Saturday, June 01, 2013

Preferring death to house-cleaning, William Brandol quit beating carpets in the yard of his house and went to an abandoned quarry to jump into the deep hole

From the International Herald Tribune's 100 Years Ago section:
1913 — Death Preferable to Cleaning
Preferring death to house-cleaning, William Brandol quit beating carpets in the yard of his house, at 16 Centre street, Nutley, N.J., a little before noon yesterday [May 12], and went to an abandoned quarry and prepared to jump into the deep hole. Brandol decided he would leave a note: — “Dear Wife, Farewell. I can’t beat carpets or clean house, and it ain’t no use of your trying to make me.” When he had finished the noon whistles were blowing, and this reminded Brandol that his wife was to have corned beef and cabbage for the noon meal. He decided that he liked corned beef and cabbage more than he disliked house-cleaning, so he placed the note in a cleft in the rocks, returned to the house and ate a tremendous quantity of his favorite delicacy.

Friday, May 31, 2013

What could have been......

The news this afternoon is certainly grim:

Another month, another 95,000 people lost their jobs in the eurozone.

The EMU unemployment rate nudged up a point to 12.2pc, but this understates those who have dropped out of workforce. The European Commission says the real rate for Italy is around 20pc, not the declared rate of 11.2pc.

There are now 19.4 million registered unemployed in Euroland and 26.6 million in the EU as a whole. There are 5.6m youths below the age of 25 looking for jobs.

By comparison, the US economy looks to be in absolute rude health. Would that be the case had US policy-makers been following the economic advice of the NYTs Paul Krugman, circa 2005:

Americans tend to believe that we do everything better than anyone else. That belief makes it hard for us to learn from others. For example, I've found that many people refuse to believe that Europe has anything to teach us about health care policy. After all, they say, how can Europeans be good at health care when their economies are such failures? 

Now, there's no reason a country can't have both an excellent health care system and a troubled economy (or vice versa). But are European economies really doing that badly? 

The answer is no. Americans are doing a lot of strutting these days, but a head-to-head comparison between the economies of the United States and Europe -- France, in particular -- shows that the big difference is in priorities, not performance. We're talking about two highly productive societies that have made a different tradeoff between work and family time. And there's a lot to be said for the French choice. 

First things first: given all the bad-mouthing the French receive, you may be surprised that I describe their society as ''productive.'' Yet according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France -- G.D.P. per hour worked -- is actually a bit higher than in the United States. 

It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

O.K., I'm oversimplifying a bit. There are several reasons why the French put in fewer hours
 of work per capita than we do. One is that some of the French would like to work, but can't: France's unemployment rate, which tends to run about four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate, is a real problem. Another is that many French citizens retire early. But the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers. 

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice. And to see the consequences of that choice, let's ask how the situation of a typical middle-class family in France compares with that of its American counterpart. 

The French family, without question, has lower disposable income. This translates into lower personal consumption: a smaller car, a smaller house, less eating out.
But there are compensations for this lower level of consumption. Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills. 

Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers
 average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice? 

I've been looking at a new study of international differences in
 working hours by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, at Harvard, and Bruce Sacerdote, at Dartmouth. The study's main point is that differences in government regulations, rather than culture (or taxes), explain why Europeans work less than Americans. 

But the study also suggests that in this case, government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable tradeoff -- to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family -- the kind of deal an individual would find hard to negotiate. The authors write: ''It is hard to obtain more vacation for yourself from your employer and even harder, if you do, to coordinate with all your friends to get the same deal and go on vacation together.'' 

And they even offer some statistical evidence that working fewer hours makes Europeans
 happier, despite the loss of potential income. 

It's not a definitive result, and as they note, the whole subject is ''politically charged.'' But let
 me make an observation: some of that political charge seems to have the wrong sign.

American conservatives despise European welfare states like France. Yet many of them stress the importance of ''family values.'' And whatever else you may say about French economic policies, they seem extremely supportive of the family as an institution. Senator Rick Santorum, are you reading this?

According to the latest statistics, Europeans are indeed working ever fewer hours these days, months, years. They must be absolutely ecstatic at the moment, what say you good doctor?

