Archive:

August 2010, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Wilderness Good, Cities Bad For Clear Thinking?  Here's the finding that inspired a group of neuroscientists to take a wilderness trip.
The men drink Tecate beer and talk about the brain.  They are thinking about a seminal study from the University of Michigan that showed people can better learn after walking in the woods than after walking a busy street.

The study indicates that learning centers in the brain become taxed when asked to process information, even during the relatively passive experience of taking in an urban setting.  By extension, some scientists believe heavy multitasking fatigues the brain, draining it of the ability to focus.
The finding seems plausible to me, both on general grounds and from my own experiences hiking and backpacking.

The trip left some of the skeptics about that finding a little less skeptical.

(One puzzle:  If multitasking messes up our thinking, why do so many of us (including me, at times) find it so attractive?)
- 4:36 PM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied?  Sure looks that way.
After almost six years of investigation, the Justice Department has decided not to bring corruption charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over his involvement with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other ethics issues, DeLay and his attorneys said Monday.

"I always knew this day would come.  My only hope was that it would come much sooner than the six years we've been doing this," DeLay said Monday during a conference call with reporters.  "While I will never understand why it took so long for the Justice Department to conclude that I was innocent, I am nevertheless pleased that they have made their determination."
. . .
DeLay said he cooperated fully with the Justice Department inquiry by providing more than 1,000 of pages of documents and e-mails to investigators, but prosecutors never talked to him.  "The case was so weak that I was never interviewed by the investigators, nor was I asked to appear before the grand jury," DeLay said.
In six years, you would think they would have talked to him if they had any strong evidence that he had broken any laws.

DeLay makes another telling point:
In Monday's call with reporters, DeLay said he has recognized since the mid-1990s that his role in the conservative movement made him a target for liberal political operatives, so he had lawyers carefully vet all of his activities.

"The thing that bothers me the most, frankly, is not that people think I'm corrupt.  It's that they think I'm stupid," DeLay said.  "I wouldn't even go to the restroom without a lawyer saying that I could.  . . .  For 15 years, I have lived by lawyers."
All that legal advice must not have been cheap.

DeLay has tough image, partly deserved, but he also has a soft side that almost everyone would admire, if they knew about it.
- 3:53 PM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Required Reading:  Recently, I finished Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.  I found it difficult to read, not because it is poorly written, or because his arguments are hard to follow, but because the implications of his arguments are so unpleasant.

Here are his concluding paragraphs:
Europe's basic problem with Islam, and with immigration more generally, is that the strongest communities in Europe are, culturally speaking, not European communities at all.  This problem exists in all European countries, despite a broad variety of measures taken to solve it — multiculturalism in Holland, laicité in France, benign neglect in Britain, constitutional punctiliousness in Germany.   Clearly Europe's problem is with Islam and with immigration, and not with specific misapplications of specific means set up to manage them.  Islam is a magnificent religion that has also been, at times over the centuries, a glorious and generous culture.   But, all cant to the contrary, it is in no sense Europe's religion and Europe's culture.

It is certain that Europe will emerge changed from its confrontation with Islam.  It is far less certain that Islam will prove assimilable.  Europe finds itself in a contest with Islam for the allegiance of its newcomers.  For now, Islam is the stronger party in that contest, in an obvious demographic way and in a less obvious philosophical way.  In such circumstances, words like "minority" and "majority" mean little.  When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.
He does not think that we in the United States face as severe a challenge, because our Muslim population is so much smaller, proportionately, and because we have a long history of successful assimilation.

Most likely, you won't find this book pleasant reading, but it is almost essential reading — if you want to understand the ongoing conflict between Islam and the West.

(Ross Douthat is a bit more optimistic than Caldwell.  Fouad Ajami, an immigrant from Lebanon, gives the book a positive review.  You can find more reader reviews (and buy the book) here.

Caldwell has been working on this subject for years, and published articles as he went along.  A quick search of the New York Times site found three, here, here, and here, if you want to sample his thinking before buying his book.

