Archive:

February 2012, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Ever Heard Of Mary Ellen Avery?  I hadn't, not that I can recall, until I ran across her New York Times obituary while going through a stack of newspapers.

She may not be famous, outside the medical field, but her most important discovery — the cause of respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies — has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Dr. Avery returned to Johns Hopkins for her internship and residency, then moved to Boston in 1957 for a research fellowship in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.  At Harvard, she made a major discovery while comparing the lungs of infants who had died of RDS to those of healthy animals.  "It's all because they had something they would have not needed before birth because they weren't using their lungs for ventilation before birth.   But after birth, without it, they could not live more than a day or two.  And therefore I found what was missing."  What she had found was a foamy substance that she deduced must play a critical role.  Dr. Avery's observation formed the basis of a breakthrough paper published in the American Journal of Diseases of Children in 1959.  By 1995 there were 1,460 infant deaths a year in the U.S. from RDS, down from almost 10,000 a year twenty-five years earlier.
Now doctors can give hormone treatments to the mother to prevent the syndrome, or treat it by replacing the missing foamy substance, so that the babies can breathe.

(More here.  She seems to have been an exceptionally decent person, as well as a great researcher.)
- 8:27 AM, 16 February 2012   [link]


Warren Buffett, Baptist And Bootlegger:  But mostly a bootlegger posing as Baptist, according to Peter Schweizer.   Buffett often claims to be acting for the common good (Baptist), but again and again makes special deals that benefit him at the expense of the public (bootlegger).

For example:
Buffett needed the TARP bailout more than most. In all, Berkshire Hathaway firms received $95 billion in TARP money.  Berkshire held stock in Wells Fargo, Bank of America, American Express, and Goldman Sachs, which received not only TARP money but also Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) backing for their debt, worth a total of $130 billion.  All told, TARP-assisted companies constituted a whopping 30 percent of Buffett's publicly disclosed stock portfolio.  The folksy outsider with his home-spun investment wisdom, the Houston Chronicle concluded in an April 2009 investigative piece, was "one of the top beneficiaries of the banking bailout."
(Ordinarily, I would urge you to read the whole thing.  I still will, but not without warning you that the site was misbehaving badly this morning, stalling again and again, and fading in and out as I tried to read the article.)

Buffett is not ungrateful for all these subsidies; he has sponsored a fund-raising event for Barack Obama, and helped him in many other ways.
- 7:13 AM, 16 February 2012   [link]


Maxine Waters Brings her own brand of civility to the 2012 campaign.

(Practical folks will want to know how she was able to recognize Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor as "demons".  Neither man appear to have horns and a tail, so Waters must have spotted some other sign.  She should tell us how she knows, in case there are other demons among us.)

The congresswoman was giving a speech to the California state Democratic convention.   The video I saw did not show the crowd, but from the sounds I would say most Democrats there liked her speech.

She is correct, by the way, when she says that she is in line to chair the Financial Services Committee, though her ethics problems make her a poor choice for that post.

(More here, including a strikingly honest Waters quote from 2008.)
- 6:18 AM, 16 February 2012   [link]


Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (12):  A study found that — surprise, surprise — corruption is something of a problem.
The Chicago area logged the most public corruption convictions of any federal jurisdiction in the United States during the past 36 years, according to a report released today by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Federal prosecutors secured a total of 1,531 public corruption convictions in the Northern District of Illinois since 1976, said Dick Simpson, head of the university's political science department.

Meanwhile, Illinois logged 1,828 public corruption convictions, the third most of any state, according to the report.  Only California and New York had more.
Per capita, Illinois was beaten by the District of Columbia and Louisiana in the corruption sweepstakes.  So the state is only third, per capita.  But being less corrupt than the District of Columbia and Louisiana is not a sign that you can end investigations of official corruption.

As far as I can tell, Obama did not benefit, greatly, from the corruption in Illinois — though I do think his long association with Tony Rezko deserves more investigation than it has received.

