Archive for August, 2012

WORD AROUND THE NET

August 31, 2012

“It is also worth noting that the current administration is against coal, natural gas, nuclear power and dams.”

What is the clerisy? Joe Kotkin at New Geography writes about them and how they are affective American culture and the upcoming election:

This largely well-heeled “middle class” still adores the president, and party theoreticians see it as the Democratic Party’s new base. Gallup surveys reveal Obama does best among “professionals” such as teachers, lawyers and educators. After retirees, educators and lawyers are the two biggest sources of campaign contributions for Obama by occupation. Obama’s largest source of funds among individual organizations is the University of California, Harvard is fifth and its wannabe cousin Stanford ranks ninth.

Like teachers, much of academia and the legal bar like expanding government since the tax spigot flows in the right direction: that is, into their mouths. Like the old clerical classes, who relied on tithes and the collection bowl, many in today’s clerisy lives somewhat high on the hog; nearly one in five federal workers earn over $100,000.

Essentially, the clerisy has become a new, mass privileged class who live a safer, more secure life compared to those trapped in the harsher, less cosseted private economy. As California Polytechnic economist Michael Marlow points out, public sector workers enjoy greater job stability, and salary and benefits as much as 21% higher than of private sector employees doing similar work.

If you ask people if they are better off now than 4 years ago, chances are if they say ‘yes’ they are in the modern clerisy.

Like chocolate? It seems like either you love it more than air or you can take it or leave it. Well some research suggests that chocolate may reduce the risk of stroke. It certainly seems to make people smile.

Democrats are dropping in general popularity according to some polling data. You should all know I have little patience with polling but they can over a time period show trends, if properly done. In this case, it confirms something we already know: both parties are losing popularity and are losing membership, Democrats faster then Republicans. And from where I sit, that’s a good thing.

Don’t tell anyone I’m a conservative! Actually I don’t care, but if you work in Hollywood its long been known you have to keep your mouth shut on politics if you disagree with the left, if you want work. However, there are a lot of other areas where that’s true as well. At Instapundit, readers keep saying something like “I would ask that if you do anything with this, you do not associate my name with anything. It would pretty much destroy me professionally.” Other readers commented:

If you are Black, Hispanic, work in Hollywood, Journalism, Law or Academia you must hide your true beliefs or your life/job will be targeted. This is the real battle for the future.

Identifying with conservative issues, and I’m not even talking social issues, is professional death in the non-profit world. So, please, if you use this, don’t use my name.

My wife, on the other hand, works in a liberal profession. The few times she’s let her true feelings show, she’s been met with disdain, antipathy and outright disgust. She’s afraid to put a Romney sticker on her car for fear of it being vandalized in the employee parking lot.

Data is not the plural of anecdote, but does anyone seriously doubt this effect is real? The establishment will not tolerate dissent.

Mark Regnerus at University of Texas wrote a paper on a study that showed children are better off with a mother and a father, instead of say, two fathers. The university immediately began an investigation into scientific misconduct and ethical violations by this awful person. They recently dropped the investigation, noting that there was no misconduct and the research does suggest this conclusion.

Low interest rates are a boon for big banks and are great for rich people to borrow and invest with, that’s why they love Quantitative Easing. But for regular folks, it just means .35% interest on savings. Glenn Reynolds in an opinion piece in USA Today writes:

Some years ago, when earning say 5% on your money was realistic, a $360,000 portfolio of CDs would produce $18,000 a year in interest — that’s $1500 a month. Couple that with an unexceptional Social Security payment of about the same amount, and that’s $36,000 a year, $3,000 a month. Nothing fancy, but enough to get by.

Now change that 5% to 0.9% and you’re earning $3,240 per year, or about $270 a month. Add that to $1,500 a month in Social Security and you’ve got $1,770 a month to live on; just $21,240 a year. That’s a brutal 41% cut in income. And it is why many senior citizens around the country are being forced to draw down savings to make ends meet.

But if they raise the interest rates with 16 trillion in debt, the interest payments become overwhelming. We’re already seeing the debt increase a trillion in less than a year – and accelerating – with present interest rates. This is unsustainable, to use a popular leftist word.