I'll have more to say about the book, though I may not do a formal review.  I'm thinking instead of writing four or five posts on key points.)
- 1:06 PM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Is A College Degree A Joke?  Many of them are, says Charles Murray.
Let me take up two collateral points that are too little discussed.  First, the assumption that a college degree means that the student has learned much of anything, let alone how to deal with complexity and adapt to changing job requirements, is a joke.  I exempt those who major in math, engineering, and the hard sciences.  But otherwise, I think the stereotype of the hard-partying, class-skipping, unmotivated undergraduate applies far more widely than most people realize.
Murray's second point is that undergraduates are more likely to take college seriously if they have some experience with real world, serving in the military or working, before they go to college.

(At one time, most college students got that kind of experience from summer jobs, both before and after they started college.  Now, many of them get internships, instead.  Those may, or may not, provide them with real work experiences.)
- 8:42 AM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Common Sense From Governor Paterson:  He proposed a sensible compromise on the Ground-Zero mosque — and had it rejected.
One thing is certain: the mosque will now be a hot issue in the midterm elections and a litmus test for candidates across the country.  It would serve Obama right if he loses his House and Senate majorities over his support.

There was a better way.  It came from Gov. Paterson, whose offer to help the mosque developers find another location held the potential for a harmonious settlement.

But without even a serious conversation, they rejected the offer, reinforcing suspicion that provocation to the memory of 9/11 is part of the developers' plan.
(Emphasis added.)

Governor Paterson may be legally blind, but he can see some things that other politicians, including President Obama, miss.
- 8:01 AM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Nancy Pelosi Does A Favor:  For, not so coincidentally, a big Democratic donor.
Dallas' top Democratic donors will cut big checks to share dinner later this month with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Most will be motivated by a desire to protect the party's congressional majority.

Lisa Blue will have an extra reason: to say thanks for Pelosi's efforts when her husband, Fred Baron, was dying of bone marrow cancer. His only option was an experimental drug whose manufacturer refused to give permission to use it for Baron's condition.
. . .
Somehow — Blue still isn't sure how — Pelosi cajoled the FDA to find a legal justification that let Mayo administer the drug, even without Biogen's consent.
The experimental drug didn't do much for Baron — it might have extended his life a few days — but Pelosi's intervention made Blue very, very grateful.
Blue has no illusion that a typical family could pull such strings.

"There are so many cases like Fred's," she said. "One thing he taught me was politics matters. What a personal experience for me to understand how politics matters."

And no, she added, "It's not fair that other people can't pick up the phone and make the government give them a drug.  . . .  It was just such an awakening about how the drug companies have so much power."
Actually, as some of the commenters explain, it should be an awakening about the power of trial lawyers like Fred Baron and Lisa Blue.  And the power of regulators like the FDA.

(Baron didn't just contribute heavily to the Democratic party, he also helped candidate (and fellow trial lawyer) John Edwards with that little Rielle Hunter problem.)
- 7:24 AM, 16 August 2010   [link]


Will Meals In San Francisco No Longer Be Happy?   Maybe.
Toys that have been synonymous with kids' meals at fast-food restaurants could soon be banned in San Francisco under a new law proposed Tuesday if the food contains too much fat, sugar or salt.

Earlier this year, Santa Clara County became the first local government in the nation to adopt such a law, but it only applies to unincorporated areas and affects a handful of restaurants.

San Francisco's proposal could have a far greater impact. The restrictions would pertain to all restaurants but effectively would target the dozens of fast-food establishments in the city, among them McDonald's, Jack in the Box and Burger King.
Here are some of the meals they hope to ban.  I'm no nutritionist, but the meals don't look that bad to me — as long as the kid chooses the right extras.

Fortunately, San Francisco has so few other problems that the city can afford to spend time harassing fast food restaurants.

(Most of the commenters at the Seattle PI site share my opinion of this proposal.)
- 2:07 PM, 15 August 2010   [link]


Are Americans Getting Meaner?  Peggy Noonan says yes, and attributes the to the loss of old-fashioned manners, and to the growth of a service economy.  (She may not have spent a lot of time on a farm, or in a factory.)
At the same time we were shifting, in the past 30 years, to the more personal economy of service, we were witnessing and took part in a revolution in manners.  We tore them down as too fancy, or sexist, or ageist, or revealing of class biases.  Just when we needed more than ever the formality and agreed-upon rules of manners to act as guard rails, we threw them aside.  And now no one knows how to act anymore.

