Archive:

April 2013, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



RIP Margaret Thatcher:  And here are videos from four of her speeches.

(I'll have more to say about her career, later.)
- 8:31 AM, 8 April 2013   [link]


The Ugly Russian:  You don't have to know Dutch to understand most of this Putin cartoon.

Though I have to admit I don't recognize the man on Putin's left arm or the man with the cigar.

(You can see a picture of Putin meeting one of his fans here.   The obscene slogan on her back is blacked out, but I think anyone who knows Russian can guess what it says.)
- 7:28 AM, 8 April 2013   [link]


The Million-Dollar Arlington Bus Stop:  It is a nice-looking bus stop, though rather low capacity (just 15 people).
The city of Arlington just recently opened an impressive bus stop with a not-so-impressive price tag of $1 million.

The “super stop” in Arlington, Virginia is unlike any other bus stop.  It has a custom designed roof made of glass and steel; a wall of etched glass; heaters in the floor; gorgeous landscaping, and concrete/stainless steel benches.
You'll be pleased to know the future bus stops in this series are projected to cost only $904,000 — each.

If you don't live in Arlington (which is a county, not a city), you may be disappointed to learn that 80 percent of the cost is being paid by "federal/state money".

(What do bus stops usually cost?  According to this Washington Post article, $10,000 to $20,000.  And in New York, according to commenter SMEYER418, bus stops actually make money for the city.  Ad companies put them up, and pay the city for the privilege.

If you would like to see more pictures, a CBS affiliate has a gallery here, though you will have to watch an ad or two first.)
- 6:58 AM, 8 April 2013   [link]


Almost Ten Years Ago, I predicted that gay marriage would have little effect on society as a whole, simply because so few gays would get married.

I based that prediction on the number of gay marriages that had already occurred in Canada.  Now, Mark Steyn has some numbers from Canada that support my prediction.
Canada, being far more enlightened than the hotbed of homophobes to its south, has had gay marriage coast to coast for a decade.  Statistically speaking, one third of 1 percent of all Canadian nuptials are same-sex, and, of that nought-point-three-three, many this past decade have been American gays heading north for a marriage license that they're denied in their own country.  So, gay marriage will provide an important legal recognition for an extremely small number of persons who do not currently enjoy it.
Note that some of those marriages must have been "catch-up" marriages, marriages that would have occurred decades before, if the laws had permitted them.  (Like the marriages of two sweet old ladies who have been together for decades that our broadcasters are fond of showing us.)  So the long-term rate is likely, if anything, to be even lower than that "one third of 1 percent".

If I was right about that prediction, I have to also admit that I suspect that the prediction that followed, that we would not see an almost immediate demand for the legalization of polyamory and polygamy, looks less likely.

The arguments that have worked for gay marriage should work just as well for such relationships, perhaps even better.  For instance: "If three adults love each other, . . . "

The whole Steyn column is definitely worth reading.

(If you judge by a count of societies, you would say that the most common marriage pattern is monogamy for most, but multiple wives for a few rich and powerful men.
According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous.  453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.[3]  At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polygyny occurs relatively rarely.  There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[7]  Within polygynous societies, multiple wives often become a status symbol denoting wealth, power, and fame.
(The Codebook is almost certainly far too politically correct to consider whether the rise of the West was due, in part, to centuries of legal monogamy, but I think that hypothesis deserves study.)

Definitional note:  Americans commonly use "polygamy" to mean one man, multiple wives.  Technically, we should call that "polygny" and use "polygamy" for all marriages with more than two spouses.  I'll continue to follow our common practice, rather than explain each time, unless I am discussing marriage patterns outside the United States.

Oddly enough, men who follow this pattern in the United States — Hugh Hefner, for example — often suffer little stigma, unless they try to make that set of relationships legal.)
- 6:25 PM, 7 April 2013   [link]


"The Great Cellphone Subsidy Con Is Over"  T-Mobile is in 4th place, which may explain why the company has decided to break with the other three biggies and be a little more friendly to customers, and potential customers.  In fact, according to David Pogue of the New York Times, a lot more friendly.
At the new T-Mobile, the Great Cellphone Subsidy Con is over.  You can buy your phone outright if you want — an iPhone is $580, a Samsung Galaxy S III is $550.   Or you can treat it like a car or a house: pay $100 for the phone now, and pay off the rest over time, $20 a month.

