Archive:

January 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Here's A Question For Monday Morning Quarterbacks:  (Since it is Monday morning, at least in my time zone, and some of you may be able to answer a question that has long puzzled me.)

Here's the question:  Do some football teams have an edge against other teams?   Let me make the question more precise:  Let's suppose that we have an accurate way of rating the strengths of football teams, using their records and whatever statistics turn out to be good predictors of wins.  Are there pairings of teams in which a bettor, who only wants to win, should bet on the team with the weaker rating?

For example, when Jim Zorn was their quarterback, the Seahawks seemed to beat the Oakland Raiders more often than one would expect, given the teams' records.  Did those Seahawks have some edge over the Raiders that didn't show up in statistics?  (Or was this just one of those statistical quirks that you should expect, given enough teams and enough games?)

And if the Seahawks did have an edge over their Oakland rivals, was it a psychological edge or what you might call a style-of-play edge?

(Real football fans may want to correct me on this, but I believe Zorn may have had an advantage against the Raiders because he was a scrambling quarterback, and the Raiders used a man defense in their secondary.  If Zorn could scramble long enough, eventually a receiver would get open and Zorn would get the ball to him.  The Oakland defense would have been more effective against a more traditional quarterback.)

If the answer to my main question is yes, then you could have cycles, in which team A would be expected to beat team B, team B be expected to beat team C — and team C be expected to beat team A.  (That sometimes happens in politics, just to get back to my usual subject.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Bonus question for those with some football knowledge:  Can you think of any combinations of offense and defense where you would expect cycles?

Super bonus question for those with some statistical knowledge:  If those edges exist, is there some way to detect them, statistically?)
- 10:46 AM, 24 January 2011   [link]


Shane McClellan Was Telling The Truth:  Last June, when this story broke, I was careful to say that I did not know whether the Seattle youth was telling the truth about a racist attack by a black man and a Filipino.

I have no strong opinion on what actually happened — but I am absolutely certain that the coverage would be far different if the victim had been black or Hispanic.  Or a follower of Islam.

Now one of his attackers, Ahmed Mohamed, has confessed, though he added an absurd excuse.

According to court documents, McClellan was walking home from a friend's house around 2 a.m. when Mohamed and Jonathan Baquiring, 21, asked the teen for a light.

When the West Seattle teen, who turned 17 on Friday, stopped, Mohamed and Baquiring attacked him.

For more than four hours, according to court documents, the two men punched McClellan, urinated on him, beat him with his own belt and burned him with cigarettes.  They also poured Four Loko on the teen and taunted him by saying, "How do you like it, white boy?" and, "This is for enslaving our people," according to the charges.

Mohamed, who is black, said in his guilty plea that he and Baquiring targeted McClellan "because he was a different race than we are."  McClellan is white.

(Baquiring has pled not guilty and is scheduled to be tried in February.)

In my original June posts, I said that the news coverage of this horrific attack was minimal; that's still true.

Here are my simple-minded views:  Racial attacks are wrong, regardless of the races of the attackers and victims.  And our news organizations should give about the same coverage to these attacks, regardless of the races of the attackers and the victims.  Those views, which may be shared by most Americans, would prevent me from getting a job at most of our "mainstream" news organizations.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The absurd excuse?  Mohamed says that Four Loko made him do it.  The Seattle Times reporter, Christine Clarridge, appears to take his excuse seriously.)
- 9:49 AM, 24 January 2011
Update:  Clarridge tells me that she thought the Four Loko excuse was like "the devil made me do it" excuses.  That's a good comparison, I'd say.
- 1:08 PM, 24 January 2011   [link]


Jeffrey Immelt, Crony Capitalist?  That's what Fred Barnes thinks, though he doesn't use that exact phrase.
In General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, President Obama may not have picked the worst possible corporate executive to head his new panel on job creation.  But Immelt is pretty close.

