It seems likely that Candidate Obama's youth helped him against Senator McCain, who was 72 when he ran for president in 2008. In 2016, Hillary will be 69 -- younger than McCain, but a striking 22 years older than the average Republican candidate:

Then, there's Clinton's health and age. She'd be 69 by election day next year compared to a field of major Republican candidates with fresh faces who average 50 including Romney and only 47 without him.

Whatever you think of it, it's hard to imagine that age won't be a factor in the election.


Daniel Greenfield explains why the Hollywood Left hates "American Sniper" -- mainly two reasons: it dismisses their Iraq-as-Vietnam worldview, and it is making a ton of money.

The most basic reason is the bottom line. Between Lone Survivor, Unbroken and American Sniper, the patriotic war movie is back. Hollywood could only keep making anti-war movies no one would watch as long as that seemed to be the only way to tackle the subject. Now there's a clear model for making successful and respectful war movies based around the biographies and accounts of actual veterans.

Hollywood studios had been pressured by left-wing stars into wasting fortunes on failed anti-war conspiracy movies. Matt Damon had managed to get $150 million sunk into his Green Zone failed anti-war movie before stomping away from Universal in a huff. Body of Lies with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe had a real budget estimated at around $120 million, but had opened third after Beverly Hills Chihuahua whose titular tiny dog audiences preferred to either star and their political critiques.

But why spend over a hundred million on anti-war movies no one wants when American Sniper has already made over $120 million on a budget only half that much?

Money talks.


How a car engine works. Learn something new every day! Also, this will be helpful knowledge in case you survive the always-impending collapse of civilization.


George Johnson writes about a recent study that concluded that most cancer is caused by random mutations rather than environment or heredity. This is good news and bad news: your behavior makes less difference than you think. Smoking is obviously bad, but otherwise your behavior and genes only have a minority effect on your cancer risk.

Some of these genetic misprints are caused by outside agents, chemical or biological, especially in parts of the body -- the skin, the lungs and the digestive tract -- most exposed to the ravages of the world. But millions every second occur purely by chance -- random, spontaneous glitches that may be the most pervasive carcinogen of all.

It's a truth that grates against our deepest nature. That was clear earlier this month when a paper in Science on the prominent role of "bad luck" and cancer caused an outbreak of despair, outrage and, ultimately, disbelief.

The most intemperate of this backlash -- mini-screeds on Twitter and hit-and-run comments on the web -- suggested that the authors, Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, must be apologists for chemical companies or the processed food industry. In fact, their study was underwritten by nonprofit cancer foundations and grants from the National Institutes of Health. In some people's minds, those were just part of the plot.

What psychologists call apophenia -- the human tendency to see connections and patterns that are not really there -- gives rise to conspiracy theories. It is also at work, though usually in a milder form, in our perceptions about cancer and our revulsion to randomness.

You can view cancer like a slow-motion car crash: most of the time it's not your fault, and it really sucks. Unlike a fatal car crash, cancer usually gives you time to see your loved ones.


I'm always intrigued by the way that George Friedman ties geography to current affairs. Here is writes about the centuries-long hostility and ambivalence between Christian and Muslim cultures along the Mediterranean Sea in light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

There is here a question of what we mean when we speak of things like Christianity, Islam and secularism. There are more than a billion Christians and more than a billion Muslims and uncountable secularists who mix all things. It is difficult to decide what you mean when you say any of these words and easy to claim that anyone else's meaning is (or is not) the right one. There is a built-in indeterminacy in our use of language that allows us to shift responsibility for actions in Paris away from a religion to a minor strand in a religion, or to the actions of only those who pulled the trigger. This is the universal problem of secularism, which eschews stereotyping. It leaves unclear who is to be held responsible for what. By devolving all responsibility on the individual, secularism tends to absolve nations and religions from responsibility.

