December 19, 2014

QUOTE OF THE MOMENT: “There are no great men, just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstances to meet.”

21ST CENTURY RELATIONSHIPS: Why Women Won’t Date You If You’re Not Into Premarital Nookie.

WATER SHORTAGES LEADING TO greater interest in desalination.

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OBAMA: Sony Made A “Mistake,” And We Need More Controls On The Internet.

BUT JOBS FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ARE UP, SO WE’VE GOT THAT: Fewer US-Born Americans Have Jobs Now Than in 2007.

IT’S POTEMKIN FAMILIES ALL THE WAY DOWN: NY Health Commissioner says he wouldn’t want his kids growing near fracking site, but doesn’t have children.

Zucker’s remarks appeared to make an impression on Gov. Cuomo. On Thursday, Cuomo said Zucker’s comments were “very sobering,” and helped to convince him that banning fracking was the right thing to do.

“Frankly, that’s enough for me,” Cuomo said, “because if the state health commissioner doesn’t want his kids living there, I don’t want my kids living there and I don’t want any New Yorkers’ kids living there.”

But questioned by the Daily News, Health Department spokesman Peter Constantakes on Thursday said Zucker was not married and had no children.

Standard for our political discourse these days: People without kids banning stuff “for the children.”

ANDREW MALCOLM: The Rolling Stone Story Is Part of a Broader Hoax.

NANOTECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Large, open protein cages designed and built.

I PREFER THE TERM “SELF-BECLOWNING,” BUT “AUTO-HUMILIATION” WORKS TOO: Tom Maguire: Let Me Highlight Charles Blow’s Auto-Humiliation. “We can find some answers to Mr. Blow’s questions in Mrs. Obama’s description of the same incident to David Letterman in 2012.”

EXACTLY AS EVOLUTIONARY THEORY WOULD PREDICT: Heterosexual men more upset by infidelity than women, gays, lesbians. Only heterosexual men risk being stuck raising someone else’s kid.

WELL, THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY, YOU KNOW: World First: Man Controls Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind; Doctors wired them right into his nerves.

USING BLIMPS for missile defense.

SEXUAL ASSAULT IS SUCH A SERIOUS CRIME THAT INNOCENCE IS NO DEFENSE: Ashe Schow Tries To Find Out How To Prove Consent Under “Yes Means Yes,” Discovers That Nobody, Even The Sponsor, Has Any Idea.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, LEGAL EDUCATION EDITION: News Worsens for Law Schools: Fall 2015 Applicants Are Down 9.1%.

K.C. JOHNSON: UVA’s Troubled Campus Culture. “The actions of President Teresa Sullivan’s administration—joined by an array of professors and, most disturbingly, by the student newspaper—have provided an almost textbook example ofa campus culture gone awry, with a massive rush to judgment compounded by an inability to admit error. Close followers of higher education doubtless will recall the last time that Sullivan was in the news—in 2012, when the Virginian Board of Visitors unsuccessfully attempted to remove her as president. Based on what we’ve seen over the past month, the Board’s initial judgment regarding Sullivan was absolutely correct.”

TAXPROF ROUNDUP: The IRS Scandal, Day 589.

THE PR GETS MORE SHAMELESS AS THE NUMBER WHO BELIEVE IT SHRINKS: David Harsanyi: Let’s Talk About Obama’s Imaginary ‘Winning Streak.’ “There are two ways to explain this phenomenon: Some folks are engaged in a lot of wishful thinking or we’ve severely downgraded the meaning of winning. Then again, maybe it’s a little of both.”

MEGAN MCARDLE: Russia’s Problems Are Everyone’s Problems.

“Cyprus with nukes.” That’s how someone, maybe me, referred to Russia in an IM conversation this morning. It’s not really a fair comparison; Russia is a vast country loaded with natural resources, not a tiny island banking haven. But it does express a very real fear: that the world is about to experience a major financial crisis in a country that seems to deal with its internal troubles by slicing off bits of neighboring countries.

The ruble is plunging, for reasons that have roots in the falling price of oil. Yet the trouble now runs deeper than that, so the ruble’s problems will continue even when the price of oil recovers a bit. As our own Leonid Bershidsky explains, markets are no longer just worried about oil prices, but also about the Russian Central Bank’s apparent decision to bail out a suffering oil company by printing money.

