Archive:

February 2014, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



If The Conflict Between James Taranto And The New York Times Were A Prize Fight, It Would Be Called:  Today, for example, Taranto took on Paul Krugman's claim that cases of small businesses and family farms . . . being broken up to pay crushing estate tax liabilities" are "nonexistent".

Taranto concedes that the cases are probably rare, but finds a Congressional Budget Office study that strongly suggests they are not "nonexistent".  And in a country the size of the United States, I think we can be certain that there were at least a few such cases.

But what makes that Taranto's argument even more enjoyable is that Krugman is using the estate tax example to argue that conservatives haven't come up with any "real examples" of the "terrible harm ObamaCare does".

And in today's Wall Street Journal, there is what looks like just such an example, a woman with cancer who was forced out of her insurance plan, and has been unable to find a new plan that will pay for the drug, Sandostatin, that has been keeping her alive.

Again, this should not surprise us.  Any law as complex as ObamaCare, overlaid on a system that is already far too complex, will necessarily hurt some individuals, if only because a few operatives will take advantage of the law to misbehave.

Taranto ends his segment on Krugman with this:
In 2005 Daniel Okrent, the Times's first public editor, noted in his final column that "Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults."  Even more disturbing is his habit of issuing categorical denials that are flatly false.
And there were two such categorical denials in Krugman's column today.  By my count, that's two TKOs.

Also today, The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler gave President Obama "Four Pinocchios", the maximum, for Obama's claims about Medicaid enrollment because of ObamaCare.  (Incidentally, Kessler was still giving Obama too much credit, still not realizing how wrong Obama's statement was.  Perhaps tomorrow I will have time for an open-letter post to Kessler trying to explain, again, that mistake.)

It is not surprising that Krugman would ignore false statements on ObamaCare by its supporters; that's what partisans often do.  But it is surprising that he so often makes these categorical statements, statements that he should know can be disproved by a single negative example.
- 5:08 PM, 24 February 2014   [link]


"Why Do So Many Liberals Want To Suppress Political Speech?", asks Michael Barone.

Because they are leftists, not liberals.  And Barone should know that.

When you read his list of examples, it's easy to forget that support for freedom of speech is one of the defining characteristics of classic liberalism.   When social welfare programs came along, some liberals added them to their beliefs, without giving up their support for free speech.  But, during the same period, leftists moved into the Democratic Party and took it over, eventually winning the control of the party in 1972 that they could not win in 1948.

And, though there have been exceptions, most leftists can see all kinds of reasons for restricting other people's speech.  And most elected Democrats are now best categorized as leftists, not liberals.
- 11:06 AM, 24 February 2014   [link]


Martha Raddatz's Mistake:  I was channel flipping yesterday, and paused a moment on ABC's This Week, where Martha Raddatz was subbing for George Stephanopoulos.

As it happens, I came by just as she was making this mistake.
I want to start with the minimum wage, a big story this week, conflicting headlines that came out of the report about minimum wage from the Congressional Budget Office.

They analyzed the Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage by $10.10 -- to $10.10, and they found doing so could cost as many as 500,000 jobs, but it would also pull 900,000 out of poverty and raise wages for at least 16.5 million people.
(Emphasis added.)

Do you see her mistake?  She described that 500,000 lost jobs as a maximum, as a worst case estimate.  In fact, the CBO is quite clear that 500,000 is their "central estimate" and the job losses could be less, or could be significantly more.
Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below).  As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.
Note, please, that even 1.0 million jobs lost is not their worst case estimate

Granted, it is harder to say that than to say what she did, but not much harder.

I wouldn't have mentioned this, except that I think this kind of mistake — and I do think it was a mistake, not a deliberate attempt to fool us — is so common among our "mainstream" journalists.  Often, they err in ways that help their preferred party and candidates.
- 9:25 AM, 24 February 2014   [link]


Chris Wallace Thinks Susan Rice doesn't want to answer tough questions.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace was not pleased that National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s first appearance on the Sunday shows since September 2012, when she said that the attack on the American compound in Benghazi was due in part to a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video, came only on NBC’s Meet the Press, rather than his own show.

