"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Woodward, Obama, Sequestration, Strauss

The scandal du jour is apparently the inside baseball bickering between Bob Woodward, liberal lion of the Washington Post, and the Obama White House, over Woodward's article saying the sequestration was Obama's idea all along, and that he's lying now as he demagogues the issue.   The White House apparently "threatened" Woodward, telling him that he would "regret" having taken that position.

While I find it hard to sympathize much with Woodward, who has been a shill for liberalism for forty years, the incident is both instructive and scary.   This is a White House that views dissent as apostasy, disagreement as heresy.   Challenging Obama on facts becomes the greatest sin... it is the treason of saying aloud that the emperor has no clothes.   They will crush anyone who strays from the White House line.  

Increasingly we are living in a one-party state with the MSM as Pravda.

The episode reminds me of Leo Strauss' great essay, "Persecution and the Art of Writing." Strauss writes:
A large section of the people, probably the great majority of the younger generation, accepts the government-sponsored views as true, if not at once, at least after a time. How have they been convinced? And where does the time factor enter? They have not been convinced by compulsion, for compulsion does not produce conviction. It merely paves the way for conviction by silencing contradiction. What is called freedom of thought in a large number of cases amounts to -- and even for all practical purposes consists of -- the ability to choose between two or more different views presented by the small minority of people who are public speakers or writers. If this choice is prevented, the only kind of intellectual independence of which many people are capable is destroyed.

Strauss was writing in 1941, while the Nazi-Soviet Pact was the dominant fact of political life. Totalitarianism was in the ascendance.

Wonder what he'd say about the Obama White House?

Sequestration!

This about sums it up:




















Pope Benedict's Last Day



























It is Pope Benedict's last day.   Tomorrow he will revert, I suppose, to being Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.   (Do we even have a title for a "pope emeritus"?)   He will move, in other words, from the head of the church, back into the body of the church.   It is my impression that he is more comfortable in that role.  

Here are some of his remarks yesterday in his last general audience:

When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, 2005, I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that you place on my shoulders, but, if you ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel his presence. These years have been a stretch of the church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; then there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the church is not mine, not ours, but his - and he shall not let her sink.

***

At this point I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all the many people throughout the whole world, who, in recent weeks have sent me moving tokens of concern, friendship and prayer.... It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures - from the heads of state, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of his truth and his love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.

***

Dear friends! God guides his church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that he does not abandon us, that he is near to us and that he surrounds us with his love.
A humble, beautiful man and priest.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Another Minimum Wage Proposal

Tom Harkin, Senator from Iowa, is proposing raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.   Or, as I like to call it, the Killing Jobs in America Act.

Many minimum-wage workers — who serve in important and often difficult jobs, but earn just $7.25 an hour — do not earn enough to pay the bills, much less achieve the American Dream....

This means that American workers are falling behind. If we are truly going to rebuild the middle class, we must start by helping these workers.

While I was heartened to hear President Obama make the minimum wage a centerpiece of his State of the Union Address, I believe that his proposal of $9 per hour does not go far enough to ensure that working families can make ends meet.

Soon, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and I will introduce legislation that would gradually increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour...

Raising the minimum wage is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help working families succeed.
I think the American Dream consists in having a 4 bedroom, 3 bath house, with two new cars, annual vacations to the beach, a winter ski trip, private school for children, and early retirement at age 55.   I think a lot of Americans might have similar "American Dreams."   Shouldn't the federal government require my employer to pay me enough to "achieve the American Dream"?  

I think about $250 an hour ought to do it. 

Look, this is a simple thought experiment.   If $10.10 minimum wage is good, why isn't a $20.20 minimum wage better?   Or $40.40?   Or $80.80?   Wouldn't that "help working families succeed" even more?   And, if not, why not?   Somebody should ask Harkin questions like this.   They used to call them "reporters"... not sure what happened to them.

You see, what liberals like Harkin won't admit and are never forced to admit is that there actually are economic consequences from raising the minimum wage, just as there are economic consequences for requiring employers to provide healthcare once they have 50 employees, or once their employees work more than 30 hours, as Obamacare does. 

The consequences are fewer jobs, fewer entry-level opportunities, more poverty.   Which is a pretty stupid way to "ensure that working families can make ends meet."

Jennifer Lawrence is Awesome

If you didn't think so before, watch her in the press conference after winning the Academy Award for Best Actress:

Going in Circles

TaxProfBlog cites two recent studies of the legal profession that are somewhat depressing, less for me, but certainly for young people entering the profession.   The first is a study from the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession called Report on the State of the Legal Market:
As we enter 2013, the legal market continues in the fifth year of an unprecedented economic downturn that began in the third quarter of 2008. At this point, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the market for legal services in the United States and throughout the world has changed in fundamental ways and that, even as we work our way out of the economic doldrums, the practice of law going forward is likely to be starkly different than in the pre-2008 period....  
The second is a study from Ohio State called Inside Report:
Law firms do find one bright spot in today's legal market: it is the oversupply of lawyers. The Georgetown report recognizes this quite candidly: "While excess capacity in the market is certainly not good news for young lawyers or, for that matter, law schools, it provides an environment in which law firms should have the flexibility to redesign their staffing models to respond to client demands. By embracing alternative approaches to staffing--including increased use of staff attorneys and non-partner track associates, contract lawyers, and part-time attorneys--firms can create more efficient and cost effective ways to deliver legal services." (p. 17)
This all sounds painfully familiar to me.   In my twenties and part of my thirties I was a teaching assistant, then a post-doctoral fellow, then an untenured adjust assistant professor, teaching English at universities. I had a Ph.D., but no benefits, and I was at the mercy of the Department head, who could make me more or less indigent by the simple expedient of giving me two sections a semester to teach rather than three or four, or by not hiring me for the following year. There were many of us like that (and still are), existing on the fringes of academia, while the few who were on the tenure-track or who had already gotten tenure had a comparatively easy and secure lifestyle. The economics of it were obvious -- there were simply too many young people who had been romanced by the idea of being an English professor in college chasing too few jobs.

