Archive:

August 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Is President Obama A Pragmatic Centrist?  For some, that depends on their own position.  If, for example, a journalist thinks of himself as a pragmatic centrist and mostly agrees with Obama's positions, then that journalist is likely to see Obama as a pragmatic centrist, too.

And that, I am nearly certain, explains both Jonathan Alter's latest book, The Center Holds, and the review of the book that I found in last Sunday's New York Times.
The Yeatsian title reflects President Obama's view that the real struggle of the 2012 election wasn't between conservatives and liberals but between "right-wing extremism" and "pragmatic centrism," which is where he placed himself.  Alter, a veteran journalist and the author of "The Promise," a thoughtful examination of Obama's rise and first presidential year, agrees , and saw this extremism taking virulent shape in what he calls "Obama Derangement Syndrome".
Before you laugh at Alter and the reviewer, Jeffrey Franks, consider this:  Measuring from their political positions, Obama is indeed close to the center, because he is close to them.

Putting oneself at the center is not an inherently illegitimate way to think about positions on the political spectrum.  (Though it may be a little too solipsistic for most people's tastes.)

But it is detached from what I think should be the standard in a democracy, the positions of the voters.  And measured against those, as Gallup found in 2011, Obama is an extremist, and his eventual opponent in 2012, Mitt Romney, a moderate.

It is even detached from how most "mainstream" journalists, a leftist bunch, would describe Obama.

Although there is nothing illegitimate about describing Obama as centrist, the writers who do that owe it to their readers to make it clear that they are using "centrist" — in an eccentric way.  And the same is true for "pragmatic", a word that fits Obama not at all, if you are describing his policy positions.

(If you want to understand Obama's political career, I would suggest starting with Stanley Kurtz's well-researched Radical-in-Chief.

Jonathan Alter, as you can tell from this Wikipedia biography, is an Obama loyalist from way back.

As most of you will have guessed, the book's title refers to Yeats's poem, "The Second Coming".  I find that ironic, considering all the religious symbolism that was associated with Obama's first presidential campaign.)
- 10:30 AM, 24 August 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  (Or watching.)  This latest KOMO 4 report on another cost over-run on a replacement bridge.
Mistakes that resulted in major cracks and leaks in the first set of concrete pontoons destined for the new 520 floating bridge.  Though repairs are now underway, the Problem Solvers have learned that the cost of those and of the delays to the 520 project could put the project in the red over what are called "change orders," but in common terms are cost overruns.

"We're hopeful that, and pretty sure that these would be the upper end of the costs, and hopefully we'd be able to negotiate these down," WSDOT Interim Chief Engineer Keith Metcalf says.

WSDOT has already paid out nearly $150 million dollars for change orders on the three main bridge contracts.  Now we've learned pending and potential change orders could add another $228.4 million, for a total in cost overruns of $378.2 million.
(Oddly enough, the headline and the lead paragraph say "$4 million", but the body of the article makes it clear that the over-run is already approaching "400 million".)

You would think that Washington state would know how to build pontoons for floating bridges by now, since the state has been building such bridges since 1939, and, although the state has had other problems with floating bridges, in the past the pontoons were water tight.

(For those not from this area:  This is a replacement bridge for the second of the two bridges connecting the eastside suburbs with Seattle.  The original bridge, which opened in 1963, cost $21 million (about $130 million in current dollars); the replacement is projected to cost more than $4 billion.  The new bridge will have six lanes, instead of four, but even allowing for that I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for the incredible jump in costs over the last fifty years.)
- 8:47 AM, 24 August 2013   [link]


Richard Nixon Is Still In Their Heads:  Our 37th president died on 22 April 1994, almost two decades ago, but he is still in the heads of American journalists of a certain age.  I wasn't surprised to see yesterday's New York Times run a big article on some recently released Nixon tapes, or see the Seattle Times reprint that story, but I was mildly surprised to see PBS do a long story on those tapes last night.