The result is that everyone is getting on everyone's nerves.  We're all snapping the bins shut on each other's heads.  Everyone wants to tell the boss to take this job and shove it.  Everyone wants to take a good, hard, last look at the customer and take the chute.
Harry Mount says Americans have extraordinary manners.
I have just touched down in America for a week, and am immediately reminded about the extraordinary manners of the Americans.  In the loos at Atlanta Airport, a man pulled at the door of an occupied stall, only to find it was locked.  "Excuse me, sir," he immediately said.

A middle-aged blonde lady, also in Atlanta Airport, bumped into a young man, and said with a laugh, "Oh, I'm sorry, I was drifting off there."

That's not to say that all Americans are staggeringly polite; but, even when they're rude, they take the edge off their rudeness with polite words, directly and clearly delivered.
(The headline on the post says that Americans are the "most polite" people in the world, but that isn't really what Mount says in the post.  I'm assuming that the headline came from an editor who didn't read the post carefully.)

Interestingly, Mount seems to have gotten most of his impressions from visits to New York — which is where Peggy Noonan lives.  New York has long been infamous for its rudeness.  (Probably unfairly, in recent years.)

Who's right?  I haven't visited a random section of the United States in the last decade, so I can't say what manners are like outside of the Pacific Northwest.  But I haven't seen much decline in this area, and what decline I have seen is attributable to greater urbanization.  (In my experience, politeness increases as you go from big cities to rural areas, and with distance from the Northeast.)

I can think of only one really unpleasant encounter with a service employee in the last ten years — when I last renewed my driver's license.  My experience yesterday at a local Borders was more typical.  I couldn't find the book I was looking for, R in a Nutshell, where I thought it should be, so I asked for some help.  The lady at the help desk checked the inventory on their computer, looked through the same section I had been searching, and then told me the book might not have made it onto the shelves yet.  She went back to their stockroom, and after a few minutes, returned with the book.

I won't say that kind of thing happens to me every day, but then I very seldom need that much help.
- 12:45 PM, 14 August 2010   [link]


Solidarity With The Gulf Coast:  But not too much solidarity.
President Barack Obama is to travel to Florida's Gulf Coast this weekend for a family trip intended to show solidarity with a region struggling in the wake of a massive oil spill.

Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters are to leave Washington Saturday for Panama City, a popular seaside tourist spot that saw its beaches fouled by tar balls from the oil spill.
. . .
He is scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, the White House said.
Somehow I get the feeling that he doesn't want to spend a lot of time down there.  Though Panama City does have many attractions, including golf courses.   Granted, most of its attractions would not appeal to those who go to Martha's Vineyard regularly, but the Obamas should be able to pretend to like them for more than a single day.
- 8:57 AM, 13 August 2010   [link]


Governor Gregoire Should Take A 25 Percent Cut In Benefits And Pay:   Since taking office in 2005, Christine Gregoire has presided over a state spending spree, acting like a teenager who has been given the family credit card.  Yesterday, that spending spree caught up with her — again — and so she is threatening across-the-board cuts.

Gregoire said she's told state agencies to prepare for cuts of 4 to 7 percent effective Oct. 1, but said she'll know firmer numbers after the state's updated revenue forecast in September.  Based on recent bleak tax collections that show less money going into the state's coffers, she's preparing for the worst.

Since Governor Gregoire is responsible, in large part, for this state's budget problems, she should accept that responsibility and cut her own compensation, voluntarily.  She should voluntarily make the sacrifice she is asking others to make.

Why 25 percent?  I wouldn't complain if she were to voluntarily reduce her pay to a symbolic dollar a year.  But I don't know enough about her personal finances to know whether her family could afford that.  But I am sure that they could cut back at least 25 percent.

Why put benefits first and pay second?  Because that's where it is most important for her to set an example.  Far too many elected officials, and public employees, are receiving benefits that we can not afford.  (For an egregious example, check out the retirement benefits that the California town of Bell will be paying.)