Bailing out of academia in my mid-thirties (in the mid-1990s), I went to law school, then became an associate in a big law firm, then a partner. Life has been very good for the past fifteen years.

Now I see a future for the practice of law that looks an awful lot like what universities have looked like for a long time -- a caste system where there are a few partners who make a lot of money, a small track of associates who might become partners, and then a lot of part-time, no benefits, contract lawyers or "piece-work" lawyers hired to help out on particular tasks on particular cases. It's a pretty dismal prospect, but it's what happens when too many lawyers chase too few jobs (and, in fact, when too many lawyers and law firms are chasing too little legal work).

One aspect of legal practice is marginally better than academia -- you can hang out your own shingle as a lawyer, but you can't hang out your own shingle as an English professor. But that's a dog-eat-dog world, and one that is a far cry from the image of ten years ago of a 25 year-old getting out of law school and getting a $100k plus job right off the bat.

The Sequestration Bogeyman (cont.)

More chart-fu on why the sequestration bogeyman is a great big nothing-burger:



























Or there's this:




























I keep saying this in various contexts, but it's always valid.   If the small things you are debating (spending cuts) are within the margin of error for how accurately you can calculate the big things (federal spending) you should be debating, then debating the small things is a colossal waste of time.   The "cuts" contemplated by the sequester mechanism are not just meaningless because they're small, they're meaningless because they're literally meaningless. 

We should be debating how we are going to unwind Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and Obamacare, wealth transfer programs we can't afford and which are, in fact, immoral.   We should be asking why it is ethical (or even constitutional) for us to compel a diminished economic future and more dangerous national security future for Americans yet unborn who might be working in 2053 by borrowing money from the Chinese so that workers in 2013 don't have to pay taxes to pay for the consumption of workers of 1983 who are now retired.   Whatever happened to intergenerational equity?

Instead.   We.   Fiddle.   While.   Rome.   Burns.

Girl of the Day - Madeleine Carroll

Madeleine Carroll, born today in 1907, was the star of the great early Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps.   During World War II, when her only sister died in the Blitz, she quit acting and became a Red Cross nurse.   That was a different time, when "celebrities" weren't quite so distant from the rest of us, when a Jimmy Stewart could quit acting to become a bomber pilot and wing commander in the Army Air Corps, or when Ted Williams could quit baseball to become a fighter pilot in the Pacific.

A lovely lady:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Belated 16th Birthday Greeting to the Regular Son

I talk enough about the Regular Son on the blog that I didn't think it necessary to belabor his 16th birthday last week.    Besides, he makes me feel old... and short.... and slow.... and, well, stupid sometimes.   (He also gives me great joy and friendship.)  

Nevertheless, in tribute to the RS becoming old enough to drive the boys-department Mercedes (my car), here is our favorite song:





P.S. From a certain perspective, I am the one giving him shelter, and vice-versa.

Fast Food, Unintended Consequences

From the WSJ over the weekend:

Welcome to the strange new world of small-business hiring under ObamaCare. The law requires firms with 50 or more "full-time equivalent workers" to offer health plans to employees who work more than 30 hours a week. (The law says "equivalent" because two 15 hour a week workers equal one full-time worker.) Employers that pass the 50-employee threshold and don't offer insurance face a $2,000 penalty for each uncovered worker beyond 30 employees. So by hiring the 50th worker, the firm pays a penalty on the previous 20 as well.

These employment cliffs are especially perverse economic incentives. Thousands of employers will face a $40,000 penalty if they dare expand and hire a 50th worker. The law is effectively a $2,000 tax on each additional hire after that, so to move to 60 workers costs $60,000.

A 2011 Hudson Institute study estimates that this insurance mandate will cost the franchise industry $6.4 billion and put 3.2 million jobs "at risk." The insurance mandate is so onerous for small firms that Stephen Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association, predicts that "Many stores will have to cut worker hours out of necessity. It could be the difference between staying in business or going out of business." The franchise association says the average fast-food restaurant has profits of only about $50,000 to $100,000 and a margin of about 3.5%.

Now consider this from Megan McCardle, a thoughtful liberal, over the weekend:

All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it's meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. Since I moved to Washington, I have had series of extraordinary conversations with Washington journalists and policy analysts, in which I remark upon some perfectly ordinary facet of working-class, or even business-class life, only to have this revelation met with amazement. I once had it suggested to me by a wonk of my acquaintance that I should write an article about how working-class places I've worked usually had one or two verbally lightning-fast guys who I envied for their ability to generate an endless series of novel and hilarious one-liners to pass the time. I said I'd take it under advisement, but what on earth would one title such an article?
BREAKING: Cable Runners and Construction Workers Can Speak in Complete Sentences, Make Jokes.
Then there was the time I responded to the now-standard lament that graduates of elite schools tend to gravitate to banking and consulting by pointing out that traditional management-rotation programs frequently involve less-than-glamorous stints in line jobs; one of my friends from business school ended up running a call center for a telecoms firm. Another very smart, very wonky person who I deeply respect argued that this was an idiotic misuse of an elite MBA, for both the company and the MBA. Which is just 100 percent wrong. It is not a waste to have a smart, well-educated person in telecoms management. And senior executives at a telecom should have run a call center, or done something very similar: that's where you learn to understand your customers, and the core challenges of your business. 
But many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school—places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they're very different from pretty much any other sort of institution. I don't myself claim to understand how most businesses work, but having switched from business to media, I'm aware of how different they can be. 

In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses--ones outside glamour industries like tech or design.

Now let's put 2 and 2 together.  

How many of the people who wrote the Affordable Care Act have ever run a small business like a fast-food restaurant, a business that's both labor intensive using low-skilled, fungible workers, and has low margins?