(Of course neither story gave us this context:  Everything that forced Nixon to resign had precedents in the Democratic administrations that preceded him.  If Nixon was evil, then so were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.)

Nixon is so much in their heads that these "mainstream" journalists did not notice that the new tapes contained no surprises, that their story was, in other words, not new enough to be news.

These journalists remind me of those middle-aged and elderly men who have never recovered from being star athletes in high school.  Or, I suppose, those women who have never recovered from being homecoming queens.

You want to tell them to grow up, but you know they wouldn't take that sensible advice.

(Perhaps if we start comparing them to Al Bundy, they'll get a hint.)
- 7:45 PM, 23 August 2013   [link]


Here's Another "snowflake" baby — who is either nine months old, or old enough to vote, depending on how you want to look at it.

We are really, really going to have to update some of our laws to catch up with the technology.

By way of neo-neocon.

(Favorite example: A woman in Louisiana was married to a man who developed cancer.  Before the treatment, they saved some of his sperm.  The treatment was unsuccessful and the husband passed away.  She wanted their child anyway, and some time after his death had herself inseminated with his sperm.  Unfortunately, the baby was born more than a year after her husband died, which made it illegitimate under Louisiana law.)
- 4:32 PM, 22 August 2013   [link]


Chess Players Will Like today's New Yorker cartoon — if, like me, the chess players have a weird sense of humor.
- 3:46 PM, 22 August 2013   [link]


Republican Strategists Will Be Sad About this hasty decision.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has agreed to resign as part of a deal reached this week with city officials, NBC 7 News has learned.

Filner, spotted leaving City Hall with packing boxes Wednesday night, will formally vacate the office following a closed session of City Council Friday, according to several sources.
Any Republican strategist worth his consulting fee would want this scandal to last at least until October of next year.  And it might last that long, or longer, in spite of this resignation, since there will be, it is almost certain, court cases, which will, from time to time, bring Filner's behavior back before the public.
- 3:06 PM, 22 August 2013   [link]


"Ted Cruz, Traitor To His Class"  Rich Lowry has some fun with the left's reaction to the junior senator from Texas.
Cruz is different — a Princeton and Harvard man who not only matriculated at those fine institutions but excelled at them.  Champion debater at Princeton.  Magna cum laude graduate at Harvard.  Supreme Court clerkship, on the way to Texas solicitor general and dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cruz is from the intellectual elite, but not of it, a tea party conservative whose politics are considered gauche at best at the storied universities where he studied.  He is, to borrow the words of the 2009 H.W. Brands biography of FDR, a traitor to his class.
Cruz is now busy driving that class nuts.  (And, from time to time, some of his allies.)

Although Lowry is having fun here, he is also making a serious point:  For many on the left, their opinions about what ideas and people deserve respect are more a matter of snobbery than serious thought.

(Although Lowry doesn't mention it, Cruz is Hispanic, and was an "Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law".   In other words, he has credentials that are much like Barack Obama's, except that his academic record, as both a student and a professor, is more impressive than Obama's.)
- 12:48 PM, 22 August 2013   [link]


Some Basic Demographic Facts For Our Local Journalists:   In this area, our local journalists give more coverage to the politics of that reactionary city, Seattle, than to all the rest of the area combined.  (Excluding, of course, the local free newspapers that you can find in almost every community.)

Judging by population, this concentration of coverage on Seattle is unwarranted.   We can get a rough idea of just how unwarranted by looking at the populations of four counties in the Seattle metropolitan area, King (which includes Seattle), Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish.  (I chose those four because all are within range of Seattle TV and radio stations, and all have a significant proportion of households that read our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times.)

The populations of the four counties are, respectively, about 2,007,000, 255,000, 812,000, and 733,000.  (I'm using numbers from the Census QuickFacts site, for convenience.)  Seattle's population is about 635,000.

So Seattle has about one-sixth of the population in this four-county area.  (That proportion has been declining for decades.)  But it gets way more than one-sixth of the coverage.