And I believe he sponsored an ethics bill or two while he was in the Illinois senate.  But I don't know of anything effective he did to fight corruption in his home state, not one thing.  But he was an ally of several political figures who turned out to be seriously corrupt, or to have troubling connections, like Alexi Giannoulias.

(Full disclosure:  Dick Simpson is not just a political scientist; he's also a former independent Chicago alderman who tried to fight corruption from the inside.  His ward, the 44th, is on the north side of Chicago, centered, more or less, on Wrigley Field.)
- 4:27 PM, 16 February 2012   [link]


The Aaron Reardon Scandal (II):  The Snohomish County Executive appears to be in serious legal trouble (as well, presumably, in trouble with his wife).  When I originally wrote about this scandal, I was struck by how old-fashioned it was.  This affair, by the head of the third most populous county in Washington state, was hardly unprecedented.

But I am surprised by some of the details in this latest account.  It would have been relatively easy for Reardon to have his affair without breaking the law — but he appears to have crossed legal lines, again and again.  And left an extensive paper trail, or, to be more precise, an extensive electronic trail.
A woman who says she had a six-year affair with Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon has provided details that show how he used his position and his official business trips to carry out their relationship.

Tamara Dutton, a county social worker with no professional reason to go on trips with Reardon, has plane tickets, telephone records, Facebook and text messages and other documents that show how their affair happened largely during the workday and on business trips across the country.
(It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Reardon crossed some of these lines in order to conceal this affair from his wife.)

The two were so reckless that some county workers must have known about their affair, and about the legal lines that Reardon, and perhaps Dutton, were crossing.

Did any of our local journalists know about the affair, and refuse to investigate possible illegalities?  Possibly.  It wouldn't be the first time that journalists have protected a Democrat they liked.

(Before this came out, Reardon was widely viewed as comer in state politics, as a possible candidate, for instance, for governor.  This will be his last term as county executive, even if he manages to avoid prosecution.  Democrats can be forgiving in these matters, but it seems likely that his political career is over.)
- 1:28 PM, 16 February 2012   [link]


"Obama's Budget Games"  Sometimes who says something is more interesting than what was said.  For an example, read Dana Milbank's column attacking President Obama's latest budget.

This paragraph summarizes Milbank's argument (though you may want to read the whole thing for examples of the use, and abuse, of sports metaphors).
The White House's budget for fiscal 2013 begins with a broken promise, adds some phony policy assumptions, throws in a few rosy forecasts and omits all kinds of painful decisions.  Even then, the proposal would add $1 trillion more to the national debt than Obama contemplated a few months ago — and it is a non-starter on Capitol Hill, where even Senate Democrats have no plans to take it up.  It is, in other words, exactly what it was supposed to be: a campaign document.
Milbank is not a Republican, or even a conservative Democrat, but he is honest enough, this time, to recognize the sheer irresponsibility of Obama's latest budget.

Those trillions can be hard to follow, since few of us have family budgets in that range.   Jeffrey Anderson provides some perspective.
Adding all of this up, deficit spending during Obama's four years in the White House (based on his own figures) will be an estimated $5.170 trillion — or $5,170,000,000,000.00.

To help put that colossal sum of money into perspective, if you take our deficit spending under Obama and divide it evenly among the roughly 300 million American citizens, that works out to just over $17,000 per person — or about $70,000 for a family of four.
You may want to hide those numbers from younger children and grandchildren.  Very few of them earn enough money to pay those debts back, or even down.

