This time of year, newspapers and magazines swell with retrospectives on the year that was, predictions for the year to come, and cogitations on meaningless trends and contrived fads.
Against this backdrop, there’s an added poignancy to the death of Samuel P. Huntington, who died Christmas Eve at the age of 81. A decent, profound, and profoundly consequential man, the Harvard professor was one of the lions of 20th century social science. He spotted trends and made predictions, too. But he did so not with a wet finger to the air but with his nose in the books, his hands on the facts, and his eyes fixated on the Big Picture.
His 1993 essay “The Clash of Civilizations” (and subsequent book) argued that the hoopla over a New World Order was deeply misguided. Indeed, he spotted one of the most consequential trends of the post-Cold War world: Most societies were intensifying, often radically, their cultural identities, not shedding them. Disharmony, not some U.N.-led Parliament of Man, lay in our future.
The book was deeply, and often willfully, misunderstood and mischaracterized by those who didn’t want it to be true. But after 9/11, it largely set the terms for how we look at the world. In it, he argued that culture, religion, and tradition are not background noise, as materialists of the left and the right often argue. Rather, they constitute the drumbeat to which whole civilizations march.
This view ran counter to important constituencies. The idea that man can be reduced to homo economicus has adherents among some free-market economists, most Marxists, and others. But it’s nonsense on stilts. Most of the globe’s intractable conflicts are more clearly viewed through the prisms of culture and history than that of the green eyeshade. Tensions between India and Pakistan or Israel and the Arab world have little to do with GDP.
Even in America, the notion that economics drives our politics cannot stand scrutiny. For instance, gay-marriage advocates might decry the tax code’s unfairness to same-sex couples, but if all they wanted was to file joint returns, they’d settle for domestic partnerships. Gays desire respect and acceptance more than tax deductions. Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex marriage don’t even bother with economic arguments, nor should they. Abortion, race, drugs, gun control, political correctness, public-school curricula: The list of cultural issues driving our political conflicts is endless.
And yet for Marx and his modern heirs, class interests are all that matter. And for a certain breed of capitalist rationalist, financial self-interest is all that motivates.
Barack Obama articulated a watered-down version of this nonsense when he lamented that western Pennsylvanians cling to religion and guns out of unrecognized economic frustration. If they’d only seen how their financial interests were bound up with his candidacy, they would’ve discarded such concerns. This isn’t to say Obama is a crass materialist; he’s not, as his memoirs make clear. Rather, it’s to note that the role of culture is not only powerful but often powerfully confusing.
The Economist writes about Spain’s real estate bust, but unlike in the US, the problem is with builders, not borrowers.
The market is dropping fast. Property fairs tout discounts of as much as 60% on new-built homes, or even “buy one, get one free” offers. “All the statistics show a fall,” concedes the housing minister, Beatriz Corredor. Yet pinning down just how big a fall is tricky. Tax-shy Spaniards do not always declare the true selling prices. The government’s main index, based on valuers’ estimates, shows a 1.3% nominal fall in the third quarter. Most think the true figure is far bigger. The IESE business school talks of prices of existing homes falling by 8%.
Private sellers cannot believe that their homes are losing value, according to Fernando Encinar, communications director at idealista.com, a property website. But developers know the game is up. Some deals are being struck at 20% below advertised prices, he says, a fact few developers are keen to broadcast. They do not want people writing off deposits on half-built homes and shopping around for something cheaper.
The huge number of homes still being built makes the outlook even bleaker. Cranes dot the skyline of Madrid’s outer suburbs, promising more pain. Spain has been churning out new homes at near-record rates. Figures for new but unsold homes vary from half a million to over 900,000; the number is rising. In July a five-year record 70,691 new homes were finished. Over the first eight months of 2008 429,711 new homes joined the glut.
Those reassured by the health of Spain’s banks have tended to look only at household mortgages. But these are not where the real problem lies. Loan-to-value ratios tend to be safely below 80%. And Spanish mortgages cannot be cancelled by dropping the house keys at the bank: security is provided by all of a borrower’s assets—and sometimes those of relatives as well. It is no surprise that most Spaniards do their utmost not to default.
First stop is Listropolis. You could waste a lot of time here, methinks. And have fun doing it.
Exurban League has its list of lists, too.
Boston.com has a great collection of images from 2008.
Don’t miss these.
Fox News has a top ten list of absurd Global Warming Claims of 2008. A sample:
In April, media mogul Ted Turner told PBS’s Charlie Rose that global warming would make the world 8 degrees hotter in 30 or 40 years. “Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state, like Somalia or Sudan, and living conditions will be intolerable,” he said.
Turner blamed global warming on overpopulation, saying “too many people are using too much stuff.”
Crops won’t grow and “most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals,” Turner said.
2. The Death of the Loch Ness Monster
In February, Scotland’s Daily Mirror reported that 85-year-old American Robert Rines would be giving up his quest for Scotland’s most famous underwater denizen.
A World War II veteran, Rines has spent 37 years hunting for Nessie with sonar equipment. In 2008, “despite having hundreds of sonar contacts over the years, the trail has since gone cold and Rines believes that Nessie may be dead, a victim of global warming.”
3. Beer Gets More Expensive
In April, the Associated Press reported that global warming was going to hit beer drinkers in the wallet because the cost of barley would increase, driving up the price of a pint.
