Archive:

April 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Who Loses From Riots?  Mostly, as I said at the end of this post, the people who live where the riots happened.

In this rather muddled post, Megan McArdle agrees with me, and provides some examples from a Washington, D. C. riot.
But regardless of justification, rioting is incredibly destructive, mostly in the neighborhoods where the rioters live.  In my own city, Washington, D.C., the major retail corridors that were destroyed in the 1968 riots have only really begun to recover in the last five years (and one of them still hasn't).  Who suffered because of that?  The store owners, obviously, and their insurers.  But the people who suffered most grievously were the mostly black people who lived in those neighborhoods.  The commercial craters left by the riots attracted crime, raised unemployment and left the residents of the neighborhood nowhere to buy the necessities of life.  People who had just started to get a toehold in homeownership saw the value of their homes depressed for decades.
It has been 47 years since those riots, and those Washington neighborhoods have still not completely recovered.

But — and this is something she doesn't mention — the riots increased the power of "leaders" like Al Sharpton.

(Why muddled?  I could give a number of examples, but will settle for just one.   McArdle, perhaps because she is trying to appeal to leftists, criticizes the law-and-order reactions to the riots.  In fact, one of the worst things about being poor, especially if you live in a poor neighborhood, is that you are far more likely to be a crime victim.  The reductions in crime brought by, for instance, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, did far more for the poor than official anti-poverty programs.)
- 8:28 AM, 30 April 2015   [link]


Speaking of Traffic Problems, here's one caused by a too successful fast-food restaurant.
The city of Bellevue has had to change its traffic plans one week after a Chick-fil-A opened, garnering overwhelming attention.

The city now has the right-most lane of eastbound Northeast 8th Street dedicated to Chick-fil-A customers trying to turn into the lot.
In the first weeks, the restaurant also paid for two traffic officers to help direct traffic.

I had been planning to try out their food, since this outlet is just a few miles away, but have decided to wait a little while, until the traffic calms down.

(A little background:   Bellevue is Seattle's largest suburb, and an important city in its own right.  This intersection is right at Bellevue's traffic center.

The company has opened another store in Tacoma, south of Seattle, and will be opening a third in Lynnwood, north of Seattle, next week.  So Chick-fil-A will soon have the city surrounded.)
- 7:48 AM, 30 April 2015   [link]


Seattle Officials Are Preparing for the annual May Day riots.
As the May Day marches descend upon the city, business owners and local leaders aren't taking any chances.  Police expect to be challenged on multiple fronts, knowing that passions have re-ignited with the crisis in Baltimore.
But not to the extent of promising serious fines, or even jail time, for those who disrupt traffic and vandalize property.

Would Seattle officials be this soft if the perpetrators were, for example, drunken frat boys?  Probably not.
- 6:01 AM, 30 April 2015   [link]


Betting Odds For The British Election:  You can find a whole collection at this site, but, if you are like me, you may want to read this explanation, first, in order to understand those odds.
Indeed, bookmakers reckon a minority government of the current main opposition Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband, is the most likely outcome.

Betting chain William Hill now have a hung parliament at odds of 1/8, meaning they reckon there's an eight in nine chance that it will happen.
(A "hung parliament" is one in which no party has a majority.  The term is almost always used in nations with strong two-party systems, where you expect one of the two parties to have a majority.)

As of this evening, Ed Miliband is a slight favorite to be the next prime minister, with most bookies giving him seven chances in eleven (4/7), or six chances in ten (4/6).

(I'm not sure what the legalities are for Americans betting, from the United States, on British elections.  I know for sure we can't bet in Britain, from here, on American elections.  When I accessed one of the betting sites some years ago, just to see the odds on an American election, I was politely told not to even try to place a bet.)
- 5:41 PM, 29 April 2015   [link]


Labour Leader Ed Miliband Is Promising to "toughen" the laws against "Islamophobia".
Labour leader Ed Miliband has said his party will make Islamophobia an aggravated crime, toughing existing hate crime legislation.

Mr Miliband also said that his party intended to ensure that instances of Islamophobia were marked on peoples’ records, in an interview with The Muslim News.

Although Islamophobia already falls under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, whereby it is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, Mr Miliband’s proposal would allow authorities to hand down tougher sentences for similar crimes.
As of now, Miliband is probably a small favorite to become the British prime minister after their general election, eight days from today, so his promises should be taken seriously.

Douglas Murray is volunteering to be a test case.

