Archive:

February 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Go, Grannies, Go!  In Iowa, they have revived a very old form of basketball for ladies of a certain age.
To the theme music from "The Sting," members of the Cedar Rapids Sizzlers and the Robins Late Bloomers — two of the eight teams in the Granny Basketball League in Iowa, for women 50 and older — took the court.  Dressed in white blouses, black bloomers and horizontally striped socks, the women lined up as they would have if their game had been played here in the 1920s.
. . .
The games involve teams of six players.  Two players from each side must remain in each of the three distinct sections of the court.  Running and tight guarding are forbidden, and players can dribble only twice per possession.
Good for them, I say, and they have one rule that some might like to see applied elsewhere.
[Barb] McPherson designed the uniforms based on research and her father's recollections.  She frequently referees games and, as a gag, she will call a "flesh foul," a technical against a player who shows too much skin.
I don't follow these matters closely but I seem to recall hearing about two young women, one named Normandy Swords, or something like that, and the other named London Marriott, or something like that, who could benefit from that referee.

(Incidentally, I was in Iowa when the high school girls were still playing the intermediate form of six player basketball.  As I recall, it was a very exciting game, because it was, essentially two three-player games, played on separate courts.  Although quite popular in Iowa, it was ended by a lawsuit.)
- 4:23 PM, 24 February 2007   [link]


Dinosaurs, Mammals, And Oxygen Levels:  Which came first, dinosaurs or mammals?  Most people would say, without much thought, dinosaurs.  But, in fact, many paleontologists would say that both arose in the late Triassic, or at roughly the same time.  That's the answer I found in this once standard text on vertebrates.  (Though now sadly dated, if the review by Donald Prothero is correct.)   That's also the answer I found in the Wikipedia entry on the Triassic. though the Wikipedia entry on the mammals disagrees, putting the first mammals in the following geological period, the Jurassic.  As far as I can tell — and I am by no means an expert on this subject — most paleontologists would say that the first mammals are found in the late Triassic.

There is disagreement on the question because the fossil record often does not preserve some key mammalian characteristics.  If, for instance, Dolly Parton were to be fossilized, two of her most prominent features would probably not be preserved, millions of years from now.  And, partly it's a matter of definition.  Some paleontologists would say that an ancient animal with seven of ten characteristics of modern mammals is a mammal; others, viewing the same characteristics would not.

If mammals arose about the same time, in the late Triassic, or even if they arose during the middle of the Jurassic, we have to wonder why they had so little success competing with the dinosaurs.   By way of this Chicago Boyz post, I found an answer that was new to me:  The dinosaurs had better respiratory systems than we mammals do, and were better adapted to times of low oxygen levels.  True?  I have no idea, but the idea is interesting enough so that I will have to pick up a copy of Peter Ward's Out of Thin Air: Dinosaurs, Birds, And Earth's Ancient Atmosphere, where the argument is made at greater length.
- 3:35 PM, 23 February 2007
More:  Here's a press release claiming that an oxygen decline slowed the movement of animals on to the land, long before either dinosaurs or mammals, an article arguing that a sharp increase in oxygen made it possible for mammals to "triumph", and a very informative description of a bird's respiratory system.
- 4:03 PM, 24 February 2007   [link]


Year Of The Pig:  Last Saturday, I went to a local mall to see it welcomed in by lion dancers.  It was a small, but spirited, group, and their costumes were gorgeous.

lion dancers at Crossroad mall


Click on any of the three pictures below to see larger versions.

lion dancer lion dancers lion drummer
(I'm especially fond of the drummer's intent expression.  There is a man who is concentrating on his art.)

The Crossroads Mall, where this was held, shows how astute businessmen can help restore a neighborhood and make some money, at the same time.  When the current group took over this mall, it was in bad shape and the neighborhood around it was troubled.   One way they restored the mall was by providing community events such as this one.  And if you look at their site, you'll see many more community events.  And I don't doubt that some of those who come for the community events spend a little money at the stores while they are there.