That may sound like the existing phone subsidy con, but its different in a few big ways.  You pay only what the phone really costs.  You don't pay interest, and you stop paying when you pay for the phone.
There's more, much more.  You can use any phone that will work on their network.  There are no more yearly contracts.  Heavy users of the Internet can save "a huge amount of money compared with T-Mobile's larger rivals".

There is a general lesson here which will be familiar to economists:  Price (and feature) competition becomes more likely as the number of competitors increases.  Two or three competitors can easily coordinate their policies and prices tacitly, without breaking any laws, but as the number of competitors increases, coordination becomes harder and harder to do, without active, and illegal, coordination.

(Here's T-Mobile's own description of its new policies.)
- 4:26 PM, 7 April 2013   [link]


Here's A Twist In The Growing New York Corruption Scandal:  The Republican who was arrested is a neo-pagan.
The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games.

Dan Halloran (R-Queens) — who was arrested Tuesday as the suspected bag man in state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged plot to buy his way onto the mayoral ticket — has been publicly flogged and lost a spear-throwing contest as part of his Theodish punishments.
Who says Republicans aren't a big tent party?

And willing to work across party lines, since Malcolm Smith is a Democrat.

(I'll see if I can put together a reasonable summary of the growing corruption scandal in New York for you soon, but I should warn you that the scandal is complex enough so that the New York Times felt compelled to illustrate it with a front-page diagram.

Here's a description of this particular variety of neo-paganism.)
- 1:15 PM, 7 April 2013   [link]


President Obama's Apology:  There are some subjects I avoid out of prudence.  For example, I rarely mention a female politician's looks, though there is no doubt that looks can be an advantage — and a disadvantage — for both men and women in the political game.

If Obama shared my prudence, he would not have had to apologize for calling the California's attorney general, Kamala Harris, good looking, in fact not just good looking but the "best looking attorney general in the country".

(I don't doubt that someone out there noted that he was being "heteronormative", and I do know that more than one blogger argued that there were attorneys general who were not only better looking, but Republican, such as Florida's Pam Bondi.  As far as I know, only James Taranto noted that being called the best looking of seven women attorneys general might be "a backhanded compliment".)

From news accounts, Obama seems to have apologized about as well as he could have, but he was still in the incredibly awkward position of apologizing for a compliment.   Briefly, I imagined him saying to Harris something like this:  "I am sorry I said you were the best looking attorney general."

That doesn't work very well, either, does it?

Of course, I would like to think it isn't just prudence that keeps me away from the subject, but a desire to write mostly about that which is important — but I may be fooling myself there.

(For married men, there are additional traps in commenting on womens' looks.  Most practicing politicians know that and, if they have daughters, have learned that one of the safest things they can say is that they are happy that their daughters took after their mother.

One exception:  I did write a post noting former speaker Nancy Pelosi's strangely immobile face, mostly because I found it so surprising.)
- 10:30 AM, 7 April 2013   [link]


Moral Equivalence At The NYT:  I read the New York Times review of the new Robert Redford terrorism movie, "The Company You Keep", suspecting that I might find something interesting — and I did, near the very end.

Stephen Holden writes:
The movie made me wonder why there isn't a contemporary equivalent to the widespread radicalism of the 1960s and '70s.  I think it may have something to do with the information explosion, which has taught us that the balance of good and evil is pretty much the same everywhere, and that violence only begets more violence.
(Emphasis added.)

And that is interesting, in somewhat the same way a train wreck is interesting.

And perhaps even useful, if you need an example to show that there really are people at the Times so detached from reality that they believe in universal moral equivalence.  So, for example, the balance of good and evil was about the same in Churchill's Cabinet as in Hitler's inner circle.  If you can believe that — as Holden apparently does — you can believe almost anything.

(If Holden were genuinely interested in the answer to his question, I would suggest that he begin by reading Tenured Radicals, or something similar.)
- 2:51 PM, 6 April 2013   [link]


"While More Work Remains To Be Done," Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, will minimize his work by repeating his reactions to monthly job reports, again and again and again.

Cut-and-paste is not always your friend.

By way of Ed Morrissey.

