January 2008, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Not Every Briton Is Reserved And Dignified: There is, for example, this couple.
Given that she describes herself as a human pet — and is happy to walk around on a lead — Tasha Maltby is used to odd looks and even odder remarks.Tasha and her boyfriend are complaining, naturally, of discrimination.
I can't say I saw anyone quite this exotic while I was in Britain.
(Which may be just as well. Years ago, I was walking in the university district in Seattle and met a group of young people, one of them a young woman done up in a full punk style. I was tempted and succumbed. Since the young woman wanted straight-looking folks like myself to be shocked by her appearance, I did the opposite. I turned to her and said, in my sweetest voice, "Hi, how are you? I haven't seen you since the church choir."
As you would expect, she was completely taken aback by this, and just stuttered for a time in reply. It was wrong of me to do this — but it was awfully fun at the time. And afterwards, as I tried to imagine her explaining this encounter to her friends.)
- 5:16 PM, 24 January 2008 [link]
Barack "Fumble Fingers" Obama? It's not a big story, but it is interesting.
Barack Obama angered fellow Democrats in the Illinois Senate when he voted to strip millions of dollars from a child welfare office on Chicago's West Side. But Obama had a ready explanation: He goofed.He could be telling the truth about all six votes — but not everyone believes him.
(Could this story come from opposition research? Quite possibly. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong.)
- 1:49 PM, 24 January 2008 [link]
Great News: From the American Heart Association.
In an appropriate prelude to American Heart Month, which is just ahead in February, new mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that, since 1999, coronary heart disease and stroke age-adjusted death rates are down by 25.8 percent and 24.4 percent, respectively.They have a number of explanations for these declines; here's the one I found most interesting:
The development of evidence-based practice guidelines has helped healthcare providers know what is effective both for the treatment and prevention of heart attacks and strokes.I blame President Bush for these declines. Just kidding, but I know that, had the trends gone the other way, there would be people blaming him for those increases.
- 8:11 AM, 24 January 2008 [link]
That Was Exciting: Or, at least it would have been exciting if I still had money in the stock market.
It started with another stomach-turning drop at the open, and a loss of more than 300 points by midday. Then stocks changed course, raced higher and closed with a dramatic gain of nearly 300.And I would have money in the stock market if I were younger.
But you shouldn't be in the stock market if you can't accept the fact that there will be wild days like yesterday.
(I did have money in the stock market during the 1987 crash, and did nothing. Which was quite profitable, over the long run.)
- 6:02 AM, 23 January 2008 [link]
This Is Not A Joke: Not an intentional joke, anyway.
A story based on the Three Little Pigs fairy tale has been turned by a government agency's awards panel as the subject matter could offend Muslims.(If they are going to exclude fairy stories that might offend someone, they are going to be left with a rather short list of stories.)
Note that the story does mention any Muslim complaints; these British bureaucrats rejected the story because there might be complaints. I don't think I am the only one who will think their attitude is insulting to most Muslims.
By way of Small Dead Animals, and several other sites.
- 5:11 AM, 24 January 2008 [link]
Eugene Robinson Is Shocked: Shocked to discover that Bill Clinton is not always a high-minded statesman. Similarly, Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly is disappointed to see Bill Clinton being "negative and increasingly nasty" in the campaign against Barack "Arugula" Obama. And you can find many other Democratic partisans who share the shock and disappointment of these two gentlemen.
Republicans, on the other hand, are neither shocked nor disappointed, since they have seen this behavior from Clinton before.
One of our favorite Bill Clinton anecdotes involves a confrontation he had with Bob Dole in the Oval Office after the 1996 election. Mr. Dole protested Mr. Clinton's attack ads claiming the Republican wanted to harm Medicare, but the President merely smiled that Bubba grin and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."Many times before. (Incidentally, after using Medicare against the Republicans during that campaign, Clinton quickly reached a compromise with them on the issue after the election, a compromise that made nonsense out of the charges that he had made during the election.)
