April 2012, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Andrew Malcolm Once Tried To Explain Easter Customs To Vietnamese Refugees: They had a little trouble understanding the Easter bunny.
(Come to think of it, so did I. Most holiday customs and beliefs make sense to me, whether or not I agree with them. But the Easter bunny always baffled me, though this Wikipedia article makes the bunny a little less puzzling.)
- 7:28 PM, 8 April 2012 [link]
Happy Easter! To all those who celebrate it today.
And to all those who will celebrate it next Sunday.
- 7:22 AM, 8 April 2012 [link]
Are All Stars Really, Really Big? Well, all stars are really, really massive, but not all stars are really, really big, as you can see in this nifty visual comparison.
Incidentally, if a neutron star were that close to Manhattan, the island would be a very thin layer on the star in somewhere around a microsecond. Consult your local physicist if you need an exact answer.
(There's a great introduction to neutron stars in Robert Forward's Dragon's Egg, a science fiction novel about an alien race — living on the surface of a neutron star.)
- 4:00 PM, 7 April 2012 [link]
Worth Reading: Shelby Steele's thoughts on Trayvon Martin's death.
For the Revs. Jackson and Sharpton, for the increasingly redundant civil rights establishment, for liberal blacks and the broader American left, the poetic truth that white racism is somehow the real culprit in this tragedy is redemption itself. The reason Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have become such disreputable figures on our cultural landscape is that they are such quick purveyors of poetic truth rather than literal truth.The media as he calls them, or "mainstream" journalists, as I prefer to call them, have behaved very badly in this whole episode, again and again trying to divide us by race rather than find out what actually happened.
It is not an accident, in my opinion, that the "mainstream" corrections have been, so far, almost all on one side.
- 3:46 PM, 7 April 2012 [link]
Giant Feathered Dinosaur Discovered: In China, where paleontologists have found many smaller feathered dinosaurs.
A newly discovered titanic tyrannosaur is the biggest feathered dinosaur yet, reaching up to 30 feet (9 meters) long and weighing more than 3,000 pounds.The feathers were for warmth (and perhaps sexual display), not for flight.
(Some of the articles I've seen on this newly-discovered species describe it as a close relative of T. Rex. That seems unlikely, since T. Rex lived in the very late Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago, and Yutyrannus huali lived in the early Cretaceous, about 125 million years ago.
A warm and fuzzy predator may seem strange — until we remember that most modern predators are also warm and fuzzy.)
- 8:53 AM, 7 April 2012 [link]
Another Attack On Science By The Obama Administration? Firing a "science-integrity officer" will lead many to suspect that President Obama, and Interior Secretary Salazar, are not entirely committed to sound science.
When US President Barack Obama announced a government-wide effort to protect federal science from political interference, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) took an early lead. In 2011, it became the first agency to finalize a new policy on scientific integrity and it has hired ten scientific-integrity officers to work with staff in its various bureaus. But the DOI may also be the first to run into a problem with the way the policies are implemented, as one of those officers claims to have been fired for upholding the guidelines.Houser says that he was told that Secretary Salazar wanted the dams removed from the Klamath River — and that has been a goal of many Greens, for many years. (That this would destroy the livelihoods of the farmers who depend on irrigation water from those dams does not seem to be a major concern for the Greens, or Salazar.)
If getting rid of those dams requires misrepresenting the scientific conclusions of their own panel, then officials at Interior were willing to do so, assuming Houser is telling the truth.
(There's more in this Daily Caller article.
You can see a summary of Houser's academic achievements at his faculty site.)
- 8:10 AM, 6 April 2012 [link]
The Los Angeles Times Still Won't Tell Us What Barack Obama Said At The Dinner For Rashid Khalidi: On 10 April 2008, the Los Angeles Times published an article on Barack Obama's attendance at a dinner for Rashid Khalidi, an American professor — and Palestinian activist. (Which is a polite way of saying that he supports Palestinian terrorism against Israel, and, perhaps, the United States.)
The Times had, and probably still has, a video tape of the entire event. But, as Roger Simon reminds us, the newspaper chose to tell us only this about what Obama said and did during that event:
A special tribute came from Khalidi's friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi's wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.And that's it.
Like Simon, I would love to know what is concealed by those ellipses, what the reporter, Peter Wallsten, and the newspaper decided to leave out.
But even without knowing what Obama did and said at the event, we can come to one near certain conclusion about Khalidi and Obama. From everything I have read about Khalidi, he is one of those activists — again being polite — who is consumed by his political views. He would, if he is like 99 per cent of such activists, socialize only with those he thought shared most of his views on Israel.