Are we running out of auto mechanics? This story in the USA Today suggests so, but Instapundit reader Dan Dressel disagrees:

I work directly with auto part stores and repair shops, and all I can say is don’t believe the hype. A lot of shops have closed the last two years due to the recovery, and there are a lot of young, trained mechanics out there doing other things. As soon as a good job turning wrenches opens up (and they can’t go back on unemployment after working six months), they’ll leave whatever service position they have and get back under the hood.

Dressel suggests perhaps the article is meant to direct young people to attend, say, GM mechanic schools which are heavily advertised. Mobility in an economy is a strength, allowing people to get work in another field when theirs suffers or collapses.

Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard didn’t much care for Romney. Me either, really. As I’ve written in the past, he seems too self-awarely a politician, too willing to say what people want to hear, and his campaign a little too mechanically precise and clinical. But last night’s convention, which I didn’t watch but checked live blogs on, is changing that for Ferguson and me, and I suspect a lot of others. Romney’s life is almost a caricature, the kind of person an editor would reject in a book as being too unbelievable. He saved lives, he gave away his multi million dollar inheritance and built himself up from scratch, he pulled people out of burning buildings, he shut down the Bain office to help find a missing girl, he gave money to people just to help them. He’s either been incredibly skilled at building a persona for political gain, or he really is that nice a guy.

That doesn’t mean I agree with all of Romney’s politics or that negates his two-faced tendency to make speeches, but it does change his persona. And for people that only knew him as the robotic job killer at Bain and the white millionaire, that’s only helpful for the Romney campaign.

Economic news may be bad but the legacy media has worked hard at making it seem not so bad, under a Democrat president. Ed Driscoll sums it up at Pajamas Media:

Actually, the MSM has most of those bases covered. High gas prices? Good news says NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Politico. High meat prices? Helps fight global warming, says “Scientific” American. Heck, the whole flatlined economy helps the environment, according to Democrats John Kerry and Claire McCaskill. Think of retirement as a permanent case of what the L.A. Times called “funemployment” in 2009, and the joys of what Virginia Postrel dubbed the MSM’s serious case of “Depression Lust,” at the end of 2008.

Should Romney win in November, expect the coverage to… adjust.

There is some good economic news, though. Manufacturing in America has been picking up, and while this sector is not booming exactly, its doing better than elsewhere in the world:

ManufacturingI expect unemployment to drop and growth to pick up in the last quarter of this year.

What is the Masonic handshake? For centuries this cryptic method of connecting fellow members of the semi-secret society has been only speculated at by non members but Weird Universe reveals the code:

  • Sunday sign: right hand in pocket of breeches, with thumb out, pointing to the left side.
  • Monday sign: left hand in left pocket, thumb out, pointing to the right side.
  • Tuesday sign: right hand in right waistcoat pocket, with thumb out, pointing left.
  • Wednesday sign: the reverse—left hand in left waistcoat pocket, with thumb out, pointing right.
  • Thursday sign: right hand in right coat pocket, with thumb and forefinger out, pointing downwards.
  • Friday sign: exactly opposite—for right, read left.
  • Saturday sign: putting the first three fingers of the right hand to that part of the right eyebrow next the ear, and so drawing it along till the 3rd finger touches the nose.

Don’t do this at the ballpark, the guy at bat might bunt.

MSNBC has abandoned all attempt at seeming like an actual news network and spent the entire RNC finding evil in every single situation, showering it with contempt, and a barely-sane Chris Matthews muttering about racism constantly like Gollum. They specifically cut away from or just outright skipped every single speaker that was a minority for two days, but finally showed most of Marco Rubio’s speech. Fox News skipped several of these speeches as well for the bigger names, but showed some, and their commentary didn’t continually focus on racism they secretly pulled out like numerologists finding messages in a text. Its clear that one was showing what they figured would pull in advertising and viewers, and the other was trying to avoid anyone getting the impression that perhaps Republicans aren’t hateful bigoted racist monsters. NBC carried the torch as well, clipping all minorities out of their Tuesday Night speech page.