To see Robinson and Connelly protest Clinton's tactics now, after accepting them for so many years when they were directed against Republicans would be funny — if it weren't so sad. These two journalists have been around for a while; that they are just now catching on to Bill Clinton shows just how blinded they have been, these many years, by their partisanship.
If they were decent men, they would look over some of their back columns and apologize for the way they enabled Bill Clinton's dirty tactics — when those tactics were directed against Republicans.
- 1:29 PM, 23 January 2008 [link]
Good Point: The Seattle PI approves of banning plastic bags at "large chain grocery stores", but thought the ban should be more general. Letter writer Patricia Warren replied, suggesting that the PI give up its own plastic bags. (Don't count on that happening soon. The rains in this area are rough on newspapers left outside without protection.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:47 PM, 23 January 2008 [link]
Are Iraqi Vets More Likely To Be Killers? The New York Times has been making that argument in a series, starting here. But the newspaper has yet to explain how they collected their cases. And a number of people have raised questions about their numbers. The most interesting challenge I have seen is here, which gives data from Fort Bragg in war and peace.
Judging by past wars, it would not be surprising if there was some increased criminality among war veterans. On the other hand, our troops are far more carefully selected and better trained than they were in the past, so perhaps we have broken from those old patterns.
One thing, however, is certain. The New York Times is willing to make this charge without having solid evidence that it is true. (And for the reporters there, I add this old line from many researchers: The plural of anecdotes is not data.)
(It is also true that, in the past, the officers of professional armies often worried if the armies spent too long without combat. They thought that some of the men trained to fight would begin fighting each other, in the absence of a real enemy.)
- 11:21 AM, 23 January 2008 [link]
The Government Giveth: And the government taketh away. A small British theater is learning that old, old lesson.
On Dec. 14 Josie Rourke, the artistic director of the tiny Bush Theater in West London, received an unwelcome Christmas present. It was a letter from the Arts Council England, the government-financed body that doles out subsidies to the arts, announcing plans to cut the Bush's public funding by some 40 percent — to about £300,000 (roughly $588,000) a year, from £480,000 ($942,000).There are lessons in this little story — though I see no evidence that the reporter, Sarah Lyall, noticed most of them.
She did notice the most obvious lesson, that organizations that depend on government grants can lose them even more easily than they gain them. But she does not follow up that point. Since the government can stop funding, art organizations that depend on government funding will tend, over time, to make their art appeal either to elected politicians or, as in this case, unelected bureaucrats. (The second is far worse, in my opinion.)
But Lyall missed a more important lesson. The subsidy in this case (and in the case of most art subsidies) takes taxes from everyone to benefit a small minority, a minority that is typically much better off than average. And there is an interesting twist; the Arts Council England draws a significant part of its funds from a lottery. If those who play the lottery in England are like those who play the lottery in the United States, they are generally poorer than the average person. So the subsidy for the well-off theater customers was, probably, coming, in large part, from poor people. It is hard to see why that would be just.
- 8:52 AM, 23 January 2008 [link]
Political Animals: Politics is far older* than our species.
Just as there are myriad strategies open to the human political animal with White House ambitions, so there are a number of nonhuman animals that behave like textbook politicians. Researchers who study highly gregarious and relatively brainy species like rhesus monkeys, baboons, dolphins, sperm whales, elephants and wolves have lately uncovered evidence that the creatures engage in extraordinarily sophisticated forms of politicking, often across large and far-flung social networks.Some researchers think there are lessons for us in this animal politicking.
Dario Maestripieri, a primatologist at the University of Chicago, has observed a similar dilemma in humans and the rhesus monkeys he studies.Humans are so social, so dependent on groups, that I have long thought that a solitary person could not be truly human. Whether we like it or not, politics is an essential part of being human.
(*How much older? Interesting question. There is evidence that some dinosaurs were social animals, so one would expect that politics dates back at least to the Jurassic.
The article discusses only mammals, but some birds, for instance crows and parrots, are so bright and so social that I would expect them to be good politicians, too.)