(Some advertisers might be bothered by this Seattle-centric coverage, because the people living in those four counties, outside Seattle, have, on the average, higher per capita incomes than those living in Seattle.)

Of course people and money should not be the only determinants of coverage.   There are valid reasons for some of that concentration, the businesses located in Seattle, the concentration of government facilities there, the importance of Seattle as a transportation hub, and so on.  And let us concede that Seattle is more likely to provide us with entertaining political stories than most of the region.

But, even if you allow for those things, it is still true that our local journalists give too much coverage to Seattle, and too little to the rest of the region.

Why?  Habit, no doubt, but also because many of them are uncomfortable spending time in the towns and suburbs where most of us live.  A reluctance to talk to people with different values is, I think, a serious defect in a working journalist.  But those running our local news organizations don't seem to agree with me on that point.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:23 AM, 22 August 2013   [link]


Perhaps Both Obama And Clinton will lose.
Already the battles are beginning to brew, though, simmering just below the surface.  But they’re not just between Hillary and the other Democrats who’d like to run for President, but also between the heiress to the Oval Office throne and the man whose legacy she’ll have to demolish if she wants a shot at getting there.  And it looks like she’s starting early.
S. E. Cupp may be going a bit far here, though she is certainly right to say that the Clintons have a few wounds from the 2008 primary campaign that haven't healed.

(It didn't get much coverage, but some of the Obama's caucus wins that year were achieved by — let's be discrete — tactics that might be acceptable to the Chicago political machine, but might not pass every legal test.)

And I think Cupp is right to predict that something like this may happen.
As Obama's inaction in Syria, underestimations in Russia, confusion in Egypt and avoidance in Iran prove to be horrible calculations, it’s unlikely Clinton will support his foreign policies and quite likely she’ll start more than one sentence with, “If I’d been given more authority . . . ”
If this Clinton-Obama fight does occur, Republicans would be wise to stand aside, though a few may want to sell popcorn.

More seriously, I would expect that this fight, if it does occur, will be conducted mostly under ground, with the two sides taking shots at each other with anonymous comments, given to favored reporters.
- 8:23 AM, 22 August 2013   [link]


Brenda Edwards's Family Values:  Accused killer James Edwards might have learned the wrong lessons from his mother.

(Not so incidentally, her criminal record also provides us possible explanations for where the three accused killers got their gun, and the money they flashed in an on-line picture.  They may already have joined the family business.)
- 6:01 AM, 22 August 2013   [link]


What Happens When You Find The New York Times Agreeing With An Argument You Have Been Making For Decades?  Well, of course you do a quick check of that argument, just in case you have been making a mistake all these years.  But if you don't find any mistake — and I didn't — then you have to give them some credit.

First, columnist Eduardo Porter makes an argument for nuclear power that may bore regular readers because they have seen it here more than once:  If you think that global warming is a threat, then you should support nuclear power.

He even appeals to arithmetic as I often do, saying: "The arithmetic is merciless."

Second, today the Times also ran an editorial calling for the NRC to follow the law, rather than the wishes of Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama.
A federal appeals court has given the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a well-justified rebuke for "flouting the law" when it stopped analyzing the safety of the proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, some 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.  The commission engaged in some questionable maneuvers aimed at preventing the Yucca site from ever opening, thus carrying out pledges to scuttle the facility made by President Obama, while campaigning for the presidency in 2008, and Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat of Nevada and th majority leader, who has ferociously opposed the site for years.
Well, the Times is definitely making progress.  Maybe in another ten years, they will realize that the danger of nuclear waste is a bogus argument against nuclear power.  (It isn't that the waste can't be dangerous, but it is less dangerous than many other substances that are around us all the time.  And despite what you may have heard, we have safe ways to store it.)  That, too, is something anyone who can do arithmetic should be able to understand.

(Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, I have been getting less worried about global warming as I have learned more about the global climate models, and as I have observed that the globe hasn't warmed for more than fifteen years.