(As I understand it, the lion dance originally came from some varieties of Buddhism.  I have no idea whether any of the dancers I saw still hold the original beliefs, or anything like them.)
- 10:42 AM, 23 February 2007
More:  Had I wanted to, on Sunday I could have attended one of the more curious cross-cultural celebrations, Gung Haggis Fat Choy, which combines Chinese and Scottish traditions.  (The Wikipedia article does not give the meaning of the traditional Chinese greeting, "Gung Hay Fat Choy".  According to this site, it means: "Best wishes and Congratulations.  Have a prosperous and good year."  Which will remind some of a greeting made famous by a long-lived TV series: "Live long and prosper.")
- 3:56 PM, 23 February 2007   [link]


Chuckle:  Scott Burgess finds a Guardian writer excited by ecologically friendly products from the "Pirwi people".  These "Pirwi people".  (Though most of us would call them a company.)

You'll want to read the whole post — unless you work for the Guardian, in which case you should read the whole thing, even though you don't want to.
- 9:13 AM, 23 February 2007   [link]


Don't Pick A Fight With A Marine Or Soldier:  Even a Marine or soldier who is 70 years old.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica: A tour bus of U.S. senior citizens defended themselves against a group of alleged muggers, sending two of them fleeing and killing a third in the Atlantic coast city of Limon, police said on Thursday.

One of the tourists — a retired member of the U.S. military — put assailant Warner Segura in a head lock and broke his clavicle after the 20-year-old and two other men armed with a knife and gun held up their tour bus Wednesday, said Luis Hernandez, the police chief of Limon, 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of San Jose.
Probably not a good idea to try this unless you have the right training.
- 7:08 AM, 23 February 2007   [link]


Today Is George Washington's Birthday: His 275th, to be precise.  His life deserves celebration, though few "mainstream" journalists seem to think so.  (A search at Google News on the phrase, "Washington's birthday", got just 981 hits.)

Nor do many political leaders think his birthday deserves mention; a quick search found nothing about his birthday at this site — and Washington state is named for him.  I suppose that our governor has other things to do.

Although we can not know for certain what would have happened without Washington, there is good chance that had he never lived (or had he died early, something more common in his times than ours), we would have lost the Revolutionary War, and we would have failed to establish the United States on a firm foundation.  In both of those, his contributions were, most likely, crucial.

If the United States deserves honor, then the "father" of our nation surely does.  His contemporaries understood how important he was; "Lighthorse" Harry Lee summed up the feelings of most Americans with his line at Washington's funeral oration: "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen".  And his foe during the Revolutionary War gave him an even bigger tribute.

The painter Benjamin West wrote that when he talked to King George III during the Revolutionary War, the monarch asked him what he thought George Washington would do if he prevailed.

Return to his farm, West predicted -- accurately, as it turned out.

"If he does that," King George remarked, "he will be the greatest man in the world."

Washington did return to his farm after the war and, almost as important, after two terms as president, setting an example that has lasted until the present.

Finally, a question for parents with school age children, which you can answer, if you like, in the comments at Sound Politics, where I will cross post this:  What, if anything, do your children learn in school about George Washington?  (This article suggests that they don't even learn the myths.)

(You can learn more about Washington from this PBS program, this White House biography and this Wikipedia biography.

Credit where due:  The Spokesman Review did run this column on Washington's birthday.  I look forward to reading more by Richard Davis in the future.