Immelt is a classic example of a rent-seeking CEO who may know what's good for his own company but not what produces economic growth and private sector job creation.  He supported Obama on the economic stimulus, Obamacare, and cap and trade — policies either unlikely to stir growth and jobs or likely to impede faster growth and hiring.
Machine politicians generally love "rent-seeking" crony capitalists, because they can work out so many profitable deals with them.  So it is no surprise to see Obama choosing one for an advisor.

(As far as I can tell, Immelt didn't create any jobs, net, while heading General Electric.)
- 7:48 AM, 24 January 2011   [link]


Chinese Pianist Lang Lang Insults The United States:  At the state dinner for President Hu.
Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it.  Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it.  Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online.   Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand.  At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie "Battle on Shangganling Mountain."

The film depicts a group of "People's Volunteer Army" soldiers who are first hemmed in at Shanganling (or Triangle Hill) and then, when reinforcements arrive, take up their rifles and counterattack the U.S. military "jackals."
Did the Chinese government know that Lang Lang was planning to play this little tune?  Did Lang Lang know that it was a propaganda song?  Almost certainly yes in both cases.

More evidence that President Bush was right to stick to a simple lunch the last time Hu visited.

Oh, and the White House should ask for a formal apology.

There's a little more here.)
- 9:38 AM, 23 January 2011
The NYT is saying that Lang Lang's insult was "clearly unintentional".

If that's true, then we should see an apology from the pianist, and very soon.
- 8:24 AM, 24 January2011     [link]


No, Michelle Obama Didn't Cause Additional Pedestrian Deaths:   Even though Governors Highway Safety Administration spokesman Jonathan Adkins said so.

It would be extraordinarily hard to attribute any additional pedestrian deaths to her because you would have to show that the additional people who died had acted on her advice to get more exercise.   As any doctor can tell you, people are lousy at following advice, even from authority figures.   Adkins didn't even provide evidence that more people are exercising, much less that they were doing so because of advice from the First Lady.

(On the whole, exercise is good for almost everyone.  But there is no doubt that there are risks to every kind of exercise, including walking.  I know that I am less likely to get a heart attack if I walk frequently; I also know that I am slightly more likely to get hit by a car if I walk along city streets, as I usually do.)

Here's more, with some numbers, from Tom Maguire.

(There is one government initiative that has probably increased pedestrian deaths, the free right turn on red, that was brought in to (very slightly) increase fuel economy.  I have seen news reports on serious studies that showed that the change had, very slightly, increased pedestrian deaths, mostly, as one would expect, among the children and the elderly.)
- 9:59 AM, 21 January 2011   [link]


Cities With Foreign Policies Have Dirty Streets:  Decades ago I observed that cities that spent a lot of time worrying about peace in the Middle East or the Vietnam War, or something similar, almost always had poor basic services.  And that you could often spot that immediately on visiting such cities, because their streets would be dirty.

Now Victor Davis Hanson has caught up with me.
[Pima County sheriff Clarence W.] Dupnik is a good example of the increasingly common bad habit of local politicians to resort to cosmic sermonizing when more mundane challenges go unaddressed. In Dupnik's case, it is hard to monitor all the nuts like Loughner in the sheriff's department files to ensure they don't get guns and bullets and pop up at political events, but apparently far easier to deflect subsequent responsibility by sounding off on political issues.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was a past master of lecturing about the cosmic while at times ignoring the more concrete. Governing the boroughs of an often-chaotic New York City is nearly impossible. Pontificating on the evils of smoking, fatty foods, and supposed anti-Muslim bigotry was not only far easier but had established the mayor as a national figure of sensitivity and caring. He was praised for his progressive declarations by supporters of everything from global warming to abortion.

But Bloomberg's carefully constructed philosopher's image was finally shattered by the December 2010 blizzard and his own asleep-at-the-wheel reaction. An incompetent municipal response to record snowfalls barricaded millions in their borough houses and apartments, amid lurid rumors of deliberate union-sponsored slowdowns by Bloomberg's city crews.
(I'm not sure I would agree that the habit is more common now than it was in the late 1960s and 1970s.)