- 7:45 AM, 23 January 2008
More: Some examples of dolphins as problems for other dolphins (and for porpoises) here. A few researchers are shocked by this aggression — but they shouldn't be.
- 6:44 AM, 29 January 2008 [link]
Debra Saunders makes an obvious point.
I have to think that what really sticks in the Limbaugh/Ingraham/Hewitt collective craw is the fact that McCain has been a darling of the media. And some Democrats and independents say they could vote for him.But a point that has been forgotten by many conservative Republicans.
The arithmetic is simple. Neither party appeals to a majority of the voters. The candidate who wins this November will, almost certainly, be the candidate who appeals most to independents. And if a Republican candidate can appeal to Democrats, that's an advantage, not a defect.
- 2:58 PM, 22 January 2008 [link]
Underground And Underwhelmed: Riding the London Underground (which is mostly above ground) reminded me of what I like — and what I dislike — about rail transit.
What I like are these three things: Rail transit is usually the quickest way to get around cities that grew up around rail transit. Rides are usually inexpensive, at least for the rider, though that is less true in London than I expected. You can sometimes read while you ride.
My list of dislikes is longer. The trains are, almost always, noisy. The tracks, and the areas next to them, are usually ugly. Passengers are often exposed to diseases from other passengers. (I caught a cold while I was in London. I don't know where, but the Underground is the most likely place, for a number of reasons.) It is difficult to ride rail transit and carry more than a single package. The seats are usually uncomfortable. Worse yet, in rush hours, many passengers are forced to stand. (While I was in London, I never saw a man giving up a seat to a woman, or a young person giving up a seat to an older person.) The systems are often especially difficult for mothers of young children. (I helped one young mother carry her toddler up and down three or four flights of stairs and saw other young mothers struggling.) Most rail transit systems attract criminals. (There were warning signs about thieves at the station near my hotel in London, which was not in a bad part of London.) The systems lack flexibility; they can not easily adapt to changes in ridership, either up, or down. They are targets for terrorists; offhand, I can think of terrorist attacks on rail transit in London, Madrid, Paris, and Tokyo, and I don't doubt that many other cities have suffered from this modern scourge.
Of course, in cities not built around rail transit, rail transit is rarely the fastest way to get around, especially for those who are making more than one stop in a journey. Riders waste enormous amounts of time. This seldom bothers those who push rail transit on the public; they expect others to use the systems and do not care that those others waste vast amounts of time. It is rare for leaders, in any city that has rail transit, to use the systems themselves.
Rail transit made sense for 19th century cities. (London's system was started in 1863.) And it makes sense in some of the cities that grew up around rail transit. But it makes no sense in 20th century cities, much less the cities that we will build or rebuild in this century.
Unless, of course, you are an offical who does not care about the riders of those rail transit systems, and just want them off the roads, so that there is more room for your limousine.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:56 PM, 22 January 2008
Correction: As a couple of commenters at Sound Politics pointed out, I should have said "rail transit", rather than "light rail". I have corrected the text above.
- 4:47 PM, 22 January 2008 [link]
Bizarre: A professor at Columbia may have an unusual hobby, making pipe bombs. Or maybe his "roommate", who may be here illegally, is making the bombs. It would be hard to believe that Professor Clatts doesn't know about the factory in his apartment, even if he was not making the bombs himself.
- 12:49 PM, 22 January 2008 [link]
Some Questions For Dr. David Gregory: I came back from Britain more convinced than ever that the BBC is a serious problem for the United States, especially when a Republican is president. So many people — and not just in Britain — rely on the service for an accurate picture of the United States, a picture they are not getting from the current BBC. And so I have decided to spend a little more time trying to correct their mistakes and biases.
As a first effort, I decided to pose some questions for one of their science reporters, David Gregory. I picked him for this post because he has been open enough to criticism to respond to some of the posts at the Biased BBC site, and because this set of questions is on the environment (and politics).
