August 2014, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
In Principle, President Obama Might Be Able To Get Some Help In Combating ISIS From His One-Time Friend, Turkey's Recep Erdogan: On 28 August Erdogan will become the first popularly-elected president of Turkey, after serving as prime minister since March 2003. After a nasty campaign, he made a conciliatory speech, so he may be in the mood to cooperate, a little, with us.
And there is an obvious way Erdogan could help us with ISIS.
What do ISIS do with the oil they get?The expert CNN was interviewing, Luay al-Khatteeb, estimates that ISIS earns $2 million a day from this traffic.
- 5:05 PM, 24 August 2014 [link]
"To Fix Foreign Policy Mistakes, President Obama Must First Admit Them" So says Jackson Diehl, in this column.
The main mistake that Diehl has in mind is Obama's pullout from Iraq.
“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision.”Diehl will be mostly satisfied, I suspect, if Obama changes course, without formally admitting he made a mistake.
Obama already has changed course, to some extent, by ordering the air strikes against ISIS (which his administration keeps calling ISIL, for some reason). But his justifications, so far, for those air strikes do not justify much more than a modest air campaign to keep the ISIS forces away from our people in Iraq. (In contrast, some in his administration have been calling for much more forceful actions. They may be attempting to put pressure on Obama.)
Diehl says, correctly in my opinion, that Obama has repeated some of the mistakes that George W. Bush made. One of those mistakes has been releasing too many captured terrorists. The current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is an example of that mistake, though which administration made the mistake is unclear.
In general*, prisoners of war should be kept until the war is over. And we should have learned by now that our allies don't always run escape-proof prisons. There have been big jail breaks, freeing hundreds of terrorists, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
(*I said in general, because, in the past, some prisoners could be released on parole, if they promised not to go back into battle. For example, after the Vicksburg campaign, that's what Grant did with most of the Confederate prisoners he had captured. I don't know of any examples outside Europe and European-settled areas, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there were some.)
- 4:29 PM, 24 August 2014 [link]
Democratic Candidate Michelle Nunn May Be Getting Some Advice From Her Father: That was my first reaction to this story.
Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn won't commit to voting for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) if she wins her Senate race.Reporter Cameron Joseph explains this unusual announcement in political terms; Nunn is trying to separate herself from the national Democratic Party.
But it is also possible that Nunn recognizes, as any informed person would, that Harry Reid has been a disaster as senate majority leader. She might even have come by that knowledge thanks to a little chat with her father.
Most likely, she has a mix of motives; she knows that she has to separate from the national party, if she wants to win the election, and she sees Harry Reid for what he is. Politicians often, in fact I should say usually, have a mix of motives for their actions.
Whatever her motives, I applaud what she is saying, indirectly, about the current majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid. It may be only for show, as Joseph implies, but at least she did say it.
- 9:01 AM, 24 August 2014 [link]
Worth Reading: Christopher Caldwell's article, "No Law, No Order", on Ferguson, Missouri.
I recommend it because Caldwell does not try to tell us what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, but does tell what kind of place Ferguson is, and what the main actors there are doing, now.
Perhaps the most common media complaint about the Ferguson police—that they were overly “militarized” and even “off the rails”—was wrong. This complaint was, in the end, sartorial. “Tell them to remove the damn tanks,” said Holder in the early days of the unrest, but he seemed to have no objection to the rows of armored vehicles that the National Guard was keeping in the Northland Shopping Center when he visited. Columnist Thomas Byrne Edsall described the complaint about militarization as a moment of “rare right-left convergence.” It is better thought of as a moment of p.c. terror, as conservatives sought to find some grounds for lining up against the police without violating their principles.There's much more, including a good analysis of the politics that the Obama administration is playing.
(More: You can find a demographic description of Ferguson, with maps, here.)