Luckily, our government would never do that.

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HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, LEGAL EDUCATION EDITION: Law Schools Have Shed 986 Full-Time Faculty (11%) Since 2010.

BYRON YORK: How rusty is Jeb Bush?

Jeb Bush, who on Tuesday announced that he has “decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president,” last ran for political office in 2002. (The race was for a second term as governor of Florida, and Bush won.) If Bush runs in 2016, that will be a 14-year gap between his last run for office and his attempt to win the White House.

That’s a long time. In fact, Bush’s 14-year gap is bigger than any general-election presidential candidate in recent memory.

When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, he had run for the Republican nomination four years earlier and for governor of Massachusetts six years before that. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he had run for the Senate four years earlier. When John McCain ran against Obama in 2008, he had also run for Senate four years earlier. When John Kerry ran for president in 2004, he had run for Senate two years earlier. . . .

Campaigns need fresh candidates. Talk to political consultants and they’ll tell you that sitting out even one electoral cycle can not only make a candidate rusty but can also make him or her unfamiliar with the sometimes overwhelming ways in which campaigns change over the course of four years. Jeb Bush might be able to overcome those challenges. But it probably won’t be easy.

I’m not impressed with his candidacy.

ROLL CALL: Will Russ Feingold Be Haunted by Campaign Problems Past? “Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore told Roll Call’s Alexis Levinson last week she expects Feingold to wage a rematch against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in 2016 and to clear the primary along the way. But in the wake of his loss in 2010, it became clear Feingold’s campaign suffered from some internal campaign strife, which factored into his failure to re-create the maverick magic of his previous victories.”

YOU’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER FENCE: Review: Secret Service needs outside leader, more agents.

The report makes a number of other recommendations, chiefly ensuring that the safety of the president and others remains the agency’s sole priority. It calls for the department to do more to hold officers accountable and improve training.

The report also lauds the value of the fence surrounding the White House as a way to deter “frivolous threats” and help delay would-be intruders.

The officials don’t provide specific recommendations for a new fence, but say that the fencing must be taller, free of horizontal bars that make climbing easier, and curved at the top to thwart potential climbers.

Good thing we had a panel of experts to determine that.

CIVIL RIGHTS UPDATE: Second Amendment and people who had been committed to a mental institution 28 years ago. An episode of situational depression isn’t enough to overcome the right to arms, according to a new Sixth Circuit decision.

December 18, 2014

JUSTICE: Family of Toddler Injured by SWAT ‘Grenade’ Faces $1M in Medical Bills.

THE CYBERWARFARE SITUATION HAS DEVELOPED, NOT NECESSARILY TO AMERICA’S ADVANTAGE.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Student claims he was expelled from W&L for consensual sex.

A day after Rolling Stone published an article describing a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, a former Washington and Lee student claims he was expelled for having consensual sex with another student who eight months later regretted the encounter and claimed rape.

The former W&L student has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the private Lexington university discriminated against him because he is a male, and because it wanted to avoid the negative public scrutiny that UVa was experiencing. Moreover, the student, identified as John Doe in the lawsuit, contends W&L’s Title IX officer advocates to female students that “regret equals rape.”

Yes, taking responsibility for one’s choices and actions is totally a male thing. Because equality!

IT WAS INEVITABLE: Kim Jong-un to Host 87th Annual Oscars.

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JIM TREACHER: Patton Oswalt: A Tale Of Two Tweets.

HMM: CIA’s No. 2 tapped to be deputy national security adviser. “Avril D. Haines will become deputy to national security adviser Susan E. Rice, returning to the White House just 18 months after she left to be CIA Director John Brennan’s second in command, administration officials said Thursday.”

THE DETROIT PROJECT: A DOCUMENTARY ON WHAT WENT WRONG, AND WHAT’S NEXT. Trailer for the first installment, already out, here.

OBVIOUSLY THE NEXT STEP IS TO LABEL EXCULPATORY VIDEOS “REVENGE PORN:” Woman falsely accuses man of rape, and man captures it on video.

IT’S COME TO THIS: Leftists Mourn Possible End Of Cuban Poverty.

