Archive:

April 2014, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



As Someone Who Has Approximately 30 Trillion Copies of the Y chromosome, I was naturally intrigued by an article with this lead sentence:  "There is new reason to respect the diminutive male Y chromosome."

But I think even most people without Y chromosomes will find the article, which summarizes two Nature survey articles, of interest.

Some history:
Dr. [Henrik] Kaessmann calculates that the Y chromosome originated 181 million years ago, after the duck-billed platypus split off from other mammals but before the marsupials did so.

In some reptiles, sex is determined by the temperature at which the egg incubates.  Genetic control over sex probably began when a gene on one of the X chromosomes called SOX3 became converted to SRY, the gene that determines maleness, and thus the Y chromosome came into being.
So the monotremes are closer to reptiles than other mammals, in still another way.

Some of the genes in the Y chromosome are "shed right away", others are "involved in sperm production", and a third group has more general functions.
A third category of genes is unusual in being switched on not just in the testis but in tissues all over the body.  These active genes, of which there are 12 in humans, all have high-level roles in controlling the state of the genome and the activation of other genes.
Which leads to this conclusion:  "But now that the 12 regulatory genes are known to be active throughout the body, there is clearly an intrinsic difference in male and female cells even before the sex hormones are brought into play."

"Vive les differences!"

Those differences are even larger than most geneticists thought, before these 12 genes were discovered.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the Y chromosome, and if you are interested in how birds (and other animals) do it, you can read this brief survey article on sex determination systems.)
- 7:03 PM, 24 April 2014   [link]


A Labour MP Said That Gibraltar Is An Island:  What makes that slip even more amusing is that the MP who said it, Gareth Thomas, is the Shadow Minister for Europe.

For an American equivalent, think of a congressional committee chairman saying that Florida was an island.

(Presumably, Thomas knows that Gibraltar is a peninsula; presumably, that was just a verbal slip.  But there is that small chance that he didn't know that fact when he made the slip — and he did say it twice.)
- 6:27 AM, 24 April 2014   [link]


Laborer's Union President Terry O'Sullivan Is Disappointed by President Obama's latest delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.   In fact, make that very disappointed.
This is once again politics at its worst.  In another gutless move, the Administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process -- and which has nothing to with the national interest.  They waited until Good Friday, believing no one would be paying attention.  The only surprise is they didn’t wait to do it in the dark of night.

It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics.  Once again, the Administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country.  This certainly is no example of profiles in courage.  It’s clear the Administration needs to grow a set of antlers, or perhaps take a lesson from Popeye and eat some spinach.

This is another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security.
Rightly disappointed, in my opinion.

(By way of the Wall Street Journal, which notes that:  "Mr. O'Sullivan may feel especially bitter because he and the Laborers twice endorsed Mr. Obama for President, calling him a leader "who will fight to create jobs."   But the union doesn't contribute nearly as much money as Tom Steyer and company do.)
- 1:30 PM, 23 April 2014   [link]


It's Time To Rename "Bertha"  Seattle Mayor Bertha Knight Landes had nothing to do with choosing the tunnel boring machine, the machine that may be inoperative until early next year.

The machine boring the new State Route 99 tunnel under Seattle may not get back to work until the end of March 2015 while efforts continue to repair “Bertha.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation said Monday that, according to design contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, the new target date to open the tunnel will be November 2016.   That still falls within the deadline of when WSDOT wanted the project completed, but is about a year later than the target STP had set.

Bertha has been stuck since December after digging 1,000 feet of the 1.7-mile tunnel.  A previous estimate made in February set a target date to resume tunneling for September.

So it is unfair to tie this failure to Landes, especially since she is no longer able to object to the slur.

Who should the machine be named after?  That seems obvious, at least to me.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:30 AM, 23 April 2014   [link]


Keith Koffler Has a good question:  "Why Did Obama Hire a Top Criminal Attorney for WH Counsel?"