The reasons for the correlation that I observed long ago are not hard to understand.  If elected officials are worrying about matters that are beyond their control, they will spend less time on those that they can control.  And if voters choose, for example, mayors, who have the right policies on the PLO or global warming, they are more likely to get mayors who are poor at managing snow removal and crime control.

(My observation is not partisan or ideological, although the examples I used originally all came from Democratic cities which were embracing leftist causes.  Miami, where anti-Castro policies have often been important in local elections, would be a good test, but I haven't visited that city.  I do see, from time to time, reports of Miami scandals that suggest that the city could be better governed.)
- 7:33 AM, 21 January 2011   [link]


Gourmet Chocolates And Murdered Children:  Yesterday morning, I skimmed through a local left wing blog and found this post.
By far my favorite fundraising event of the year is tomorrow night, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington's annual Chocolate for Choice, a celebration of two worthy causes: the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and of course, chocolate.  Featuring generous tastings from over 40 local bakers and chocolatiers, my daughter and I wouldn't miss it for the world.
It seemed like an odd father-daughter event, but not something worth taking the time to comment on.

Yesterday afternoon, I found this horrific story on line.
A doctor whose abortion clinic was described as a filthy, foul-smelling "house of horrors" that was overlooked by regulators for years was charged Wednesday with murder, accused of delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell was also charged with murder in the death of a woman who suffered an overdose of painkillers while awaiting an abortion.
If you read further, you will learn that, although Gosnell was legally accused of murdering seven babies, he may have murdered hundreds, perhaps even thousands.  (We may never know how many, since he destroyed many of his records.

The New York Times buried the story on page A15, but was quick to tell us that late term abortions are illegal.  Which they are in Pennsylvania, thanks largely to a a pro-life Democratic governor, Bob Casey.  But not in many other states.

The Washington Post is more informative — and more accurate — than the Times.
In a typical late-term abortion, the fetus is dismembered in the uterus and then removed in pieces.  That is more common than the procedure opponents call "partial-birth abortion," in which the fetus is partially extracted before being destroyed.  Prosecutors said Gosnell instead delivered many of the babies alive.

He "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord," District Attorney Seth Williams said.
The essential difference in the three procedures is where the cutting takes place.  If the cutting is done in the womb, it is a "typical" late-term abortion.  If the cutting is done in the birth canal, it is a "partial-birth" abortion.  If the cutting is done after the baby has fully emerged, we might call it a "full-birth" abortion.

And at this point, I must say something that will trouble many of you:  Judged purely on how safe the procedure is for the mother, we have to say that Dr. Gosnell's "full-birth" abortion is the best of the three procedures, and that the "typical" late term abortion is the worst.

We know that Gosnell injured a number of women through surgical mistakes; he might have injured many more if he had not used his "full-birth" abortion procedure so often.

Those who support abortions after viability, after the baby is old enough to survive outside the womb, should praise Dr. Gosnell for using this safer method.  (Though, like everyone else, they are free to condemn him for other defects in his practice.)

Now, is there a connection between that fund raising event with all that chocolate and Dr. Gosnell?  I am afraid that there is, though the connection is indirect.  (Though it is worth mentioning that the author of the post, David Goldstein, is from Philadelphia.)

Again, from the Washington Post.
State regulators ignored complaints about Gosnell and the 46 lawsuits filed against him, and made just five annual inspections, most satisfactory, since the clinic opened in 1979, authorities said. The inspections stopped completely in 1993 because of what prosecutors said was the pro-abortion rights attitude that set in after Democratic Gov. Robert Casey, an abortion foe, left office.
(Emphasis added.)

In general, pro-abortion extremists, the kind of people who would go to that chocolate event to celebrate abortion, also oppose almost any regulation of abortion clinics.   Or even the kind of routine inspection that Pennsylvania authorities stopped doing.  They are unlikely to have any direct connection to this Philadelphia story, but they do have the kind of values that allowed Gosnell to operate his "house of horrors" for so long.

