Archive:

April 2015, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Incompetence, Malice, Or Ideology?  In discussing President Obama's remarkable string of errors in foreign policy, conservatives have wavered between the first and second alternatives; some think he doesn't know what he is doing, while others think he is actively trying to harm the United States.

Victor Davis Hanson makes a good case for a third, general explanation, ideology, a specific kind of ideology common among leftist college students thirty and forty years ago.   (And still, in some places.)
But, in fact, there is a predictable pattern to Obama’s foreign policy.  The president has an adolescent, romantic view of professed revolutionary societies and anti-Western poseurs — and of his own ability uniquely to reach out and win them over.  In the most superficial sense, Obama demonstrates his empathy for supposedly revolutionary figures of the non-Western world through gratuitous, often silly remarks about Christianity and Western colonial excesses, past and present.  He apologizes with talk of our “own dark periods” and warns of past U.S. “dictating”; he contextualizes; he ankle-bites the very culture he grew up and thrived in, as if he can unapologetically and without guilt enjoy the West’s largesse only by deriding its history and values.
. . .
Reminiscent of college naïfs with dorm-room posters of Che Guevara, Obama mythologizes about the underappreciated multicultural “Other” that did everything from fuel the Western Renaissance and Enlightenment to critique Christian excesses during the Inquisition.
That this ideology is, literally, sophomoric does not prevent Obama from acting as if it were a correct picture of the world — and a guide to how we should act.

Like many another ideologue, he is unable to learn from his mistakes, unable to educate himself beyond those dorm-room posters.

We often fail to see his ideology, because most American leaders have, at the very least, a streak of pragmatism, a willingness to at least sometimes judge actions by whether they succeed or not, rather than whether they fit into our theories.  And so we are surprised when Obama says he favors higher rates of taxes on capital gains, even though the higher rates might result in less revenue.  Or when he stiffs British leaders, and cosies up to a man like Erdogan, who is authentic in a way that former prime minister Gordon Brown never could be — but hardly friendly to the United States.

I don't want to push this argument too far.  Obama can be pragmatic, tactically; he can, for instance, agree to help Iraq against ISIS.  But as you must have noticed, he has only sent enough help to, at most, keep the situation stable, not enough to win a complete victory.
- 8:18 PM, 16 April 2015   [link]


Democratic Washington State Auditor Indicted!  The indictment was unsealed this morning.
A grand jury has indicted Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley on 10 counts Thursday, including filing false tax returns, obstruction and possession of stolen property.

The grand jury returned the indictment Wednesday and it was unsealed Thursday.   Kelley is scheduled to appear at U.S. District Court in Tacoma at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
. . .
From 2003 to 2008, Kelley operated a business that received payments from title companies to track documents related to home sales and refinancing, according to the indictment.

While title companies withheld $100-$150 for the services provided by Kelley for each loan, the majority should have been returned to the borrower and Kelley's company retained $15-20 per transaction.  Instead, the indictment alleges, Kelley's company often kept the full amount.

Kelley also allegedly obstructed litigation related to those fees by repeatedly lying in declarations and under oath in depositions.
Kelley is under pressure to resign, but so far has only said he will take a leave of absence.  (Here's his statement.)

I stressed his party because I think he was elected mostly because he is a Democrat.   Our local journalists — almost all of whom support Democrats — failed to dig into the accusations against him in 2012, as they should have.  Voters here have become more partisan in recent years, as the nation has become more polarized, and vote more by party than did, even as recently as a decade ago.

(If you are a legal beagle, or just curious, you can read the indictment here.)
- 12:47 PM, 16 April 2015   [link]


Gut Bacteria Affect Toddlers' Temperaments!?  Tuesday's Wall Street Journal included a survey article on recent medical research.  The second section interested me the most.
Differences in gut microbiomes might help explain varied temperaments among young children, according to a report in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Researchers found specific behaviors, such as impulsiveness and self-control, were significantly associated with differences in gut bacteria in young children, especially boys.  Dietary differences didn’t fully explain the connection between temperament and gut bacteria in boys or girls, the study said.
So, in the future we might have conversations like the following: "Why is little Johnny so wild today?"

"Oh, he picked up that b. bad bacteria at the daycare center.  The doctor thinks we can have it eliminated from his tummy in a few days."

I glanced at the journal and learned that researchers are finding more and more such associations.  For instance, one team found that depressed people have different microbiomes.

There are, of course, significant caveats to these findings.  If you find an association, you don't know, for certain, which way — or ways — the causality goes.  For instance, depressed people may eat different foods.