(Milbank and Anderson make a nearly universal mistake, giving too much credit — or in this case, too much blame — to a president.  Former speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid share the blame for these disastrous Obama budgets, and share the blame for the budgets after the 2006 election.)
- 6:22 AM, 15 February 2012   [link]


Lead-Cooled Nuclear Reactors:  Sounds strange, but there are good reasons for using lead, instead of water, as a working fluid in a "fast reactor".
Like all new generations of reactors, SUPERSTAR has "passive" safety systems—backup safety measures that kick in automatically, without human intervention, in case of accidents.   For example, all reactors have control rods incorporating substances that absorb neutrons and stop nuclear chain reactions.  SUPERSTAR's rods can be suspended above the reactor core held in place by electricity. If the plant loses power, the control rods will automatically drop into the core and stop the reaction.

In addition, SUPERSTAR's lead coolant is circulated around the core by a process called natural circulation.  While existing plants use electrically-driven pumps to keep the water moving, SUPERSTAR exploits a law of physics to move the coolant.
. . .
This means that if the plant loses power, as happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the reactor does not need electricity to cool the core after shutdown.
SUPERSTAR — I wish they had chosen another name — is small enough to be transported, in pieces, by rail, which gives it more flexibility than most current commercial reactors.

(Here's an explanation of "fast reactors", if, like me, you need one.

And here's a link to a PDF abstract with a few more details.)
- 7:34 PM, 14 February 2012   [link]


Dick Morris Is a suspicious fellow (and very well informed).
Former Clinton adviser Dick Morris on Monday accused ABC's George Stephanopoulos of being a "paid Democratic hitman."  Appearing on Fox News's Hannity, Morris also said Stephanopoulos was "under orders" to ask Mitt Romney all those contraception questions during ABC's January 7 Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire:
Is Morris right in his suspicions?  I don't know, and I don't see any way to find out, unless Stephanopoulos agrees to release his emails, take a lie detector test, or do something similar.

But I will say that milder forms of those two Morris accusations do not seem implausible to me.

Calling Stephanopoulos a "paid Democratic hitman" almost certainly goes too far, now, though you could say that Stephanopoulos was one when he was working for Clinton.  Nor do I think that anyone ordered him to ask those questions, which seemed so strange at the time — but I can easily imagine him getting a hint from the Obama campaign — and taking it.
- 4:06 PM, 14 February 2012   [link]


The News Keeps Getting Worse For Our News Organizations:   In January, Pew Research did another poll on news organizations, this one focused on the current presidential campaign.  (The one they published, and I summarized, last September, was more general.)  Pew found that, if anything, more people now think that our news organizations are very biased.

The number of Americans who believe there is a great deal of political bias in news coverage has edged up to 37% from 31% four years ago.  Republicans continue to express more concern about media bias than do Democrats, but the rise in recent years has occurred across party lines.
. . .
Men (41%) are somewhat more likely than women (33%) to see bias in the news.  Younger Americans under 50 (31%) are less likely than those 50 and older (44%) to see a great deal of bias in coverage.   Differences also exist across socioeconomic lines with higher-earning and better-educated Americans more likely to say there is a great deal of political bias in the news.

In other words, the more you know about the news, the more likely you are to see the news as very biased.

Voters have a distressingly low level of knowledge about basic political questions, as measured by a simple test.  That should worry our news organizations, and I suppose it must bother some of them.

The worst groups on that knowledge test?  People who relied on ABC and local TV stations for their news.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:26 PM, 14 February 2012   [link]


Hugo Chávez May Be Defeated This October:  The united opposition ran a primary and chose Henrique Capriles as their candidate.  Chávez opponents, including Juan Nagel, are optimistic.
For years, Venezuela's opposition to Hugo Chávez's looked like a bit of a joke.  Thanks to unsuccessful attempts to unseat the president (including general strikes, an electoral boycott, and even a coup), it deservedly earned characterizations like "disorganized," "leaderless," and "self-defeating."

On Sunday, Venezuela's opposition finally got its act together.  In a national primary that drew more than 2.9 million voters to the polls (double what was expected), Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles was chosen as the opposition's standard-bearer and leader.
. . .
From day one, Capriles has run a general-election campaign, ignoring the more radical elements within the opposition movement.  His main message to the voters: "I am electable because I can make inroads with swing voters who once supported Hugo Chávez but who are now looking for an alternative and long for an end to political strife.  I am here to work, not to talk or fight."
(Miranda is the second largest Venezuelan state.)