In coming to that conclusion, Murray made three points, beginning with this one:
If Ed Miliband does become Prime Minister and chooses to make ‘Islamophobia’ illegal would he mind letting us know what he thinks ‘Islamophobia’ is?  After all a ‘phobia’ is an irrational fear.  The Charlie Hebdo staff were often called ‘Islamophobes’ before (and after) two Islamists went into their magazine’s office and shot most of them in the head.  If there is such a thing as ‘Islamophobia’ and it is indeed an ‘irrational’ fear, would Ed mind telling us whether it was ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ of the Charlie Hebdo staff to be fearful of elements of Islam?  An answer before 7 May would be helpful.
If that Independent article is correct — and it may be — you can already receive a prison sentence of seven years for saying mean things about Islam (and other religions), so a tougher sentence would be tough indeed.  Probably, Miliband was talking about minor instances of "Islamophobia".  Probably.

This is one of those times when you really wish that a political leader, Miliband in this case, had illustrated what he means with a few examples.  Would he include burning the Koran, for instance?  Referring to the founder of Islam as a pedophile?

(Here's the interview.   Here's the Wikipedia article on the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, here's their biography of Ed Miliband, and here's their biography of Douglas Murray.   From the second, I learned that the 2006 act was a a Labour measure, and had an interesting legislative history; from the fourth, I learned that a British council can be forced to pay thousands of pounds, if a member tells an "Irish joke".  For Americans, I perhaps should add that, in Britain, Irish jokes are almost identical to our Polish jokes.

Much stronger than usual caveats apply to the interview; the usual caveats apply to the three Wikipedia articles.)
- 2:47 PM, 29 April 2015   [link]


President Obama (With Some Help From Nancy Pelosi And Harry Reid) Has Wiped Out the Democratic bench.
In 2008, Barack Obama swept into office bringing with him 60 senators, 32 governors and 257 House members.  By 2014, six years of activist governing by the Messiah had brought those numbers down to 44, 18, and 188, respectively.  Hardest hit were the centrists, the young and the purple state governors who stood the best chance of reaching a national audience.

The remainders are the old (Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Joe Biden), the Left (Elizabeth Warren) and the undistinguished (many of those left in the Senate and in the state houses), most of whom have no national profile and no resumes saying 'commander-in-chief.'
Politically successful presidents attract new talent to their parties, as Eisenhower did for the Republicans in the 1950s and Kennedy for the Democrats in the 1960s.

Obama has done the opposite, and even Republican partisans should regret that.  Democrats will be in power in many places, and will even win the presidency from time to time.  We need them to be competent.

(Noemie Emery thinks there is a good chance Hillary Clinton may win the Democratic nomination, but be too crippled to effectively compete in the general election.  It's early, but I think that is a plausible speculation, mostly because there are so few alternatives in the Democratic Party.)
- 9:02 AM, 29 April 2015   [link]


Obama Administration Policy On Immigration has been consistent.
Since Obama first took office in 2009, the number of immigrants arrested and deported from the interior of the country has steadily declined.  That year, nearly two thirds of the 389,834 immigrants removed were found in the interior of the country.  By 2014, roughly a third of the 315,943 people removed were living in the country, according to internal ICE figures.

As deportations have slowed in recent years, Homeland Security officials have repeatedly attributed the drop to the changing demographic of border crossers.  A 2014 analysis of government data by the AP found that the Obama administration had quietly slowed removals by about 20 percent.
. . .
Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Johnson's explanation of moving resources to the border "a red herring."

"It's clear to me that the department no longer seems to have a will to enforce immigration laws," Grassley said.
Although the stories Obama has told us about his policies have changed, from time to time.

(For a few years, the Obama administration was claiming they had increased deportations — but what they had actually done was changed definitions.)
- 8:32 AM, 29 April 2015   [link]


If You Want To Understand The Baltimore Riot, you can watch a lot of TV, or even read long newspaper accounts, but I think you will be ahead if instead you spend your time reading one chapter of a book first published in 1970, and then published in a revised version in 1974.

The book is Edward Banfield's The Unheavenly City, and the chapter is the provocatively titled "Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit".  (The revised version is titled The Unheavenly City Revisited.)

You need not buy the book, though Amazon would be happy to sell you one; before his death, Banfield arranged to have almost all his works available, free, to the public.  You can find them here.  The scan of The Unheavenly City Revisited is crude, but readable.

Despite the provocative chapter title, Banfield's treatment of riots is anything but tabloid.  He describes four "simple types" of riots: rampages, forays for pillage, outbursts of righteous indignation, and demonstrations.  The first (rioting for fun) can happen anywhere there are large groups of young men.  The second (rioting for profit) can happen any time law and order break down.  The third and fourth are less important, but tend to get far more coverage.

There's much more in the chapter, including some history that I think will surprise you.