GOP womenObama’s reelection team put out another ad, this time featuring women who once were Republican but now just cannot vote for Romney this year because they found out that it opposes abortion at all possible stages of pregnancy without restriction! Why, who knew? Except at least half of the women in the ad are… Democrats. Poor trolling. Meanwhile at the Mega Independent, a few more of these Republican women for Obama were found.

Remember ACORN? As I’ve written about several times, its still around (and still getting federal dollars, despite a ban from congress), its just split up into many different names. Cause of Action has released the various names of activist groups formerly known as ACORN, 174 of them, and they’re very active still.

Internet commerce is largely untaxed right now. You have to pay sales tax if you live in a sales tax area, but otherwise the transactions are untouched by federal, state, and local government. And governments hate that. Perhaps inspired by Chief Justice John Roberts, the IRS is looking at a plan to implement a new broadband “fee” to get some more of that sweet internet cash. Don’t bother writing your congressman. Vote for someone who’ll stop this and other attempts to take internet freedom away.

An architect took a look at various popular entertainment sources and laid out blueprints for their homes and environments, such as the apartments from Friends, the Sopranos, the Brady Bunch house, and so on. Ever wonder what the town of Mayberry looked like, or Al Bundy’s home was laid out? Now you can see. You can buy framed prints, too, which could be fun. But not cheap.

Believe it or not, Joe Biden thinks he has a shot at the presidency in 2016. He’s working on a team and thinking about it and The New Republic writer Noam Scheiber is taking him seriously. I think Joe needs to find some good caretaker and retire to comfort.

Four soldiers plotted to take over an army base, then kill the president to create a new revolution and change the country. Haven’t heard of this story? Wonder why its not front page number one news during a presidential election? Me too, and here’s a hint: the press is describing them as an “anarchist militia.” See how they don’t mention right wing or conservative, or even Republican there? Yeah.

Some folks, usually academics on the left, keep calling for an IQ test to vote. Clearly, they argue, only a mongoloid idiot would vote Republican and if we clear out the sub-normal IQ crowd Democrats would rule. There’s a problem with this theory that these folks haven’t really considered very closely: minorities tend to test poorly in IQ tests (largely due to the nature of the tests and too common minority culture – its white to study and be good in school, homes!). Jim Goad ran the numbers at Taki’s Magazine and if you dumped anyone under 100 IQ from voting… Democrats suffer massively in elections. For example, the McCain/Obama vote in 2008? McCain wins by 51-49.

After films such as Waiting for Superman and the general anger of the public against poor, shoddy education and teachers keeping jobs they shouldn’t have, Teacher’s unions have taken quite a beating lately. As with all public employee unions, I’m totally opposed to teachers unions, and it turns out that more and more teachers are, too. According to Stephen Sawchuck at Education Week:

By the end of its 2013–14 budget, NEA [the National Education Association] expects it will have lost 308,000 members and experienced a decline in revenue projected at some $65 million in all since 2010. (The figures are expressed in full-time equivalents, which means that the actual number of people affected is probably higher.)

It should be very difficult for a teacher of good conscience to stay in these unions.

Why isn’t President Obama doing better in this election? Why does the polling trend toward Romney and away from him? Well President Obama thinks he knows: its your fault, Obama supporters.

But the folks asking me about this don’t want an explanation — they want to know what I’m going to do about it.

And the fact is that solving this problem is up to you ….

We’re losing this air war right now.

I don’t have as much time to campaign this time as I did in 2008, so this whole thing is riding on you making it happen.

Of course what he really means is “you aren’t giving me enough of your money.” Given your track record with money, President Obama, maybe they’re just not trusting you to use it wisely.

Circumcision, once standard and presumed, is less common these days and there are some who think it is an evil barbaric practice. However, a recent report by the National Academy of Pediatrics seems to confirm what supporters have argued all along: its cleaner, helps protect against disease, and overall beneficial. Maybe God knew what he was doing all along.