For the record:  I have favored increased use of nuclear power for decades because I am, at heart, a "power to the people" kind of guy.  I want to see my fellow citizens empowered, literally.)
- 2:17 PM, 21 August 2013   [link]


Why Nine Hours?  You have, almost certainly, heard all about this latest episode in the Edward Snowden story.
“Information wants to be free” is the mantra of some activists of the digital age, who believe technology has made the protection of intellectual property obsolete.  But in this case, Snowden was able to breach national security not because information wants to be free, but because it was made very, very, very small.  Millions of pages on tiny discs that can hang from keychains.

In London the other day, authorities detained Greenwald’s boyfriend, Daniel Miranda, at Heathrow Airport, held him for nine hours and confiscated various electronics.
They held him for nine hours because that is the legal limit under a recently-passed anti-terrorism law.

But I have yet to see why those who drafted this law chose nine hours for the limit.  One could understand 1 hour, or 8 hours, the length of a typical work day in Britain, as here, or 10 hours, since 10 is a round number, or 24 hours, but 9?

Yes, this is a trivial question, but sometimes learning the answer to a trivial question illuminates a whole range of issues.

(Those who want something less trivial should read the whole column, which reminds us that Edward Snowden stole that information, and thus that there is good reason to believe that Miranda was carrying stolen goods.)
- 7:41 AM, 21 August 2013   [link]


How The BBC creates criminals.
More than 180,000 people – almost 3,500 a week – appeared in front of magistrates during 2012 after being accused of watching TV without paying the £145.50 fee.

Magistrates handled a total of 1.48m cases last year, meaning a record 12 per cent of court cases now involve TV licensing.

Women are disproportionately affected by the fee – which funds the BBC – with two thirds of cases brought against females.
(By way of Guido Fawkes.)

At that rate, over the years, millions of people must have been prosecuted in Britain for the offense of watching TV without a license.

It has always seemed to me that Britain has a license system that is incompatible with broadcast TV and radio, that once you send the signals out, unencrypted, it is hard to make people pay for them — even in a country as law abiding as Britain.

I can't say that our mix of systems is all that much better, on the whole, but we very seldom make people criminals for watching TV, and we don't impose a regressive tax on people for the privilege of watching basic TV.

(Here's the Wikipedia article describing the British license system.

Although they bring many prosecutions for this offense, there are still many evaders.)
- 7:07 AM, 21 August 2013   [link]


The Seattle Times Doesn't Want To Cover The Jan Angel Primary Victory:  Two weeks ago, Jan Angel won a solid victory in the top-two primary in our state's 26th senate district, giving a big boost to our state senate's reform coalition.

You could argue that that election is the most important in the state this year, as both Adam Faber and I have done.  (Though each of us added qualifications.)

So I was looking forward to what our local newspaper of record would say about this victory, looking forward to see how it would be covered by journalists like Jim Brunner and Joni Balter.

Oddly enough, there was no mention of Angel's victory in the Seattle Times in the day after the election, not even in a summary table.

I kept looking for the story and not finding it, so I finally used Bing to make a formal search, with this search string: "Jan Angel site:seattletimes.com".  After limiting the search to the last month, I found just four hits, and only one of them included the result of the election.

(And I do hope that my mentioning this app will not get its author in trouble.)

Assuming that Bing search is correct (and I can hardly assume otherwise, living in this area), the Seattle Times has yet to mention, in print, Jan Angel's Republican victory.

Since I have no inside sources at the Seattle Times, I don't know the reasons for this omission, for their failure to cover this important election.  I do think it far more likely that this was a mistake, rather than a deliberate decision on their part.

But I also think that it was a mistake that a news organization that (mostly) hates Republicans, and is far too Seattle-centric, is likely to make.  Most at the Times don't want to see such stories — and so they haven't seen this one, so far, much less written about it.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:11 AM, 20 August 2013   [link]


The Communists-Sahara Joke Will Never Die:  That was my immediate reaction to a front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal on the declining production of rice in Venezuela.  In 2006, Venezuela produced about 1 million metric tons of rice, enough to be self sufficient.  In 2012, that was down to about 650 thousand metric tons, and Venezuela was importing half of its consumption.