Jim Salinger, a climate scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said Australia would be particularly hard hit as droughts caused a decline in malting barley production in parts of New Zealand and Australia. “It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up,” Salinger said at a beer brewer’s convention, the AP reported.
4. Pythons Take Over America
Giant Burmese pythons – big enough to eat alligators and deer in a single mouthful – will be capable of living in one-third of continental U.S. as global warming makes more of the country hospitable to the cold-blooded predators, according to an April report from USAToday.com.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the spread of “invasive snakes,” like the pythons, brought to the U.S. as pets. The Burmese pythons’ potential American habitat would expand by 2100, according to global warming models, the paper reported.
“We were surprised by the map. It was bigger than we thought it was going to be,” says Gordon Rodda, zoologist and lead project researcher, told USAToday.com. “They are moving northward, there’s no question.”
Hollywood churns out movies scorning life in the suburbs as grim and stifling. “Revolutionary Road” is just the latest.
But much of the world — including the world’s most populous nation, which has genuine revolutionary roads paved with blood — thinks suburbs are great.
So much so, they’re hiring US architects to design them.
An emerging affluent class abroad is drawn to suburbs with U.S. names that mimic the American ideal — down to the master bathroom and tree-lined sidewalk.
A 2006 survey of American Institute of Architects members shows that large architecture firms with more than 100 employees reported billings from international work doubled in four years. Meanwhile, billings in the U.S. this year dropped to the lowest point in the 12 years the survey has been conducted.
While there’s no hard data, more American-made windows, roofing systems, furnaces and other specialized materials are being shipped overseas because projects designed by Americans are built to U.S. construction standards, said Jim Haughey, an economist with Reed Construction Data, which tracks the construction industry.
“The English concept of a man’s home is his castle is true in most parts of Asia, the Mideast and Eastern Europe,” said Jeff Rossely, a Bahrain-based developer of shopping malls, resorts and residential communities in the Middle East. “If you look at how countries are moving up the socio-economic ladder, some of the things they all want is a car, a house, a nice view and air conditioning.”
The trend started during the early 1990s U.S. housing downturn and has intensified in recent years. Firms that ventured abroad since that time say doing so has helped them weather economic slowdowns in certain markets.
It has also created opportunities to design on a grander and more creative scale. At times, architects are creating huge master-planned communities encompassing a mix of single-family homes with high rises, parks and shopping centers. Feola’s firm is designing a shopping and entertainment complex for New Cairo, a metropolis built from scratch for roughly 200,000 residents in Egypt. The idea is to avoid some of the mistakes of the past and create a mixed-use environment where people rely less on their car to get to shops and services.
American firms are behind an eco-friendly island connected to Shanghai by rail, and a new township in northern Indian loaded with luxury villas, apartments, shops, parks and schools.
Curiously, some of the developments overseas look and sound a lot like California suburbs marketed to affluent customers who have spent time living in the U.S. or attracted to an American suburban lifestyle.
Truly honest = not politically liberal.
One of the most famous and most disturbing Christmas cartoons ever made is Hugh Harman’s 1939 MGM film “Peace On Earth,” which was nominated for the Academy Award and is sometimes thought to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize as well. From the point of view of happy furry singing talking cute cartoony animals, this cartoon tells the story of how the human race was wiped out through war, and how the earth was repopulated by cute animals who understand the true meaning of Christmas. You won’t get that from Rankin-Bass specials.
And Hanna Barbera’s remake:
January: On the Republican side, the winner is Mike Huckabee, folksy former governor of Arkansas, or possibly Oklahoma, who vows to remain in the race until he gets a commentator gig with Fox. His win deals a severe blow to Mitt Romney and his bid to become the first president of the android persuasion. Not competing in Iowa are Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy is to stay out of the race until he is mathematically eliminated, and John McCain, who entered the caucus date incorrectly into his 1996 Palm Pilot.
July: Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech — speaking English and German simultaneously — to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.
August: Barack Obama, continuing to shake up the establishment, selects as his running mate Joe Biden, a tireless fighter for change since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. The Democratic Party gathers in Denver to formally nominate Obama, who descends from his Fortress of Solitude to mesmerize the adoring crowd with an acceptance speech objectively described by the New York Times as “comparable to the Gettysburg Address, only way better.”
November: Barack Obama, in a historic triumph, is elected the nation’s first black president since the second season of “24,” setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of the New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration, to Hillary Clinton.
Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming. Just when politicians in Europe and America have been adopting the most costly and damaging measures politicians have ever proposed, to combat this supposed menace, the tide has turned in three significant respects.
First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.
Ever shriller and more frantic has become the insistence of the warmists, cheered on by their army of media groupies such as the BBC, that the last 10 years have been the “hottest in history” and that the North Pole would soon be ice-free – as the poles remain defiantly icebound and those polar bears fail to drown. All those hysterical predictions that we are seeing more droughts and hurricanes than ever before have infuriatingly failed to materialise.
Even the more cautious scientific acolytes of the official orthodoxy now admit that, thanks to “natural factors” such as ocean currents, temperatures have failed to rise as predicted (although they plaintively assure us that this cooling effect is merely “masking the underlying warming trend”, and that the temperature rise will resume worse than ever by the middle of the next decade).
