February 2013, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
George W. Bush Is A Pretty Good amateur painter.
About as good, I would say, as Winston Churchill.
But significantly more adventurous in his choice of subjects and viewpoints.
The man continues to surprise.
(Of course I think this attack was an outrageous invasion of the Bush family privacy, but I am writing about one part of it anyway, because it shows another admirable side to a man who has always been reluctant to brag about himself.)
- 1:16 PM, 8 February 2013 [link]
Remember Hillary Clinton's 2008 3 AM Ad? If you don't, or you want a review, you can watch the 31 second ad here.
The ad asked a devastating question: Who do you want in the White House to answer an emergency call?
And we now know what Barack Obama did when he was told about the Benghazi emergency.
Panetta said, though he did meet with Obama at a 5 o'clock prescheduled gathering, the president left operational details, including knowledge of what resources were available to help the Americans under siege, "up to us."We also know that Hillary Clinton was not taking ordinary calls, because she did not ask for help from the Defense Department before the attack. In an earlier hearing, Clinton tried to excuse herself by saying, truthfully, that she couldn't read the millions of cables that come into the State Department. That's true, but any halfway competent administrator will choose gatekeepers who can sort out the important information, and make sure the top people get it. (I'm not entirely convinced that Clinton did not see some of the cables asking for more security in Benghazi.)
And we know what Hillary Clinton and her people said to the Defense Department during the attack.
Neither the secretary of defense nor the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to the secretary of state during the 8-hour attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.So Clinton didn't call the only people who could have, possibly, gotten help to our people in Benghazi.
(Fausta made the same connection to the Clinton ad.)
- 12:44 PM, 8 February 2013 [link]
Gail Collins Does It Again: Speaking of ill-behaved kids, yesterday the New York Times columnist (and former editorial page editor) again — you know what's coming, don't you — attacked Mitt Romney in a silly column which began by discussing the Richard III comeback, and then said Romney might have a similar comeback in 2613.
(Collins does not realize that her argument is undermined by the fact that some serious historians think that Richard III was not all that bad, as kings go.)
I won't link to the column, because some of you may not forgive me if you read it from the link, but I will confirm your fears: She does say, one more time, that Romney strapped a dog to the roof of his car.
After reading the column, I felt that I had to take a look at obsessive compulsive disorder, and, briefly, wonder whether Ms. Collins' insurance at the Times would cover treatment, if that illness is what explains her obsession.
You may think I have become a little obsessive about this myself. Perhaps, but I will remind you that Collins was, for six years, the editorial page editor of the most influential newspaper in the United States, and possibly the world, and that that newspaper is happy to allow her to continue to write these columns, even though they contain a lie.
(The lie, of course, is Collins' claim that Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car. In fact, he strapped a dog carrier to the top of his car.)
- 6:50 AM, 8 February 2013 [link]
Area Restaurant Rewards "well behaved kids".
A Washington couple were left stunned after their server handed them the bill for their family's dinner - and they saw they had been given a $4 discount for their 'Well Behaved Kids'.That's a fun story except — and I'll bet this thought has already occurred to you — you can't help but wonder how many families bring ill behaved kids to the restaurant. The owner says this is the first time he has put a discount on the bill, though he has rewarded well behaved kids in other ways.
(Here's the restaurant, in case you happen to be visiting Poulsbo, a fun little, touristy, Norwegian-American town.)
- 6:18 AM, 8 February 2013 [link]
"What Is Chuck Hagel Trying To Hide?" Jennifer Rubin has a good question.
. . . the day before the nomination the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin delayed the vote as 25 Republicans demanded Hagel respond to some fairly ordinary requests (who paid for his speeches, who funded his organizations, whether his investments entailed foreign funding). Hagel won’t even provide a complete list of his speeches in the last five years for which he received more than $5,000. Some of this information must have been included in Hagel’s tax returns (for example, from whom he received speech fees and how much he received), and in other cases he certainly could go back to the entities at issue to request the information be provided for inspection by the chairman and ranking member. Instead, Hagel asserted a fiduciary duty to refuse to provide much of the data!Chairman Levin must know that this delay makes it more likely that Hagel's opponents will find still more problems in Hagel's past. Could it be that Levin himself has doubts, and is hoping that Hagel will withdraw?
