a video of himself dressed as a bear wandering aimlessly around a gallery.

Damned cultural Philistines.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:04 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Feel Better Reads

Want to feel better about America? This story's a good place to start:

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Johnny Karlinchak, 8, was stunned when he saw that a 60-foot oak tree had crashed through his neighbor’s house in Springfield during last month’s storm . He immediately ran to his piggy bank, retrieved five quarters and handed them to her.

An hour later, he was standing behind a lemonade stand with a scribbled sign: “Mrs. Myers building fund.” He has put up his lemonade stand two more times, including on Saturday, and plans to continue doing so until he raises his neighbors’ $500 insurance deductible.

This was reflexive for Johnny.

While many people whose homes are intact have moved on from the storm, Johnny knows something about perseverance. He knows more than most 8-year-olds about compassion and surviving trauma.

“Being 8 years old, he’s experienced a lot in his lifetime,” said his mother, Donna Karlinchak.

Four years ago, he lost his 6-year-old sister, Kelly, in a car accident, and the neighbors rallied around Johnny and his family so much that they did not have to cook a meal for nine months. He saw his neighbors help raise $38,000 for a huge, state-of-the-art playground structure dedicated to Kelly at the swim center where the family plays.

Likewise, in the aftermath of her daughter’s death, Karlinchak started to come out of the darkest time of grief by extending herself to children in need.

She would regularly have Johnny around as her assistant. He would count the pajamas they were donating to a pajama program or tag along with her to a shelter.

“He just wants to help,” Karlinchak said.

Friday evening after work, I downloaded The President's Club to my Kindle Fire. It's the perfect antidote to the growing sense that politics is all about partisanship and cynicism.

Finally, VC commenter extraordinaire Eric Hines has written not one, but two books! That's an amazing achievement. Check out his sidebar for more information.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:20 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

First Person, Singular

A while back the Editorial Staff saw this study, but didn't quite know what to make of it:

Between 1965 and 1969, 85 percent of the top 40 Billboard hits were written in a major key. But as the decades have passed that number has fallen dramatically: Between 2005 and 2009, only 42.5% of hits were in a major key. For the same time period, the tempo of hit songs dropped, from slightly more than 116 beats per minute to about 100.

The headline-grabbing implication of the finding is that pop music is getting sadder. Sad-sounding music tends to be in a minor key and have a slow tempo; happy-sounding music, more often than not, has the opposite characteristics.

It seems odd that popular music would be sadder than it used to be. Our generation had so much more than our parents did: more (and nicer) clothes, money, opportunities (college, career), choices. We live in a more tolerant, diverse world with less restrictive gender roles and fewer rigid, judgmental standards. We've cast off the outdated sexual mores that supposedly (or so we were told) filled our parents and grandparents with shame and self loathing [sob!]. Ours was a kindler, gentler upbringing: where previous generations of Americans were spanked or even beaten with switches when they misbehaved, our parents were told that spanking would crush our little souls and turn us into violent sociopaths... just like them.

So what did all these enlightened advances get us? Today's children have more than we ever did... and yet their music is more downbeat, pessimistic, unhappy. Considering all the wonderful things we enjoy, shouldn't our music and culture be happier than it used to? In the midst of all these cultural and economic riches, what could possibly account for the growing deficit in our Gross National Happiness?

As tempted as we were to blame the usual suspects (feminism and Democrats), last week a possible explanation surfaced: maybe we're just thinking too much... about ourselves:

Vocalists often warm up by singing “Mi, mi, mi, mi, mi.” But increasingly, the songs they perform — or at least those that make the top 10 lists – are odes to “Me, me, me, me, me.”

Clear evidence of American society’s increasing narcissism can be found in our best-selling popular songs. That’s the conclusion of a study just published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts.

Compared to a quarter-century ago, “Popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self,” reports a team of researchers led by University of Kentucky psychologist C. Nathan DeWall.

Curious to find whether the increasing levels of narcissism documented in previous studies would be reflected in the music young people listen to, DeWall and his colleagues analyzed the top 10 songs in the U.S. for each year between 1980 and 2007 (as measured by Billboard magazine).

Using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program, which “counts the percentage of words in a body of text that correspond to various categories,” they analyzed the content of the lyrics in several related ways.

The researchers found the use of first-person plural pronouns (we, us, our) declined over the years, while the use of first-person singular pronouns (I, me, mine) increased. Words reflecting anger or antisocial behavior (hate, kill, damn) became more prevalent over the 28-year period.

Conversely, terms depicting social interactions (talking, sharing) became less common, as did the use of words conveying positive emotions (love, nice, sweet). These findings mirror “recent evidence showing increases in U.S. loneliness and psychopathology over time,” the researchers write.

This is troubling in the light of other recent research that found songs conveying antisocial messages tend to promote aggressive thoughts and hostile feelings, while those with lyrics promoting peace and love can increase empathy and encourage selflessness.

And it's not just pop music - a review of literature published over the last 50 years shows the same trend:

Researchers who have scanned books published over the past 50 years report an increasing use of words and phrases that reflect an ethos of self-absorption and self-satisfaction.

“Language in American books has become increasingly focused on the self and uniqueness in the decades since 1960,” a research team led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge writes in the online journal PLoS One. “We believe these data provide further evidence that American culture has become increasingly focused on individualistic concerns.”

Their results are consistent with those of a 2011 study which found that lyrics of best-selling pop songs have grown increasingly narcissistic since 1980. Twenge’s study encompasses a longer period of time—1960 through 2008—and a much larger set of data.

These articles had me thinking about being a brand new Marine wife back in the early 80s. One of the big challenges was mentoring younger wives (or just wives who were new to the military and the challenges that come along with frequent deployments). At every duty station, there was always a group of women who bloomed where they were planted. As far as I could tell, their lives weren't any smoother than anyone else's, but when they felt discouraged or lonely, they turned outwards: they volunteered, threw a party, found a job, took up a hobby.

And there was always a group of women who were miserable: every minor speedbump turned into a mountain of despair. They spent deployments - even short ones lasting only a few weeks - obsessing over how lonely they were without their husbands. They focused on everything they didn't have. I often found myself wondering what they did before they were married.

Though I sympathized, it was often hard for me to relate to the second group. I had two small children and rarely had the opportunity to attend fun events sponspored by the base or the command. Relatively speaking, they had plenty of money and time. The one thing I took away from those years was that focusing on how you feel or the perceived deficiences in your life rarely leads to happiness.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the advice we were given as children: "It's not all about you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Go out and do something for someone else - you'll feel better and so will they". A world that revolves around the individual is an impoverished, shrunken version of the real world, in which any one of us plays only a tiny part.

It's an oddly comforting thought.

Update: speaking of self absorption... Good Lord:

How To Be a Woman follows its anti-heroine from her 13th birthday (182 pounds, friendless, fleeing from gravel-flinging yobs) onward, with stops along the way to praise masturbation, argue both for and against motherhood, celebrate her abortion, and more. Each self-deprecating chapter (“I Start Bleeding!” “I Become Furry!” “I Don’t Know What To Call My Breasts!”) is an occasion to explore how, from puberty through senescence, the modern female body has become a series of problems to be solved— usually at great expense to its inhabitant. There is, for instance, the upkeep of that new presumed depilation (“I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a vagina”); the tyranny of stratospheric heels (“The minimum I ask for my footwear: to be able to dance in it and that it not get me murdered”); ever-teenier underpants (“How can 52 percent of the population expect to win the war on terror if they can't even sit down without wincing?”).