(You can find more here, including some long quotations from the grand jury report.

For the record:  As I have said before, I am not opposed to all abortions.  I am opposed to all post-viability abortions, except when they are necessary to save the life of the mother.   And I am absolutely opposed to having our laws on abortion made by unelected judges.)
- 1:05 PM, 20 January 2011   [link]


Nicholas Kristof Wants To Get A Little Tougher On The Chinese:  So he lists a few of the faults of the current regime — and then ends by comparing them to Dick Cheney.
My take is that China is going through a period resembling the Bush era in the United States:  hawks and hard-liners have gained ground in domestic politics, and they scoff at the country's diplomats as wimps.   China's foreign ministry seems barely a player.

Domestic concerns trump all else, partly because Chinese leaders are nervous about stability and about the delicate transition to Mr. Xi and his team two years from now.  A Chinese poll has found that public satisfaction is at its lowest level in 11 years, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao upset hard-liners by calling publicly for more pluralism (he was censored).

The upshot is that China-Firsters — Chinese versions of Dick Cheney — have a greater voice.  Brace yourself.
Kristof appears to be serious in that comparison.  (I added a comment suggesting that he was joking, but that was my own joke.  I think he honestly believes what he wrote.)
- 8:39 AM, 20 January 2011   [link]


A British Columbia Politician Is Accused Of Improper Payments To Campaign Volunteers:  His name? Kash Heed.
Police uncovered criminal allegations directly involving former solicitor-general Kash Heed only after the author of one of the controversial anti-NDP pamphlets came forward to police to voluntarily change his story, a recently unsealed search warrant reveals.
. . .
Unsealed this month, the warrant authorizing those two searches alleges two counts of breech of trust against Heed, as well as two counts of filing a false report — an offence under the Election Act.

Police allege that Heed used $6,000 in public funds to pay two key players for work they did during his campaign: campaign manager Barinder Sall and Ismail, who police say "wrote the text for one of the anti-NDP pamphlets and some of the text for another."
(Heed is a member of the Liberal party, which is on the left by American standards, but not as far to the left as its rival, the NDP.)

That name is almost perfect for a politician involved in a monetary scandal.

(By way of small dead animals, where they are more interested in the scandal than the name.)
- 7:24 AM, 20 January 2011   [link]


You Can Watch Coverage Of Hu's Visit On TV:  Or you can watch this Taiwanese video spoof.

Neither will give you a perfectly accurate picture of Hu's visit, but you will almost certainly find the spoof funnier.  (And perhaps, less misleading.)

You can find my own view of how we should have treated Hu in this Jay Nordlinger post.  To begin with, we should have given Hu a polite lunch, rather than a lavish dinner.

(Video by way of small dead animals.)
- 4:50 PM, 19 January 2011   [link]


So Far, As We Have Gotten To Know Speaker Boehner, We Like Him More:  Here's the Gallup story.
Americans' opinions of House Speaker John Boehner have improved considerably since last fall, rising a total of 15 percentage points, including eight points since immediately after the midterm elections.  Though one in three Americans are still unfamiliar with Boehner, his ratings are now much more positive than negative, a shift from prior to the election, when they were about equally positive and negative.

The Jan. 14-16 USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Boehner's favorable ratings have improved most among Republicans since October (from 46% to 65%), but are also up significantly among independents (from 23% to 39%) and Democrats (from 15% to 25%).
Gallup goes on to describe Pelosi's approval ratings, which follow a fascinating pattern.   When she was chosen as leader of the House Democrats, she had equal positive and negative ratings (23 percent for each).  The two rose together — except for a few months around January 2007, when she became speaker — until January 2009 (42 percent for each) and then split with her unfavorable rating rising to 54 percent and her favorable rating falling to 33 percent.