It is possible — Hagel is such an odd duck — that Hagel does not realize how suspicious his refusal looks.
(From a purely political point of view, the Republicans have already won this round. The minority that pays attention to these things has seen that Obama nominated an unqualified man to be in charge of our defense.
Of course, I would much rather have a competent nominee than this political victory, but I am enough of a partisan to take some pleasure in this defeat for Obama.)
- 1:08 PM, 7 February 2013 [link]
Killing Terrorists With Drones Is Better Than Capturing Them says Ralph Peters.
Kill, don’t capture. We owe America’s lefties a big wet kiss for forcing the Obama administration into this highly effective policy. By making a cause celebre out of the imaginary suffering of blood-drenched terrorists at Gitmo, they inspired candidate Obama to promise to close the facility within the first year of his presidency.In principle, the former intelligence officer admits, it would be better if we could capture and question some of the terrorists, but in practice, our interrogators are so limited by our "our hopelessly prissy rules" that most interrogations of terrorists are fruitless.
I wouldn't accept that conclusion completely. If you capture enough terrorists, some of them will talk, even to interrogators limited by hopelessly prissy rules. Unfortunately, we have chosen not just to capture and interrogate them, but to try them in courts. And that, in my opinion, has been serious mistake. It's a natural mistake for lawyers to make, but it is still a mistake.
It's a mistake because it gives the terrorists wonderful opportunities to publicize their cause, and because it lets them learn about our anti-terrorist operations.
It is hard to tell, of course, without some access to secret data, but I am inclined to think that the terrorists may have learned at least as much from their "lawfare", as we have from interrogations. Killing them does solve that problem.
- 7:40 AM, 7 February 2013 [link]
Boys And Girls, Reading, Math, Science, And The New York Times: Yesterday, the New York Times published an article on the sad fact — from their point of view — that American boys do a little better at science than American girls.
For years — and especially since 2005, when Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.And the reporter, Hannah Fairfield, goes on to praise a study that concluded that the difference in favor of the boys in United States is a result of cultural differences . You may have suspected that conclusion was coming, since this is, after all, the Times.
The print article was accompanied by a big black-and-white scatter plot, with the average country scores on the Y axis, and the gender differences on the X axis. The on-line article has a set of scatter plots in color that convey most of the same information.
(The Times was not as precise in describing the study as they should have been: The study covered 62 countries and three cities: Shanghai, China; Hong Kong, China; and Taipei, Taiwan.)
Fortunately, the data they used is available from the OECD. And when I looked at the data for reading and math, as well as sciences, I came to somewhat different conclusions.
Concern about gender differences in education in much of the 20th century focused on the disadvantage and underachievement of girls. More recently, however, the underachievement of boys in reading literacy has become the focus of policy attention. In the PISA 2009 reading assessment, girls outperform boys in every participating country by an average, across OECD countries, of 39 PISA score points: over half a proficiency level and roughly the equivalent of an average school year’s progress . . .The advantage for girls varies among the countries, but is found in all of them. If we use the same reasoning the Times did, we conclude that in all of the countries, the culture is biased against boys learning to read.
Of all 65 participating countries there are 35 countries with an advantage for boys and 5 with an advantage for girls. For the countries with an advantage for boys on the mathematics scale, gender differences vary widely, even if they tend to be much smaller than corresponding gender differences observed on the reading scale. The largest gender differences are observed in Belgium, Chile, the United Kingdom and the United States, with an advantage of 20 score points or more for boys and a difference of 32 and 24 score points, respectively, in the partner countries and economies Colombia and Liechtenstein. Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, the Czech Republic, Poland, Iceland, Korea, the Slovak Republic, Finland, Slovenia and Sweden, as well as the partner countries and economies Panama, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Romania, Dubai (UAE), the Russian Federation, Latvia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Shanghai-China, Indonesia and Bulgaria do not show measurable differences between the scores for boys and girls. In the partner countries and economies Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Trinidad and Tobago and Albania, girls outperformed boys in mathematics by between 5 and 11 score points . . .If we use the same reasoning the Times did, we conclude that in all but five countries, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Trinidad and Tobago and Albania, the culture is biased against girls learning math.