First, two inconvenient facts. Before he became president, George W. Bush built a house in Crawford that is about as environmentally friendly as a standard house can be. For example, the house uses heat pumps for both heating and cooling, conserving energy. And the house recycles waste water on a grand scale. In contrast, after leaving Washington, D.C., Al Gore bought a house that can fairly described as an energy pig. Among other things, Gore's house uses about twelve times as much electricity as an average house in Nashville.
Now then, my questions for Dr. Gregory:
I will finish by giving Dr. Gregory this hint: In 2000, when I was comparing the achievements of the two men, I began by noting that both men ran marathons. But Bush ran them far faster than Gore, with times that were quite respectable for a man, any man, his age. Bush could only have done that by intensive training and much hard work. In spite of his reputation as a slacker, Bush had achieved more than Gore as a runner, because he had worked harder. And, when I looked at their careers, I found this was true generally; Bush had achieved more than Gore in almost every way. So, sometimes, these little clues lead us to important generalizations.
But only if we are willing to follow up those clues and ask the obvious questions. And I am not sure that Dr. Gregory, or anyone else at the BBC, is willing to do that in this case, not sure that any BBC employee is willing to look at Bush's actual record on the environment. (But, as usual in these cases, I will be delighted if Dr. Gregory proves me wrong.)
(Those who want to check the facts on the Bush and Gore houses can find a good summary here.)
- 10:55 AM, 22 January 2008 [link]
They're Both Right: It's seldom that I get to agree so wholeheartedly with the leading Democratic candidates for president, but some of what Clinton and Obama said in last last night's debate was right. (For some reason, CNN posted the debate transcript in three parts; parts two and three are here and here.)
For example, Obama was right when he accused Clinton of misrepresenting what he said about Reagan.
OBAMA: Hillary, we just had the tape. You just said that I complimented the Republican ideas. That is not true.And Clinton was right when she accused Obama of being closely associated with a sleazy businessman, Tony Rezko.
CLINTON: Bad for America, and I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco [sic], in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.(Some fact checking on both claims here.)
I hope that both will continue making these justified criticisms, but fear that they won't.
It would be even better if John Edwards were to join in. For instance, he could criticize the other two for their lack of accomplishments. (I know that idea is just a dream, but it's a fun dream.)
- 8:42 AM, 22 January 2008 [link]
Catching Up: I have been doing a little bit of that, even catching up a little on my back email, now that I have gotten over my cold and caught up on my sleep. More soon, I hope.
Thank you for your patience, if you have been waiting for a reply.
- 1:41 PM, 21 January 2008 [link]
Making London Your Oyster: Prices in London will shock most Americans, though the shock will often be delayed — briefly. If you are like me, you will glance at a price, for example, 3.99 for a McDonald's quarter pounder meal, think it reasonable, and then realize that's about 8 dollars. Travel is no exception. For example, the Gatwick Express, which takes you between London and the Gatwick airport, costs almost 40 dollars — one way. And a single ticket on the London Underground is 4 pounds (8 dollars).
But you can save some money getting around London by buying an Oyster card, which those who issue like to describe as pay-as-you-go. In fact, it is a pre-paid card, with many uses, and many variations. I bought a one week Travel Card, which gave me unlimited trips on the underground for a week. That cost 25 pounds. Since I was making two to four trips on the underground each day, I saved quite a bit of money, even in my short stay. If I had had a little more time in London, I would have used the card on some of the city buses, just to see some of the sights that way.
(There is a similar card for Paris, Paris Visite, but, according to this traveler, it is not always a bargain. If I understand the rules for the card correctly, it would depend on how many trips you took per day.)
- 10:28 AM, 21 January 2008
More: By way of comparison, basic fares in the New York subway system are just $2.00, one quarter of what they are in London, though New York does not offer the deep discounts available through the Oyster card. For what it is worth, basic bus fares here in the Seattle area area are $1.25, and $1.50-$2.00 (during rush hours). The New York and Seattle fares are heavily subsidized; I don't know whether that is true for London, as well.