Gregoire is not the only elected official in Washington state who should take a voluntary pay cut, but as the highest official, she should go first.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:30 AM, 13 August 2010   [link]


Paul Krugman And Tim Egan Come Out In Favor Of Rude Behavior:  Both, in today's New York Times.

Here's Krugman:
I'm not saying to turn the other cheek and always say something polite as a general principle; by all means lash out at your critics, if you have something to gain by doing so.  Rudeness at the proper moment can serve a purpose — as I hope I've demonstrated over the years.
Tim Egan does his part, by defending Al Franken's rude behavior while presiding over the Senate.  (Franken doesn't agree with Egan and has apologized to Minority Leader McConnell for what he did.)  That Egan finds Franken's behavior amusing, even desirable, shows something about Egan — and about the newspaper he works for.

Does Krugman realize that his rude behavior is one of the reasons many don't trust him?  Would Egan laugh at the same behavior if it were directed at Franken?  No, and no.
- 11:09 AM, 12 August 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  This Washington Post story on OneUnitedBank, its president Kevin Cohee, and the help he received from Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman Barney Frank, after his bank got into financial trouble.  You should not be surprised to learn that all involved said they were trying to help the poor.
As chairman and chief executive of OneUnited Bank, Kevin L. Cohee has sought to build a company that is about more than just money.  He promoted the bank, now at the center of a House ethics case against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), as a uniquely responsible investor in impoverished minority communities and urged prospective clients to live modestly.
Or that Cohee did not follow his own advice.  (If you just want to read the juicy parts on his life style, you can find them in this Boston Herald article.)

(The Los Angeles Times has the same story, with less on Barney Frank's actions, and more on the bank's operations in the Los Angeles area.)
- 9:17 AM, 12 August 2010   [link]


Wind Energy Is Big Business In Europe:  Big enough to attract organized crime.
Organised groups linked to the Italian Mafia are among those to have infiltrated the industry, Jason Wright, senior director of Kroll's consulting group, told The Times.

While emphasising that the overwhelming majority of European wind projects were "entirely legitimate", he said that criminals were increasingly investing in the industry, both to qualify for subsidies and to launder profits from drug-running and other illegal activities.
We will probably be seeing similar stories in the United States soon, since our organized crime bosses are at least as enterprising as those in Europe.
- 8:43 AM, 12 August 2010   [link]


Bored With Ordinary Video Games?  Then you might want to try Foldit.
In a match that pitted video game players against the best known computer program designed for the task, the gamers outperformed the software in figuring out how 10 proteins fold into their three-dimensional configurations.

Proteins are essentially biological nano-machines that carry out myriad functions in the body, and biologists have long sought to understand how the long chains of amino acids that make up each protein fold into their specific configurations.

In May 2008, researchers at the University of Washington made a protein-folding video game called Foldit freely available via the Internet. The game, which was competitive and offered the puzzle-solving qualities of a game like Rubik's Cube, quickly attracted a dedicated following of thousands of players.
Who sometimes beat the software, often had fun, and always contributed to science.

Here's the Wikipedia article, and here's the official site.
- 7:23 PM, 11 August 2010   [link]


What Are George And Laura Bush Doing These Days?  Among other things, this.

With, as far as I can tell, no publicity at all.
- 6:11 PM, 11 August 2010   [link]


The NYT Criticizes The Michelle Obama Vacation:  Indirectly.  The newspaper praises an obscure Montana senator for what he is doing on his summer vacation.
So it was refreshing to hear how Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat of Montana, is spending his summer vacation.  While other senators drove the campaign trail, dialed for dollars or lounged on a beach somewhere, Mr. Tester went home to his farm and harvested wheat.
Which is a good thing, according to our newspaper of record.  (The editorial writers do not say whether they engage in similarly beneficial activities during their own vacations.)

The editorial writers expect you to fill in the rest of the argument.  If Senator Tester is doing the right thing on his vacation, then others are doing the wrong things.  They even give you a hint, "lounged on a beach", just in case you don't automatically make the comparison yourself.

And which person's vacation has drawn the most criticism in the last week or so?  We all know the answer to that question.

