Archive:

July 2009, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Is Bing Better Than Google?  David Pogue of the New York Times says that it is, and gives some examples.
Here's the shocker, though: in many ways, Bing is better.
. . .
For starters, how's this for a dream feature?  Point to any search result without clicking; a pop-up balloon shows you the first few paragraphs of text on it.  Without leaving the results list, you know if it's going to be helpful.  Simple — and irresistible.
Pogue's claim that Bing's interface is better is something I will have to explore further.

Those who do a lot of shopping on the net will like this feature:
(Bing's Shopping results also make it clear when you'll get 1 to 5 percent cash back, courtesy of Microsoft's Cashback program.  In essence, Microsoft passes on to you some of the bounty that it receives from 540 online advertisers, such as J&R, Hewlett-Packard, The Gap and others.  Paying you to use Bing for shopping feels desperate and even a little sleazy on Microsoft's part, but it's real money, and you may as well exploit it while it lasts.)
I haven't found any great differences between the two in my own, rather simple, experiments.  Both search engines usually find what I want, if I choose a good search phrase.

(For me, there is one disappointment, though few will share it.  Bing cherries put food on my family's table, while I was growing up.  When I first saw the name, I hoped that Microsoft would put a picture of the cherries on the main page.)
- 5:13 PM, 8 July 2009
Clarification:  If you read the article, you will see that Pogue thinks that Bing is better in many ways — and worse in some important ways.
- 1:32 PM, 9 July 2009   [link]


It's Good To Be Queen:  Just ask Michelle Obama.  Note that the salaries for her staff total almost three times as much as the salaries for Laura Bush's staff.
- 9:59 AM, 8 July 2009   [link]


Once You Can Fake Dignity:  You may not have it made, but you can fool David Brooks.  He began yesterday's column by praising George Washington for his dignity.
Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code.  The code was based on the same premise as the nation's Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions.  Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.

The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests.  It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public.  It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, bigotry, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.
(The Constitution is based on more than one premise.  Historians would probably have other quibbles with those two paragraphs.)

Brooks praised some Americans for their dignity and them condemned two obvious men and one not-so-obvious woman for lacking dignity.
First, there was Mark Sanford's press conference.  Here was a guy utterly lacking in any sense of reticence, who was given to rambling self-exposure even in his moment of disgrace.  Then there was the death of Michael Jackson and the discussion of his life.  Here was a guy who was apparently untouched by any pressure to live according to the rules and restraints of adulthood.  Then there was Sarah Palin's press conference.  Here was a woman who aspires to a high public role but is unfamiliar with the traits of equipoise and constancy, which are the sources of authority and trust.
(Actually, authority generally has a legal source.)

That attack on Palin is revealing, not for what it says about Palin, but for what it says about Brooks.

And then Brooks said there is hope because:
But it's not right to end on a note of cultural pessimism because there is the fact of President Obama.  Whatever policy differences people may have with him, we can all agree that he exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity.  The cultural effects of his presidency are not yet clear, but they may surpass his policy impact.  He may revitalize the concept of dignity for a new generation and embody a new set of rules for self-mastery.
What's sad is that Brooks does not realize just how funny that is, does not realize just how many people not only disagree with him, but find his argument that Obama is authentically dignified laughable.

If you have friends or relatives who don't realize that paragraph is funny, just refer them to this post, which links to two undignified uses of the middle finger by Barack Obama.

Or ask them whether a man who distrusts "rashness, bigotry, zealotry, fury, and political enthusiasm" would have been a member of Jeremiah Wright's church for two decades.

Obama is good enough at faking dignity to fool David Brooks — but only because Brooks is willfully ignoring the evidence, some of it published in the New York Times.

(Not sure who originally said that if you can fake sincerity, you've got it made.  A quick web search, hampered by a slow internet, found a number of possibilities.)
- 8:52 AM, 8 July 2009   [link]


Generic Vote Trends, Update 2:  Two months ago, the Republicans had taken a rare lead in Rasmussen's generic congressional vote.  One month ago, the Republicans lost that lead, narrowly.  This month, the Republicans have retaken the lead.