Here's another gem passed down from adults during my childhood: quit worrying so much about what other people think.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:30 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 13, 2012

Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me

Quote of the Day:

The Obama campaign is also running an ad making a claim about Romney’s position on abortion that is wafer-thin, as Time's Michael Scherer demonstrates. But a fight about women's reproductive issues is a fight Democrats are happy to have; it is more than worth enduring a few boos from the crowd. Though the president makes it sound like he is the overwhelming victim of negative ads, that's not so. President Obama is a long way from the 2008 candidate who used to inveigh against political game playing. Though, even at the time, Obama was willing to say one thing and do another, and his campaign ran more negative ads than any in history.

This is further confirmation of an essential truth both campaigns have embraced about fact checking: The upside from a strong distortion is better than the downside from the hall monitors. If you're not getting four Pinocchios or a pants-on-fire, you're not doing it right. Let them boo—as long as the message gets through.

I'll say one thing for the Obama Permanent Re-Election Committee: you know your tactics are working when even your opponents think your unsupported accusations are "serious stuff" (though there's a "high probability ... that any investigation will discover [Romney] didn't lie to the SEC").

Yep... Romney may not be a felon, but "he stretches the truth for political advantage".

If we are this willing to believe the worst of our own candidates on such flimsy evidence, we might as well give up now. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of SEC filings, nor of corporate governance. I know that I don't understand these things, and I've seen plentiful evidence over the last 4 years that Barack Obama, et al don't understand them either.

I'm perfectly content to see this investigated, because my gut tells me that the Obama administration will end up looking deeply foolish, vindictive, and petty. Meanwhile, on the off chance that fact checks do make a difference, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler doesn't think there's anything to the Globe story. Neither does Fortune Magazine, or Factcheck.org.

Despite my longstanding sense that Obama will be re-elected in November, I had begun to feel distinctly hopeful about this election. I don't anymore. In fact, I don't think I've ever felt as hopeless as I do this morning. The other side doesn't have to beat us - we'll do it to ourselves.

We'd better get our priorities straight, and soon.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:54 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Male Emoticons....

...and other stories we construct to make the world seem more orderly and predictable:

I don’t text in long enough sentences to get in whether I think something is funny. In email, which I’m beginning to think is old-fashioned, I don’t use the bouncing emoticon because I think that is girly, but I use the little smile signs, with a colon and parentheses :) — a more male emoticon, where you comprise it yourself, because men build things? I don’t know.

The Editorial Staff found this amusing, as we have always rather favored the build-it-yourself smile thingy, mostly because we also detest the yellow happy face. Does this mean we're a man, trapped in a woman's body?

A while back, we ran across this post in Scientific American:

Dating back to the Great Depression, times of recession have consistently yielded anomalous gains for the beauty products industry, even while consumers rein in spending on household goods and recreational products. Journalists have dubbed this curiosity the “lipstick effect.” I recently sought to test the lipstick effect in a series of studies, the results of which were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Our findings confirmed that the lipstick effect is not only real, but deeply rooted in women’s mating psychology.

While economic recessions are a recent development in human history, fluctuations in prosperity and resource availability are not. Human ancestors regularly went through cycles of abundance and famine, each of which favorsdifferent reproductive strategies. While periods of abundance favor strategies associated with postponing reproduction in favor of one’s own development (e.g., by pursuing an education), periods of scarcity favor more immediate reproduction. The latter strategy is more successful during times of resource scarcity because it decreases the likelihood that one will perish before having the chance to reproduce.

For women, periods of scarcity also decrease the availability of quality mates, as women’s mate preferences reliably prioritize resource access. This preference stems from the important role that mates’ resources have played in women’s reproductive success. Because economic recessions are associated with higher unemployment and minimal or negative returns on investments, news of a recession may therefore signal to women that financially secure men—those able to invest resources in rearing offspring—are becoming scarce.

Now we might have fallen for this, had we not vividly remembered several articles about the bump in plastic surgery shortly after the financial crisis of 2008:

More people are getting everything from facelifts to liposuction these days. And it's the so-called less vain sex who is helping to drive those plastic surgery numbers up. New statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons revealed that cosmetic plastic surgery procedures among men rose 2% in 2010 from 2009.

Men underwent more than 1.1 million cosmetic procedures in 2010 -- both minimally invasive and surgical -- accounting for 9.9% of all cosmetic procedures last year.

(In 2010, 13.1 million people overall underwent plastic surgery, up 5% from the year ago period, according to the ASPS.)

Men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 make up the majority of cosmetic procedures, the ASPS says.

To what, you may ask, do The Experts attribute this decidedly masculine Man-ifestation of the Lipstick Effect? If you thought to yourself, "Obviously, this lipstick effect thingamajobber is not only real, but deeply rooted in masculine mating psychology", deduct 10 points from your IQ score:

Experts say the growth in male plastic surgery is partly due to the gender's efforts to gain marketability career-wise.

"Men have a new attitude toward cosmetic surgery than what we've seen historically," Dr. Phil Haeck, ASPS president and a board-certified plastic surgeon, told WalletPop. "Many stashed away some cash during the recession so they could come out of it with a younger look, ready to attack the job market."

Ann McMahon, a clinical psychologist based in New York City, says the still-tenuous economy and employment picture is driving older men to feel more competitive with younger men. "In our culture, younger is better" -- and that's true today more than ever, McMahon told WalletPop. And "lines and jowls are not [considered] attractive in our culture."

More men are undergoing plastic surgery "because of the economy specifically: There just aren't as many jobs out there. They're saying, 'Anything that will give us an edge, why not?'"

Well alrighty, then. Let that be a lesson to you, knuckle draggers :)

Posted by Cassandra at 06:49 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Friday Stressbusters

Something to listen to before you start the work day:

I could play with this all day.

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Posted by Cassandra at 06:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 11, 2012

Preglimony: the Insanity Continues....Part Deux

Part II of The Great Preglimony Debate starts up where the previous one left off, namely with one half of a couple (who apparently slept through the part of sex ed where the teacher informed them that risky choices can have life changing consequences, as well as the ones covering condoms and The Pill) wondering if some of those consequences might not be mitigated through the creation of a shiny new set of legally enforceable rights?

Ms. Roiphe's essay strays off into the twilight zone fairly quickly. You see, the real danger here is that the interests of those pesky expectant mothers might run counter to the interests of the pro-choice movement that supposedly exists to protect them!

The implications of Motro’s sensible stance to the pro-choice movement, though, are complex and thorny. The interests of protecting expectant mothers do not necessarily coincide with the interest of protecting abortion rights. Once you admit that the father is responsible to a woman carrying his fetus, you are halfway, at least in an imaginative sphere, to admitting that the fetus is a “life.” You are, in theory, extending the idea of “paternity” and implicitly the idea of the child, to pregnancy. (Motro chooses her clunky word “preglimony” carefully to avoid any implications of “child support” but the intellectual connection, the implication that there is a child, and not just a cluster of cells, is there.)

Once again, it's hard to know where to start. Ms. Roiphe clearly likes the idea that when two people fail to use birth control and a pregnancy results, both should share the consequences of that decision equally. But this is, quite literally, impossible because regardless of which "choice" a pregnant woman makes regarding the new life growing inside of her, women will always (James Taranto's odd insistence that bearing half the monetary costs resulting from a mutual failure of responsibility "rewards" the woman and "punishes" the man notwithstanding) face greater costs from unintended pregnancies - physical, mental, and fiscal - than their male partners.

If she decides to have an abortion, at the very least the woman will have to pay for an initial doctor's visit, pregnancy test, and the abortion procedure itself. These fiscal costs are customarily assumed by the woman, though men have in some cases voluntarily stepped forward to assume part (or even all) of the costs. But there are also physical and mental costs to abortion that, for reasons of biology, a man cannot share or defray. In all fairness, some men will also pay a mental or emotional cost - especially if he is willing to marry her or help raise the child, but she is not ready to be a mother. As Grim noted, that cost can be just as agonizing for some men as it is for some women. For others, regardless of whether they are male or female, abortion causes no mental repercussions.