Secondly, 2008 was the year when any pretence that there was a “scientific consensus” in favour of man-made global warming collapsed. At long last, as in the Manhattan Declaration last March, hundreds of proper scientists, including many of the world’s most eminent climate experts, have been rallying to pour scorn on that “consensus” which was only a politically engineered artefact, based on ever more blatantly manipulated data and computer models programmed to produce no more than convenient fictions.
Thirdly, as banks collapsed and the global economy plunged into its worst recession for decades, harsh reality at last began to break in on those self-deluding dreams which have for so long possessed almost every politician in the western world. As we saw in this month’s Poznan conference, when 10,000 politicians, officials and “environmentalists” gathered to plan next year’s “son of Kyoto” treaty in Copenhagen, panicking politicians are waking up to the fact that the world can no longer afford all those quixotic schemes for “combating climate change” with which they were so happy to indulge themselves in more comfortable times.
…at the mall two days before Christmas, and it was strangely quiet. So quiet that, sadly, I was able to hear every word of Kelly Clarkson bellowing over the sound system “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” Don’t get me wrong — I love seasonal songs. “Winter Wonderland” — I dig it. “Rudolph” — man, he’s cool, albeit not as literally as Frosty. But “Grown-Up Christmas List” is one of those overwrought ballads of melismatic bombast made for the American Idol crowd. It’s all about how the singer now eschews asking Santa for materialist goodies — beribboned trinkets and gaudy novelties — in favor of selfless grown-up stuff like world peace.
Which is an odd sentiment to hear at a shopping mall.
But it seems to have done the trick. “Retail Sales Plummet,” read the Christmas headline in the Wall Street Journal. “Sales plunged across most categories on shrinking consumer spending.”
Hey, that’s great news, isn’t it? After all, everyone knows Americans consume too much. What was it that then Senator Obama said on the subject? “We can’t just keep driving our SUVs, eating whatever we want, keeping our homes at 72 degrees at all times regardless of whether we live in the tundra or the desert and keep consuming 25 percent of the world’s resources with just 4 percent of the world’s population, and expect the rest of the world to say you just go ahead, we’ll be fine.”
And boy, we took the great man’s words to heart. SUV sales have nosedived, and 72 is no longer your home’s thermostat setting but its current value expressed as a percentage of what you paid for it. If I understand then Senator Obama’s logic, in a just world Americans would be 4 percent of the population and consume a fair and reasonable 4 percent of the world’s resources. And in these last few months we’ve made an excellent start toward that blessed utopia: Americans are driving smaller cars, buying smaller homes, giving smaller Christmas presents.
And yet, strangely, President-Elect Obama doesn’t seem terribly happy about the Obamafication of the American economy. He’s proposing some 5.7 bazillion dollar “stimulus” package or whatever it is now to “stimulate” it back into its bad old ways.
And how does the rest of the world, of whose tender sensibilities then Senator Obama was so mindful, feel about the collapse of American consumer excess? They’re aghast, they’re terrified, they’re on a one-way express elevator down to Sub-Basement Level 37 of the abyss with no hope of putting on the brakes unless the global economy can restore aggregate demand. What does all that mumbo-jumbo about “aggregate demand” mean?
Well, that’s a fancy term for you — yes, you, Joe Lardbutt, the bloated disgusting embodiment of American excess, driving around in your Chevy Behemoth, getting two blocks to the gallon as you shear the roof off the drive-thru lane to pick up your $7.93 decaf gingersnap-mocha-pepperoni-zebra mussel frappuccino, which makes for a wonderful cool refreshing thirst-quencher after you’ve been working up a sweat watching the plasma TV in your rec room all morning with the thermostat set to 87. The message from the European political class couldn’t be more straightforward: If you crass, vulgar Americans don’t ramp up the demand, we’re kaput. Unless you get back to previous levels of planet-devastating consumption, the planet is screwed.
Caroline Kennedy emerged from weeks of near-silence Friday about her bid for a Senate seat by saying that after a lifetime of closely guarded privacy, she felt compelled to answer the call to service issued by her father a generation ago.
What is “near silence?” Ducking the media while kissing up to the guv?
In her first sit-down interview since she emerged as a Senate hopeful, the 51-year-old daughter of President John F. Kennedy cited her father’s legacy in explaining her decision to seek to serve alongside her uncle Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.
“Many people remember that spirit that President Kennedy summoned forth,” she said. “Many people look to me as somebody who embodies that sense of possibility. I’m not saying that I am anything like him, I’m just saying there’s a spirit that I think I’ve grown up with that is something that means a tremendous amount to me.”
That “spirit” was media hype, akin to what Obama’s been getting. JFK was a mediocre president with oodles of charm that tingles influential legs even to this day.
Many forget how Teddy Kennedy (aka the “dumb brother”) got his Senate seat. It was vacated when JFK moved into the White House. Because Teddy, at 28, was too young to run, the Kennedy’s got the Massachusetts governor to name a family friend to hold the seat for the next two years.
That’s the real spirit of the Kennedy’s: political gamesmanship and an exaggerated sense of entitlement. It’s as hollow as it is un-American.
If Sweet Caroline feels called to public service, she can try something new: earn it.
Finally, this gem:
She also was asked to explain why she failed to vote in a number of elections since registering in New York City in 1988, including in 1994 when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was up for re-election for the seat she hopes to take over.
“I was really surprised and dismayed by my voting record,” she said. “I’m glad it’s been brought to my attention.”