This is not necessarily wrong, but it creates a tremendous practical problem. If no one but the gunmen and their immediate supporters are responsible for the action, and all others who share their faith are guiltless, you have made a defensible moral judgment. But as a practical matter, you have paralyzed your ability to defend yourselves. It is impossible to defend against random violence and impermissible to impose collective responsibility. As Europe has been for so long, its moral complexity has posed for it a problem it cannot easily solve. Not all Muslims -- not even most Muslims -- are responsible for this. But all who committed these acts were Muslims claiming to speak for Muslims. One might say this is a Muslim problem and then hold the Muslims responsible for solving it. But what happens if they don't? And so the moral debate spins endlessly.

This dilemma is compounded by Europe's hidden secret: The Europeans do not see Muslims from North Africa or Turkey as Europeans, nor do they intend to allow them to be Europeans.

It's easy to get caught up in the present and forget the path that brought us to today.


I've seen at least three stories in the past two days about low morale at important government agencies. Obviously this isn't all President Obama's fault, but in this day and age where does the buck stop anyway?

Here's a bit about low morale at the Secret Service:

The Secret Service has decided to remove four of its most senior officials while a fifth has decided to retire, the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in October after a string of security lapses, according to people familiar with internal discussions. ...

A scathing report by a DHS-appointed panel in December concluded that the agency was suffering from low morale among the rank-and-file and was "starved for leadership."

Here's some humiliating testimony from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who admits that IRS employees have low morale because they're being required to obey the law.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by Congress into the IRS targeting scandal are having the effect of lowering morale at the tax-collection agency.

Koskinen testified at a House subcommittee on Wednesday, and was asked by a Democrat how IRS workers were holding up under all the pressure from House Republicans seeking emails and other documents. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said a top IRS lawyer told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that pressure to respond to Congress's inquiries is putting a strain on workers, and Koskinen agreed.

"When they... are subject to depositions and recorded interviews, it sends -- these are all career people -- it has a deleterious effect on morale because they thought they were actually doing what they were asked to do," Koskinen said.

Military morale is abysmal due to lack of confidence in the Commander-in-Chief:

"Morale in the military is swiftly sinking, with the troops losing both their sense of mission and their faith that their superiors, political leaders - and the nation - still have their best interest at heart," said the Military Times. "Troops say morale has sharply declined over the last five years, and most of those in uniform today believe their quality of life will only get worse."

For example, according to the Military Times survey, in 2009, 91 percent of active-duty service members said their overall quality of life was good or excellent. In 2014, that percentage declined significantly to 56 percent.

"When nearly every category surveyed reveals a significant dip from 2009 to today, we must all take notice and ask, why is morale so low and what can we do to fix it?" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in response to the Military Times survey. McCain added that it "requires immediate attention and action" by the White House, Pentagon and Congress.

And finally, a story about generally low morale across the Obama administration.

How bad is federal employee morale?

The good news tells the story.

In the 2014 government-wide survey of federal employees, positive responses dropped for 35 questions and increased for just 10 compared with 2013.

As bad as that is, it's a marked improvement compared with the three-year trend in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. From 2011 to 2014, positive responses dropped on 64 questions and increased for none.


Havana before Communism. The pictures are amazing.

It was during the presidency of Gerardo Machado in the '20s that Cuba's tourist trade really took off. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs, golf clubs and casinos sprung up in Havana catering to the rich jet-setters seeking luxury. Socialites, debutantes, celebrities like Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and American mobsters came to play in the Cuban paradise.

Tourism, and the growing and selling of sugar, was making some Cubans rich, but not all Cubans. What the tourists didn't see, or didn't want to, was the underclass, people of poverty like the macheteros -- sugarcane cutters -- who worked only during the four month season, and the rest of the year were unemployed, and angry.

That degree of income inequality as well as accusations of corruption within the government of President Fulgencio Batista laid the groundwork for the Cuban Revolution, prompting an enduring economic embargo by the United States and the rapid end of Havana's high-life.