It is hard for foreigners to judge in these matters, especially foreigners like me who know only a few words of Spanish, but I think that the opposition chose the candidate with the best chance to defeat Chávez.  Capriles has won elections in Venezuela, has a moderate, conciliatory platform, has the discipline to keep on track, and looks good, especially compared to Chávez.

Will Chávez try to steal the election?  Probably, but if it isn't close, the cheating may not matter.  Will the Venezuelan armed forces accept a Chávez defeat?   The CIA should have a tentative answer to that question, but I don't.

(It is hard to see how the Castro regime could survive without Chávez's support, so we should expect the Cubans to meddle in the election as much as they can get away with.

You can find some basic facts on the election here, and a sketchy biography of Capriles here.

The united opposition calls itself the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática. Their acronym, MUD, works better in Spanish than in English.)
- 10:41 AM, 14 February 2012   [link]


Will Marine Le Pen Be On The French Presidential Ballot?   Not necessarily.
Le Pen who leads the National Front party launched her presidential manifesto on Monday, but is still not legally allowed to run in the elections for the Elysée Palace.

To do so she needs signatures of support from 500 of France's local mayors, but her party revealed on Monday they were still around 140 short.  The first round of voting is now just under ten weeks away on April 22.
I would guess that she will get the necessary signatures — it would be hard to justify excluding a candidate with the support of 17 percent of the French voters.  And, no doubt, some of the other candidates with see tactical advantages in having her in the race.

(I haven't seen an explanation for that 500-signature provision, and I am not sure which parties it was intended to exclude.)

Probably the closest parallel to Le Pen in the United States would be Pat Buchanan, though Le Pen is better looking.

(More about her in this Wikipedia biography and her party, in this article.   As usual, I have to warn you that Wikipedia articles on politicians and parties are not always balanced, or even accurate.)
- 7:41 AM, 14 February 2012   [link]


"Why Is The Government Subsidizing A $104,000 Car?"  Need a hint to answer that question?  Here you are:  The Fisker Karma — that's its real name — is an electric car.

(Or, as some disrespectful folks would say, a coal-powered car, since we get more of our electricity from burning coal than from any other source.)

The car builder, Fisker, is being subsidized with government loans; car buyers are being subsidized with tax breaks — which the Obama administration wants to increase.  (I assume you realize that those tax breaks have value only for buyers who pay high taxes, that is, the wealthy.)

If wealthy members of the Green religion want to build and even buy these cars, that doesn't bother me, but I don't see why the rest of us should help pay for these religious objects, or, if you prefer, these rich men's toys.

(There are good arguments for supporting research into better batteries, and even better electric vehicles, with tax dollars.)
- 6:48 AM, 14 February 2012   [link]


Four Pinnochios For Obama Chief Of Staff Jack Lew.
That said, Lew is completely wrong when he claims that 60 votes are needed to "pass a budget in the Senate."  As he well knows, a budget resolution is one of the few things that are not subject to a filibuster.  In fact, that is one reason why a bill based on reconciliation instructions cannot be filibustered.

You don't even need 50 votes, just a simple majority.  Here are a few of the recent close votes for the budget resolution, as listed by CRS:  48-45 (2009 budget); 51-49 (2006); 51-50 (2004); 50-48 (2001).  Senate Democrats may have reasons for failing to pass a budget plan—such as wanting to avoid casting politically inconvenient votes—but a GOP filibuster is not one of them.
As Glenn Kessler says, "a two-time budget director really should know better" — and does.

So why did Lew say that, on two different shows?  Because the claim supports the Obama political argument that congressional Republicans are blocking budget negotiations.