The physical risks, however, are suffered solely by the woman. The more frequent side effects are fortunately limited to 2-4 weeks in most cases. Others, though rarer, can be devastating. No law or new right can mitigate these risks. That's not fair, but neither are the biological and cultural realities that place most of the burden of unplanned pregnancies on the female of the species.

If she chooses to bear the child, a woman can go to court to force (though this should not be necessary) the man to pay part of the cost of raising the child. But other costs - the medical ones alone average out to about $2000 for prenatal care and $6-8000 for an uncomplicated delivery, do not fall under some child support laws. She is likely to incur other fiscal costs: food, clothing, vitamins, reduced earning power and employability. And it's here that I'm torn.

On the one hand, I've always thought conservatives are too quick to minimize the monetary, physical, and emotional costs of bearing a child. Some act as though they are trivial, even going so far as to equate child support with welfare for the mother. I don't think much of such arguments. The poverty rate for single mothers is truly depressing, which makes the notion that large numbers of women view childbirth and the ensuing 18+ years of parental care as some sort of nefarious get rich quick scheme even more laughable than it seems at first glance.

But on the other hand, when I try to imagine the legal or equitable reasoning that could justify compensating women for the costs of abortion or pregnancy, I come up short. The tort of negligence might seem to apply: after all, both parties failed to exercise reasonable care, causing one party to suffer economic damages. But even here, the traditional defenses to negligence are problematic.

Contributory negligence implies that a man's liability for his own part in causing an unwanted pregnancy should be proportional to his own carelessness and/or breach of duty. But there is also the question of assumption of the risk when a woman consents to have sex knowing the risks involved. Her assumption of these known risks carries considerable weight, especially as biology makes the consequences more severe for her than for him.

In the end, though I do see an equitable argument, I just can't see holding men responsible for the costs of pregnancy. The true innocent party here, contra Ms. Roiphe's surreal suggestion that pregnant women exist to serve the abortion rights movement (rather than the other way around), is not The Movement but The Child. And I'm glad to see someone finally admit that that's what we're really talking about:

I don’t actually think it is in the interests of feminism or the pro-choice movement to cling so rigidly to outdated notions of “life.” It no longer helps our cause to try to argue that the fetus is not “life.” The reason for this, as people have noted, is that technological advances, like sonograms, where you can see feet on a fetus in the first trimester, have made those claims clearly and patently hollow to even ardently pro-choice people who have seen the black and white staticky fuzziness take shape into human form. How can we possibly claim that the moving creature, with feet and toes that we can see, is not “life”?

It seems to me that the pro-choice movement doesn’t need to cling to these ideas, or this rigid ’70s-era idiom, to make its central argument acceptable to the larger public. The idea that a woman should control her reproductive choices is still a vivid and moral one even to a population that understands full well that a fetus is a baby-in-progress.

Can we admit that a woman has the right to choose, while also acknowledging what we see on sonograms? Can we say “embryos” and “fetuses” do represent some form of “life” without conceding a woman’s absolute control over the womb that bears them? A person who has had an abortion knows, and in fact has always known, and experienced very intimately this charged ambiguity: An unborn fetus that is wanted is a “baby,” and an unborn fetus that is not wanted is a “fetus.”

Can abortion rights survive honest discussion of what we're really talking about: a profoundly disquieting ranking of the interests of two adults who could have avoided creating a new life above the interests of a helpless child who had no such "choice"?

I think so. But it will be a lot harder sell. And I think that's a good thing, because it should be.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Obama Talks Most About What Matters Least

Reading Robert Samuelson's column this morning reminded me of something that's been bothering me for some time. Congress hasn't passed a budget in nearly 4 years, the federal deficit has exploded under Obama's watch, unemployment is still at record levels and the country is mired in a recession that dwarfs every economic downturn since the mid-20th century by an order of magnitude:

recession.png

So what does issue does Obama choose as the centerpiece of his re-election campaign? Outsourcing, which at best is responsible for a whopping 2 percent of American job losses... that is, if you ignore its positive effects:

It’s not that offshoring is a myth. No one knows its full extent, because comprehensive employment figures for international trade and money flows don’t exist. But there are estimates for some items. America’s huge trade deficit with China might have cost 2.8 million U.S. jobs from 2001 to 2010, says Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. (The estimate counts jobs created by exports and subtracts jobs lost to imports.)

Although that’s a lot, the loss in any single year would have been modest, and even the total is only about 2 percent of all U.S. payroll jobs (129.8 million in 2010). Also, offshoring is not all negative for U.S. employment. Cheap imports may have boosted U.S. economic growth — and job creation — by holding down inflation and increasing both consumer purchasing power and business profits.

The larger point is that developments in the domestic economy, for good and ill, still dominate job expansion and decline. The housing boom, consumer borrowing and business optimism powered the economy and job growth before 2008; and the financial crisis, housing bust and huge loss in household wealth depressed spending and led to huge layoffs and cautious rehiring.

This is the same guy who, faced with a housing bust that erased the net worth of American families almost overnight and a banking crisis that almost melted down the global financial system, decided to pour every ounce of Smart Power he possessed on....

Health care reform. What's the other thing Obama keeps hammering away at? Raising taxes on the evil, Chinese toy loving 1% to pay for more federal spending. Never mind that the numbers don't add up:

Estimates by nonpartisan groups such as the Urban Institute and Tax Policy Center show that without any serious efforts to cut spending, tax rates on the wealthiest people earning $200,000 or more — the group targeted by President Obama — would have to rise to prohibitive levels of between 77 percent and 91 percent just to bring the yearly budget deficit down to manageable levels of around 2 percent to 3 percent of economic output.

Obama's latest attention-raping distraction irrelevancy is this ridiculously dishonest ad about... [gasp!] Mitt Romney's stance on abortion:

The ad goes too far, however, with its claim that “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.”

First of all, there was no actual law for Romney to back. Rather, the Obama campaign points to an answer Romney gave to a hypothetical question posed by an audience member during a November 2007 Republican presidential candidates debate sponsored by CNN (during Romney’s first run for president).

Again, pay no attention to the fact that the President has exactly zero power to overturn Roe v. Wade. What you should focus on is Romney's hypothetical answer to a question about what he would do if something that isn't going to happen, happens.

We do not know about you folks, but we find it comforting to know that despite all the problems facing this country, the President is focusing the white hot laser beam of truthiness on imaginary problems and "solutions" that can't possibly improve the economy by more than a trivial amount.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Preglimony & Sex Lead To Equal Opportunity Silliness, Part I

What is it about sex that prompts otherwise sane and sagacious writers of both sexes to heretofore unseen feats of solipsistic sophism? [Full disclosure: we tried to work a few more scintillatingly sibyllant "s" words into the preceding sentence, but our alliterative powers generally require a second cup of coffee before they reach full potency.] The sexy sex foolishness begins, as it so often does, in the Opinion section of the Paper of Record:

FOR most of human history, a woman who became pregnant after sleeping with more than one partner had no way of definitively knowing the identity of the man with whom she had conceived. Likewise, a man whose lover became pregnant had no way of knowing for sure whether his or another man’s DNA was gestating inside her.

Since the 1970s it has been possible to genetically link a father and his baby with increasing levels of accuracy.... Since a small amount of fetal DNA is present in a pregnant woman’s blood, the pregnancy can be genetically linked to her partner through a simple blood draw from the woman’s arm.

One of the potential ramifications [of this new technology] is that men might be called upon to help support their pregnant lovers before birth, even if the pregnancy is ultimately terminated or ends in miscarriage. They might be asked to chip in for medical bills, birthing classes and maternity clothes, to help to cover the loss of income that often comes with pregnancy, or to contribute to the cost of an abortion.