We can go a step further using what the Times told us: In most of the 65 countries, the culture is biased against boys learning science.
The reporter, Hannah Fairfield (and most likely those researchers), are not troubled by the universal cultural bias against boys in reading, or against boys in science in most of the 65 countries.
At this point, you may think we have pushed that cultural explanation further than it can go, reasonably.
So let me suggest we consider a radical — and, I must warn you, politically incorrect — idea: Boys and girls are different. In particular, on the average, boys develop later than girls and are better with numbers and worse with words.
If we accept that, we have no trouble explaining the girls' universal advantage in reading and the boys' near universal advantage in math. We can even explain the smaller girls' advantage in science. At that level, science is a mixture of reading and math, so we could expect roughly even results, if it were not for the fact that the boys are still behind the girls a bit in development.
Do cultural explanations account for some of the differences among the countries? No doubt, but you would need more than just these test scores to prove it. I suspect, for example, that the big girls' advantage in science and math in countries such as Kyrgyzstan is explained by a culture that values education for girls less than education for boys, and so has pulled most girls out of school by the age of fifteen. The girls that are left are, on the average, the smarter, better educated girls.
Since I have already crossed the line into political incorrectness, I might as well continue and give you a hypothetical to think about: Suppose we learned of a method of teaching that would increase science test scores for American boys by 15 points, and American girls by 10 points. Would you be in favor of changing to that method, since both boys and girls would be better off?
Those who think any advantage for boys and men in our society is inherently unfair, and see any disadvantage for boys and men as something to be ignored, would oppose it, I imagine. For them, any such change would only make a currently unfair system, even more unfair.
For myself, I long ago accepted the idea that men and women are different, and that a society is better off if it accepts those differences, instead of denying them. And a society is much better off if it uses those differences in productive ways.
But you are free to think of me as a hopeless Cro-Magnon for holding those views, if you like.
(Since they mention Lawrence Summers and his politically incorrect idea, I probably should explain it, briefly. Men and women have the same average IQs. (In fact, IQ tests are designed to produce just that result.) But IQs for men and women don't have the same amount of variability. There are more men at the low and high ends. Summers believes, correctly in my opinion, that to do work at the very highest level you need to be very smart, and there are more very smart men (and more retarded men) than women. That is especially true in math and fields that require math.
So we should expect to see more boys in the special education classes for the same reason we should expect to see more men winning Nobel prizes in science.
Incidentally, since scientists are drawn from the very top levels of our schools, any comparisons of all the students across countries tells us very little about why more men are scientists. To understand that, you have to study the top 1 percent.)
- 7:31 PM, 6 February 2013 [link]
Did (Disgraced) Former Prosecutor Eliot Spitzer Destroy Insurance Giant AIG? I've seen that theory for some time, but have never had enough information to decide on even a tentative answer.
Now the former AIG CEO, Maurice Greenberg, is out with a book which, among other things, makes that argument.
Taking over in 1968, Mr. Greenberg launched the company on one of the great winning streaks in corporate history. By 2005, the authors report, the value of the company had increased by 19,000%, and AIG was the world's largest insurance company. The streak ended that year when New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused Mr. Greenberg of fraud—specifically, of having engineered a sham reinsurance transaction to boost AIG's reserves against losses—and bullied the AIG board into firing him with threats of a corporate indictment. Like many of Mr. Spitzer's prosecutions, the case turned out to be less successful in court than in the media. No criminal charges were ever filed against Mr. Greenberg, and much of the civil suit was later dropped.After Greenberg was forced out, his successors had less success in running the company.
The reviewer, James Freeman, does make a good case against Spitzer in that paragraph — but I'd still like to see more on both sides of the argument.
(The customer reviews at Amazon are quite bimodal. Only two of the twelve reviews come from "Amazon verified purchasers", so I suspect that not all of the reviewers there actually read the book. For what it's worth, those two were both positive.)