(I didn't see Lew on those shows, but I did catch his act on Fox News Sunday.  He didn't make the same claim there, perhaps because Wallace never gave him a chance to do so, but Lew did irritate me, again and again, by refusing to answer Wallace's questions.  I expected Lew to evade some questions; I didn't expect him to evade almost all of them.)
- 10:15 AM, 13 February 2012   [link]


Did A British Man Bear A Child?  No, because despite the headline, the hormones, and the surgery(?), she is not a man.

There is a joke often attributed to Lincoln:
Q: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

A: Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn't mean it is one.
(He probably said it, but it wasn't original with him.)

Similarly, though this messed-up woman can call herself a man, and can pose as a man with the help of hormone treatments, she is still a woman.  She still has two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome, which should settle the matter.  (There are some genuine examples of people who are not completely male or female, but this doesn't appear to be one of them.)

It is annoying to see journalists — and even worse, doctors — treat this kind of fantasy seriously.
- 6:34 AM, 13 February 2012   [link]


Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Will Again Submit President Obama's Budget To The Senate:  And he expects the majority Democrats to treat it the same way they did last time.

Here's the entire interchange from "Face the Nation", where McConnell makes his promise.  (It's on page 4, if you want to go straight to it.)
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you one other question.  The President sends his budget up there to you all Monday, tomorrow.  What he says he can save four trillion dollars over the next ten years.  Is that going to be good enough?  Does his budget have any chance?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: No.  You know, last year I-- I had to offer his budget for him.  Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget in a thousand days even though the law requires it.  We only had two budget votes last year.  I offered the House budget.  They followed the law and had a vote on a budget.  We voted on that in the Senate.  I offered President Obama's budget since the Democrats didn't seem to want to develop their own budget and didn't want to vote for his.  His budget was defeated ninety-seven to nothing.  So probably the only budget votes we'll have in the Senate which refuses to follow the law and pass a budget of its own would be a House-passed budget and the President's budget.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: So I intend to offer the President's budget for him so he'll have a chance to get a vote on it.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right.  Thank you very much, Senator.
That exchange deserves study:  Schieffer starts with an Obama talking point (a meaningless one, since he does not provide a baseline).  McConnell, well prepared, ignores the talking point and instead notes that Senate Democrats were unwilling to support the last Obama budget, and unwilling to follow the law and present their own budget.

Schieffer, having a stepped on a land mine, ends the discussion hurriedly, not even asking about McConnell's claim that the Senate Democrats are breaking the law.

(Minor technical point:  A smarter partisan than Schieffer would not have asked a question that allowed McConnell to make his points.  One reason that we are seeing so much coverage of social issues is that our partisan press thinks those issues help the Democrats — and recognizes that any serious discussion of fiscal issues hurts their party.)
- 5:45 AM, 13 February 2012   [link]


Did The Obama Administration "Adjust", "Bend", Or "Retreat" From Its Attempt To Force The Catholic Church To Violate Their Religious Doctrines?  No, although almost every news organization said so.  (Those verbs were taken from the headlines of lead stories in the New York Times, the Seattle Times, and the Wall Street Journal, respectively.)

No, as Greg Mankiw explains: "Ultimately, all insurance costs are passed on to the purchaser, . . . " so the Catholic institutions would pay for these polices, whether or not they administer them.  And some "self-administer", so they have no insurance company.

Obama may not understand that simple point, but many in his administration must.  This shift was simply an attempt to fool leftist Catholics like Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne.  (It appears to have succeeded with Dionne.)

The news accounts I saw were incomplete:  They all described the controversy as being about birth control or contraception.  In fact, the new policies also require Catholic institutions to supply abortifacients, and to do sterilization procedures.

You can decide for yourself whether leaving those out of the stories shows space limitations, incompetence, or dishonesty.