Related: Shep Smith Fails The Ailes Test.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Professor Suspended For Blogging.

ERIC HOLDER CALLED US A NATION OF COWARDS, BUT BARACK OBAMA MADE US ONE: Theaters cancel ‘Team America’ showings.

ROSS DOUTHAT: On The Liberal Marriage Hypothesis:

But when you look specifically at sex itself, at patterns of actual sexual activity and their link to marital happiness and longevity, direct evidence for a permissiveness premium is extremely hard to find. And for women, almost all the the data points sharply in the opposite direction. Notwithstanding the potential for regrets, women who only had sex with their future spouse are more likely to be in a high quality marriage than women who had a higher number of sexual partners. Divorce rates are higher for women with multiple premarital partners than women who had only one; they’re twice as high for women who have cohabitated serially than women who only cohabitated with their future husband. Independent of marriage, relationship stability is stronger when sex is initiated later, and monogamy and a restricted number of sex partners is strongly associated with female happiness and emotional well-being, period. And these results hold irrespective of education levels, as this piece by Brad Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger points out: There’s a stronger correlation between multiple premarital partners and marital instability among less-educated Americans, but well-educated Americans, too, show much stronger marital outcomes when they have fewer premarital partners. (And interestingly, the usual connection between education and stability disappears entirely for people who married their first partner: They’re equally unlikely to divorce no matter whether they attended college or not.)

Hmm. This certainly doesn’t fit the narrative. And it may not be true for everyone, but I wonder if this will be another case in which American policy and mores were overturned for the benefit of a relatively small portion of the electorate who had disproportionate voice and impact.

MORE OF THAT “MYTHICAL” VOTER FRAUD ENABLING: Democrat PA Legislators Indicted for Voter ID Bribes.

#WARONMEN: The U.S. Government Wants to Keep You From Wearing “Comfyballs” Boxers.

BRING BACK DDT: Mosquitoes That Breed Year-Round Infuriate Residents On Upper West Side.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Oldest U.S. black college on verge of financial collapse.

Related: Studying Abroad In Cuba Is About To Get Easier.

I’M NOT HAPPY WITH OUR SITUATION: Interview: Paul Bracken on American nuclear forces in the 21st century.

ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS: MORE MEN ARE TURNING TO PORN BECAUSE MARRIAGE IS LESS APPEALING. Shock study: Marriage rate declines with porn use, threatening economy, society.

You could explore that possibility in a book or something. Maybe talk to some actual men, even. Just a thought.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Sororities call U-Va. freeze on Greek system a violation of student rights. “Last week, U-Va. president Teresa A. Sullivan told The Post that the suspension of fraternity and sorority activities would remain in place until Jan. 9, as the university pursues a wide-ranging discussion on sexual assault and campus culture.” So the story’s a hoax, but the punishment remains because conversation. Sullivan’s response has been disgraceful.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: As The Bubble Bursts, Opportunities For Reform.

ASHE SCHOW: Marginalizing The Already Marginalized:

Sometimes, small percentages of the American people are worth fighting for. And sometimes they’re not, at least for the Left.

About 10 percent of the American people are uninsured and can’t get health insurance? Better disrupt the entire healthcare system to help them.

About 6 percent of U.S. residents are here illegally? Better disrupt the entire immigration system to make them legal.

Less than 1 percent of women are raped each year while in college? Better redefine consent to turn nearly all sex into rape unless nobody reports it.

But 10 percent of rape accusations are false? (One study suggests it’s as high as 40 percent.) That’s negligible and can be ignored. . . . Those falsely accused in college can be kicked off campus or even expelled without due process or evidence. That’s a substantial loss of tuition. The black mark on one’s record can prevent a man falsely accused from getting into other colleges or even finding employment after graduation.

If sexual assault survivors are people, not statistics, then the falsely accused are also people, not statistics. And, as such, they cannot be ignored for a greater narrative and policies that are poised to increase the number of falsely accused.

It’s all about politics. The “compassion” talk is just a smokescreen. And college men need to realize that the feminists, and their Democratic allies like Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand, are entirely happy to sacrifice your lives for a slogan.