- 3:16 PM, 21 January 2008 [link]
Have The Clintons Found The Right Strategy Against Obama? Fred Barnes thinks so.
It took a while -- for the duration of the Iowa campaign, to be exact -- but the Clintons have figured out the most productive way to use former President Bill Clinton in Hillary Clinton's campaign. Their division of labor is very simple: he criticizes Barack Obama while she mostly stays positive. It worked in New Hampshire and again in Nevada.It's a standard strategy; the candidate stays positive while a supporter does the dirty work. And if the opposing candidate starts replying to the attacks, as Obama has, they usually lose by the exchange. Be interesting to see if Barack "Arugula" Obama figures that out any time soon.
- 8:36 AM, 21 January 2008 [link]
Was Martin Luther King, Jr. A Conservative? That's what Paul Greenberg says, though he uses a definition of conservative that many conservatives would not accept.
History is up to its old tricks again. The radical agitator of one generation becomes the conservative icon of another. Martin Luther King Jr. meets the very definition of an American conservative, that is, someone dedicated to preserving the gains of a liberal revolution.And, as Greenberg goes on to say, King was despised by radicals then and now, for making such arguments, and for his faith.
(In honoring King's memory today — as we should — we do not have to ignore his personal failings. The Gateway Pundit argues that King plagiarized much of his "dream" speech from a black Republican, Reverend Archibald Carey, Jr.. If so, it would not be the first time that King borrowed someone else's words.
That flaw, and others, don't mean that King was not a great man, but that he was a great man — with flaws.)
- 6:09 AM, 21 January 2008 [link]
Less Is More: The specifications on the new laptop line are pitiful. The laptops have slow processors, small screens with low resolution (800x480), no optical drives, and, at most, 8 gigabytes of hard disk space. They do not come with the industry standard operating system. Although they are inexpensive — $300-$500, depending on the configuration — they do not appear to be great bargains, judging by the specifications. It is easy to find $400 laptops that do much more.
But you can not find other laptops that cost this little and weigh only two pounds. And that makes the Asus Eee PC irresistible to many buyers. Many users want to use a laptop to check their email, browse the net and, perhaps, edit a few text files. And, according to most reviews, the Eee PC does those tasks quite well.
If, on the other hand, you want a laptop to edit video files on airplane trips, then you will want a rather different, and far more expensive, laptop.
But most of us don't need to do that, or similar tasks that require powerful computers, when we are traveling. It is great to see a company looking at actual user needs, rather than piling on specifications, and loading laptops with extras that few will use. Sometimes, less is more.
(Would this laptop fit my needs? It's close, but I think I would prefer a three pound notebook with a a larger screen, one with a resolution of 1024x768, or more. And I do a little photograph editing on my current laptop. I'm not sure how well the Eee would handle that, especially the 2 gigabyte model.
I found four different models of the Eee PC, each of which comes in two or more colors. The base model comes with just 2 gigabytes of flash memory for a hard drive. For another fifty dollars, you get 4 gigabytes. Add fifty dollars more and you get a webcam. Add another hundred dollars and you get twice as much main memory (1 gigabyte instead of 512K) and 8 gigabytes of flash memory.)
- 10:27 AM, 20 January 2008 [link]
Did Mitt Romney Skip The Sixties? That's what Michael Barone thinks.
Many political observers see Mitt Romney as contrived, artificial, faux. This impression comes partly from his quite recent switches on political issues like abortion and also from his manner. He seems too platform perfect, too given to clichés, too saccharine to be true.It's a plausible theory. And I have to add that, having seen much of the worst of the 1960s myself, that Romney would be better off if he had skipped that era.
(When we use "Sixties" to describe a period of drastic changes in American culture and politics, we really mean the late 1960s and the early 1970s. This can be confusing, but I can't think of a substitute name for the period that works better.)
- 9:24 AM, 20 January 2008 [link]
Rudy Giuliani has Done At Least One Thing Right In This Campaign: He has not campaigned as the first Italian-American with a real chance to be president.