Of course, plenty of men already treat the costs of pregnancy as a shared responsibility. But some do not, leaving the woman to shoulder the burdens alone.

As the saying goes, hilarity ensues. First up is a response linked via Grim, who comments:

I'm willing to accept that a man who gets a woman pregnant ought to take responsibility for providing for her needs during pregnancy. That all makes sense to me, although Taranto's objections regarding incentives do seem like relevant concerns.

But there can be no accommodation on the question of forcing a man to pay for the abortion of his own child. It's hard enough that we require a man to endure the killing of a child he may want, if the woman carrying the child decides that she prefers it dead. There can be no moral argument for forcing him to pay for the poisoning of his own flesh and blood.

Grim's response makes sense as far as it goes. Last time we checked, pregnancy requires the active participation of two people, both of whom have a non-delegatable duty to use birth control if they do not wish to conceive a child.

Admittedly no method of birth control is foolproof, but then few precautions in life are designed to withstand the combined efforts of not one, but two fools. The actual failure rate for most birth control methods (which measures their effectiveness when used carelessly or inconsistently) far exceeds the "perfect use" failure rate (the chance of unplanned pregnancy when a given method is used correctly and consistently).

If both partners take the physical risks of casual sex (pregnancy and STDs) seriously, each will use birth control and take precautions against sexually transmitted diseases. Two methods offer more protection than one alone. Thus, when both partners use birth control - even badly - the chance of unintended pregnancy is vanishingly small. The actual failure rate for condoms is about 15%. For the Pill, it's about 8%. The combined failure rate using these two methods (someone please correct me if I've done this wrong) should be .15*.08=.0120, or about 1%. Keep in mind that this combined failure rate applies when both parties fail to use their respective methods correctly. If one partner uses birth control correctly, the risk will be smaller. And if they both use birth control responsibly, the combined failure rate is so small as to be insignificant.

Moreover, this particular discussion assumes two sexual partners who are unmarried and thus in many cases, not in an exclusive relationship. So in addition to the pre-existing duty of both partners to use birth control, the man has an additional incentive to use a condom: the prevention of STDs. Here, simple biology places most of the burden on the male. Female contraceptives are not designed to prevent the transmission of many STDs. The importance of these inconvenient calculations becomes clear when reading Taranto's response to the preglimony proposal. Mr. Taranto's first objection rests on ostensibly practical grounds:

Motro is vague about the details--in particular, the question of how a DNA sample would be extracted from an unwilling man. It does seem clear, however, that she means "asked" as a euphemism for "forced," as when President Obama "asks" the "rich" to "contribute" by paying higher taxes.

At first, one is tempted to think he has never heard of paternity suits, but Mr. Taranto later acknowledges that legal mechanisms for holding unwed fathers financially accountable for children they choose to sire (and refusing to use birth control - or use it correctly - IS a reproductive choice) already exist and are fairly commonplace:

Motro's proposal would bring back the shotgun, but without the wedding. To some extent it would merely extend existing practice, in which courts sometimes order fathers to pay child support even when they have never been married to the mothers. But it differs in that it would make the father responsible for the mother's welfare, not just the child's.

This seems a tad misleading. Ms. Molto's suggestion doesn't make the father responsible for the mother's welfare. It merely asks him to share the costs of their joint carelessness. Oddly, Mr. Taranto seems surprised and vaguely offended at the suggestion that an adult male who could easily prevent unwanted pregnancies should be expected to suffer the predictable costs of his beautiful and natural refusal to protect himself. The myth of consequence free sex (for men, at least) dies so beautifully. Things get stranger a few paragraphs later:

Before the pill and abortion, unwanted pregnancy was a foreseeable risk of sexual intercourse, one that was equally beyond the control of both partners. Afterward, the matter was entirely under the control of the woman. It was, and is, a woman's choice whether to use the pill and, if pregnancy results anyway, whether to have an abortion.

It's hard to know what to say here. Condoms have been in existence since the year 3000 BC. Herbal contraceptives, natural abortifacients, and intrauterine devices in various forms have been around nearly as long as the condom. By 1920, well before Betty Friedan single handedly destroyed Western Civilization as we knew it, American couples, using a combination of condoms and other well known birth control methods, had already cut the U.S. birth rate in half. And that was before mandatory sex ed hit the public school system:

In the 1920s, the U.S. birth rate drops by half. Condom reliability is still terrible by modern standards, but people achieved effective birth control by combining condoms, the rhythm method, male withdrawal, diaphragms, and/or intrauterine devices.

Nowhere in Taranto's column does he mention the availability of condoms. This is not an inadvertent omission: a few paragraphs later he repeats his astounding assertion that men have no ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies, following it up with an even loopier conclusion:

Short of surgical sterilization, the only way single men could be assured of avoiding shotgun nonmarriage would be to abstain from sex. As we noted in April, there is evidence that teen boys are doing just that. But while male teen abstinence may be desirable, only female abstinence can prevent out-of-wedlock births.

Now wait just a durned minute! Doesn't it take two people - a man and a woman - to create an unwanted baby? Male abstinence is just as effective in preventing pregnancies as female abstinence. What is it about sex that causes rational adults to make such blissfully afactual arguments?

The real objection to Taranto's analysis is he proposes to replace one distasteful solution to the "problem" of asymmetrical consequences with another that's just as bad. He would counter the feminist vision of female sexual irresponsibility with an equal dose of male irresponsibility, conjuring up a brave new world in which infantilized men can't be expected to protect themselves from STDs, nor lift a fingerlike appendage to prevent a predictable consequence of casual sex: the creation of children they are unwilling to support.

It's worth noting that Molto's preglimony proposal, however impractical, does not ask men to bear ALL the responsibility for the costs of an unwanted pregnancy. Rather, it asks men to SHARE responsibility for those costs. On equitable grounds, it's hard to argue against such a proposal (with the exceptions cited by Grim: a man should never be forced to split the cost of killing a child he is willing to raise, and if he is willing to raise that child then the mother should be "forced" (!) to pay her share of the child's support). It is far from certain that the majority of unwed fathers actually desire to take on that responsibility. But where they do, it would be both cruel and unjust to force them to subsidize the ending of a life they value, even if the mother does not.

Finally, the Brookings study Taranto cites at the beginning of his essay takes issue with his assertion that financial subsidies for unwed mothers cause more out of wedlock births:

Efforts by social scientists to explain the rise in out-of-wedlock births have so far been unconvincing, though several theories have a wide popular following. One argument that appeals to conservatives is that of Charles Murray, who attributes the increase to overly generous federal welfare benefits. But as David Ellwood and Lawrence Summers have shown, welfare benefits could not have played a major role in the rise of out-of-wedlock births because benefits rose sharply in the 1960s and then fell in the 1970s and 1980s, when out-of-wedlock births rose most. A study by Robert Moffitt in 1992 also found that welfare benefits can account for only a small fraction of the rise in the out-of-wedlock birth ratio.

Somewhat ironically, the conclusion to the Brookings study recommends the very thing Taranto fears will cause men to abstain from casual sex (a consummation devoutly to be avoided!) and drop out of the sexual marketplace: make fathers share the costs of unplanned pregnancies!

It has been suggested that measures should be taken to make fathers pay for the support of their out-of-wedlock children. While probably difficult to enforce, such measures give the correct incentives. They will make men pause before fathering such children and they will at least slightly change the terms between fathers and mothers. Such measures deserve serious consideration.

When it comes to sex, reasoned argument seems to fly right out the window. Part II will dissect a feminist response to the preglimony proposal.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:16 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

July 10, 2012

Sacre Bleu! WaPo Finally Investigates Obama's Record on Outsourcing!!!