- 1:30 PM, 6 February 2013 [link]
McDermott family values.
It's the job of government, not families, to take care of grandma, says Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.If you read the whole article, you'll find that he and his siblings did at least one thing more for their parents — and that he seems to still be annoyed by that, and by having to sleep on the couch when his grandmother came to stay with his parents.
He's not exactly a bleeding heart liberal, is he?
- 12:46 PM, 6 February 2013 [link]
Union President Chris Crane has harsh words for the Obama administration.
President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security care more about “special interests” in the Democratic campaign base than the lives of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, the ICE union boss told Congress today.The three-minute video showing highlights from his testimony is simply devastating.
- 6:02 AM, 6 February 2013 [link]
There Goes Paris.
One of the world's most fashionable cities can no longer skirt the issue -- ladies want to wear pants, too.The law hasn't been enforced in recent years, but from what I could tell on my visits to the city, most women in Paris had figured out that they looked more attractive in skirts and dresses.
(As you may have guessed from her name, Vallaud-Belkacem has an interesting background — and doesn't look bad in a dress.)
- 5:10 AM, 6 February 2013 [link]
Obama "Not As Good As He Thinks He Is" At basketball, according to NBA commissioner David Stern.
Stern explains, somewhat obliquely, why you you hear Obama's basketball abilities praised by the professionals.
The politics of it is the [NBA] players appreciate him for who he is and what he has accomplished.Oh, and Stern notes that Obama is a "lefty", who "goes the same way every time".
I will refrain from making the obvious political parallels — but feel free to yield to that temptation, if you want to.
By way of Tim Blair.
- 3:50 PM, 5 February 2013 [link]
Well, They Both Start With "P" So maybe Vice President Biden can be forgiven for confusing Portugal and Poland.
(He will be forgiven by almost all of our "mainstream" jounrnalists.)
- 12:26 PM, 5 February 2013 [link]
The White House almost ordered us to Photoshop that picture of Obama shooting skeet.
So, naturally, many complied. (I think I like the last one best.) I do have an idea for a simple one of my own, but haven't gotten around to creating it.
(In general, works by the United States government, including all those pictures of Obama, are not protected by copyright.)
- 10:35 AM, 5 February 2013 [link]
Dorothy Rabinowitz Dissects Chuck Hagel's Performance Before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
She dismisses the idea that having served in combat makes a man qualified to be secretary of defense and then turns to what Hagel said, giving especial attention to this blunder.
Matters didn't improve when Mr. Hagel announced, regarding Iran's nuclear capacity, that he supported the president's strong position on "containment." But the administration's policy is not, as Mr. Hagel apparently had yet to learn, containment—it is to prevent Iran's development of nuclear arms.(There are many who suspect that this was a Kinsley gaffe, that Hagel accurately described the Obama administration's actual policy, and that he certainly described his preferred policy.)
What does it say about Hagel that he didn't know the Obama administration policy toward Iran? The all-out Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons — and ballistic missiles to carry them — is on every serious person's top five list of problems for a defense secretary. But Hagel almost certainly did not know what Obama's policy was — or at least what Obama says his policy is.
To be this misinformed requires a kind of perverse genius, especially for a man who is chairman of the Atlantic Council, co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, and a part-time professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
Rabinowitz does not say anything about why Obama chose Hagel. As far as I can tell, Obama picked Hagel because they found that they agreed on military policy during their trips to Iraq. They both, for example, got the "surge" wrong, and in much the same way. And it is not surprising that they agreed, since they appear to share the leftwing consensus that came out of the Vietnam War, that the United States can do almost nothing right in foreign affairs.
That would explain why Obama ignored such obvious requirements for the job, like executive experience and ability, when he picked Hagel.
- 10:14 AM, 5 February 2013 [link]
"The Inconvenient Truth About Polar Bears" From National Public Radio, of all places, we learn that polar bears are not vanishing because of global warming.