Millions of Chinese are becoming believers and the Communist Party is fighting back. Pray for the Church in China, that these believers would be strengthened and that the Gospel of Christ will reach hundreds of millions more.

Western visitors used to seeing empty sanctuaries in the United States or Europe can be dumbfounded by the Sunday gatherings held in convention center-size buildings where people line up for blocks to get in - one service after another. In Wenzhou, not far from Hangzhou, an estimated 1.2 million Protestants now exist in a city of 9 million people alone. (It is called "China's Jerusalem.") By one estimate, China will become the world's largest Christian nation, at its current rate of growth, by 2030. ...

Carsten Vala, an expert on religion in China at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, says 40 million to 60 million is "the low end of a conservative" estimate of the number of Evangelicals. Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in Indiana, says he thinks there are more than 80 million Christians and that China will have 245 million by 2030 if growth is steady - making it the world's most populous Protestant nation.

In some ways this surge seems counterintuitive. Being a Christian in a country that sees worship as odd or superstitious does nothing to boost one's status. "There is absolutely no social advantage to being a Christian in China," says Bob Fu, a pastor who escaped a Chinese police crackdown in the 1990s and now runs Texas-based ChinaAid, which monitors Christian rights in the country. "There are no cookies, no status, no outward rewards, no privileges in choosing Christianity." ...

Experts say the Chinese have a practical nature, and if they adopt the evangelical message, especially after years of required wrestling with Marxist thinking, they usually don't take it lightly. Many work hard at it.

"Chinese Christians know the Bible better than some Southern Baptists," says Wickeri in Hong Kong. "That's not a small thing."


Victor Davis Hanson decries multiculturalism and reminds the world of the prescription for national success:

For Muslims of the Middle East, there is a clear pathway to economic prosperity and a secure lifestyle; countries as diverse as South Korea, Japan, and Chile are proof of it. Within wide parameters, success only asks adherence to a mostly free market, some sort of freedom of expression, religious tolerance, a separation of science from orthodoxy, the rule of law, and consensual constitutional government -- along with a cultural ethos of rough parity between the sexes, merit-based evaluation instead of tribal favors, and tolerance for ethnic and religious minorities.

If a country chooses to follow this pathway then success will follow almost inevitably regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or skin color.


Michael McGraw-Herdeg explains how airline tickets work:

Airlines are trying to maximize revenue per flight. This means charging more or less over time depending on what they predict will maximize total revenue for the flight -- using sophisticated quasi-academic tactics which they call "revenue management" or "yield management".

It's not very good to leave a lot of seats empty (you charged too much and could have made more money with a sale). It's also not good to go out completely full (you charged too little and are losing money on the trip).

Read the whole thing to learn about how inventory and fares interact in real-time. There's also this bit, which I didn't know:

Every few months, US airlines try to push a $2 or so hike across the board on all of their base fares; if their competitors match, the new price point takes hold. This is sort of a macroeconomic tweak.


I've been away from the computer for a while over the holidays! So, why not jump back on in time to join the chorus berating President Obama for ignoring the unity rally in Paris.

More than 40 heads of state came together in Paris to denounce a wave of terrorism that defiled the City of Light last week -- yet there was one glaring exception: The U.S. sent only a low-level official.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and dozens of other world leaders all took part in the powerful denunciation of last week's terror attacks that left 17 innocents dead.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set aside their differences to march together on Boulevard Voltaire.

But the nation that stands as the symbolic face of the war on terror was nowhere in sight.

Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden showed up -- and in fact, America's only representative was its relatively unknown and low-profile ambassador to France.

In all fairness, this is what ambassadors are for. Maybe the President completely misread the mood of the world and decided that this rally was nothing special?

Obama and Biden had empty public schedules Sunday, but the White House declined to comment on why they didn't go.

Well, football.

According to an administration official, President Obama spent part of his Sunday afternoon watching a National Football League game on television. Both games were broadcast hours after the march.