According to the federal government too few of you are living on the dole. Unhappy that people who are eligible to be on food stamps and other government assistance aren’t signing up as much as they could, USA.gov is reminding people they don’t have to stand on their own or get help from neighbors and family. They won’t rest until everyone is on the teat.

What does your electric car run on? Oh sure, you plug it into the wall, right. But what’s that socket connected to? Coal and natural gas, mostly. About 30% of the power generated in America is coal, 40% natural gas, and 9% each hydroelectric and nuclear power. That’s right, your Volt runs on coal and petrochemicals. You just take it second hand.

And that’s the Word Around the Net for August 31, 2012. See you in September.

I’VE GOT MR OBAMA SITTING HERE

August 31, 2012

I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there is 23 million unemployed people in this country”
Clint

Clint Eastwood spoke at the Republican National Convention last night, and it was the only speech I actually watched. I wasn’t so much interested in the politics as I was curious what he’d say – and I think a lot of other people were, too. And the response has been curious to me.

“Baffling,” “Awkward,” “Rambling,” and so on are all used by various pundits – not coincidentally those leaning to the left – to describe the speech. And it was confusing at first because everyone expected him to bring his Dirty Harry/Gunny Highway persona to the stage. Instead it was the real Clint Eastwood, the actual man rather than the actor and he was a modest, ordinary sort of man instead of some tough guy icon caricature.

His use of the empty chair made many think of comedian Bob Newhart’s brilliant phone call sketches, and I got the strong sense that Eastwood was thinking of this as well. And it worked brilliantly. I don’t say that because I like the content of what he said, but because of who his targeted audience was. Clint Eastwood wasn’t trying to reach the under 50 crowd and he certainly didn’t care about the college age ironist and the hipster 30 something. He was after the over 65 crowd.

Clint Eastwood’s speech was about two things: stripping down the image of Obama as a nice guy trying his best and letting older voters know its okay to vote for the other guy. The post-Korea generation was hammered during Truman and Ike’s force integration that “we owe it to these men to let them grow.” And that was right, but for decades now older people have been shamed into fearing the appearance of racism. Words and statements they grew up with being comfortable with make younger people stare at them in shock.

They fear being perceived as racist. They think Obama may be doing a lousy job but he seems like such a good fellow and he says he’s trying hard. The older you get, the more forgiving you tend to get, remembering your past mistakes. You tend to be less absolute in your judgments and especially in trusting your instinct. The times you were wrong, sometimes disastrously wrong, loom larger in memory than when you were right. And young people are continually telling you that you’re mistaken, foolish and old. So you don’t want to be that guy again.

Clint Eastwood gently and with no small humor reached out to those people with brilliant targeting and let them know not only is this Obama guy not necessarily the nice fellow everyone says, but that he’s had his shot and he blew it. We tried out this slick talking neophyte, the guy with no experience but great patter. He’s lousy at the job. Its okay to let him go, you aren’t a bigot for doing so, its just common sense. Time for someone new, maybe a businessman, perhaps?

As Richard Fernandez puts it at the Belmont Club:

…it wasn’t one of those “I take this platform tonight with pen in hand, bearing in mind the immortal words of Clancy M. Duckworth” type orations. It wasn’t the speech of someone who was running for office.

Rather it might have come from Mr. Weller down at the corner office musing on simple things to not very important people. How it wasn’t good form to mess things up continuously. How one might lose faith in a man who made one broken promise too many. How at the end of the day everyone either did the job or quit out of decency. Even Presidents.

There was no malice in it. Just a tone of regret. But it was redolent of memory too. Of simple things a world away from the Mountaintop; of sentiments a light-year from dramatic arcs, and of ordinary happiness in a universe apart from grand bargains and high-flown rhetorical visions. They were truths that everyone who has ever worked knows but has somehow forgotten because it was so ordinary.

If you’re a 30 year old Manhattan socialite or a 19 year old college student he probably seemed like a strange, doddering old man. If you’re older, you remember Bob Newhart, you get his references and delivery, and you understood his message just fine. He was basic, heartland America, like a comforting grandfather who said it’s time for someone else in a way that got attention and a smile. That worked great.

