Archive:

December 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Slow But Steady Progress on cancer.
The rates of new cancer cases and deaths continue to fall modestly each year, evidence that the nation has made progress in reducing tobacco use, preventing cancer, finding cancer early and treating it more effectively, according to the "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer," released Monday night.

The rate of new cancer diagnoses fell by slightly less than 1% a year from 1999 to 2006, and the death rate fell by 1.6% a year, says the report from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.
Naturally, I blame Bush.  (And Clinton, and George H. W. Bush, and Reagan, and Carter, . . . )

Note that some of the progress has come from individual decisions (fewer smokers), some from better practices (earlier diagnoses), and some from better treatments.
- 1:02 PM, 8 December 2009   [link]


Why Did Obama Make Robert Gibbs Press Secretary?  To make Scott McClellan look good.  That's almost the only explanation I can come up with.

Here's the latest example of a blunder by Gibbs, the latest of many.
Asked for a response to Monday's tracking poll, which placed Obama's approval numbers among the lowest of any recent president in December of his first year in office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs mocked the reliability of the widely respected polling firm.

"I tell you, if I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG, I'd visit my doctor," Gibbs said.  "If you look back, I think five days ago, there was an 11-point spread, now there's a 1-point spread.   I mean, I'm sure a 6-year-old with a crayon could do something not unlike that.  I don't put a lot of stake in, never have, in the EKG that is the daily Gallup trend."
This question shouldn't have been a surprise, and there are many ways Gibbs could have answered it, without insulting Gallup.  (For instance: "We don't pay much attention to day-to-day poll results.  We are working hard for the American people, and we think that, as our reforms come into effect, the poll results will show it.")

Instead, Gibbs chose to sneer, annoying the reporter, and, — probably — Gallup.  If anything, Gallup tends to favor Obama in their analyses, which makes the insult even more foolish.

(Almost, because I can think of one more possibility.  Perhaps the Obama administration, like the Bush administration though with less reason, feels contempt for the press and chose Gibbs to demonstrate that contempt.)
- 10:13 AM, 8 December 2009   [link]


Is the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Stimulus Plan An Efficient Way to Create Jobs?   Apparently not.

Is anyone out there surprised?

(Incidentally, that analysis relies on adminstration numbers for jobs created — and those numbers have not always been exactly right.)
- 9:40 AM, 8 December 2009   [link]


EPA's Historic Decision:  The Wall Street Journal is not happy with the agency's outrageous power grab.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said yesterday that her ruling that greenhouses gases are dangerous pollutants would "cement 2009's place in history" as the moment when the U.S. began "seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform."  She's right that this is an historic decision, though not to her or the White House's credit, and "seizing" is the right term.  President Obama isn't about to let a trifle like democratic consent impede his climate agenda.

With cap and trade blown apart in the Senate, the White House has chosen to impose taxes and regulation across the entire economy under clean-air laws that were written decades ago and were never meant to apply to carbon.  With this doomsday machine activated, Mr. Obama hopes to accomplish what persuasion and debate among his own party manifestly cannot.
In short, having lost the legislative fight, the Obama administration is now making an enormous power grab.  They are claiming the right to impose drastic regulations on the entire economy, even though a Congress controlled by their own party has so far refused to give them that authority.

Even if you believe wholeheartedly in the arguments from global warming alarmists, you should oppose this power grab.  EPA regulations are probably the worst way to cut down emissions of greenhouse gases, both economically and politically.

(This decision makes me think dark thoughts about closing EPA, demolishing its headquarters building, and sowing salt into the grounds, just to make a point.)
- 6:38 AM, 8 December 2009
Iain Murray has some details on the decision, including this one:
The problem is that the president can't get off the train where he wants.  He simply can't stop what he has started.  Under the statutory language of the Clean Air Act, the regulation of mobile sources tripwires regulations for all stationary sources that emit more than 250 tons of a designated pollutant.  For greenhouse gases, that's pretty much everything larger than a Gore-sized mansion.  These stationary sources would have to get a Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit for any significant modification, as would any new source.  They would also have to get operating permits.  The upshot is that millions of buildings would be subject to regulations.  Small businesses will similarly be affected, as millions of businesses emit that amount of greenhouse gases.  Fast-food franchises, apartment blocks, hospitals — you name it — will find themselves subject to EPA bureaucracy.
(Emphasis added.)

Lawyers and would-be bureaucrats will be delighted by the work that will come their way; the economy, especially manufacturing, will suffer.
- 9:25 AM, 8 December 2009   [link]


Richard Branson Announces Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo:  And takes another step toward commercializing space travel.
Billionaire Richard Branson Monday unveiled the first commercial passenger spaceship, a sleek black-and-white vessel that represents an expensive gamble on creating a commercial space tourism industry.

Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways, hopes the winged, minivan-sized SpaceShipTwo will rocket tourists into zero gravity beginning in two or three years.
. . .
The project, with a $450 million (274 million pounds) budget, would see the construction of six commercial spaceships that would take passengers high enough to achieve weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the backdrop of space.

A twin-hulled aircraft named Eve would carry SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of about 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) before releasing it.  The spaceship would then fire its onboard rocket engines, climbing to about 65 miles (104 km) above Earth.
Fans of space travel will be grateful that Branson is doing what the United States should have done long ago.  And if it looks like he might make some money on this, he will draw imitators, which would be even better.