Or even if the association is caused by a third, unknown factor.
- 9:06 AM, 16 April 2015   [link]


Maybe Hillary Clinton Should Be Conducting A "Front Porch" Campaign:  Maybe she should just stay at home, and let supporters come to her.

Because her van trip to Iowa is not getting rave reviews.  David Knowles checked and found that she didn't leave a tip at that Chipotle stop — which seems like an incredible error for a very wealthy politician, who is promising to help "everyday people".  David Letterman did a nasty (and at least mildly funny) top ten list of "Things Overheard in Hillary’s Van".   Cartoonist Terrell showed Hillary gathering intelligence on "everyday people".

The Daily Mail did a little digging and found that she was meeting political activists posing as "everyday people".

And the Wall Street Journal did a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation to show how overpaid she has been on those speeches.
Many of these CEOs can only wish they were rewarded for their time as handsomely as Mrs. Clinton is.  The expected 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has been paid as much as $300,000 per speech.

Supporters of Wednesday’s worker rallies are hoping that Mrs. Clinton will endorse their demand for a $15 minimum wage.  That’s more than double the current federal minimum of $7.25.  And for the sake of argument let’s assume that $15 per hour is what event staff were paid at the venues where Mrs. Clinton spoke.  We’ll also assume about 90 minutes of her time for a speech plus a question-and-answer period.  Mrs. Clinton’s fee in this scenario would be more than 13,000 times the earnings of the typical worker.
The benefits she demands for those speeches aren't bad, either.

(Here's an explanation of a "front porch" campaign, if you need one.)
- 8:09 AM, 16 April 2015   [link]


President Obama's Comic Genius:  He claimed, with a straight face, that he's not a "tax-and-spend liberal".

It's possible that he wasn't intentionally joking.

(Obama also claimed that Bill Clinton was responsible for the improvement in federal budgets during his time as presidency.  In fact, the improvement came after the 1994 election, which made Newt Gingrich the speaker, and Bob Dole the senate majority leader.  Those two forced Bill Clinton to accept more prudent budgets — for which Clinton soon claimed credit.

(Clinton was also lucky enough to be president during the Internet boom, which he had nothing to do with.)

Similarly, Obama is now claiming credit for budget discipline that came after the 2010 election, which made John Boehner the speaker.  The "sequester", which did reduce our short-term budget deficits, would never have been enacted if Democrats had kept control of the House.

Incidentally, from what I can tell, Boehner and then-minority leader Mitch McConnell out-negotiated Obama in the sequester, getting more than I would have expected.  I should add that these matters are almost always hard to judge from a distance.)
- 7:09 AM, 16 April 2015   [link]


RIP, Abraham Lincoln:  Yesterday and today, I have been thinking hard about a post in honor of our 16th president, who died, 150 years ago, today.

I was unable to think of anything truly appropriate, anything that would fit the greatness of this amazing man, who came out of nowhere, just when we needed him

(I'm not alone in that.  Carl Cannon used the day to discuss whether Lincoln was with the angels, or the ages.   BBC America did a longish story on a Lincoln "life mask", constructed several months before he died.  Though Lincoln was certainly interesting looking, I don't think that's what is most important about the man.)

I will add one point to that Wikipedia biography that I linked to.  One reason the Republican Party nominated him in 1860 is that he had already beaten Stephen Douglas in Illinois.  In the "popular" vote, that is.  At that time, senators were elected by legislatures, and in 1858 Douglas did have more votes in the Illinois legislature than Lincoln — but there were more votes cast for Lincoln's supporters in the legislature, than for Douglas's.

(Here are some of the jokes often attributed to Lincoln, many correctly.)
- 7:46 PM, 15 April 2015   [link]


Why I Was Right — And Wrong — About Tax Complexity Ten Years Ago:  On tax day in 2005, I argued that the increasing complexity of taxes in the United States had produced less anger than might have been expected because we had programs like TurboTax to help us cope with that complexity.  For many taxpayers, those programs made an almost impossible chore into one that was only unpleasant.

I think I was right about that.

But at the time I also expected that there would be enough voters who wanted simplicity anyway so that we would soon see something like the 1986 Tax Reform Act, that we would again lower rates and get rid of loopholes.

I was wrong about that.  There have been many proposals for tax reform, but none that garnered enough support — in both parties — to have any chance of passage.   One of the many reasons I was wrong is that I did not realize how much the Democratic Party had changed, how it had lost reformers like Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt, without replacing them with anyone with a desire for reform — and a willingness to work with a Republican president.
- 3:53 PM, 15 April 2015   [link]


More On That Napping Baggage Handler:  Even if you don't live in this area, you may have heard this story, from two days ago:
A sleepy Sea-Tac Airport worker who used the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines 737 for a nap was awakened in a panic when the flight took off for Los Angeles, Alaska Airlines officials said.

