Archive for the 'General' Category

Cui bono?

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

What’s Russia got going for it? Bad demographics but it is currently the largest oil producer in the world. Russia certainly knows how to act in its own interests, or those of Mr. Putin. Was it a surprise that Putin decided to strongly control the area around its only warm water naval base in moves that seemed to come out of nowhere? Similarly would it be a surprise to find some Russian money in ISIS, another thing that seemed to come out of nowhere? Iran and Qatar versus Saudi Arabia et al should be a good thing for the world’s largest oil producer. (Of course we understand that things cut all kinds of ways in the region; Russia relies on Syria for a large naval maintenance facility, for example.) In any event lowering the power of OPEC and being more of a global lynchpin in oil prices would seem to be an obvious Russian goal.

Hugh Hewitt regularly asks journalists a series of questions to see if they know anything at all. One of the questions is about Alger Hiss, and many times the reporters don’t know much about hisstory. We started wondering the other day: who are the current Russian spies in the US government? You’d be a fool to think that there aren’t quite a few. Along the same line, does Russia even have to funnel money to groups that oppose vastly increasing US oil production? Many of these come by their anti-Americanism naturally, and think they are intellectually and morally superior to boot. How Putin must laugh at us!

Update to a five year old story

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Back then: Michael Tomasky in the Guardian:

About that “Allahu Akbar” — The fact that Hassan reportedly shouted the above is meant, I suppose, to imply that he was an extremist fanatic. I’m not sure that it does. My understanding is that it’s something Arab people often shout before doing something or other. It’s used in many different situations.

Update: “I formally and humbly request to be made a citizen of the Islamic State,”Hasan says in the handwritten document addressed to “Ameer, Mujahid Dr. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” “It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don’t compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers.” The two-page letter includes Hasan’s signature and the abbreviation SoA for Soldier of Allah.

In case you hadn’t noticed

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

The average person is both ill-informed and not too bright, at least if you poll the right campuses and industries where they prattle on about micro-aggressions and so forth. Add that to the college professor class, and oops! the high school history curriculum, and you have a formula for continued degeneration into a fantasy world until things get up close and personal. It’s all so obvious. Appeasement does not work. Unbelievably sad and pathetic and to no avail.

Update: if figures like this are true, this conflict could be a kind of an internecine hundred years’ war, except that with the armaments available today, there seems a pretty high probability that someone will choose to go out with a bang.

The wish is father to the thought

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

American Interest:

On July 31, 2014, a group of left-leaning historians called “Historians Against the War” posted an open letter to President Obama denouncing Israel’s actions in the Gaza War and calling for a cut-off of American military assistance to Israel. On August 13, the letter was posted on the website of the History News Network. On August 31, the signers reported that “in less than twenty-four hours over two hundred US, based [sic] historians had signed the letter.” This remarkable turnout depended on the mobilization of an already existing network of an academic Left that emerged in opposition to the war in Iraq and that stays in touch via a website called “The Hawblog.” On August 14, the blog announced that more than a thousand historians had signed the statement, including a large number from Mexico and Brazil.

With a brief and unconvincing effort to sound balanced, the statement deplored “the ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza and in Israel” but then turned its fire on Israel for what it called “the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” The signers were “profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children.” They found “unacceptable the failure of United States elected officials to hold Israel accountable for such an act” and demanded “a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life.” Further, they urged the President to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel until there is assurance that it will no longer be used for the commission of “war crimes.” “As historians,” they concluded, “we recognize this as a moment of acute moral crisis in which it is vitally important that United States policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict change direction.”

It is old news that an academic tenured Left has a foothold in departments of history in the United States, as well as in Latin America. Also familiar is the deception involved in presenting oneself as “against war,” as if those who disagree are “for” war, and as if the issue were one of war or peace rather than anything that has to do with the substance of the conflict. Nor is it surprising that left-of-center academics are largely hostile to Israel. Hostility to Israel became a defining element of what it means to be left-wing since the early 1950s in the Communist states, and since the late 1960s for the Left in Western Europe, the United States, and the Third World as well. Nor is it even surprising that the signers conclude, before they can possibly have access to the evidence needed to reach this judgment, that Israel has engaged in “war crimes.”