(It's an odd phrase to keep repeating in this context, since our problem is not too much work, but too little.  Although it is both a cliché and an impossible standard for job growth, the administration could say the usual about not resting until every American who wants a job can find one.)
- 8:01 AM, 6 April 2013   [link]


New York's Latest Tax Break For The Very Rich:  (And well connected.)

Today's Wall Street Journal has an elegant little editorial (which is behind their pay wall, unfortunately) describing a state tax break that will go to the 0.01%.
Empire State Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature have helped grease the ["Tonight Show's"] eastward move with a special new tax credit available only to big-budget television programs that relocate to New York.  According to the state's new budget the credit is aimed at "a television production that is a talk or or variety program that filmed at least five sessions outside the state prior to its first relocated season."   Oh, and the show has to be filmed in front of a studio audience of 200 or more and spend at least $30 million in annual production costs in New York.  How's that for a very specific special interest?
Quite good, I'd say, since there appears to be just one more program that will qualify in the near term, Howard Stern's "America's Got Talent".

And if Jimmy Fallon and Howard Stern don't qualify as deserving poor, I don't know who does.
- 12:40 PM, 5 April 2013   [link]


President Obama Emulates Defense Secretary Hagel, who was emulating Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will take the same pay cut as the 750,000 civilian Pentagon employees slated for furloughs in the coming months.

Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter plan to voluntarily hand over 14 days of pay back to the Treasury Department, as a sign of solidarity with the Pentagon employees who are being forced to take the same cut via furloughs.
Soon after this announcement, Obama joined in.  And really, really annoyed Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.
I once had a boss who was independently rich, and when I asked him for a raise, he turned me down, adding that he, too, had forsaken a raise that year.  A surge of anger, resentment and sheer hatred welled up in me, and were it not that I needed the job, I would have gone for his throat.  His unthinking and unthinkable attempt to make common cause with me brought to mind Anatole France’s observation that “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”  Now it brings to mind Barack Obama.
Cohen notes, as many others have, that Obama has better benefits than most working folks.

If Obama wanted to impress Cohen, he should emulate the dollar-a-year men.

(Ashton Carter appears to have been first to make this pledge, which he did during his confirmation hearings.)
- 10:14 AM, 5 April 2013   [link]


Don't Miss Yesterday's Eric Allie Cartoon, which I found at Lucianne, but you can also find at Townhall.

(If you are feeling mischievous, you can send the cartoon to your favorite "mainstream" reporter or columnist.)
- 7:37 AM, 5 April 2013   [link]


Loser Meets Winner:  That's how I interpret this picture showing Argentine President Fernández de Kirchner meeting Pope Francis.

And I would further go on to guess that she is thinking that, though she lost this round, the fight isn't over.

(As the quoted article explains, the elevation of this Argentine cardinal to the papacy is inconvenient for her regime, since he is by no means a supporter of her policies.)
- 4:35 PM, 4 April 2013   [link]


The Tiny, 90-Decibel Coqui Frog:  People in Puerto Rico — where it comes from — mostly like it; people in Hawaii — where it is an invasive species — mostly don't.  And so they are calling in experts to reduce the population of the frogs on Oahu
Mr. Minami is a Hawaii Department of Agriculture land vertebrates expert.  One of his tasks is to ferret out tiny coqui frogs.

"Ko Keee…Ko KEEE" he chirps to demonstrate the male coqui's mating call he learned by standing under trees and mimicking them.  Mr. Minami's coqui locution is so precise he draws the females out.
They are small enough so that a single frog wouldn't cover a quarter, but loud: "up to 90 decibels, roughly the noise level of some lawn mowers from about a foot and a half away".  Naturally, they do most of their calling at night.

(You can hear a recording of their calls here.  The recording is nowhere near 90 decibels, even if you crank up the volume, but it gets monotonous, quickly.)
- 3:29 PM, 4 April 2013   [link]


Obamacare Helpers:  Yesterday, I mentioned that machine politicians often like complex programs because that complexity gives them an opportunity to "help" voters get benefits.  Both the people paid to provide that help, and the people getting that help, are likely to feel grateful to the machine.