Very, very few, if any.

Not surprisingly, they write legislation that has little, if any, connection to the real world where real businesses have to make real decisions that affect whether real people have real jobs.

Girl of the Day - Anne Hathaway

Hard to top this red carpet look from last night.   (Not that I'm into that sort of thing.)

Oh, and Your City is Boned Too

Just in case you thought that the federal government was the only level of government that's boned, here's a nice chart forecasting the City of Baltimore's finances going forward:





























Hard to read, but ten years out they're forecasting a $750 million annual deficit.   Can you say "unsustainable"?

If not, you can always sing with me:  "At least we're not Detroit!"








****


P.S. Think states are better?   Think again:







































Birthday Today - Renoir

It's Renoir's birthday!

Academy Award Predictions Redux

The Regular Guy was pretty good on predicting the Academy Awards, which does not mean that I am some genius movie critic, but only means that the Academy Awards themselves are so predictable.   Here's who I had winning:

Picture - Argo (right)
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis (right)
Best Actress - Jennifer Lawrence (right)
Best Director - David Russell (wrong - it went to Ang Lee, apparently because creating precious images in computers now counts as high art in Hollywood, and is apparently more important than getting great performances out of living actors like Lawrence and Bradley Cooper)
Best Supporting Actor - Tommy Lee Jones (wrong - and I'm happy about it, since Jones chewed the scenery in exactly the same way he always chews the scenery)
Best Supporting Actress - Sally Field (wrong - and I'm happy again, since my choice for who should win, Anne Hathaway, actually did win).


So, on the big ones I was right and the others I was wrong.   Not bad.

But did I do better than Nate Silver?   Meh.   It's about a push.  

On the other hand, his method is instructive, and shows why the Oscars, by the time you get through all the other Award ceremonies, are really almost a foregone conclusion, and not very exciting to watch.   

***

P.S. On Argo... I liked it fine, but it's not a great movie.   Compare the list from the 1970s of Best Picture winners:

1970 - Patton
1971 - The French Connection
1972 - The Godfather
1973 - The Sting
1974 - The Godfather II
1975 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest
1976 - Rocky
1977 - Annie Hall
1978 - The Deerhunter
1979 - Kramer v. Kramer

Nine straight absolutely iconic, landmark movies.   The only movie Argo should even be in the conversation with is Kramer v. Kramer, but that featured bravura performances by two of America's greatest acting talents, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, so I'd still give the nod to the 1970s film.  

The Sequestration Bogeyman

Over the weekend the Regular Son started mocking the mainstream media's hype by doing a bogeyman voice and saying "sequestration," as if the word itself were somehow terrifying.   He's right, sequestration is basically a joke and I can prove it.

Here is what the Congressional Budget Office says will happen under sequestration in 2013:
















Supposedly under sequestration the defense and nondefense spending of the federal government in 2013 will be cut by a total of $85.4 billion.   Sounds like a lot, right?   Sounds like we'll be in a world of hurt, right?






















Wrong.   The total spending of the federal government in 2013 is still scheduled to be $3.55 trillion.   The  deficit is still scheduled to be $845 billion.   The long-term deficit is still scheduled to grow by some $7 trillion over the next 10 years.   The annual deficit will still be nearly $1 trillion ten years from now.

To do a little middle-school arithmetic:

  • The 2013 sequestration bogeyman is a little more than 2% of the 2013 budget.  
  • It's a little more than 10% of the 2013 deficit.  
  • It's a bit more than 1% of what we're scheduled to add to our national debt over the next 10 years.  
  • It's two-tenths of one percent of what we're scheduled to spend over the next ten years.  
In short, it's chicken feed.

Even the ten-year figure for sequestration, $1.2 trillion, is chicken-feed... perhaps 2.5% of our total spending during that period, and only about 17% of the amount we're planning to add to our national debt over the same period.   And, even with sequestration, we end up back running $1 trillion deficits by 2023.

Oh, and by the way, the whole Rube Goldberg contraption of a ten-year budget is based on a lot of assumptions that don't look too likely to me.   For example, they somehow assume that from 2015 through 2017 the economy will average 4.1% real GDP growth.   They need to do this in order to get the economy back to the baseline for growth from before the 2007-2008 recession, otherwise none of their numbers work and the debt and the deficits are much greater.   But does anyone really believe we're suddenly going to have a three-year spurt of growth at 4%?  The last time we had a three-year period of 4% plus growth was in the late 1990s in the middle of the Internet boom.   We haven't had a single year over 4% for the past 13 years.   But now we somehow miraculously have a boom.   Maybe, just maybe, if we allow fracking and oil exploration and production on a large scale, but I doubt the libs in the EPA are going to tolerate it.  

So the arithmetic shows that sequestration does very little to address our spending problem, and a close look at the assumptions shows that, even what little it does is based on rosy scenarios.

Look, here is all you need to know.   According to the CBO's own projections, this is what happens to the national debt over the next 10 years:

 




If the rosy scenarios don't occur, though, which they likely won't, these numbers will be much, much worse.

We're drowning.   Sequestration is a joke.   Our political process is broken.   Washington is not serious.

Meanwhile, did you check Michelle O on the Oscars last night?

Fiddling.  Rome.   Burning.

On the Pope Speculation

Archbishop Charles Caput of Philadelphia, as always, offers wisdom to offset the silliness of American popular culture's view of Catholicism and the selection of the next Pope:
Who will be the next Pope?  Nobody knows, and while speculating about the future can be a pleasant form of entertainment, it’s also fruitless.  Pundits don’t vote.  Special interest lobbying in the media has little or no effect.  Catholic teaching develops over time, but it doesn’t fundamentally change; and Catholic life, in the end, is ordered to truth, not consensus or polling.... 