At the dawn of the 21st century, the military’s primary concern seems to be “diversity”, not winning wars

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the military’s primary concern seems to be “diversity” with all of its hideous hydra heads, not winning wars
writes Iraq War veteran Benjamin Duffy in his post on Barack Obama's Recipe For A Weaker Military.
 The Pentagon continues to charge full speed ahead toward integration of women into combat roles by 2016. If you harbored any doubts that standards will be lowered in order to achieve the goal, rest assured that they will be.

Perhaps you’ve heard otherwise. In January, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters,
”If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job — if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.”
Panetta summed up the classic argument in favor of allowing women to serve in combat roles: If standards remain the same, why shouldn’t a woman be allowed the opportunity to meet them? Good question, though I’d suggest that anyone who asks it doesn’t know the state of today’s military. This isn’t your daddy’s army, or even your older brother’s.

 … We now know that efforts to lower standards are already underway. The US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is currently conducting a scientific review to determine gender-neutral physical standards for the co-ed combat units of the future. Why is a fancy study even necessary? Won’t women be expected to meet the same old standards that men always had to? Well, no. If that were the case no study would be needed to formulate new standards because they would simply apply the old ones.

The newly minted gender-neutral standards will likely fall somewhere between the current “gender-normed” separate standards of today’s military. … Combat effectiveness will thus suffer on two fronts—units will be forced to include both males and females who otherwise wouldn’t be qualified. The standards will be the same for both genders, only lower. If a woman is too weak to throw a grenade sufficiently far to avoid blowing herself up, that’s fine because a man who does the same will also pass. Equality is a wonderful thing.

How difficult it can be to explain this to people who think that the current policy is just petty sexism. Proponents of women in combat roles like to tug at our heart strings with emotional appeals to fairness, insisting that gobs of women who are both qualified and patriotic are simply not permitted to do the most for their country because male chauvinists won’t let them “try out for the team.”

The number of women who are truly qualified is probably paltry, hence the lower physical standards already in place across all services. Yes, a few exceptional superwomen may be able to make their male counterparts look like chumps. I met a handful of these women during my army years. The military will not however, formulate policy with only the top one tenth of one percent of womankind in mind.

The new policy of women in combat arms is not about allowing women the opportunity to meet the same standards; at least not the current standards. It’s about lowering the bar for both sexes, a recipe for a weaker fighting force.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fast Food Accounts for 54% of Restaurant Sales in France

According to a recent survey on restaurants, the French prefer fast food to their fine cuisine.
Sacrebleu says Hervé as Time's Courtney Subramanian tells us that Fast Food Makes Up 54% of Restaurant Sales in France
As NPR reports, food consultancy firm Gira Conseil conducted its annual survey on restaurant spending in France and found that 54% of total sales belong to the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway. The new fan favorite increased 14% in consumption in the past year, shattering any notion that the French, known for world famous chefs and sophisticated palates, look down on the cheap and easy alternative to traditional restaurant dining.

McDonald’s racks up more than 1,200 locations in France, Subway has opened hundreds of stores in the past 10 years and Burger King, which shuttered its French locations 16 years ago, recently returned to the market.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An uncomfortable message for those who believe that Stalinism was an aberration or a reaction to mistakes made by the West

FIRST and foremost, Stalin was a communist, who believed that the sacred cause justified the most extreme measures
writes The Economist in its book review of Robert Gellately's Stalin’s Curse (Battling for Communism in War and Cold War):
what non-believers would call unparalleled barbarity. This central message in Robert Gellately’s masterly new book is an uncomfortable one for those who believe that Stalinism was an aberration, or a reaction to mistakes made by the West. It is facile to say Stalin was simply a psychopath, that he believed in terror for terror’s sake, or that the Red Tsar’s personality cult replaced ideology. A Leninist to his core, he was conspiratorial, lethal, cynical and utterly convinced of his own rightness.

Mr Gellately's latest work has a good claim to be the best single-volume account of the darkest period in Russian history. It is part of a crop of excellent new accounts of the era. It sits well with Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book, “Bloodlands” (about mass killings) and Anne Applebaum’s “Iron Curtain” (which deals with eastern Europe after 1944 and which came out last year). It is also a worthy successor to his “Lenin, Stalin, Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe” (2008), which compared and contrasted the three monsters.