Let us give hearty thanks and credit to Rudy Giuliani, who has never by word or gesture implied that we would fracture any kind of "ceiling" if we elected as chief executive a man whose surname ends in a vowel.And a fine change it is. And this Republican can not help but note what a pleasant contrast this makes to the identity politics dominating the Democratic nomination contest.
(For completeness I had to add that Steve Sailer is right when he criticizes Hitchens for going too far, later in the op-ed, and denying even the existence of race. But I also have to say that Sailer appears to be completely indifferent to Hitchens' main point about the progress this country has made. And that Sailer is far more interested in others' ancestry than I am.)
- 9:41 AM, 18 January 2008 [link]
Just Joking: That's not always an excuse in Great Britain, as two stories from the London Telegraph show.
First, the story of an arrest.
Mr [Robin] Page, 64, a farmer, conservationist, columnist for The Daily Telegraph, and the chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust, became the focus of police attention after his comments at a country fair in September 2002.For saying this, Page was arrested for committing a hate crime, after the police received a letter of complaint. He eventually won compensation, £2,000, for the arrest, but it took a five year battle. Few would have his resources or tenacity.
Second, the story of a resignation.
A police officer has been forced into resigning after he gave a Muslim colleague a pack of bacon and a bottle of wine as a joke present during a Christmas Day party.The Muslim colleague, Police Constable Arshad Mahmood, thought the joke was a bit below the belt (as jokes in male, or mostly male, organizations often are), but did not make a formal complaint. But their superiors heard about the joke and made it clear that they would be delighted if Murrie resigned.
Neither joke is very good, but it is disturbing that the police reacted as they did in the two cases. Page should never have been arrested, and Murrie should have been reproved and made to apologize, but no more.
(The article does not explain why a Muslim officer joined in a Christmas celebration, though that does raise interesting questions.)
- 4:20 PM, 17 January 2008 [link]
Environmentalists Are The Worst Polluters: (If you measure pollution by carbon footprints — which I wouldn't.)
Do the results of this survey surprise you?
A survey of travel habits has revealed that the most environmentally conscious people are also the biggest polluters.They didn't surprise me.
(The Telegraph reporter and, probably, the survey authors, equate a carbon footprint with pollution. There are many kinds of pollution and, even if you accept carbon dioxide as a pollutant, you should know that it is hardly the worst pollutant. It isn't even the worst greenhouse gas, gram for gram. But those "Green" consumers may not know these facts.)
- 10:51 AM, 17 January 2008 [link]
No Executive Experience: But the top three Democratic candidates all believe that they are qualified for the top executive job. David Broder notices the obvious.
It was fascinating to watch the three top contenders for the Democratic nomination discuss their concept of the presidency during Tuesday night's MSNBC debate in Las Vegas. But it was also stunning to realize that the three current and former senators who have survived the shakeout process -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards -- have not a day of chief executive experience among them.Nor do any of them have executive educations; none of the three has an MBA or officer's training. All are lawyers. (And all three are married to lawyers, interestingly.)
Not having executive experience does not prove that a person is unqualified to be president. But Broder is right when he concludes with this observation:
The burden of proof of readiness to be president is heaviest on those who have never borne executive responsibility. And that is something voters will have to weigh, whichever of the Democrats is the nominee.I am not critical of Broder for taking this long to notice this obvious point, because most journalists have yet to do the same. And despite what Broder says, this year Democratic voters seem to be, at best, indifferent to executive experience. And not just Democratic voters, but Democratic activists and fund raisers, some of them successful executives themselves.
This strange willingness to accept, as serious contenders for the top executive office in the world, people who have never worked as executives, requires an explanation — but I haven't seen one, and don't even have a speculative explanation to share with you. But I will keep thinking about this problem.
(Perhaps Broder will also notice that the three have no significant accomplishments, which I think is an even worse defect in their résumés than their lack of executive experience.)
- 8:43 AM, 17 January 2008 [link]