Koffler doesn't have any answer to that question (nor do I), but I imagine that all of us can think of some interesting possible answers.

(And, to be fair, a few boring possible answers, too.)
- 6:47 AM, 23 April 2014   [link]


This Probably Won't Make the national news (and perhaps shouldn't), but you may find it amusing:  President Obama thinks that "Oso" is pronounced as if it were spelled ah-so, rather than oh-so.

That shows, I suspect, just how much attention he has been paying to the tragedy.

(Oh, and you may be interested in who was invited — and who wasn't.)
- 6:15 PM, 22 April 2014   [link]


Confused By The "Deportation" Numbers You See In News Stories?  (I certainly have been.)

Professor Anna Law tries to explain.
Somehow, the Obama administration is simultaneously responsible for the highest rate of deportation in 20 years and a 26 percent drop in deportation.  What is going on here?  As it turns out, changes in immigration law, terminology and classification are causing this confusion.

One problem is the continued use of “deportation” in virtually all media reporting.  In actuality, that category has been obsolete in immigration law since 1996.  Prior to 1996, immigration law distinguished between immigrants who were “excluded,” or stopped and prevented from entering U.S. territory, and those who were “deported,” or expelled from the United States after they had made their way into U.S. territory.  After 1996, both exclusion and deportation were rolled into one procedure called “removal.”  At that point, the term “deportation” no longer had any meaning within the official immigration statistics.  Its continued use in media reports is part of the confusion.

The large number of immigrants who are apprehended, usually but not exclusively along the southwestern border, and prevented from entering the country were part of a category called “voluntary departure” before 2006.  Now that is called “return,” which also includes the subcategory of “reinstatement.”  There is also a large category of “expedited removals” of persons that do not appear before an immigration judge but the procedure carries all the sanctions as [if] a judge ordered removal.
Once you realize that these legal classifications use words in ways that do not have their usual meanings, you will, if you are like me, be a little less confused.

So, has President Obama decreased or increased the number of deportations, using the older (and standard dictionary) meaning of the term?  He has probably decreased them, though we can't be certain, because the "removal" numbers include deportations and exclusions.
Compared to his predecessors, Obama has deemphasized removals and concentrated on returns.  His numbers reflect a deliberate shift in strategy to exercise prosecutorial discretion to aid longtime immigrant residents who have family ties and no criminal backgrounds besides the immigration law violation.
Incidentally, stopping millions at the border is not necessarily a sign of a successful policy; in fact, it may show that we are not deterring enough people from trying to cross the border, illegally.
- 1:26 PM, 22 April 2014   [link]


Why Is President Obama Visiting Oso Today?  Because it is on his way to Japan.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I was pleasantly surprised to see that this visit did not appear to be timed to cause the maximum traffic disruptions, as his fund-raising visits usually are.  If his schedulers made a mistake, I hope they won't be punished for that accidental mercy.)
- 7:27 AM, 22 April 2014   [link]


Slovakia Is Improving Tax Collections with a lottery.
Over the last 10 years, Slovakia's revenue from value-added taxes, a type of sales tax, has declined.  But hiring auditors and pursuing individual merchants and service providers in court is expensive and slow.  So last fall, the government decided to put a lottery in the mix.

The idea is to enlist average citizens to collect receipts from their purchases and register them with the government, creating a paper trail for transactions and forcing restaurant and shop owners to pay the sales taxes they owe.  As Slovakians register their receipts for the lottery, a computer will also tell them if a merchant has issued a receipt with a fake tax identification number, so they can report suspected fraud.

For any purchase worth more than 1 euro, or about $1.38, Slovakians can enter their receipts in a monthly lottery to win 10,000 euros, a car or a chance to be a contestant on the Slovakian version of ''The Price Is Right.''
According to the article, ten years ago Slovakia was collecting about 80 percent of value-added taxes owed, but is now down to "about 60 percent, putting Slovakia in a league with Greece for the poorest record", so they had to do something.

