Archive:

December 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"Management Experts Knock Obama"  This Politico story comes to the obvious conclusion:  President Obama is not a good manager.

Some quotes:
“Where we’re seeing these costs are with the largest policy processes in the administration,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.  “So it’s easier to sort of smooth over or tuck away some of the small-ball managerial failures, but this is a really big one and one that requires a lot of managerial expertise and it just wasn’t there and it’s not there in the White House.”
. . .
“Have you created an environment where it is not only OK, but it is rewarded to raise your hand early and say, ‘This worries me’?”  one longtime management consultant said.  “The worst technique that happens in a lot of organizations is it’s simply macho pressure.  ‘Well, you gotta get it done.’  That feels good for about 30 seconds, then you’re back in deep sh—.”
. . .
“I don’t need people in the executive branch who are project managers in tech … but I want them to know that we need to hire those people before we release the project,” said Craig Garthwaite, an assistant professor of management and strategy at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.   “You’re building the ark after it started flooding.”
David Gergen makes the point many others have made; the Obama administration is much better at campaigning than governing.

This is, to be blunt, what every informed person should have expected.  Obama had no experience, or even education, in management, and almost no experience in the federal government when he became president.  Dan Quayle was widely mocked for his inexperience during the 1988 presidential campaign (and afterward), but he was years ahead then of where Obama was in 2008.

Moreover — and this is a point that some people forget, especially in a populist democracy like ours — top managers are extremely rare, which is why top managers are paid so well.  It is unlikely that any random politician, especially one whose experience is all in legislatures, will be a good manager, much less one up to the extraordinary management challenges of the presidency.

Worse yet, Obama still does not seem to understand that he lacks management talent, still does not understand that he needs to find some good managers, and delegate most of the management to them.

(In 2010, David Leonhardt, a supporter of the Obama administration, was arguing that Obama should put a super bureaucrat in charge of ObamaCare.   At the time I was skeptical that such a person even existed, given the political constraints, but it did not occur to me that Obama and Sibelius would not put anyone in charge.)
- 8:44 AM, 31 December 2013   [link]


Race Mixing Makes Some People Nervous:  For example, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, who thought that Mitt Romney's adopted black grandson was oh-so funny.  (Her panel agreed.)

She has had second thoughts, and apologized, though in a tweet, which does not strike me as the best way to make a formal apology.

(Irony:  It's something I wouldn't mention ordinarily, but, judging by her appearance, Harris-Perry is a product of race mixing.

Interracial adoptions have been controversial forever, and still are in some circles.  The National Association of Black Social Workers — which I am sure does not represent all blacks, or even all black social workers — opposes them.

And I think honest people will recognize that some older children may find it easier to adapt to a new family if it looks something like their old one.  But it is almost always better for even those children to have a family, than not to have one.)
- 7:03 AM, 31 December 2013   [link]


Is Tomorrow The Last Day You Can Buy Incandescent Bulbs In The United States?  Not really.

To begin with, the phase-out applies to standard 40 and 60 watt bulbs, not to larger sizes, and not to bulbs that are non-standard.  Which, it turns out, left a rather large loophole.
But there are a variety of exceptions to that law for specialty lighting, including bulbs with unusual bases, others meant for special display purposes, and rough service bulbs.  In 2010 [Larry] Birnbaum applied for a permit to build them under the new specifications: Per the government, his bulbs needed seven filaments rather than two, a brass base, and 1 millimeter thicker glass, and the bulbs had to be filled with a special mixture of argon and krypton to improve their lifespan.
(Emphasis added.)

So these "rough service" bulbs will look and operate much like the older incandescent bulbs, will cost a little more, but should last longer.  And they are available at many places, including Amazon, right now.

(For the record:  These bulbs, like the older incandescents, are the best available solutions for some lighting problems.  For example, they would be the best solution for a storage area that you enter for a few minutes, every week or two.  In contrast, the best solution for a battery-powered emergency light will almost always be an LED, or set of LEDs.

Also for the record:  I think we should do more experimentation on the effects of different kinds of lighting on people.  I have seen enough articles by now to worry, a little, about the way the bluish light from LCD panels may affect sleep patterns.  It is not a big jump to think that lights that do not mimic the sun, as incandescents do, might affect at least some people, some of the time, so I would be in favor of research on the possible effects of compact fluorescents and LEDs.