I suppose indirect criticism is better than no criticism at all, but it is rather cowardly for the Times to refuse to name names, to refuse to say that Michelle Obama could have made a better choice for her latest vacation than the coast of Spain.
- 2:32 PM, 11 August 2010   [link]


Dan Drezner May Not Be Hopeless, After All:  During the 2008 campaign, I watched, sometimes with amusement, sometimes with concern, as Obama drew support from unlikely places.  Depending on my mood, I either laughed or groaned when I saw, for instance, libertarians supporting Obama.

(One group was especially dismaying, those for whom human rights are important.  After Obama said that he was willing to accept a possible genocide as the price for an early withdrawal from Iraq, every decent supporter of human rights should have been able to recognize him for what he is.  But few did, and others, almost all of them foreigners, are likely to pay a terrible price for that mistake.)

One of those I watched was Dan Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Drezner is, as far as I can tell from reading his blog posts, genuinely in favor of free trade, but he supported Obama in 2008, anyway.

Before I discuss what Drezner is saying now, some trade data.
The US trade deficit widened sharply in June to the highest level in 20 months on rising imports from China, and waning exports, the government said Wednesday. The trade gap grew at its fastest monthly pace on record to reach 49.9 billion dollars, threatening to erode already slow economic growth. "This is spectacularly terrible," said economist Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics, explaining that rising imports eat in to already anemic US growth figures. June's deficit surged past the 42.0-billion-dollar level seen in May, to become the largest trade gap since October 2008, at the height of a financial crisis that plunged the world's largest economy into a brutal recession.
(This result was, of course, unexpected.  In fact, it was "baffling".)

Those numbers are evidence that Obama's trade policies, such as they are, have failed.  And it is easy, even for someone who follows trade questions only casually, to identify some of Obama's errors.  There are free trade agreements, negotiated by the Bush administration, which would be very beneficial to the United States — if they were ratified.  (Examples:  South Korea and Colombia.)   The Obama administration has done nothing to encourage Pelosi and Reid to ratify those agreements.   Obama has spent much of his time as president in "apology tours" in foreign countries.  As far as I can tell, he has never used those trips to encourage other nations to buy our goods.

Why has Obama failed on trade?  It's hard for me to say, given the mysteries that still surround this man.  We don't know, for instance, whether he ever took an economics course that explained, for instance, comparative advantage.  (And if he did take such a course, whether he paid any attention during the lectures.  We know that he wasn't much of a student at Columbia, since he didn't earn honors there.)  He may not know, he may not care, he may prefer to spend his time golfing, playing basketball, or partying with Paul McCartney.  We just don't know.

Whatever the reason, Obama has failed on trade, as Drezner admits.
Trade:  Blech.  Let me repeat that -- blech.  I understand that the administration is on barren political terrain when dealing with this issue.  Still, the phrase "Obama administration's trade agenda" is pretty much a contradiction in terms at this point.  The Doha round is dead, and the only trade issue that has the support of policy principals is the National Export Initiative -- and you know what I think about that.  Unlike the other three issues, the administration hasn't even bothered to put much effort onto this one -- though the recent pledge to get the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) ratified is promising. GRADE: F
(Drezner was criticized by leftists for this obvious conclusion, but stuck to his guns.)

Will this small breakthrough lead to others?  Will Drezner recognize other Obama foreign policy failures?  (He does give Obama a "D" on imbalances in the global economy.)

Maybe, though perhaps I am too encouraged by the sight of an academic recognizing the obvious.   Still, it is a good sign, and I will look for others from him, and from other Obama supporters, who should have known better, but didn't.

(I will give Professor Drezner one hint:  Take a look at the books Obama has read, or at least claims to have read.)
- 1:19 PM, 11 August 2010   [link]


46 Percent:  That's the current estimate, at FiveThirtyEight, that Washington's senior senator, Patty Murray, will lose her seat this November.

(The site's founder, Nate Silver, is a Democrat, but is good enough at arithmetic to be a Republican.)

If that estimate is right, then the Republicans have a chance, a slim chance, to take control of the US Senate in the elections this November.  Republican candidates would have to win almost all of the close races, but there are enough close races so that it could happen.