... albeit with nowhere near the zeal they displayed in their front page investigation of Bain Capital. Most of the article deals with Obama's failure to
crack down on companies that outsource. Shockingly, the Prez blames those Do Nothing Congresscritters:

While White House officials say they have been waiting on Congress to act, Obama’s critics, primarily on the political left, say he has repeatedly failed in other ways to protect American jobs from being moved overseas. They point to a range of actions they say he should have taken: confronting China, reining in unfettered trade and reworking a U.S. visa program that critics say ends up sending high-tech jobs abroad.

...“I think he has walked away from the campaign commitments,” said Scott, the institute’s director of trade and manufacturing policy research. “He has done far too little to improve U.S. trade.”

According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, large American companies in 2010 barely added any workers in the United States, increasing their numbers by 0.1 percent, while they expanded their foreign workforce by 1.5 percent. That was business as usual — between 2004 and 2010, the bureau reported, foreign affiliates hired 2 million workers while 600,000 were added by the companies at home.

...“The president could not have been more emphatic about his vision for trying to eliminate the incentives for offshoring and increase incentives to create jobs here,” said Brian Deese, deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council.

Translation: Unexpectedly(!), talking alone doesn't solve the problem! In a perfect world the President would gladly do more than emphatically repeating his own broken campaign promises, but those big meanies in Congress just won't let him! This latest in a never ending series of Presidential excuses would be more convincing if Obama hadn't been perfectly willing to go around Congress on issues he really cares about:

The health law and the 2009 stimulus package were unique examples of Mr. Obama working with Congress. The more "persistent pattern," Matthew Spalding recently wrote on the Heritage Foundation blog, is "disregard for the powers of the legislative branch in favor of administrative decision making without—and often in spite of—congressional action."

Put another way: Mr. Obama proposes, Congress refuses, he does it anyway.

For example, Congress refused to pass Mr. Obama's Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some not here legally. So Mr. Obama passed it himself with an executive order that directs officers to no longer deport certain illegal immigrants. This may be good or humane policy, yet there is no reading of "prosecutorial discretion" that allows for blanket immunity for entire classes of offenders.

Mr. Obama disagrees with federal law, which criminalizes the use of medical marijuana. Congress has not repealed the law. No matter. The president instructs his Justice Department not to prosecute transgressors. He disapproves of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, yet rather than get Congress to repeal it, he stops defending it in court. He dislikes provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, so he asked Congress for fixes. That effort failed, so now his Education Department issues waivers that are patently inconsistent with the statute.

Similarly, when Mr. Obama wants a new program and Congress won't give it to him, he creates it regardless. Congress, including Democrats, wouldn't pass his cap-and-trade legislation. His Environmental Protection Agency is now instituting it via a broad reading of the Clean Air Act. Congress, again including members of his own party, wouldn't pass his "card-check" legislation eliminating secret ballots in union elections. So he stacked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with appointees who pushed through a "quickie" election law to accomplish much the same. Congress wouldn't pass "net neutrality" Internet regulations, so Mr. Obama's Federal Communications Commission did it unilaterally.

In January, when the Senate refused to confirm Mr. Obama's new picks for the NLRB, he proclaimed the Senate to be in "recess" and appointed the members anyway, making a mockery of that chamber's advice-and-consent role. In June, he expanded the definition of "executive privilege" to deny House Republicans documents for their probe into the botched Fast and Furious drug-war operation, making a mockery of Congress's oversight responsibilities.

If the President really wants to make it harder for U.S. companies to outsource, why doesn't he go around Congress the way he has so many other times? Perhaps he's afraid of alienating his wealthy corporate donors - you know, those Evil, Bain-like One Percenters who make millions by sending "our jobs" overseas:

Obama’s second largest fundraiser is John Rogers, the CEO of investment giant Ariel Capital Management. He has raised more than $1.5 million for Obama’s reelection campaign. Bully for him, except for one thing: Ariel Capital Management owns a $48.6 million stake in Accenture, which just happens to be, according to the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, the nation’s “best” outsourcer.

And that’s not all for Rogers; he stated that he wants to intensify the trend that started with moving call centers and factories overseas to outsourcing “day-to-day activities” including pest control, landscaping, and secretarial functions. And Rogers isn’t ashamed one bit:

“We’re making a very big bet right now on outsourcing. People have generally soured on the idea, and many companies are trading at discounts to their private-market values. But we don’t think that view accurately reflects the powerful secular growth we’re going to see as companies and individuals outsource more of their day-to-day activities.”

Let's see if we have this straight. The President attacks American companies for outsourcing (or investing in companies that outsource) while taking money from rich donors who outsource or invest in other companies that outsource.

In the midst of what he calls The Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression, Obama's re-election campaign shows American businesses the way by outsourcing its telemarketing functions to Canada and the Philippines instead of hiring American workers. This is a rather amazing feat when you stop to think about it: first he raises money from progressives by blasting outsourcers, then he uses their donations to outsource jobs to other countries!

While publicly criticizing American countries who outsource or offshore, the Outsourcer in Chief - instead of creating jobs here - uses taxpayer-funded stimulus dollars to send even more jobs overseas!

The Obama administration had no problem with approving a plan by electric car company Fisker to use part of its $529 million federal stimulus loan guarantee to build its manufacturing facility, and the 500 jobs it supports, in Finland. Fisker employees were laid off at an old General Motors facility in Joe Biden's Delaware that Fisker was supposed to refurbish.

Speaking of GM, Government Motors, whose international headquarters is in Shanghai, recently announced it would be developing an electric car platform with its longtime Chinese partner, the Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC). The president has no problem with that, either.

As part of doing business in China, GM, which has become virtually a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. taxpayer, must share its taxpayer-subsidized technology with Beijing as a cost of doing business there, including that used in the heavily subsidized Chevy Volt.

According to a recent report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C., nearly $2 billion in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been spent on wind power. Nearly 80% of that money has gone to foreign manufacturers of wind turbines, the study found.

In public, the President praises insourcing. So what does he do when an American company tries to keep jobs here at home? Answer: he does everything in his power to punish them for practicing what he preaches.

But this shouldn't surprise us. After all, as the WaPo reminds us, this is a President who chooses to surround himself with supporters of outsourcing:

Diana Farrell, who was Obama’s deputy economic policy adviser for two years, promoted the benefits of offshoring while she worked at the McKinsey Global Research Institute. Farrell was the primary author of a 2003 report called “Offshoring: Is it a Win-Win Game?,” which concluded that the benefits to the United States of offshoring exceed the costs.

To recap, outsourcing is wrong and bad when American companies do it using their own money.... unless, of course, those companies are major donors to his campaign, in which case outsourcing is a perfectly sensible and legitimate way to cut costs and remain competitive in a global market. On the other hand, outsourcing and offshoring are good when the President of the United States subsidizes the creation of overseas jobs using other people's money (campaign donations or U.S. taxpayer funds). In fact, it's even better for America when his wealthy donors do it!

In a way, it's too bad that citizens of China, Finland, Africa, Canada, and the Philippines can't vote in our elections. The President is doing a bang up job of creating jobs in other countries. With that kind of track record, just think what he could do if he ever decided it was a good idea to create jobs here at home!

Posted by Cassandra at 07:02 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 09, 2012

And the Word for the Day Is....

Capacitor. The blog princess has no earthly idea what a capacitor is when it's not going on the fritz and making her life miserable, but she knows it's a heckuva lot cheaper than a new heat pump.

*********

OK, to continue the insanity, a surreal moment from a mostly healthy marriage of 30+ years.

The Spousal Unit and I are in the basement late last night blowing up an inflatable mattress. The basement is a good 15-20 degrees cooler than the upstairs. Saturday night, we tried to sleep upstairs with about 20 gazillion fans blowing on us. Can't say it was a great success.

So we get the mattress inflated, make up the bed an settle in for a long summer's nap. The Unit falls asleep immediately. I'm lying there thanking God for basements and worrying about everything on my To Do list for work in the morning, when I suddenly become aware that my left hip is resting on the floor.