- 10:07 AM, 23 August 2014 [link]
Here's A Headline That Will Gladden the heart of almost any Republican strategist: "W.H. defends post-Foley golf game"
The more the White House defends Obama's golfing, the better.
(For the record: I have been saying, at least since 2011, that I would rather have Obama golfing than trying to be president. The damage he might do to a golf course is many orders of magnitude less than the damage he has done when trying to be president.
But I have to admit that, yesterday, I had a troubling thought: My original argument was that, if Obama wasn't acting as president, the bureaucrats would take his place, to some extent — and for all their faults, will do better than he does. But then it occurred to me that his absences might give even more power to Valerie Jarrett, and that she might be even worse than Obama.
On the whole, I still think we are better off with Obama on the golf courses, rather than in the Oval Office, or the Situation Room — but I would like to know more about what she does in his absences.
Also for the record: Golf's reputation as an upper class game is more than a little out of date; we have had municipal golf courses for decades now. But for many who don't play the game, or know someone who plays the game, it still looks like a rich man's sport.)
- 8:46 AM, 23 August 2014 [link]
Another Federal Job Training Failure: When unemployment is high, we often attempt to cure it by paying for, or subsidizing, job training programs. The federal government currently has hundreds of them.
And the sad fact is that most of them don't work, don't help people get out of unemployment. Monday's New York Times carried an article begining with one man's unhappy experience in one such program, and then gave us their conclusions.
Millions of unemployed Americans like Mr. DeGrella have trained for new careers as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a $3.1 billion federal program that, in an unusual act of bipartisanship, was reauthorized by Congress last month with little public discussion about its effectiveness. Like Mr. DeGrella, many have not found the promised new career.If you read far enough into the article, you will learn why this program, first started in 1998 (and then expanded in 2009), has continued:
While government officials defend the retraining program as useful — and clearly it does lead some unemployed people to new careers — neither federal nor state agencies collect data on the number of people who finish job training or earn professional certificates. As a result, officials acknowledge that they are unable to determine how many students the program has helped find appropriate jobs during the past 15 years.(Emphasis added.)
If you don't measure results, no one will ever be able to tell whether you are succeeding or failing. Note that a federal bureaucrat, if asked to defend the program, could find individual success stories. Which would probably be enough to satisfy many in Congress.
(Some may wonder why the Times is tackling this issue, why they are critiquing a program started during the Clinton administration, and expanded by the Obama administration. Most likely, it is because much of the training is provided by private schools, some of them rather dubious institutions, assuming the article is correct in what it says about them.
You can find another discussion of the article here.)
- 7:27 AM, 22 August 2014 [link]
Now Putin's Gone Too Far: He's closed four McDonald's.
When it opened in 1990, the McDonald's on Moscow's Pushkin Square was a symbol of thawing relations with the U.S., attracting long lines and later becoming the fast-food chain's most visited outlet world-wide.This wouldn't qualify as a casus belli (for most of us, anyway), but it isn't a friendly act.
(Possibly amusing trivia: The article notes that, at one time, the first Moscow McDonald's was, for a time, the "most visited outlet". As I recall, it was displaced by the first McDonald's in Beijing, so for a while the top two McDonald's outlets were in those two communist capitals.)
- 6:44 AM, 22 August 2014 [link]
How Many People In Europe Support ISIS? More than you might think, according to this poll of three European countries, Britain, Germany, and France. Especially in France.
Up to 15 percent of French people said they have a positive attitude toward the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The share of ISIS supporters is largest among France’s younger generation, a new poll says.(Many of you will wonder whether those numbers reflect the numbers of Muslims in each country; as far as I can tell, they do, though there are widely varying estimates of the size of the Muslim population in France, partly because France does not ask about religion in its censuses.)
Very roughly, we might guess that somewhere around three million British adults have a "positive attitude" toward ISIS. (You can work out the numbers for the other two countries yourself.) That's enough to be worrisome.
By way of Mr. Fur.