After the book was written, the great urban riots mostly stopped, for two reasons, in my opinion:  The experience of one great riot seemed to inoculate a city against another similar riot.  As people in the riot areas saw the damage that had been done to their own areas, they resolved not to join in another riot.

And the police learned more effective techniques for stopping riots.  They learned, for instance, that you should try to stop a riot as soon as possible, by flooding the riot area with policemen and, if necessary, the National Guard.

Although the riots mostly stopped, the damage from them has not been completely repaired.  Detroit, for example, never recovered from the 1967 riot.
- 7:44 AM, 28 April 2015   [link]


For A Charitable Foundation, The Clinton Foundation Hasn't Been Very Charitable:  Except to insiders.
But a closer look at the numbers shows a mere 13% of program expenses — and just 10% of total spending — went for grants and aid.  And despite its global pretensions, most of the aid stayed in the U.S.  The rest went to salaries, conferences, travel and other overhead costs.

In fact, the Clinton Foundation was more generous to conference organizers than the poor.   The IRS filing shows it spent $9 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, compared to $8.9 million in aid.

Compare profligate the Clinton Foundation profligacy to spending by other large, globally focused charities.  Doctors Without Borders devoted 90% of program expenses to grants and aid in 2013, almost all directed outside the U.S.  Ditto World Vision, which while spending $729 million on grants in 2013 somehow managed to get by on $593,000 on conferences and meetings.
Those suspicious editors at Investors Business Daily wonder why those foreign donors were sending the Clintons money, since it wasn't, obviously, to help the poor.

Conferences aren't always untaxed, unregulated benefits for insiders — but they often are.

(Yes, there is an obvious mistake in that third paragraph; it looks as if the editors forgot to remove that "profligate" while they were revising the sentence.  I've made exactly the same kind of mistake, from time to time.)
- 5:47 AM, 28 April 2015   [link]


Someone Tried To Ransom Warren Weinstein:  But the attempt failed, in the worst possible way.
The captors of U.S. aid worker Warren Weinstein received $250,000 in exchange for a promise to free him two-and-a-half years before he died in January in a U.S. drone strike, magnifying questions about the incident and Washington’s approach to hostages held abroad.

The failed 2012 attempt to ransom Mr. Weinstein, who was kidnapped in 2011 from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, was reported by a Pakistani intermediary who negotiated directly with al Qaeda for his release.
. . .
“The money was delivered, but he [Weinstein] didn’t show up,” the intermediary said.

After the money was handed over, a different man representing the kidnappers began calling the intermediary, posing different terms for Mr. Weinstein’s release:  He said he was told the kidnappers were prepared to release Mr. Weinstein as part of a prisoner exchange.

“They said [Weinstein] was a political prisoner,” the intermediary said.
Someone — probably the terrorists — got the money, but there was no release.

(It would be interesting to know whether a similar trick was played on Italian authorities, with the other prisoner killed in the drone strike, Giovanni Lo Porto .  In the past, some European governments have been willing to pay ransoms to terrorists, and have gotten prisoners released — but the amounts paid, if the accounts I've seen are correct, were much larger.)

The sad fact is that paying ransom encourages future kidnappings, and may even give the kidnappers the resources they need to commit more crimes.  There was a spectacular example of that encouragement during the Iran-Contra affair.   After arms were traded for hostages, Iranian allies simply seized more American hostages.   We should have learned something from that bitter experience, and some of us did.

(In the odd future society described in Jack Vance's Demon Princes series, there is an organization, Interchange, set up outside the civilized worlds to facilitate ransom payments.  A kidnapper deposits his victim with Interchange, and sets a price for the victim's release.  When the money is paid, the victim is released.  (For more on how it operated, you'll need to read the second book in the series, The Killing Machine.)   Naturally, the existence pf Interchange encourages kidnapping on a grand scale.

There are probably historical parallels to Interchange, but I can't think of one, offhand.)
- 6:22 PM, 27 April 2015   [link]


To Make Up (A LIttle) For That Last Post, here's a summary of the current polling results in Great Britain.

As far as popular support goes, the Conservatives and Labour are currently tied, with 34 percent each.  In third place is UKIP, with 14 percent, in fourth place are the Liberal Democrats, with 8 percent, and in fifth place is the Scottish National Party, with 5 percent.

However, it would be a serious error to think that that UKIP, the Liberal-Democrats, and the SNP will finish in that order in seats in the House of Commons.  In fact, the order is likely to be just the opposite, with the SNP finishing ahead of the other two minor parties — because their votes are concentrated in Scotland.

Which might allow the SNP to decide who becomes the next Prime Minister.
- 2:07 PM, 27 April 2015   [link]


Nicola Sturgeon, Doll Scalper, Dominatrix, And Dangerous Date?  When I heard that she had become the new leader of the Scottish National Party, I assumed that she was a boring apparatchik.