Depressing, but it will end. Reality is on its way to a village near you. Yes indeed. They’re all branches of the same tree.

The absurd and the serious

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Cause and effect? College am good. The miracle of solar and wind power. On a serious note, Angelo Codevilla considers what it will take to take down ISIS; there’s no way it’s going to happen until things get far worse, which they will.

700 words too long?

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

We were going to critique this MoDo piece by observing it was about 700 words longer than the original. But on second thought, the droning on and on gets it just about right.

So simple that even a college professor should be able to understand

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Jonah Goldberg responds to the professor who mocked him at CNN the other day:

I find it more than a little appalling to be lectured to about the evils of calling ISIS evil, particularly from a person who specializes in the issue of “human rights.” I understand that in our culture saying that “some people can’t be reasoned with” is seen as closed-minded. But sometimes you can be so open-minded your brain falls out. If the view of the human rights community is that it is simply useless to describe ISIS as evil, then what good is the human rights community?

Maybe I’m the fool here, but it just seems obvious to me that a group that crucifies its theological enemies, buries children alive, forces young girls into sexual slavery, and seeks global dominion isn’t a great candidate for reasonable conversation and compromise. Moreover understanding the “whys” behind their behavior strikes me as a moral dead end.

Let us recall once again the story of British general Charles James Napier. When assigned to British-run India, he was informed that he just didn’t understand Indian customs. He couldn’t ban the practice of wife-burning, he was told, because it was an ancient and valued tradition in India. He said he understood and appreciated that. “This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Really, this is so simple that even a college professor ought to be able to understand it.

They’re not all on horses

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Both CNN and the NYT instruct us not to make “simplistic” moral judgments about ISIS. The pieces were penned by college professors. (What might they have written in August of 1939?) Bonus fun: don’t let ISIS know you’re sad or mad.

The Happening

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

WaPo:

On one corner of a battered stretch of West Florissant Avenue, the epicenter of ongoing protests, young men pull dark scarves up over their mouths and lob molotov cocktails at police from behind makeshift barricades built of bricks and wood planks. They call the gasoline-filled bottles “poor man’s bombs.” The young men yell expletives and, with a rebel’s bravado, speak about securing justice for Michael Brown, the black teen fatally shot Aug. 9 by a white police officer, “by any means necessary.” They are known here as “the militants” — a faction inhabiting the hard-core end of a spectrum that includes online organizers and opportunistic looters — and their numbers have been growing with the severity of their tactics since the shooting. Each evening, hundreds gather along West Florissant in what has become the most visible and perilous ritual of this St. Louis suburb’s days of frustration following Brown’s death. Dozens have been arrested, many injured by tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets fired by a police force dressed in riot gear and armed with assault rifles. But the demonstrators are as diverse as their grievances — and in their methods of addressing them. Some of the men are from the area — Ferguson or surrounding towns also defined in part by the gulf separating the mostly white law enforcement agencies from a mistrusting African American public. Many others — it is hard to quantify the percentage — have arrived by bus and by car from Chicago, Detroit, Brooklyn and elsewhere. They will not give their names. But their leaders say they are ready to fight, some with guns in their hands. “This is not the time for no peace,” said one man, a 27-year-old who made the trip here from Chicago.

Buzzfeed:

It was a little after 9 p.m., and I was in the McDonald’s parking lot, standing by my car. A police helicopter circled overhead, its spotlight sweeping back and forth. Then I heard the sound of shattering glass: A rubber bullet had been fired through a window of McDonald’s, which until then, had been one of the few sanctuaries on West Florissant Avenue. Now I didn’t feel safe anywhere…I saw a blonde white woman getting into a minivan. Something about her — the well-worn sweatsuit? the lack of makeup? — made me think she was a mother. I approached: “Can you please help us?” She didn’t even hesitate: “Get on in.” Her name is Stacy Graham. She and her three children — ages 14, 9, and 7 — live 35 miles away in Jerseyville, Ill. “So much for the curfew, bitches,” she joked when we got into the car. Stacy had come to Ferguson to visit her family and show her support for the Brown family. She was wearing a T-shirt that had Brown’s face on the front and the slogan “Murder is murder” on the back. Her support comes by blood: A black man, currently serving a nine-year prison sentence, is the father of her three children. “I worry that society has already deemed them doomed because of the color of their skin,” she said.

