Archive for November 11th, 2011

On Nothing Particular

At a recent G20 meeting

Today’s blog entry is about nothing particular, just some snippets and thoughts.   First, I love the above picture making the rounds on facebook.   The North Americans (Canadian Prime Minister Harper and President Obama) ignore or avert their eyes from the woman bending down to get some fallen documents, while Berlusconi and especially Sarkozy unabashedly enjoy the view.

I showed my class this after finishing a power point.   I also added this joke on cultural differences:  The difference between heaven and hell: in heaven the Italians are the cooks, the French are the lovers, the Germans are the mechanics, the Swiss are the administrators and the British are the police. In hell the Italians are the administrators, the French are the mechanics, the British are the cooks, the Swiss are the lovers and the Germans are the police.

Another oft shared facebook graphic.   Unfortunately they don’t cite the source of the stats, but I’ve encountered these kind of numbers before so I am convinced they are accurate:

More Stats...

It occurs to me that what Occupy Wall Street has done is bring the real and undeniable shift of relative wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans and has made it mainstream and well known.   In the past most Americans assumed wealth was more evenly distributed then it is, that class mobility was greater than it really is, and that the wealthy got to where they are by working hard and having good ideas.

It was probably true before the massive de-regulation starting in the 80s; wealth and income equality were greatest in the mid-seventies, and there was a thriving middle class.    De-regulation and lower tax rates are not the cause of the swing — globalization’s dynamic contributed to it as well.   But the public pretty much went on believing things were cool as consumerism raged and people simply stopped saving and went into debt to maintain their lifestyles.

Now people are waking up to what’s happened, and recognize that the ideal of hard work and initiative being the key to success is losing validity.  Even people not necessarily sympathetic to OWS are starting to absorb the data and recognize there is a problem.  We live in interesting times.

Geothermal working well!

In another front, so far our geothermal system is doing well.   We enjoyed AC all summer for the first time (Maine doesn’t need air conditioning, but it’s nice to have!), and it’s been effective and efficient.  The one problem is that it hasn’t done much to heat our water, meaning the boiler still turns on a lot for that.   That’s not a huge expense, but we want to figure out if we can use the hot water generated here to better connect to our domestic hot water supply.   The cost of running this system seems to be about $30 a month, though the coldest summer months have yet to arrive (though we were running dehumidifiers in the basement in the summer so they may have been part of the cost increase).

And it looks like this May I’ll lead a travel course to Germany!

The course will focus on East and West Germany 20 years after unification — how has the country changed, what differences remain — likely with a week based in Munich and a week in East Berlin.   It won’t be a large class like the Italy trips in recent years have been, and I’ll be the only faculty member (rather than the team of four for Italy).   But it’s in my area of specialty, and we’ll get a chance for some day trips to places like the Alps, Ludwig’s castles, Dachau, perhaps Weimar and Buchenwald, Wittenberg where Luther started the reformation, and Leipzig where the protests in the East really took off.   Berlin is always an amazing city to visit.

Finally, kudos to all the Mallett school families (K-3) who attended and participated in the Harvest dinner Wednesday.  I baked some European brown bread and buttery pan rolls, but the variety and quality of the food was unbelievable!  Turkey, potatoes, pasta, salads, deserts…and despite well over 100 people in attendance, we didn’t run out of food!   Being involved in the PTA this year (I’m chair of the fundraising committee) is fun, especially since we have a new school — the old 80 year Mallett closed and the new one opened this fall.

The new Mallett school!

The school is superb — big classrooms, nice common areas, a good library and modern equipment.    It was built beside where the old one stood so construction could be underway even while the kids were still attending the old one.   That made last year a bit messy in terms of drop offs, pick ups, noise and the like.   But it was worth it!  Having kids in third grade and Kindergarten there, it’s fun to be active in that community!

So no particular theme today, just some end of the week odds and ends!

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The Campaign Crucible

Presidential campaigns are like crucibles that test candidates and their mettle.   That is a lesson being learned by Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

Herman Cain, like many businessmen turned political candidates (e.g., Donald Trump) comes from a world where he can control much of what goes on around him, including the questions he gets asked.  Moreover, when you have money and power in the corporate world the “little people” (such as women who object to sexual come ons) are easy to brush aside.  You can threaten or bribe them, and if something goes to trial you have the lawyers who can make the problems go away.