“Of course, Fox has led the way in questioning how the adminstration handled Benghazi,” Wallace said.  “Perhaps Susan Rice didn’t want to answer the tough questions we would have asked.”
That she went on Meet the Press instead suggests that he is right.
- 7:00 AM, 24 February 2014   [link]


Among Other Things, This Cut In The Size Of The Army Means Fewer Jobs for "burly men".

You may recall that when Obama's stimulus plan was devised it was modified because, feminists thought, it provided too many jobs for "burly men". That men had lost most of the jobs during the recession did not seem to bother those feminists.

Now, Defense Secretary Hagel is proposing cuts in the size of the Army, which will mean many fewer jobs for men, some of whom are, no doubt, burly.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will reportedly propose a Pentagon budget that will shrink the U.S. Army to its smallest number since 1940 and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets.

The New York Times reported late Sunday that Hagel's proposal, which will be released to lawmakers and the public on Monday, will call for a reduction in size of the military that will leave it capable of waging war, but unable to carry out protracted occupations of foreign territory, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Under Hagel's plan, the number of troops in the Army will drop to between 440,000 and 450,000, a reduction of at least 120,000 soldiers from its post-Sept.11 peak.
We should not, of course, treat our Army as a jobs program, but at the same time we should recognize that Hagel's plan will mean considerable job losses, losses that will hit men much harder than women.
- 6:00 AM, 24 February 2014   [link]


Driving Accident Rates Are Down, especially for older people.   Here's a summary of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's findings, but you will probably want to scroll down to the graphs, which tell the story more clearly.
The Institute first noted the improving picture for older drivers in 2008 (see "Older drivers’ fatal crashes trend down," Dec. 27, 2008).  The latest analysis bolsters the evidence that drivers 70 and older have enjoyed bigger declines in fatal crash rates per licensed driver and per vehicle miles traveled than drivers ages 35-54, referred to in the study as middle-age drivers, since 1997.  A new finding is that progress appears to have slowed in recent years, with the biggest improvements in older drivers' fatal crash rates relative to middle-age drivers occurring between 1997 and 2007.

The crash outlook is improving for both older and younger drivers.  During 1997-2012, fatal crash rates per licensed driver fell 42 percent for older drivers and 30 percent for middle-age ones.  Looking at vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash involvement rates fell 39 percent for older drivers and 26 percent for middle-age ones from 1995 to 2008.  A breakdown of the results for older drivers by age group shows that fatal crash involvement rates per licensed driver fell 36 percent for drivers ages 70-74, 46 percent for drivers 75-79 and 49 percent for drivers 80 and older during 1997-2012.

There were similar declines in older drivers' involvement rates in injury crashes that weren't fatal during the same periods.
Two examples:  An eighty-year-old is now about as likely to be in an accident, per mile traveled, as a sixteen-year-old.  A seventy-year-old is about as likely to be in a accident, again per mile traveled, as a thirty-year-old.

The Institute thinks that these gains are caused by safer cars — and safer drivers.

I think it likely that the better health of older people is one of the reasons they are now safer drivers.  There are many medical conditions that can make a person more likely to have accidents.  As those conditions have declined among old people, we would expect to see fewer accidents in those age groups.

(One troubling finding:  The accident rates, per mile traveled, are now higher for those in the 25-29 age group than they were in 1995 and 2001.)
- 5:22 PM, 23 February 2014   [link]


Stick Shifts No Longer Have A Fuel Economy Advantage?  In 2004, and then again in 2007, I argued, with actual numbers, that you could improve your gas mileage by driving cars with stick shifts, rather than automatic transmission.

Yesterday, I learned from this amusing review of the Mazda3 that stick shifts may still be more fun to drive, but may no longer have an advantage in fuel economy.
As for our specimen, the accepted practice is to load up press cars with every possible option and powertrain upgrades, like they were being built for the Maharaja.  Why did they send me the car with the little engine?  Because the 6-speed manual transmission comes only with the smaller, 2.0-liter engine; and the Mazda press office—fiendish and coercive—knows automotive journalists are defenseless against small, sporty, lightweight Euro-styled five-doors with manual transmissions.  If it were a diesel I'd marry it.