At the end of SVU Debt, Stabler kills a perp who has a gun to a girl’s head. Shortly thereafter, he hands his weapon to Fin as he sighs and resigns himself to deal with Internal Affairs and the endless questioning and paperwork he has to deal with. Points: (1) a cop would have to be evil, wildly reckless, or a lunatic to shoot somebody without cause; (2) if news outlets had embedded reporters with the Viet Cong in 1968, what would that have looked like?

Lessons for the future

Monday, August 18th, 2014

(1) When you’ve alienated key members of the Washington Post’s editorial board by marrying petulance and implausibility, the game’s up. VDH sees A Face in the Crowd playing out before our eyes, something we noted a couple of years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, this was all very predictable. When someone says things that reveal unhinged grandiosity, walk slowly away. Don’t get on the bandwagon.

(2) Beware when a minor story in the overall scheme of things (indeed) suddenly becomes, almost instantly, the lede at every media outlet. It’s as though they had the chosen narrative written in advance and were just waiting for some sad event to hang the narrative on. And in an election year. Hmmmm. Of course in many cases the chosen narrative does not stand up to scrutiny (here and here, for example), but by then great emotions have been aroused and great damage has been done.

If all the world’s a stage, why not use it?

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

This is a little tongue in cheek, but not completely so, even though the matter is serious. Rick Perry’s statement on his ridiculous indictment was heavy on the gravitas and old man talk, blah, blah, blah. However, it included this howler: “It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics.”

Are you kidding? — theatrics is a weapon. Perry missed a great opportunity to expand his base and get the kids to watch. He should have said a couple of sentences about the indictment and then said “getta load of this,” playing this youtube video at about the 1 minute mark on a big screen in the background. The fadeout music should have been she’s once, twice, three times the limit (HT: DB). That sure would have beaten harumphing for impact, and would have appropriately treated a clown, however her vile and abusive of the judicial process, as a clown.

(For those of you who are interested in the serious elements of this, we recommend Patterico via Ace, where perfidy is put on enjoyable and ignominious public display.)

Update: Perry has caught on to the theater aspect of things.

Cold

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Spengler:

General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the city of Atlanta in 1864. He warned: “I fear the world will jump to the wrong conclusion that because I am in Atlanta the work is done. Far from it. We must kill three hundred thousand I have told you of so often, and the further they run the harder for us to get them.” Add a zero to calibrate the problem in the Levant today. War in the Middle East is less a strategic than a demographic phenomenon, whose resolution will come with the exhaustion of the pool of potential fighters.

The Middle East has plunged into a new Thirty Years War, allows Richard Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations. “It is a region wracked by religious struggle between competing traditions of the faith. But the conflict is also between militants and moderates, fueled by neighboring rulers seeking to defend their interests and increase their influence. Conflicts take place within and between states; civil wars and proxy wars become impossible to distinguish. Governments often forfeit control to smaller groups – militias and the like – operating within and across borders. The loss of life is devastating, and millions are rendered homeless,” he wrote on July 21.

Well and good: I predicted in 2006 that the George W Bush administration’s blunder would provoke another Thirty Years War in the region, and repeated the diagnosis many times since. But I doubt that Mr Haass (or Walter Russell Mead, who cited the Haass article) has given sufficient thought to the implications.

How does one handle wars of this sort? In 2008 I argued for a “Richelovian” foreign policy, that is, emulation of the evil genius who guided France to victory at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648. Wars of this sort end when two generations of fighters are killed. They last for decades (as did the Peloponnesian War, the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century) because one kills off the fathers die in the first half of the war, and the sons in the second.

This new Thirty Years War has its origins in a demographic peak and an economic trough. There are nearly 30 million young men aged 15 to 24 in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, a bulge generation produced by pre-modern fertility rates that prevailed a generation ago. But the region’s economies cannot support them. Syria does not have enough water to support an agricultural population, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of farmers into tent cities preceded its civil war. The West mistook the death spasms of a civilization for an “Arab Spring,” and its blunders channeled the youth bulge into a regional war.