Stalin’s supposed strategic genius gets short shrift, along with his generalship. Because
communist doctrine said all imperialists were equal, Stalin failed to see that the Western powers were not the same as Nazi Germany, and might even be useful allies against it. For all his paranoia and cynicism, the Soviet leader was determinedly friendly to Adolf Hitler, apparently believing that close ties with the Soviet Union made a Nazi attack less likely. But Hitler saw it the other way round: relying on Soviet imports endangered his long-term goal of destroying communism.

Where Stalin excelled, again and again, was in ruthlessness and attention to detail. … Communism probably killed around 25m: roughly the same toll of death and destruction as that wrought by the Nazis.

Aside from the chief villain, Western leaders too come in for quiet but deserved scorn.   Both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman failed to grasp their counterpart’s malevolence. Winston Churchill made casual deals that consigned millions of people to slavery and torment. The foreigners thought Stalin was a curmudgeonly ally to be coaxed and cajoled. He treated them as enemies to be outwitted. Far from provoking Stalin into unnecessary hostility, the Western powers were not nearly tough enough.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why castigate the U.S. for having intervened in Iraq for "no reason," given that Saddam had "no" WMD, while doing nothing in Syria now that Assad does have WMD?

Ah! what didn't we hear in 2003 when the question of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq arose!
remembers Lucien SA Oulahbib as he evokes the Western Contradictions Face to Face With Chamical Syria.
— Huh?! WMD in Iraq?! But how could you believe such nonsense?! —Uh ... didn't Saddam have such weapons for a time when using them against the Kurds and Iranians? Wasn't there at the time a henchman of Saddam's who was called Chemical Ali as he gassed right and left? — Perhaps! but that was before ...  — Before what?! ... — Before ... — So there had been WMD ... — yes, but "before" ... and "after" the first Gulf War Saddam had been disarmed… —But the stocks … what happened to them? Where did they go?…
In The Secret History of the Iraq War (2003, HarperCollins, p 54), Yossef Bodansky wrote that
Using their wide array of technical capabilities, US Intelligence tracked Iraqis as they used barges and other river craft, particularly in northwest Iraq near the Syrian Border, to transfer and store materials used in its WMD programs, laboratories, and technical facilities.
A type of bilateral aid between two neighbors that is completely understandable, given that Saddam and Assad (the elder Assad at the time) were players on the same team, the Ba'ath party, Nasser's spearhead of the famous "Arab nationalism", the term "nationalism" being accepted in the West without the slightest problem. It was even a subject of scholarly studies. There was obviously no talk at the time of any kind of "right-wing" movement, no, and some indeed even spoke of a progressive, secular party, yes truly they did...
— The ADM "never existed", repeats Pascal Boniface in the microphone of BFM Buziness on Monday, May 27, on the same day that a report from Le Monde testifies on the use of chemical weapons in... Syria, which contains an impressive arsenal. — And so? ... — The "red line" drawn by Obama (in person) has been reached, has it not?
Well no ... How come? ... Here we get into Molière with touches of Marivaux: the USA and the UK (Blair and Bush) were accused by all those principled souls, including Pascal Boniface, of having intervened in Iraq, that "secular republic", because of those WMD which "never existed" (at least not "after" their alleged "dismantling"), but now when they are clearly seen to exist in Syria, this changes exactly zilch, as Obama kicks the problem out of sight while Europe votes to lift the arms embargo. Something that doubles as good news for Hezbollah, which will soon be gaining an impressive war booty, as well as Hamas, which will be precipitating everyone, including Israel and Iran, into bloody conflict. Egypt is not far away, especially if the war can be a way to address its growing socio-economic problems ...
However, why castigate the U.S. and the UK for having intervened in Iraq for "no reason", given that Saddam had "no" WMD, while doing nothing in Syria now that Assad does have WMD?
Moreover, the vehement howls of protests of some, speaking of lies and manipulation etc, were based on the premise that if there indeed were WMD, then yes the war would have been legitimate, but they were required to be present, absolutely, it was really the sine qua non! Except that now WMD are present, they are definitely present, and the West's eyes turn in another direction, the voices demand more "proof" etc ... especially on the U.S. side ... In addition, Roland Garros has just opened, plus Cameron's Ibiza holidays had to be canceled two days after the videotaped assassination of a soldier in the name of Islam which had nothing to do with Islam, according to the same Cameron who was not known to be an expert or a Ph.D. in Islamic studies. Islam which is being torn asunder in Syria while nobody can say who, between Assad and his enemies, is the most Muslim, especially given that the so-called "secular" Baathism never was meant to refer to atheism, since Arabic socialism never considered the original Islam as being in any way a foreign entity.
So chemical weapons exist, the Le Monde journalists have even seen them in action. And that's all, folks. End of story. Please welcome Realpolitik. Obama has too much to do in Asia. For ten years, Bush and Blair have been dragged through the mud, insulted, demonized. Some even accused them of having instigated the current war between Sunnis and Shiites, as if it had never existed before, and as if the division between Sunni and Shia was a "Bushist" creation. One feels like howling with laughter at such nonsense worthy of Canal +'s Grand Journal, RTL's On Refait le Monde, and all these programs licking the boots of public service media, as typified by Charles Enderlin and his obstinacy in making people believe that the child Mohamed al-Durrah was killed by "Israeli" bullets while in truth, he has no way of knowing (and Philippe Karsenty proved otherwise, highlighting the new Dreyfus affair as it has been dubbed by S. Trigano).
In short, mountains of rubbish have been written and continue to be written. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Kurds have escaped the clutches of Arab progressivism and Syrian Kurds are following in their steps, while waiting for the Turkish Kurds and Iranian Kurds ... The Medes' ancient empire is recovering, regenerating ... When will it finally be France's turn to wake up?
Update: France "Is Positive" That Sarin Gas Has Been Used "Several Times" by Syria's Assad (aka Saddam Hussein's Neighbor)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Why must Republicans be targeted when a scandal, or three in this case, hits a Democratic president?