What that means is this:  A great many critics of the Church should plan to be disappointed (again) by whomever the conclave chooses.  And yet, anyone who sincerely and unselfishly seeks God will continue to find a welcome in the Catholic Church, no matter who bears the title of Pope.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Final Blessing

In my morning paper in Milwaukee, a fairly Catholic town, I once again had to put up with an article from the New York Times about the conclave to select a new Pope.   Here's the tone of the article in a nutshell:

As cardinals from around the world begin arriving in Rome for a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, new shadows have fallen over the delicate transition, which the Vatican fears might influence the vote and with it the direction of the Roman Catholic Church.

In recent days, often speculative reports in the Italian news media — some even alleging gay sex scandals in the Vatican, others focusing on particular cardinals stung by the child sexual abuse crisis — have dominated headlines, suggesting fierce internal struggles as prelates scramble to consolidate power and attack their rivals in the dying days of a troubled papacy.
Shadows have fallen... dying days of a troubled papacy.   It seems painfully obvious to me that the New York Times reporters and editorial staff has no sympathy with, and indeed actively dislikes, Catholics.   They are bigots, as even the most casual substitution exercise immediately shows -- you can't imagine any similar article ever being written or published about any non-Christian religion.  

But, putting that aside, what strikes me is how extremely bad (meaning: stupid) and narrow this is as news reporting.   The only prism through which this reporter sees the world is the prism of politics and scandal and sex and power.   That is not missing the forest for the trees, that is missing the forest by focusing on a single small shrub.   The vastness and importance of what actually goes on among a billion Catholics every day and all around the world -- prayer, communion, confession, penance, salvation -- is completely absent from this reporter's world-view, making her reportage trivial and insipid.   The Times would not assign a person who knows nothing about sports to report on the Super Bowl, or someone who knows nothing about movies to report on the Oscars, or someone who knows nothing about science to report on the Nobel Prize in Physics.   But apparently it's OK to assign someone with patently no interest in or sympathy for the religious life to report on the selection of a new Pope.

Meanwhile, compare the tenor of the New York Times with that of the Pope himself, giving his last Angelus sermon today on the Second Sunday of Lent:

Dear brothers and sisters. During the service on the second Lent Sunday, the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord is always presented.
Luke, the evangelist, has highlighted the fact that Jesus transfigured while he prayed. His is a deep, profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mount accompanied by Peter, James and John, the three disciples who were always present during the moments of the divine manifestation of the Master.
The Lord, who not long ago had proclaimed his death and resurrection, offers the disciples an anticipation of his glory.
And in both the transfiguration and the baptism, the voice of the heavenly Father echoes: "This is my son, the chosen one, listen to him!"
The presence of Moses and Elias later on, representing the laws and the prophets of the ancient covenant, is far more important: All the story of the covenant is oriented towards Him, the Christ, who fulfills a new exodus not towards the promised land as during the times of Moses but towards Heaven.
St. Peter's intervention: "Master, it is beautiful for us to be here" represents the impossible attempt to stop such mystical experience.
St. Augustine has commented: "St. Peter... on the Mount... Christ's only food was the soul. Because he must have descended to return to exhaustion and pain, while above, he was filled with feelings of sacred love towards God, which thus inspired him to a sacred path."
Pondering over this fragment of the Gospel, we can draw a very important lesson: First of all, the supremacy of prayer, without which all the apostolate endeavors, and that of charity, will be reduced to activism.
During Lent, let us learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and community prayer, which breathes air into our spiritual life.
However, praying does not mean isolating oneself from the world and its contradictions, as St. Peter would have liked to have done on Mount Tabor, but prayer leads us back to the path, to action.
Christian existence -- I have written in the Message for this Lent -- means to continuously climb up the mount for our encounter with God, so that afterward we can descend again filled with his love and strength to serve our brothers and sisters with the very love of God.
Dear Brothers and sisters, this Word of God I feel in a particular way towards me, at this moment in my life.
The Lord is calling me to "climb the mount," and to devote myself to meditation, reflection and prayer.
However, this does not mean abandoning the Church, but rather, if God has requested this of me, it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done up until now, but in a way adapted to my age and my strength.
Let us invoke Virgin Mary's intercession: Let her guide all of you to follow the Lord Jesus always, in prayer as well as in laborious charity.
A great man.   God Bless him and grant him peace in his last days.


Academy Award Predictions






































Not that I really care about how the self-congratulatory congratulate themselves, but here are the Regular Guy's Academy Award picks for tonight.   Who will win is in bold; who should win is in italics.


Best Picture:

Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty



Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington



Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence (above), Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, Naomi Watts



Best Director:

Amour (Michael Haneke), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin), Life of Pi (Ang Lee), Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell), Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)



If Lincoln wins Best Picture (which it could), it will mean Hollywood is brain dead.    Of the Best Picture nominees I've seen, I'd put it behind Argo, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty, and ahead of only Life of Pi.   I haven't seen Amour, Beasts, Django or Les Miserables from lack of interest, but the Regular Wife and Regular Daughters thought it was wonderful, so I suspect it's also better than Lincoln.   As I've said elsewhere, Lincoln is one of those projects that everyone says is wonderful, but is actually full of cliches.   By way of comparison, I challenge anyone to watch HBO's John Adams from a few years back and not conclude that it was wildly better and more interesting than Spielberg's big budget Lincoln.  

***

Oh, and for the supporting actor and actresses, here are my predictions:


Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Room 222

Whenever Feburary 22nd comes around, I always remember the TV show from the late 1960s about an urban high school:








Notice anything funny about the teachers showing up to the high school?   None of them lock the doors to their cars.   Hmmmmm.... have things changed, or what?

Must be a slow news day.


Birthdays Today - Chico and George

It's Chico Marx's birthday.   The faux Italian, piano-key-shooting Marx Brother raised comic hooliganism to a high art in their movies of the 1930s.   Here's a classic scene from A Night at the Opera:








Oh, and it's also this guy's birthday.   Just the greatest man in American history, that's all.  (OK, so maybe he's 1A or 1B with Lincoln.)






Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Hagel Archives Idiocy




























The idiocy du jour is the appalling spectacle of Chuck Hagel -- the erstwhile Senator from Nebraska and now nominee for Secretary of Defense -- blocking access to his "archives" at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.   Hagel understandably doesn't want conservatives poking around in his records for damning statements he's made in the past, either critical of Israel or pro-Iran or just generically stupid.   But, come on... this isn't beanbag.   He's nominated for SecDef!   You should expect to have your dirty laundry aired.   Otherwise, why have any kind of vetting process at all?

But the whole process offends me for a simpler reason.   We need to push back against the notion that records of public service by elected officials somehow belong to them, and they can "donate" them to a library with restrictions.   Could they sell their public records at auction?   Could a President sell his Presidential papers at Sotheby's?   If not, then he doesn't own them.   We do.   They should be thought of the same way a company would think of an invention by one of its employees working in its lab with equipment the company paid for -- it's a "work for hire" and the company owns the intellectual property rights.

Moreover, the last time I looked, Nebraska-Omaha is a public university, i.e., an agency of the Nebraska state government.   Why shouldn't there be an ability to use a FOIA request to get the information?

Finally, the thing that is most galling is the idiocy that these papers have some scholarly value that requires years of cataloguing before they can be used.   The highest and best use of this information is not an unreadable future biography of a non-entity Senator like Hagel.   No one will remember him 50 years from now.   The highest and best use of this information is right now, when there are decisions to be made about who is best to lead the world's biggest military in a dangerous world.   I don't think it's Hagel, and any information that can persuade people that Hagel is the wrong guy for the job should be brought to light.

Oh, by the way... is there no White House reporter who can frame a question as simple as this:

Mr. President, when you took office you said you wanted your administration to be the most transparent in history.   In the interest of transparency, why haven't you instructed your nominee for Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel, to grant access to his archives at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Library?    

Girl of the Day - Ellen Page

Juno was one of the best movies of the last ten years, and Ellen Page was its breakout star.   A pretty (but not beautiful or sexy), waifish girl with a tart tongue and a patent intelligence, Page went on to appear in Inception, among other movies and some very cute commercials for Cisco.   She turns 26 today, and I have to wonder what her career will look like in ten years, when she can't play either high school girls or college girls or young twenty-something girls.  



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Milton Friedman on the Minimum Wage

I suspect that this clip is from the late 1970s, because it cites the federal minimum wage as being $2.50.   But everything Milton Friedman says here is still true, and he says it so clearly and with such vigor that it ought to be watched by everyone who cares about employment in America.   Listen until the end when he describes the minimum wage as "the most anti-Negro piece of legislation in the history of America."   Brilliant stuff.




Oh, by the way, the current unemployment rate for black male teenagers ages 16-19 is now 43%.   And that's among the black teenagers in the workforce.   The labor-force participation rate for black teenagers is 25%.   Only 14% of black male teenagers have jobs.   That's a national tragedy, and it has been caused by the people Friedman calls the "do-gooders" who have installed the minimum wage.

Girl of the Day - Catherine Deneuve

I happened across this in an otherwise itinerant wanderfest through Google Images.   A young Catherine Deneuve, as a brunette, in a floppy hat.   What could be better?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Call BS on the CBO



Here is a chart from the Congressional Budget Office, estimating the effects of Obamacare on insurance coverage.  















Note a couple of things -- they essentially admit that you won't be able to keep your coverage if you like it (one of Obama's key selling points), since by 2019 some 11 million Americans will have lost their employer, nongroup or "other" coverage.   Also note that the "uninsured" -- who the whole thing was apparently constructed for -- still number 29 million in 2023.

Also note the ominous and obvious -- that the plan presupposes that people will move from private insurance (employer and nongroup and other insurance) to government programs (Medicaid, CHIP, and government exchanges).   This is stealth nationalization.

And, of course, if you go to the source documents, you also learn that the net cost of insurance subsidies for Obamacare (only one of its costs) are $1.3 trillion over the next ten years, which is up a whopping $233 billion since the CBO's last estimate.   But who's counting?

But I call BS on the whole thing.   Notice anything funny about the numbers?   I did.   In each year, the number of people in the government exchanges and Medicaid and CHIP goes up by the exact number of people who leave their private insurance or decide to get coverage rather than remain uninsured.   Are those really the only choices?   I don't think so.

I think it is equally likely that many more employers will choose to give up offering insurance benefits.   And I also think it is very likely that a significant number of employees who now are uninsured will choose to remain uninsured either (a) because negotiating the government exchanges is too cumbersome; or (b) because they now know that, if they don't have insurance and get sick, they can't be turned down for coverage later.  

If the CBO were playing straight they would do what good actuaries do... give a range of stochastic possiblities from the worst case to best case scenario.  

Nostalgia and Reality

This is a headline to get rock fans' hearts beating:








There's one catch.   This guy won't be the lead singer:































This guy will:

Income Inequality Poser

Richard Epstein has a brilliant thought experiment for the liberals who decry income inequality and wealth disparity and the supposed greed of the 1%:

Consider two hypothetical scenarios.

In the first, 99 percent of the population has an average income of $10 and the top 1 percent has an income of $100. In the second, we increase the income gap. Now, the 99 percent earn $12 and the top 1 percent earns $130. Which scenario is better?

This hypothetical comparison captures several key points. First, everyone is better off with the second distribution of wealth than with the first—a clear Pareto improvement. Second, the gap between the rich and the poor in the second distribution is greater in both absolute and relative terms.

The stark challenge to ardent egalitarians is explaining why anyone should prefer the first distribution to the second. 

I would add that a rational thinker ought to prefer even a scenario where the 99 percent remain at $10 in income while the 1% go up to $130, because the collective wealth/purchasing power of the society as a whole has gone up, which ought to mean more economic activity, more jobs, etc.   Call it trickle-down if you want... I just like to call it "economics."  