Which has been very good for American rice farmers.

The Chávista regime had similar effects on many other kinds of production in Venezuela:
Overall, Venezuelan imports have quadrupled since Mr. Chá took office, to $59.3 billion in 2012, according to Venezuela government figures and economists at Barclay's PLC.   Exports to Venezuela from the U.S. hit $12 billion in 2011, up 16% from the previous year.

Among the winners are the American steel company Alcoa Inc., Anglo-Swiss mining company Glencore Xstrata PLC and Brazilian firms like builder Odebrecht SA.  In May, Venezuelan authorities announced that they would import 50 million rolls of toilet paper.  One supplier: Kimberly-Clark of the U.S.
(Minor correction:  Alcoa is an aluminum company, not a steel company.)

Unfortunately, the article is behind their pay wall, but it is worth finding, if you want to learn more about how the Chávista government strangled production.

Most of it will seem familiar to older readers.  Price controls and nationalizations have had their usual effects.  One part may be new.  Venezuelan farmers, manufacturers, and miners depend on materials and machines imported from the rest of the world.   Because of currency controls, they often can't get what they need to produce efficiently.   For example, a farmer may not be able to buy a part to fix his tractor, or herbicides to control his weeds.  Or, if he can get them, he may not be able to get them when he needs them.

So far, the Chávistas have been able to persuade enough Venezuelans that these economic failures are caused by enemies of the regime to stay in power.  I don't know enough about Venezuela to venture an opinion on whether they can keep fooling enough of the people over the next few years, or even the next decade.

(Too young to have heard the joke, or have forgotten it because it's been less relevant in recent years?  Here it is, in its simplest form:

What would happen if the Communists took over the Sahara?

In two years there would be a shortage of sand.)
- 7:48 AM, 20 August 2013   [link]


From Rudd To Gillard To Rudd To Defeat?  The Australian federal election will be held on 7 September, just 19 days from today, and it is beginning to look as if the Labor Party's effort to save their majority by switching leaders — again — will fail.

First, a review for those who seldom follow Australian politics:  In 2007, after years of rule by the Liberal/National coalition (which is conservative by American standards), the Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, won a solid, but unspectacular victory.

Rudd is, by all accounts, a brilliant and hard-working man, but he is also, by almost all accounts, a pain to work with, and he gradually lost popularity with Australian public.  When it looked as if he might lose the next election, he was challenged by Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party and, with it, leadership of the nation.

(For a very rough American parallel, imagine that Hillary Clinton had beaten Barack Obama in the 2012 primary contests and then won the general election very narrowly.)

After taking power and winning a very narrow (50.12%-49.88%) victory in 2010, she too began to lose favor with the Australian public, and the Labor Party, fearing an election loss, replaced her with — Kevin Rudd.

He began an immediate campaign and has tried to move his party closer to the center, with some success.

Australian polls, 2013 federal election
(You can find larger versions of the graph here.

But, as you can see in that graph, Rudd's bump looks very temporary as, presumably, voters remember why they had come to dislike him.

And a current poll does not contain good news for Prime Minister Rudd.
VOTER support for Kevin Rudd has sunk to its lowest level on record, leaving Labor headed for a large election loss with Tony Abbott now virtually equal as preferred prime minister.
(Poll by way of Tim Blair.)

This collapse comes in spite of the fact that Australian voters don't seem to like the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, very much either.  (Do a search on images of Abbott, and you will see one reason why the voters don't especially like him:  He does not smile as often as he should.)

There's a general point in these recent polls that we should not forget:  A man like Tony Abbott can win, in spite of not being a natural politician, if his opponents blunder badly enough, just as a mediocre general can win a battle if he faces an army commanded by an even worse general.

(Some of the discussion of the Australian election will make more sense if you remember that, for elections to their House, they use the alternative vote system, in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference.)
- 1:55 PM, 19 August 2013   [link]


A Special ObamaCare Deal For Those Special Folks on Capitol Hill.