Apparently, there is a similar loophole in European rules.

Here's Birnbaum's company.)
- 3:45 PM, 30 December 2013
More:  I should have mentioned that 75 and 100 watt incandescents were phased out earlier — and that there are "rough service" alternatives available for them, too.
- 8:14 AM, 2 January 2013   [link]


Volgograd Is The City Once Named Stalingrad (and before that,Tsaritsyn).

I mention that because all the news accounts I have heard mentioning the terrorist bombings in Volgograd have omitted that interesting historical detail.

(And there may be a connection.  During World War II, many Soviet citizens joined Hitler's forces, often after they had been captured.  It is no secret that Muslims were disproportionately among those who preferred the German to the Soviet dictator.  And, as anyone who knows even a little Russian history can tell you, the wars between Russians and the Muslims in Central Asia began centuries before 1917.

If you are looking for a readable account of the Battle of Stalingrad, Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 would be a good choice.  Gory detail:  According to Beevor, the Soviets shot 13,000 of their own soldiers during the battle, which would help explain why their defense of the city was so fierce.  I seem to recall reading that the Russians denied that claim a few years ago, but it doesn't seem implausible.)
- 2:21 PM, 30 December 2013   [link]


Kirkpatrick's Sources:  David Kirkpatrick's article on the Benghazi attack in yesterday's New York Times has drawn heavy criticism from conservatives.  I'll link to some of that criticism later, but, for now, I just want to list his sources:
[diplomat] "David McFarland", "Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there", "Americans briefed on the criminal investigation", "more than a dozen Libyan witnesses", "American officials who have viewed the footage from surveillance cameras", "A self-described jihadi commander", "Abdel Bassett Shihaibi, 44, who fought in Afghanistan in the early years", "Mr. Gerhabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade", "Fawzi Bukatef, leader of the broader rebel coalition", "Western diplomats", "Ashraf Ben Ismail, a wealthy businessman", "an Obama administration official", "one American diplomat in Libya at the time", "one diplomat", "one young Benghazi Islamist", "the compound's Libyan guards", "Fawzi Wanis, former commander" of a "quasi-official militia", "a leader of a major Islamist militia", "people present" [at the attack], "a young Islamist who had joined the pillaging", "Mr. Bragathi of the militia called the Preventive Security Brigade", [commander of the Libya Shield militia] "Mr. Bin Hamid", "Sherif Emrajee el-Sherif, 18, a petroleum engineering student who was among those who tried to help the Americans", "witnesses", [the suspected leader of the attack] "Abu Khattala".
All of the Libyans quoted by name, except for Khattala himself, are enemies of Khattala.

You will have noticed that Kirkpatrick's sources are mostly Libyan, and that he has only one named source, David McFarland, who is not a Libyan.  Because of the vague way he describes some of his American sources, I can not be certain about this, but it looks as if he did not interview anyone in the American military, and it looks as if he probably did not interview anyone in the CIA.

You do not have to be an expert on Libya to recognize that all of his Libyan sources may have reason to lie about what actually happened, and what part they may have played in it.  In particular, all of them have reason, in the short run, to support, at least in part, the Obama administration's version of events.  I am not saying that is what they did when they were interviewed, but I am saying that we have reason to be skeptical about their accounts.

The same is true, even more strongly, about the American officials he relied on.

So here's my advice to anyone who reads that article:  Consider the sources.

(As far as I can tell from the article, Kirkpatrick also did not interview anyone on the House Intelligence Committee, which has done extensive investigations of the attack.  In fact, Kirkpatrick did not even say that he had tried to interview the chairman, Mike Rogers, or anyone else on the committee.