Flight 448 departed at 2:39 p.m. but immediately after takeoff the pilot reported hearing banging from someone underneath the plane, the airline said in a statement.

The captain declared an emergency and returned to the airport, where a Menzies Aviation ramp agent was found inside the front cargo hold.  The ramp agent was taken to Highline Hospital to be checked out and was later released.
But unless you live in this area, you probably haven't heard this follow-up:  The ramp worker/baggage handler has a Facebook page, on which he says he has a degree in sleep studies, from sleep university.

(I heard the follow-up this morning on John Carlson's talk show.)
- 1:03 PM, 15 April 2015   [link]


In October 2007, Many Journalists Were Saying That Hillary Clinton Was The Inevitable Democratic Nominee:  Here's what I said then:
The Democratic Race Isn't Over:   In fact, the starting gun hasn't even fired.   You have probably seen some of the same articles and columns on the inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton that I have.   I don't believe them, and you shouldn't either.   Her nomination is by no means inevitable, though she is the clear favorite.

Those who argue that she is inevitable usually cite her strong lead in national polls of Democratic voters.   Those polls are not irrelevant, but they are not as important as they seem, because the first test is in Iowa, where the polls show a virtual three way tie between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.   (And, as you probably know, Iowa does not have a primary, but caucuses, which can be difficult to predict with standard polling methods.)
It is earlier, and the details are different, but I have come to the same conclusion this year that I did in 2007:  Her nomination is by no means inevitable, although now, as then, she is the favorite.  I'll have more to say, later, as it becomes clearer who her opponents will be.

One reason she is not inevitable should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention;  She isn't a very good retail campaigner, unlike her husband.  And in Iowa and New Hampshire, that matters.

If she is not the inevitable nominee, then it follows that she is even less likely to be elected president.  I would agree with Megan McArdle that Clinton's chances of taking the oath of office in 2017 are less than 50 percent.

(By the way, if you read the entire 2007 post, you will notice that I predicted that she would lose the Iowa caucuses — as she did.)
- 9:00 AM, 15 April 2015   [link]


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Rebukes Obama On Iran Deal — Unanimously:  It isn't often that a congressional committee is unanimous in opposing a president, but that just happened.
The White House relented on Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote.

An unusual alliance of Republican opponents of the nuclear deal and some of Mr. Obama’s strongest Democratic supporters demanded a congressional role as international negotiators work to turn this month’s nuclear framework into a final deal by June 30.  White House officials insisted they extracted crucial last-minute concessions.  Republicans — and many Democrats — said the president simply got overrun.
It's good to see Senate Democrats being responsible — while the Democrat in the White House continues his reckless efforts to get a deal, any deal, with Iran.

(The chairman of the committee, Bob Corker, and the ranking minority member, Ben Cardin, probably both deserve some credit.)
- 7:18 AM, 15 April 2015   [link]


"Newly Minted" Hillary?  (Or, if you prefer, "newly-minted".)

I was going to stay away from campaign trivia — but I wasn't expecting something this funny.  If you do a simple search on "newly minted + Hillary" you'll find a number of news stories that use that wildly inappropriate metaphor to describe the start of her official campaign.  (For example, here and here.)

What objects are newly minted?  Coins, when they have just been manufactured by a mint, such as the United States Mint.

So, Hillary Clinton is like a coin that has just been manufactured?  And if we looked closely, we could find the year of her manufacture, 2014 or 2015, stamped on her?

(Could that nutty metaphor have come from the campaign itself?  It is hard to explain it showing up in so many articles any other way.

Trivial point:  If she were newly minted, she wouldn't be old enough to be president, since a president must be at least 35 years old.)
- 4:11 PM, 14 April 2015   [link]


Two Thoughts About That Hillary Campaign Logo, One Clean, One Dirty:  I haven't paid much attention to the announcements that this candidate, or that candidate, is running for president.  And I don't plan to in the near future, because most of the talk is "horse race" talk, and it is far too early for that.

But the Hillary campaign logo is so unintentionally funny that I have to share my two immediate reactions to it.

Hillary campaign, 2016

The arrow points to the right, so it is saying to go right.  The arrow comes out of the "H", so Hillary is saying we should go right.  I don't believe that's what she intended.

That's the clean thought.  Let's see if I can give you enough hints so that you can guess my dirty thought.  Hint 1: What differentiates the standard male and female symbols?  Hint 2:   A physical arrow is successful if it penetrates its target.