So Khalidi must have believed that Obama was hostile to Israel. Was Obama hostile to Israel? Probably. Is he still? Most likely, though that is harder to tell.
(The other possibility is that Obama was conning Khalidi, as he has conned so many others, but I think that much less likely, since Khalidi had little to offer Obama, politically.
The newspaper claims that they made an agreement with the owner of the tape that they would not release the whole thing. Perhaps, but that would not, unless it was a very strange agreement, prevent them from giving us the entire Obama quote.)
- 7:18 AM, 6 April 2012 [link]
How Many Died In The US Civil War? For more than a century, there has been a precise answer: 618,222.
Anyone who saw that answer should have known that it was wrong, simply because it was precise, where precision must have been impossible. But I had not realized how it was originally calculated, and by how much it was likely to be wrong.
Now, a demographic historian, J. David Hacker, has taken a fresh look at the problem and come up with a new, more plausible, answer.
With all the uncertainties, Hacker said, the data suggested that 650,000 to 850,000 men died as a result of the war; he chose the midpoint as his estimate.So the standard estimate was wrong by more than 100,000. Probably.
There is a lesson that many of you already know, but that bears repeating, anyway: Many of the numbers that we see, over and over, aren't as accurate as they appear to be, at first glance.
When I think some number or numbers are not entirely reliable, I sometimes try to give you a hint about the problems I see in them, but I should probably do that more often — and if you see me leaving out such warnings, you'll do me a favor by telling me about the problems.
(Incidentally, we have much better numbers for the US Civil War than we do for some of the nations in later conflicts, for example, the losses of the USSR in World War II.)
- 7:21 PM, 5 April 2012 [link]
Waste Products And The Yuck Factor: Last weekend's New Yorker cartoon had an amusing twist on that concept.
The cartoon shows one tree talking to another. The first tree is saying: "Can you believe that people inhale the gases we expel—sick, right?"
From a tree's point of view, oxygen is a waste product, and a dangerous one, at that.
And so, if trees could think, they might find it yucky that we inhale this waste product.
- 3:58 PM, 5 April 2012 [link]
The Curious Concept Of "Tax Expenditures" What kind of people benefit from tax loopholes? Mostly people who pay taxes, right? (Mostly, because there can be exceptions from provisions like the earned income tax credit.)
And, since those who are better off pay most of the federal taxes in the United States, they will also be the ones most likely to benefit from tax loopholes. For instance, they are much more likely to benefit from tax credits for buying a "Green" car.
For some of us — me, for example — this simple fact, that tax loopholes mostly benefit the better off, leads us to look at all loopholes with a jaundiced eye and favor tax systems with fewer loopholes and lower rates.
For others — Eduardo Porter of the New York Times, for example — this leads them to think of those loopholes as being equivalent to expenditures; in fact, they even call them "tax expenditures", as Porter did in 14 March article. (No link because of their new limits on free articles, but you should be able to find it easily enough, if you want to.)
Why does Porter want to plug this concept? He's clear enough about his motives:
At first glance the budget does seem heavily tilted to take from the rich and redistribute to the rest. Taxpayers in the top fifth of the population shoulder three-quarters of the of the federal tax burden and receive only about 10 percent of entitlement spending, according to calculations but the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution's Tax Policy Center, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.Porter then goes on to argue that this simple picture is too narrow, because it does not count the tax loopholes that the top fifth receive, and lists them at considerable length.
Do you see his trick? (Although, to be fair, Porter may believe his own argument. If you look at article, you can decide for yourself whether he is being intentionally deceptive.)
Why is that wrong? Because the overall summary in those quoted paragraphs already includes the effects of those loopholes. So Porter is trying to get us to count them twice.
And make us conclude that our federal taxes and spending coddle the rich, net.
(One way to understand Porter's thinking is assume that he believes that all income belongs to the government. And there are people who see things that way.)
- 3:29 AM, 5 April 2012 [link]
A Former Member Of The Waffen-SS Has Written A Poem Attacking Israel: No surprise there, you may think, except this former member of the Waffen-SS happens to be Günter Grass, the Nobel prize winning German author.
We should not, I suppose, expect that Nobel prize winners, in literature or science or whatever can, or will, think clearly on political and moral questions. (And we have learned that winners of the Peace Prize are now almost always chosen for their defects on those subjects.) Grass may be a great writer — I know too little German to have an opinion on that subject — but he has often been wrong on political questions.