Two fun facts:  Washington was born on February 11th, but the date was retroactively changed to the 22nd.  You can find an explanation here, should you need one.  Last Monday, the 19th, though almost universally called "President's Day" is still, officially, Washington's birthday, though it seldom falls on his birthday.)
- 4:03 PM, 22 February 2007   [link]


That's A Satellite Weather Map over the "Other US" section of the blogs.   Click on it to see it full size.  (This is a tentative choice.  If you know of a live map that you think would work better, let me know.)
- 11:13 AM, 22 February 2007
Changed it to the graphical forecast map.  Clicking on it now takes you to a slick page that has more information on US weather than most of us need.  You'll want to experiment with mousing over the table on the left to see the different maps.  I'm not sure how often this map is updated.  Every three hours, perhaps?  As before, if you have a suggestion for a better map, let me know.
- 11:40 AM, 22 February 2007   [link]


Editing Errors scrambled my first post this morning and took me a few minutes to correct.  My apologies to anyone who was confused by my mistakes.
- 9:08 AM, 22 February 2007   [link]


What Should We Call Hillary Clinton?  Last week, Seattle PI columnist Susan Paynter said that calling her "Hillary", or "Mrs. Clinton" is unfairly dismissive.  (That column got enough reactions so that Paynter wrote this follow-up.)  We should, said Paynter, call her "Senator Clinton".

Paynter's argument wouldn't bother me — except that a key person disagrees with her.   Who is that person?  According to this New York Times op-ed, it's Hillary.  (Or, if you prefer, it's Senator Clinton who disagrees.)

There's something missing in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's recently unveiled presidential campaign, something so conspicuous in its absence that it's certain to set off debate — not on Pennsylvania Avenue, but on Madison Avenue.

What's missing is her surname. Someone has apparently decided that Mrs. Clinton will be the first major single-name candidate since 1952, when Ike's P.R. gurus realized that "Eisenhower" was tough to fit on a bumper sticker.

Mrs. Clinton announced her intentions via the Internet on a Web site called "Hillary for President.  Incredibly, on the day of her announcement, the name "Clinton" did not appear anywhere in the long text on the site's home page — except when linking to articles from The Associated Press and The Washington Post, and at the very bottom in the obligatory fine print: "Paid for by Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee."

This piqued my curiosity, so I looked at the web site and found a number of references to "Hillary", for example, "Hillary on Iran", but no references to Senator Clinton.

This poses a small dilemma for somewhat old-fashioned folks, such as myself.  Ordinarily, I use conventional names and titles for American politicians, so I have been calling her "Senator Clinton" for years.  (And occasionally, when I am peeved, the "junior senator from New York".)  But I also try to accommodate people and so, if she prefers to be called "Hillary", rather than "Senator Clinton", I would do so, even if it would annoy Susan Paynter, and others like her.

For now, there's enough ambiguity that I will stick to "Senator Clinton".  But if the junior senator from New York tells me directly that she prefers "Hillary", I will switch to that immediately.  It's just possible, after all, that a gesture of good will would persuade her to share her secrets for making big bucks in the cattle futures market.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(There is, of course, no secret about her choice of "Hillary", rather than "Senator Clinton".   She needs to distance herself, somewhat, from Bill Clinton, and this is an obvious way to do so.

For contributors, however, she may want to show her closeness to Bill, as the picture accompanying this post shows.

If you need a review of her cattle futures successes, you can find one here.   And there's a description of the shady company that executed her trades, Refco, here.  I have thought for some time that these earnings were, most likely, a bribe, but that Senator Clinton (Hillary?) may not have realized it immediately.  That would explain both the big gains, and the fact that she abruptly stopped trading after the gains.)
- 8:34 AM, 22 February 2007   [link]


Weather Forecasts:  Early this morning I glanced at the weather forecast at the Weather Channel site and saw that we due for a rainy day.   As the morning went on, I noticed it was sunny outside, sunny enough so that at about 9:30 I went for a long bicycle ride.  Before I did, I checked the weather forecast again and noticed that it had changed to fit the current weather.  (Which is still nice here in western Washington.)