(Senate Majority Leader Reid's ratings are quite similar to Pelosi's, though consistently fewer Americans have an opinion about him.)
- 1:11 PM, 19 January 2011   [link]


Sal Esposito May Be Smart:  But as a cat, he may not be smart enough for jury duty — despite what a Boston court thinks.

(I'm hoping the Espositos will bring Sal in to report for jury duty on 23 March, as the court ordered.)
- 9:30 AM, 19 January 2011   [link]


Dick Cheney Does A Little victory dance.
Cheney hasn't had a change of heart about counterterrorism, either, and said that Obama is coming closer to his point of view.

"I think he's been through the fires of becoming president and having to make decisions and live with the consequences," Cheney said.  "I think he's learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate . . . I think he's learned from experience."
(All right, given Cheney's health, it was more of a victory shuffle.  But Tom Maguire helps him out with a full victory dance on the tattered remains of Obama's campaign promises.)

Those who thought that a law enforcement/civil rights model was the wrong way to fight terrorism feel vindicated now that a Democratically-controlled Congress has refused to close Guantánamo and a Democratic president has adopted almost all of the Bush/Cheney policies on terrorism.

Some, including me — and more famously, John Yoo — are even dubious about the military tribunals instituted by the Bush administration.
The Obama administration should drop the idea of trials altogether and simply continue to detain al Qaeda members until the war is over.  Detention is not a problem to be wished away.   Rather, it is a solution for more effectively collecting the intelligence that will win the war.

The customary laws of war have long recognized the right to hold enemy combatants until the end of hostilities.  As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Supreme Court in the 2004 Hamdi case: "The purpose of detention is to prevent captured individuals from returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again."  Punishment is not the goal of military detention.   So the U.S. should keep Guantanamo Bay open and postpone any trials until it has won the war.
And if the war continues for decades, as I expect it will?  Then I and, I assume, John Yoo, are willing to keep these dangerous men locked up for that long, or until they give up their commitment to terrorism.

(One of the things that has surprised me in the last five years or so is the failure of Democratic politicians to exploit the terror attacks by detainees released by the Bush administration.   American politicians, regardless of party, are famous for exploiting perceived failures of the other party.  And it has been clear for some time that the Bush administration was either releasing too many detainees, or had no good method for discovering which detainees could be released, safely.

More from John Yoo here.)
- 9:09 AM, 19 January 2011   [link]


Smart Dog:  And very well trained.
Chaser, a border collie who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., has the largest vocabulary of any known dog.  She knows 1,022 nouns, a record that displays unexpected depths of the canine mind and may help explain how children acquire language.

Chaser belongs to John W. Pilley, a psychologist who taught for 30 years at Wofford College, a liberal arts institution in Spartanburg.  In 2004, after he had retired, he read a report in Science about Rico, a border collie whose German owners had taught him to recognize 200 items, mostly toys and balls.  Dr. Pilley decided to repeat the experiment using a technique he had developed for teaching dogs, and he describes his findings in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes.

He bought Chaser as a puppy in 2004 from a local breeder and started to train her for four to five hours a day.  He would show her an object, say its name up to 40 times, then hide it and ask her to find it, while repeating the name all the time.  She was taught one or two new names a day, with monthly revisions and reinforcement for any names she had forgotten.
After he got past a thousand nouns, he began trying to teach Chaser more abstract language skills, like understanding simple verbs and common nouns.  There's a video accompanying the article that shows her doing some of her more advanced tasks.
- 7:05 PM, 18 January 2011   [link]


What Do College Students Learn?  Nothing in many cases, very little in most cases.  Here are some findings from a recent study.
If the purpose of a college education is for students to learn, academe is failing, according to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book being released today by University of Chicago Press.