The real problem with the psychology fo the left is that they act as if they would prefer a scenario where the income of the 99% went down to $9, so long as they could bring the income of the 1% down to $80.   The income gap would be smaller in both absolute and relative terms.   But so, of course, would the wealth of all individuals and the society as a whole.   They are willing to punish the poor, so long as they can exact a pound of flesh from the rich.  

That's why the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that envy is a sin.

Girl of the Day - Merle Oberon

One of the classic beauties of Hollywood's classic period, the 1930s, Merle Oberon was the star of Wuthering Heights and the Scarlet Pimpernel, always playing an aristocratic British lady of impeccable manners and virtue.    The reality was somewhat different:  born in India in 1911, there is some evidence that Oberon was of mixed-race ancestry; she may have worked as a telephone operator and nightclub hostess before becoming an actress; and she was married three times.   But, man, what a face!


On SNL's "Djesus Uncrossed"

The Regular Wife and (especially) the Regular Son were outraged by the Saturday Night Live skit called "Djesus Uncrossed," which depicts the story of the resurrection as a trailer for a Quentin Tarantino movie, complete with blood-soaked mass mayhem and movie dialogue.   (When Jesus emerges from his tomb, he says to the camera, "Look who's back," a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movie.)

As for me, my reaction is... meh.   It's not that big of a deal.  Saturday Night Live is a niche comedy show for urban libs nowadays.   The skit, like most of SNL in recent years, simply isn't that funny.   The writers are part of the generation that has grown up with no cultural inheritance other than movies and TV, so the only things they know how to write are take-offs of movies and TV shows.   (Watch SNL sometime... nearly every skit is riffing off a movie or TV show.   Then compare it to the originality of sketch comedy from the 1950s or 1960s on Your Show of Shows or the Ernie Kovacs show or the Carol Burnett show.   There's no comparison in terms of creativity and laugh-out-loud moments.)

Yes, it's mildly offensive in the way that the calculated outrages of the supposed avant-garde against Christianity are offensive.   Yes, it's sacreligious.   Yes, it's in extremely poor taste to air it at the beginning of Lent.   But mostly it's just embarrassing for the writers and performers.   That's the best they could come up with.   Pathetic.

Oh, and more than pathetic... it's also cowardly.   Their supposed edginess, their supposedly "transgressive" comedy is in making fun of Christianity.   Wow.   Really risk something there, SNL.   It's not like comedians haven't been doing that for about 50 years.

But there is a religion that desperately needs to be skewered by comedians.   There's a religion that does ridiculous things all over the world that needs to be delegitimized through humor.   There's a religion that is all of the things the Left in America thinks they are opposed to -- oppress women, oppress blacks, enforce restrictive sexual regulations, murder people who are apostates, destroy art and culture that has existed for centuries.   There's an expansionist, violent, imperialistic, backward-looking, anti-scientific, anti-progress religion out there that comedians could make fun of and actually do something good at the same time.

It's called radical Islam.

But don't hold your breath for SNL to do a Muhammed parody.   They won't do it.

They are cowards.   They are like middle-school bullies:  they'll make fun of the little kid, but they won't dare make fun of someone who might fight back.

Video below the fold, if you really want to watch it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Girl of the Day - Cybill Shepherd























Cybill Shepherd turns 63 today.   Although she's probably best known for the 1980s TV series Moonlighting, which launched Bruce Willis to stardom, her best work was probably her first movie, The Last Picture Show, a great movie among many great movies of the early 1970s.  

In fact, I'd argue that the first half of the 1970s is the greatest era for American movies.   Here are some of the movies nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture from 1970 to 1974, with the winners identified with an asterisk:

Patton *
Five Easy Pieces
MASH
The French Connection*
A Clockwork Orange
The Last Picture Show
The Godfather*
Cabaret
Deliverance
The Sting*
American Graffiti
The Exorcist
The Godfather II*
Lenny
The Conversation
Chinatown

I mean, seriously... probably the greatest war movie ever (Patton), undoubtedly the greatest gangster movies (the two Godfathers), probably the best musical (Cabaret), probably the best detective murder mystery (actually, there are three who you could name... French Connection, The Conversation and Chinatown), probably the best horror movie ever (The Exorcist)... all in the space of five years.  

Think about it... MASH, Cabaret and Chinatown were losers for Best Picture during these years.   Wow!

And the actors working at their peaks during these years... George C. Scott, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman.

And the directors... Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Bob Fosse.

A great great period for what is probably the main American art form of the 20th Century.

In Lieu of Jumping the Shark, Downton Abbey Now Feeds Its Best Character to the Shark in a Ritual Sacrifice

I stayed with Downton Abbey through the idiocy of the Ouija Board episode, the insipidity of the "Matthew is injured in the war in a way that leaves him entirely unscarred and yet paralyzed from the base of his pecker out to the end" storyline, the ludicrous Bates imprisoned for killing his wife storyline, the oddly unaging daughters (was Sybil 12 at the beginning of the series?), the implausibility of the Lavinia Swire dying of flu and her father leaving his own estate to Matthew, even though he had jilted her to marry Mary, etc.

I stayed with Downton Abbey this year even though they stupidly killed off the prettiest character among the daughters (Sybil again).

No more.   Matthew and Mary finally had their baby last night.



















Then Matthew went happily driving off to Downton to tell the family the news.

















Then he had a car accident and died.


















Wait, what?



















Mister Matthew, he dead.

But he didn't just happen to die.   The writers killed off Matthew Crawley last night.   On purpose.   As a creative choice.  

Are you kidding me?  

The entire show was built around Matthew.   He was the moral center, the voice of middle-class decency, the only one on the show other than the servants who knew what it was to work hard, a hero and victim of the Great War, etc.   His coming to Downton as heir in the first season set the whole show in motion.   His love affair with Mary was the reason we watched season 2.  