According to the article, the Libyans are refusing to hand Khattala over to us, and the Obama administration is not willing to disrupt the weak government by sending the American military, or even some CIA operatives, in to grab him.  That probably does not surprise you.)
- 1:52 PM, 30 December 2013   [link]


ObamaCare "Howl"  If you took college literature courses years ago, you were almost certain to encounter Allen Ginsberg's "Howl", which begins with these famous lines:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
Much to my amusement, Debra Saunders used the poem to criticize ObamaCare, beginning with these lines:
I saw the vast majority of three generations destroyed by madness, cursing unethical betrayed

Spitting at frozen screens teasing 404 error waiting for the dusk of peak hours

Onesie-clad hipsters sipping hot chocolate little marshmallows bobbing blinking hashtags in a sea of brown
It's the most original critique of ObamaCare I've seen.  And, given the general nuttiness of the program, oddly appropriate.

(Would Ginsberg approve?  Probably not, from what I know about him.)
- 7:44 AM, 30 December 2013   [link]


Speaking Of The Duck Dynasty, I had not known, until the other day, that Willie and Korie Robertson had adopted a biracial son, "Lil Will".

And they have a foster daughter, and are looking to adopt another child.
- 6:43 AM, 29 December 2013   [link]


Another Great Joke!  On Thursday, our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times, published a mostly innocuous column by Froma Harrop.

In the middle of the column was this sentence.

Almost no one cares about homosexuality anymore, including most young conservatives.

Right.

So the Pope didn't make news when he said some soft things about homosexuality, and no one has been talking about the Duck Dynasty controversy.  (Incidentally, the Pope and the Robertsons appear to agree, in general, on homosexuality, a point that has escaped most "mainstream" journalists.)  And that very column wasn't about homosexuality.

Now that is a great joke, although again I have to wonder whether it was intended to discredit the rest of the piece.

What makes the line especially funny, here, is that the Seattle Times is obsessed with homosexuality.  In particular, for years they have run every story they could find, no matter how old, on any Catholic priest who sinned by pursuing males who were below the age of consent.

(At the same time, they have been supporting the efforts to change the Boy Scout rules, so that gay men can be leaders.  Some might see a possible contradiction there, but the Seattle Times does not.)

In particular, in recent years, the newspaper has run every story on gay marriage they could find — and backed the state gay marriage initiative with their coverage, and their money.

Whatever you may think of those sins by Catholic priests, or gay marriage, anyone familiar with the Seattle Times would know that the newspaper cares very much homosexuality, so much so that they sometimes come close to self parody.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For the record, I should add that the Seattle Times is now only interested in some kinds of stories on homosexuality.  Other kinds of stories do not interest them.  For example, I really wonder whether the newspaper, if they were given a tip on a scandal similar to the O.K. Boys Ranch, would investigate it seriously.)
- 6:11 AM, 29 December 2013   [link]


View From The Rainier Guide House:  The park has installed two new cameras that cover the main parking lot at Paradise (east and gh), and they often show scenes worth a look or two.

View from Rainier Guide House, 28 December 2013

(I captured this one just minutes ago, so you should be able to see much the same thing, in a higher resolution, if you are quick.)
- 2:56 PM, 28 December 2013   [link]


When I Read This Accusation from Alan Dershowitz.
[Glenn Greenwald’s] an ideologue.  I don’t think he would have revealed this information if it had been critical of Venezuela or Cuba or the Palestinian authority.  You know, he doesn’t like America, he doesn’t like Western democracy, he’s never met a terrorist he didn’t like, so he’s a very far-left ideologue that uses this to service his political agenda, not simply to reveal information in a neutral way.
(Emphasis added.)

I immediately wondered whether Greenwald had met a terrorist he didn't like.  I haven't followed Greenwald's curious career closely enough to know whether there are any terrorists he doesn't like, and Greenwald didn't respond with particulars — which leaves me suspecting that Dershowitz is right.

(One reason I haven't followed Greenwald closely is the sock puppet affair, which made it hard for me to take his work seriously.  That, I suppose, was an error on my part, because even clownish characters can have large effects on events.)
- 1:02 PM, 28 December 2013   [link]


John Kerry Meets Snoop Dogg:  (Or Snoop Lion, as he is now calling himself.)  This encounter is so weird that I recommend that you watch the brief video just to assure yourself that this really happened.
Following the pleasantries, John Kerry, THE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE, extends his hand to execute a decidedly old-school, but still relatively widely used form of dap known as ‘giving one a pound.’  This particular detail is important for two reasons.   One, as the person who initiates the pound, you are responsible for its respectable completion.  Meaning, you don’t just put out a fist mid-air to someone whom you don’t believe will likely understand what you’re doing within 1-1.5 seconds.  Cause that’s when things get majorly awkward.
Doesn't Mr. Dogg (or, if you prefer, Mr. Lion) have the kind of rap sheet that would have caused most previous secretaries of state to avoid him?