Soon after I put that post up, I ran into this story about Obamacare helpers.
Tens of thousands of health care professionals, union workers and community activists hired as "navigators" to help Americans choose Obamacare options starting Oct. 1 could earn $20 an hour or more, according to new regulations issued Wednesday.
That's decent pay for political activists, and the job gives those activists a great opportunity to remind voters who they should vote for.
- 10:31 AM, 4 April 2013   [link]


While Campaigning, Perpetual Campaigner Barack Obama said "we can't have perpetual campaigns".
"My intention here is to try to get as much done with the Republican Party over the next two years as I can, 'cause we can't have perpetual campaigns," he said.

But in the same set of remarks, he urged Democrats to do everything they could to help Pelosi take back power from Republican John Boehner, the current speaker of the House of Representatives.
Most of the Huffington Post commenters thought that was funny, but I fear that you would have to explain why it was funny to President Obama — and that he wouldn't get it, even after you explained it to him.
- 8:19 AM, 4 April 2013   [link]


Austerity, Paul Krugman Style:  From time to time, I read a column by Paul Krugman in which he complains that the Europeans are engaging in austerity, that they are slashing spending when they should be increasing it.  Suspicious fellow that I am, I notice that Krugman is vague about the actual numbers in those columns.  He does not, as you would expect he would, give you a series on government spending as a share of the Gross Domestic Product.

But you can find some of those numbers in this Alan Reynolds op-ed.  I would recommend studying the table that accompanies the op-ed, but if you don't want to do that you can just read this brief summary:
In mid-2008, The Economist magazine drew a sharp contrast between the booming BRIC economies and four feeble PIGS — Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.  By 2010, after Ireland and Great Britain bailed out their banks, that unkind acronym was stretched to PIIGGS.

All PIIGGS have two things in common.  First of all, government spending grew dramatically — from an average of 43.2% of GDP in 2007 to 52.6% by 2010.

Spending was modestly trimmed by 2012 in a few cases, yet the ratio of spending to GDP still remained 3 to 6 percentage points higher than it had been in 2007.
Which does not sound like "austerity" to me.  But Professor Krugman may use different dictionaries than I do.

(If you study the table, you'll see how Krugman can make true, but deceptive, claims about cuts in spending.  He could, for instance, say that Britain cut government spending by almost 2 percent of GDP between 2009 and 2012.  if that was all you saw, you might think he had a point.  But if you look at the whole series, starting before the financial crisis, you'll have your doubts, since spending rose between 2007 and 2012 by 5.3 percent of GDP.)
- 7:30 AM, 4 April 2013   [link]


Public Policy Polling polled the public — say that quickly, if you can — on their beliefs in "conspiracy" theories.

I was amused to see that I believe in two of these conspiracies, and am not sure about two others.  I believe that "a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world". (Q4)  In fact, I believe in more than one of them, beginning with the Chinese Communist Party, and including Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

I also believe that "aliens exist". (Q10)  In spite of the Fermi paradox.  The universe is so large, and has so many habitable planets that I think aliens must have evolved on some of them.

I am not sure whether Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attack. (Q5)  I recall that a number of well-informed people thought he was, and presented circumstantial evidence for their arguments.  I don't know whether they still think so, and I haven't even thought about going back to look at their evidence a second time.

I believe that Oswald killed Kennedy, but I am not sure that he acted completely alone. (Q14)  I think it possible, perhaps likely, that the Cuban government knew of his plan before he acted.  If they did anything to encourage him, then whether we say he "acted alone" is a matter of definition.

As you may have guessed, I don't see those as conspiracy theories.  And, to be fair, most of the people who believe in Elvis and shape-shifting aliens probably don't see their beliefs as conspiracy theories, either.

(You can find the questions here.)
- 8:33 PM, 3 April 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  Michael Winerip's account of the massive Atlanta school cheating scandal, where teachers and principals routinely replaced wrong answers on students' standardized tests with correct answers.

School officials who manipulated the test scores this way got to keep their jobs, and even received cash bonuses.  The students, most likely, got even less from their education than they might have, otherwise.

The chief culprit appears to be Beverly L. Hall, the former superintendent.
Dr. Hall, who retired in 2011, was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.  Prosecutors recommended a $7.5 million bond for Dr. Hall; she could face up to 45 years in prison.
In the last section of the article, Winerip is honest enough to discuss a delicate subject, frankly:
What made Dr. Hall almost untouchable was her strong ties to local business leaders.   Atlanta prides itself in being a progressive Southern city when it comes to education, entrepreneurship and race — and Dr. Hall's rising test scores were good news on all those fronts.  She is an African-American woman had turned around a mainly poor African American school district, which would make Atlanta an even more desirable location for businesses.
Though he doesn't mention that Hall had defenders at the New York Times, until quite recently, or that some of those defenders played the race card.