Eve is the first of a series of launch ships, WhiteKnightTwos.  They could be used to launch small satellites, as well as SpaceShipTwo.  Since they are reusable, they might be commercially competitive with some current launch rockets.

They are hoping to have commercial flights as early as 2012, or even 2011.  About three hundred people have already signed up for the flights — and put down a total of $40 million in deposits.

(The new system has many interesting technological innovations.  Which I am unqualified to evaluate, though I will say that I have long liked the idea of using an airplane for the first stage of a space flight.)
- 4:37 PM, 7 December 2009
More on the unveiling here, including a slideshow.  And there's another long-term possibility from this technology:  Branson thinks that he might be able, eventually, to offer sub-orbital flights from the US to, for example, Australia, flights that would take just two hours.
- 8:14 AM, 8 December 2009   [link]


Worth Study:  Steven Hayward's discussion of what we have learned — so far — from the Climatic Research Unit files.

Sample:
In mid-November a large cache of emails and technical documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Britain were made available on a number of Internet file-servers for download by the public--either the work of a hacker or a leak from a whistleblower on the inside.  The emails--more than 1,000 of them--reveal a small cabal of scientists who, in the words of MIT's Michael Schrage, engaged in "malice, mischief and Machiavellian maneuverings."
. . .
As tempting as it is to indulge in Schadenfreude over the richly deserved travails of a gang that has heaped endless calumny on dissenting scientists (NASA's James Hansen, for instance, compared MIT's Richard Lindzen to a tobacco-industry scientist, and Al Gore and countless -others liken skeptics to "Holocaust deniers"), the meaning of the CRU documents should not be misconstrued.  The emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation.  What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand.  In the understatement of the year, CRU's Phil Jones, one of the principal figures in the controversy, admitted the emails "do not read well."  Jones is the author of the most widely cited leaked e-missive, telling colleagues in 1999 that he had used "Mike's Nature [magazine] trick" to "hide the decline" that inconveniently shows up after 1960 in one set of temperature records.  But he insists that the full context of CRU's work shows this to have been just a misleading figure of speech.  Reading through the entire archive of emails, however, provides no such reassurance; to the contrary, dozens of other messages, while less blatant than "hide the decline," expose scandalously unprofessional behavior.  There were ongoing efforts to rig and manipulate the peer-review process that is critical to vetting manuscripts submitted for publication in scientific journals.  Data that should have been made available for inspection by other scientists and outside critics were released only grudgingly, if at all.  Perhaps more significant, the email archive also reveals that even inside this small circle of climate scientists--otherwise allied in an effort to whip up a frenzy of international political action to combat global warming--there was considerable disagreement, confusion, doubt, and at times acrimony over the results of their work.  In other words, there is far less unanimity or consensus among climate insiders than we have been led to believe.
I have one or two quibbles with the article — you may have noticed, for instance, that he gets CRU's full name slightly wrong — but the article is still by far the best that I have seen on this subject.

In a way, it is reassuring to learn that there were more doubts, and less unanimity, in this group than "we have been led to believe".  For years, I have been dismayed by their apparent certainty, because I could not understand how they could be so certain about such complex, and only partially verified, computer models.  (And in recent years, given the decade-long pause in temperature increases, I have begun to wonder whether the models had something crucial wrong or missing.)

The CRU scientists, and their allies, haven't been honest with the public, but they aren't complete fools.
- 1:15 PM, 7 December 2009   [link]


Who Does Al Qaeda Murder?  Mostly Muslims.  That isn't news to any careful reader of news stories from outside the United States (or even any regular reader of this site).  But it is good to get confirmation on that point from a formal study.
This report used Arabic media sources to study the victim's of al-Qa'ida's violence through a non-Western prism.  This allows researchers to avoid accusations of bias associated with Western news outlets or U.S.-based datasets.  Almost all of the major terrorism incident databases utilize Western and English language reporting as primary source material.   Al-Qa'ida and sympathizers consistently argue that Western media outlets are no more than propaganda machines, and therefore, any reports or data they release distort facts or lack accuracy.  English language sources lack credibility in certain parts of the world.  In order to ensure both the accuracy and credibility of the analysis and conclusions, the report relied exclusively on Arabic language media sources when coding fatalities.  All of the sources used in this exercise are available as an appendix to this report to ensure that other researchers can reproduce these results.

The results show that non-Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al-Qa'ida attack.   From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western.  During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further.  From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities.   During this period, a person of non-Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al-Qa'ida attack than an individual from the West.  The overwhelming majority of al-Qa'ida victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al-Qa'ida attacks than any other country courtesy of the al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.

It is interesting to note that the percentage of non-Western victims increased in the more recent period at the same time that extremist scholars, pundits, and supporters are questioning the indiscriminate use of violence and the targeting of Muslims
(Emphasis added.)

A few of those extremists have broken with al Qaeda.

By way of Spiegel Online, which finds the study's conclusion "surprising".
- 10:49 AM, 7 December 2009   [link]


Stories On The Copenhagen Climate Change Summit like this one:
Copenhagen is preparing for the climate change summit that will produce as much carbon dioxide as a town the size of Middlesbrough.

On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road.  During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says.  "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report.

" Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier.  The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42.  "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says.   "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."
. . .
The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports — or to Sweden — to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.
. . . make me appreciate today's New Yorker cartoon even more.

The cartoon shows an unhappy couple at a party, looking across a room.  The woman is saying, "Oh God, here they come — act green."

When so many attending this summit can't even be bothered to "act green", it is hard to take their arguments seriously.
- 7:56 AM, 7 December 2009   [link]


NPR Is Worried About Bias:  At NPR?  No, at Fox.
Executives at National Public Radio recently asked the network's top political correspondent, Mara Liasson, to reconsider her regular appearances on Fox News because of what they perceived as the network's political bias, two sources familiar with the effort said.
This is probably pure coincidence:
NPR's focus on Liasson's work as a commentator on Fox's "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday" came at about the same time as a White House campaign launched in September to delegitimize the network by painting it as an extension of the Republican Party.
Here's the ironic part.  Liasson is a regular panelist on Fox News Sunday.  She is on the panel to represent the left side of the argument.  (Which she does reasonably well.)  So, she brings some balance to that Fox program, a balance often lacking in NPR's own programs.

(An observation about Fox News Sunday for those who are not regular viewers:  Unlike most of the Sunday talk shows, the program has a balanced panel.  The moderator, Chris Wallace, does not take sides, and there are nearly always two panelists from each side of the political debate.  Other talk shows are much more likely to have a moderator who takes sides and an unbalanced panel.   And some talk shows regularly exclude Republicans and conservatives completely.)
- 6:35 AM, 7 December 2009   [link]


"The Quiet American"  Today, I picked up a copy of last week's Economist, purely for the brilliant political cartoon on the cover.

The cover shows Obama walking by himself across the world (stepping, by the way, on the Middle East).  The title for the picture is: "The quiet American".  The cover wasn't intended as a joke, as a jab at his endless speechifying, but it works brilliantly that way.

The magazine intends the title as a reference to the Graham Green novel — and that's pretty good joke, too.

(More on the novel here.)
- 4:53 PM, 6 December 2009   [link]


$400 DSLR Kit:  One of the local camera stores, Tall's Camera, is selling the Sony α230 with an 18-55mm zoom lens, for just $399.99.   And throwing in free classes and a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant.  (Today is supposedly the last day for the offer, but I saw the same offer a couple of weeks ago, so they might run it again.  And on-line competitors are selling the kit for just $50 more.)

From what I can tell from on-line reviews, the Sony is a good DSLR for a beginner.  It's a camera that will take fine pictures without being horribly complex.

But it's the price breakthrough that interests me most.  If Sony can drop the price of a DSLR kit below $400, then we can expect Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax to do the same, soon.

(For the record:  The α230 won't be my first DSLR.  I am still waiting for the manufacturers to come up with the right mix of quality and simplicity to tempt me away from my Panasonic ultrazoom.  Right now, the DSLRs that have the features I want are too complex, and too expensive, for my tastes.)
- 11:12 AM, 6 December 2009   [link]


Senators Should Know Their Nominees Well:  But not this well.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus' office confirmed late Friday night that the Montana Democrat was carrying on an affair with his state office director, Melodee Hanes, when he nominated her to be U.S. attorney in Montana.

According to a source familiar with their relationship, Hanes and Baucus began their relationship in the summer of 2008 — nearly a year before Baucus and his wife, Wanda, divorced in April 2009.  The Senator had informally separated from his wife in March 2008 and they were living apart when he began dating Hanes, according to Baucus' office.
(Suspicious people will wonder about the accuracy of those dates — which come from Senator Baucus's office.)

Did he not see the impropriety?  Or did he think he wouldn't get caught?

We need not worry about Hanes; she found a job in the Obama Justice Department.  But voters in Montana may not be as charitable toward Baucus when he is up for re-election in 2014.

The Billings Gazette has a reaction from Hanes's ex-husband, Thomas Bennett.  It won't please fans of Max Baucus.
- 7:55 AM, 5 December 2009   [link]


The Gang Of Four Has Been Providing Straight Lines For Taranto's Joke:   President Obama was elected more than a year ago.  In the months before his inauguration, President Bush worked closely with him on policy questions so that he did not commit Obama to any large decision that Obama would be forced to reverse.  So we have already seen about a year of policy decisions from our current president.

During that year, I have listened to almost every KUOW Gang of Four program.   In that year, I have not heard any of them criticize any of Obama's decisions.  The Gang members are, let me remind you, supposedly tough, cynical journalists, who would probably tell you that they speak truth to power, and that they criticize Democrats as well as Republicans.  But in an entire year, I have not heard any of them say anything critical of Obama.  Not once.

What makes this even more remarkable is that they have not criticized Obama even when he has implicitly criticized himself.  For example, after the Norwegian committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize, they agreed that it was a little strange (as Obama himself implied in his speech after the announcement), but by the end of the program had talked themselves into thinking that Obama deserved it, somehow.

(The award was not completely unprecedented.  As some academic observers have pointed out, the committee sometimes gives out "aspirational" prizes, prizes given to people who the committee hopes will work for peace.  You could view Obama's prize that way, or you could, as some cynics do, view it as a bribe.

Sadly, I have to add that the aspirational prizes usually do not work out well for the recipient.  Often they end up strengthening his or her enemies.)