I suppose at this point, I must observe that the sun is setting on manual transmissions.  As it should.  In an era of quick-twitch mechatronics—of continuously variable transmissions, 8-speed dual-clutch transaxles, 9-speed automatics with torque converters—using a series of steel linkages to engage and disengage gears while levering the clutch in and out of the way with your foot?  It is barbaric.
. . .
Manual trannies are also less fuel-efficient than other cog-swappers, and rising fuel economy standards will only marginalize manual transmissions further.  The percentage of new light vehicles sold in the U.S. with manual transmissions is in the single digits.   Meanwhile, only a small and aging segment of the driving population even knows how to drive a manual transmission.  Go ahead, leave the keys in it:  A car with a stick shift is practically immune to theft.
(Emphasis added.)

Dan Neil seems to know what he is talking when it comes to cars, so he is probably right.   But I would have been happier if he had included a few actual numbers to support that conclusion.

Whether he is right or not, he is almost always fun to read, and so gives us another reason to pick up the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.
- 3:34 PM, 23 February 2014   [link]


The New York Times Favors Capital Punishment for "Climate-Change Deniers".

Yes, I know, it's a cartoon, and we should usually not take cartoons, literally.

But I have always liked that weekly New York Times cartoon, not because it is well drawn — it isn't — or because it says something perceptive each week — it doesn't — but because I think it expresses the feelings of the editorial board at the Times.

They would like "climate change deniers" to go away, and they aren't too particular about how that might happen.  And so they published a cartoon suggesting that those deniers be murdered.

If asked, I am nearly certain that the editor(s) who approved that cartoon would say that of course they did not mean us to take it literally — but I am even more certain that they would never approve a similar cartoon in which President Obama was the target of that icicle.

(In the past, on Sundays, the Times published a collection of editorial cartoons from other sources.  As I recall, they didn't make much of an attempt at balance.  But I don't recall anything even close to this bad.)
- 1:46 PM, 23 February 2014   [link]


It's Not Easy To Block A Dunk:  And it is especially hard to block your own dunk.

But it is possible.  (As mathematicians might say, we have an existence proof.)

By way of Tom Maguire.
- 10:44 AM, 23 February 2014   [link]


Back In 1987, The New York Times Said That The Right Level For The Minimum Wage Was “$0.00”.  (They wanted to help low-income workers in other ways, as we have done since then, notably through the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.)

Obviously, our newspaper of record has changed its position on this question.  They have every right to do that, of course, but, like Charles Cooke, I think they ought to explain to readers why they have changed.
- 10:17 AM, 22 February 2014   [link]


Here's The Best Succinct Explanation of Venezuela's problems that I have seen.
It's getting ugly in Venezuela.  Three people were killed in anti-government protests on the streets of Caracas on Wednesday.  The killers haven't been identified, but Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro is using the deaths to justify a government crackdown on growing civic unrest directed at his leadership and a deteriorating economy.
There has been at least one more death since the article was published. You can find a similar analysis from a former Bush official, Roger Noriega, here, and you can find an example of the problems that Maduro regime's controls are causing here.

(Noriega sees Maduro as the Cuban choice, and thinks he will lose out, eventually, to Venezuelan nationalists.  As far as I know, there is nothing implausible about that analysis, but I don't know enough about the internal politics of the regime to say whether he is likely to be right.)
- 9:58 AM, 22 February 2014   [link]


Make Love And Then Die:  That strategy is common among insects.  It's found among salmon and male octopuses, but I had not known of it in any mammals until I read about those little marsupials, the Antechinuses.
All Antechinus species except for A. swainsonii are semelparous at least as males – and usually as females too –, meaning that an individual will usually only live long enough to breed once in its lifetime.  Breeding occurs in winter (usually August–September) at a time when there is little food available in the environment.  The male can spend up to 12 hours mating to ensure breeding success.  To accomplish this the males strip their body of vital proteins and also suppress the immune system so as to free up additional metabolic energy.  In this way an individual male trades away long-term survival in return for short-term breeding success, and following the breeding season there is a complete die-off of physiologically exhausted males.[1]
(Two of the common names for these animals are "broad-footed marsupial mice" and "pouched mice", but a third, "antechinus shrews", would be more accurate, since, like shrews, they are carnivorous.)