Presumably by the time it became clear that 40 world leaders would be attending, it was too late for the President and Vice President to get to France. The world leaders who showed up didn't have to travel very far on short notice.

Attorney General Eric Holder did go to Paris -- but only for an anti-terrorism summit convened by Hollande ahead of the unity rally. Holder left Hollande and the others sometime after the group exited the Elysee Palace. Around the time other world leaders and dignitaries boarded buses to get to the front of the march, Holder was taping an interview for "Meet the Press," NBC confirmed.

Maybe Holder didn't even know about the world leaders when the march was about to start?

Still, "no one told us" is only excuse if you need to be told when to express unity.

Says Jake Tapper:

There was higher-level Obama administration representation on this season's episodes of "The Good Wife" on CBS.

And it's not like other American luminaries of either party did better than the President:

I find it hard to believe that Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had more worthy pursuits on Sunday than standing side-by-side with our French brothers and sisters as they came together in an inspirational way. ...

And I'm frankly floored that not one of the people who is contemplating running for president in 2016 has yet to even tweet on the subject of the momentous demonstration in Paris, much less attend France's biggest rally in the history of the republic.

I imagine that Hillary Clinton and her husband are kicking themselves for not hopping on a corporate jet to get here. Can you picture Hillary and Bill walking in the front row, arm-in-arm with Netanyahu and Hollande?

Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Paul Ryan attended the Green Bay-Dallas football game Sunday and at least one of them sent his potential rivals mischievous tweets as if they were contemplating running for president of Beta Theta Pi.

And Jeb? Mitt? Crickets.


I've been away from the computer for a while over the holidays! So, why not jump back on in time to join the chorus berating President Obama for ignoring the unity rally in Paris.

More than 40 heads of state came together in Paris to denounce a wave of terrorism that defiled the City of Light last week -- yet there was one glaring exception: The U.S. sent only a low-level official.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and dozens of other world leaders all took part in the powerful denunciation of last week's terror attacks that left 17 innocents dead.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set aside their differences to march together on Boulevard Voltaire.

But the nation that stands as the symbolic face of the war on terror was nowhere in sight.

Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden showed up -- and in fact, America's only representative was its relatively unknown and low-profile ambassador to France.

In all fairness, this is what ambassadors are for. Maybe the President completely misread the mood of the world and decided that this rally was nothing special?

Obama and Biden had empty public schedules Sunday, but the White House declined to comment on why they didn't go.

Presumably by the time it became clear that 40 world leaders would be attending, it was too late for the President and Vice President to get to France.

Attorney General Eric Holder did go to Paris -- but only for an anti-terrorism summit convened by Hollande ahead of the unity rally. Holder left Hollande and the others sometime after the group exited the Elysee Palace. Around the time other world leaders and dignitaries boarded buses to get to the front of the march, Holder was taping an interview for "Meet the Press," NBC confirmed.

Maybe Holder didn't even know about the world leaders when the march was about to start?

Still, "no one told us" is only excuse if you need to be told when to express unity.


Many private security firms seem to think that the Sony hack was was perpetrated by a disgruntled insider, but the FBI is standing by it's initial assessment that North Korea is behind the attack.

US cybersecurity experts say they have solid evidence that a former employee helped hack Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer system -- and that it was not masterminded by North Korean cyberterrorists.

One leading cybersecurity firm, Norse Corp., said Monday it has narrowed its list of suspects to a group of six people -- including at least one Sony veteran with the necessary technical background to carry out the attack, according to reports. ...

Kurt Stammberger, senior vice president at Norse, said he used Sony's leaked human-resources documents and cross-referenced the data with communications on hacker chat rooms and its own network of Web sensors to determine it was not North Korea behind the hack.

The United States may have a lot invested in the FBI's assessment being correct: we may have already struck back at North Korea.