The book cites data from student surveys and transcript analysis to show that many college students have minimal classwork expectations -- and then it tracks the academic gains (or stagnation) of 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities.  The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other "higher level" skills taught at college) at various points before and during their college educations, and the results are not encouraging:

  • 45 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements.   Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years.  What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later -- but that's the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven't experienced any college learning.
This isn't news to me, or to anyone who has looked at, for instance, Derek Bok's Our Underachieving Colleges.  But it would be news to most journalists covering education.

(More on Academically Adrift here and here.)
- 2:45 PM, 18 January 2011   [link]


One Space, Or Two?  Having disposed of trivial issues earlier today, I can turn to something more important:  Should you follow a period with one space or two?

Farhood Manjoo is a fierce (I almost said rabid) one spacer.
What galls me about two-spacers isn't just their numbers. It's their certainty that they're right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the "correct" number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces. Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two. Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space "rule." Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper. When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked. "Who says two spaces is wrong?" they wanted to know.
Here's's the same paragraph with two spaces, instead of one:
What galls me about two-spacers isn't just their numbers.  It's their certainty that they're right.  Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the "correct" number of spaces between sentences.  The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals.   Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces.  Some people admitted to slipping sometimes and using a single space—but when writing something formal, they were always careful to use two.  Others explained they mostly used a single space but felt guilty for violating the two-space "rule."  Still others said they used two spaces all the time, and they were thrilled to be so proper.  When I pointed out that they were doing it wrong—that, in fact, the correct way to end a sentence is with a period followed by a single, proud, beautiful space—the table balked.  "Who says two spaces is wrong?" they wanted to know.
I think the second paragraph looks a little better, but I doubt that everyone will agree with me.

There is one great difference between my versions and Manjoo's; I am using a typeface with serifs, while Manjoo is using a typeface without them.  (You're seeing the Georgia typeface, if you have it installed, as I hope you do.   Otherwise you're almost certainly seeing one of the ubiquitous Times Roman typefaces.)  One space would, I suspect, look better if I were using the same typeface that Slate uses.

(Don't laugh too hard at me calling it an important issue; the article is currently Slate's most popular.)
- 10:19 AM, 18 January 2011   [link]


Pearlstein Versus Obama:  On 6 January, Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein ranted against Republicans referring to "job-killing" tax increases, and "job-killing" regulations.
There's "job-killing legislation," in particular the health-care reform law.  And "job-killing regulations," especially anything coming out of the EPA and the IRS.
. . .
There is an unmistakable redbaiting quality to the "job-killing" rhetoric, a throwback to the McCarthy era.  It reflects the sort of economic fundamentalism better suited to Afghan politics than American.  Rather than contributing to the political dialogue, it is a substitute for serious discussion.  And the fact that it continues unabated suggests that Republicans are not ready to compromise or to govern.
Today, Barack Obama joins that Republican redbaiting, with an assault on "job-killing" regulations.
Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.  At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences.  Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering.  There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance.   And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.

This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth.  And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.
Will Pearlstein broaden his attack to include Obama?  I don't read Pearlstein often enough to have an opinion on that question, but I will be checking him from time to time, just to see.

(Pearlstein might benefit from reading, or perhaps re-reading Mancur Olson's The Rise and Delcine of Nations.)
- 8:53 AM, 18 January 2011   [link]


Do Journalists Believe In Astrology?  Some do, as I was reminded by last Friday's Gang of Four program.

The KUOW host, Steve Scher, opened the Weekday program with a brief discussion of the day's top issue (for him, anyway), the controversy over the astrological signs.  I expected the other three, Lynne Varner of the Seattle Times, Knute Berger of Crosscut, and Eli Sanders of the Stranger, to dismiss astrology as unscientific.  Instead, all three implied that they half believed in it.  Sanders summed up their attitudes by saying that "a certain part of me" believes in astrology.  And, judging by what he and Berger said, you might get more dates in that reactionary city, Seattle, if you at least pretended to believe that the stars determine our destinies.