(Important technical point: Because the numbers who don't know are so large in two of the countries (Great Britain - 17 percent, Germany - 6 percent, France - 15 percent), we can be certain that some people guessed when they answered the question — which would inflate the measured support for ISIS, somewhat.
You can find the poll data here. ICM asked just one more question on ISIS.)
- 4:39 PM, 21 August 2014 [link]
Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes (with two extras).
Here's the one I liked best, though I won't claim it's a great joke. (And it may be unfair to hope for one every week.)
Meyers: A New York mother was arrested for leaving her seven-year-old alone in a Lego store. Fortunately, by the time police found the child, he'd built a better mother.And here are two recent cartoons from my New Yorker calendar. The first shows a lawyer trying to raise reasonable doubt, in an unusual way.
The second I found weird and funny, but I should warn you that some of you may just find it weird.
- 3:53 PM, 21 August 2014 [link]
Matt Drudge Was Right to link to this USA Today article.
"I am the Attorney General of the United States, but I am also a black man," Holder told Ferguson residents at a community meeting. "I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over. ... 'Let me search your car' ... Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me."(Emphasis added.)
Drudge was right because, as attorney general, Holder is legally and morally obligated to set aside his prejudices. That's why, for instance, Lady Justice wears a blindfold.
Holder, like every other lawyer, must know this — but he was telling everyone that he might ignore his duty, ignore what he has sworn to do, and act partially. Already, it appears to me that he may — let me repeat, may — have prejudged this case, as he has other cases.
(For what it is worth, I was once stopped and questioned for what seemed like an hour at the Canadian -US border. Since I hadn't done anything wrong, I decided that my ordinary name, or something else about me, had made the US border officials suspicious.)
- 3:20 PM, 21 August 2014 [link]
If You Are At All Like Me, you'll find today's Ramirez cartoon unfair — and very funny.
Which, now that I think about it, is a combination found in most of the better political cartoons.
- 9:04 AM, 21 August 2014 [link]
Some Possibly Good News And Some Bad News On Ebola: Both in the same New York Times article.
Researchers are happy to have the two missionaries, Mrs. Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, back in the United States because they can use them to find better ways of treating Ebola patients.
“We hope to learn a great deal from them,” said Dr. Bruce S. Ribner, who is leading the team of infectious disease specialists treating the two at Emory. “They may be asked, when they recover, to participate in additional testing. But the focus now is to help them survive.”So, if I understand what Dr, Ribner is implying, we may be able to improve the survival rate, greatly, with this kind of extensive supportive care. And, after a person recovers, they are then immune to the virus that attacked them.
The bad news — and this is something I did not know (or had forgotten)— is that there are five different types of the Ebola virus, and survivors of one are not immune to the other four.
(There are many more technical details on the virus in this Wikipedia article.)
- 7:18 PM, 20 August 2014 [link]
What's Right With Kansas? Among other things, it's one of the cheapest states to live in.
Why? A number of reasons, but this one may be the most important.
The wide range between states is in part due to the number of large cities in each state.According to the study, a family living in Kansas has about a 25 percent advantage over one living in California or New York.
If you are feeling mischievous, you might pass this information on to Thomas Frank.
(For the record, I think that you really want to do this kind of study at a county level, though it does tell us something. And I doubt that their answers are really accurate to the penny.)
- 4:41 PM, 20 August 2014 [link]
Babies Do It Before They Are Born, Fish Do It, Birds Do It, But Bees Don't Do It: What's that? There are a number of possible answers to that question, but the one I am thinking of is in this Wall Street Journal article, "The Real Reason We Yawn".
Scientists aren't ready to say they are certain they have found that reason, but:
A leading hypothesis is that yawning plays an important role in keeping the brain at its cool, optimal working temperature. The brain is particularly sensitive to overheating, according to Andrew Gallup, an assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Reaction times slow and memory wanes when the brain's temperature varies even less than a degree from the ideal 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.So, we yawn more often during the summer than the winter.