So once Herman Cain broke through the pack and became the darling of the right wing of the GOP, the main contender to deny the nomination from Mitt Romney, he couldn’t fathom the idea that past allegations of sexual misconduct involving women could hurt him.   Who are these women?   How dare these “nobodies” can get in the way of his run for the Presidency?   So like any CEO he demanded nobody ask him about them, denied everything, and assumed it will go away.

Cain is discovering the campaign crucible.   Every aspect of your life is fair game, and you’re judged not so much on your past misdeeds but how you handle the situation when embarrassing facts come up.   Cain has done so in the worst way.  Unless this is some grand conspiracy and they’re all liars (well, they can’t all be because we know at least one got a $45,000 settlement) Cain looks foolish saying “I’ve never done anything inappropriate to anyone.”   First, that statement is untrue no matter who utters it — no human has never done anything inappropriate.   Second, he compounds it by lashing out at his accusers.

Think of what this means — if President, Herman Cain would have no moral qualms about doing whatever necessary to silence those who might stand in his way.  How Nixonian.   Now, I can’t know for sure that is the case.   Maybe there is a grand conspiracy against him, but while you are innocent until proven guilty in the court room, that’s not the case when you’re running for President.    A strong doubt that one has a quality character can turn voters off.    Cain’s incompetent handling of his on going problem — and the likelihood of new revelations — could end his unlikely rise from political anonymity to the White House.   But he’s not only one learning that campaigning is harder than it looks.

Rick Perry was riding high just a few months ago.   As long as he was the “great Texas hope,” considering a run, people dissatisfied with the existing candidates projected onto him images of what they longed for.   Someone like Reagan, plain speaking, principled and charming.   Skeptical of government but not crazy, someone voters would like and view as a “natural.”   He was wooed, the pundits proclaimed him the strongest potential candidate, and when Perry finally announced many in the GOP felt the time had come, they had found their messiah!

Then Perry started to campaign.   Gaffes, apparent lack of knowledge about basic information, an apparent call to end social security and like Chinese water torture the little mistakes kept piling up until he started to sink in the polls as voters turned to Cain.   Then Wednesday night the drips turned into a flood as for 53 seconds Perry stammered and hawed, unable to recall his own campaign position on which three agencies he would eliminate.   He remembered Commerce and Education, but the third eluded him.   Ron Paul tried to help, citing the EPA.   Perry quickly agreed, but then said no, that wasn’t it.  In the end he just said “oops.”

I’ve been lecturing for over 20 years, and I cannot count the times I’ve forgotten things I know well.   The other day a colleague and I each could not recall the name of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.   We both have discussed it many times in lectures and conversations, but we just got brain freeze at the same time.   So frankly, I’m sympathetic to Perry.   I am a pretty good public speaker and my strength is improvisation and memory.   Yet I could easily see something like that happening to me, even with a fact that is basic.

If it hadn’t come after all the other gaffes, it certainly would not be proclaimed as  “campaign ending” like some pundits are saying.    It’s just that on top of everything else so far it feeds into the image of Perry not as the Reaganesque plain spoken Texan but more like the nastier stereotypes of his predecessor as Texas Governor, George W. Bush — not especially smart or ready for the job.

President Bush served two terms.   Those writing Perry off over this are premature — Iowa’s vote is still over a month and a half away, New Hampshire’s even further.   If Republicans can give Cain a second chance (at least so far) despite his scandal, a lapse of memory doesn’t doom Perry’s effort.   But like Cain he’s run out of mulligans, he needs to bounce back.  Even the earlier strategy they considered of avoiding debates is now off the table — now it would look like he’s chicken, afraid he won’t be able to cut it.

But the campaign is taking its toll.   Mitt Romney has been through this before and his sometimes bland and apparently chameleon like effort may make people question his principles, but he’s not making dumb mistakes.   Newt Gingrich has a history that makes Cain look like a feminist, but he’s been in the spotlight for 20 years, he knows how to play the game and understands that part of the primary season is simply the capacity to “stick around.”  John McCain, another political veteran, did that in 2008 after his immigration stance caused his candidacy to collapse in the fall of 2007.   And who knows — if it becomes “anybody but Romney,” you might have Jon Huntsman, who has been flying under the radar, pull off a New Hampshire surprise and mount an effective campaign.

Meanwhile, President Obama runs unopposed, is raking in the campaign cash, and planning a strategy using all the perks of the incumbency.

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