The way to win such a war is by attrition, that is, by feeding into the meat-grinder a quarter to a third of the enemy’s available manpower. Once a sufficient number of who wish to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so, the war stops because there are insufficient recruits to fill the ranks. That is how Generals Grant and Sherman fought the American Civil War, and that is the indicated strategy in the Middle East today…

The Bush Administration was too timid to take on Iran; the Obama administration views Iran as a prospective ally. Even Neville Chamberlain did not regard Hitler as prospective partner in European security. But that is what Barack Obama said in March to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg: “What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.” Bush may have been feckless, but Obama is mad…

ISIS is a distraction. The problem is Iran. Without Iran, Hamas would have no capacity to strike Israel beyond a few dozen kilometers past the Gaza border. Iran now has GPS-guided missiles which are much harder to shoot down than ordinary ballistic missiles (an unguided missile has a trajectory that is easy to calculate after launch; guided missiles squirrel about seeking their targets). If Hamas acquires such rockets-and it will eventually if left to its own devices-Israel will have to strike further, harder and deeper to eliminate the threat. That confrontation will not come within a year, and possibly not within five years, but it looms over the present hostilities. The region’s security will hinge on the ultimate reckoning with Iran…

Three million men will have to die before the butchery comes to an end. That is roughly the number of men who have nothing to go back to, and will fight to the death rather than surrender.

The 3 million doesn’t count Iran, BTW, which most certainly will not choose to go quietly. Also, it doesn’t have to be EMP.

Priorities!

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

From DOD, Congress and CIA via WSJ:

2004 and 2008 reports by the congressional EMP Commission…warn that “terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear weapons may well calculate that, instead of destroying a city or a military base, they may gain the greatest political-military utility from one or a few such weapons by using them—or threatening their use—in an EMP attack”…The EMP Commission, in 2008, estimated that within 12 months of a nationwide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population could possibly perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown…Surge arrestors, faraday cages and other devices that prevent EMP from damaging electronics, as well micro-grids that are inherently less susceptible to EMP, have been used by the Defense Department for more than 50 years to protect crucial military installations and strategic forces. These can be adapted to protect civilian infrastructure as well. The cost of protecting the national electric grid, according to a 2008 EMP Commission estimate, would be about $2 billion

Way too much money when US policy is that adversaries “must agree to a politics of ‘no victor, no vanquish’.”

Horror and clarity

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Telegraph (more of the reporting from Jonathan Krohn here):

Mount Sinjar stinks of death. The few Yazidis who have managed to escape its clutches can tell you why. “Dogs were eating the bodies of the dead,” said Haji Khedev Haydev, 65, who ran through the lines of Islamic State jihadists surrounding it. On Sunday night, I became the first western journalist to reach the mountains where tens of thousands of Yazidis, a previously obscure Middle Eastern sect, have been taking refuge from the Islamic State forces that seized their largest town, Sinjar. I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.” Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to help the refugees, and last night two RAF C-130 transport planes were also on the way. However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been “useless” because it was dropped from 15,000ft without parachutes and exploded on impact…

Hundreds can now be seen making their way slowly…carrying what few possessions they managed to flee with on their backs. Exhausted children lie listlessly in the arms of their parents, older ones trudging disconsolately alongside while the sun beats down overhead. The small amount of relief the peshmerga militia can bring up into the mountain is not simply enough. One pershmerga fighter, Faisal Elas Hasso, 40, said: “To be honest, there’s not enough for everyone,” he said. “It’s five people to one bottle.”