And the contagious effect of yawning, our tendency to yawn when others do? Here's one possibility:
Dr. Gallup theorizes contagious yawning may be a method for promoting "group vigilance" against potential predators or other threats. Other research on chimpanzees, bonobos and baboons suggests contagious yawning is more common among family and friends than among strangers, Dr. Gallup said.That strikes me as plausible, but awfully hard to test.
If this is true, then, if someone yawns after you do, they are on your side.
(According to a graphic accompanying the article, most vertebrates yawn, "including fish, turtles, crocodiles and birds". Babies, according to another graphic, start to yawn at about the end of the first trimester. So they have had about six months of practice by the time they are born.)
- 4:13 PM, 20 August 2014 [link]
"Gaza Truce Crumbles" You have probably seen or heard that sentence in a headline, or in the body of an article, even if you don't pay much attention to the news.
Bing found more than 200,000 examples, including this recent one from ABC. (Similarly, Google found more than 120,000 examples.)
The sentence, though common, has been false in every example I have seen. The Gaza truces do not "crumble', they are broken by Hamas, and then Israel responds. Often you can learn this simple fact even from the first paragraphs of a story with that headline.
So why do our journalists keep using that sentence? Laziness is part of the answer, I suppose, but I think mainly it is intended to keep us from blaming the side that broke the truce, Hamas.
Question: Does it make sense to keep seeking a general agreement with a terrorist organization that keeps breaking specific agreements?
(Here's a similar headline example from the New York Times.)
- 11:02 AM, 20 August 2014 [link]
Filling Up In The US And Venezuela: Yesterday, I filled up my car with gasoline. It cost me a smidgen more than 41 dollars for a smidgen less than 11 gallons.
If I had been in Venezuela, I could have filled it up for about a dime. (Although the post doesn't mention it, in the past some service stations in Venezuela have sold car washes — with a free fill-up tossed in as a bonus.)
Miguel Octavio, who is not a fan of the current regime, agrees with their general argument that the price is too low, and explains what he thinks it should be, and why.
In his discussion, he adds this, which I had not seen before:
Finally, there is the Cuba and Petrocaribe argument. They are valid, but you can’t tie one to the other. The opposition should raise a stink and point out that we give Cuba and those countries very cheap gasoline. In the case of Cuba, the Government of that island sells it at international prices and makes money.There's another ironic detail in these arrangements. Some Venezuelan oil is refined in the United States and some gasoline is shipped from the US to Venezuela. So, in effect, the regime pays American companies, so that the regime can subsidize the well-off in Venezuela, and the Cuban regime.
(If the Venezuelan regime were to ask me for advice — which is not quite impossible, but is highly unlikely — I'd suggest they begin by ending the Cuban subsidy. (Theoretically, they get doctors in exchange for the oil and gasoline.) Then I would plan to allow the gasoline price to rise to the international level, in steps, over, say, a ten year period.)
- 6:52 AM, 20 August 2014 [link]
Here Are Almost Complete Numbers for the Alaska senate primary.
As you can see, the Democrats did not get their preferred Republican candidate, Joe Miller.
And here's a moderately biased article on the contest.
- 6:15 AM, 20 August 2014 [link]
Remember Jumping Jim Jeffords? He passed away on Monday, and received his New York Times obituary yesterday.
Which had a remarkable error:
Correction: August 20, 2014As any New Englander can tell you, there is a considerable difference between Vermont and Rhode Island.
(The obituary, in my opinion, does not correctly explain why Jeffords switched parties. They say:
As chairman of the Education and Labor Committee (in 1999, under his watch, the name was changed to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions), he had become frustrated by what he viewed as Republican parsimony. He was especially unhappy with a tax-cutting bill backed by President Bush that diminished funding for public education and that did not provide full support for a program that would bring special education students into the mainstream.A budget bill might contain both tax cuts and changes in education funding, but a tax-cutting bill would not. Moreover, Bush had campaigned on increasing federal support for education, and was about to deliver on that promise, through the No Child Left Behind Act.