You can find more on the controversial poem here and here. Note, please, that it is also being published by the New York Times.
(For the record: Years ago, I tried reading Grass's novel, The Tin Drum, and was unable to get interested in it.
Here's the Wikipedia article on the Waffen-SS, for those who want some background on that brutal military organization.)
- 9:44 AM, 5 April 2012 [link]
Is The Justice Department Targeting Peaceful Anti-Abortion Protesters? That's what J. Christian Adams thinks.
The Department of Justice has been forced to hand over $120,000 for bringing a meritless abortion clinic access lawsuit against a clinic protester. This loss is one of multiple lost cases by the Department of Justice against abortion clinic protesters. The Special Litigation Section is the unit bringing the meritless cases. It was profiled in the PJ Media Every Single One Series as being headed by and filled with Leftist ideologues.These cases should trouble every supporter of the 1st Amendment, regardless of their views on abortion.
(Oh, and that $120,000? It is being paid by taxpayers, not the Justice Department lawyers who erred.)
- 7:34 AM, 5 April 2012 [link]
Kindles In Place Of Toasters: A local bank, Washington Federal, has a premium for new checking accounts.
In what could signal a new war for deposits, the largest Washington-based bank is offering free Kindle e-readers or tablets for new customers who open qualifying checking accounts.So far, I haven't seen any counter-offers from one of their competitors for Barnes and Noble Nook Tablets, though I do regularly get offers of a $100 bonus for a new account from Banner Bank.
(Washington Federal is more interesting than most banks. The little branch in Kirkland still has typewriters, which fits the bank's very conservative style of operation. Some years ago, I recall their CEO explaining that they weren't making many loans because they couldn't find many profitable loans to make. It's an idea that other banks, Washington Mutual, for example, should have copied.)
- 3:44 PM, 4 April 2012 [link]
"Pink Slime" And The Mammoth's Tail: Years ago, I saw a cartoon (Far Side, probably) showing a group of cavemen butchering a mammoth. Standing near them was older caveman who was chiding them for their waste.
He was saying something like this: "You aren't going to throw away the tail, are you? In my day, we used all of the mammoth."
That idea pops up in many forms. Since some time in the middle of the 19th century, food processors have been boasting that they used everything but the squeal.
And almost all of us can recognize the wisdom behind that simple idea — even if the mammoth's tail is not our favorite cut.
We are better off when we waste less of our food, especially relatively expensive food like meat.
And that's the idea behind "finely textured beef", which some former government official called "pink slime".
Used as a filler for ground beef, it is made from fatty trimmings that are more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of beef, and are therefore sprayed with ammonium hydroxide - ammonia mixed with water - to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli.So, instead of throwing away these scraps, the processors have been treating them to make them safer, and our beef slightly cheaper.
And now those processors are being punished for their good deeds. One or two have even announced that they have been forced into bankruptcy.
All because someone came up with a yucky name for a safe product — and many of us reacted to it like little children.
(I'm not sure what part "food activists" played in the controversy, other than pushing it along after it had gotten started.)
- 2:30 PM, 4 April 2012 [link]
Where Is Jon Huntsman Strong? In Washington, D. C., where he won 7 percent of the Republican primary vote.
Granted, he won just 312 votes — but it is also true that he dropped out of the race months ago, which makes his 7 per cent oddly impressive. And oddly appropriate, in a way, since he always seemed to have more support among political elites and journalists than ordinary Republican voters.
(I've been asked to explain Huntsman's strange strategy in the nomination contest, and this is the best explanation I have been able to come up with: He hired a former McCain staffer who thought the best way to stand out from the crowd was by insulting the beliefs of many Republican voters. Naturally, many journalists loved that; equally naturally, few Republican voters did.
That's unfortunate, in my opinion, because Huntsman is a man with real accomplishments and a generally conservative record, who Republican voters might have come to like if he had asked for their votes in a more respectful way.)
Dave Weigel was, he claims, one of those 312 Republican voters. And that seems oddly appropriate, too, since Weigel has spend most of his strange journalistic career sneering at Republicans and conservatives. (Sometimes justifiably, often not.)
- 8:04 AM, 4 April 2012 [link]
In The Wisconsin Primary, Rick Santorum did especially well among Democrats.
According to the exit poll, 30% of Republican primary voters identified themselves as Independents and 11% as Democrats. Among self-identified Democrats, Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney 37%-19%. That amounted to a Santorum popular vote majority of 2% of the total vote. You might want to keep that in mind in interpreting the statewide percentage. Among self-identifed Republicans, Romney won 51%-37%. That's pretty conclusive about what Republicans want.(Romney won independents narrowly, 37-35.)