Well, so are we.
Once upon a time, Santa Claus was a very popular figure around this time of year. Edmund Gwenn even won an Oscar for portraying him in a movie. But along the way, it was Scrooge who kept gaining in favor. His role has been played by a galaxy of stars, including Reginald Owen, Albert Finney, Kelsey Grammer, Tim Curry, Walter Matthau, Fredric March, John Carradine, Ralph Richardson, Cyril Ritchard, George C. Scott, Alastair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Jack Palance and Basil Rathbone. I guess the allure of the role is that Ebenezer Scrooge goes to bed a mean and nasty creature, and by morning has undergone a dramatic epiphany and found spiritual redemption.
But time has taken its toll on his story, which first saw the light of day in 1843. These days, Scrooge strikes us as nothing more than a slightly eccentric old codger. His constant refrain of “Bah! Humbug!” suggests he’s just a little bit cranky, sort of like the loveable old grouch who lives down the block and grouses every year about firecrackers on the 4th of July and trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
I’m sorry to say that Scrooge’s day has come and gone. Which means we’ll probably never get to see Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Leonardo DiCaprio in the role.
But, really, how can Scrooge hope to compete with the ACLU and like-minded idiots who have a hissy fit at the mere sight of a Christmas wreath, who insist that the holiday doesn’t really celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but is merely a recognition of the winter solstice? I’m not even a Christian, but wishing someone a merry winter solstice not only sounds lame, but to my ears sounds pretty darn sarcastic.
I’m not sure just when a handful of self-righteous biddies decided to make an annual tradition of attacking Christian symbols and traditions, but this year the flash point has been the state of Washington. That’s where Governor Chris Gregoire has permitted a group of atheists to post a sign that reads in part “religion is a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds” in the capitol rotunda next to a Christmas tree and a Nativity scene. The governor claims she couldn’t object because of the First Amendment, but that merely confirms she wins the prize as 2008’s biggest Christmas fruitcake. It is, after all, the atheists whose belief system constitutes an extremely rigid religion of its own, and one that surely hardens hearts. Speaking as a Jew, I doubt, if there was a Chanukah menorah in the capitol rotunda, the goofy governor would have given the American Nazi party a thumbs-up if they had wanted to display an autographed copy of “Mein Kampf.”
But even Ms. Gregoire isn’t this year’s meanest grinch. That title belongs to Bernard Madoff, the man who managed to fine tune the Ponzi scheme to such an extent that he was able to steal 50 billion dollars from banks, charities and individuals.
Theoretically, such financial shenanigans are not supposed to be possible in this day and age. After all, there are all sorts of federal safeguards regulating the stock market. I mean, these are some of the same eagle-eyed bureaucrats who have seen to it that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac toed the line for all these years, thus serving as shining examples of financial integrity to the entire world.
None of this is intended to take the onus off Mr. Madoff, a man who should be roasted over an open fire and served up with an apple in his mouth.
Years ago, when my son was still at an impressionable age, I told him that even though movies often depicted thieves as charming, witty and glamorous, in real life they were scum. But I also told him that at least bank robbers risked being shot down in the process of trying to take things that didn’t belong to them, whereas there was no lower or more cowardly form of animal life than a con man. I pointed out that he was the most contemptible of thieves because he stole by pretending to be someone’s friend, simultaneously taking their money and betraying their trust.
I admit I know next to nothing about making, let alone investing money. For me to even be in the running for the Nobel Prize in Economics, roughly seven billion people would have to die. So how is it that even I know that when a financial investment sounds too good to be true, Prelutsky’s one and only rule is to grab your wallet and run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit?
Fifteen years ago, I had a stupid idea.
I was the co-executive producer on TV’s long-running comedy “Cheers.” NBC, the network on which “Cheers” appeared, was faltering: Ratings were sliding, money was tight, management was nervous and the then-king of late-night television, Johnny Carson, legendary host of the “Tonight Show,” was retiring, and no one knew how his replacement, Jay Leno, would do.
I was 28 then, and like all 28-year-olds, I had no idea exactly how stupid I was. So when I found myself standing next to the president of NBC during the filming of an episode of “Cheers,” I offered my solution to his network’s crisis.
“You know what you should do?” I said, brimming with self-assurance. “You should move the ‘Tonight Show’ with Jay Leno to 10 p.m. Think of all the money you’d save.”
“That’s a pretty stupid suggestion,” he said to me.
Only, in those days, network presidents tended to be earthier types with show-business vocabularies, so he inserted a colorful Anglo-Saxon expletive between the words “pretty” and “stupid.” He then went on to explain, in a tone of voice used for the very old, the very young and the developmentally disabled, the complicated ecosystem of broadcast television, the maze of clearances and station groups and agreements that rendered such a move not only legally impossible but financially ludicrous. The five hours of prime-time weeknight programming between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. are immensely lucrative, he explained, and hugely popular with advertisers. Cutting them out would be suicide.
“The day we have to do that,” he wound up, “is the day we have to shut the whole thing down.”
Only he inserted a colorful Anglo-Saxon expletive between the words “whole” and “thing.”
This month, the president of NBC announced that the network is moving Jay Leno to 10 p.m. with a show format very similar to the “Tonight Show.” Which only proves that the difference between a stupid business idea and a brilliant business idea is 15 years and an economic collapse.