Nor have they criticized Obama for continuing Bush policies that they criticized while Bush was in office.  Glenn Greenwald has his faults — search on his name plus "sock puppet" if you want to learn about one of them — but he is right when he says that Obama has continued many Bush policies criticized by leftwing extremists.  And sometimes Obama has even gone farther than Bush did.

Let me repeat:  I have never heard any of the Gang criticize Obama for continuing Bush policies, even when they had criticized those polices while Bush was in office.  Policies that — in their opinion — were grounds for prosecution, are now silently tolerated.

I would like to think that members of the Gang are honest enough so that, if you pressed them, they would admit that they did not approve of some of those Obama policies — even though they are not willing to say so without being pressed.

But today's program made me wonder about even that.  In the last part of the program, they got around to discussing Obama's decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan.  None of them condemned the president, even though none of them agreed with his decision.  Instead, they reacted weakly, saying it was what they expected, and similar things.  This was not, to put it mildly, how they reacted to President Bush's decision to "surge" troops into Iraq.  (No one will be surprised to learn that none of the Gang mentioned the success of the surge.)

We expect "mainstream" journalists to be watchdogs, and to criticize politicians, even when they largely agree with those politicians.  But, as the Gang has shown us over this last year, we can not reasonably expect that when it comes to President Obama.  Perhaps in the next year or so, some of them will bark at least occasionally.  But the record shows that we can't count on that, and so we citizen journalists will have to work harder to do the work that the Gang, and most other "mainstream" journalists, are unwilling to do.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(In the October 9th program when they discussed the Nobel prize, the host, Marcy Sillman, made a serious factual error, saying that the Peace Prize was awarded by Sweden.  In the same program, a caller asked the Gang to supply talking points for her to use with her neighbor.  None of the Gang seemed to think it odd to be treated as Democratic consultants.

In today's program, Eli Sanders of the Stranger made an even more serious error, saying that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was responsible for Maurice Clemmons being free.  In fact, Huckabee commuted Clemmons' original sentence in Arkansas because it was far beyond the usual punishment for his crimes.  Some years later, a parole board set Clemmons free.  There were many mistakes after that, by officials in both Arkansas and Washington, but Huckabee's original decision was reasonable — given what he knew then.

Both programs would get zero grades, since neither had conservative or Republican content, even from callers.)
- 2:35 PM, 4 December 2009   [link]


An Obama Variant Of The "Can't Swim" Joke:  There's an old, old joke, told about many politicians, and news organizations.  I've told it myself once or twice, even on this site.

Here's an almost up-to-date version of the joke:

President Bush visits the Seattle area.  One of his aides suggest that he do something to impress the local journalists.  So Bush walks on water across Lake Washington to make his speech.  The next day, the Seattle Times headline reads:  "Bush Can't Swim in Lake Washington" and the Seattle PI headline reads:  "Water Polluted by Bush's Business Cronies Prevents Him from Swimming in Lake Washington".

James Taranto was wondering how you could adapt this old joke to President Obama, and came up with this:

Trying to formulate a counterpart gag for Bush's successor, we're thinking along these lines: Reporters arrive for a White House news conference to find that the floor of the press room is covered in water, half an inch deep.  A dripping President Obama arrives at the lectern, and the first question is about the water.  Obama explains that he had been trying to fix a clogged toilet near the Oval Office but ended up breaking a pipe and flooding the entire West Wing.

The next day, the newspaper headline reads, "Obama Walks on Water."

If you are a "mainstream" journalist, and don't understand that joke, then you need to get out more often.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:23 PM, 4 December 2009   [link]


"And They Called It Puppy Love"  After reading this David Brooks column praising Obama's decision making, I found myself singing that Paul Anka classic.

(Brooks does not examine Obama's decisions, the botched stimulus package, the absurdly wasteful "cash-for-clunkers", et cetera, et cetera, just the way Brooks thinks Obama is making them.)

Brooks looks a bit old for such emotions, but I guess political groupies come in all ages.
- 7:39 AM, 4 December 2009   [link]


President Sarkozy's Party Wanted To Show That Life Was Good In France:   So they created a video shot almost entirely in the United States.

(Perhaps the Republicans could borrow the video next year, since most of the scenes appear to have been shot when Bush was president.)
- 6:36 AM, 4 December 2009   [link]


Did You Know President Bush "Started Two Wars"?  You do if you read — and believed — this New York Times column by Gail Collins. Like most of her columns, it is incoherent, starting with the admittedly silly practice of pardoning turkeys and ending with this whine
It's not really fair.  The president knows he could jump-start the economy, fix health care and do his ambitious energy policy — if only the last administration hadn't cut taxes, started two wars and created a new, large Medicare entitlement without paying for any of it.
(Collins may not know that the Democrats controlled the US Senate during part of Bush's first term, or that Democrats controlled both House and Senate, and thus the purse strings, after the 2006 election.)

Presumably, Collins thinks that President Bush started wars with bin Laden and with Saddam Hussein.   Even President Obama doesn't agree with her on the first.  Bin Laden declared war on us in the late 1990s, attacked our interests overseas a number of times, and then attacked us on 9/11.   Bush responded to these attacks, as we all know, but he wasn't the first president to respond to them.  Clinton made several attacks on bin Laden's camps.