Why did Santorum do so well among Democrats? Michael Barone is pretty sure he knows the answer to that question:
In other words, Romney consolidated the Republican vote in Wisconsin, and Santorum's total was boosted by crossover Democrats who want the Republicans to nominate what they believe to be a candidate who would be easy to defeat.There are other possibilities. Santorum could have attracted pro-life Democrats — he won 64 per cent of the vote of those who see abortion as the most important issue — but I think that Barone is at least partly right.
(Later in the post, Barone mentions the attraction Santorum might have for culturally conservative Democrats.
That Democratic support might help explain while the polls were off. The screening questions probably wouldn't catch tactical voters, those backing Santorum because they think he's the weaker Republican, and the questions might exclude too many Democrats.)
- 7:04 AM, 4 April 2012 [link]
Wisconsin Predictions: Nate Silver says it's Romney by 7.8 per cent. The Polling Report average margin is 7.9 per cent.
I am going to predict a Romney margin of 7.5 percent, because I think the pollsters are still not picking up all the fervor of some Santorum supporters. (Though I think that they are beginning to flag, just a little.)
Like Silver and Mark Blumenthal, I expect Romney to win Maryland, and Washington D. C. with margins large enough to give him all, or almost all, of the delegates in both primaries.
(Silver lowered his prediction of Romney's winning margin in the last two days, from about 9 per cent.)
- 4:00 PM, 3 April 2012
According to the exit poll, Romney has a lead of 6 per cent among men, and 9 per cent among women, or 7.5 per cent, overall. (There are slightly more men in their sample, and there are rounding errors, but I'll ignore both complications for the moment.)
- 6:38 PM, 3 April 2012
Update: Almost complete results are in from Wisconsin, and Romney is leading Santorum by 4.9 per cent. I was right to think that the polls were again underestimating Santorum's vote, but wrong by how much. So I count this prediction as a miss, since I was wrong by more than 1 per cent, the error margin I usually allow myself in primaries.
(The missing votes are all in Waukesha County, which went for Romney very strongly (60-29), so his margin will, almost certainly, increase slightly.)
- 6:09 AM, 4 April 2012 [link]
Actually, Hurricanes Are Caused By Low Atmospheric Pressure, Mr. Sorkin.
Maybe HBO will fix that before they show Newsroom.
- 1:49 PM, 3 April 2012 [link]
Remember When President Obama Attacked Those Lavish Business Trips To Las Vegas? Not everyone in his administration was paying attention.
The chief of the General Services Administration resigned, two of her top deputies were fired and four managers were placed on leave Monday amid reports of lavish spending at a conference off the Las Vegas Strip that featured a clown, a mind reader and a $31,208 reception.Or, perhaps those executives were paying attention to what Obama does, rather than what he said.
The Daily Mail has more pictures, and I must say that that hotel room does look nice.
(For the record: Las Vegas is good place for many business meetings, since it is less expensive than many competing cities. But the people running the meetings have to have some sense of responsibility, if they aren't spending their own money.)
- 8:41 AM, 3 April 2012 [link]
Never Mind That First Zimmerman Video, says ABC.
Enhanced video footage of George Zimmerman about 30 minutes after he shot Florida teenager Trayvon Martin shows little evidence of a broken nose, the president of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians said today.But the network admits their error reluctantly, and partially.
They could have done the simple search that Professor Althouse did, and found this from the Mayo Clinic: "Signs and symptoms of a broken nose may appear immediately or may take up to three days to develop."
So that first paragraph means almost nothing.
Nor is the first time evidence of injuries to Zimmerman was seen, since his injuries were included in the police report.
This morning, I watched an entire news hour from the local ABC station, KOMO TV. They had broadcast the first, unenhanced video and claimed that it showed evidence against Zimmerman. This morning, they did not tell us about the second, enhanced video, even though it comes from their own network. (I did not watch "Good Morning, America", which follows the local news, since they had brought in substitute host Katie Couric. I am willing to make some sacrifices for you, but there are limits.)
(I've seen a few broken noses and, as I recall, they sometimes show almost no symptoms at first, as that doctor must know, and probably would have told the ABC reporter, had he asked.)
- 8:02 AM, 3 April 2012 [link]
Kansas Coming From Behind: From the Journal's "The Count", today: Kansas played Purdue and Ohio State from their own Big Ten conference in the NCAA tournament. During those two games, Kansas was behind for 75 minutes and 44 seconds out of a total 80 minutes.