How good a chance?  As I write, the bettors at InTrade say about 15 percent.  That's too high, in my opinion, but I would be willing to say that it is higher than 5 percent.  (A month or so ago, I would have said no more than 1 percent.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:52 AM, 11 August 2010   [link]


What Do You Mean "We", Mary Elizabeth Williams?  A left-wing journalist tries to blame us all for what left-wing journalists did.
The guy who impregnated Sarah Palin's daughter mulls a career in politics.  And we're partly to blame

America, we had this coming.  We're the ones who named the 20-year-old among the sexiest men living, the ones who TiVoed that episode of "Tyra," the ones who struggled valiantly to keep up with his on-again, off-again romance, after all.  Is it any wonder then that the most eligible bachelor in Wasilla, Alaska, Levi Johnston, is shopping around a reality show that will pit the single father and recent Playgirl model against the democratic process itself -- as he runs for mayor of his hometown?
Most Americans didn't do any of those things, and shouldn't be blamed for them.

(Here's the Lone Ranger/Tonto joke, if you missed the reference in the title.)
- 8:43 AM, 11 August 2010   [link]


"Spain's electric car sales off target"  The BBC does its best to break the news gently.
Spain's plans to have 2,000 electric cars on the road by the end of 2010 have been dealt a blow as figures showed just 16 have been sold.

The government-backed REVE electric car and wind power project said 15 cars had been sold so far this year, in addition to one last year.
That does seem to be a little "off target".

The car is built by a Norwegian company in Finland, and may be built in the United States sometime in the future.  Wherever it is built, it receives government subsidies.

It would be great to have practical, affordable electric cars, but it is silly to pretend that they are here already, silly to pretend, as some do, that the available models are suitable for most drivers.

(Wikipedia has some numbers on the car.   The prices may help explain the low sales figures.)
- 8:21 AM, 11 August 2010   [link]


The Gibbs That Just Keeps On Giving:  Here's the latest from Obama's press secretary.
During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush.  Those people ought to be drug tested," Gibbs said.  "I mean, it's crazy."
I agree with Gibbs that it is crazy to say that Obama is like Bush, though I am pleased to see Obama adopting so many Bush policies in the war on terror.  (For one thing, Bush doesn't smoke, and is in much better condition.  And you can probably think of one or two little differences, yourself.)

But I don't think people holding such opinions should be drug tested.  Many people who never use illegal drugs hold silly political opinions.  (And there are a few that do use illegal drugs who still have sensible political opinions.)

I don't know why Gibbs keeps giving these gifts to the Republican party, but I am grateful.
- 4:19 PM, 10 August 2010   [link]


How Did Judge Vaughn Walker Get Assigned To The Proposition 8 Case?   As everyone knows by now, Judge Walker gave homosexual activists an enormous victory by ruling against California's Proposition 8, which protects the traditional definition of marriage.  As almost everyone knows by now, Judge Walker is a homosexual.  As everyone who followed the trial even casually knows, Walker had made up his mind about the case long before it was even filed.

Those well-known facts make me wonder:  How did Judge Walker get assigned to this case?   The Boston Globe tells us that he was assigned to the case "at random".  That's how it is supposed to happen.

But it still seems like quite a coincidence that a judge so likely to rule against Proposition 8 got the case.   And, as everyone should know, sometimes events that are supposed to be "random", aren't.

(Walker is the "Chief Judge" of his court.   That gives him some administrative responsibilities, and might give him an opportunity to make sure that the random selection of a judge in this case wasn't entirely random.)

That's as far as I am willing to go, without some hard evidence.  But I will add this observation:   If a chief judge with an equally strong disposition to rule for Proposition 8 had been assigned to this case, more than one "mainstream" news organization would be investigating to find out whether the choice was truly "random".
- 9:47 AM, 10 August 2010   [link]


Dana Milbank Gets Snarky about the "jock in chief".
"You must always remember that the president is about 6."

This advice was offered more than 100 years ago by a British friend of Teddy Roosevelt's. The nation has matured since then, and so has the presidency.  Now the president is about 12.