I learned about this genus because a new species was discovered, which gave the tabloid newspapers a chance to tell us about their breeding habits.

(The most common marsupial in the Americas, the Virginia opossum, has a short life, but does not appear to be semelparous.)
- 2:49 PM, 21 February 2014   [link]


Another Big Medicaid Fraud Case:  You may say that isn't news or at least not big news, but there is an unusual twist.
Federal authorities say 25 people have been charged in a wide-ranging scheme to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent Medicaid payments from the District of Columbia government.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen calls it the largest health-care fraud case in the city’s history.   It involved bogus claims for home care services, a category of Medicaid claim that has grown dramatically in the city over the past eight years.  Machen says fraud is largely responsible for the increase in those claims.  The uptick in billings for home care — from $40 million in 2006 to $280 million last year — was part of what tipped off authorities to illegal activity, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said.
. . .
A dozen people were charged in five federal indictments that were unsealed Thursday.   Thirteen others were charged with fraud in D.C. Superior Court.  All but three were in custody Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Many of those charged are immigrants from Cameroon in west Africa, but authorities did not go into detail about their nationalities.
(Emphasis added.)

This is almost as good as the Russian diplomat Medicaid scandal.  (And may be even better if you measure these scandals by the amount of money stolen.)
Dozens of current and former Russian diplomats and their spouses were charged with participating in a nine-year fraud scheme that allegedly bilked the U.S. government of more than $1.5 million in Medicaid benefits, according to a federal complaint unsealed Thursday.

The 49 defendants -- 25 current and former Russian diplomats and 24 of their spouses -- allegedly exploited their positions by filing fraudulent Medicaid expenses related to prenatal care and childbirth, the complaint said.

The complaint said that of 63 births to Russian diplomats in New York City in the past nine years, the overwhelming majority were paid for by Medicaid benefits.
Many people come to the United States in hopes of making a little more money.  Not all of them plan to do it legally.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Cameroon.)
- 10:20 AM, 21 February 2014   [link]


For An Example Of A Potential Republican Senate Gain, take a look at the polling on the likely candidates in Michigan.
Paul Egan: "Gov. Rick Snyder maintains an eight-point lead over Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, while Republican Terri Lynn Land has strengthened in her U.S. Senate contest against Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, according to a new poll by EPIC-MRA.  The poll, released to the Free Press, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and other media partners, shows Land of Byron Center leading Peters of Bloomfield Township 41%-38%.  However, the numbers are within the poll’s 4-percentage-point margin of error.  Still, that’s a turnaround from September, when Peters led Land 38%-37%." [Free Press, EPIC-MRA toplines]

Land advantage on five consecutive polls - While four of five polls fielded between May and November 2013 gave Democrat Peters a slight advantage, five conducted since then have all given Land a slight edge.  The EPIC-MRA is the only one of these surveys, however, to use live interviewers and to call dual samples of both landline and cell-only households.  The HuffPost pollster poll tracking model, based on all of the polls, puts Land's advantage over Peters at 2.7 percentage points (41.2 to 38.5 percent), roughly the same as the EPIC-MRA result.  The lead is small enough that the model, which effectively polls the sample sizes of the different surveys, reports Land's probability of leading at 76.9 percent -- still well short of what most consider statistical significance.
This is a good example for Trende's general argument, because Michigan leans Democratic — the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the state was George H. W. Bush in 1988 — and because Terri Lynn Land and Gary Peters are both above average candidates.

(Neither Land nor Peters has been nominated yet; for two lists of other possible candidates, see this Wikipedia article.)
- 9:13 AM, 21 February 2014   [link]


Sean Trende Thinks That Democrats Are Likely To Lose The Senate This November:  You may want to read his entire analysis, after seeing this conclusion:
This is a grim picture for Senate Democrats, suggesting that the president would have to get his approval above 50 percent by Election Day before they would be favored to hold the chamber.  This is also consistent with what we’ve seen in polling, which shows the seven “red state” Democrats in truly severe states of distress, while Democrats in Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and Colorado are exhibiting surprising weakness.  If these 11 seats are showing similar signs of weakness in November, Democrats will have an extremely difficult time holding the chamber.  At Obama’s current 44 percent approval rating, we’d expect Democrats to lose somewhere between nine and 13 seats.
As you probably know, the Republicans need to win six seats, net, to take control of the Senate.