Credit where due:  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and state education officials were skeptical about those test scores almost from the beginning of Hall's tenure.

And they should have been, because many of the cheaters lacked any sense of plausibility, and reported gains that were almost miraculous.
- 3:01 PM, 3 April 2013   [link]


Even Joe Klein Is Beginning To Figure It Out:  ObamaCare implementation is not proceeding smoothly.
This is a really bad sign.  There will be those who argue that it’s not the Administration’s fault.  It’s the fault of the 33 states that have refused to set up their own exchanges.  Nonsense.  Where was the contingency planning?   There certainly are models, after all—the federal government’s own health benefits plan (FEHBP) operates markets that exist in all 50 states.  So does Medicare Advantage.  But now, the Obama Administration has announced that it won’t have the exchanges ready in time, that small businesses will be offered one choice for the time being—for a year, at least.  No doubt, small business owners will be skeptical of the Obama Administration’s belief in the efficacy of the market system to produce lower prices through competition.  That was supposed to be the point of this plan.
Klein has even noticed a pattern:
But we are now seeing weekly examples of this Administration’s inability to govern.   Just a few weeks ago, I reported on the failure of the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration to come up with a unified electronic health care records system.  There has also been the studied inattention to the myriad of ineffective job training programs scattered through the bureaucracy.  There have been the oblique and belated efforts to reform Head Start, a $7 billion program that a study conducted by its own bureaucracy—the Department of Health and Human Services—has found nearly worthless.  The list is endless.
Not endless, but certainly extensive.

However, Klein does not understand machine politics, because at the end he says: "Sooner or later, the Democrats may come to understand that making it run efficiently is the prerequisite for maintaining power."

In fact, political machines often prefer inefficiencies in government.  One reason is obvious:  They can hire more people who will feel obligated to vote for them.   Another is less obvious, but well known in Congress, and similar institutions.  Citizens facing an inefficient bureaucracy will often ask elected representatives for help in negotiating the obstacles — and be grateful when they receive that help.
- 12:47 PM, 3 April 2013   [link]


Is President Obama Doing His Homework On Gun Control?   Apparently not.  He has claimed, at least twice in the last few weeks, that:  "Nearly 40% of all gun sales don't require a background check under current law."

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler already cast doubt on this back in January, and so this time he comes down harder on the president for repeating this dubious claim.
In the meantime, we have documented that (a) the survey numbers are about two decades old, so they include purchases that predate any background checks; (b) the survey sample is rather small; and (c) the results are significantly different when adjusted for “purchases” or “sales” — the phrasing used by the president.

Two months ago, we were willing to cut the White House some slack, given the paucity of recent data.  But the president’s failure to acknowledge the significant questions about these old data, or his slippery phrasing, leaves us little choice but to downgrade this claim to Three Pinocchios.
Kessler is being harder on Obama than I am.  When Kessler accuses Obama of using "slippery phrasing", he is implying that Obama is deliberately deceiving us.   For the moment, I am not willing to go further than saying that Obama hasn't taken the time he should have to study the issue.
- 10:53 AM, 3 April 2013   [link]


Jabba The Hut Lego Set As An Investment?  When I heard that some Austrian Muslims had gotten that Lego set banned — because, they say, it looks like a mosque — I immediately looked for one at Amazon, thinking I might buy one as a mild protest.

(And I still like playing with Legos from time to time.)

When I looked last week the price, almost $90, was too much for a mild protest.  But now one will cost you the full list price of $119.99.  After that jump, almost any speculator will trying to figure out how much higher they will go when the Lego company runs out of its stock, and you can only buy them from private individuals.

(A really canny, and perhaps unscrupulous, speculator might be thinking of ways to keep that protest in the news, after he bought some of the sets.)
- 10:35 AM, 3 April 2013   [link]


It's A Bit Creepy The Way Advertisers Track You On The Internet, Isn't It?  Months ago, I mentioned by name a modern version of a girdle, using its brand name, not because I was interested in the product line, but because I was interested in the woman who produced it.