IN THE MAIL: From R.U. Sirius & Jay Cornell, Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity.

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TAXPROF ROUNDUP: The IRS Scandal, Day 588.

CULTURE OF CORRUPTION: Ecuador Family Wins Favors After Donations to Democrats. “The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.”

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Obama Goes Cowboy On Cuba:

With respect to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the true cowboy diplomat may be the White House’s current occupant.

President Obama, as he has shown all year, isn’t about to go quietly into the lame-duck night, even with Republicans ready to take full power down the street. With the stunning announcement Wednesday that the United States is set to normalize relations with Cuba, the president is closing his self-termed “Year of Action” with a thunderclap.

In doing so, Obama is serving notice to new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that a sitting president trumps a Congress divided both along party lines and within them. The shift comes about a month after the last time the president thrust his stick into the GOP’s eye, when Obama announced he was unilaterally providing widespread deportation relief to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.

Flashback: “The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America.” That Senator Obama seemed like a sensible fellow. I wish he were President now.

SO YOU’RE NOT LIKE AL SHARPTON, THEN. GOT IT. Joe Scarborough: ‘Jeb and I Are Moderate … We Don’t Set Houses on Fire and Scare Kids.’ Well, that’s what they said about McCain and Romney, too. How’d they do?

MICHAEL BARONE: Let’s learn from Canada’s ‘bootstrap’ immigration policy.

Our friends and neighbors in Canada are giving us good lessons on immigration policy, as you can see from journalist John Ibbitson’s article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, forwarded by Minnesota reader David Sturrock. In that article and in this Centre for International Governance Innovation paper, Ibbitson described how Canada’s Conservative government has virtually eliminated family-based immigration and has reduced refugee immigration from “safe” countries (including the United States). Canada has increased immigration places for high-skill immigrants who are fluent in English or French and are ready to prosper in Canada’s economy: “bootstrap” immigration.

Yes, I think that immigration should be based on what they can do for us, rather than what we can do for them.

I DON’T THINK THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH A CONGRESS THAT IS “UNPRODUCTIVE,” GIVEN WHAT IT PRODUCES WHEN IT’S “WORKING.” Historically unproductive Congress ends.

I’d still like to see the House Of Repeal in action, though. And I’d like to see it be highly productive.

CHANGE: Roll Call: McSally Win Gives Republicans Another House Seat.

Republican Martha McSally has officially defeated Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., after a protracted recount in the Tucson-based 2nd District reaffirmed her lead.

MsSally won the seat by 167 votes, picking up six votes after the recount, according to elections officials.

Barber conceded shortly after the official tally was released.

“Today I congratulated Martha McSally on her victory, and wished her well in serving Southern Arizonans,” Barber said in a statement. “This result is not the one we hoped for, but we take solace in having spoken out loud and clear for the principle that every legal vote should be counted.”

Including McSally’s victory, House Republicans picked up a net of 13 seats in the midterms, giving the conference a historic majority.

Just for the record, this is Gabby Giffords’ old seat, now occupied by a pro-gun-rights Republican.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: Wisconsin won’t admit it, but its new egalitarian policy leads to grading quotas.

In fall 2009, the College of Letters and Science pushed further with a study of grading practices in five introductory courses. Its title was revealing: “Grade Gap/Future Gap: Addressing Racial Disparities in L&S [Letters & Science] Introductory Courses.” Departments were instructed to implement strategic action plans to “eliminate racial grade gaps by 2014.”

This targeted five introductory courses: Chemistry 103, Communication Arts 100, English 100, Mathematics 112, and Psychology 202.

Putting an even sharper point on the administration’s desires, the report explained, “. . . these courses have something in common, sharp disparities in grade outcomes by race. In all courses targeted minority students achieve lower grades than non-targeted students at similar preparation levels. In each course, targeted minority students receive more of the low grades and fewer of the high grades.”

No, that doesn’t explicitly demand grade quotas, but the unsubtle point can’t be missed.

Furthermore, to ensure “steady annual improvements,” the dean would create incentives and an accountability system.

The people who teach those introductory courses, mostly teaching assistants and instructional academic staff, are quite vulnerable to administrative pressure because they are on limited-term contracts. They are apt to decide that giving each individual the grade he or she earned is less important than assigning grades so that there is little or no gap between groups.