Well, yes.  (And, I love the way Wikipedia describes his many encounters with the law as "Legal incidents".)

An American secretary of state — if they are any good — will meet many unpleasant people, many people with little regard for law or traditional moral rules.  But I don't think Mr. Dogg controls nuclear weapons, or even a large gang with conventional weapons, so there is no particular need for John Kerry to try to befriend him — and many reasons for Kerry not to.

(A "dap" is what many people would call a "fist bump".)
- 11:19 AM, 28 December 2013   [link]


Rural Areas Hardest Hit By ObamaCare?  It's beginning to look that way.
More than half of the counties in 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange lack even a bronze plan that's affordable — by the government's own definition — for 40-year-old couples who make just a little too much for financial assistance, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Many of these counties are in rural, less populous areas that already had limited choice and pricey plans, but many others are heavily populated, such as Bergen County, N.J., and Philadelphia and Milwaukee counties
In July, I wrote about the problem of local medical monopolies (and oligopolies), noting that ObamaCare had incentives for consolidation, and arguing that it was likely to increase costs by decreasing competition.

I should have mentioned then that rural areas were more likely to have local medical monopolies, for obvious reasons.
- 1:25 PM, 27 December 2013   [link]


Morning Movie Megahits (2):  As I mentioned two weeks ago, two of the local sub-channels broadcast movies in the morning, sometimes very good movies, or at least very important movies.

In the last week, I could have watched Exodus, and this morning I had a choice between The China Syndrome and Not Without My Daughter.

The first is am epic classic, the second effective propaganda, and the third a pretty good movie.

(As I said in the first post, I think that the broadcasters are putting movies on in the morning in order to attract viewers who do not watch the morning news programs.

You can, by the way, still find people whose ideas on nuclear power are taken from that Jane Fonda movie, people who are seduced by stories, and unwilling, or unable to look at statistics.)
- 9:08 AM, 27 December 2013   [link]


Karl Rove's Predictions for 2014 (beginning with his score on his predictions for 2013).

He is optimistic about Republican prospects.
So what does my crystal ball say for 2014?  Mr. Obama's Gallup disapproval rating will end higher than this week's 53%.  Republicans will keep the House with a modest pickup of 4-6 seats.  The GOP will most likely end up with 50 or 51 Senate seats (in the former case, keeping Vice President Joe Biden fully occupied for two years presiding over the chamber).  Control of the Senate may not be decided until December's Louisiana runoff.  Propelled by union contributions, Democrats will outspend Republicans overall in House and Senate races.
(He doesn't mention the slim chance that Maine's Angus King might join the Republicans.)

I think that he may be too optimistic about those chances, as he was in his predictions for 2012.  I agreed with him then that the Republicans had a good chance to take control of the Senate — they actually lost seats — which is one reason why I am more skeptical, now.

He is, I fear, underestimating the divisions in the Republican Party, divisions that have led to a number of avoidable losses, like the Indiana senate seat, where Richard Mourdock defeated incumbent Richard Lugar — and then lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly, 50-44 percent.  (A Libertarian, Andrew Horning, received 6 percent.)

There are now many Republican voters who believe in a mythical Republican "establishment" that needs to be driven from power, even if that leads to temporary Democratic gains.   Worse yet, there are people — some talk show hosts, for instance — whose livelihood depends in part on deepening the divisions between the pragmatists and the purists in the party.  There are even organizations, for example, the Senate Conservatives Fund, whose existence depends on worsening the party splits.

And Republicans should never forget that there are leftists, especially among our "mainstream" journalists, who will do what they can to deepen those splits, too.