While President Obama's wife and younger daughter were conducting international relations in Majorca on Sunday with Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the commander in chief was at home hosting a fantasy camp for himself.  He and his buddies had a birthday weekend barbecue and basketball game with LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Magic Johnson and other legends of the sport.

The day before, it was a four-hour golf outing for Obama and the boys.  On Monday, he hosted the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at the White House and talked about his own exploits on the gridiron last year with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.  "He tossed me a nice tight spiral that I then lateraled to a kid on [Dallas Cowboys linebacker] DeMarcus Ware's shoulders," the president recalled.   "I also want to point out I beat [Pittsburgh Steelers safety] Troy Polamalu over the middle on that throw."  Obama turned to Brees. "You remember?"
It is better for the nation when Obama spends time with jocks, rather than thinking of new ways to slow down the economy.  But we do need a commander in chief who is willing to spend a little time educating himself on foreign affairs.

Like most 12-year-old boys, Obama is not interested in such things, and is unlikely to change, just because he is president.
- 7:27 AM, 10 August 2010   [link]


Will We Run Out Of Effective Antibiotics?  Maybe, and if we do, we should blame the FDA.
We have come to expect that modern medicine can cure just about any infection. But bacteria are finding ways to evade, one by one, the drugs in our arsenal, and that arsenal is not being replenished with new antibiotics.

Drug companies are abandoning the antibacterial business, citing high development costs, low return on investment and, increasingly, a nearly decade-long stalemate with the Food and Drug Administration over how to bring new antibiotics to market.
Dr. Brad Spellberg, an expert on the subject, calls the current situation "catastrophic".  I'm not sure the catastrophe is here yet, but the situation is extremely worrisome.

Though the potential illnesses, and even the possible loss of life must be our main concerns, I can't help adding that the loss of effective antibiotics would be very, very expensive.

(You can learn more from this interview with Spellberg, or, I suppose, from his book.)
- 6:37 PM, 9 August 2010   [link]


No, Afghanistan Is Not The "Graveyard Of Empires"  Christian Caryl explains one more time.
It's the mother of all clichés.  Almost no one can resist it. It's wielded by everyone from thoughtful ex-generals to vitriolic bloggers.  It crops up everywhere from Russia's English-language TV channel to scruffy Pakistani newspapers to America's stately National Public Radio.  The Huffington Post can't seem to live without it, and one recent book even chose it as a title.  Afghanistan, we're told, is "the graveyard of empires."
Except that it isn't, as anyone who takes a look at the history of Afghanistan can tell you, and as I have said more than once, for example, here.  If you don't want to look for yourself, Caryl will give you enough history to refute the idea — if you have an open mind.

But mere historical facts, as Caryl recognizes, have had little impact on this idea, which is so attractive to so many.

(It isn't hard to understand why this cliché is so attractive.  If it is impossible to win in Afghanistan, then the argument is over, and we don't even have to discuss possible consequences of a NATO withdrawal.)
- 1:30 PM, 9 August 2010   [link]


Blog Roll Clean Up:  I've made a start this morning on that task, as you can see in the left-side column.  (It seemed like more fun than cleaning my apartment, which just means that I will have to do that chore this afternoon.)  I've been removing inactive blogs, and putting others into something closer to alphabetical order.

In general, I remove blogs if there haven't been any new posts on them in the last year, or if they announce that they are closed.  I regret the loss of two such blogs, Byron Dazey's My Own Side and 2 Blowhards.  Dazey has given us excellent photo essays on demonstrations in this area.  I often learned something about art at the Blowhards site.  (Fortunately, one of the contributors, Donald Pittenger, is continuing with his own site, Art Contrarian.)

When I originally set up my site, I intended to use blogger names for all of the sites.  I have realized that was a mistake, and am switching to site names (with perhaps a few exceptions).