This is not exactly a secret, but it was a surprise to author Zac Unger, who moved with his family to Churchill, Manitoba in order to write a book about the vanishing polar bears, and found something different.
... There are far more polar bears alive today than there were 40 years ago. ... In 1973, there was a global hunting ban. So once hunting was dramatically reduced, the population exploded. This is not to say that global warming is not real or is not a problem for the polar bears. But polar bear populations are large, and the truth is that we can't look at it as a monolithic population that is all going one way or anotherBy way of Anthony Watts.
- 6:14 AM, 5 February 2013 [link]
"He Said What People Wanted To Hear" A Portuguese editor explains how a fake economist was able to fool much of Portugal for months.
And some of them, as you can read in the post, still want to be fooled.
- 5:46 AM, 5 February 2013 [link]
Rifles ≠ Shotguns: Is that clear?
You don't have to be an expert on firearms to know that, but it is surprising to see how many journalists, including journalists from the New York Times, the BBC, and, hilariously, the Associated Press, can't tell the difference between the two.
The AP reporter, the improbably named Darlene Superville, did get President Obama's clothes right in her story.
- 2:28 PM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Wolverines Are Returning to Washington state.
Once shot on sight, trapped and poisoned as vermin, wolverines were extinct in Washington by the 1930s. But they are making a comeback, repopulating portions of their historic home range for the first time in decades. On Friday, they were proposed for listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.In general, predators will return to their former ranges, if there are prey animals available, and we don't kill the predators in large numbers, so I don't see why the scientists are surprised. They should be pleased, certainly, but not surprised.
The proposal that wolverines be added to the endangered species list strikes me as bizarre.
The wolverine can be found primarily in remote reaches of the Northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of the Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest numbers in northern Canada, the U.S. state of Alaska, the Nordic countries of Europe, and throughout western Russia and Siberia. Their populations have experienced a steady decline since the 19th century in the face of trapping, range reduction and habitat fragmentation, such that they are essentially absent in the southern end of their European range. Large populations are thought to remain in North America and northern Asia.But no more bizarre than other, similar proposals.
(Would wolverines be considered "charismatic megafauna"? They strike me as too small — for mammals — to be "mega" and too large to be "micro". Perhaps they could be classified as charismatic midifauna, because they are impressive animals.)
- 1:51 PM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Monday Morning Jokes: Andrew Malcolm has his usual collection.
CBS correspondent Steve Kroft should worry that he has become the subject of a joke because of his softball interview of President Obama.
But I thought the best joke in the collection was one of Leno's:
Leno: The FBI raids the office of the Florida doctor accused of procuring prostitutes for New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez. This ObamaCare is amazing, isn't it? It covers everything.
- 9:11 AM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (21): Democratic Judge Cynthia Brim has pled insanity, just after being re-elected. (She had physically attacked a sheriff's deputy and is claiming to have bipolar disease.)
The bar associations and the newspapers thought that she should not be a judge, but the Cook County Democratic Party disagreed. They recommended that all their judges, including Brim, be retained.)
(In Cook County, judges are subject to regular retention votes. Last November, Brim received 63 percent of the vote, which is close to the 60 percent threshold for retention. It has been 23 years since any judge has lost that vote.)
- 8:35 AM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Did Two Bad Halfs Make A Good Whole? That was what I began to wonder about late in yesterday's Super Bowl.
I usually don't watch much of the Super Bowls, having learned from experience that they are likely to be lousy games, typically one-sided, and often marred by too many turnovers. (The ads don't interest me much either, because they too are typically lousy, perhaps because their creators are trying too hard — and because I know that if they are good I can see them on the net, later. Or even earlier, in some instances.)
Yesterday may have been an exception. There were two one-sided halfs that, together, gave us an exciting game. So I guess that in this case two bad halfs did add up to a good whole, enough so that I wish I had watched more of the game.
But an occasional loss is what anyone who plays the percentages should expect, and so I don't plan to watch next year's Super Bowl from start to finish, either.
( I haven't watched a Super Bowl half time show for more than a decade and, judging by this description, was right to miss Beyonce's soft-porn performance.)
- 7:56 AM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Vive La France! Say most citizens of Mali.