When I learned this news, I was on board the merchant vessel Hanjin Miami, a container ship plying the North Pacific trade route, making a bumpy, stormy passage between Seattle and Shanghai. I booked a cabin for the three-week crossing because I had some writing to do, and I’ve discovered that I’m incapable of doing any kind of focused, uninterrupted work as long as there’s a cellphone to ring, an e-mail to read or the Web to surf. The isolation has been very productive.
But late one night, slipping through the narrow strait between the island of Hokkaido and the main Japanese island of Honshu, the iPhone came to life. Cell towers along the Japanese coast zapped weeks’ worth of voice mails and e-mails and text messages, and like some kind of connectivity junkie, I sat in my cabin in my underwear and clicked and scrolled and caught up with life. Well, with e-life.
The online edition of the L.A. Times filled me in on the volatile Dow, on the shaky auto industry bailout, on bad Christmas retail projections. Variety.com brought me news of entertainment industry layoffs, of advertising rate implosions and the “Hail Mary” Leno shift. Sitting there in my cabin, I muttered darkly to myself, “They might have to shut the whole thing down.”
And I added the modifier too. I’m a merchant seaman, after all. Of course, I didn’t really have to hear bad economic news from Variety.com or latimes.com. The Hanjin Miami is a giant, floating, diesel-powered economic indicator. In fat times, it carries 7,000 containers from China to the West Coast of the United States, each one stuffed with flat screens and polo shirts and iPods and toys and jeans and every kind of extruded plastic doodad imaginable. They line the shelves of Wal-Mart and Best Buy and PetSmart, and we snap them up and send the empty containers back to Asia for a refill. Ideally, of course, we’re supposed to send full containers back, filled with our stuff for them to buy, but we don’t make much stuff anymore. We make complicated financial products and arcane debt instruments. Or did.
In fact, we don’t even make the ships that carry the containers. The Hanjin Miami was built by Hyundai, in South Korea, and is operated by a German company and chartered by the South Korean shipping outfit Hanjin. Which means other people not only make the computers and clothes and sneakers that fill the containers, they also make the 90,000-ton steel behemoth that carries it all to our door. We, on the other hand, have invented Twitter. And Cinnabon.
President-elect Barack Obama is still four weeks away from inauguration, and already the size of government is growing. His initial goal of creating 2.5 million new jobs has been upped to 3 million, rising in lockstep with a proposed economic stimulus package.
We know money buys influence. Now we find out it can buy jobs as well.
If only it were that simple.
Obama has been working with his advisers so that the proposed $750-billion-and-counting package of tax breaks and spending on infrastructure, education, health care and unemployment insurance is ready to go on Day One. (No on-the-job training necessary!)
There are currently about 10 million unemployed workers in the U.S. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as unemployed those persons who didn’t work in the week of the monthly employment survey, were available for work and made an effort to find work in the previous month.)
“If we write a check for $75,000 to each of the unemployed, we won’t have anyone ‘unemployed,’” said former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
The recipients may not be working in the traditional sense of going to the office each day, but the government can provide for their needs without anyone having to lift a finger.
The Obama administration’s goal of creating 3 million new jobs by January 2011 will run smack into “the natural demographic flow, which will add 3.2 million people to the workforce” in the same time period, O’Neill said. In effect, “we are going to spend $750 billion, the number of unemployed will rise and the (unemployment) rate will go down slightly.”
Shoveling to Prosperity
O’Neill did the math so you don’t have to. Each job “will cost $250,000, which doesn’t suggest much labor intensity for the dollars spent,” he said. “It makes me wonder if any of the planners or commentators are good at arithmetic.”
They’re not good at arithmetic. And one wonders about their facility with economics.
If putting people to work is the goal, we could get rid of all the heavy earth-moving equipment and go back to digging ditches with shovels.
Why stop there? If it takes one man two days to dig a trench three feet deep and 30 feet long with a shovel, how long would it take 100 men using spoons?
by J.C. Phillips
The Associated Press recently described Global warming as “a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can’t avoid,” and that “global warming is accelerating.”
Ironically this report preceded a report of record low temperatures in my home town of Denver Colorado; Las Vegas receiving its heaviest snowfall in 33 years and a cold spell sweeping through southern California that brought snow fall to the beach community of Malibu.
AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein dismissed such inconvenient truths arguing that the fact that we are experiencing cooler global temperatures in 2008 “actually illustrates how fast the world is warming.”
The arrogance of manmade global warming hucksters seems boundless. And it gets more bizarre. University teachers Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff, authored a report “Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias; Creating Controversy Where Science Finds Consensus” arguing that attempts by media to report both sides of the global warming issue is actually a form of bias. In all fairness Borenstein and the Boykoff’s may be from what columnist Kathleen Parker might call the oogedy-boogedy wing of the anthropogenic global warming crowd. Clearly for them up is down, in is out and evidence will never shake their belief in those things unseen. Nevertheless, if actually reporting the opinions of scientists that remain skeptical of manmade global warming creates controversy (to say nothing of revealing the absurdity of the present hysteria) never let it be said that I didn’t do my part.
Following are a few quotes that you may or may not have read in the main stream press.
“It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” — U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA.
“Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly….As a scientist I remain skeptical. The main basis of the claim that man’s release of greenhouse gases is the cause of the warming is based almost entirely upon climate models. We all know the frailty of models concerning the air-surface system.” — Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in meteorology, and called “among the most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years.”
Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” — UN IPCC4 Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical chemist.
“Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined.” — Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh.
“The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning.” — Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group.
“Earth has cooled since 1998 in defiance of the predictions by the UN-IPCC….The global temperature for 2007 was the coldest in a decade and the coldest of the millennium…which is why ‘global warming’ is now called ‘climate change.’” — Climatologist Dr. Richard Keen of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado.
“If we go back really, in recorded human history, in the 13th Century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now and it was a very prosperous time for mankind,” Lehr said. “If go back to the Revolutionary War 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We’ve been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period and now we’re back into a cooling cycle.” –Dr. Jay Lehr a senior fellow and science director of The Heartland Institute.
“All previous [IPCC] “projections” were wrong. The most recent example is the period from 2000 to 2008. IPCC predicted warming but temperatures went down while CO2 increased.” — Timothy Ball PHD. Climatology, renowned Environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg.
Consider this a late gift from me to you.
Iraq’s Christians, a small minority in the overwhelmingly Muslim country, quietly celebrated Christmas on Thursday with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time.
In the days leading up the Christmas, one couldn’t help but notice that references to Kwanzaa, the decades-old African-American holiday that captured so many dull minds during the Great Culture Wars of the 1990s, were almost nonexistent. Kwanzaa, an afrocentic celebration of black self-reliance (or something) that so spooked the “war on Christmas” types, has largely disappeared. Back in the day, its champions and critics alike thought it could potentially replace Christmas in the very Christian African-American community.
But now, silence.
Does anyone remember that back in the early 1990s, AT&T ran television ads suggesting that blacks call their families during Kwanzaa using their telephone service? That stores stocked Kwanzaa candles and kente clothes? That student unions were festooned with Marcus Garvey’s pan-African flag? In 1995, a local activist triumphantly told The Boston Globe, “We’re at the point now where Kwanzaa has gotten so big that we feel like Santa Claus is really on the way out.”
Or take this 2004 item from the conservative website Newsmax, lamenting that a “Stroll through your local card and party store and you’ll find Kwanzaa items…Check out almost any appointment calendar and you’ll find it duly noted on December 26 that ‘Kwanzaa begins.’” And it was pretty amazing to watch nervous college administrators and city employees create space for a holiday that few blacks had ever heard of. And it was, when one bothered to figure out just what constituted a specifically African-American holiday, amusing to see that it was a monumentally stupid hybrid of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Franz Fanon.
From the Maoist calls for the celebration of “collective work and responsibility,” “collective vocation [of] building and developing of our community,” and the festive promise to engage in “cooperative economics,” to the astoundingly banal calls for “creativity” and the admonitions “to believe with all our heart in our people,” the principles of Kwanzaa were stuck in the failed revolutionary movements of the 1960s and weren’t particularly appealing to 21st-century black youth. When reading these boring, mildly cultish, and utterly dreary moral instructions, it’s easy to see why Kwanzaa failed as spectacularly as Tony Martin’s academic career.
Did you know that the ubiquitous poinsettia plants you see during the holidays are largely the work of one family? It’s a fascinating story from the LA Times Column One.
The Eckes of Southern California are to poinsettias what De Beers of South Africa is to diamonds. Over the last century, four generations of Eckes took a cold-weather bloomer few Americans had ever seen and made it a holiday staple.
Their zealous promotion is the reason the poinsettia is the nation’s bestselling potted plant — an astonishing fact considering about 100 million are sold each year in just six weeks. Let’s see the iPhone top that.
German immigrant Albert Ecke and his family were headed to Fiji to open a health spa when they stopped in Los Angeles in 1900 and liked what they saw. They established a dairy farm and fruit orchard a few years later in the Eagle Rock area.
Ecke became intrigued by the red-and-green shrub that is native to Mexico and Central America and grew wild throughout the Southland. The Aztecs extracted dyes and a fever treatment from poinsettias, and the Spanish used it as a Christmas decoration. The plant was brought to the United States in the late 1820s by the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett.
Ecke was the first to develop the commercial potential. He grew poinsettias on farmland in Hollywood and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke Sr., had bigger ideas.
A visionary horticulturist and businessman, Paul Ecke Sr. gave the poinsettia a makeover through a secret breeding technique that turned the delicate and gangly weed into a sturdy and voluptuous potted plant. In the 1920s he moved south and laid a carpet of poinsettias stretching from Carlsbad to Encinitas.
His son, Paul Ecke Jr., expanded the business yet again. In the 1960s he moved the poinsettias into greenhouses and pushed cuttings shipped by air instead of mature plants hauled by rail.
The annual list of the year’s Worst Reporting, as compiled by the Media Research Center. The winner:
Co-anchor Chris Matthews: “I have to tell you, you know, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My — I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.
”Co-anchor Keith Olbermann: “Steady.”
Matthews: “No, seriously. It’s a dramatic event. He speaks about America in a way that has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the feeling we have about our country. And that is an objective assessment.”
— Exchange during MSNBC’s coverage of the Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. primaries, February 12.
When you need wacko Keith Olbermann as a steadying influence, you’re too far gone. In fact, Olbermann was a runner-up in the Obamagasm category.
Read them all.
Southern California is like New York at the turn of the 20th century, home to millions of immigrants from the far corners of the world.