The love of my life is blissfully snoozing next to me. Do I wake him? Or hope that he's able to sleep for a little while?

Now my shoulder is on the floor. The mattress is deflating rapidly. Still no signs of life from the spouse, so I don't want to move and wake him. I lie there silently fuming about that (&^%$## mattress. Finally I sense by some indefinable radar that the spouse isn't asleep any more. He's playing possum, just like I am, hoping against hope that our bed isn't leakier than the Obama administration and SCOTUS, combined.

After a while I can't take it anymore and start laughing.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:53 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

July 06, 2012

Good Analysis

Randy Barnett, author of the Bill of Federalism and a prime mover in the challenges to ObamaCare (he represented the NFIB in NFIB v. Sebelius), simplifies and clarifies the Roberts ruling:

Roberts' decision made bad law in two respects. First, he claimed the power to rewrite a law by giving it a "saving construction" to uphold it, after he admitted that this was not the best reading of what the law actually said. Second, he allowed that Congress may impose an unprecedented tax on inactivity, provided that it is low enough to preserve the tax payer's "choice" to obey or pay. Both of these maneuvers made constitutional law worse, even if they did save this law in hope of avoiding political attacks on the court.

But the deal that Roberts gave constitutional conservatives was to make constitutional law better in more important ways. He agreed with the four conservative justices that the powers of Congress were limited by Article I of the Constitution; that the Supreme Court would enforce these limits; that the individual insurance mandate exceeded the powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause; that compulsion to engage in commerce was "improper" under the Necessary and Proper Clause; and that Congress could not use its spending power to coerce states into vastly expanding the Medicaid program by withholding existing funding. These are all rulings that 99 percent of law professors had argued against.

I do not praise Chief Justice Roberts for making this political deal. But neither do I want to throw away all that we won because I don't like what we lost.

And conservatives and libertarians need to stop agreeing with progressives that his ruling gave Congress a green light to impose economic mandates under its tax power. It didn't.

Herr Barnett posts a more detailed analysis here. It's well worth your time.

Several years ago, I read his "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty". Not sure I had the right background to fully evaluate his arguments, but it was a thought provoking read. I should read it again.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

With Friends Like the Wall Street Journal....

Who needs the DNC? In today's edition of Blitheringly Idiotic Republican Own Goals (they're fast becoming a daily occurrence!), Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal makes the front page of the NY Times!

To hear Rupert Murdoch tell it lately, Mitt Romney lacks stomach and heart. He “seems to play everything safe.” And he is not nearly as tough as he needs to be on President Obama.

Mr. Murdoch’s thoughts on the Republican presidential candidate’s prospects? “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from the team.” Chances of that? “Doubtful,” he tapped out in a Twitter message from his iPad last weekend.

Then, on Thursday, Mr. Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, published a blistering editorial criticizing Mr. Romney’s campaign, accusing it of being hapless and looking “confused in addition to being politically dumb.”

Hmmm.... being hapless, confused, and politically dumb seems to be something of a team sport these days:

Today the Journal’s editorial page savaged Romney for his campaign's insistence early in the week that the mandate is a penalty, not a tax. Yesterday, Romney announced that, upon further consideration, the mandate is, in fact, a tax.

The Journal grudgingly notes this change of heart in the ninth paragraph. Yet nowhere in the entire, frothing-at-the-mouth editorial is there any discussion of why it thinks Romney surrogates were wrong on the merits when they insisted the mandate is a penalty, not a tax.

It’s bizarre. The conservative dissent to Roberts decision -- the one the Journal and most Republican elected officials say they agree with -- is founded on the proposition that the individual mandate is not a tax. The justices say it plainly on page 24 of their dissent: “Congress imposed a regulatory penalty, not a tax.” When the Journal insists that Romney should “declare accurately” that the mandate is a tax, it is saying that Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito were all wrong.

Question for the ages: if it's hapless, confused, and politically dumb to say the mandate is a penalty (not a tax) then why was the Wall Street Journal saying exactly the same thing just a few days earlier? Here's a brief summary of the WSJ's take as of July 2nd:

1. Calling the mandate a tax is dangerous.

2. It's not a tax - it's a penalty. (Hey! Isn't this what Romney sa... oh nevermind).

Roberts' ruling tried to convert a penalty into a tax, but he can't do that because the words "tax" and "penalty" have well defined meanings. They are not interchangeable. Regardless of which label Roberts chooses to slap on the mandate, it's still a penalty.

3. If we call the mandate a tax, there's no limit to what Congress can tax! There's nothing to stop them from doing this.

Being of the hapless, confused and politically dumb sort our ownselves, we took away one thing from the Journal's July 2nd diatribe: CALLING THE MANDATE A TAX IS WRONG AND DANGEROUS. AND STUPID. So imagine our surprise to read the following WSJ salvo a mere three days later:

If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House, a turning point will have been his decision Monday to absolve President Obama of raising taxes on the middle class. He is managing to turn the only possible silver lining in Chief Justice John Roberts's ObamaCare salvage operation—that the mandate to buy insurance or pay a penalty is really a tax—into a second political defeat.

...In a stroke, the Romney campaign contradicted Republicans throughout the country who had used the Chief Justice's opinion to declare accurately that Mr. Obama had raised taxes on the middle class.

Once we recovered from the severe whiplash induced by the Journal's lightning fast volte face, we couldn't help asking a question normally reserved for the Paper of Record: do the Editorial Staff of the WSJ bother to read their own editorials?

Let's review the events of the past few days:

1. On July 2nd, the WSJ sternly commands us NOT to call the mandate a tax (CJ Roberts' wrongheaded labels to the contrary). Oh, and all you ignoranuses who think there's a silver lining in this? You're wrong.

It's a penalty, peoples.

2. Two senior members of the Romney campaign, undoubtedly persuaded by the searing logic of the Journal's fiery editorial, gamely agree with the 4 conservative justices who dissented from Sebelius AND the Editorial Staff of the WSJ:

It's a penalty, peoples.

3. The candidate himself opines that he although he doesn't agree with the Roberts decision (like the 4 conservative justices and the WSJ, he thinks it's a penalty), the highest court in the land just ruled that the mandate is a tax and that's the reality we need to move forward from.

3. The WSJ, astounded that anyone would be so dumb as to refuse to lie to voters about accurately summarize what just happened, much less agree with obviously confused opinions like those penned by Justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy OR the editors of the WSJ a mere 3 days ago, blasts the Romney campaign for stupidity and incompetence. John Roberts, who was politically incompetent on July 2nd (as were "conservatives" who saw a silver lining in Roberts' monumental blunder), was suddenly the architect of a political victory THAT MUST UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES BE UNDERMINED, LEST WE LOSE THE ELECTION!!!11! Remember that silver lining that didn't exist? Well now it's the key to winning the White House in 2012.

Hallelujah: it's a tax again, peoples!

4. The NY Times publishes a front page hit piece article detailing the many faults of Mitt Romney, courtesy of none other than Rupert Murdoch and the WSJ....

...who are definitely not confused about whether the mandate is a penalty or a tax. Just ask them.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:55 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

July 05, 2012

Don't Even Ask...

Posted by Cassandra at 03:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Editorial Board of the WaPo Have Found A Witch!

And they're just itching to burn him at the stake without so much as a trial! Imagine our amusement to find this Monty Pythonesque pronouncement in today's Editorial:

One area that clearly demands immediate attention is how the military punishes those who are accused or convicted of sex crimes.

Since when has punishment preceded a formal finding of guilt?

One could certainly make the argument that all accusations of sexual misconduct should be investigated, but surely even the Editors of the WaPo can see the problem with their deliciously Freudian slip? Do they seriously mean to suggest that military men deserve fewer legal protections than the citizens they defend?