Now he's gone.  

What's left?

In the past year I have seen two of my favorite shows, Homeland and Downton Abbey, completely jump the shark because their writers seem to not know how to write drama, but instead can only write melodrama, and insipid melodrama at that.   Haven't they ever seen The Sopranos, or The Wire, or Breaking Bad or Mad Men?   Do they really not have a clue how to construct a story arc that can last and be coherent over several seasons?

I need to go back and re-watch the 1960s version of The Forsyte Saga to cleanse my palate.

No wonder England is a dying culture!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Summing Up Media Bias

Hard to top this... via Instapundit and The Other McCain:

Girl of the Day - Vera-Ellen

Vying with Ann Miller for longest legs in Hollywood, Vera-Ellen was the ingenue in two of the most famous musicals from the late 1940s and early 1950s, the apex of the Hollywood musical, On the Town and White Christmas.   Here's a showstopper with from White Christmas,where they teamed her with a great Broadway dancer, John Brascia, for the big numbers, rather than Danny Kaye:




The State of the Union is... Stupid

Ace linked to this, but it bears imitation.   It's a chart showing the reading level and length of State of the Union messages throughout American history.   The trendline is pretty obvious.   We're getting stupider and more long-winded simultaneously.   A bad combination.

















Which reminds me of a line from Animal House:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Decline of Western Civilization (cont.)

Brown University is famous for being the most liberal Ivy League college, which is somewhat like being the strangest act in a circus sideshow.  At $57,000 plus a year all-in, this sort of thing might get some parents' attention:

The Brown Student Health Insurance Plan will cover 14 different sexual reassignment surgery procedures for students starting August, reports the Brown Daily Herald student newspaper.

The decision adds Brown to a small but growing list of universities paying for the procedure. Others include Cornell, Harvard, Stanford and Penn, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“For female-to-male surgeries, the new coverage plan will include mastectomy, hysterectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy, vaginectomy, metoidioplasty, scrotoplasty, urethroplasty, placement of testicular prostheses (and) phalioplasty,” the Daily Herald reports. “For male-to-female surgeries, coverage will include orchiectomy, penectomy, vaginoplasty, clitoroplasty (and) labiaplasty.”
That sound you hear is the higher education bubble bursting.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Stupid Party

They don't call the GOP that for nothing:




























Wow!   Were we trying to lose?

VDH on America's Decline

Declinism is very much in vogue.   Mark Steyn has made a cottage industry of gloom and doom.   When classicist and historian Victor Davis Hanson talks about America in Gibbonesque terms (the author of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, not the ape), I fear that the declinists just might be right.   There's a lot in Hanson's article from today, but the nuggets I've highlighted below really jumped out at me:

The gradual decline of a society is often a self-induced process of trying to meet ever-expanding appetites ... Americans have never had safer workplaces or more sophisticated medical care — and never have so many been on disability.

King Xerxes’ huge Persian force of 250,000 sailors and soldiers could not defeat a rather poor Greece in 480 b.c. Yet a century and a half later, a much smaller invading force from the north under Philip II of Macedon overwhelmed the far more prosperous Greek descendants of the victors of Salamis.  For hundreds of years, the outmanned legions of the tiny and poor Roman Republic survived foreign invasions. Yet centuries later, tribal Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Huns overran the huge Mediterranean-wide Roman Empire.

Given our unsustainable national debt — nearly $17 trillion and climbing — America is said to be in decline, although we face no devastating plague, nuclear holocaust, or shortage of oil or food.

Americans have never led such affluent material lives — at least as measured by access to cell phones, big-screen TVs, cheap jet travel, and fast food. Obesity rather than malnutrition is the greater threat to national health. Flash mobs go after electronics stores, not food markets. Americans spend more money on Botox, face lifts, and tummy tucks than on the age-old scourges of polio, smallpox, and malaria....
In August 1945, Hiroshima was in shambles, while Detroit was among the most innovative and wealthiest cities in the world. Contemporary Hiroshima now resembles a prosperous Detroit of 1945; parts of Detroit look like they were bombed decades ago.

History has shown that a government’s redistribution of shrinking wealth, in preference to a private sector’s creation of new sources of it, can prove more destructive than even the most deadly enemy.
 

Moral Hazard and Reality Versus Obamacare

The WSJ has a good primer on the problems Obamacare faces in implementation.   The first they mention seems key to me -- whether the "uninsured," who are largely healthy 20- and 30-somethings, will actually go out and buy health insurance under the individual mandate:
The challenge is to prompt one group of consumers to change: the 18 million 20- and 30-somethings who don't have health insurance. The arithmetic of Obamacare depends on getting more Americans to buy health insurance. If the young and healthy don't show up, the math doesn't work—and the cost of insurance for those who do shop in the new exchanges will be higher.
The answer to this problem is clearly no.   To anyone who has eyes to see, the 20-something and 30-something generation is both relativistic morally and strapped financially.   That's a bad combination when the whole plan depends on positing the fantasy of a world where moral hazard doesn't exist.   Obamacare assumes that young healthy people, when confronted with a choice of paying a small fine in the hundreds of dollars range (because they are at the beginnings of their careers and making relatively lower wages or salaries), or else spending perhaps $10,000 for health insurance, will somehow choose to do the latter.   It posits that they make this decision against their own immediate financial interests at the same time that the One Big Thing that the proponents of Obamacare have touted is that you can't ever be turned down for insurance if you get sick.   Obamacare posits that, despite the fact that there is thus no downside to going without health insurance, young healthy people will somehow choose to spend $10,000 for health insurance rather than make their car payments, make their student loan payments, make their credit card payments, go out, pay for their weddings, go on vacations, buy a house, etc.   And Obamacare makes these assumptions despite the fact that these same young people are having very hard times finding jobs.

In the vulgate:  no f'in' way.   Moral hazard exists, and the generation of people born in the 1980s -- the MTV generation -- is peculiarly unsuited to making decisions against their own economic self-interest.  