The refugees who made it out described desperate scenes as they awaited help from the outside world. “There were about 200 of us, and about 20 of that number have died,” said Saydo Haji, 28. “We can live for two days, not more.” Emad Edo, 27, who was rescued in an airlift on Friday at the mountain’s highest point explains how he had to leave his niece, who barely had enough strength to keep her eyes open, to her fate. “She was about to die, so we left her there and she died,” he said. Others shared similar stories. “Even the caves smell very bad,” Mr Edo added. According to several of the airlifted refugees, the Geliaji cave alone has become home to 50 dead bodies. Saydo Kuti Naner, 35, who was one of 13 Yazidis who snuck through Islamic State lines on Thursday morning, said he travelled through Kurdish-controlled Syria to get to Kurdistan. He left behind his mother and father, too old to make the rough trip, as well as 200 sheep. “We got lucky,” he said. “A girl was running [with us] and she got shot.” He added that this gave enough cover for the rest of them to get away. Mikey Hassan said he, his two brothers and their families fled up into Mount Sinjar and then managed to escape to the Kurdish city of Dohuk after two days, by shooting their way past the jihadists. Mr Hassan said he and his family went for 17 hours with no food before getting their hands on some bread.

The Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish community that has kept its religion alive for centuries in the face of persecution, are at particular threat from the Islamists, who regard them as ‘devil worshippers’, and drove them from their homes as the peshmerga fighters withdrew. There have been repeated stories that the jihadists have seized hundreds of Yazidi women and are holding them in Mosul, either in schools or the prison. These cannot be confirmed, though they are widely believed and several Yazidi refugees said they had been unable to contact Yazidi women relatives who were living behind Islamic State lines. Kamil Amin, of the Iraqi human rights ministry, said: “We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them.” Tens of thousands of Christians have also been forced to flee in the face of the advancing IS fighters, many cramming the roads east and north to Erbil and Dohuk. On Thursday alone, up to 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled their homes in the Plain of Ninevah around Mosul.

One thing about ISIS, or as it calls itself now, the Islamic State: it sure has generated a lot of brand equity and clarity. Jihad is holy struggle? Jihad is personal growth? It appears that things have reached a new stage that the West, despite its intellectual obfuscation and denial, won’t be able to ignore for too long.

Related, from an interview with the retiring DIA head: “in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries.”

Sketchy indeed

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

The news is so serious and horrible that we’ll pass it by today in silence. On the lighter side, the media validated a new app in real time, if the story is not itself a joke. This particular app, which apparently has something to do with avoiding high crime areas, got some very bad publicity indeed. So a TV station sent a news van down to the scene for the WUSA reporters to do a live report. Next thing you know, the van was robbed. Have a nice day!

China’s restructuring challenges

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Stratfor:

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is the broadest and deepest effort to purge, reorganize and rectify the Communist Party leadership since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping two years later. It has already probed more than 182,000 officials…

China is in the midst of an economic transformation that is in many ways unprecedented. The core of this transformation is the shift from a growth model heavily reliant on low-cost, low value-added exports and state-led investment into construction to one grounded in a much greater dependence on high value-added industries, services and above all, domestic consumption. China is not the first country to attempt this. Others, including the United States, achieved it long ago. But China has unique constraints: its size, its political system and imperatives, and its profound regional geographic and social and economic imbalances. These constraints are exacerbated by a final and perhaps greatest limit: time. China is attempting to make this transition, one which took smaller and more geographically, socially and politically cohesive countries many decades to achieve, in less than 20 years.

The bulk of this work will take place over the next 10 years at most, and more likely sooner, not because the Xi administration wants it to, but because it must. The global financial crisis in 2007-08 brought China’s decadeslong export boom cycle to a premature close. For the past six years, the Chinese government has kept the economy on life support in the form of massively expanded credit creation, government-directed investment into urban and transport infrastructure development and, most important, real estate construction. In the process, local governments, banks and businesses across China have amassed extraordinary levels of debt. Outstanding credit in China is now equivalent to 251 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, up from 147 percent in 2008. Local governments alone owe more than $3 trillion. It is unknown — deliberately so, most likely — what portion of outstanding debts are nonperforming, but it is likely far higher than the official rate of 1 percent.

Despite claims that China’s investment drive was and is irresponsible — and certainly there are myriad anecdotal cases of gross misallocation of capital — it nonetheless fulfills the essential role of jumpstarting the country’s effort to “rebalance” to a new, more urban and more consumption-based economic model. But the problem, again, is time. China’s real estate sector is slowing. Sales, home prices and market sentiment are falling, even in the face of continued expansion of the overall credit supply. The days of high growth in the housing construction sector are numbered and prices, along with overall activity, are on a downward trend — one that can and will be hedged by continued high levels of investment and credit expansion, but not one that can be stopped for long. Real estate and related construction activity will remain the crucial component of China’s economy for the foreseeable future, but they will no longer be the national economic growth engines they were between 2009 and 2011.