North Korea's connection to the Internet was essentially inactive Monday just days after the U.S. said it would consider a "proportional response" to a hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment related to the comedy flick "The Interview." The U.S. would not confirm if it was behind nearly hourly outages that occurred Sunday and Monday in North Korea. U.S. Cyber Command, which handles the U.S. military's unified defensive and offensive capabilities online, could not immediately be reached for comment.

UPDATE 3:25 p.m. EST: The U.S. State Department did not confirm nor deny any involvement in the outage, and spokeswoman Marie Harf had this to say:

"As the president said, we are considering a range of options in response. We aren't going to discuss publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in any way except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen. So I can't confirm those reports, but in general, that's what the president has spoken to."

North Korea isn't likely to get much sympathy, but the U.S. will look pretty foolish if it becomes obvious that we were baited into a "counter"-attack on false pretenses.

Bruce Schneier has more thoughts on the perpetrators and doesn't think the job was done by insiders.


The attack by the Taliban on a school in Pakistan is abhorrent and inhuman; their refusal to stand by their actions is cowardly and deceitful.

niformed militants attacked a school, killing at least 126 people and taking hostages on Tuesday, an official said - an atrocity condemned by the U.S. as "senseless and inhumane."

"The gunmen entered class by class and shot some kids one by one," a student who was in the school at the time told local media.

Provincial official Bahramand Khan said at least 126 people were killed and 122 injured. More than 100 of the dead were school children, he added. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to be targeting the the children of senior military officials. ...

Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani told Reuters his group was responsible for the attack. "Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the army personnel," he said.

Emphasis mine. If you think you're justified in massacring children to strike at your enemies at least have the balls to say it.


William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone echo an observation about robots replacing ever-more-capable workers and how the shift to automation will affect society. They even follow my example and use IQ as a proxy for generic capability -- though they ignore the gender implications.

Suppose, today, that the robots and smart machines of the Second Economy are only capable of doing the work of a person of average intelligence - that is, an IQ of 100. Imagine that the technology in those machines continues to improve at the current rate. Suppose further that this rate of technological progress raises the IQ of these machines by 1.5 points per year. By 2025 these machines will have an IQ greater than 90% of the U.S. population. That 15 point increase in IQ over ten years would put another 50 million jobs within reach of smart machines.

Impossible? In fact, the vanguard of those 115-point IQ machines is already here. In certain applications, the minds of highly educated MD's are no longer needed. In 2013, the FDA approved Johnson & Johnson's Sedasys machine, which delivers propofol to sedate patients without the need for an anesthesiologist. An emerging field in radiology is computer-aided diagnosis (CADx). And a recent study published by the Royal Society showed that computers performed more consistently in identifying radiolucency (the appearance of dark images) than radiologists almost by a factor of ten.

Politicians, economists, and scientists might debate these particular estimates, but to do so is to miss the larger point. Machine intelligence is already having a major effect on the value of work - and for major segments of the population, human value is now being set by the cost of equivalent machine intelligence.

The shift to automation will be a growing challenge for capitalism as the dependent class grows.


I just filled up my car for under $20, so despite dire warnings about the death of green energy I'm going to say that cheap oil is awesome.

The collapsing oil price that is reshaping the global economy could derail the green energy revolution by making renewable power sources prohibitively bad value, experts have warned.

Oil tumbled below $60 a barrel for the first time in more than five years yesterday - a fall of 44 per cent since June. It is forecast to fall further.

A new "era of cheap oil" would be good news for consumers and motorists - but analysts say the consequences for politics, industry and the climate could be even more radical.

It's important to note that the "green revolution" has always been completely dependent on public subsidies. Cheaper oil would make those subsidies much more expensive to allow green energy to compete with brown energy. Maybe we should use some of the money we're saving to develop climate-mitigation technologies?

Bank of America says that OPEC is dead and oil is going to $50 a barrel -- great news all around. Who's hurt? Petro-funded enemies like Russia, Iran, and Venezuala. Who wins? Europe, America, and everyone who has to buy oil from the cartel.