In a twinkling [Barack Obama] has gone from a weakling Jimmy Carter to a modern-day George III
writes The Economist's Lexington as he compares the Benghazi scandal to the IRS scandal, suggesting Republicans are opportunists.

    Why must Republicans be targeted when a scandal, or three in this case, hits a Democratic president?  Were Democrats painted as opportunists, enraged or other, during Watergate and the Valerie Plame affair (no deaths in either)?  Were Democrats described as playing politics?

    Lexington claims (Notes on three scandals, May 18) that it was a "dizzying turnaround" to go from depicting Barack Obama as "a weakling Jimmy Carter" in the Benghazi scandal to "a modern-day George III" in regards to the IRS misconduct.

    The two positions are not incompatible, however, far from it.  Au contraire.  In the opinion of people on the right, Barack Obama is one more leftist who believes in the fairy tale that America, and the West, have no international enemies — none, at least, that are not of their own invention.  America, it turns out, is its own worst enemy.

    To the left, therefore, a good leader is someone who ignores or minimizes the misdeeds of foreign countries and who, with the simple power of the word, can heal the world — exactly as Obama has done with such states as Russia and China (conveniently ignoring such things as the imprisonment of opposition leaders, the killings of reporters, the delivery of missiles to Syria, saber-rattling in the China Sea, etc).  All the while taking on the clueless traditionalists at home.  Better yet, he is one who travels to countries around the world to apologize for America and the West.

    After the Arab Spring (for which George W Bush and his overthrow of Saddam Hussein get not an iota of recognition) and after Ben Laden's demise (all the work indubitably of one Barack Obama), we were told that, thanks to "smart" diplomacy, the newly-"democratized" Arab states were now our friends as well, that Al Qaeda had been defeated, and that terror was a thing of the past.

    When the phone call for help came from Benghazi, therefore, it proved the unthinkable — that the leftist fairy tale was defective — and the reaction of the apologizer-in-chief and his White House was first to freeze and later (I am being generous here) to twist the truth.

    Moreover, the camaraderie that the apologizer-in-chief seems to enjoy with foreign leaders, from elected leaders to autocrats, does not seem to be mirrored in his relations with Americans who don't believe in the same avant-garde dreams that he he does.