The fact that urban socialite leftists didn’t get it or thought it was awful is just one more indication it worked.

*UPDATE: And the urban leftist hipster demonstrates how totally they didn’t get it, by “Eastwooding” by treating the empty chair as someone to yell at. The New York Daily News article declares the speech “bizarre” in the headline and quotes an urban hipster:

“Clint, what happened? You was always the man,” he said.

When he was done, though, the 60-year-old Manhattan man felt more dejected than fired up.

“That didn’t feel good. It was depressing,” Counts said.

“I have always looked up to Eastwood and it’s sad. If you’re for Romney that’s fine, but don’t go all zombie on me … It’s a strange thing. That’s not the Dirty Harry that I know.”

Can you pronounce Shibboleth?

**Another thought: I wrote recently about the way mockery has displaced wit in our culture. Clint Eastwood showed how to engage in satire without mockery, to use humor to teach and educate. And tin-eared left leaning urban young people just didn’t get it.

GET MEDIEVAL ON THEM

August 31, 2012

“It’s about adversarial perception, timing, distance, leverage, and technique, all used in good martial spirit.”
Sword Fighting

If you have heard any geek or teenage boy discussion of blades, you probably have heard (or participated) in a debate over which would be the more dangerous warrior: The romantic European knight or the stylish Japanese Samurai? Europeans usually are declared the loser because they’re supposedly slower and more clumsy and their swords aren’t as good, etc.

Except research is starting to show that almost all our understanding of medieval European knights is in error. We know their behavior wasn’t as courteous and chivalrous as the more romanticized tales of King Arthur would have you believe, but what’s changing is the understanding of basic elements of medieval warfare.

For example, when an athletic man dons an appropriately sized suit of proper armor, they’re quite mobile. Yes, it took a crane to put a man in jousting armor on his horse and the decorative suits you can find are very heavy and thick, but those weren’t combat outfits. Jousting was recreative sport, and the armor worn for that didn’t have to be mobile or light, all it was for is show and to protect the rider from a direct, crushing hit from the front.

Two horses charging at each other at a combined speed of 30-40 miles an hour, concentrated onto the blunted point of a lance generates a tremendous amount of impact. The point was to see who was the better lancer, not to injure or kill your opponent. You wanted to dismount, not impale. So the armor was incredibly heavy (particularly from the front). Comparing jousting to regular combat is like comparing, say, a football player to a martial artist. Its a completely, but superficially similar different activity.

Knights were able to vault onto the back of their horses. They could jump over a fence, do just about anything a normal person could. I watched men do just that in period accurate armor on a television program showing research into medieval armor. These guys weren’t clanking tanks, they were as agile as today’s soldiers in body armor. If a knight fell down, he could get back up, he didn’t need a squire.

And the weapons were much better than is generally understood as well. The katana is a very fine sword made of multiple layers of different kinds of metal to generate strength and flexibility, with a harder section at the blade to retain sharpness and a softer at the spine to allow the blade to bend. This results in a very sharp, very strong sword that does not break easily. The process is very difficult and time consuming, involving folding and pounding the weapon, using a cooling and heating process that greatly strengthens the metal and blends in various elements.

And researchers have discovered that’s exactly what European blacksmiths did as well. The art was lost over the centuries as broadswords became obsolete and became the rapier and foil, which have an entirely different construction. But old swords, manuscripts, and information from the medieval period have revealed folded blades with the same concept: a softer central core and harder, sharper portions for the cutting edges. The reason we know so much about the Katana is that they were still being made and used as late as the 1800s, and even were used by Japanese officers in World War 2. Their technology and skills weren’t lost in time, replaced by the gun.

In other words, the medieval broadsword was a sharp, strong, and flexible as the katana. The biggest differences are the shape and use, not the tool. And it makes sense, both cultures developed their weapons for the same reason: they wanted a good weapon to kill their enemies with. In time, they found better and better techniques, discovered that heating and cooling seemed to generate a superior metal, found that folding created patterns and allowed the weapon to be designed a specific way, and so on. As the centuries rolled by, the skills increased.