The Opec oil cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense and crude prices will slump to $50 a barrel over the coming months as market forces shake out the weakest producers, Bank of America has warned.

Revolutionary changes sweeping the world's energy industry will drive down the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), creating a "multi-year" glut and a much cheaper source of gas for Europe.

Francisco Blanch, the bank's commodity chief, said Opec is "effectively dissolved" after it failed to stabilize prices at its last meeting. "The consequences are profound and long-lasting," he said.

The free market will now set the global cost of oil, leading to a new era of wild price swings and disorderly trading that benefits only the Mid-East petro-states with deepest pockets such as Saudi Arabia. If so, the weaker peripheral members such as Venezuela and Nigeria are being thrown to the wolves.

I'm loving the $2 gas.

Some people are incensed that the bipartisan omnibus spending bill doesn't defund Obamacare, but I think that's a mistaken instinct. "Defunding" is a gimmick move that is played from a weak hand -- because "defunding" is all you've got. With Republicans in control of Congress, they have a lot more options available than turning Obamacare into another funding fight.

There are several items in the bill that are big wins for America:

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: One of the GOP's favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation's tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.

LIGHT BULBS:
The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy efficient incandescent bulbs.

NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH:
The nation's premier medical research agency would receive $30.3 billion, a $150 million overall increase.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY:
The bill stops assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it becomes a member of the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. It also prohibits funds for Hamas.

PENSIONS:
For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of the nation's most distressed pension plans. The change would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets.

The pension change is a big, inevitable change that's been a long time in coming. Pensions can't defy mathematics forever.

Bill Blunden writes a long rant warning against trust in encryption and the companies who peddle it, pointing out that no matter how good your encryption algorithms are they can be subverted by the people who use or implement them.

Greenwald believes that leaked documents will induce Silicon Valley to clean up its act. But given the systemic forces at work, Silicon Valley will likely continue to consort with spies. In light of wage cartels, slave labor and wanton tax avoidance, it should be clear that high-tech companies have absolutely no shame at all. Like a textbook psychopath, most corporate entities really care about one thing only: profit. Caught in bed with the intelligence services, they'll simply keep on selling more lies.

Why should they clean up their act when it's cheaper and more profitable to sell snake oil to rubes? In the C-suites of Silicon Valley managing bad publicity is largely a matter of cleverly devised public relations. Having beguiled their users with a newly minted "encryption everywhere" sales pitch they will return to their old ways. High-tech executives, you see, want to have their cake and eat it too. People raking in billions are used to getting what they want: patronize the unwashed masses with talk of improved security and simultaneously maintain their links to their brethren in the intelligence services.

Read it all. Basically, be more paranoid.

Victor Davis Hanson says that conditions are ripe for a large European war:

The world is changing and becoming even more dangerous -- in a way we've seen before.

In the decade before World War I, the near-100-year European peace that had followed the fall of Napoleon was taken for granted. Yet it abruptly imploded in 1914. Prior little wars in the Balkans had seemed to predict a much larger one on the horizon -- and were ignored.

The exhausted Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were spent forces unable to control nationalist movements in their provinces. The British Empire was fading. Imperial Germany was rising. Czarist Russia was beset with revolutionary rebellion. As power shifted, decline for some nations seemed like opportunity for others.

The same was true in 1939. The tragedy of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was not that it had been too harsh. In fact, it was far milder than the terms Germany had imposed on a defeated Russia in 1918 or the requirements it had planned for France in 1914.

Instead, Versailles combined the worst of both worlds: harsh language without any means of enforcement.

The subsequent appeasement of Britain and France, the isolationism of the United States, and the collaboration of the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany green-lighted Hitler's aggression -- and another world war.

I hope he's wrong! I also hope that someone in our government is working to prevent and prepare.

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