Rather than adjusting grades, however, the university suggests that faculty members who teach those courses should “discover pedagogical strategies that reach targeted and non-targeted students with equal effectiveness” to reduce the achievement gap.

Resorting to faddish education-speak, the university suggests that the faculty use “proactive multicultural competence” to make their teaching more effective for the targeted students.

Efforts to eliminate the grade gap are being intensified under UW-Madison’s “Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence” plan. Its Recommendation 1.5 calls for a “reduction in the achievement gap.”

I’m sure this will build confidence in the entire enterprise.

ASHE SCHOW: Defining nearly all sex as rape. “California’s ‘yes means yes’ law turns the idea of sexual consent upside down. Suddenly, nearly all sex is rape, unless no person involved reports it as such.”

THE HILL: Can Obama Lift Cuba Embargo Alone? Why the hell not? He does everything else that way.

President Obama has significant powers at his disposal to make the U.S. trade and travel embargoes on Cuba meaningless, though action by Congress is required to formally lift the sanctions.

Six separate laws dictate the terms of sanctions on Cuba. They range from the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.

It was President John F. Kennedy who prohibited U.S. exports to Cuba under the Trading with the Enemy Act shortly after Fidel Castro took control of the island nation.

Since then, Congress has moved periodically to toughen the sanctions with legislation, and a series of presidents have also taken executive steps to tighten or loosen the screws on Cuba.

Experts agree that Obama, who with actions on healthcare and immigration has signaled a willingness to test the lengths of executive power, has significant discretion when it comes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The six laws are written in a way to give the executive branch latitude in enforcing the law, and regulations are used to implement many of the sanctions.

It’s clear that a lot of our immigration and national security laws were written with certain assumptions about the Chief Executive in mind, assumptions that no longer hold.

December 17, 2014

L.A. WEEKLY: Killing The Interview Opens Studios to Terrorist Manipulation.

You know, we need to start persecuting communists again. Apparently, that’s what it takes to get Hollywood to stand up for free speech.

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT CHAIR: We Should Hate Republicans.

A University of Michigan department chairwoman has published an article titled, “It’s Okay To Hate Republicans,” which will probably make all of her conservative students feel really comfortable and totally certain that they’re being graded fairly.

“I hate Republicans,” communications department chairwoman and professor Susan J. Douglas boldly declares in the opening of the piece. “I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal ‘personhood.’”

She writes that although the fact that her “tendency is to blame the Republicans . . . may seem biased,” historical and psychological research back her up, and so it’s basically actually a fact that Republicans are bad! . . .

Republicans now, she writes, are focused on the “determined vilification” of others, and have “crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.”

(Apparently, the irony of this accusation given the content of her own article was lost on her.)

You know, if I were a Republican — or even Republican-curious — student at the University of Michigan, I’d feel unwelcome there. If I were a Republican governor or legislator in Michigan, and I think they have some of those, I’d be finding ways to encourage Michigan to be more inclusive and diverse. Especially given that — perhaps because of incitement caused by faculty views such as those above — the University of Michigan has already seen mob violence against conservatives. Perhaps Michigan lawmakers need to add political discrimination to their state’s civil rights code — at least as relates to institutions of education — especially in light of Cass Sunstein’s recent argument that political hatred is a serious problem in our society.

UPDATE: Some thoughts from Spengler.

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BYRON YORK: Did Ted Cruz really bungle the lame-duck session for Republicans?

There are four problems with the anti-Cruz scenario. The first is that on Dec. 9, days before Cruz threw a wrench in the works, Reid signaled his intention to confirm all of Obama’s remaining nominees, no matter how long it took. . . . The bottom line is that President Obama and Democrats got the confirmations they wanted — just as they planned and intended, regardless of anything Ted Cruz did. As he made clear before it all began, Harry Reid was going to make full use of his last chance to confirm his party’s nominees. It would have made no sense for him to do otherwise.

Yes, but both Democrats and establishment GOP folks are happy to band together to attack Cruz. Which says something. . . .

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS: Texas Theater Will Show Team America in The Interview’s Place. I hope this catches on generally.