(Catholic are not the only religious groups that object to these mandates.  So do others who share their values, and so do many who value freedom.)
- 7:15 AM, 12 February 2012   [link]


Woman Warrior:  And now candidate for Arizona's 8th congressional district, Martha McSally.  (I know little about her, but I love that picture — and I am glad she is running, since she is obviously smart, and a real fighter.  And I can't help smiling when I think of her encountering, for instance, Nancy Pelosi.)

More here and here.   If McSally wins the Republican nomination, she has a good chance to win the 8th district, which leans Republcan, and has many veterans.
- 4:08 PM, 11 February 2012   [link]


The Indestructible Cross Country Ski Suit:  At least 25 years ago, I bought a cross country ski suit from Recreational Equipment Incorporated in Seattle.  I have used it every winter since then, and sometimes almost every weekend in a winter, if I was living where snow, and fellow skiers, were available.

It shows almost no signs of wear.  (Exception:  One label has faded so that I can't read it.)

Cross country skiing is rough on clothes.  The exercise stretches them, the snow abrades them, and the sweat contaminates them.  But this suit has survived all that — and many trips though the washer, for more than 25 years, without showing almost any sign of wear.  And it has been quite comfortable to wear all that time, too.

(I'm not quite sure what it is made of; I think the label that I can't read any more said that they used polyamide, but I could be wrong.)

About the time I bought it, synthetics were completing their replacement of natural fibers for serious outdoor gear, with a few exceptions.  And the change has been all for the better; the synthetics are better than wool, and far better than cotton for outdoor exercise, so much so that they add a margin of safety for those who exercise in the wilderness.  (People can now best escape our "plastic" civilization by wearing outfits made out of — plastics.)

Having said all that about the suit, I have to admit that I am about to replace it.  It was made to wear with knicker socks, as were almost all X-C suits at the time, and the socks have become almost unavailable.  (The last time I searched, I found some very expensive ones, for golfers.)  My last pair has holes in them, big enough holes to be slightly embarrassing.  And I would like to have pockets in my ski suit.

(The suit was made by a Norwegian company, Odlo.  They are still in business, though far more in Europe than in the United States.)
- 3:45 PM, 11 February 2012   [link]


Frisbee, Football, And Hole "Taxes"?  That's the best explanation I've seen for this decision.
This week, Los Angeles County okayed a new regulation banning the throwing of Frisbees or footballs on the beaches — which, of course, destroys the purpose of living in Southern California in the first place. The first offense will earn you a hefty $100 fine; the second, $200; the third and beyond, $500. You can, of course, apply for a permit. For parents with industrious children, holes deeper than 18 inches are also banned — so get your kids the cheap plastic shovels or pay a fine.

What's the point of this law?  Unless it's to prevent horrific incidents like this, the only point is to raise cash for the state.
18 inches?!  They haven't known many small boys, or maybe they have and are counting on the fines from too-deep holes, too.

I have no idea why they exempted volleyballs.  Perhaps one of the officials responsible for this plays volleyball regularly.
- 10:28 AM, 10 February 2012
Actually, the new ordinance eases the restrictions in an older (seldom-enforced?) ordinance.

I thought the original story seemed too good to be true, but when I didn't see an immediate refutation, decided to put up a post, without doing a search.  I should have reminded myself that when something seems too good to be true, . . .
- 8:04 AM, 13 February 2012   [link]


If We Know Who Is Attacking Iran's Nuclear Programs, Should We Say So?  I would say no.  But the Obama administration disagrees with me.
Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran's leaders.

The group, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the United States, accused of killing American servicemen and contractors in the 1970s and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran before breaking with the Iranian mullahs in 1980.
What, exactly, did the Obama administration hope to gain from saying this?  Are they still hoping that we can make a deal with the mullahs?  There are people, not all of them fools, who still think that's possible.  I don't, but I have no claim to be an expert on the Iranian rulers.