Is this deal consistent with the letter and spirit of the law?  Probably not, and certainly not.
- 10:42 AM, 19 August 2013   [link]


The Poor Quality Scans Of These "Far Side" Caption-Switched Cartoons may violate copyrights, but the cartoons are so funny, I am linking to them anyway.

And to make up for that, I'll also link to the book where the scans came from.

(Explanation:  According to Gary Larson, at that time (and perhaps still, for all I know), the captions and the cartoons were transmitted separately.  So the captions sometimes ended up under the wrong cartoons.)
- 10:08 AM, 19 August 2013   [link]


David Sirota Discovers That President Obama May Have Been lying to us.
For these statements to just be inaccurate and not be deliberate, calculated lies it would mean that the president 1) made his declarative statement to CBS even though he didn’t know the FISA court was secret (despite knowing all about the FISA court six years ago); 2) made his declarative statement to NBC but somehow didn’t see any of the news coverage of the Snowden disclosures proving the existence of domestic spying and 3) made his sweeping “actually abusing” statement somehow not knowing that his own administration previously admitted the NSA had abused its power, and worse, made his statement without bothering to look at the NSA audit report that Gellman revealed today.

So sure, I guess it’s possible Obama has merely been “wrong” but has not been lying.  But the implications of that would be just as bad — albeit in a different way — as if he were deliberately lying.
(Actually, as I have said many times, we are usually better off if our presidents are lying to us than if they are misinformed, and believe the false statements they are making.  An occasional liar can be quite effective if he still sees the real world, but someone who doesn't see the real world needs a lot of luck.)

It is, I suppose, amusing to see a leftist discover now what he could have seen all along, if he had been willing to look: that Barack Obama, more than most American politicians, is careless with the truth.  (Sirota could, for instance, have looked at some of the Glenn Kessler Obama "fact checks", such as this one on tax cuts, or this one on his mother's health insurance.)

But Sirota, like many others on the left, is not interested in lies that help Obama in his continuing campaign against the Republican Party; in fact, it is possible that Sirota does not even see those lies.
- 8:08 AM, 19 August 2013   [link]


This Won't Stop The Fighting in Syria.
Municipal authorities in Antwerp and Vilvoorde have removed 29 people who have left Belgium to fight in Syria from social welfare registers, effectively cutting them off from all state benefits.

De Standaard explains that in recent months, Belgian police and intelligence services have found that in several cases, Belgian nationals fighting alongside Syrian rebels continued to receive social welfare payments, including unemployment benefit.
But it's not a bad idea.

Even though there is "major upset over the issue in the Muslim community" in Belgium.
- 5:16 AM, 19 August 2013   [link]


The New York Times trusted The Washington Post:  That turned out to be a mistake.
Washington continues to reel from the sale of the Washington Post to someone other than Robert Redford and Bob Woodward.  Life goes on, but it cannot imitate art.  Indeed, who needs art if you’ve got their way of life.  Just a day before the Post’s chairman announced the sale, the Sunday New York Times ran a big splashy profile of the Washington Post’s publisher, who is the niece of the beloved chairman.  He was quoted in the piece, as was she; indeed, she also seemingly cooperated with the Times, which said she was “taking charge,” and the whole thing came off as a really nice, lovely story, an example of two rival papers respecting the heck out of one another.
Except, of course, for the little Bezos announcement the next day.

(It occurs to me that someone who is a little paranoid might suspect that the Post decided to use the Times to hide what was going on.  People who knew about the big profile coming up would automatically discount any rumors of a sale.  But, more likely, the timing was just a coincidence.)
- 5:51 PM, 18 August 2013   [link]


For A Man Who Says He Wants To Help The Middle Class, President Obama sure spends a lot of time with the .1 percent.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ cocktail party for President Barack Obama and wife Michelle in Martha’s Vineyard last night was attended by a host of notables close to the administration.
(It would be going beyond fair use to give you the whole single-paragraph article, but you can click on the link to see the others named by the Post.)