(I added that net because I think that Mitch McConnell is in some trouble in Kentucky.  Democrats have a large registration edge (55-38), he has never been exceptionally popular there, winning his last race by just 53-47, and he is facing both a primary challenge, and a popular Democratic opponent.  I think he deserves re-election, but I am not sure that Kentucky voters will agree with me, in November.)

As Trende says, his analysis rests on the assumption that there will be a strong relationship between approval of President Obama and Democratic votes in these states.  I think he's right, but I also think that most Democratic senate candidates will have figured that out, too, and will be trying to distance themselves from the president.  That tactic is more likely to be effective if the candidate is not an incumbent.

(Trivial point, but one I had missed:  I heard him interviewed yesterday and the talk show host, Ben Shapiro, pronounced his last name as if it were spelled Trendee.  For years I had thought that it was pronounced as if it were spelled Trend.)
- 8:24 AM, 21 February 2014   [link]


Did President Obama Have The Legal Authority To Impose A Higher Minimum Wage On Federal Contractors?   Probaby not.
In setting a $10.10 minimum wage last week for workers on federal contracts, President Obama acted on his State of the Union vow to use executive powers to bypass Congress “wherever and whenever” he deems it necessary.  But the legal basis for the president’s order is shaky and, if challenged in court, could diminish the presidential powers that Obama seeks to expand.

The principal legal basis for the new minimum wage is the federal procurement law, which authorizes the president to issue directives for more “economical” and “efficient” federal contracting.  Accordingly, Obama’s executive order makes claims about the government savings and efficiencies that would supposedly result from raising the minimum wage.   A higher wage “increases [workers’] morale and the productivity and quality of their work, lowers turnover and its accompanying costs, and reduces supervisory costs,” the order says.  This would yield “savings and quality improvements” that would improve “economy and efficiency” in government procurement.

This explanation is not credible.  No purchaser insists that its suppliers pay workers more in order to lower the cost of goods.
But Obama could argue that his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, also abused the law, though in different ways.
- 7:44 AM, 21 February 2014   [link]


One Set Of Rules For The People Of New York, Another Set for Mayor de Blasio
Just days after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an aggressive plan to prevent traffic deaths, CBS 2 cameras caught the driver of a car carrying the mayor violating a number of traffic laws.
. . .
As CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer reported Thursday, the mayor’s two-car caravan was seen speeding, blowing through stop signs, and violating other traffic laws.  Kramer reported that if the driver of the lead car, which carried the mayor in its passenger seat, had been cited, he would have racked up enough points to get his license suspended.

When the mayor announced his 62-point safe streets initiative, which includes lowering the speed limit to 25 mph, he said, “We want the public to know that we are holding ourselves to this standard.”
The mayor's office is blaming these infractions on police procedures — and saying that he is planning to keep that promise, in spite of just having broken it.

(Ignoring traffic laws can lead to serious consequences, as former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine can tell you.)
- 7:02 AM, 21 February 2014   [link]


Worth Reading:  Richard McNider And John Christy's op-ed criticizing climate change alarmists like Secretary of State John Kerry.

They believe that climate models should be tested against real-world data.
What is not a known fact is by how much the Earth's atmosphere will warm in response to this added carbon dioxide.  The warming numbers most commonly advanced are created by climate computer models built almost entirely by scientists who believe in catastrophic global warming.  The rate of warming forecast by these models depends on many assumptions and engineering to replicate a complex world in tractable terms, such as how water vapor and clouds will react to the direct heat added by carbon dioxide or the rate of heat uptake, or absorption, by the oceans.

We might forgive these modelers if their forecasts had not been so consistently and spectacularly wrong.  From the beginning of climate modeling in the 1980s, these forecasts have, on average, always overstated the degree to which the Earth is warming compared with what we see in the real climate.
Not only do the models get the overall trend wrong, they miss on details like the recent warming in the Arctic.

McNider and Christy say that these differences between models and real-world data should make the modelers "more humble", should make them take a hard look at their models.  Any honest scientist should feel more humble when the data don't fit his model, and any good scientist would want to take a hard look at that model.