But, if any of these three stories are true, she is more interesting than I would have guessed.

Her sister has accused her of being a doll scalper.
According to her sister, Gillian Owens, the politician was prone to hacking the hair of from dolls as a child.

'She once cut the hair off my Sindy doll, just for fun,' Gillian Owens, a part-time actress, said.

Rebutting the claims, the politician told the BBC: 'I deny the allegations levelled at me by my sister.

'I'm sure I didn't cut the hair off her Barbie doll.

'But if I did it - and it's an "if" - then there would have been provocation involved, I'm sure of it.'

Later posting on Twitter, she added: 'For the record I think my sister is misremembering.  I'm sure it was a Sindy doll. #dollgate.'
(Here are pictures of Sindy dolls, if you are curious.)

But that "scandal" isn't nearly as interesting as this painting, which Sturgeon is said to have in her home.

Bicola Sturgeon's dominatricx painting?

Here's the article where I found that painting.

Finally, there is a bit of gossip not suitable for sprogs, here.

I know.  I should be doing a serious piece on the British election, but these three stories were just too amusing not to share.
- 1:28 PM, 27 April 2015   [link]


Unintentionally Funny:  This Washington Post editorial, "Yet again, the Clintons skate close to the line on ethics".

I think most of us know that the Clintons crashed through the ethical ice, long, long ago.

Here's the concluding paragraph, for those who don't want to read the whole thing.
The murky Clinton milieu of donations here and speaking engagements there, a mixture of power, influence and money, of interests commingled and borders blurred is the heavy baggage that comes with Ms. Clinton’s presidential candidacy.  There may not be illegality, but there are legitimate doubts about her judgment.  The Clintons have long been haunted by criticism of their ethical behavior and appear to think these latest reports can be brushed off as just another storm of partisanship.  “Innuendo,” they say. “Utterly baseless.”   Such responses do not reflect a proper sensitivity to propriety — which is the problem.
Unintentionally funny, but a little sad, too.  The Post, unlike the New York Times, usually has serious editorials.

But this isn't one of them.
- 8:30 AM, 27 April 2015   [link]


President Obama's Crude Performance At The White House Correspondent's Dinner:  John Hinderaker has some examples, if you haven't heard them already.

Whenever Obama does something like this, I am reminded of those lines from "Hound Dog":
Well, they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
And he hasn't caught any rabbits, either.

The reaction of the correspondents, who laughed and applauded, shows us something about the values and tastes of the men and women we rely on to bring us the news.

(Obligatory note:  Although Elvis Presley's version sold the most copies — about 10 million — "Hound Dog" makes the most sense when sung by a woman, as it was, originally.)
- 7:12 AM, 27 April 2015   [link]


What Caused The Deadly Earthquake In Nepal?  As usual, plate tectonics.
More than 25 million years ago, India, once a separate island on a quickly sliding piece of the Earth’s crust, crashed into Asia.  The two land masses are still colliding, pushed together at a speed of 1.5 to 2 inches a year.  The forces have pushed up the highest mountains in the world, in the Himalayas, and have set off devastating earthquakes.

Experts had warned of the danger to the people of Katmandu for decades. The death toll in Nepal on Saturday was practically inevitable given the tectonics, the local geology that made the shaking worse and the lax construction of buildings that could not withstand the shaking.
The process isn't hard to model.  Find a little sand (or dirt, if you don't mind getting your hands dirty), and push at it from one side.  Your hand is the India plate.  The sand (or dirt) will pile up as you push, and then fail, as the pile gets too high, and the stress too large.  You'll see a little landslide and, if you had really sensitive instruments, you'd be able to detect a teeny, tiny earthquake.

But, despite those earthquakes, and the landslides, the Himalayas keep growing; one common estimate is that Mt. Everest is growing about 0.16 inches a year.  That may not seem like much, but in geological time, it can add up.  The top of Everest is made up of "Ordovician limestone inter layered with subordinate beds of recrystallized dolomite with argillaceous laminae and siltstone", rocks that were formed at the bottom of an ocean, roughly 450 million years ago.

In general, rich, well-governed nations have much less damage, and far fewer deaths, from earthquakes.  We know how to build earthquake -resistant buildings, and we know where they are likely to be needed.  But those buildings do cost more, too much more for many of the poorer countries, especially the poorer countries with problems of corruption.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on plate tectonics, if you want a review.

It occurs to me that it would be an interesting challenge for engineers to design some inexpensive earthquake-resistant buildings.)
- 6:30 PM, 26 April 2015   [link]