Nor did President Bush start the war with Saddam.  Saddam started that war when he invaded Kuwait.  After he was defeated, he signed a truce, which he violated again and again, restarting the war.  His violations finally inspired Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to authorize a massive air campaign against Saddam, in 1998.

Even that did not stop Saddam's attacks on our forces.  Again and again, he tried to shoot down our airplanes and was even offering a bounty for a success.  So, when President Bush acted to end Saddam's regime in 2003, he did not start a war, he ended one.

(Does Collins favor eliminating the Medicare drug benefit?  She doesn't say, but I suspect that she doesn't, which makes that part of her argument rather silly.)
- 2:23 PM, 3 December 2009   [link]


A "Dark, New Light"?  Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales wasn't happy with Obama's Afghanistan speech and so he began his column like this:
Would you buy a used war from this man?  Americans might be seeing their bright, young president in a dark, new light this morning after watching his televised speech Tuesday night centering on escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
And left me wondering what a "dark, new light" is.  (At one time, as I recall, the lights used in photography labs to protect the undeveloped film were called "dark lights", but now they are called "Darkroom safelights".)  As usual when I encounter a metaphor, I tried to visualize it, but without success.

It's been years since I was surprised by factual errors in pieces by "mainstream" journalists.   And I have come to expect that most of them will have trouble handling numbers and charts.  But I am still surprised when I see this kind of writing mistake.  (And there are other problems with that sentence, as you probably noticed.)
- 11:08 AM, 3 December 2009   [link]


Another Mini-Nuke Design:  A number of companies are developing small, modular nuclear reactors.  One of them, startup NuScale Power, has gotten as far as submitting its design to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as I learned from this New York Times graphic.

The Times has better pictures, but this Popular Mechanics article has better explanations of the advantages of this design.
Interest in minireactors has grown over the past few years, according to Felix Killar at the Nuclear Energy Institute.  "They're simple and robust, with safety features to allow a country without nuclear expertise to gradually put in small plants, and get people trained and familiar with them before moving into more complex plants."  But small-scale plants could prove useful in the United States, too, particularly in areas where residents must now rely on diesel generators for electricity.  Toshiba is reportedly working on a small-scale design for Galena, Alaska.   But NuScale Power, the startup spun from Oregon State, is the first American company to submit plans to the NRC, which regulates all domestic nuclear power plants.

The plant's design is similar to that of a Generation III+ "light water" reactor, but the size is unusual.  "The whole thing is 65 ft. long," explains Jose Reyes, head of the nuclear engineering department at Oregon State and a co-founder of NuScale Power.  The reactor unit of NuScale's containment unit is 14 ft., compared to a Westinghouse AP1000, a standard current design, which is about 120 ft. in diameter.  It has to be built and serviced on-site, but NuScale's units could be manufactured at the factory, then shipped on a rail car or heavy truck to any location and returned for refueling.
. . .
The new unit can be manufactured cheaply, with standard turbines from General Electric, for example, rather than custom-made parts.  Because the steel reactor vessel is only 9 ft. in diameter, it can be made entirely in the U.S., rather than relying on Japan Steel Works, the only manufacturer who can cast today's one-piece, 25-ft.-plus reactor vessels.
In principle, it should be much cheaper to produce power this way, especially if NuScale gets the volume up.  Dispersing reactors closer to customers, which should be possible, would save in transmission costs.

If the Obama adminstration was serious about energy (and climate change problems), they would be working hard to speed up the paperwork for this design, and similar designs from other companies.  The NRC should approve or reject this design quickly, not sit on it for years.

(In 2005, I wrote about Toshiba's proposed reactor for the isolated Alaska town of Galena.  The Toshiba design is smaller, 10 megawatts instead of 45, and appears intended more for isolated places than main power stations.)
- 8:39 AM, 3 December 2009   [link]


Police Officers, Schoolchildren, Pedestrians:  Maurice Clemmons had his own to-do list.
Maurice Clemmons threatened to kill more than just cops in the days before he massacred four police officers at a coffee shop.

Schoolchildren and others also were on his list of targets, according to court records filed Wednesday.

A witness told Pierce County sheriff's detectives that Clemmons told friends and family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt's home in Pacific that he planned to kill "cops, children at a school" and "as many people as he could in an intersection," according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors.
We can't know for certain, but Officer Greg Richards, who managed to shoot Clemmons in the attack on the police officers, may have saved many lives, even while he was losing his own.  Clemmons was injured badly enough so that he had to seek help, rather than another group of targets.
- 7:46 AM, 3 December 2009   [link]


West Point Protest?  Were the West Point cadets who were reading books while waiting for Obama's speech protesting, quietly?  That's my guess, given their choice of titles.

(Pictures 510-513)
- 7:34 AM, 3 December 2009   [link]


Productivity Soared In The Last Two Quarters:  That's good news and bad news.

First, the numbers.
The Labor Department said non-farm productivity rose at an annual rate of 8.1 percent, still the quickest pace since the third quarter of 2003, rather than the 9.5 percent rate reported last month.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast growth in third-quarter productivity would be revised down to 8.5 percent.  Productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, grew at a 6.9 percent pace in the second quarter.
The good news is that higher productivity makes us all better off — in the long run.  The bad news is that, for many businesses, it makes hiring new workers unnecessary.  (The Reuters reporter doesn't seem to understand that second point.)