If you have any suggestions for sites I should look at, this would be a good time to email me.  (Note: I am not, I hope, abnormally vain, but if you ask me to link to your site, you should know that I will look there to see if you have linked to mine.)
- 1:02 PM, 9 August 2010   [link]


Thanks, Senator Franken:  That, I am sure, is what Republican Kristi Noem is saying after Franken gave South Dakota voters this reason to vote for her opponent.
South Dakota voters should reelect Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) this fall because she'd support keeping Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Speaker of the House, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said over the weekend.
Does Franken realize that Nancy Pelosi is not extremely popular in South Dakota?  (Or almost anywhere else in the United States, outside her own district, and perhaps a few neighboring districts.)
- 12:39 PM, 9 August 2010   [link]


Remember Credentialism?  A decade or so ago, it was still considered a serious problem.  Far too many jobs were being reserved for people with the right paper qualifications, usually a college degree or degrees, regardless of the actual job requirements, or the person's ability to do the job.

Those who objected to it thought that it imposed inefficiencies, and that it made it hard for working class people to move up, regardless of the quality of their work.  (I agreed with those objections, though I have sometimes benefited from credentialism.)

Though the problem of credentialism hasn't gone away, there's been much less public attention to it in recent years.

We're going to see even more of credentialism in the future, I predict, because far too many young people have earned degrees that are not worth (in a free market) what they have paid — or, more likely, borrowed — for them.

We have, as law professor Glenn Reynolds admits, a higher education bubble.
It's a story of an industry that may sound familiar.

The buyers think what they're buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they're buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong?  Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn't.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I'm afraid it's also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble.  And despite (or because of) the fact that my day job involves higher education, I think it's better for us to face up to what's going on before the bubble bursts messily.
When a bubble breaks, those who bet on the bubble often go to the government for help.  And so I predict that many who have borrowed far too much for a college degree, or degrees, will ask the government to reserve jobs for them, to require degrees for jobs where they are not needed, and were never required before.

Who will win from this increase in credentialism?  Some of our colleges and universities, because they will be able to continue their reckless increases in spending, for a little while longer.  But almost everyone else will lose.

(Some companies will follow similar policies, though for different reasons.  The rules on hiring often make it difficult for companies to test what job applicants can do, or to find out what the person actually did in their previous jobs.  So, instead of tests and references, they will use degrees as crude sorting devices.

Reynolds has a follow-up piece, explaining how to cope with the higher education bubble.   Wikipedia has a discussion of credentialism which may be helpful to those who missed the earlier ones.)
- 9:23 AM, 9 August 2010   [link]


Arranged Marriage Becomes Deranged:  Here's the horrific story.
A British couple who flew to Pakistan to settle a row over their daughter's arranged marriage have been shot dead in a suspected 'honour killing'.

The spurned groom is thought to have gunned down Gul Wazir and wife Bagum alongside their son who had also travelled to the remote Nowshera province, one of the areas devastated by the flooding in the country.

The son survived the attack and is in a stable condition in hospital.  It was reported the gunman was a nephew of the couple, and was named locally as Rehman Wazir.
. . .
The aborted marriage was discussed in a grand jirga, or assembly of the village, which ended with an order for the Wazirs to pay the equivalent of £18,800 to their nephew in compensation.

But although both parties agreed with the decision, two days later, Rehman Wazir allegedly shot his uncle and aunt at the house they were staying at.  Police were last night searching for him.
The murders may be a little more understandable — though no more forgivable — if we realize that this marriage was probably Reham Wazir's only chance to escape from Pakistan to Britain.

(Those who know even basic genetics will realize that these cousin marriages increase the risks of birth defects.  Seriously, if the practice continues for centuries, as it has in some populations.)
- 8:08 AM, 9 August 2010   [link]


Janet Hook Of The Los Angeles Times Is Puzzled:  Democratic congressional incumbents aren't bragging about their legislative successes.
As Democrats fan out across the country to campaign for reelection this month, many are surprisingly quiet about their hard-won accomplishments — the major bills they have passed under President Obama.

In an effort coordinated with the White House, congressional leaders are urging Democrats to focus less on bragging about what they have done — a landmark healthcare law, a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation and other far-reaching policy changes — and more on efforts to fix the economy and on the perils of Republican control of Congress.
Hook seems genuinely puzzled, and I can only conclude that this ace journalist does not know that those major bills are unpopular with much of the public.
- 7:33 AM, 9 August 2010   [link]