By way of Chicago Boy Jonathan.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the People's Mujahedin, with all the usual caveats, and a few extra besides.)
- 8:40 AM, 10 February 2012   [link]


Romney's Glitter Bomb Attacker Has Been Arrested:  And fired from his job working for the Colorado Democrats.
On Tuesday night, a student at University of Colorado Denver was arrested by Secret Service for trying to throw glitter at Mitt Romney.  Now sources are telling Colorado Peak Politics that the "glitter bomber" worked for the Colorado state Senate Democrats.  This session.

The student in question, Peter Smith, faces up to 6 months in prison for "creating a disturbance, throwing a missile and an unlawful act on school property," according to Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson.

Our sources are saying he was fired by the Senate Democrats either yesterday or today.
Those Colorado Democrats may want to rethink their hiring policies.  (Unless they secretly approve of the attack.)

(Glitter can be harmful, as an optometrist explains.  And, of course, the Secret Service, and other protectors have no way of knowing what is being thrown at the people they are protecting.)
- 6:49 AM, 10 February 2012   [link]


Ever Think That Michelle Obama would have made a good gym teacher?
Over the past two years first lady Michelle Obama has showcased her hula-hooping skills, broken a world record for jumping jacks and taught us how to "Dougie" in an effort to encourage the nation's children to live healthier lives through exercise.

Today the first lady is on the move again, embarking on a three-day tour to celebrate the anniversary of her signature "Let's Move" initiative to fight childhood obesity.
We need good gym teachers — more, perhaps, than we need lawyers.

And I can't help thinking that she would have been happier as a gym teacher than a lawyer.
- 6:07 AM, 10 February 2012   [link]


WolframAlpha:  It's not a search engine — though the New York Times said it was in a headline; it's a "computational knowledge engine".   Instead of trying to find an answer to your search phrase by looking around the web, WolframAlpha tries to find it in its own databases, or, if you have given it an equation, to solve it.

And, sometimes that's a much better approach than searching with one of the usual search engines.

I've been experimenting with it casually over the past few days, and think that it will be quite useful, especially for people who like working with numbers and equations.  (Or for those who don't, but have to.  I am not sure I should mention this, but I suspect it would be a real help with, for example, algebra homework.)

People like, for instance, sports stats nuts.

This 2009 article gives you ten simple comparisons between Google and WolframAlpha, and should give you some idea which will work better, when.  (As an experiment, I gave WolframAlpha question six, and now it gives a useful answer.  I didn't try the pizza question.)

I'm not sure why I just got around to trying it.  Maybe I need to spend a little more time on technology, and a little less on politics.

Here's the site, if you want to do your own experiments.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia article.)
- 6:32 PM, 9 February 2012   [link]


Michael Ramirez On That 9th Circuit Gay Marriage Decision:  You can find substantive comments on the decision to over-rule California's Proposition 8 here, here, and many other places.

But, perhaps because I find the subject less important than many others do, I was reminded of a Michael Ramirez cartoon from a few years ago.  Ramirez showed a boy's birthday party, with a mother apologizing to her son.  She is telling him that Bozo the clown was not available for the birthday party.  Behind her stands the substitute for Bozo, a man in judicial robes with a sign identifying him as a member of the 9th Circuit Court, (or, as many call it, the 9th Circus Court).
- 2:07 PM, 9 February 2012   [link]


Professor John Cochrane Explains When We Need Insurance:   And when we don't.
Critics are missing the larger point.  Why should the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decree that any of us must pay for "insurance" that covers contraceptives?

I put "insurance" in quotes for a reason.  Insurance is supposed to mean a contract, by which a company pays for large, unanticipated expenses in return for a premium: expenses like your house burning down, your car getting stolen or a big medical bill.

Insurance is a bad idea for small, regular and predictable expenses.  There are good reasons that your car insurance company doesn't add $100 per year to your premium and then cover oil changes, and that your health insurance doesn't charge $50 more per year and cover toothpaste.  You'd have to fill out mountains of paperwork, the oil-change and toothpaste markets would become much less competitive, and you'd end up spending more.
Cochrane is right about the general purpose of insurance, and he is right to say that the tax-deductibility of employer-provided health insurance encourages this kind of wasteful, first-dollar coverage.