From what I can understand from this press release, these productivity gains are coming the hard way.  Instead of businesses investing to make workers more productive, businesses are producing a little less (second quarter) or a little more (third quarter) with many fewer workers.  Having learned that they can produce as much, or nearly as much, with fewer workers, these businesses will be especially reluctant to hire, even if the economy turns up.
- 6:57 AM, 3 December 2009   [link]


Unemployment Would Be Lower If Obama Had Better Policies:   That's Robert Samuelson's assessment.
Obama can't be fairly blamed for most job losses, which stemmed from a crisis predating his election.  But he has made a bad situation somewhat worse.  His unwillingness to advance trade agreements (notably, with Colombia and South Korea) has hurt exports.  The hostility to oil and gas drilling penalizes one source of domestic investment spending.  More important, the decision to press controversial proposals (health care, climate change) was bound to increase uncertainty and undermine confidence.  Some firms are postponing spending projects "until there is more clarity," [Mark] Zandi [of Moody's Economy.com] notes.  Others are put off by anti-business rhetoric.

The recovery's vigor will determine whether unemployment declines rapidly or stays stubbornly high, and the recovery's vigor depends heavily on private business.  Obama declines to recognize conflicts among goals.  Choices were made -- and jobs weren't always Job One.
Obama's stimulus plan, however wasteful and badly designed, probably did preserve some jobs, and may have created others.  In particular, the temporary tax cuts probably helped keep demand from slumping even farther.  But, as Samuelson says, his other policies have discouraged hiring in many areas.

We shouldn't exaggerate how much his policies have slowed the growth of the economy, even if we hope to see large Republican gains next year, but we should recognize that, overall, his policies are likely to slow the recovery, and especially hiring.
- 6:32 AM, 3 December 2009
More:  Examples of businessmen who are hesitating on hiring in the United States because of Obama policies here and here.  Suggestions from Mitt Romney on how to create jobs here.
- 1:53 PM, 3 December 2009   [link]


Labour Greatly Increased Spending On British Schools:  What did they get for the money?  Among other things, many more assistants and administrators.
Spending on education rose, at current prices, from £29 billion in 1996 to £63.9 billion last year — an annual rate of increase of 6.8 per cent.  Although the number of teachers rose from 399,200 to 432,800, the biggest change was in support staff: numbers of teaching assistants increased from 60,600 to 181,600, and other administrative staff from 72,900 to 157,300.
I've seen similar reports about American schools, all the way from kindergarten through college, and I always wonder whether the public is getting good value from all those administrators.

That's something that is inherently hard to measure, except for the few administrators who are directly running schools.  And even for them, it can be hard to measure their value, especially in systems that give them little control over their schools, that don't allow them, for example, to choose textbooks or fire terrible teachers.

Given that difficulty of measuring the contributions of most administrators, I think we should be dubious about these extra administrators, treating every new position (and many old positions) as guilty until proven innocent.

(The data comes from a report from Britain's national office of statistics.  The statistics office was trying to measure productivity in education; as I understand the report, they conclude that British schools have improved, but only in proportion to the extra spending, so there have been no productivity gains.  But that conclusion rests on their measures of quality, which they say show gains.

I don't know enough about the British system to judge their measures of quality.  If I get time, I'll try to find data from international tests that covers the same time period.)
- 1:43 PM, 2 December 2009   [link]


The Half Mask Before Obama's Speech:  I didn't watch Obama's speech last night — as I have said before, I generally prefer to read politicians' speeches, rather than watch them — but this morning I did see him walking across the West Point stage before the speech.

And, as he walked toward his teleprompter, he had on an odd, half smile, like that in his typical mask, but weaker.  It was an odd expression for a man about to announce an escalation of a war.  (I looked for a video so you could see the same thing, but the ones I found all started at the beginning of the speech.  If you saw the same expression, or something different, in that walk across the stage, let me know.)

Why the expression?  The simplest explanation is that it is the expression that he always puts on before campaign speeches, and that he didn't realize how odd it would look, in the circumstances.

(A semi-apology:  I do hope to have more to say about the speech in the next week, but I find it harder to analyze Obama's speeches than I do to analyze speeches by most politicians.  Often, as I have learned from Professor Althouse, and others, it is best to parse his speeches line by line, word by word, and even comma by comma.  For what it is worth, David Frum, who has written a speech or two, has learned to take the same approach to Obama's speeches.  You can't just read them; you have to read them very carefully.)
- 10:10 AM, 2 December 2009   [link]


Mt. Rainier Is Looking Lovely This Morning:  Here's the main web cam, if you would like to see for yourself.  And there are three other web cams linked on the right, just underneath the main picture of Rainier.

There is more snow at Paradise on Rainier than you might guess from the picture.  According to their phone message, they have had 211 inches since the beginning of July, and there are now 59 inches on the ground.  (By way of contrast, last year at the same date they had had 48 inches, and had just 2 inches on the ground.  For what it is worth, last year had an above average total snowfall.  Snowfall years at Rainier, as I've mentioned before, begin in July and end in June of the next year.)