Having said that, I have to add that I have never seen a really adequate explanation for his switch. It is true that he had become less and less in tune with his party ideologically, but there have been many senators with similar problems who did not switch. Moreover, the Republican party had not punished him, as they could have.)
- 5:23 AM, 20 August 2014 [link]
The Re-Capture Of The Mosul Dam is very good news.
Recapturing the dam has been a key focus of the last few days, due to warnings of catastrophic ramifications if the dam came under the control of IS militants who did not have the capabilities to carry out essential maintenance work on it.The Telegraph puts the risks from the dam more dramatically, perhaps too dramatically:
If the dam is intentionally damaged, or even just not properly maintained, it could unleash a 60ft-high wall of water that would submerge Mosul, Iraq's second city, drowning hundreds of thousands of people, and even potentially flooding parts of Baghdad.Since Mosul is currently in the hands of ISIS (aka ISIL, aka Islamic State), there was probably not much immediate risk of such a catastrophe.
And it is good to see these early successes in the counter-offensive, especially since they are happening without a large commitment of American air power, and with some cooperation between Kurdish forces and Iraqi government forces. (As far as I can tell, all of the strikes have come from a single American carrier, the George H. W. Bush.)
In general, the side with the edge in air power has an enormous advantage in desert warfare, something military experts have known, at least since World War I. (The British used airplanes against the Turks successfully during the fighting in the Middle East.)
There are ways of countering that advantage, but ISIS either doesn't have them, or has chosen, for now, not to use them.
(The BBC article, at the first link, has maps showing where the recent fighting has occurred.
Here's the Wikipedia article on the dam.)
- 3:47 PM, 19 August 2014 [link]
Time For A "Blue Flood" In Ferguson? When the great urban riots started in the 1960s, it took some time for police departments to figure out how to control them. Almost all of the failed tactics used in Ferguson, Missouri were tried then, with the same results. Pulling back police does not calm a riot, nor do black spokesmen, if blacks are doing the rioting.
What did work was flooding the riot areas with police officers. And some changes in tactics. For instance, since police cars were often targets in the rioting, police departments learned to bring the officers into the area in buses, since it is a lot easier to guard a few buses than hundreds of police cars. The buses were also used to carry away large groups of rioters.
The city of Ferguson does not have enough police officers to flood the riot area with blue, but there are certainly enough in the St. Louis area, especially now that Democratic Governor Jay Nixon finally called out the National Guard.
(The news accounts I've watched briefly on TV haven't been very informative, but this Washington Post article seems like a reasonable summary of what is happening there.
Although the rioters were predominately black in those urban riots, in some of the cities whites did join in the looting. I don't recall the exact numbers, but five percent seems about right. Incidentally, there were a few times when black and white looters were seen hitting the same stores, at the same time, with no conflict between them.)
- 7:38 AM, 19 August 2014 [link]
Montana's Republican Party Played A Dirty Trick On The New Democratic Senate Candidate, Amanda Curtis: They put up a video consisting entirely of statements from — Amanda Curtis.
Newsbusters thinks many of those statements are odd. I suspect many Montana voters will agree, but don't find it hard to believe that the Associated Press reporter they are criticizing missed that possibility.
(For the record: I wouldn't describe her as a "moonbat", or "crazed". Instead, she seems like a fairly typical urban Democrat, and thus perhaps a little out of place in Montana. (Some would argue that many urban Democrats do fall into those two categories. A few do, but most don't, in my opinion.)
The Republican candidate, Steve Daines, looks solid. He has a degree in chemical engineering from Montana State, and had a series of successful business careers. He hasn't always been successful in politics, but he has done well enough so that I think he is unlikely to make any amateur mistakes.
Here's the Wikipedia biography of Amanda Curtis, for comparison.