(The authors are, judging by this op-ed, what many call "luke-warmists".)
- 2:02 PM, 20 February 2014   [link]


When I Heard About The Nebraska Judge Holding Up the Keystone XL Pipeline, I immediately wondered whether she was expecting a reward from Tom Steyer.

Almost certainly, that brief thought was way too suspicious, way too close to actual paranoia.  Almost.

Steyer's efforts, some successful some not, to buy elections have made me wonder about such connections.

(For the record:  I have no idea whether Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie F. Stacy is interpreting the Nebraska constitution correctly.  But it wouldn't be the first time a judge had gotten something like that wrong.  And the Nebraska Attorney General, Jon Bruning, intends to appeal her ruling.)
- 9:41 AM, 20 February 2014   [link]


"Wind It Up And It Steals Your Email"  That's Lucianne's reaction to this new action figure.
He's been called a low-down traitor and a noble whistleblower, and now there's a new label for fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden: action figure.

An Oregon-based company, Thatsmyface.com, is offering Snowden's "lifelike head mounted on a 12-inch fully-articulated action figure body with detailed pre-fitted clothes."  Clothing options include casual, business suit or "Indiana Jones."  Perhaps a spinoff line will include a Moscow airport-terminal play set?
And I have about the same reaction as Lucianne does.
- 8:28 AM, 20 February 2014   [link]


Here's The CBO Study on the effects of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 indexed for inflation, or to $9.00 an hour, not indexed.
Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects (see the table below).  As with any such estimates, however, the actual losses could be smaller or larger; in CBO’s assessment, there is about a two-thirds chance that the effect would be in the range between a very slight reduction in employment and a reduction in employment of 1.0 million workers.
. . .
Many more low-wage workers would see an increase in their earnings.  Of those workers who will earn up to $10.10 under current law, most—about 16.5 million, according to CBO’s estimates—would have higher earnings during an average week in the second half of 2016 if the $10.10 option was implemented.  Some of the people earning slightly more than $10.10 would also have higher earnings under that option, for reasons discussed below.   Further, a few higher-wage workers would owe their jobs and increased earnings to the heightened demand for goods and services that would result from the minimum-wage increase.

The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate.  However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families, because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families.  Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimates.
(Emphasis added.)

So more of the benefit would go to families that are well off, than to families that are poor.

The effects of an increase to $9.00, non-indexed, would be much smaller.  For example, the CBO thinks that would cost only 100,000 jobs.

Although this study has been, and will be, attacked by the Obama administration, the economics behind the argument are straightforward:  If you raise the price of anything, including low-skilled work, people will buy less of it.

(Incidentally, a single person working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would earn about $14,500 a year.  That's above the official poverty line of $11,490.  Similarly, a family of four, with two full-time workers each earning the minimum wage, would earn about $29,000 a year, which is above the $23,550 line for such families.)
- 10:23 AM, 19 February 2014   [link]


If You Plan To Invade Switzerland — And You Really Shouldn't, For Many Reasons — Do It outside business hours.
Geneva — No Swiss fighter jets were scrambled Monday when an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked his own plane and forced it to land in Geneva, because it happened outside business hours, the Swiss airforce said.
. . .
But although the co-pilot-turned-hijacker quickly announced he wanted to land the plane in Switzerland, where he later said he aimed to seek asylum, Switzerland's fleet of F-18s and F-5 Tigers remained on the ground, Swiss airforce spokesman Laurent Savary told AFP.

This, he explained, was because the Swiss airforce is only available during office hours.   These are reported to be from 8am until noon, then 1:30 to 5pm.
The Swiss are considering going to round-the-clock operations as early as 2020, if they can afford it
- 9:24 AM, 19 February 2014   [link]


Roast Duck À La Google?  A thermal solar plant is providing a new menu item for our plates.
A giant solar-power project officially opening this week in the California desert is the first of its kind, and may be among the last, in part because of growing evidence that the technology it uses is killing birds.
. . .
The owners of the project— NRG Energy Inc., NRG +1.02% Google Inc. GOOG +0.67% and BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the "tower power" solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.
. . .
Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn't expect so many to die during the plant's construction and testing.  The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows.  State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility's effects on birds.
No word on how the roasted birds tasted, but one can't expect perfection from a pilot project.