Since then, I have been seeing ads for the product line, and I do find them distracting.   (In the old days I could have said that, as a normal guy, I find them distracting.   But that would probably be politically incorrect, now.)

Last week, I mentioned a couple of cameras and since then I have been seeing ads for those cameras.

I can't think of any way to turn these ads off, as long as this site is public.

(It might be an interesting experiment to see whether negative posts attract as many ads as positive posts.)
- 9:05 AM, 3 April 2013   [link]


"Undocumented Democrat"  Jay Leno scores again.

(As I understand it — and I don't follow these things closely — no one likes Leno, except the viewers.  Which may not be enough for NBC, though you would think it would be.)
- 7:54 AM, 3 April 2013   [link]


Great Generals Are Rare:  Max Boot says we have lost four of them — David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, John Allen, and James Mattis — since President Obama took office.
They are among the most illustrious generals produced by the last decade of fighting.   They are the stars of their generation.  From Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, they emerged from anonymity to orchestrate campaigns that, after initial setbacks, have given the United States a chance to salvage a decent outcome from protracted counterinsurgencies; they have also literally rewritten the book on how to wage modern war successfully.   Yet aside from the similarities in the challenges they faced and the skills they displayed in rising to the task, these men share another, more troubling resemblance:  They are either gone from the military or (in the case of Mattis) about to go as of this writing.  And for the most part they are leaving under unhappy circumstances.   A strong case can be made that all were shabbily treated to one extent or another.   Petraeus was hounded out of the CIA and McChrystal out of high command in Afghanistan under a cloud of scandal; Allen saw his reputation unfairly marred by scandal before deciding to call it quits; and Mattis is said to have been pushed out early after clashes with the White House.  Certainly none of them was afforded the respect and honors that successful officers at the pinnacle of their career ought to expect—in part to drive younger officers to follow their example and seize the day when their time comes.  The treatment of these four remarkable generals at the hands of President Obama and his aides, whatever the merits of each individual case, is likely to rankle within the armed forces and leave those forces less prepared for future challenges.
Does President Obama understand how much military talent he has lost?  Probably not.  Would he care if he did know?  I really don't know the answer to that question, but I fear that it is no.

How do you find this kind of military talent?  Mostly by the brutal process of trial and error.  You keep the generals that win, and you discard the ones that don't.  Or, you move the failures to a lower command where they can be effective.

(If you are at all like me, you like General Mattis in part for his willingness to swagger a bit, as many good generals do, and for his politically incorrect statements, such as this one from a 2005 conference:
You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil.  You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them
And, regrettably, you can understand why he wouldn't be a good fit in the Obama administration.)
- 1:03 PM, 2 April 2013   [link]


We Have More Poets Than Ever Before:  And almost no one, outside academia, pays them any attention, says Joseph Epstein.
April, the poet told us, is the cruelest month.  As it happens, it is also National Poetry Month, which makes its debut on April Fool's Day.  And the biggest fools of all may well be those who believe that contemporary poetry matters in the least except to those who, against a high barbed-wire wall of national indifference, continue solemnly to churn it out.
. . .
In the room the poets come and go, / muttering, yo!, / where's the prize and what's the dough?  But if I ask a literary gent or lady to quote me a single line or phrase from any of our putative major poets, they cannot do it
Younger readers may not realize this was not always true.  In my life time, Robert Frost was known to most Americans, and many could quote a few lines from his poems.  In my parents' life times, Rudyard Kipling was widely known for his poetry in both Britain and the United States.

And now?  Unlike Epstein, I am not in the literary world, but I do try to stay well informed.  But when I look at this list of American poet laureates, I can recognize fewer than half of the recent names — and I can't think of a single line from any of them.

Years ago, Epstein suggested that "academicization of poetry did a lot to help kill it"; now he thinks that our decreasing attention span is decreasing the potential audience.  Both could be true, though I think the first has been more important than the second.
- 8:39 AM, 2 April 2013   [link]


Colorado clerical error.
Because of a paperwork error, the suspect in last month's killing of Colorado's corrections chief was freed from prison in January — four years earlier than authorities intended.
Or was it a clerical error?  It is unlikely, but it is not impossible that the clerk who made the error did it deliberately, either because the clerk sympathized with Evan Spencer Ebel, or because the clerk received something in return.