And that's as far as I intend to go with hints.
- 7:43 AM, 14 April 2015   [link]


Serious People Believe That In An "Agreement", The Sides Have To Agree:  Eli Lake is a serious person, which is why you can tell that he is exasperated by the Obama administration's persistent claim that we have a "framework" agreement with Iran.
Here’s the thing about agreements.  The parties that enter into them have to actually, you know, agree.

Take the Iran framework agreement, for instance.  President Barack Obama says he has one on the basics of the nuclear deal with Iran.  He doesn't.  How do we know this?   Because Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran -- the only person who decides on this matter -- says he hasn't agreed to the most important elements of the deal as laid out in the White House fact sheet.
If we take what President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said about the "framework" seriously, then we have to conclude that — despite all the evidence — they believe that we have a "framework" agreement with Iran.

Which is, as Senator John McCain said, "delusional".

As has happened far too often, I hope that Obama and Kerry are lying to us, hope that they know that we do not have even a "framework" agreement with Iran.  But I think we have to assume, for now, that they actually believe much of what they are saying.
- 7:01 AM, 14 April 2015   [link]


The Seattle Times Has Gotten Quirky In Recent Months:   Our local monopoly newspaper was once known for being serious, perhaps even a little boring.

But in recent months, the people running it have done some very odd things.  For example, today's front page doesn't have a lead story in the usual sense; instead, three stories share space at the top of the front page.  On the left is a story about Hillary Clinton's announcement that she is running for president, on the right is another story about the dangers of lead in shooting ranges, and in the center, taking the most space, and illustrated with a large picture, is an article on the most famous feature of the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont — the statue of Vladimir Lenin.

Which hasn't been news, for years.

Why is the newspaper doing things like this?  I haven't the faintest idea.  But, if I ever find out, I'll let you know.

(I did learn one thing from the article:  The statue has been a target for vandals from time to time.  And there was one important thing left out.  The writer of the article, staff photographer Alan Berner, didn't quote anyone who said they liked the statue because Lenin founded the modern Communist Party, but there are a few such people in Seattle, and more than a few who think Lenin was at least partly right.)
- 7:31 PM, 13 April 2015   [link]


Vaccinations = The Holocaust?!?  That's what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told a California audience, last week.
Robert F Kennedy Jr sparked controversy Tuesday when he compared childhood vaccinations to a holocaust.

At a screening of the documentary Trace Amounts, the nephew of President John F Kennedy spoke out against a proposed bill in California which would make childhood immunizations mandatory - no matter what their parent's personal beliefs on the vaccines.
. . .
'They can put anything they want in that vaccine and they have no accountability for it,' Kennedy said of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the Crest Theater stage in Sacramento.

'They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone.  'This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country,' Kennedy added.
(Emphasis added.)

What makes what Kennedy said even crazier is that he is mostly attacking a mercury compound, thimerosal, that hasn't been used in vaccines for almost fifteen years.

Kennedy's holocaust claim may seem so over the top as to be self defeating.  But similar crazy claims helped block bills in Oregon and Washington, bills like the bill that Kennedy is trying to block in California.  (So far, without success, but usually bills have to be blocked at only one stage to prevent them from becoming law.)

By way of Mr. Fur.

(You can find some of what I have said recently about the vaccine controversy here, here, and here.

This Wikipedia biography will remind you, if you have forgotten, that Kennedy is no stranger to dangerous injections, having lost a very good job and his law license (for some years), thanks to his heroin use.)
- 6:41 PM, 13 April 2015
Update:  Yesterday, Kennedy apologized for using the word "holocaust" in his "impromptu" speech.
- 8:02 AM, 14 April 2015   [link]


News On Salt We Can't Use:  For decades, the United States government has been urging (most) Americans to cut back on salt.

Now (some) scientists are saying: "Never mind."
For years, the federal government has advised Americans that they are eating too much salt, and that this excess contributes yearly to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

But unknown to many shoppers urged to buy foods that are “low sodium” and “low salt,” this longstanding warning has come under assault by scientists who say that typical American salt consumption is without risk.

Moreover, according to studies published in recent years by pillars of the medical community, the low levels of salt recommended by the government might actually be dangerous.
(Emphasis added.)

If you read the whole longish article you will probably be left, like me, wondering whether you should eat more salt, eat less salt, or ignore the whole controversy.

In my semi-informed opinion, most likely the answer is this common, but infuriating, one:  It depends.  Some of us should eat more salt, some less, and, most likely, for most of us the amount we are eating right now is, roughly, right.  And, for many of us, there may not be any easy way to determine what it depends on.

You can, of course, consult your doctor for an individualized recommendation, but I fear that most doctors won't be able to give most of their patients any better advice than it depends.

(Here are the Wikipedia articles on salt, and the health effects of salt.