It would be entirely unfair to conclude from that experience that weather forecasts are useless, and it would be mostly unfair to conclude that long term climate forecasts are useless.  But this little experience does remind us that predicting the weather is hard, and that it does not hurt to bring a little humility to the task, whether we are predicting this morning's weather or this century's.
- 1:45 PM, 21 February 2007
Worth Knowing:  An attentive emailer tells me that the Weather Channel sometimes lags the National Weather Service by hours.  The lag is not surprising, since the Weather Channel gets their data from the Weather Service, but the length of it is.  I've mostly used the Weather Channel for weather information, because I have found their site easier to navigate, but for the latest information, it may be better to go to the source.
-10:51 AM, 22 February 2007   [link]


Was The Loss Of Vietnam A Victory For The Democrats?  James Taranto catches New York Senator Charles Schumer implying that it was.
This column has long argued that antiwar ideologues, a group that includes a significant number of elected Democrats, viewed America's defeat in Vietnam as a victory for them--the enemy of my country is my friend and all that.
And Senator Schumer provided strong evidence for Taranto's argument in what he said about the Democratic plans for Iraq.

Taranto goes on to suggest that Schumer may be reading the lessons of history incorrectly.
Yet here is where the Vietnam analogy really falls apart.  It's hard to see any way in which Democrats benefited politically from becoming the anti-Vietnam party.  In 1972 their antiwar nominee carried one state.  They did well in 1974 and 1976, but more because of Watergate than Vietnam.  And after the ineffectual leadership of Jimmy Carter, Democrats were not able to win the White House again until after the Soviet Union had disintegrated.

It is said that generals always fight the last war.  Gen. Schumer is trying to fight this war using the same tactics that lost the last war for both the country and his party.
Sadly, I think it unlikely that the Democrats will escape from their Vietnam trap until a new generation takes over, and maybe not even then.  Until they do, it would not be wise to trust them with the nation's security.

(Here's a review on why we lost Vietnam:
In December 1974, the Democratic majority in Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the South Vietnamese government and made unenforceable the peace terms negotiated by Nixon.  Nixon, threatened with impeachment because of Watergate, had resigned his office.  Gerald R. Ford, Nixon's vice-president stepped in to finish his term.  The new president vetoed the Foreign Assistance Act, but his veto was overridden by Congress.
As most of you know, the South Vietnamese government had signed the agreement only after we promised them military aid.  The Democratic majority broke that promise, in spite of Ford's efforts.

By the way, doesn't that bill title, the "Foreign Assistance Act", have a nice Orwellian ring?   It's main purpose was, after all, to cut off assistance to our ally.)
- 7:04 AM, 21 February 2007   [link]


Michael Ramirez illustrates the work of the Democratic congress on Iraq.  This won't make Speaker Pelosi's list of favorite cartoons.
- 5:02 AM, 21 February 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Heather MacDonald gives her objections to Harvard's new president, Drew Gilpin Faust, who is currently dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Faust runs one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country.  You can count on the Radcliffe Institute's fellows and invited lecturers to proclaim the "constructed" nature of knowledge, gender, and race, and to decry endemic American sexism and racism.  Typical guest speakers include left-wing journalists Susan Faludi and Barbara Ehrenreich.
Neither of them famous for unbiased scholarship.

(More here, where "Fjordman" ponders this curious fact:  Harvard is also accepting millions from the Saudis — who are not known for their devotion to feminist ideas  It will be interesting to see Faust try to bridge that gap.)
- 10:42 AM, 20 February 2007   [link]


Wonder If  this story will make the New York Times?
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba unveiled a marble plaque on Saturday commemorating the interview 50 years ago by New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews that helped build the legend of Fidel Castro, the state news agency Prensa Latina reported.
. . .
In that glowing article Matthews wrote: "The personality of the man (Castro) is overpowering.  It was easy to see that his men adored him and also to see why he has caught the imagination of the youth of Cuba all over the island.  Here was an educated, dedicated fanatic, a man of ideals, of courage and of remarkable qualities of leadership."

The interview may also have helped Castro by exaggerating the size of his rebel force.  Castro later bragged he only had 18 men at the time, but made them pass in front of the American reporter several times.
So far it hasn't.  But it should.