AFTER NORTH KOREAN HACKS AND THREATS, Sony Pulls The Interview From Distribution. Once you pay the Danegeld, you will never be rid of the Dane. That said, something about this whole thing feels “off.”

UPDATE: “No one should kid themselves. With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent.”

SCIENTISTS ARE SMART IN A PARTICULAR WAY, I’D SAY: Scientists Are Not That Smart.

The popular image of scientists is of a tiny, elite (and possibly deranged) minority of people engaged in esoteric pursuits. One of the three most common responses when I tell somebody I’m a physicist is, “You must be really smart. I could never do that.” (The other responses are, “I hated that when I took it in high school/college,” and, “Can you explain string theory to me?” This goes a long way toward explaining why physicists have a reputation as lousy conversationalists.)

While the idea that scientists are uniquely smart and capable is flattering to the vanity of nerds like me, it’s a compliment with an edge. There’s a distracting effect to being called “really smart” in this sense — it sets scientists off as people who think in a way that’s qualitatively different from “normal” people. We’re set off even from other highly educated academics — my faculty colleagues in arts, literature, and social science don’t hear that same “You must be really smart” despite the fact that they’ve generally spent at least as much time acquiring academic credentials as I have. The sort of scholarship they do is seen as just an extension of normal activities, whereas science is seen as alien and incomprehensible.

A bigger problem with this awkward compliment, though, is that it’s just not true. Scientists are not that smart — we don’t think in a wholly different manner than ordinary people do. What makes a professional scientist is not a supercharged brain with more processing power, but a collection of subtle differences in skills and inclinations. We’re slightly better at doing the sort of things that professional scientists do on a daily basis — I’m better with math than the average person — but more importantly, we enjoy those activities and so spend time honing those skills, making the differences appear even greater.

Also, nowadays being a scientist means having an enormous tolerance for tedium, not only in the pursuit of science, but in the pursuit of funding.

WALL STREET: A Black Hole For Our Best And Brightest. When your smartest people go into finance, it’s bad news.

A PRETTY COOL ANIMATED GRAPHIC of how a 1911 handgun works.

NANOTECHNOLOGY UPDATE: Broadening the synthetic biology path to molecular nanotechnology.

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WHAT A CURRENCY COLLAPSE LOOKS LIKE: Russians Rush To Stores As Country Fears Bank Run. “Russian consumers flocked to the stores Wednesday, frantically buying a range of big-ticket items to pre-empt the price rises kicked off by the staggering fall in the value of the ruble in recent days. As the Russian authorities announced a series of measures to ease the pressure on the ruble, which slid 15 percent in the previous two days and raised fears of a bank run, many Russians were buying cars and home appliances — in some cases in record numbers — before prices for these imported goods shoot higher.”

OBAMA ANNOUNCES “NEW CHAPTER” ON CUBA. “The Obama administration will initiate diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana in coming months, the president said. . . . The president also announced measures to ease travel and the flow of goods between the United States and Cuba. However, the embargo on Cuba cannot be lifted without congressional approval. And critics accused the president of putting his legacy ahead of achieving democratic reforms in the communist nation.”

I’d love for Cuba to open up so I can get a cheap Caribbean beachfront place. But it would have to decommunize before that was worthwhile.

PRIVACY: Cops illegally nailed webcam to utility pole for 6 weeks to spy on house. “The Justice Department contended that the webcam, with pan-and-zoom capabilities that were operated from afar—was no different from a police officer’s observation from the public right-of-way. . . . US District Judge Edward Shea disagreed and ruled (PDF) that a warrant was necessary to spy on Leonel Vargas via a webcam controlled by local police.”

HONESTY IS GOOD FOR COUNTRIES: “Why do some countries suck? There are some countries more people would like to be in and another set of countries that most of the inhabitants want to flee. What causes this? It’s mainly about corruption, and in the 21st century we have a much better idea of how much and where it is.” The problem is that while corruption may be bad for countries, it’s good for the political class.

WELL, THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY, YOU KNOW: This Is the First Robot To Be a Paying Airline Passenger.

OUT: RETURNING ISRAEL TO ITS PRE-1967 BORDERS. In: Returning Israel To Its Pre-1948 Borders.