The first describes, among other things, how long salt has been an important trade item — at least 8,000 years — and reminded me of this example, dating from about 750 AD:
The Sanhaja started their trans-Saharan journeys from the Wadi Draa: in the central Sahara they took rock salt from deposits they had discovered in the course of their explorations, and on the banks of the Senegal they exchanged this salt for gold-dust on a pound-for-pound basis.  Even allowing for the high cost of travel in the desert, this was good business.
The Sanhaja were a Berber tribal confederation.  Here's the Wikipedia article on the Senegal River, if you need a review.)
- 2:05 PM, 13 April 2015   [link]


The Mayor Of London Has Agreed To Pay his American tax bill.
Boris Johnson has finally agreed to pay a huge tax bill to the US government ahead of his visit to America, despite previously insisting he would not bow to the “absolutely outrageous" demand.

The London mayor, who was born in New York and holds a US as well as a British passport, has said he will pay the unsettled capital gains tax bill, thought to be in the region of £100,000.
. . .
The tax bill is believed to relate to the sale of a house in Islington, north London.

Mr Johnson and his barrister wife Marina Wheeler bought the Furlong Road house in 1999 for £470,000.  After the London property market boomed, they sold the house for £1.2million in 2009 – a £730,000 increase.

In the UK, individuals do not pay capital gains tax on the sale of their first home, so Mr Johnson would not have faced a bill.
The US can use the money, and Boris Johnson can afford to pay it, but this still strikes me as fundamentally unfair.

On the other hand, he did endorse Barack Obama in 2008, so I can't feel entirely sorry for him.

(The very colorful Johnson has a good chance of becoming British prime minister in the next ten years or so, which gives us a strong reason not to seek quarrels with him.

In general, as I understand it, most other nations do not try to tax income earned in other nations, in the same way the United States does.  I say that with some trepidation, because of the overwhelming complexity of tax laws, here and abroad.)
- 10:22 AM, 13 April 2015   [link]


Need A Chuckle This Morning?  Then you might like the Obama administration's reply to the Kissinger/Shultz op-ed.
Flustered, Harf attempted to avoid questions on the WSJ op-ed, but Associated Press reporter Matt Lee persisted.  “I read it and it’s far from nuanced.  It’s pretty damning,” Lee says.  “You just reject it outright?  They say this is a recipe for disaster basically, but you say, no, clearly, you wouldn’t be pursuing something you thought was a recipe for disaster.  Is that correct?”  Lee reads a few lines of the piece, and lobs them back to Harf.

“I obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region.  So that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon, that’s what this deal does,” Harf says.  Interrupting Lee, Harf raises her voice and continues, “And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives, I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece and those are certainly, there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.”
Although for most of us, it will be a grim chuckle, as we see the level of thought in the Obama administration.  What can be mildly amusing in a high school sophomore can be more than a little appalling in an official spokesman.

Even so, it is still funny, as well as appalling.

(Here's my post on the Kissinger/Shultz op-ed.)
- 9:44 AM, 13 April 2015   [link]


The Dying President:  Seventy years ago today, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away.

But he had been dying for a long time before then.  I knew that he was ailing, knew that he was in such bad condition that party leaders substituted Harry Truman for Henry Wallace on the ticket in 1944.  (Luckily for all of us.)

But I had not realized just how sick FDR was until I read this in the final volume of Rick Atkinson's trilogy.
Time magazine had catalogued the many rumors about the president's health: that he had been secretly rushed to Mayo Clinic, that three psychiatrists attended him when he traveled, that he was anemic.  The truth was worse.  Not for decades would it be revealed that his blood pressure had climbed from 128 over 82, in 1930, to 260 over 160, in December 1944.  In the past year he had shed nearly thirty pounds.  ("Can't eat," he had complained in December.  "Cannot taste food.")  An examination by a cardiologist disclosed "a bluish discoloration of his skin, lips, and nail beds," with labored breathing, "bouts of abdominal distress," and symptoms of an enlarged heart and fluid in the lungs—all leading to a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.  He had indeed been anemic, from chronic bleeding hemorrhoids exacerbated by his inability to stand or walk, and he had suffered symptoms of a mild heart attack in August while giving a speech in Washington state.  For various ailments, he was treated with phenobarbital and injections of codeine.  His personal physician ordered that as little as possible be revealed to Roosevelt, who took the prescribed green digitalis pills without asking what they were and made fitful efforts to halve his daily smoking and drinking to ten cigarettes and one and a half cocktails, as recommended.  "Lots of sleep & still need more," he would write his secretary later on Friday [2 February 1945].  Each day the White House press office leafed through official photographs in search of images to show the public that did not suggest a decrepit, dying man.  That task had become almost impossible. (p. 498)
Roosevelt was then on his away to the Yalta Conference.