    Indeed, in this New Age mantra, as it happens, it is not true that there are no enemies; there is one exception — those in America (and in the West) who are so reactionary as to believe in enemies and to see through the other fairy tales — notably economic — of the left.

    And the voices of these (conservative) Americans must be silenced, minimized, or ridiculed, insofar as possible, and if these people can't be silenced, they must be dealt with ruthlessly.  And so it was that in this atmosphere, the operatives of IRS knew what targets to pick.

    Thus it is that Obama appears — quite consistently — as a weakling abroad while a tyrant at home (they are two sides of the same coin), which in turn explains why he is described as someone who bears no love for his country, or for his countrymen, or rather for those countrymen who aren't sophisticated enough to subscribe to the left's self-serving fairy tales.

From The Economist's Lexington column:
Republicans have duly pounced, and in doing so executed a neat pivot away from their Benghazi rage. In essence, the real charge driving their Benghazi scandal was one of dereliction of duty, and the insinuation that Mr Obama is too weak (or does not love his country enough) to use American might to keep his own envoys safe. Now Republicans have begun calling him a tyrant, willing to use government power to crush freedoms crafted by the founding fathers. In a twinkling he has gone from a weakling Jimmy Carter to a modern-day George III.
That may be a dizzying turnaround, but it makes political sense. The IRS row is, at a minimum, a gift to Republicans ahead of 2014 mid-term elections, while the AP row deals a double blow to a president who has disappointed supporters over civil liberties before, and suffers from chilly relations with the press.

More broadly, calling Democrats weak on national security used to be a vote-winner. Two costly wars have altered that. This may be the first lesson of the scandals now lapping at the White House door. Spend months attacking Mr Obama for using America’s might too cautiously, as in Libya, and he shrugs it off. Attack him for government overreach, and he is on the defensive. For supporters of an activist government, these are perilous times.
During the 2008 campaign five years ago, Lexington compared one of the candidates to Tricky Dick; but it was not Barack Obama

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More Leftist Civility Lesson-Giving: “We’ll all celebrate Maggie ’Cause it’s one day closer to your death”

In another New York Times item about the Iron Lady, Jennifer Schuessler shows again how the demand for civility is one-sided.
“The lady’s not for turning,” Margaret Thatcher famously said in an early speech. But almost from the moment she moved into 10 Downing Street in 1979, Mrs. Thatcher, who died on Monday at 87, was most definitely for filming, recording, and generally excoriating by British artists and writers who saw a rich target in her stiff-necked conservative politics and stiffer coiffure.

From the beginning, some of the toughest depictions came from musicians. Opposition to her free-market ideology infused albums like Gang of Four’s 1979 “Entertainment!” and, in the same year, the Clash EP “Cost of Living,” the cover of which Joe Strummer reportedly wanted to include a collage featuring Mrs. Thatcher’s face and a swastika. … In 1985 Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Kirsty McColl and other musicians founded Red Wedge, a collective aimed at forcing her to do just that.

When that effort failed, some turned to dark fantasies. In “Margaret on the Guillotine” (1988), Morrissey trilled “People like you/Make me feel so tired/ When will you die?” Elvis Costello, in “Tramp the Dirt Down” (1989), promised “When they finally put you in the ground/I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”

… Onstage Mrs. Thatcher’s presence was felt in the West End as early as 1981, when she and her husband, Denis, once spent an awkward evening at the farce “Anyone for Denis?” She received acid portrayals in plays by Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare and Peter Morgan, whose new play, “The Audience,” about Queen Elizabeth II’s meetings with her prime ministers, has drawn some criticism for its depiction of Mrs. Thatcher as a combative, racial-epithet-slinging vulgarian at frequent odds with the queen. (“What is it about the left that it attracts so many contemptible, vicious and anti-social people these days?” Lord Tebbit, one of her former cabinet ministers, said to The Telegraph.)
The news of her death hardly seems to be softening the portrayals. Tonight’s performance of “Billy Elliot,” according to a press representative, will include the usual rendition of “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher,” which includes the verse “We’ll all celebrate/’Cause it’s one day closer to your death.”