Believing in astrology is mostly harmless, but I did expect one of the four to say what everyone with a scientific outlook knows, that, after centuries of searching, scientists have found no evidence at all for astrology.  But none did, perhaps because all four believe in it, in part.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I'll have much more to say about last Friday's program in a future post.)
- 7:14 AM, 18 January 2011   [link]


Clever Chris Christie:  In his Fox News Sunday interview, Governor Christie was asked — as he must have known he would be — about his presidential ambitions.  He gave the expected answer, that he was working hard at being governor of New Jersey, and then got in a clever dig at two potential opponents.
Listen, I think every year you have as a governor in an executive position in a big state like New Jersey would make you better prepared to be president.  And after one year as governor, I am not arrogant enough to believe that after one year as governor of New Jersey and seven years as the United States attorney that I'm ready to be president of the United States, so I'm not going to run.
Christie is implying that Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are arrogant.  And he does so without mentioning either person's name.

Chris Wallace asked him about Obama in a follow-up question, giving Christie a chance to add to his criticism.
WALLACE:  Yes, but you know, and I heard you say it might make more sense somewhere down the line, 2016, 2020, whatever.  But one of the things that Obama learned and showed us all in 2007, when it's your moment, you have got to move.

CHRISTIE:  Listen, that is a decision that he made.  And he's obviously was successful in winning the presidency.  My view is I want to, if I ever would have run for the presidency, if I was ever to do it, I want to make sure in my heart I feel ready.  And I don't think you run just because political opportunity is there.  That's how we wind up with politicians who aren't ready for their jobs.
Christie is implying that Obama was, in 2007, unready to be president.

Christie isn't the first Obama opponent to imply that Obama is arrogant and unready to be president, but few have made those criticisms so cleverly.

Christie was lucky (or perhaps very good in his timing) not to be asked a similar question about Palin.  But he had already shown, earlier in the interview, that he could deflect such questions.

(Oh, and there was an added bit that former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty must have appreciated:  Christie said that being governor of a "big" state prepares you for being president, implying that being governor of a small state, or even a medium-sized state like Minnesota, doesn't.)
- 6:19 AM, 18 January 2011   [link]


Today Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:  And it is tempting to use the day to make contemporary points, or to try to make some balanced assessment of his career.  But this year I decided to put that all aside and just look at his words.

His most famous speech, which he gave many times, in different versions, became famous when he delivered it to the 1963 March on Washington.  It is named for a phrase that he used again and again, "I have a Dream".   Contrarian that I am, I think his earlier letter from a Birmingham jail is more impressive.  And his speech to the First Montgomery Improvement Association helps me understand why he was able to move so many.

But King's words that move me most are in his last formal speech, when he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers.  The speech meanders, but much of it is taken up with King's thoughts on his own mortality.  It ends with these words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man!   Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
He was assassinated the next day.  And we lost a great man.

(If you need a review on his life, here's the Wikipedia biography.

Through Orrin Judd, I found this useful site, which has 100 famous American speeches.  They aren't the 100 I would choose, but I like most on the list.  And all come in mp3 files, as well as text files, so you can listen to them as well as read them.

Recycled from 2007.)
- 4:56 PM, 17 January 2011   [link]


Common Sense From NYT Columnist Charles Blow.
Within hours of the shooting, there was a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right.

"I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!  Oh, I mean Jared Lee Loughner!  Yes him.   With the devil!"

The only problem is that there was no evidence then, and even now, that overheated rhetoric from the right had anything to do with the shooting.  (In fact, a couple of people who said they knew him have described him as either apolitical or "quite liberal.")  The picture emerging is of a sad and lonely soul slowly, and publicly, slipping into insanity.
Since Blow is a leftist working for the New York Times, he has to follow that up with a claim that most nasty words come from the right, but that's all right.  He made the central point about as clearly as it can be made, and illustrates the point with that powerful "witch hunt" metaphor.  (And, not so incidentally, Blow was courageous enough criticize some of his fellow columnists, indirectly.)
- 4:24 PM, 17 January 2011   [link]