- 4:28 PM, 2 April 2012 [link]
A Note On Going Behind The Journal's Pay Wall: To get a link to that Wall Street Journal article just below, I used a standard trick; I used Google news to search on a phrase in the article (specifically, "John C. Bogle", if you want to try the search yourself).
That trick usually works, but not always. Sometimes I get a link to the first paragraph or two of a piece, with a message requesting a login and offering a week or so of free access if I subscribe on the spot.
My guess is that the Journal has some limits on this kind of access, though I haven't figured out what they might be. (At one time, almost all their opinion pieces were open to everyone, but they have changed that policy, perhaps recognizing that many are willing to pay for their opinions.)
So, if you find that one of my links to a Journal article doesn't work, try that trick — but don't be surprised if it doesn't work, occasionally.
(I buy the paper version of the Journal almost every weekday, and have begun to look forward to finding the weekend issue at a coffee shop or grocery store. So I am not cheating the newspaper when I describe something I found there, or even when I quote, briefly, from one of their pieces.)
- 2:48 PM, 2 April 2012 [link]
Shares In Apple Are Widely Held: But I had no idea how widely until I ran across an article two weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal.
Apple shares are owned by 50 small and mid-size mutual funds, 40 dividend-paying funds, 3 European funds, and 1 high-yield bond fund. (Apple has not been a small or mid-size company for years, has never paid a dividend, and is not a European company. And you probably have already figured out that a share of Apple common stock is not a bond, high-yield or otherwise.)
It turns out that the managers of these funds may not have been breaking their promises to the owners of these funds, since some of them allow the funds to hold up to 20 percent of investments outside their main category. But I suspect that many investors, maybe most, missed the fine print in prospectuses that allowed that kind of fudging.
To their credit, some investment advisors, notably the founder of Vanguard, John Bogle, think these Apple holdings are, to say the least, inappropriate.
- 2:24 PM, 2 April 2012 [link]
Peggy Noonan Is Beginning To Understand Barack Obama: During the 2008 presidential campaign, I was fascinated (and still am) by the people backing Obama, who would seem to have no reason to, ideologically. There were libertarians, and even conservatives, among his supporters. For example, Peggy Noonan.
They were, I thought, fooling themselves, seeing the Obama they wanted to see, rather than the man who, as David Freddoso said, was a mixture of Chicago machine politics and the hard left.
One by one, these strange backers are beginning to understand Obama (though not necessarily how they were fooled).
Noonan's latest column mixes analysis with an indirect confession. She is admitting that she got Obama wrong in 2008, without saying so directly.
What is happening is that the president is coming across more and more as a trimmer, as an operator who's not operating in good faith. This is hardening positions and leading to increased political bitterness. And it's his fault, too. As an increase in polarization is a bad thing, it's a big fault.When Noonan says that Obama is "devious" and "creepy", I think we can conclude that the love affair is over.
And, Noonan now notices — as she should have in 2008 — that Obama and his gang are the product of the Chicago machine and "intellectually cloistered" Democrats.
She still hasn't grasped how important his hard left background is to understanding Obama, but she deserves a little applause for her progress, and for admitting, if only indirectly, that she was wrong in 2008.
(Minor correction: Noonan is wrong to call Obama a "trimmer", which the shorter Oxford English dictionary defines as follows: "A person who trims between opposing parties in politics, etc.; . . ". You could call Arlen Specter or Michael Bloomberg "trimmers", but not Obama.)
- 6:37 AM, 2 April 2012 [link]
If President Obama Had A Son, Would He Look Like Trayvon Martin? Not necessarily.
It would depend on who the boy's mother was, and the randomness inherent in gene combinations. Given Obama's own mixed race heritage, there are many, many possibilities, as this pair of non-identical twins shows.
Incidentally, Kian and Remee are, according to their mother, more sensible about skin color and race than our race-obsessed Obama administration.
- 5:48 AM, 2 April 2012 [link]
Good April Fool's Jokes: Okay, some of these are great jokes, including the BBC story on the Swiss spaghetti crop.
On April 1, 1957, the BBC decided to pull a prank on its audience by airing a story on the fragile Swiss spaghetti crop, a food source that was having a bumper year. Along with footage of peasants plucking strands of pasta from trees, the BBC advised viewers on how to grow their own spaghetti garden.Here are 100 more, though the first place is the same BBC story.
(And, if you want to be academic, you can look at the Wikipedia article on this odd holiday.)
- 5:33 PM, 1 April 2012 [link]