MICHELLE OBAMA ENCOUNTERS THE LEGACY OF SLAVERY AT TARGET. Or maybe not: “A different explanation is that somebody mistook Michelle for someone who was tall, athletic, and happy to help. And hey, two out of three ain’t bad.”

What’s interesting to me about this obviously-contrived episode is how hard the Obamas are working to position themselves as Super-Sharptons for the post-presidency.

MORE SUPPORT FOR INTERVAL TRAINING: “According to a lovely new study, a single minute of intense exercise, embedded within an otherwise easy 10-minute workout, can improve fitness and health.”

IT’S NOT JUST A PINK GUN: Tamara Keel looks at a pistol offering for women.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: No Free Speech At Marquette.

Marquette University, the Jesuit school in Milwaukee, has shot itself in the foot again. Weeks ago in a “Theory of Ethics” class, philosophy instructor Cheryl Abbate listed several possible topics of discussion, but said one of them –gay marriage—could not be addressed because any opposition argument would offend homosexual students, and besides society has already agreed that gays can marry. This is a strong pattern for the campus left: topics they want to talk about (e.g., the Keystone pipeline, abolishing fraternities) are discussed endlessly, even in classes where the topics have little or no relevance. But topics they don’twant discussed are banned as “already settled” or as harassment.

Did Marquette overrule Abbate and say that gay marriage can certainly be discussed in class? Or that Catholic doctrine cannot be off limits at a Catholic university? Well, no. Like so many other universities, Marquette passed on the free speech issue and went after a lone professor—John McAdams–who had criticized Marquette’s woeful reaction to Abbate in his blog, “Marquette Warrior.” The next step was very predictable: Marquette suspended McAdams, said he is under investigation and banned him from the campus, without listing any charges against him. Presumably the unannouced charge is harassment, since the letter from Dean Richard Holz to McAdams ended with a sentence saying “I am enclosing with this letter Marquette’s harassment policy….:”

“Harassment” is not a synonym for “disagreement” or “criticism,” but many in the higher education community appear to be ignorant of this fact.

IN THE MAIL: From Damon Root, Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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TAXPROF ROUNDUP: The IRS Scandal, Day 587.

READY FOR HILLARY TO GO AWAY: People Magazine’s worst selling issue this year? The one with Hillary Clinton on the cover.

RUSSIA: Ruble Crisis Puts Putin’s Back Against the Wall.

It’s panic time in Moscow, as the deadly double whammy of collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions is knocking the Russian economy into recession. Nothing the government can do has been able to stem the accelerating selloff in Russian assets, and the meltdown has gone so far that average people increasingly understand that their economic futures are at risk. . . .

The Putin government has come to a fork in the road—and both of its choices look unpleasant. It can accept that the oil price collapse is forcing it to change paths in foreign policy and give up (at least for now) on its dreams of geopolitical revenge for the defeat in the Cold War—or it can double down on the fight against the West and the world system.

The first course is obviously the smartest from the standpoint of Russian national interest, but the second may make more sense in terms of the personal fortunes of one Vladimir Putin—and unless something changes in Russia, Putin is firmly in charge.

Putin has to be thinking in terms of using the crisis to enforce even tighter government control over Russia’s economy: cracking down on currency trading, increasing control over banks, possibly repudiating private as well as public debts to Western creditors. To make this work, he’d have to resort to claims that the West is in an all-out war to destroy Russia, and that national mobilization (under, of course, his inspired leadership) is the only way to save the country.

The long term prospects for such a course of doubling down on an aggressive foreign policy are not good.

Nope. Here’s a Russian joke I heard yesterday: You should have all your money in rubles — because no one will expect to find money in a sack of rubles.

JERRY POURNELLE HAD A MILD STROKE YESTERDAY. According to his son, Alex, “He’s doing well, recovering in the hospital, good prognosis, and talking up a storm.”

LEFTY POLITICS IS NEVER ABOUT WHAT IT’S OSTENSIBLY ABOUT: Green Groups Capitalize on Police Shooting Protests.

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ROGER SIMON: We need a wartime consigliere.

Actually, we need a wartime President. Obama has a wartime consigliere, it’s just not for the war Roger wants to focus on.

GOOD QUESTION: Why Does Uncle Sam Hate American Expats? I was talking the other day with a former student who practices law in Germany now, and she said her tax preparer quit because of the complexities of U.S. tax law for expats. It’s also hard for Americans to get bank accounts abroad, even when they’re permanent residents of foreign countries, because of the grabbiness of U.S. law. I suggested she file a human rights complaint, since no other country does this to its citizens, and I was only half joking. . . .

TRANSPARENCY: No Author, No Law.

The reason behind Dodd-Frank’s rendition of this common requirement is straightforward: If Wall Street conglomerates are able to use our bank deposits — which are meant to be kept safe — in addition to their own money to gamble on speculative derivative instruments, then (a) there will be much more gambling of precisely the kind that brought us the 2008 crash; and (b) we taxpayers, rather than Wall Street, will cover the losses that the next crash occasions. We will, in other words, be bailing out Wall Street all over again — socializing losses even as Wall Street continues to privatize gains for itself.

This is, of course, perfectly disgusting. But what is yet worse is that no one will “own” it — presumably because it is so disgusting. We still do not know who inserted the provision, nor do we know why. All that we know is that whoever did it did it both (a) surreptitiously, apparently in hopes no one would notice, and (b) at the last minute, in connection with a continuing resolution cum omnibus spending bill, apparently in hopes of holding continued government operation itself hostage to the provision’s getting through.

Perhaps I am overreacting, but it seems to me that the way in which this provision has found its way into the cromnibus legislation is deeply subversive of our democracy. The aim, after all, is apparently both (a) to circumvent what would otherwise be a necessary agreement secured both transparently and free of budgetary time pressure, and (b) to render the party or parties whose consent is thus circumvented unaware of the guilt or identity of the guilty party.

Every provision of every bill should be directly traceable to individual members of Congress.

That said, so long as we’re in the current boat, could some InstaPundit reader who works on Capitol Hill insert language in the next debacle of a bill that retroactively frees me of income tax back to 2010, and gives me the right to commandeer federal jets for my personal travel? I’d kind of fancy taking Air Force One on one of my dive trips. Also, I’ll bet that would encourage better oversight in the future. . . .

FASTER, PLEASE: The Bipartisan Plan To End IRS Stealing.

For years, the Internal Revenue Service has been stealing taxpayer assets from small businesses — not for breaking tax law, but for making legitimate bank deposits under $10,000. It’s one form of the increasingly well-known practice called “civil asset forfeiture.”

The IRS has the power to seize small cash deposits under $10,000. These deposits seem suspicious because cash deposits over $10,000 trigger a bank report to authorities. Terrorists, drug dealers, and money launderers all make cash deposits under $10,000 to avoid triggering the bank report. The illicit practice is called “structuring.”

The problem is that many small businesses accept cash payments and make large deposits that happen to fall under $10,000.

Sadly, this attempt to crack down on terrorist funding is used by the IRS to abuse small businesses. In October, the New York Times reported on the story of Carole Hinders, a small business owner who had over $30,000 seized by the IRS. The IRS does not even need to charge someone with a crime to seize assets under an alleged structuring scheme.

Thankfully, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress that would end the practice.

On December 10, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., introduced the Taxpayer Protections Against Abusive Seizures Act.

Well, it’s worth trying before going all the way to tar and feathers.

HOPEY-CHANGEY: Blacks Falling Behind Under ObamaCare.

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, LEGAL EDUCATION EDITION: 1L Enrollment Shrank 4.5% in 2014, to the Lowest Level Since 1974 (When There Were 53 Fewer Law Schools). “The 204 ABA-accredited law schools enrolled 37,924 full- and part-time first-year students in the fall of 2014, a drop of 4.4 percent from 2013 and a drop of 27.7 percent from the historic high of 52,488 in 2010, according to an ABA press release.” There’s no particular reason to think we’ve hit bottom yet.

ASHE SCHOW: Atticus Finch: American literature’s most celebrated rape apologist. “If ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ were taught in women’s studies classes today, Finch would have to be labeled the villain of the book for not accepting at face value an accuser’s tale of rape and for posing difficult, painful questions to her on the witness stand.”

HANUKKAH: A Dangerous Holiday.