(More here, including the story of the famous cartoon:
As young editor of the National Review, William Buckley ran a cartoon showing Communist dictator Fidel Castro sitting pretty on the island of Cuba and waving a gun.  Underneath ran a caption made famous by an ad campaign for the paper's classified section, "I got my job through the New York Times."
As far as I can tell, being suckered by Castro did Matthews no harm at all at the New York Times, even though the Times was then a much more moderate newspaper.)
- 6:21 AM, 20 February 2007   [link]


Does This Sound Like a   religious movement to you?   It has "disciples" who preach a "gospel", often to a "choir" of believers.

It does to me.  And perhaps even to the former divinity student who heads the movement.
A dozen Michiganders are helping Al Gore carry the message of his movie "Inconvenient Truth," preaching the gospel of global warming with his slides and their words.

Gore has personally trained 1,000 disciples.  Part cheerleaders, part angels of gloom, they are fanning across the country with copies of his climate change slide show (330 slides) and the goal of getting their audience roused enough to demand action from their leaders.
But it doesn't sound like a scientific movement.  Nothing in the article suggests that Gore requires his disciples to have any scientific knowledge before they go out to preach his gospel.

(Forgotten that Al Gore was a divinity student?  Here's his Wikipedia biography, which reminds us that he spent a year studying religion at Vanderbilt.  Not very successfully, as I understand it.

Has Gore's "religion" produced any beautiful buildings or lovely music?  Not to my knowledge, but I don't claim to follow such things closely.)
- 5:44 AM, 20 February 2007   [link]


Remember Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson?  Sometimes called "Cold Cash Jefferson", after this incident.
He is currently the subject of a corruption probe, and in May 2006 his Congressional offices were raided, as well as his home in Northeast Washington, where, the FBI alleged, they "found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers."
Before the election, Nancy Pelosi, with great fanfare, removed him from the Ways and Means committee.   Now she has, quietly, put him on the Homeland Security committee.

Although not as important, his new committee probably offers him even more opportunities for bribes, so it may not be the best post for a man with his record.  (And it's a long record, as an early nickname, "Dollar Bill", suggests.)  I'll repeat a tongue-in-cheek suggestion I made last November:  Pelosi should make a record of corruption a requirement for important committee positions.

Remember when Nancy Pelosi was promising to "clean the House"?  It seems so long ago.

By way of Betsy Newmark, who has some tart comments on this decision.

(After his re-election, Congressman Jefferson received a "standing ovation" from the Black Caucus, which should tell you everything you need to know about the Black Caucus.)
- 1:46 PM, 19 February 2007   [link]


Are You A Poor Computer Systems Manager?  Then, in a few extreme cases, you might face jail time.
Julie Amero, a substitute teacher at a middle school in Norwich, Conn., said she had simply wanted to e-mail her husband.  The authorities contend that she was — purposely or, perhaps, carelessly — exposing 11- and 12-year-old students to pornography rather than teaching them English.
. . .
Ms. Amero, 40, a longtime substitute, contends that when she arrived that day in October 2004, she asked the regular seventh-grade language arts teacher at Kelly Middle School if she could use his computer to e-mail her husband.  But first, she says, she went to the bathroom, and when she returned, the teacher was gone and students were gathered around the screen, watching a hairstyle Web site.

When she tried to close the site, what she got was an endless barrage of pop-up ads for pornography sites.  The images continued all day, since "I absolutely have no clue about computers," she said in an interview.
Assuming she is telling the truth — and her story seems plausible — she has been convicted and may be sent to jail for the "crime" of being a complete klutz with computers.  (And for panicking.  She should have asked one of the students to turn off the system if she did not know how, or sent for help.)

Amero is not the only person who has got in legal trouble for not knowing enough to be a computer systems manager.  In another case I read about, a man was facing serious charges for storing child pornography on his computer.  But he hadn't stored the pornography there.  A "hacker" had taken over his computer and used it for temporary storage.

As I argued in this post, it is absurd to expect the average person to be a competent computer systems manager.  It is even more absurd to expect technophobes such as Amero to be a systems managers — and our society has more of those technophobes than you might guess.