According to the weather forecast, Rainier should have good weather for the next two days.   Unfortunately, I won't be able to get up there to enjoy it directly.
- 9:41 AM, 2 December 2009   [link]


Who Does Obama's Aunt Zeituni Onyango Love?   George W. Bush.
Onyango reserved special words of kindness for former President George W. Bush for a directive he put in place days before the election requiring federal agents get high-level approval to arrest fugitive immigrants, which directly affected Onyango.  The directive made clear that U.S. officials worried about possible election implications of arresting Onyango.

She said she wants to thank Bush in person for the order, which gave her a measure of peace but was lifted weeks later.

"I loved President Bush," Onyango said while moving toward a framed photo of Bush and his wife standing with Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House on inauguration day.  "He is my No. 1 man in my life because he helped me when I really needed that help."
But, in the same interview, she revealed that she is not getting along well with her famous nephew.
President Barack Obama's aunt buried her face in her hands and sobbed as she described her anguish over no longer having contact with him and his family after the revelation she had been living illegally for years in the United States in public housing.
. . .
Onyango, the half sister of Obama's late father, said she has exiled herself from the family after attending Obama's inauguration because she didn't want to become fodder for his foes.  Obama and his family have not reached out to her either, she said.
Obama appears to get along well with his wife and his two daughters, but he does not appear to be close to any of his other relatives, or to have any friends from his lives before Harvard Law.

It would be inappropriate for him to intervene in his aunt's case now that he is president, but I have long wondered why he appears to have done nothing for her, or for any of his half brothers or other relatives, earlier.

My tentative explanation is that Obama is almost totally lacking in empathy.  (Even though he says that empathy is an important quality for judges.)

(The story of his aunt by way of Dan Riehl.

Incidentally, I think that Bush was right to make that order during the campaign — and that the order should have been lifted later.)
- 8:18 AM, 2 December 2009   [link]


Chris Matthews thinks that Obama made his speech last night in an "enemy camp".

Matthews has since backtracked, but it was a strange, and revealing, thing to say.  (And his mention of Paul Wolfowitz makes me suspect that Matthews subscribes to some of the cruder theories, common on the left and the paleo right, about the influence of evil "neocons" on our foreign policy.)
- 7:20 AM, 2 December 2009   [link]


Republicans Widen Their Lead On The Generic Vote:  Here's the latest poll data from Rasmussen.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 2 November 2008 - 29 November 2009

(Note that I am using the traditional — and logical — colors for the two parties, rather than the colors inflicted on us by the "mainstream" media.)

Rasmussen is also finding a significant drop in identification with the Democratic party.
The number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell by nearly two percentage points in November.  Added to declines earlier in the year, the number of Democrats in the nation has fallen by five percentage points during 2009.

In November, 36.0% of American adults said they were Democrats.  That’s down from 37.8% a month ago and the lowest number of Democrats since December 2005.
In general, I would expect changes in vote plans to precede changes in party identification.  Or, to put it less pedantically, I think that voters first decide to vote against their party, and then begin to leave it.

Democrats still outnumber Republicans (36-33 percent), as they have for almost my entire life.   (Here's Rasmussen's summary table, which goes back to the beginning of 2004.)

(Caveat:  As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods.  You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party.  Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does.  Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.

Here are the graphs for May, June, July, August, September, October, and November for comparison.  I have some variants planned for this graph, but haven't gotten around to creating them.)
- 1:40 PM, 1 December 2009   [link]


Phil Jones Is Stepping Down, Michael Mann Is Being Investigated:  Two of the top global warming scientists are in at least mild trouble.

First, Phil Jones:  (Who is described by Andrew Neill of the BBC as "probably Britain's leading global warming scientist".)
Professor Phil Jones has today announced that he will stand aside as Director of the Climatic Research Unit until the completion of an independent Review resulting from allegations following the hacking and publication of emails from the Unit.

Professor Jones said: "What is most important is that CRU continues its world leading research with as little interruption and diversion as possible.  After a good deal of consideration I have decided that the best way to achieve this is by stepping aside from the Director's role during the course of the independent review and am grateful to the University for agreeing to this.  The Review process will have my full support."
Next, Michael Mann:  (Who is probably not as important as Phil Jones, but is still a significant figure.)
Penn State is conducting an inquiry into the controversy surrounding a Penn State professor whose illegally leaked e-mails have sparked an international debate over whether he and his colleagues distorted data on global warming.

The inquiry will determine if further investigation is warranted, a university spokeswoman said Sunday.
Neither inquiry may have important consequences.  An earlier, and very thorough, examination of the statistics that Mann had used in his famous "hockey stick" work (the Wegman report) found that Mann had committed errors, and that his "community" was too inbred, but the report had little effect on him or his colleagues, as far as I can tell.

That said, we should not prejudge the findings of these two investigations, either to assume that they will convict Jones and Mann, or to assume that the investigators will whitewash the researchers' misdeeds.  All of us can hope that the investigations will give us clear accounts of what appear to be dubious behavior by both men.

(Prediction:  These stories will not be on network television this evening.)
- 12:57 PM, 1 December 2009   [link]


Lindzen On Climate Feedbacks:  In April, I noted that the much of the debate over climate change is about the sign of the feedback from increased carbon dioxide.  Some believe that sign is positive, that increased CO2 will heat the earth's atmosphere, and will cause other effects that will heat the earth's atmosphere even more.  In November, I passed along Roy Spencer's claim that no one knows how large those effects are.