After that list of medical problems, Atkinson assures us that Roosevelt's "inner man remained steadfast".  But I can't help thinking that Roosevelt's illnesses kept him from being at his best at the conference.
- 5:23 PM, 12 April 2015   [link]


It's Easter Today:  Orthodox Easter, that is.  Somewhere between 200 and 300 million people, most of them in Eastern Europe, celebrated it today.

But if your news sources are like mine, you didn't hear a word about it.  And that's unfortunate, because — whatever your religious beliefs (or lack of them) may be — this is an important event.

And it isn't hard to find interesting pictures of the celebration, even pictures of fireworks.

(If I were advising President Obama, I would have suggested that he send Easter messages to both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  It is unlikely such a gesture would make a big difference in our relations with Russia, but it wouldn't hurt, and might do a little good, especially with the Russian people.)
- 4:36 PM, 12 April 2015   [link]


North Korea Has Another Precocious Leader:  According to an official textbook, anyway.
Kim Jong-un learned to drive when he was just three years old and won a yacht race at the tender age of nine.

At least that's according to a new school textbook that takes the meaning of the phrase 're-writing history' to a whole new level.

The bizarre claims are being taught to pupils across North Korea as a way of indoctrinating future generations into glorifying their dictator in much the same way that his father, the late Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, were blindly heralded in days gone by.
So far, though, Kim has a long way to go before he catches up with his father, especially in golf.
- 2:43 PM, 11 April 2015   [link]


Worth Buying:  This weekend's Wall Street Journal.  There's a lot in it, so I will just mention two pieces, one that shows we aren't as smart as we may have thought we were, and one that shows the opposite.

First, how puppies (and other adorable baby mammals) fool us.
Things were great at home.  Everyone was getting enough sleep, cleaning all the laundry and dishes, and keeping up with homework.  So it seemed like the obvious time to upend it all by getting a puppy.

Upend it the puppy did.  At 2 a.m., with objects soiled or chewed up dotting the house, chaos reigned.  I was about to lose it, and then the puppy did something unbearably cute.   Misery evaporated, because the puppy was so adorable that I was going to eat him up, starting with his tiny wittle paws.  This, of course, prompted the question: “Why is caregiving behavior being elicited from me by the infantile features of another species?”
. . .
It turns out that our brains aren’t great at differentiating between our own cute babies and those of animals.   Stephen Hamann of Emory University has shown that viewing baby animals activates the same neural reward circuitry as looking at human babies.
This won't greatly surprise people who have watched other people with pets.

The second can be summarized in this maxim:  If it tastes good, eat it.
But perhaps the most striking proof of such nutritional wisdom comes from a 1939 study in which a group of toddlers were put in charge of feeding themselves.  They were offered 34 nutritionally diverse whole foods, including water, potatoes, beef, bone jelly, carrots, chicken, grains, bananas and milk.  What each child ate, and how much, was entirely up to him or her.

The results were astonishing.  Instead of binging on the sweetest foods, the toddlers were drawn to the foods that best nourished them.  They ate more protein during growth spurts and more carbs and fat during periods of peak activity.  After an outbreak of mononucleosis, curiously, they consumed more raw beef, carrots and beets.  One child with a severe vitamin D deficiency even drank cod liver oil of his own volition until he was cured.  By the end of the experiment, one doctor was so impressed with the toddlers’ health that he described them as “the finest group of specimens” he’d ever seen in their age group.
Almost all of us know this to be true with simple foods, water and salt, for instance.  We are likely to crave both after we have been exercising (and sweating) heavily.  But apparently our systems are fine tuned to make us crave many other kinds of nutrients — if we happen to be short on them at the time.

Here's an example that Mark Schatzker doesn't mention in the article:  After a long trip, the sailors on the USS Nautilus were hungry for, of all things, cottage cheese.   The Navy's nutritionists figured out later that the diet on the submarine had been lacking an important nutrient found in cottage cheese, calcium, if I remember correctly.)

There's much more in the article, enough so that I may buy Schatzker's book, The Dorito Effect, when it comes out.

(You'll have to use Bing or Google to get to the first; for the second, I have set up the search for you.)
- 2:16 PM, 11 April 2015   [link]


The Modern "Three Monkeys" were illustrated in Thursday's New Yorker cartoon.  (Which you can find with a search, though not necessarily in a place that respects copyrights.)

Going from left to right, the first monkey is shown with two micophones, the second with binoculars and a video camera, and the third with a laptop.  Underneath the three are the following captions: "Hear all evil", "See all evil", and "Post all evil."