What that means for Obamacare is that the entire model of insurance where healthy people (primarily younger) pay premiums to support health care for unhealthy people (primarily older) must inevitably fall apart.   The cost of insurance will become too high, and more and more people will choose not to be the one left holding the bag.   What we'll be left with is single payer, where the government steps in to pay people's healthcare costs.

As if that was the plan all along.

Saint Ed Now on Kindle! (Bumped Again)



























Well, it actually has been available on Kindle for about six weeks, but since then I went back in to correct a few typos and formatting issues.   Amazing technology.   And, hopefully, a good book.

P.S. The Kindle version is priced significantly lower, but actually generates higher royalties.   Again, use your judgment.

P.P.S. You can actually "borrow" the book for free using Kindle's Lending Library.   Theoretically, I would get a minor royalty from this, but the main thing would be that the book would get read.

Cheers!

The Decline of Western Civilization (cont.)






















I used to associate the University of Chicago with its physics department, its economics department, its law school.   Given articles like this one it's hard to know what to think, other than I wouldn't want a kid of mine to go there:

The University of Chicago, often compared to Harvard, Yale and Stanford for the level of its academic excellence, is hosting a Sex Week chock-full of events graphically teaching techniques that, in a more innocent time, were considered private matters. Some examples include workshops titled: “Great Oral Sex with Tea Time and Sex Chats,” “The Perfect Vagina,” “Anal 101,” and “Sex Ed for Kids.” Why, there’s even a musical titled “Genitalia the Musical.”

Lest you think Breitbart is exaggerating, you can go to the university's promotional website for the "Sex Week" event here.   It's truly appalling, not least because the young people running it seem, perhaps not incidentally, relatively unattractive.   Which makes the whole thing seem even more desperate and pathetic.  

Oh, by the way, the tuition at Chicago is $43,581.  With room and board, the total cost of undergraduate education in 2013 will be $57,711.

What can't continue, won't continue.  


Girl of the Day - Lois Maxwell

It may have been just my taste, but I suspect it was shared by many.   When I watched the early Bond films, I always thought Bond should have romanced Miss Moneypenny, the assistant to M back at the office, rather than the various blonde bombshells (Ursula Andress, etc.) that littered the movies.   The actress was Lois Maxwell, who was born today in 1927.   Here she is in costume as Moneypenny:




And here she is a little earlier, as a younger actress:




Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The New Pope and the New Evangelization

George Weigel has penned the article I've been waiting for about the selection of the new Pope in today's WSJ:

The ambient public culture of the West will demand that the new pope embrace some form of Catholic Lite. But that counsel of cultural conformism will have to reckon with two hard facts: Wherever Catholic Lite has been embraced in the past 40 years, as in Western Europe, the church has withered and is now dying. The liveliest parts of the Catholic world, within the United States and elsewhere, are those that have embraced the Catholic symphony of truth in full. In responding to demands that he change the unchangeable, however, the new pope will have to demonstrate that every time the Catholic Church says "No" to something—such as abortion or same-sex marriage—that "No" is based on a prior "Yes" to the truths about human dignity the church learns from the Gospel and from reason.

And that suggests a final challenge for Gregory XVII, Leo XIV, John XXIV, Clement XV, or whoever the new pope turns out to be: He must help an increasingly deracinated world—in which there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing recognizable as the truth—rediscover the linkage between faith and reason, between Jerusalem and Athens, two of the pillars of Western civilization. When those two pillars crumble, the third pillar—Rome, the Western commitment to the rule of law—crumbles as well. And the result is what Benedict XVI aptly styled the dictatorship of relativism.

What kind of man can meet these challenges? A radically converted Christian disciple who believes that Jesus Christ really is the answer to the question that is every human life. An experienced pastor with the courage to be Catholic and the winsomeness to make robust orthodoxy exciting. A leader who is not afraid to straighten out the disastrous condition of the Roman Curia, so that the Vatican bureaucracy becomes an instrument of the New Evangelization, not an impediment to it.

The shoes of the fisherman are large shoes to fill.

Just so.   I particularly like the note of the new Pope having the "courage to be Catholic."  

Girl of the Day - Sue Peterson






































You can use your own judgment, but I think this year's SI swimsuit issue has jumped the shark into soft-core pornography.   Perhaps it's been that way for some time, but this one (particularly the idiotic "body paint" photos) seems to go even farther.   Anyway, it made me feel dirty, so I'm swearing off.

Anyway, Sue Peterson was the cover girl for the 1965 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.   Were we a better country in 1965?   Maybe not in all ways, but certainly we were much less saturated with sex and pornographic imagery, and perhaps it's not accidental that we also now have massive social problems with underachievement by young men, family breakdown, fatherless children, etc.

Peggy Noonan on the Selection of the Next Pope

I think she hits the right notes here:

We will be hearing a great deal of speculation the coming weeks. We should keep in mind that it doesn’t matter all that much what insiders say about who might have an inside track....   The outcome will be determined more by questions like these:   Who is the most ardent, loving and truth-minded among us? Who, in that group, has been able to do things?   What is the mood of the cardinals as they begin to think and ponder? What assumptions do they hold about what the world most needs?   What specific and pressing need of the church—the re-evangelization of Europe and the West, growing tensions with Islam, the need to dramatically reach the world’s young, the need to make the church new again, to have it understood as a revolutionary force again—is in their view predominant? And which cardinal’s gifts, character, talents and history most closely match that need?. ...   What will the Holy Spirit do? In what direction will the Holy Spirit lead them? That is the most important question of all.

Again, the College of Cardinals comes at the decision from perspectives that are very, very different from the perspectives of the liberals at the New York Times.   They won't be moved by who is the most telegenic, or politically correct, or most progressive.   They will select a priest touched by the Holy Spirit and moved to bring the light and truth of Christ to the world.