Should every allegation of sexual misconduct be fully investigated and brought to trial regardless of the strength of the evidence? That's highly doubtful. Civilian prosecutors don't take every accusation to trial in the real world because resources are finite and allowing cases to proceed without sufficient evidence encourages the legal system to be used as a vehicle for harassing the innocent.

How is military rape worse than civilian rape? The vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Counter to the media stereotype, most sexual assaults do not involve force. Women often don't report the attacks until months later and don't see a doctor.

Often, there's no physical evidence. That's a problem for both accusers and the accused:

"Right now the attitude of guys is to be extremely cautious with girls because they are afraid of them pulling the 'rape card,'" said one Marine. "The military will never say this happens, because they will run off of statistics of court martial convictions. The military has no way of knowing who actually was raped."

Why would someone pull the "rape card"?

Attorneys Richard Stevens and Frank Spinner defend military cases. Through their work navigating the military justice system and defending the accused, they've seen a number of motives for false rape claims:

"Guilt and confusion after a night of drinking. Avoiding a boyfriend or husband’s reaction to unfaithfulness. Shielding oneself from the consequences of one’s own misconduct. Protecting one’s reputation from the 'promiscuous' label. Anger over a sexual encounter not blossoming into a long term relationship as expected," are listed in their experience as court martial lawyers.

You can look up military cases where alleged victims retracted their stories, are exposed for lying, or apologized to the accused in court. False claims not only put innocent people in a damaging position, but they also offend true victims.

The active-duty Marine continued, "A lot of people don't believe women will do that, but they do. Of course, not all of them do and, as with anywhere in society, rapes happen. And those who are raped are offered probably the most decisive way of bringing your rapist to justice the country has seen. All you have to do is say it happened, and that Marine is taken to court martial."

An accusation of criminal behavior can ruin not only careers, but marriages and lives. Suggesting that the military punish accused personnel based solely on the word of the accuser violates the fundamental legal protections our system is based upon.

The real problem the Editors of the Post don't want to talk about is that human sexual interactions are messy and anything but rational. There is no excuse - none whatsoever - for officers or senior enlisted personnel to have even consensual sex with personnel junior to them. Under the UCMJ, that's a punishable offense in its own right - fraternization. But proving that rape has occurred is far from the simple exercise the Post seems to envision, and in America citizens accused of a crime have rights too.

Sadly, the Post seems to believe this is a problem that needs to be fixed.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:26 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

July 04, 2012

On Independence Day, An Old Struggle Continues

I wrote these words back in June of 2005.

About one week from now, we will celebrate the Fourth of July. All over America, these words will be read:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

What are those words worth today? Not much, apparently. Do we still believe them? Are they still engraved on our hearts? Do we still believe that ALL men are created equal? I keep hearing that the Arabs are "not ready for democracy". I consider that an appallingly condescending statement.

I submit that in 1776, those words were not worth the parchment they were scribbled on. Utter and absolute rubbish.

They did not become real until nine long years of bloody, miserable warfare breathed life into them. They were purchased at the cost of incalculable human suffering.

Bloodshed. Starvation. Sickness. Injustice. Abuse. Ugliness. Imperfection of every sort imaginable. And as Ignatieff mentions at the beginning of his piece, they did not apply equally to every American for a long, long time. Not to the Irish, nor to women, nor to Jews, nor Catholics, nor blacks, nor non-landowners. But this experiment we call America truly did 'light a fire in the minds of men'. And that fire was seen from a great distance.

It became a beacon to others, even with all its imperfections, because it was better than what had come before. This glorious dream: this democracy. It remains an imperfectly-realized ideal, because humans are still flawed and we bring all our sins and weaknesses with us on this journey. But we are vastly improved for having reached beyond our baser selves, for having dared to dream. We are still improving. And so will the rest of the world, if we can find the courage and the resolve to help them. We are on a road to the stars, but we progress one faltering step at a time.

Who are we to think that Freedom is ours to spread, Ignatieff asks?

We were the First. We are the guardians of the flame. Not perfect beings, but in all the world the only ones, it seems, still naive enough, still brave enough, still daring enough to put our money where our mouths are. We are the only ones who are still willing to defend the dream with our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.

Not all the time. Not in every single instance, because that is impossible. And honest liberals will admit that: in a universe with limited resources, choices must be made. But where we can, where it aligns with our interests and with the interests of the rest of the world: yes.

Our own Revolution was not without blemish. Innocent men were tarred and feathered. Families torn asunder. People bled, and suffered and starved. There was even [shudder] terrorism. But it lit a flame that has burned brightly for over 200 years. There are signs that this is happening in the MiddleEast: Arabs are looking at election day in Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding democratic reforms in Egypt and Lebanon and Kuwait. The fire in men's (and women's) hearts is spreading.

We would like certainty. We would like painless progress. We would like closure. We will not get any of those things.

On July 4th we must ask ourselves, what do we believe? Our military - brand new immigrants who enlist before the ink is dry on their visas - believe in those words so strongly that they will lay down their lives to spread the fire of democracy. They also believe (as I do) that their purpose is to serve American foreign policy aims, no matter how abstract and long-term they may seem. No matter how difficult to explain to the American people. No matter how frustrating in the short term.

What kind of world will we bequeath to our grandchildren? It may be that long before we know. But our actions today will have an incalculable effect on that far-off tomorrow. And if our policy is not firmly grounded in the spread of those long-ago words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

...then I wonder if we shall not be the first Americans who fail to pass the blessings of liberty on to the next generation?

It's amazing, even to one who has often recommended the study of history as an antidote to the lack of perspective that characterizes our 24/7 news cycle, how much has changed in the seven short years since these words were written. In 2005, America was deeply embroiled in two wars half a world away. Liberals vehemently opposed to the war on terror questioned every decision made by a Republican administration. Every assertion of executive power was cited as evidence that the freedoms they held dear were in danger of extinction. Other Americans viewed these same actions as essential measures to preserve our national security.

Critics of the government, anonymous leakers, and whistleblowers were widely regarded by some as brave, truth to powering patriots. Others saw them as cowardly traitors seeking to undermine the foundations of our system of government. Some in the anti-war movement took dissent beyond mere speech, urging soldiers and Marines to frag their officers. Violence, it seemed, did in fact solve some problems (even if one professed to abhor it). Two polar extremes, each animated by what to them seemed fundamental questions about the role of government, struggled to articulate their positions. The passion of those who hated and feared the Bush administration was matched by those who defended its actions. We were engaged in what - to us - seemed a titanic struggle to define the proper role and the legitimate authority of that government created in 1776 by men who themselves did not agree about a great many things.

A mere seven years later, Americans are still arguing about the role and legitimacy of the federal government. But the two parties do so from different sides and are motivated by different issues. Progressives, now that a Democrat occupies the Oval Office, are all in favor of a strong federal government with an assertive Executive branch. And conservatives of all stripes, now that we're out of power, fear that a strong federal government is in danger of extinguishing the freedoms we hold dear. Different freedoms, and different dreams.

Seven years. In the vast panorama of history, they represent little more than the blink of an eye. We view the past through rose colored glasses and current events through a microscope, at once magnifying our current troubles and obscuring the just causes behind actions we - from the safe remove of ignorance and intervening years - now dismiss as foolish overreactions.

During the Bush years there was much talk of moving to France and the threshold, past which a free people were justified in rebelling against or resisting government. Now it is conservatives who whisper of rebellion and armed resistance; of lack of consent.

These questions have faced every generation for over two centuries. They are not new to us, nor are our current discontents greater in kind or severity than the many follies and abuses that gave past generations ample cause for outrage. The old struggles divide us, still.