It's unlikely, but not so unlikely that I wouldn't ask that clerk a few questions, and maybe even do an investigation.
- 8:11 AM, 2 April 2013   [link]


Seattle Celebrates Easter in its own way.
A fight between two women during an Easter egg hunt at Woodland Park Zoo led to a bloody nose and several crying children Sunday, according to police and a witness.
The two mothers were not arguing over the best way to teach children to share.
- 7:03 AM, 2 April 2013   [link]


Using Orders Of Magnitude To Judge The Importance Of Problems:  That's something I do, almost automatically.  Here are three examples of what I mean by that:

Nuclear war in the Korean peninsula:  The deaths in such a conflict would almost certainly be a million, or more.  (The death toll from the first Korean War was more than 1 million — and that was without nuclear weapons.  (I have seen reports that Eisenhower threatened, secretly, to use nuclear weapons, though the Wikipedia article implies that he did not.   The article may rely too heavily on the work of University of Chicago Professor Bruce Cummings.)

Such a war would have an order of magnitude of six (1 million = 106) or more.

Rules of engagement in Afghanistan:  According to Ralph Peters, our current rules of engagement in Afghanistan are costing us lives.  He doesn't give numbers, but we can set the maximum, easily, at about 1,000.

So that problem has an order of magnitude of, at most, three.

Drone attacks on Americans in the United States:  To the best of my knowledge, there have been zero so far.  But let's be generous and say there might be ten lives lost to them in the next ten years.

So that problem would have an order of magnitude of, at most, one.

In general, I think our national leaders should pay little attention to problems with less than three orders of magnitude.

And that would be true if we were measuring the problems in dollars, instead of lives, although there I would put the threshold higher, at perhaps six.

As practical politicians, leaders will often be unable to do that, of course.  Many voters do not think about problems in this rational — some would say cold-blooded — way.  Instead, they think about problems in terms of individual stories.  And a politician who wants to stay in office will have to respond to those stories at least part of the time.

(Sometimes leaders can use stories to illustrate larger arguments, effectively, but that is much easier to say than to do.)
- 1:59 PM, 1 April 2013   [link]


Gordon Chang Gives Us Some Informed Speculation on what's happening in North Korea.
Young Kim took over in December 2011 after the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong-il.  This means, among other things, that Kim Jong-un did not have time to install officials loyal to him or to learn the complex balancing required to keep the four regime elements—the military, the security apparatus, the party, and the Kim family circle—in proper alignment.

As a result, Kim Jong-un, now hailed as “supreme commander,” has had to rely on two relatives for support, aunt Kim Kyong-hui and her husband, Jang Sung-taek.  As analyst Bruce Bechtol explains, you have to go back to 1949 to find a time when a North Korean leader has had a smaller group of supporters than Kim Jong-un does today.
Those relatives are cutting back on some of the military's privileges — and so Kim is talking war in order to keep the military's support.  That's one theory, anyway.

(This Wikipedia biography will show you, if you had any doubt, how little we know for sure about the man.  Take a look, for instance, at the confusing accounts of the years that Kim spent in one or more Swiss boarding schools.  Probably.)
- 1:07 PM, 1 April 2013   [link]


Classic April Fools' Day jokes.  (My favorite is the Swiss spaghetti harvest.)

And a set of stories that sound as if they should be jokes, but aren't, the BBC assures us.  (I didn't spot any ringers in that list, in a quick skim, but that doesn't mean there aren't any.)
- 7:03 AM, 1 April 2013   [link]


Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling Is No Barney Frank:  And for that, we may be grateful.  Hensarling wants to get the government out of its partnership with the big financial institutions; Frank's "reforms" strengthened that partnership.
The new chairman of the House financial services committee wants to limit taxpayers' exposure to banking, insurance and mortgage lending by unwinding government control of institutions and programs the private sector depends on, from mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to flood insurance.
. . . .
Most congressional Republicans believe the changes enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis—principally in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill—enshrined the notion that the biggest institutions are "too big to fail" because they guaranteed the government would step in to prevent the most sprawling firms from going under.  "We have gone from an implicit guarantee to an explicit guarantee," Mr. Hensarling said.
Will President Goldman-Sachs back Hensarling?  Probably not.
- 5:57 AM, 1 April 2013   [link]