The project managers are, in my opinion, being too negative about these bird deaths.  Much of our electricity is used to cook our meals, and there are, inevitably, losses , as the electricity is transmitted from the power plants to our electric stoves.  This plant shows us a way to eliminate a whole bunch of transformers, and hundreds of miles of transmission lines.

And food doesn't get much more "organic" than meat from wild birds.

(The specifications on the plant are impressive.  Note, for example, the size of the site, about 3,500 acres.  That wouldn't fit in very many backyards.)
- 5:12 PM, 18 February 2014   [link]


Since I Am Discussing Dogs Today, I might as well share this dog cartoon.

(Which I rather like.)
- 10:05 AM, 18 February 2014   [link]


Minnesota Joins the crowd.
Half of the residents of Minnesota now disapprove of President Obama’s performance, according to a new poll.

Results of The Star Tribune survey represent the first time that his approval rating has turned negative in the state since the president took office in 2009.

Obama’s job approval rating in the poll has fallen to 43 percent.
Obama is probably still above water in a few states, for instance Hawaii, but if he is in trouble in Minnesota, he is in serious trouble, nationally.  Which, of course, is what the national polls are showing.

(In the past, the Star Tribune polls have usually been biased toward the Democrats, sometimes by quite a bit.)
- 8:07 AM, 18 February 2014   [link]


"Chihuahuas Rampage in Arizona"  I couldn't resist that headline, though it does exaggerate, a little.  The little dogs are a nuisance in one neighborhood, not terrorizing an entire state.

But the headline did get me to read the article, where I learned that:  "Chihuahuas are one of the most common breeds found in animal shelters, according to animal control."

And that, in turn, took me to the Wikipedia article on the breed.  The authors make it clear that the dogs are not suitable for homes with small children, and could be problems in many other homes.  Like many other official breeds, they are likely to require considerable veterinary care.
- 7:39 AM, 18 February 2014   [link]


Democrats Are More Likely To Believe In Astrology than Republicans.

Though I should add that distressingly large numbers of each group, 49.1 percent and 36.9 percent, respectively, believe that astrology is "either very scientific or sort of scientific".  I say distressingly because whether you consider astrology from a scientific point of view, or from a traditional Christian or Jewish point of view, or both, you should reject it.

Someone who believes in astrology is rejecting what both scientists and traditional religious leaders tell them.  Or, at the very least, not listening to them.

There's much more in the on-line paper, including this:
Believers in astrology are not the only ones who hold beliefs for which there is no good evidence.  Many—if not most—political psychology researchers share the view that a belief in astrology is one of the things that defines how conservative you are. Support for astrology or horoscopes was contained in the most commonly used conservatism scales: the Adorno F-Scale, the Wilson-Patterson C-scale, and the Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale.4  By this logic, the most conservative group in the population—conservative Republicans—should be the most likely to believe in astrology.   But instead they are the least likely to believe in astrology.  That should cause a reconsideration of whether the common scales measure the beliefs and attitudes of typical political conservatives, rather than the typical views of non-liberal Democrats, who score highest on a belief in astrology as well as on some other typical “conservatism” items.5
The Adorno F-scale, devised by a famous sociologist, Theodor Adorno, has been around forever.  I never thought it was a particularly useful tool.  And I suspect I would have the same low opinion of the other two scales.

Now I have even more reason to distrust all three scales.

(This finding helps explain something that puzzled me three years ago, that KUOW's Gang of Four (and, I would guess, many other journalists) believe, partly, in astrology.)
- 2:39 PM, 16 February 2014   [link]


ABBA's Tax-Avoiding outfits.
According to Abba: The Official Photo Book, published to mark 40 years since they won Eurovision with Waterloo, the band's style was influenced in part by laws that allowed the cost of outfits to be deducted against tax – so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.
There is a picture, so you can decide whether you agree with Björn Ulvaeus that his group looked like "nuts".

(This story got me started thinking about whether a tax on disgusting outfits would discourage them.  Probably not, as most American groups would decide the publicity was worth the tax.)
- 7:11 AM, 16 February 2014   [link]