If I have one wish for this Fourth of July, it might be that we stop for a moment to contemplate our long history, considering both the great good and the equally great evils this nation has experienced. If we did not consider the governments of the past to be illegitimate when they made very great mistakes, by what rationale do we seek to undermine the legitimacy of our present government, however deeply we disagree with its policies?

I would also wish that we take a moment to count over the blessings of liberty secured for us at such great cost in both blood and treasure by men and women long dead. We do not value enough, that which we have not personally sacrified for and I very much fear that we ourselves pose the greatest risk to that glorious dream conjured up by a committee of five men in Philadelphia.

I'm not sure when compromise ceased being the quality that gave us our Declaration in 1776, the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and - when that minimalist framework proved insufficient to the task of governing a handful of former colonies - the Constitution in 1789 and become a threat to the principles outlined in them. The men who signed all three of these documents did not agree about a great many things. To secure their signatures and their consent to the greatest experiment in representative government the world had yet known, compromise was needed.

And if we hope to hold onto what our forebears bequeathed to us, we had better relearn the skills that made our way of life possible in the first place.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:12 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

July 03, 2012

Roberts

For those of you who are positively a-tingle, wondering what the Blog Princess thinks about the Roberts opinion in Sebelius, be assured that she will at some point reveal her much coveted verdict...

...once she figured out what that is. Unlike most of the western world, I don't see this as a simple question. I'm most of the way there, but though I can't honestly say I think my take will change the way anyone sees this, I want to get it right because it matters very much to me.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:12 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 02, 2012

Another Day, Another Critical Fundraising Deadline...

Hey - wait just one cotton pickin' minute! I thought Obama's campaign was morally and ethically superior to Mitt Romney's because Obama's money comes from The Little People?

President Obama sounded weary and maybe a tad worried late Friday during a rambling conference call with campaign donors whom he repeatedly begged to send money—and send it now.
“The majority on this call maxed out to my campaign last time. I really need you to do the same this time,” the president said in a highly unusual (and presumably legal) fundraising pitch from Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Colorado Springs, where he’d been assessing the terrible damage caused by uncontained wildfires. A special phone on the government aircraft is dedicated to political calls that are paid for by the campaign.

Via Michelle Malkin, who is now back in her home, the administration made sure to get plenty of photos of the President's trip to Colorado:

The White House photo-op gallery of President Obama’s visit is up. Funny, they forgot to include any of the Air Force One money-grubbing scenes.

Remember when everyone was wondering aloud why George Bush didn't care about the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Yeah, me neither.

Update: Remember all those outraged media stories about the Romney bus? I'm guessing you won't hear much about this.

Or this.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Complacency

We had an interesting weekend around Villa Cassandranita.

Friday evening, we had invited my parents to dinner at a local restaurant here in Fredneck. When we left home to drive to the restaurant, the temperature was over 100 degrees and the sun was shining.

After several hours spent sampling different wines and dishes (we got the wine pairing, which is always fun) we left the restaurant shortly after 11 pm. As we walked to our cars, a few fat raindrops plunked on the pavement. The drive home wasn't too bad - lots of very heavy rain, but since we live out in the country there was little traffic to contend with. But what struck me was the lightning. It was nearly continuous, cloud to cloud lightning: a steady series of flashes with almost no time in between them. I have never seen anything quite like it before.

As we got ready for bed, the power flickered a few times but stayed on. I keep candles and matches and a flashlight in the bedstand next to my bed, so I got out a votive and a flashlight and lit one candle "just in case". My parents called to let us know they'd gotten home safely and we drifted off to sleep to the comforting drumbeat of raindrops on our roof. There is something about a good rainstorm. I always sleep more soundly. Friday night was no exception. Though I normally wake early (5-6 am), I didn't stumble out of bed until nearly 8:30 Saturday morning.

It was a beautiful morning - everything looked fresh and green and the sun was shining. Once we got a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we went online to look at the news and learned a new word:

Between 9:30 and 11 p.m. Friday night, one of the most destructive complexes of thunderstorms in memory swept through the entire D.C. area. Packing wind gusts of 60-80 mph, the storm produced extensive damage, downing hundreds of trees, and leaving more than 1 million area-residents without power.

Blue marks indicate reports of damaging wind. Black squares indicate winds of over 75 mph. (National Weather Service) Racing along at speeds over 60 mph, the bowing line of thunderstorms formed west of Chicago around 11 a.m. and by midnight approached the Atlantic ocean. It left a massive trail of destruction spanning from northern Illinois to the Delmarva Peninsula. The National Weather Service has logged well over 800 reports of damaging winds.

This kind of fast-moving, long-lived, large, and violent thunderstorm complex is known as a derecho.

We spent the next hour or so calling family in the area to make sure they were OK. My parents and brother had no power, but The Spousal Unit's sister and parents were fine. We couldn't get hold of the Unit's aunt and uncle, though. We hadn't talked with them in nearly a year. My husband couldn't put them out of his mind and around 11 am he decided to drive over (they live about an hour from us) to check on them.

Without going into too much detail, it was a good thing he listened to that nagging little voice in his head. He spent the next 7-8 hours making sure they had gas to run their gas powered generator and fans and power cords set up. They couldn't go stay with relatives or go to a hotel room because his uncle has a lot of large, specialized medical equipment that can't be moved easily.

The interesting part of all of this to me was how quickly even fairly minor events (and compared to a tsunami or a major earthquake or a tornado, even a storm that leaves millions with no power is a fairly minor event) can turn life upside down. We spent the rest of the weekend finding and setting up a second gas generator and a room-sized a/c unit. The gas stations in their area were almost all closed - no electricity to pump out the gas. And the ones on the periphery of the power outages were jammed with drivers and people filling gas cans for their generators.

Ice was hard to find. The local hardware stores quickly sold out of generators. I had done some research online and then called around - our local Home Depot was sold out at 10 am but said they were expecting a truckload of few generators within the hour. I got in the car and drove to Lowe's first. They said they were sold out of room units (for reasons I won't get into here, a window unit wouldn't work for them). I looked around and found 3 more sitting all the way up on the top shelf near the ceiling, so they got me one. As we were waiting in line, I got a funny feeling and said, "I'm going to go over to Home Depot - I'm afraid they'll sell out before I get there".

As I walked through the door, they had 3 left. By the time I walked down to the Contractors desk, there were two and a couple were looking at one of them. I literally sat on the other. It wasn't even what I wanted - I had decided that a propane or natural gas one would provide more security and run longer, because propane doesn't degrade over time the way gas does and I reasoned that if everyone was out looking for gas, it would be nice for them to have another alternative that would be less in demand.

But over the course of the weekend I was struck over and over again by how much I take for granted and how complacent I have become. We're probably a bit strange in that we have hand crank radios and lights and flashlights. And we keep a camp stove (we don't camp) and oil lamps for emergencies. But over the years I've let other things lapse (supplies of canned food, water, etc.), mostly because it's just my husband and myself. When you have children, you take more precautions (or at least I did).

While we were driving around it occurred to me (duh): if we needed to take our extended family in - parents, kids, in laws - during an emergency, how would we feed all those people? As conservatives, we talk a lot about being prepared and taking responsibility for our own lives, but I realized that I really haven't been prepared lately for something to go very wrong.

It's not just the basics - food, water, shelter - that we need to think about. There's also the interconnectedness of things - the supply chain. Having a gas generator is great... unless you can't get gas. How many of us even stop to think about the various kinds of emergencies in their area and what they would need for each? What's your plan? And your backup plan?

When we lived farther away from major metropolitan areas, we were generally better prepared. Over the years we've lived in tornado alleys and hurricane prone areas and towns devastated by earthquakes and fires, but there's something about living close to cities that lulls you into a false sense of complacency. Living near a city reminds you that in a crisis, you will be competing with your fellow citizens for very scarce resources.

Scary thoughts for a sunny, hot weekend right before the fourth of July.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:07 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack