April 2008, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Barack Obama Has a good forgettery.
Dem presidential contender Barack Obama's handlers may be telling the press Obama has NO "recollection" of a 2004 party at influence peddler Tony Rezko's Wilmette house, but a top Sneed source claims Obama not only gave Rezko's guest of honor, Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, a big welcome . . . but he made a few toasts!And a good forgettery can be a real asset for a politician.
In the past I have been impressed by Obama's ability to remember things that no one else can remember; now I have to be almost as impressed that he can forget things that almost all of us would remember.
(Jack Kelly explains why Obama might want to deny knowing Mr. Auchi.)
- 4:22 AM, 16 April 2008 [link]
Paul Krugman Admits He Miswrote: In this weaselly, partial correction to his most recent column.
There is more information on the Trina Bachtel story, which I wrote about in Friday's column — and a correction is in order.Right.
For some of the mistakes he has yet to correct, I again suggest that you read Tom Maguire's post.
(Just for fun, you might want to read this Krugman post, in which he attacks Rudy Giuliani for getting some facts wrong. Incidentally, though Giuliani may have been wrong about prostate cancer, the outcomes for many diseases are better in the United States than in Britain.)
- 10:31 AM, 16 April 2008 [link]
Another Energy Storage Technology: One that may work well with solar energy.
Solar power, the holy grail of renewable energy, has always faced the problem of how to store the energy captured from the sun's rays so that demand for electricity can be met at night or whenever the sun is not shining.Entrepreneurs are proposing different systems for storing the heat. All those described in the article rely on storing a hot liquid, which means, necessarily, that there would be some losses and that the longer the heat is stored, the greater those losses would be.
Despite those inevitable losses, these systems might make economic sense in some places, though I doubt that they can be used as widely as proponents hope. And I wonder how well they would work after a week of clouds, which even the sunniest deserts must get from time to time.
(There are other ways to store power. As I mentioned in this post, pumped storage systems have been used to store electricity for years. And those systems are more important than I had realized, providing, according to the Wikipedia article, about 2.5 percent of our electricity. The efficiences of these systems vary between 70 and 85 percent. We also use compressed air storage systems, though those appear to be much less important than the pumped storage systems. Either could, in principle, be used with solar systems. Both require the right kind of terrain.
There's a quick review of different technologies for storing electricity, with advantages and disadvantages, here.)
- 7:08 AM, 16 April 2008
More: According to this, a "two-tank storage system [using molten salts] could have an annual efficiency of about 99 percent". I am not sure exactly what that means; I suspect they are saying that a system that stored heat in a molten salt mixture during the day and used it at night would lose only 1 percent of the energy, annually. That's pretty amazing, if true.
- 12:54 PM, 16 April 2008 [link]
Would You Lecture The Dalai Lama On Buddhist Theology? I wouldn't. And I think most people would share my reluctance to tell a man with different religious beliefs what he should think. Especially when that man is the head of his religion. But many people think that they should lecture the Pope on Catholic theology. For example, Robert McElvaine is certain that the Pope should change church doctrine because basic Christian doctrines are politically incorrect. He's right, but it does not occur to him that it is the political correctness, rather than the theology, that might need changing.
(Similarly, many scientific findings are politically incorrect. And it is disturbing how often those findings are rejected, by academics, sometimes even scientists, for that reason)
If you are interested in this theological dispute — I'm not — you might want to read Stephen Bainbridge's reply
- 5:40 AM, 16 April 2008 [link]
The Loophole Factory: The Wall Street Journal explains how it works.
Congress is creating all of these new loopholes even as overall tax revenues are slowing and this year's budget deficit could reach $450 billion to $500 billion. This will play nicely into the hands of Democrats who contend that the lower tax rates of 2001 and 2003 must expire to pay the government's bills. So we could soon have the worst of all worlds: a leaky tax code full of exceptions for powerful interests, but with ever higher rates to make up for the loopholes. Congress gets PAC contributions in return for the loopholes, plus any extra revenue from the tax hike. The losers are taxpayers who aren't powerful or rich enough to afford a tax lobbyist.Over the years, I have come to favor a federal tax system that taxes almost all income — but at relatively low rates, for precisely these reasons. Higher rates let politicians sell loopholes to greedy special interests. And the loopholes then distort our economy, and waste the time of millions. That waste may be limited by computer programs that automate paying taxes for many, but it is still enormous.
- 12:43 PM, 15 April 2008 [link]
If You Know About Schrödinger's Cats, you'll like this picture.
(And if you don't know about Schrödinger's cats, you should. There's an explanation here. By the way, it is not my fault if you find the explanation bizarre.)
- 12:28 PM, 15 April 2008 [link]
Obama's Kinsley Gaffe: A politician commits a Kinsley gaffe when he accidentally tells the truth. Mickey Kaus thinks that we need a second type of Kinsley gaffe, which he defines as follows:
. . . when a politician says what he or she actually thinks (whether or not it's the truth).Many think that Barack Obama committed a Kinsley gaffe when he said this:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.But people disagree on whether it was type 1 or a type 2 gaffe, whether Obama was telling the truth, or saying what he thinks is the truth, but is not.
Let me begin by noting that there is a possibility that it was neither, that Obama was doing what politicians often do, appealing to an audience by telling them what they want to hear. His mistake, if that is what happened, was not realizing that his comments to this group of wealthy leftists might become public. And they almost did not.
But I think that explanation is unlikely, and that Obama was saying what he believes, whether it is true or not. In other words, Obama revealed his inner, . . . . , well what? Different people have different answers. Michelle Malkin says the words revealed Obama's inner snob. William Kristol says the words revealed Obama's inner Marxist. Many think the words revealed Obama's inner elitist, but Roger Kimball disagreed.. And a man who works for a very famous news organization says that the words revealed Obama's inner social scientist. (That reaction is so interesting that I will treat it in a separate post.) I can see the arguments for all these tags. But let me raise an even less pleasant alternative: Maybe, when Obama said those words, he revealed his inner bigot.
That's a harsh word, perhaps too harsh. So perhaps we might say that the words revealed his inner "soft bigot". He doesn't think much of those people he is describing, but he doesn't seem to hate them. The people he is describing are often irrational, and perhaps a bit racist, but neither is their fault, really. And they will get better, will, for instance, stop disliking immigrants when Obama brings all those jobs back. He wouldn't want to have a beer with one of them (outside of a campaign event), wouldn't think he could learn anything from them, wouldn't want them living next to him, wouldn't help them out if they were sick, but he still wishes them well, in an abstract sort of way.
- 4:03 PM, 14 April 2008 [link]
Berlusconi Is Leading in the projected vote in Italy.
Early projections today showed the 71-year-old billionaire Silvio Berlusconi and his rightwing allies heading back to power in the Italian general election with a convincing majority.I have no idea how good these projections are, not having followed Italian elections. But a Berlusconi win wouldn't surprise me, since the governing left coalition has not been a great success.
And, whatever else one may criticize Berlusconi for, one can't say that he is boring.
Incidentally, though I doubt this has much to do with his (apparent) election victory, Berlusconi is a great friend of the United States.
(You can find some background on Berlusconi in this disputed Wikipedia article.)
- 10:30 AM, 14 April 2008
Update: Berlusconi's opponent, Walter Veltroni, has conceded.
- 1:56 PM, 14 April 2008 [link]
Should You Capture Pirates? The British government isn't sure.
The Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.If I understand this right, the Foreign Office is telling the Royal Navy that they can't capture pirates, either to take the pirates back to Britain, or, if Somali, to return to their homeland. So, if the Royal Navy frees a ship seized by pirates, they should then let the pirates go free? Unless I am missing something, that would seem to encourage piracy, at least when committed near ships of the Royal Navy.
(The French seem more practical in their approach to piracy.)
- 6:53 AM, 14 April 2008 [link]
Think Barack Obama Is A Snob? Then Michelle Malkin's got coffee mugs for you. And t-shirts, and posters, and even mouse pads
- 6:22 AM, 14 April 2008 [link]
Not Every One You Meet Will Be Your Friend: But some people don't want to believe that, as this sad story reminds us.
An Italian woman artist who was hitch-hiking to the Middle East dressed as a bride to promote world peace has been found murdered in Turkey.Except that you can't. Not all the people, or even good people, all the time.
As this post, and the one just below show, there are people who act as if our world is a kinder, gentler place than it actually is. We can be sorry for them, as I am for this poor, deluded woman, but we can also hope that others learn from their errors.
(When I was a college student, I hitchhiked all over the United States. But I understood the dangers, and always warned women not to follow my example, and, especially, not to hitchike alone.)
- 9:58 AM, 13 April 2008 [link]
Mother Nature Is Not Your Friend: Or, if you prefer not to be so anthropomorphic, mountains are dangerous. Another man just learned that fact the hard way.
A snowmobiler from Oregon has survived a fall of up to 200 feet into the crater of Mount St. Helens.(The west side is on the right side in the picture. Luckily for Slemp, there is probably about as much snow there now as there was in January, maybe even more.)
I wouldn't mention this story, except that the opposite idea, that Mother Nature is our friend, is so common. And because, almost every time I visit Mt. Rainier, I see a tourist doing something foolish.
(Here's a description of a cornice, with a couple of pictures. Cornices are, as that Wikipedia article says, "extremely dangerous", especially to back country skiers.)
- 7:56 AM, 13 April 2008 [link]
Paul Krugman Doesn't Give Up A Good Story Easily: Hillary Clinton has quietly dropped her sad story about a woman who died because she didn't have health insurance, but the New York Times columnist (who was once a respected economist) is sticking with it. Tom Maguire, who cares about mere facts, explains in detail why Krugman should give up this particular story. And then asks, rhetorically:
Dare we expect Krugman or his editors (as if!) to intersect intermittently with reality?I'll venture to make a prediction: Krugman will not correct his errors in this column — unless forced to.
Krugman does make one statistical claim in this column:
According to a recent estimate by the Urban Institute, the lack of health insurance leads to 27,000 preventable deaths in America each year.That may be true, but it is also true that many who do not have health insurance have chosen not to have it. And it is also true, according to estimates printed in the New York Times, that even more die because they get too much care, because they get unnecessary surgery or unneeded drugs.
- 1:16 PM, 11 April 2008
Update: Krugman has made a partial correction.
- 10:37 AM, 16 April 2008 [link]
Will Those Flight Groundings Save Lives? Probably not. But they may protect some bureacrats from congressional criticism.
- 12:26 PM, 11 April 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: Michael Barone looks at survey data on which Americans think this is a good country — and which do not. Here's the first paragraph:
Periodically pollster Scott Rasmussen asks voters whether they think America is basically fair and decent or whether America is basically unfair and discriminatory. In the latest survey, 64 percent say America is basically fair and decent, and 22 percent say it is unfair and discriminatory. Men (70 percent) are considerably more likely than women (59 percent) to say that America is fair and decent. As one might expect, blacks tend to think America is unfair and discriminatory rather than fair and decent, by a 47 percent to 37 percent margin. Whites take a positive view (67 percent to 18 percent) and so do "others" (63 percent to 33 percent), a category that I assume is mostly made up of Hispanics. Republicans by a wide margin (78 percent to 12 percent) see America as fair and decent, while Democrats are split (49 percent to 36 percent).That split among Democrats makes it more difficult for Democratic candidates.
- 12:17 PM, 11 April 2008 [link]
Here's The Strongest Argument For Condoleezza Rice as VP.
Condoleezza Rice has said she has no desire to be John McCain's running mate, but a new poll out Wednesday suggests that duo could beat the Democratic ticket in the bluest of states.But most political consultants would prefer a candidate who has run at least one race, especially in the VP slot. We really have no idea how good she is at asking for votes. Or making the sharp, partisan attacks that vice presidential candidates are often asked to make.
- 11:12 AM, 11 April 2008 [link]
Simply Amazing: I just finish one post on an implausible Barack Obama claim, and then I see an even wilder claim.
Obama reminded the crowd that he'd denounced his church's praise of Farrakhan, saying, "I've been very clear about saying that was wrong. And nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have."In this case, I am pretty sure that Obama doesn't believe what he said. But I fear that he expected the suckers in the crowd to believe it.
- 1:36 PM, 10 April 2008 [link]
Rick Steves For President? Or at least secretary of state? Barack Obama has been touting his vacation trips as proof that he is better qualified to be president than John McCain or Hillary Clinton.
To counter opponents' accusations that he lacks experience in foreign policy, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois often cites his ties to relatives in poor villages in Kenya and the years he spent growing up in Indonesia. Now he has added a new personal detail to that résumé: a trip to Pakistan while a college student.But if vacation trips are the criteria, then why not pick a professional like Rick Steves? He's been on way more vacation trips than Obama has.
As so often happens with Senator Obama, I am left hoping that he doesn't believe what he says, but fearing that he does, fearing that he really thinks a few weeks vacation in Pakistan decades ago gave him a deep understanding of that nation.
(For the record, I think Rick Steves is not qualified to be president or secretary of state. Barack Obama has some qualifications for those positions, but no serious person could describe him as well qualified — despite all those vacation trips. And I should add that, though Steves often has practical advice for travelers, he is also living proof that a man can visit another country many times, without understanding it very well.)
- 12:37 PM, 10 April 2008 [link]
CBS Will Drop Katie Couric next year. Probably.
After two years of record-low ratings, both CBS News executives and people close to Katie Couric say that the "CBS Evening News" anchor is likely to leave the network well before her contract expires in 2011 -- possibly soon after the presidential inauguration early next year.And if you look at the chart of ratings accompanying the article, you can see why.
The article is in the Wall Street Journal, but the reporter, Rebecca Dana, does not even consider the possibility that one reason Couric was so unpopular is that she is so far left. And so fiercely partisan. If you are a "mainstream" reporter, those are ideas that can't be mentioned, perhaps can't even be imagined. (For another example of that blindness, see this post.)
That leftism, and that partisanship are not Couric's only problems. As I said last year.
Everything else being equal, this guy would rather get the news from a woman than a man. But I would much rather get the news from someone who is serious, intelligent, and well-informed — and Couric misses on all three.All this was obvious to me, and to many others, when CBS made her their anchor. But not to the very highly paid CBS executives who picked her.
(As I have said before, the Wall Street Journal is both a conservative and a leftist news organization, conservative on the editorial side, and leftist on the news side. So the blindness in this piece doesn't surprise me.)
- 9:07 AM, 10 April 2008 [link]
Silivio Belusconi Does Say Interesting Things: The former (and perhaps future) Italian prime minister made this observation last weekend.
Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying that when he looked round parliament, he found that female politicians from the right were "more beautiful".(Unfortunately, the BBC does not supply us with a photo of the Italian parliament, so that we can judge for ourselves.)
It is not hard to think of exceptions to his generalization. Ségolène Royal, the French socialist leader, is certainly attractive. But is Berlusconi's observation true, on the average? If I were under oath, I would plead the 5th amendment and not answer that question. And I think I will be discreet and not answer it here, either.
- 7:54 AM, 10 April 2008 [link]
Which Should I Believe About The Economy? New York Times columnist Bob Herbert?
The national economy has cratered.Or my own lying eyes and ears?
At noon, I went out for lunch. I stopped at a Starbucks to pick up newspapers to read during lunch. The coffee shop had a sign advertising for help. For lunch, I bought a bagel sandwich at Noah's Bagels. The bagel shop had a sign advertising for help. During lunch, I skimmed over this article in the Seattle Times, which describes how some local firms are making it easier for older workers to keep on working. After lunch, I stopped at the local QFC, for their special on halibut. I didn't see any signs advertising for help, but employees told me that the chain (though not that particular store) was hiring.
All of these companies have entry level jobs. But all of them also pay benefits; for instance, the bagel store promises a 401-K (among other benefits) on its sign. So these open jobs are not at the absolute bottom level.
Maybe the rim of Herbert's crater doesn't reach the Seattle area. Or maybe, with the national unemployment rate at 5.1 percent, Herbert is exaggerating just a little.
(Unemployment is lower in this area than it is nationally. But if the national economy had truly "cratered", then we would see some effects here, too.)
- 3:24 PM, 9 April 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: (Even though it is misleading, in part.) Colby Cosh's column describing how the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed and Wal-Mart succeeded during Katrina. A sample:
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart trucks pre-loaded with emergency supplies at regional depots were among the first on the scene wherever refugees were being gathered by officialdom. Their main challenge, in many cases, was running a gauntlet of FEMA officials who didn't want to let them through. As the president of the brutalized Jefferson Parish put it in a Sept. 4 Meet the Press interview, speaking at the height of nationwide despair over FEMA's confused response: "If [the U.S.] government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis."Also worth reading, though much longer (and also misleading, in part), is the study on which his column is based.
How are the column and study misleading? Both misunderstand the role of FEMA. The agency is not a first responder. (Nor should it be.) Instead, the agency's role is to come in and supply help to state and local governments, after a disaster has hit, typically two or more days after a disaster has hit.
But FEMA is unlikely to succeed in that task if the state and local governments are incompetent. And, during Katrina, both the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, and the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, were incompetent. (And on the outs with each other, though both are Democrats.) Nagin was so bad that he did not even try to execute New Orleans' disaster plan. And Blanco, over and over, made no decisions, or bad decisions.
In contrast, Mississippi suffered less than Louisiana, because it has a competent governor, Republican Haley Barbour. Similarly, in 2004, Florida was hit by by four hurricanes, but FEMA mostly received praise there, probably because FEMA was working with a competent governor, Republican Jeb Bush. (Critics of FEMA's response to the 2004 Florida hurricanes mostly thought it had done too much, had been too generous — and they were probably right about that.)
Cosh, and the author of the study, Steven Horwitz, favor more decentralization of responses to disasters. They are right, but neither confronts the incompetence problem, perhaps because there is no good solution to it. (Other than the one that Louisiana voters have found by electing a competent governor, Republican Bobby Jindal.) A president can not lightly push a governor aside in a disaster and so, although the Bush administration realized quite early that Governor Blanco was, to put it mildly, messing up, there was little they could do about that. Or about Mayor Nagin's disgraceful performance.
Greater decentralization may be the right strategy in general, but I doubt that it would have done much for New Orleans or Louisiana, as long as Nagin and Blanco were in charge.
- 1:55 PM, 9 April 2008 [link]
HP Answers The Asus Eee PCs: With the fancier, bigger, more expensive Mini-Note line.
Just when you thought you'd never find the perfect small form factor notebook for less than $1,000, HP comes to the table with the all new 2133 Mini-Note. This ultra mobile subnotebook features an impressive 8.9-inch screen, a remarkably large keyboard, a full-sized notebook hard drive, and plenty of impressive specs.But the Mini-Notes are still lighter than most notebooks, without giving up the resolution that many of us want. (It may not be as tough as the ASUS Eee line or as suitable for little kids, since most Mini-Notes have hard drives.)
The Mini-Notes are more expensive than the Eee PCs; the cheapest is about 500 dollars, 200 dollars more than the cheapest Eee PC. (The SUSE Linux they offer with the cheapest models is one of the more professional Linux variants, or distributions, as they are usually known.)
This competition is even affecting Microsoft; the company is promising to keep Windows XP around a little longer — but just for ultra low-cost PCs like the Asus line.
(Here's my original post on the Asus Eee PCs. Although this new line fits the specifications in that post, I am not planning to buy one soon, since the older HP laptop I bought in 2006 still works fine, and its weight has not yet been a serious handicap for me, since I usually transport it by car.)
- 10:45 AM, 9 April 2008 [link]
Chavez And The Narco-Terrorists: Hugo Chavez may not like The Simpsons, but he is quite fond of the FARC, which has been using profits from drugs to try overthrow the government of Colombia. Just how fond, we are still learning.
A spectacular find may prove what many have long suspected. E-mails and other files found on a FARC laptop in the jungles of Ecuador show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have close relations with the terror group.And, apparently, in many other ways.
(Chavez may feel indebted to FARC:
Chavez discovered his sympathy for the Marxist rebels in the early 1990s. At the time, he was a member of a group of rebellious officers who drew their ideological inspiration from the Marxist insurgent movements of the 1960s and '70s in Colombia and Venezuela. Following an attempted coup against then President Carlos Andres Perez, Chavez landed in prison. A cash injection from the FARC allegedly helped him out of his financial squeeze at the time.Note the "allegedly". But there is nothing implausible about this charge.
Some of us — old-fashioned folks, no doubt — think that leading an attempted military coup against a democratic government ought to disqualify a man from later seeking office in that country. At the very least.
The good news in the article is that Colombia is winning the war with the FARC, in spite of the aid they are receiving from Chavez and, perhaps, Ecuador.)
- 8:26 AM, 9 April 2008 [link]
No Simpsons, No Peace? Venezuela's ruler, Hugo Chavez, may finally have gone too far.
Luxurious chest hair and little red trunks versus doughnuts and "D'oh!". In the battle of the US television heavyweights, The Hoff has vanquished Homer.I am not sure I quite follow their reasoning in that switch, but I would guess that they chose to remove Homer and his family without thinking much about a substitute.
This may be an error. The clever script writers at The Simpsons are perfectly capable of mocking Chavez in a future episode. I doubt whether his regime would be able to prevent Venezuelans from learning about that mockery.
(If I recall correctly, Chavez lost considerable popularity by closing down a popular TV station, which often criticized him. Many of those who supported Chavez wanted to watch other programs on the station, even if they disagreed with the critiques.)
- 5:57 AM, 9 April 2008 [link]