Largest Persian community outside Iran? LA. Largest Armenian? LA. And so it goes.
One young man from Santa Monica decided to eat a different ethnic cuisine each day until he’d tasted them all. He thought it would take 60 days, but it turned out to be 101.
The NYT, projected to go bankrupt in 2009 by some, demonstrated why many will be cheering when it gave op-ed space to Bill Ayers, but denied the same courtesy to one man most qualifed to debunk Ayers.
The full story on that here. The op-ed they refused to publish is below.
By Larry Grathwohl
My name is Larry Grathwohl and I infiltrated the Weather Underground for the FBI. I had no idea when my journey began in August 1969 that I would see and experience the degree of violence and hatred of our democracy that existed in the Weather Underground. Bernardine Dorhn, Bill Ayers, and the other people I would meet had as their sole purpose the destruction of the United States. The fact that I ultimately became the only source of information regarding the activities of the Weather Underground and the fact that Bill Ayers now claims their goal was only to bring about the end of the war in Vietnam requires me to respond.
At least Bill admits the Weather Underground “crossed” the line of legality but mitigates this admission by stating that the effectiveness of the “symbolic acts of extreme vandalism” is still being debated. He further states that the selected targets were “property, never people” and that their only purpose was to end the war in Vietnam. Bill is simply not being truthful and is rewriting history to reflect a completely different role for himself and the Weather Underground from what actually took place. “Bring the war home, kill your parents” was the mantra being chanted when the group decided to go underground in December 1969 and there certainly isn’t anything anti-war in that statement. I’m also curious as to who is debating their status. When I think about the Weather Underground my immediate thought is “terrorism and death.”
Billy goes on about how the Weather Underground came into existence because “peaceful protests had failed” and “after an accidental explosion killed three comrades.” The explosion of the townhouse in Greenwich Village was the result of a bomb factory which was preparing bombs containing roofing nails for use at a Fort Dix enlisted club. The inclusion of roofing nails can have but one purpose and that’s to injure or kill people. Prior to this event Bill’s wife, Bernardine Dorhn, placed a bomb of the same design at the Park Police Station in San Francisco and killed Officer McDonnell. Additionally, I was still inside the Weather Underground when the townhouse blew up and the commitment to sabotage and terrorism had already been established and the purpose was the overthrow of the United States government.
Bill implies that the questioning of his activities is dishonest and that at worst he may have made some mistakes in judgment but his motivations were just. Personally, I can think of nothing that would justify the activities of the Weather Underground and am astonished by Bill Ayers’ attempts to corrupt the historical facts by making himself a misunderstood leader of the anti-war movement. Robert Kennedy, possibly the most notable anti-Vietnam war leader of the late 60s, was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. The Weather Underground published Prairie Fire in 1974 and dedicated it to Sirhan Sirhan. Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dorhn, and others signed this dedication but now they would ask us to accept their explanation that all they wanted to accomplish was an end to the war in Vietnam.
I could go on with many other contradictions in the new history Billy is attempting to impose on us. Today we are supposed to believe that Bill is merely an educator with no interests in the political aspects of our society. If this is true then why the picture of him standing on our flag? Why the statement that his only regret is that they (the Weather Underground) hadn’t done enough? What is the meaning of “I now consider myself an anarchist”? I can only conclude that Billy is a confluence of contradictions and revised history meant to confuse us as to what he is really about. Consider “guilty as hell, free as a bird, America is a great country.” Do you think he really means that?
I must conclude by acknowledging that in one respect Bill is probably being absolutely truthful. When he says that “I never killed or injured anyone,” he is most likely being totally honest. Bill, like Charles Manson, never exposed himself to any kind of danger. He always gave orders and then left it to his then-girlfriend, Diane Oughton, and others to implement his plan. If you listen closely you can even hear the similarities in the arguments Manson and Billy use today to justify what they did: the 60s made me do it.
Paul Graham writes about tests, credentials and meritocracy:
…Judging people by their academic credentials was in its time an advance. The practice seems to have begun in China, where starting in 587 candidates for the imperial civil service had to take an exam on classical literature.  It was also a test of wealth, because the knowledge it tested was so specialized that passing required years of expensive training. But though wealth was a necessary condition for passing, it was not a sufficient one. By the standards of the rest of the world in 587, the Chinese system was very enlightened. Europeans didn’t introduce formal civil service exams till the nineteenth century, and even then they seem to have been influenced by the Chinese example.
Before credentials, government positions were obtained mainly by family influence, if not outright bribery. It was a great step forward to judge people by their performance on a test. But by no means a perfect solution. When you judge people that way, you tend to get cram schools—which they did in Ming China and nineteenth century England just as much as in present day South Korea.
What cram schools are, in effect, is leaks in a seal. The use of credentials was an attempt to seal off the direct transmission of power between generations, and cram schools represent that power finding holes in the seal. Cram schools turn wealth in one generation into credentials in the next.
It’s hard to beat this phenomenon, because the schools adjust to suit whatever the tests measure. When the tests are narrow and predictable, you get cram schools on the classic model, like those that prepared candidates for Sandhurst (the British West Point) or the classes American students take now to improve their SAT scores. But as the tests get broader, the schools do too. Preparing a candidate for the Chinese imperial civil service exams took years, as prep school does today. But the raison d’etre of all these institutions has been the same: to beat the system. 