It seems appropriate that the party was hosted by a cable executive.  At one time, cable companies were infamous for corruption scandals.  As I recall, the scandals mostly followed this pattern:  A cable company wanted access to a city, and found that the easiest way to get that access was to pay off some of the city's politicians.  But that was a while ago, and I am sure that the cable companies are now models of ethical behavior.

(The actual percentage for that group might be closer to .01 percent, or even .001 percent.   But if you wanted to check, you would have to find a complete guest list, and I'm not sure one is available.

If you are like me, you may not know what Marchesa sells.  As far as I can tell, their fashions are not aimed at the middle class.  Incidentally, Marchesa is just the Italian word for marchioness.)
- 11:03 AM, 18 August 2013   [link]


People Versus Pets:  Robert Sapolsky thinks we are weird about our pets, and presents a variety of evidence for that conclusion, including this study:
A recent paper by Richard Topolski at George Regents University and colleagues, published in the journal Anthrozoös, demonstrates this human involvement with pets to a startling extent.   Participants in the study were told a hypothetical scenario in which a bus is hurtling out of control, bearing down on a dog and a human.  Which do you save?  With responses from more than 500 people, the answer was that it depended: What kind of human and what kind of dog?

Everyone would save a sibling, grandparent or close friend rather than a strange dog.  But when people considered their own dog versus people less connected with them—a distant cousin or a hometown stranger—votes in favor of saving the dog came rolling in.  And an astonishing 40% of respondents, including 46% of women, voted to save their dog over a foreign tourist.
The extent is surprising — assuming their 500 are roughly representative on this subject — but not startling.  In this area, our news organizations, especially our TV stations, routinely give more coverage to abused animals than to abused children.  And I am sorry to say that I think that they are giving their readers, listeners, and viewers what those readers, listeners, and viewers want.
- 3:55 PM, 17 August 2013
Second thoughts:  It occurs to me that this is exactly the way that people would behave if we are, as I have said before, basically tribal.  Your dog is likely to be a valued watchdog for your tribe, but a stranger may be a threat to you and those you value or even love.  Again, I am not saying that we should behave tribally, but that we often do, naturally.

Sapolsky also makes the argument, implicitly, that some of our behavior toward pets is redirected maternal behavior, noting that young female cats sometimes kill a mother mouse (or some similar prey) and then, temporarily, adopt the baby mice the cats find.  I'm sure he is right about that — one only has to look at the way we have selected some breeds of dogs to look, more and more, like babies to understand that — but I think that our tribal instincts are also part of the reason some value pets more than strangers.
- 9:08 AM, 19 August 2013   [link]


The Times Thinks That The IRS Targeting Conservative Groups is a "non-scandal".
Mr. Issa, of course, is patently obsessed with wielding the I.R.S. non-scandal as a Republican campaign cudgel.  All of this would be the usual pathetic hijinks except that the law of land is at stake — the one that's supposed to guard against campaign corruption.
(If you don't want to read the entire editorial, here's the executive summary:  The Federal Election Commission will have a temporary Republican majority, and that majority may change the rules so that partisan Democrats on their staff can't cooperate with the partisan Democratic bureaucrats like Lois Lerner.  Naturally, this infuriates our newspaper of record.)

Coincidentally, today is the 100th day in the Taxprof's summary of pieces on the scandal.  I don't know what Professor Caron's position is on the scandal, but I think we can infer, from the number of posts, that he thinks it a serious matter.

(Why "non-scandal" rather than Obama's "phony scandal"?  Perhaps to show that they aren't simply taking dictation from the permanent Obama campaign.

You probably noticed that whoever wrote the editorial was so angry that they had trouble with their metaphors.  For instance:  If it is a non-scandal, then it doesn't exist, and so can't be wielded, as a cudgel, or otherwise.)
- 3:26 PM, 17 August 2013   [link]