And the lottery appears to be both helpful to the tax collectors, and popular.

There are people uncomfortable with this approach.  In Portugal, which is also using a lottery to improve tax collection, some "opposition politicians . . . say it is a capitalist tool to turn citizens into tax inspectors".

My own objection is somewhat different.  If you think of this in terms of expected value, Slovakia and Portugal are paying low wages to people to do dull clerical tax inspection work.  The article does not give enough data for me to guess exactly how substandard, but I would be very surprised if they can expect as much as a dollar an hour for all that clerical work.

Which sounds just a little exploitative, to me.  Even if those being exploited are happy with the arrangement.

Here are the Wikipedia articles on value-added taxes and Slovakia.)
- 1:21 PM, 21 April 2014   [link]


It's Dyngus Day:  And, in Buffalo, they had to scramble to find enough pussy willows.
Dyngus Day celebrations, to be staged Monday in Buffalo and a handful of other U.S. cities, trace their roots to ancient Polish fertility rites centered around the end of Lent and the advent of spring.  As part of the festivities, young men traditionally splash water on women they fancy.  Women carry pussy willow branches to hit the men they like.

But this year, after an especially harsh winter, Dyngus Day organizers are worried that there won't be enough pussy willows to go around.  The pussy willow supply is particularly worrisome for festival co-founder Mr. Dobosiewicz because the event, while not as big as some other Polish festivals around the country, has become unexpectedly popular.
Unexpectedly, the reporter, Will Connors, does not blame global warming for the cold weather that delayed the pussy willows.

(The Wikipedia article on the celebration make it sound more, shall we say, vigorous than the Wall Street Journal article does.)
- 12:47 PM, 21 April 2014   [link]


Happy Easter!  To all those who celebrate it today.

Easter flowers, 2008

Which is almost every Christian, this year.
- 4:41 PM, 20 April 2014   [link]


Will The Republicans Gain House Seats This November?   That's what John Sides is predicting.
To recap, the model is currently based on a set of structural features known to influence House races: the state of the economy, presidential approval, the fact that it’s a midterm year, the partisanship of the district, and whether the incumbent is running for reelection.  We’ll build more into this model soon — for example, fundraising — but even this simple model provides a useful sense of the landscape.
. . .
The estimates are centered around a median of 239, which would represent a gain of 5 seats relative to the 234-seat Republican majority after the 2012 election.  (The GOP current[ly] controls 233 seats because of vacancies.)
That estimate seems reasonable, if anything a little bit low. since it would still be fewer seats than the Republicans held after the 2010 elections (242 seats).
- 3:21 PM, 19 April 2014   [link]


My Apologies To Canada:  For this further delay.
The Obama administration pulled a classic campaign-year move Friday: It punted on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Politically, it seems like a great idea, since kicking Keystone down the road — probably long past November — is better than an outright rejection for vulnerable oil-state Democrats, whose voters love the proposed project.  And it keeps environmentalists at bay, boosting hopes that President Barack Obama might still swing their way.

But the non-decision decision also makes life a little harder for several groups of Democratic senators and Senate candidates fighting for their lives.
For the delay, which has become absurd, and for the attitude in that Politico article, in which everything is about our elections this fall.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  When you have a neighbor as good as Canada, you should treat them well; in particular, you should approve projects like this one, even if you think that there is no gain to the United States from the project — though almost every analysis says there is, which makes this further delay even more ridiculous.

(The article doesn't even mention Canada, and it doesn't mention zillionaire Tom Steyer, whose opposition may explain this delay.)
- 2:39 PM, 19 April 2014   [link]


Saturn's New Moon, "Peggy"?  Here's the NASA press release, along with the picture that everyone else is using.
"We have not seen anything like this before," said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London, and the report's lead author.  "We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right."

The object, informally named Peggy, is too small to see in images so far.  Scientists estimate it is probably no more than about a half mile in diameter.
Note the "may", which is why I put a question mark in the title.