This means that in the next few years, China faces inexorable and potentially very rapid decline in the two sectors that have underpinned economic growth and social and political stability for the past two or more decades: exports and construction. And it does so in an environment of rapidly mounting local government and corporate debt, rising wages and input costs, rising cost of capital and falling return on investment (exacerbated by new environmental controls and efforts to combat corruption) and more. Add to these a surge in the number of workers entering the workforce and beginning to build careers between the late 2010s and early 2020s, the last of China’s great population boom generations, and the contours emerge of an economic correction and employment crisis on a scale not seen in China since Deng came to power.

The solution, it would seem, lies in the Chinese urban consumer class. But here, once more, time is China’s enemy. Chinese household consumption is extraordinarily weak. In 2013, it was equivalent to only 34 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 69-70 percent in the United States, 61 percent in Japan, 57 percent in Germany and 52 percent in South Korea. In fact, it has fallen by two percentage points since 2011, possibly on the back of the anti-corruption campaign, which has curbed spending by officials that appears to have been erroneously counted as private consumption. There is reason to believe that household consumption is somewhat stronger than the statistics let on, but it is not nearly strong enough to pick up the slack from China’s depressed export sector and depressive construction industries. China’s low rates of urbanization relative to advanced industrial economies underscore this fundamental incapacity.

Whatever the Chinese government’s stated reform goals, it is very difficult to see how economic rebalancing toward a consumption- and services-based economy succeeds within the decade. It is very difficult to see how exports recover. And it is very difficult, but slightly less so, to see how the government maintains stable growth through continued investment into housing and infrastructure construction, especially as the real estate market inevitably cools. This leaves us with a central government that either accepts economic recession or persists in keeping the economy alive for the sake of providing jobs but at risk of peril to its reform initiatives, banks and local governments. The latter is ugly and very likely untenable under the current political model, which for three decades has staked its claim to legitimacy in the promise of stable employment, growth and rising material prosperity. The former is absolutely untenable under the current political model.

The pressures stemming from China’s economy — and emanating upward through Chinese society and politics — will remain paramount over the next 5-10 years. The above has described only a very small selection of the internal social and economic constraints facing China’s government today. It completely neglects public anger over pollution, the myriad economic and industrial constraints posed by both pollution and pervasive low-level corruption, the impact of changes in Chinese labor flows and dynamics, rising education levels and much more. It completely neglects the ambivalence with which many ordinary Chinese regard the Communist Party government.

CNN: Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to clean up the tarnished image of the Communist Party, pushing anti-graft campaigns and pledging to target “mosquitoes” — minor officials — as well as “tigers” — top officials…A report by the Ministry of Commerce cited in the English-language China Daily showed 4,000 corrupt officials had fled the country with at least $50 billion between 1978 and 2003.

2003? Just imagine how many expats and how many billions have fled since then. There is structural unrest in China as it seeks to make a very difficult transition. If push comes to shove, how do you quickly create unity and patriotic spirit? How do you spell Crimea in Chinese?

ISIS versus SISSI

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Scotsman:

Bagpipers have expressed their fear over a new law which led to two US teenagers having their pipes seized by border control staff at the weekend. Campbell Webster, 17 and Eryk Bean, 17, both from New Hampshire had their pipes seized while travelling between Canada and the US, just two days before they were due to fly to Scotland for the World Pipe Band Championships. Mr Webster’s pipes, which were previously used by his father in his role as an official piper to the Queen, were confiscated by officials because they are made out of ivory.

New laws brought in earlier this year mean that owners of pipes containing ivory must get a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) certificate from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to transport their pipes across borders. And pipers hoping to travel to Scotland for the competition will have to make an appointment with officials at a “designated” port and make a declaration on their customs form. But pipers say the confusing rules, brought in at the end of June, are causing “significant concern” – with many unsure how the new laws work.