The third monkey doesn't look a bit like me, in my opinion.

(When I finally got around to looking up the original "thre wise monkeys", I was surprised to learn that the Japanese don't necessarily interpret them as those in the West do.)
- 12:45 PM, 10 April 2015   [link]


Hillary Clinton had Her Own Private CIA?!  That's what investigative reporters (with some help from a Romanian hacker) are saying.

Given his dislike of the Clintons, it's no surprise that Dick Morris picked up on this fascinating story.  Here's how he begins his column.
Revelations from emails purloined by a Romanian hacker show that Hillary Clinton was being secretly advised about Libya -- before and after the Benghazi terrorist attack -- by an off-the-shelf private spook group associated with controversial former Clinton confidante Sydney Blumenthal that claimed to be helping the Libyan opposition and considered placing ground operatives near the border.
If you want to know more about this unusual operation, take a look at Scott Johnson's summary, which has lots of links.

I'd say this lends support to the theory that her private email server was intended to keep her emails secret from the Obama White House, not from our foreign enemies.

(Almost anyone who thinks about this for even a minute will wonder whether those Libyan contacts were conning Blumenthal.)
- 9:35 PM, 10 April 2015   [link]


Lee Kuan Yew's Failure:  The passing of the long-time Singapore prime minister inspired many "tribute" articles, telling of his successes.  The articles typically praised his brilliant leadership, especially his economic policies, while noting that he could be hard on opposition.

I don't quarrel with any of that, but I do want to call attention to one of his failures, a failure that he was conscious of, and tried to do something about, later in his life.

The replacement fertility rate is about 2.1.  On the average, women need to have just a little over 2 children to keep the population constant.  (The fractional extra makes up for factors like accidents, and the slightly greater number of boys born than girls.)

Demographers sometimes talk about a fertility rate that allows for graceful declines, a fertility rate that prevents immediate collapse, say, around 1.8.  Much below that, and a society is headed for serious problems with a large aging population, and two few young people to support them.

Wikipedia has three lists of fertility rates by country, from the United Nations, the World Bank, and the CIA World Factbook.  The three fertility rates for Singapore are, respectively, 1.28, 1.3, and 0.8.

In the near term, even in the medium term, those rates are unlikely to cause serious problems for Singapore.  Many people want to live in a city as prosperous and orderly as Singapore.  But, in the long term, they will, as the population is replaced by a different one, one that may not have the same values as most who live there now do.  (About a quarter of the population are already immigrants.)

Yew was unable to persuade his people to marry and bear enough children, even after he changed policies.
In the late 1960s, fearing that Singapore's growing population might overburden the developing economy, Lee started a vigorous "Stop at Two" family planning campaign.   Couples were urged to undergo sterilisation after their second child.  Third or fourth children were given lower priorities in education and such families received fewer economic rebates.[50]

In 1983, Lee sparked the "Great Marriage Debate" when he encouraged Singapore men to choose highly educated women as wives.[51]  He was concerned that a large number of graduate women were unmarried.[52]  Some sections of the population, including graduate women, were upset by his views.[52]  Nevertheless, a match-making agency, the Social Development Unit (SDU),[53] was set up to promote socialising among men and women graduates.[50]  In the Graduate Mothers Scheme, Lee also introduced incentives such as tax rebates, schooling, and housing priorities for graduate mothers who had three or four children, in a reversal of the over-successful "Stop at Two" family planning campaign in the 1960s and 1970s.  By the late 1990s, the birth rate had fallen so low that Lee's successor Goh Chok Tong extended these incentives to all married women, and gave even more incentives, such as the "baby bonus" scheme.[50]
I mention Yew's failure not to attack him, but to show the difficulty of the problem.  That a man as brilliant and realistic as Yew was unable to discover an answer to this problem of low fertility shows how difficult it is.

(I am not a demographer, but on general grounds I am inclined to trust the CIA numbers more than the numbers from the UN or the World Bank.)
- 6:28 PM, 9 April 2015   [link]


Two Democrats — Two Massachusetts Democrats — Agree With Me that Nancy Pelosi should go.
A Massachusetts Democrat is suggesting it's time for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to step aside.

Rep. Stephen Lynch said he doesn't think Pelosi has the ability to return Democrats to the majority in the House.

When asked by a Boston TV host on Tuesday night if Pelosi should go, Lynch said, "Nancy Pelosi will not lead us back into the majority."

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who was also in the interview, argued that the 2014 midterm losses, which plunged Democrats even deeper into the minority, indicate that change is necessary.
(We may disagree on why Pelosi should go.)

The timing is odd.  One would have expected a call for new leadership to come right after the 2014 election, for reasons I explained in January.