History suggests that, all other things being equal, a society prospers in proportion to its ability to prevent parents from influencing their children’s success directly. It’s a fine thing for parents to help their children indirectly—for example, by helping them to become smarter or more disciplined, which then makes them more successful. The problem comes when parents use direct methods: when they are able to use their own wealth or power as a substitute for their children’s qualities.
Parents will tend to do this when they can. Parents will die for their kids, so it’s not surprising to find they’ll also push their scruples to the limits for them. Especially if other parents are doing it.
You may have received this email that’s making the rounds about the 12 Days of Christmas:
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.
Two weeks ago I removed the VHS player from the audio visual stack, it having gone unused for years. Now the LA Times writes the obituary:
Pop culture is finally hitting the eject button on the VHS tape, the once-ubiquitous home-video format that will finish this month as a creaky ghost of Christmas past.
After three decades of steady if unspectacular service, the spinning wheels of the home-entertainment stalwart are slowing to a halt at retail outlets. On a crisp Friday morning in October, the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Fla., warehouse run by Ryan J. Kugler, the last major supplier of the tapes.“It’s dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt,” said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. “I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I’m done. Anything left in warehouse we’ll just give away or throw away.”
Dumped in a humid Florida landfill? It’s an ignominious end for the innovative product that redefined film-watching in America and spawned an entire sector led by new household names like Blockbuster and West Coast Video. Those chains gave up on VHS a few years ago but not Kugler, who casually describes himself as “a bottom feeder” with a specialization in “distressed inventory.”Kugler is president and co-owner of Distribution Video Audio Inc., a company that pulls in annual revenue of $20 million with a proud nickel-and-dime approach to fading and faded pop culture. Whether it’s unwanted “Speed Racer” ball caps, unsold Danielle Steel novels or unappreciated David Hasselhoff albums, Kugler’s company pays pennies and sells for dimes. If the firm had a motto, it would be “Buy low, sell low.”“It’s true, one man’s trash is another man’s gold,” Kugler said. “But we are not the graveyard. I’m like a heart surgeon — we keep things alive longer. Or maybe we’re more like the convalescence home right before the graveyard.”
The last major Hollywood movie to be released on VHS was “A History of Violence” in 2006. By that point major retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart were already well on their way to evicting all the VHS tapes from their shelves so the valuable real estate could go to the sleeker and smaller DVDs and, in more recent seasons, the latest upstart, Blu-ray discs. Kugler ended up buying back as much VHS inventory as he could from retailers, distributors and studios; he then sold more than 4 million VHS videotapes over the last two years.
Liberals are very generous people — with other people’s money. But it’s conservatives who put their money where their mouth is.
This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.
Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.
Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.
The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.
“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”
Something similar is true internationally. European countries seem to show more compassion than America in providing safety nets for the poor, and they give far more humanitarian foreign aid per capita than the United States does. But as individuals, Europeans are far less charitable than Americans.
Americans give sums to charity equivalent to 1.67 percent of G.N.P., according to a terrific new book, “Philanthrocapitalism,” by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green. The British are second, with 0.73 percent, while the stingiest people on the list are the French, at 0.14 percent.
(Looking away from politics, there’s evidence that one of the most generous groups in America is gays. Researchers believe that is because they are less likely to have rapacious heirs pushing to keep wealth in the family.)
When liberals see the data on giving, they tend to protest that conservatives look good only because they shower dollars on churches — that a fair amount of that money isn’t helping the poor, but simply constructing lavish spires.
It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives.
According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do. But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.
Just compare two veeps: Joe Biden donated an average of $329 annually for the past decade. Dick and Lynne Cheney donated 75% of their income last year to charity.
Vice President Cheney had a little fun at his successor-to-be’s expense today, telling Fox News Sunday that he didn’t take Joe Biden’s criticism of his tenure too seriously because Joe Biden doesn’t know the Constitution from a hole in the ground. Bill Sammon reports that Cheney said: “Joe’s been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can’t keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive. So I think I’d write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don’t take it seriously.” Cheney was referring to Biden’s VP debate gaffe in which he confused Articles of the Constitution addressing the authority of the Legislative Branch (Article I) and the Executive Branch (Article II).Biden “bit back,” according to Sammon, but unfortunately, he seems to have bitten himself. According to Biden, Cheney’s “notion of a unitary executive, meaning that, in time of war, essentially all power, you know, goes to the executive, I think is dead wrong.” Well, once again, Mr. Biden, that’s no one’s notion of the unitary executive except confused Democrats.
The unitary executive is simply a recognition, from the first sentence of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, that the “executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” For the umpteenth time, it is not a theory that the president’s power is somehow enhanced, at the expense of Congress, during wartime. It is merely a recognition that there is only one (i.e., uni-tary) executive and that any efforts by Congress to give executive authority to someone other than the President is unconstitutional. It is not a theory about the balance of power between the branches, but a statement about the authority of the president within the Executive Branch. The “notion” that a “unitary executive” means that “in time of war, essentially all power, goes to the executive,” is indeed dead wrong. But it’s Biden’s misconception of that theory that is wrong, not Cheney’s.Keep it up, Joe. At this rate, you’ll know more about the Constitution than your non-lawyer predecessor in, well, never.
And they said Sarah Palin wasn’t fit to be VEEP.
How Government Created Economic Turmoil, from Reason.TV