(As you probably know, Saturn has many moons, so many that not all of them have names.  There's a good reason for that.  As the Wikipedia article notes:   "Thus a precise number of Saturnian moons cannot be given, as there is no objective boundary between the countless small anonymous objects that form Saturn's ring system and the larger objects that have been named as moons.")
- 10:14 AM, 18 April 2014   [link]


Brutal:  No, not the Nancy Pelosi foot-washing photo-op, the comments afterwards.

There are, it appears, people who disagree with her views on many things, but especially abortion.

(Oh, and that's an Episcopal church, presumably because Catholic authorities wouldn't let her do the photo-op in a Catholic church.)
- 9:34 AM, 18 April 2014   [link]


The Obama Dishonesty On The "Pay Gap" Between Men And Women Was Deliberate:  And may give them political gains.  That's what Major Garrett concludes.
The questioning of Obama's use of a Census Bureau statistic that the median wages of working women in America are 77 percent of median wages earned by men lasted almost all week.   The story revved into mini-overdrive when the White House defensively swatted away criticism that salaries on Obama's watch—for which the American Enterprise Institute used the same median wages metric applied by the Census Bureau—showed that women in the president's employ earned 88 cents for every dollar earned by men.

All to the delight of a White House desperate to inject the issue into the political bloodstream and amplify otherwise doomed Senate Democratic efforts to make it easier for women to sue and win damages for workplace pay differences.  The controversy that played out on front pages, social media, TV, and radio did just that.

This is the White House theory of "Stray Voltage."  It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure.   The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.   This happens, Plouffe theorizes, even when—and sometimes especially when—the White House appears defensive, besieged, or off-guard.  I first discovered and wrote about this in July of 2012.
John Dickerson, writing in Slate, agrees.
The issue last week was the pay gap between men and women.  The president issued executive orders to address the disparity, and Democrats pushed legislation in Congress.   In making the case, the president and White House advisers used a figure they knew to be imprecise and controversial—a Census Bureau statistic that the median wages of working women in America are 77 percent of median wages earned by men.

Under this approach, a president wants the fact-checkers to call him out (again and again) because that hubbub keeps the issue in the news, which is good for promoting the issue to the public.   It is the political equivalent of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” or the quote attributed to Mae West (and others): “I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”  The tactic represents one more step in the embrace of cynicism that has characterized President Obama's journey in office.
That phrase, "imprecise and controversial", is, I suppose nicer than the more accurate "deliberately misleading", which is what I would say.  (Note please, since I try to be precises, I do not call it a lie.  The 77 percent statistic is true, but misleading, because it is only part of the truth.  There are many ways to be dishonest besides telling direct lies.)

Garrett and Dickerson note that this tactic, however effective it may be in a campaign, interferes with governing, where facts must, at least some of the time, be faced.

(The metaphor, "stray voltage", that David Plouffe uses to describe this dishonest tactic, makes no sense at all to me.  But I think we can understand the idea behind it, even if the name doesn't make sense.)
- 6:38 AM, 18 April 2014   [link]


Sometimes Non-Answers Are Even More Interesting than answers.
After addressing about 30 people who turned out to hear him, the senator opened the floor for questions.

One constituent asked him why he came out in support of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville.

[Kentucky Senator Rand] Paul declined to answer the question publicly, saying he would speak with her in private and explain his reason for supporting the senior senator.
I haven't a clue as to why Paul — who is supporting McConnell, at least formally — didn't have an answer ready for her, and I can't even imagine why he would say he would give her a private answer.

It is almost as if he were trying to raise suspicions about his motives, but I don't think he was, because I can't imagine any motive for him.

(Since this was an informal event, it is possible that Senator Paul forgot, temporarily, that it was public, and so he said what he might have said at a private party, with no reporters present.

This Wikipedia article probably has more than most of us need to know about the location of the event, Glasgow, Kentucky.)
- 4:49 PM, 17 April 2014   [link]


Worth Reading:  Geomorphologist David Montgomery's Seattle Times op-ed on the Oso mud slide.