For the record, I do expect Republican gains in 2014, but I do not, now, expect them to take control of the Senate, mostly because of so many lost chances in the last two elections.  If, for example, in 2012 Republicans had held the Indiana senate seat and taken the Missouri seat, the party would now need a net gain of just four seats, instead of six, to take control of the Senate.
- 7:46 AM, 27 December 2013
More:  Here's a table of 2012 Senate results for those who want to look at more lost opportunities.
- 12:57 PM, 27 December 2013   [link]


Two Rudolph Cartoons That May Not Be Suitable For Young Children:  I have been trying to decide whether to link to this one, which is funny, but a little gruesome, when I saw this one, with a similar theme, at Joanne Jacobs site.

(I think I like the first one a little better, because of the effective way it uses the song.)
- 7:43 PM, 26 December 2013   [link]


The University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab Has Digitized A Classic 1932 Atlas Of The United States:  And has improved the maps by animating some of the historical sequences, and by adding data pop-ups to other maps.   You can see the atlas (and some of their other projects) at the Lab's site.

You will want to view the maps on a good monitor, naturally.

By way of this New York Times article.
- 7:05 PM, 26 December 2013   [link]


There Is One Country In The Middle East Where Christians Are not persecuted.

(You could say one-and-a-half countries, since there are still predominately Christian parts of Lebanon.)
- 1:55 PM, 26 December 2013   [link]


Academia, Hollywood — And The Mafia:  Glenn Reynolds notes that academia, by exploiting adjunct professors, has a wage structure similar to Hollywood's, that both are places "where savage inequality and exploitativeness are most pronounced".  I'll add to those two, as I have before, the Mafia, as described by Jimmy Breslin in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
The financial structure of the Mafia is the same as in the film industry.   Ten stars walk around earning millions, and thousands of unknowns get little pieces of work here and there and mainly earn nothing.   They wait for the key role to pop up.
Which sounds an awful lot like those adjunct professors, hoping that some time they will be able to get a full-time, perhaps even a tenure-track, job.

Are there other similarities between the three kinds of enterprises?  I think so.   All of them have more monopoly power than, say, most manufacturers.  For a variety of reasons, some valid and some not, people do not see the products of Yale or Harvard as equivalent to the products of a state university.  Hollywood benefits from what I have called "small monopolies".   The movies they produce are not interchangeable.

And the Mafia?  We all know that successful organized crime organizations usually suppress competition, in very direct ways.  Their monopolies may be limited to a single city, or even a part of a city, but they are monopolies nonetheless, as many would-be competitors could tell us — if they were still alive.

In all three, having monopoly power allows the organizations to exploit their customers — and part of their work force.

(Selective colleges and universities often set their tuition and fees in tacit coordination with their competitors.  If one in a group raises its tuition, the other others are likely to follow, regardless of their current budget balances.)
- 11:03 AM, 26 December 2013   [link]


Portland, Oregon Does Not Fluoridate Its Water:  The people most hurt by that are children, especially poor children.
Considering that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of kids aged 6-19, adding fluoride to drinking water is a very smart public health policy.  It also benefits minorities and the poor, both of whom are disproportionately affected by tooth decay.

So, what does that mean for Portland? It means that the people cheering over the defeat of water fluoridation in this photograph are unwittingly celebrating the fact that poor people will continue to receive inadequate dental care.  For a city that prides itself on progressive values, this is one of the most regressive things the city could have done.
Alex Berezow made the latest defeat of fluoridation in Portland one of his top ten "junk science" stories.

He's right to give it that prominence, even if it hurts the feelings of some in Portlandia.

(Irony:  When I was growing up, opposition to fluoridation was associated, fairly or not, with kooky right wingers.

There's much, much more in this Wikipedia article on fluoridation.  I was struck, as I have been before, by just how cheap fluoridation is, about a dollar a year per person in the United States.  Fluoridated toothpastes, first introduced by Proctor & Gamble, are also quite cost effective, but require parents to monitor their kids' tooth brushing, at least in the earlier years.  (The original name of the best-known fluoride toothpaste, Crest, was "Fluoristan".))
- 10:14 AM, 26 December 2013   [link]


If You Aren't Afraid Of Over dosing On Sweet, you'll enjoy this story of a little boy and his lamb — who have been very, very good for each other.
- 9:17 AM, 26 December 2013   [link]


Merry Christmas!

To all those who are celebrating it today.
- 12:53 PM, 25 December 2013   [link]