One interesting difference: He and his wife have four children; she and her husband have none.)
- 5:01 PM, 18 August 2014 [link]
Stories In Black And White: When I was quite young, perhaps even when I was in junior high school, I noticed that journalists (and almost everyone else) classified stories out of Africa by race. (This was during the time of the Mau Mau uprising.)
At that time, here's how the hierarchy of stories went, from most to least important:
blacks killing whites whites killing blacks blacks killing blacks
(A decade earlier, during the North African campaign, whites killing whites would have been at the top, and all the others grouped near the bottom.)
Later, in Africa and elsewhere, the journalistic hierarchy changed to something like this:
whites killing blacks whites killing whites blacks killing whites blacks killing blacks
These hierarchies have always seemed fundamentally racist to me, especially in the way they always put blacks killing blacks at the bottom. (Jay Nordlinger apparently agrees, at least in part.)
Though racist, this is, alas, entirely natural. As naturally tribal beings we humans love stories that pit one tribe against another, and we especially love those stories where the tribes are easy to identify.
And, unless we know how to think rationally, and watch ourselves very carefully, we tend to see what we want to see — and both generalize, often falsely, from those stories, and reject applying statistics to individual cases.
So I haven't said anything about the Michael Brown case, which currently so obsesses our "mainstream" journalists. I don't like these racial hierarchies of importance, and I don't think there is much to be learned from any single fatal encounter. Regardless of what actually happened.
It may be a sad story, it may be a source of profit to race hustlers and politicians, but it is not any more important than the murder of a six year old local girl, Jenice Wright.
(So far the hard evidence in the Brown case seems to support the police officer, rather than Brown's friend (and apparent accomplice). So far.)
- 1:26 PM, 18 August 2014 [link]
How Many Birds Is That California Solar Plant Broiling? There is now a rough (and disputed) estimate:
Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant's concentrated sun rays — "streamers," for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.Here's a picture of one of the three bird-killing towers:
(The company is offering to spay and neuter cats, to make up for the birds the solar plant kills, arguing — correctly — that domestic cats kill way more birds than solar plants. Opponents don't find that acceptable, arguing — correctly — that the birds cats kill are not the same mix of species that the solar plant kills.)
- 10:37 AM, 18 August 2014 [link]
The Chinese Who Can Leave China, often do.
Today, China's borders are wide open. Almost anybody who wants a passport can get one. And Chinese nationals are leaving in vast waves: Last year, more than 100 million outbound travelers crossed the frontiers.The reasons vary, but one of the most common seems to be a desire to live in safer places.
Interestingly, the Chinese government is not clamping down on this exodus. But they are trying to keep control over those who leave.
Another aspect of this massive population outflow hasn't yet drawn much attention. Whatever their motives and wherever they go, those who depart will be shadowed by the organs of the Leninist state they've left behind. A sprawling bureaucracy—the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council—exists to ensure that distance from the motherland doesn't dull their patriotism. Its goal is to safeguard loyalty to the Communist Party.Some American universities have been cooperating with the Chinese government by setting up "Confucius Institutes", which teach Chinese — and pass along the Beijing regime's propaganda.
If these millions of successful (and probably mostly very well informed) Chinese citizens are fleeing their home country, we might want to discreetly ask them why they are leaving that mixed capitalist/socialist paradise.
(There's more in this Q&A with political scientist James Jiann Hua To.)
- 7:19 PM, 17 August 2014 [link]
Forties Starlet Is Trying For A Comeback And she might make it, though there were a few problems at an early appearance.
Maybe it was the three publicists in tow. Maybe her hairdo was wilting under the hot television lights. Maybe a dog, even a showbiz one, was just not meant to be a meteorologist.This time, they plan to have her do less acting, and more selling — which might work. (Without naming any names, I can say that I would rather watch the dog than certain saleswomen (and salesmen).
- 6:43 PM, 17 August 2014 [link]