Sample:
Back in 1999, geologist Daniel J. Miller warned of the potential for catastrophic failure of this slope.  After the 2006 Oso landslide, he was shocked to find that the county continued to allow residential development on the flood plain right across the river from the foot of the slide.

Miller thinks this was crazy.  So far every geologist I've talked to has agreed.   But most have also said that they were surprised by the long runout for this slide.  So was I.
Montgomery thinks that we can reduce the risks of such surprises by better mapping, in particular by mapping using lidar.

(Note:  The Seattle Times is putting limits on the free access to their site.   If you have read many of their articles, you may run into a barrier.  There are probably ways of getting around it, but I haven't explored them yet.

You can listen to a KUOW interview with Montgomery at the first link, in this set.

You can learn a little more about Montgomery from this brief Wikipedia biography, or at his faculty site.  Interesting fact:  According to Wikipedia, he has studied the "evolution and near-extirpation of salmon".  Fun fact:  The name he chose for his email address at work is "bigdirt".)
- 3:08 PM, 17 April 2014   [link]


Does New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman Like Greater Economic Inequality?  Consider the evidence.

As far as I know, he does not share his considerable wealth, in any significant amounts.

He has spent most of his career at Princeton, which has many good aspects, but is not a place where one will find many students (or faculty) planning to have modest incomes.

Now that he is retiring from Princeton, he is moving to Manhattan, which is a notoriously unequal place.
In 1980 Manhattan ranked 17th among the naiton's counties in income inequality; it now ranks the worst among the country's largest counties.
. . .
The most commonly used measure of inequality is the Ginni index, which ranges between 0, which would be complete equality (everyone in the same community has the same income), and 1 1, which is complete inequality (one person has all the income, all others none).  Manhattan's Gini index stodd at 0.596 in2013, higher than that of Sputh Africa before the Apartheid-ending 1994 election.  (The U.S. average is 0.471.)  If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 for which the World Bank reports data.
In Manhattan, he will take a job with the City University of New York, which will pay him quite well.
Paul Krugman announced a couple months ago that he’s leaving his Princeton professorship to become a professor in the economics Ph.D. program at the City University of New York and a scholar the Luxembourg Income Study Center, which is based at CUNY.  It turns out he’s going to be quite nicely compensated for his professorship.  According to a freedom-of-information request by Gawker, he’ll be paid $225,000 a year for the gig.

In the first year, the job won’t involve any teaching at all.  CUNY’s words told him for the first year he’ll be “asked to contribute to the buildup of [the Luxembourg Income Study Center] and our inequality project, and to play[ ] some kind of modest (not onerous!) role in our public events,”; for the second year, he’ll be expected to teach one weekly graduate seminar for one semester (most professors of his rank teach two).
(According to Gawker, CUNY "pays adjunct professors approximately $3,000 per course".)

Now it is possible that Krugman is moving to Manhattan in somewhat the same spirit that a missionary might go to a country where he thinks the need for his preaching is greatest — but most missionaries do not bargain for high pay and easy working conditions.

It seems more likely that, in theory, he is opposed to greater inequality, but, in practice, he is fine with greater inequality — as long as Paul Krugman is one of the beneficiaries.
- 10:51 AM, 17 April 2014   [link]


The M&M Hair Academy In London made a fair offer to Kim Jong-un (and others with similar haircuts), but wasn't prepared for this reaction.
North Korean agents have demanded the Foreign Office intervene in their row with a London hairdresser who used a picture of Kim Jong-un to advertise its 15 per cent 'bad hair' discount.
Dictators can be touchy.

Kim likes that hair style:
Kim Jong-un's hairstyle is the only one approved by the dictator.

Last month all young men were told they should adopt his short back and sides with centre parting – or face severe punishment
I think it safe to say that the age of Aquarius is not dawning in North Korea.
- 8:24 AM, 17 April 2014   [link]