For schools, it is easy to see what should be done.  The computers should be networked and managed by professionals (except, perhaps, for those used in advanced programming classes).   Most schools should contract out for these services, since they are unlikely to have employees with the necessary knowledge and skills.

The same solution would work for many other organizations — and is already being used by many companies.  The last time I talked to my insurance agent, I learned that the computers in his office were all managed centrally, and I am sure many other companies do the same thing — for good reason.

For individuals and families, I'm sorry to say that I have no good solutions for this problem, though there are some suggestions here.

(Incidentally, if the account in the article is correct, then what most likely happened is this: A boy in the class, taking advantage of her absence, went to a porn site to entertain the class.  The boy went to the hairstyle site, just as she returned to the classroom, but not before infecting the computer with the pop-up ads.

Some of my programming friends may be bothered by my use of "hacker" to describe the bad guys.   The word has a benign meaning among programmers, meaning mostly a person who likes to code, but the mainstream meaning has displaced the earlier meaning, except among programmers.)
- 9:15 AM, 19 February 2007
More:  By way of Joanne Jacobs, I learned that you can contribute to a defense fund for Amero here.  You can learn more about the case, and Amero, in this interview.  According to the interview, Amero did ask other teachers for help, and they told her to ignore the problem, since it "happened all the time".  Which, if true, makes the prosecution even more outrageous.
- 7:38 AM, 21 February 2007
Still More:  Again by way of Joanne Jacobs, I found this analysis of the computer's hard drive by computer expert W. Herbert Horner.  It is clear from his analysis that a student triggered the pornographic pop-ups, not Mrs. Amero.  It is not clear — and can't be without testimony from the students — whether he (she?) did so accidentally or deliberately, but on reading the account, I think it a little more likely that it was an accident.

Incidentally, the computer had no firewall activated, so they did not have the most basic protection against attacks.  Microsoft provides a firewall for Windows (though most experts prefer other brands).  To activate the Microsoft firewall takes about a minute, in my experience.  But you need some understanding of the computer systems manager job to know why you should do that.
- 2:06 PM, 21 February 2007   [link]


It May Not Be A Payoff:  But it sure looks like a payoff.
SAN FRANCISCO - The city attorney is investigating whether Mayor Gavin Newsom's former mistress should have received thousands of dollars in sick pay after leaving her job as a City Hall secretary.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said privacy rules prevented him from disclosing why Ruby Rippey-Tourk received the lump-sum payment of more than $10,000 retroactively covering three months of leave she took last year for substance abuse treatment.
By the way, if she was receiving treatment for substance abuse, then Mayor Newsom was, along with his other sins, taking advantage of a disabled woman.  (Newsom is, of course, a Democrat.)

(Here's my earlier post on this affair.)
- 8:23 AM, 19 February 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  The Washington Post takes unindicted Abscam co-conspirator John Murtha to the woodshed.
Mr. Murtha has a different idea.  He would stop the surge by crudely hamstringing the ability of military commanders to deploy troops.  In an interview carried Thursday by the Web site MoveCongress.org, Mr. Murtha said he would attach language to a war funding bill that would prohibit the redeployment of units that have been at home for less than a year, stop the extension of tours beyond 12 months, and prohibit units from shipping out if they do not train with all of their equipment.  His aim, he made clear, is not to improve readiness but to "stop the surge."
. . .
Mr. Murtha's cynicism is matched by an alarming ignorance about conditions in Iraq.  He continues to insist that Iraq "would be more stable with us out of there," in spite of the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that early withdrawal would produce "massive civilian casualties."  He says he wants to force the administration to "bulldoze" the Abu Ghraib prison, even though it was emptied of prisoners and turned over to the Iraqi government last year.  He wants to "get our troops out of the Green Zone" because "they are living in Saddam Hussein's palace"; could he be unaware that the zone's primary occupants are the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy?
The editorial ends by wondering whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares Murtha's ignorance and cynicism.   Since he was her choice for majority leader, she probably does.
- 2:57 PM, 18 February 2007   [link]