Cheering, grateful Malians mobbed French President Francois Hollande on Saturday as he visited French troops fighting Islamist jihadist rebels, and he pledged France would finish the job of restoring government control in the Sahel state.Most, but not all. The jihadists were able to win much of Mali because of the support they received from the Touaregs, who have been in off and on revolts against the Mali government since the nation was founded. A clever French diplomat — and there are some — might be able to help solve that problem.
(Here's an article describing the visit, in French.)
- 5:47 AM, 4 February 2013 [link]
What Did Hillary Clinton Do As Secretary Of State? She flew many miles to many meetings, and she made women like New York Times columnist Gail Collins feel good.
Once, during the presidential race, she told me that she liked seeing me on the campaign plane because it was the only time there was somebody her own age on board. “I just had to tell people what Sputnik was,” she reported.(Actually, many women of her generation don't much care for Hillary, after seeing her rescue her misbehaving husband, again and again.)
Does Collins mention even a single Hillary accomplishment as Secretary of State? Did all those miles and meetings make the world safer or further American interests and values?
If Collins thinks so, she doesn't say so. Collins does give Clinton credit for this accomplishment:
Her departure from the current job has been of the pattern. There was the virus, followed by fainting, fall and blood clot. Followed by high-decibel Senate hearings in which the administration’s failings during the run-up to the tragedy at Benghazi were overshadowed by clips of the secretary swatting back snarling Republican senators, while wearing large new eyeglasses to control her concussion-related double vision.I'm not sure I would call that an accomplishment. And, in my humble opinion, "swatting back" Republican senators (who were not snarling) does not outweigh the damage she and President Obama did to our relations with Russia. Those relations were troubled when Obama and Clinton took office, but they are worse now, in spite of that attempt at a "reset". Or perhaps I should say in part because of that attempted "reset".
- 1:29 PM, 3 February 2013
Yesterday, the New York Times published a front page article on Clinton's accomplishments as secretary of state. The best they could come up with was the opening of relations with Burma. With all respect to Burma, that isn't as important as the failed "reset" effort with Russia, which reporters Michael Gordon and Mark Lander do not even mention.
The reporters do say, probably correctly, that Clinton could have been more active if President Obama had let her. But I can't say that any of her proposals that he didn't accept are especially original, or would have made a large difference in the world.
And I think it tells us something that, like Collins, Gordon and Lander tell us that the miles Clinton traveled are the best measure of her time as secretary of state.
- 1:13 PM, 4 February 2013 [link]
Could Chinese Hackers Explain all those Tom Friedman columns?
You probably know the Friedman columns I am thinking of, the columns that explained how the Chinese were doing things better than we were, and that we should find ways to emulate that officially Communist dictatorship.
Almost certainly Friedman wrote those columns himself, but I can tell you that I had exactly the same thought, that I too briefly wondered whether Chinese hackers were writing them when I read about the attacks on the New York Times.
(To be serious for a moment, the Times deserves considerable credit for its recent stories on the immense official corruption in China. That the newspaper was attacked in apparent retaliation suggests to me that those stories were true, in their essentials. )
- 7:10 AM, 2 February 2013 [link]
Lukewarmer Matt Ridley Proposes Ten Tests Before We Spend Even More Billions To Prevent Global Warming: You can read all ten, but I think one, the sixth, is sufficient.
6. Given that we know that the warming so far has increased global vegetation cover, increased precipitation, lengthened growing seasons, cause minimal ecological change and had no impact on extreme weather events, I need persuading that future warming will be fast enough and large enough to do net harm rather than net good. Unless water-vapour-supercharged, the models suggest a high probability of temperatures changing less than 2C, which almost everybody agrees will do net good.(Emphasis added.)
In short, global warming has so far been beneficial, net, and we would get even more benefits, net, from a little more warming.
(Like many others (including me), Ridley is a lukewarmer. He accepts that the earth has warmed and that humans have caused some of that warming, but he does not conclude that we face catastrophic global warming in the next half century.)
- 1:56 PM, 1 February 2013 [link]