Now, along comes Richard Lindzen to argue that negative feedbacks, that is feedbacks that tend to keep the earth's temperature constant, are more plausible than positive feedbacks.
The notion that the earth's climate is dominated by positive feedbacks is intuitively implausible, and the history of the earth's climate offers some guidance on this matter.  About 2.5 billion years ago, the sun was 20%-30% less bright than now (compare this with the 2% perturbation that a doubling of CO2 would produce), and yet the evidence is that the oceans were unfrozen at the time, and that temperatures might not have been very different from today's.  Carl Sagan in the 1970s referred to this as the "Early Faint Sun Paradox."

For more than 30 years there have been attempts to resolve the paradox with greenhouse gases.   Some have suggested CO2—but the amount needed was thousands of times greater than present levels and incompatible with geological evidence.  Methane also proved unlikely.  It turns out that increased thin cirrus cloud coverage in the tropics readily resolves the paradox—but only if the clouds constitute a negative feedback.  In present terms this means that they would diminish rather than enhance the impact of CO2.
(Emphasis added.)

In other words, there must be processes that act like ordinary thermostats, warming the earth when it gets cold, and cooling the earth when it gets hot.  (They don't work perfectly; many geologists believe that the earth had a large, and geologically sudden, spike in temperature about 55 million years ago.)  We know there must be such processes because the earth's temperature has been so close to constant for hundreds of millions of years.

The rest of the op-ed has much of interest, but his argument on feedbacks is, in my opinion, by far the most important part of what he has to say.

(Like Roger A. Pielke, Sr, Lindzen has publications and honors galore; also like Pielke, he has been attacked by allies of Phil Jones and James Hansen.   For example.)
- 10:38 AM, 1 December 2009   [link]


Ralph Peters Makes A Prediction about tonight's Obama speech.
Tonight, he'll announce a measured troop surge, justifying it with boilerplate remarks.  He won't tell us why holding Afghan dirt matters more than killing America's enemies.

But he'll also seek to soothe his base on the left, hinting at sharp limits on our commitment.

It's the worst of both worlds:  As if, during World War II, we'd told the Japanese and Germans that we really meant business, but intended to quit by 1944.

I believe that increasing our commitment to the loathsome Afghan government and occupying worthless Afghan real estate is folly.  Yet, given a decision by the president to surge more troops, I want the effort to succeed.  It won't have a chance, though, if the Taliban are told that they just have to hang on.  Afghans are very good at hanging on.
To be fair, it is possible that we can train enough Afghans to keep the Taliban in check after we leave.  But Peters is right when he says that putting limits on our commitment will encourage our enemies.
- 9:40 AM, 1 December 2009
Ralph Peters didn't expect to be impressed, and he wasn't.  In fact, he starts out by calling the speech "Just plain nuts.".
- 11:29 AM, 2 December 2009   [link]


Buying Votes In Ohio And Kentucky:  In Ohio, a Democratic official is charged with buying votes from college students.
The embattled chairwoman of the Athens County Democratic Party was indicted today on charges she sought to buy the votes of some Ohio University students.

A grand jury charged Susan Gwinn with two counts of election-related bribery, said Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost, the special prosecutor in the case.

No one else, including members of the OU College Democrats, was indicted after grand jurors heard testimony and evidence today, Yost said.

The indictment comes after authorities investigated a charge that Gwinn offered a $5 bounty to some college students for bringing friends to the polls on Nov. 3.
(In many states (I don't know about Ohio), it would be legal for Gwinn to give election workers cash for "expenses".  These expense payments, often called "walking around money", can be used for bribes, without ever endangering party officials.)

In Kentucky, another Democrat has pleaded guilty to buying votes.
A former Perry County judge-executive pleaded guilty Wednesday in a federal vote-fraud case.

Sherman Neace admitting he mailed false campaign-spending reports to a state agency in an attempt to hide a vote-buying scheme, according to a court document. He pleaded guilty to mail fraud.
. . .
The indictment said Neace and Chester Jones, the head of the Perry County Democratic Party at the time, instead used the [state Democratic Party's] money to buy votes for themselves.

Neace was running for magistrate last year and Jones, a longtime circuit clerk and former state representative, was running for a school-board seat.

Jones had 75 checks for $100 each issued with the recipient line left blank, and then he and Neace passed them out to bribe voters, according to the indictment.
There are several possible explanations for the difference in the payments: college students are cheaper, standards are lower in Ohio, et cetera.  The most likely, in my opinion, is that the five dollar payments were much less direct, much less obviously illegal.

(Perry County is in eastern Kentucky, where vote fraud is endemic — and is committed by officials of both major parties.)
- 9:13 AM, 1 December 2009   [link]


"Obamateurisms"  Ed Morrissey welcomed Barack Obama into office with a series of posts highlighting Obama's amateur mistakes.  (Here's today's, which describes how he insulted our ally Canada.)

Calling these continual mistakes "Obamateurisms" is a vivid way of pointing out the obvious, that Obama is unprepared to be president, and that he blunders, again and again, in amateur ways.  Someone needs to point this out, because our "mainstream" journalists are oddly, or perhaps not so oddly since they would have to admit error, reluctant to make the same points.

I predicted these failures at the beginning of Obama's administration.  There is no pleasure in being proven right, since we and our friends are paying for almost all of these "Obamateurisms".
- 7:59 AM, 1 December 2009   [link]