I found nothing in a quick look at their biographies at Wikipedia and the Almanac of American Politics to explain why these two had spoken out.  Lynch is, for a Massachusetts Democrat, relatively conservative, which is not conservative at all; Capuano has been a Pelosi loyalist.

Perhaps the two have some other disagreement with her, or, just possibly, they have heard that she is planning to stay on after the 2016 election, when they had been hoping (expecting?) that she would retire.  (She's well past normal retirement age.)
- 1:02 PM, 9 April 2015   [link]


SJW = "Social Justice Warrior"  Don't know who came up with the abbreviation, but I now see it often on conservative sites, as a pejorative.

I probably won't be using "SJW", but thought you should know about it.

(Just to show you how out of date I am, when I first saw it I decoded it as "single Jewish woman", which you used to see in personal ads.  (And may still, for all I know.)

SJW has made it to Wikipedia, though it doesn't have an entry of its own, yet.  They list seven other ways to decode those three initials, and I am sure there are many, many more.)
- 10:31 AM, 9 April 2015   [link]


On A Much Lighter Note, there's now another reason to visit Tokyo.
Godzilla has stomped so many buildings in Japan that the irradiated monster was appointed special resident and tourism ambassador for Tokyo's Shinjuku ward.

A Godzilla-size head towering 52-meters (171 feet) above ground level was unveiled Thursday at an office of Toho, the Japanese studio behind the 1954 original.  Toho is shooting a comeback film this year after a decade-long hiatus.
Given his size, you probably shouldn't hope for an autograph from the movie star, if you do visit.  But you might be able to have a friendly chat.
- 8:07 AM, 9 April 2015   [link]


Venezuela, Obama, And The Bureaucracy:  Last month, the Obama administration declared Venezuela a "national security threat".
The United States declared Venezuela a national security threat on Monday and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich country in the worst bilateral diplomatic dispute since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed and issued the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target Venezuela's energy sector or broader economy.   But the move stokes tensions between Washington and Caracas just as U.S. relations with Cuba, a longtime U.S. foe in Latin America and key ally to Venezuela, are set to be normalized.
Naturally, the Maduro regime has used this executive order to try to rally Venezuelans.   (And distract them from their economic problems.)
When President Obama declared Venezuela a "national security threat" and smacked the country with sanctions last month, an overheated response from the South American nation's highly combustible government was inevitable.

And so, President Nicolas Maduro is drumming up a petition, to be signed by Venezuelans opposed to the measure, to hand Obama in person at the Summit of the Americas in Panama April 10-11.

That all sounds fair enough, until you realize Maduro has set himself the improbable target of getting 10 million signatures — equivalent to one in three Venezuelans, including kids — in less than a month.

Even for a spectacularly popular leader, that would have been a tall order.  But for Maduro, with an approval rating of just 22% and his country is staring into an economic abyss, it could be impossible.
Now the White House is "backing off",
A White House official said Tuesday that Venezuela was not a threat to the national security of the United States, backing off language in an executive order that had inflamed relations with the South American nation and drawn criticism from other countries in the region.

The comments came as President Obama prepared to leave for a trip to the Caribbean and Latin America that will include a meeting of heads of state from the hemisphere.

“The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, during a telephone call with reporters to discuss the president’s trip.
So what's going on here?

Here's my speculative — let me emphasize speculative — answer:  The Maduro regime is filled with corrupt officials.  Sometimes, especially if they are involved in drug running, their corruption spills over into the United States.  And sometimes we catch them.

The regime has, for years, provided assistance to enemies of the United States, including terrorist organizations and states that support terrorism, including Cuba and Iran.

So we have had reasons to quarrel with Maduro, and his predecessor, for years.

But that doesn't explain why Obama signed that executive order in March, and now is retreating from it, just a month later.  The facts haven't changed; either Venezuela is a national security threat, or it isn't.  If it is, either we should say so, officially, or we shouldn't.

What I think happened was this:  One or more of our bureaucracies got ticked off by the crime, repression, corruption, and support for terrorism coming from Venezuela, and drew up the executive order, which Obama signed, without thinking about it much.  Or even consulting John Kerry.

That executive order was an American policy, but it wasn't an Obama policy, except in the most formal sense.

In fact, I would go further and say that Obama doesn't have a policy toward Venezuela, or Latin America, generally — which helps explain his many failures in that region.

(For the record:  I think that Venezuela is a national security threat — but that it is foolish to say so openly, because it gives Maduro an opportunity to rally Venezuelans behind his floundering government.

If I am right in my speculation, this is another example of one of our bureaucracies taking the lead on policy.)
- 7:26 AM, 9 April 2015   [link]