But that kind of coverage is not easy to get rid of, as any marketing insurance executive could tell you.  Many customers love the idea of first dollar coverage, even though it makes them worse off in the long run.

But I think that most of them could understand why this kind of coverage is wasteful, if our "mainstream" journalists made an effort to explain it from time to time.  (They do it, from time to time, with car insurance, but I doubt very much whether many of them will extend it to this case.)

Cochrane is wrong to say, flatly, that this is the "larger point".  It would be the larger point for most libertarians and economic professors — Cochrane is both — but not for many Catholic bishops.

I agree with Cochrane that this is a wasteful policy, but for me the religious freedom argument against it is the "larger point", not the waste.

By way of Greg Mankiw, who links to a full, PDF version of the column.
- 12:34 PM, 9 February 2012   [link]


Obama Met With His National Security Team On Pakistan And Afghanistan:  That isn't news, you may be thinking, as I did — until I learned that President Obama has not been meeting with them regularly.  When this was publicized, Obama did meet with the team — and put out a press release, celebrating the event.

Perhaps we should be pleased that Obama is leaving these matters to the professionals.  But this neglect of his duties as commander-in-chief does make me wonder, again, whether he deserves much credit for the death of Osama bin Laden.
- 7:44 AM, 9 February 2012   [link]


Was The 54.5 Mile Per Gallon Mandate A "Fetcher" Bill?  That's what Holman Jenkins suggests, though he doesn't use the term.

If you aren't sure what a "fetcher" bill is, then you haven't worked in a corrupt statehouse.  Here's Mike Royko's explanation, from Boss, where he is describing Richard J. Daley's experience in the Illinois legislature.
Lobbyists expected to pay for votes.  Their generosity was matched by the legislators' greed.  If a day passed without profit, some legislators would dream up a "fetcher" bill.  A "fetcher" bill would, say, require that all railroad tracks in the state be relaid six inches farther apart.  It would "fetch" a visit from a lobbyist, bearing a gift. (p. 52)
(Royko says that Daley himself was an honest legislator — but ignored the corruption all around him.)

And here's what Jenkins says about that mandate.
We've often noted the direct handouts, in the form of billions of dollars in subsidies to both manufacturers and buyers of green cars.  But these are only half the story. Mr. Obama made a splash last year when he announced that, by 2025, the U.S. fleet would be required to get 54.5 miles per gallon.

The corollary of an implausible mandate is a steady traffic in auto industry lobbyists to Washington, campaign check in hand, to water it down.  Of these, the most important are very large mileage credits awarded to electric cars (though they basically run on coal), and then the doubling of these credits as an "incentive multiplier."  In effect, auto makers have been virtually required to build electric cars and dump them on the public at a loss in order to create headroom for the cars that actually earn a profit.
(Emphasis added.)

Jenkins appears to believe that these mandates are imposed mainly for those political gains.   I don't doubt that there are people in Obama's political team who understand the benefits — to them — of these mandates.  But I think that Jenkins gives Obama too much credit for understanding the effects of these policies.

In other words, the mandate is both a "fetcher" bill with political benefits for the administration and a semi-honest attempt to reduce our use of fossil fuels.

(I may discuss the problems with these mandates later; for now, I'll just note that they have led to increased deaths on our highways, as we switched to lighter cars, and that they are partly self-defeating.  People who own higher mileage cars — tend to drive them more miles.

You may have to get to the Jenkins column through a Google search, as I did.)
- 6:56 AM, 9 February 2012
Second Thoughts:  After looking over Jenkins's column again, I decided that I had been a bit unfair in summarizing his views.  I would say that he is almost as skeptical as I am about Obama's understanding of the effects of these mileage mandates.
- 1:26 PM, 9 February 2012   [link]