So its not as if Japan had a unique patent on the Katana’s technology; European knights had it, too. It is generally accepted that a curved blade is superior to a straight one, for slashing attacks, but a straight one is superior to a curved one for piercing (thrusting) attacks. A curved blade pulls away better so you tend not to get your weapon stuck in one enemy while another approaches. But it doesn’t punch through armor as well, because you cannot direct as much force to the point, its deflected slightly by the curve.

And here’s where the main difference comes in. Japanese Samurai were primarily interested in the mounted attack, passing by an opponent, infantry and archers on the ground. Peasants, for example. They needed a weapon that would work well for a cavalry charge, and trained to make a single, lethal attack from drawing their weapon. The single edge worked well for this kind of assault, and the curved shape assisted in a smooth, effective draw of the sword.

Knights had a different sort of task. They did fight from horseback, but often used other weapons for that task, such as a mace or axe, and the lance (not that big heavy jousting one, a light one with a real bladed point). And the fighting style of the knight was quite different from the samurai.

Weapon BlockMedieval scholars have found old texts that are illustrated almost like a martial arts book today, or a comic book. It has figures with stances and proper weapon technique, done with the art style of the day. While the images are stylized (flat perspective, for instance), they do show the basic patterns of medieval combat. From these writings and other documents of the time period, scholars have discovered a great deal that was unknown for centuries.

For example, watch a movie swordfight some time, not the fencing type from films like Princess Bride but, say, Excalibur. They’re doing it all wrong, almost everything is wrong. They’re fighting for style and to look good on camera, but its based on the swordfights you used to have as a kid if you were like me. You’re swinging at the other guy’s sword most of the time.

Now, that’s fun and you’re less likely to get hurt but you also aren’t going to win that way. Its like playing tennis and hitting the ball directly at your opponent. The point of tennis isn’t to volley forever, its to put the ball where your opponent cannot reach it. And the point of sword fighting isn’t to spar, its to kill. Medieval combat scholar John Clement writes at io9:

What we know now about sword-fighting from the documented historical teachings and methods is that in earnest combat: You don’t stand still. The sources specifically tell us to be in constant motion. You don’t just dance around. The sources specifically tell us to cover and close in. You don’t just parry and riposte. The sources specifically tell us not to try to block. You don’t attempt to be passive or stay defensive.

The sources tell us in particular to be aggressive, audacious, and take the initiative. You don’t try to just win the range and timing by sneaking out blows and feints. You seek to displace the adversary’s blows with counter-strikes timed in the middle of their action. You don’t just hit out wildly, or bash on their weapon. The sources tell us specifically to intercept and stifle their attacks, by binding on their weapon and using body leverage. And you don’t try to receive blows of their edge on your own edge in a static fashion — but set them aside with your flat, or better still, counter-hit them with your edge against their flat. And lastly, both thrusting and cutting as well as grappling were always recognized as integral components for wielding all swords and weapons — armored or unarmored, on foot or horseback.

Instructional books from the time period depict knights holding their broadsword – and especially two handers like the claymore – like a staff, blocking attacks and using the pommel to strike with. The combat was fluid, mobile, and fast. Knights weren’t ponderous clods banging way on each other with swords until they got too tired to lift their arms, they were warriors showing dazzling skill. When your life is on the line, you learn to do it well or you die.

In other words, the medieval knight learned martial arts, just not the eastern kind. And since that became obsolete due to gunpowder, people stopped teaching it and it faded away. The west tends to do that: we abandon what doesn’t work anymore and don’t whine about lost culture, we pick up what’s better. That’s why the Japanese were still fighting with swords in the 1800s and the west had rifles and steam ships. Eastern culture tends to be one of deep reverence for tradition and strong opposition to change and the new.

So in the end, the Samurai and the Knight would probably match up very well toe to toe. The final result would be skill and luck, not one overwhelming the other due to some particular aspect like weapon quality or martial arts training.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

August 31, 2012

This pony has stockings. This pattern is called a “black framed overo” and apparently they’re really rare – particularly one this striking – and expensive.

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