Mr Webster, from Concord, New Hampshire, had his £6,000 bagpipes taken off him by US Border Patrol in Vermont just two days before he was due to fly to Scotland. The teenager said he had a CITES permit but was told he needed it amended to allow him to travel through smaller border crossings…

He said: “My friend and I both had our pipes seized by the US government Sunday night. “We were told we were never going to see them again.” “There is no way to describe the feeling watching border patrol agents seizing your bagpipes right in front of you.” Campbell’s vintage 1936 silver and ivory Robertson pipes previously belonged to his dad Gordon Webster – pipe-major with the 1st and 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and once an official piper to Queen Elizabeth II.

It’s an ISIS versus SISSI world. One group makes snuff videos and beheads or crucifies its opponents, and the other harasses bagpipers, guitar makers, and boy scouts. Who will win in the coming showdown?

Common core and other absurdities

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

A professor at Cal of all places:

when teaching fractions, the teacher required that students draw pictures of everything: of 6 divided by 8, of 4 divided by 2/7, of 0.8 x 0.4, and so forth. In doing so, the teacher followed the instructions: “Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem. For example, create a story context for 2/3 divided by 3/4 and use a visual fraction model to show the quotient.” Who would draw a picture to divide 2/3 by 3/4?

This requirement of visual models and creating stories is all over the Common Core. The students were constantly told to draw models to answer trivial questions, such as finding 20% of 80 or finding the time for a car to drive 10 miles if it drives 4 miles in 10 minutes, or finding the number of benches one can make from 48 feet of wood if each bench requires 6 feet. A student who gives the correct answer right away (as one should) and doesn’t draw anything loses points.

Here are some more examples of the Common Core’s convoluted and meaningless manipulations of simple concepts: “draw a series of tape diagrams to represent (12 divided by 3) x 3=12, or: rewrite (30 divided by 5) = 6 as a subtraction expression”…

the most astounding statement I have read is the claim that Common Core standards are “internationally benchmarked.” They are not. The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries, just as they fail compared to the old California standards. They are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.

For California, the adoption of the Common Core standards represents a huge step backward which puts an end to its hard-won standing as having the top math standards in the nation. The Common Core standards will move the U.S. even closer to the bottom in international ranking.

We grew up in an unenlightened time when the nuns gave us all addition and subtraction speed tests in first grade, multiplication and division speed tests to follow shortly. If we had to do the things above, we might have reduced our math SAT score by 800 points or so. In another example of government insanity, Michael Barone laments the acceleration of the regulatory state when Moore’s Law, twitter, yelp and uber all point in precisely the opposite direction.

MSM in Gaza, Iraq, North Korea — obsequious and dishonest

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

CNN in 1997:

In a sweltering, crowded hospital south of Baghdad, dozens of children line the beds, their stick-like limbs reflecting a severe lack of food. A mother’s wail pierces the room: One of her children has already died and two others are suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea. Such conditions are prevalent throughout the Arab nation, where aid agencies have issued numerous reports documenting the deteriorating health of Iraqi children since the United Nations imposed sanctions seven years ago. One in four Iraqi children are malnourished, according to UNICEF. Many of those who survive will suffer permanent brain damage or stunted growth.

CNN’s chief news executive in 2003:

Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN’s Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard — awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff. For example, in the mid-1990′s one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government’s ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iraq station chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk…A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for “crimes,” one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family’s home. I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me.

Not much has changed except the location, certainly not the professionalism of the media. Even the WaPo says the MSM are intimidated into silence or propaganda. Disgraceful. Lights, camera, action!!!

Bonus fun: North Korea too. Sense a pattern???

Odds and ends

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

The NYT asks that with “public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill,” just who in the USA might be on the other side? Duh.

It’s true and pretty obvious that most diseases are either highly contagious or highly lethal but not both. Plagues are rare enough. That said, the Ebola numbers are in all likelihood vastly understated, and complacency is unwarranted and unwise. So far we have been fortunate that many in the affected populations aren’t likely to be jetting off for August vacation; but that’s mere serendipity.

Question: if The Atlantic can figure out that Hamas isn’t gentler and kinder and has but one thing on its mind, why can’t other superior beings? Apparently, as Thomas Sowell rues, thinking is obsolete today.