Trends in generic Congressional vote, 13 July 2008 - 5 July 2009

(Note that I am using the traditional — and logical — colors for the two parties, rather than the colors inflicted on us by the "mainstream" media.)

If there is a trend currently — and I am not sure that there is one — it favors the Republicans.
Republican candidates lead Democrats for the second straight week in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 41% would vote for their district's Republican congressional candidate while 38% would choose the Democratic candidate.

Support for the GOP remains unchanged this week - at its highest level over the past year, but support for Democrats dropped one point to tie its lowest level in the same time period.
But, as I said at the beginning of June, we may just be looking at sampling error.

(Caveat:  As I mentioned in the original post, some pollsters do not care for Rasmussen's methods.  You should know that he samples likely voters and weights his samples by party.  Other pollsters often sample voters, or even adults, and are less likely to weight their samples as Rasmussen does.  Those differences explain, at least partly, why Rasmussen's polls are almost always more favorable to Republicans than other polls.

As you have probably guessed, for now I plan to do these graphs once a month.  Here's the second.)
- 2:07 PM, 7 July 2009   [link]


Think There Has Been Too Much Coverage Of Michael Jackson?  You're not alone; in fact, you are in the majority.
The public closely tracked the sudden death of pop superstar Michael Jackson last week, though nearly two-in-three Americans say news organizations gave too much coverage to the story.  At the same time, half say the media struck the right balance between reporting on Jackson's musical legacy and the problems in his personal life.
(If two out of three think the coverage was excessive, that still leaves 100 million who think it wasn't, or 70 or 80 million, if you exclude small children.)

The stories I have seen have not stressed those "problems in his personal life", but Maureen Orth gives us a good summary.
In August 1993, I was on the beach in Nantucket when I was told that Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter was trying to reach me: Michael Jackson had just been accused of child molestation by a 13-year-old boy.  Thus began an odyssey of 12 years in which I wrote five lengthy articles for the magazine about the trials and tribulations of this music icon whose fame had literally deformed him.  I spoke to hundreds of people who knew Jackson and, in the course of my reporting, found families who had given their sons up to him and paid dearly for it.  I found people who had been asked to supply him with drugs.  I even found the business manager who told me on-the-record how he had had to wire $150,000 to a voodoo chief in Mali who had 42 cows ritually sacrificed in order to put a curse on David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, and 23 others on Jackson's enemies list.  I sat through two trials and watched his bizarre behavior on the stand when he said he did not recognize his publicist of a decade.  One of the reasons I endured this not-fun circus was that, when I began, I was the mother of a boy roughly the same age as the ones Jackson was so interested in spending the night with.  His behavior truly troubled me.  Understandably, in the wake of his death, there are those who do not want to hear these sad facts.  Yet nothing that Vanity Fair printed was ever challenged legally by Jackson or his associates.
In writing this post, am I not contributing to the problem in a small way?  Yes, I suppose so, but I have an antidote, a nasty and hilarious video, "Hitler Finds Out Michael Jackson Has Died".   (Warning:  Because of its language, the video is not for small children, and would be inappropriate in most workplaces.)  After you watch it, I will almost guarantee that you will feel better about this unpleasant story.

Sadly, I have to admit that the cable networks are probably showing good commercial judgment in giving his death all this attention.  They don't need to attract majorities.  Neither do I, but I don't plan any more posts on the pop star.

(Video by way of the Instapundit, indirectly through my brother.)
- 9:34 AM, 7 July 2009   [link]


Someone Has To Malign Paul Krugman:  Last month, Megan McArdle asked, rhetorically, whether she had maligned the New York Times columnist.  (Who was once a respected economist.)  McArdle seems to think that it would be wrong to malign Krugman.

But someone has to malign (or, if you prefer, criticize) Krugman, who is so often wrong, and so often unfair to those he disagrees with.  (You can see a recent example here, and some comments on Krugman's pattern here.)   Krugman has offended against the standards of civility and fairness in debate, again and again, so often that he drew a reprimand from the first (and best) public editor at the New York Times.

So, someone has to "malign" Paul Krugman, for much the same reasons that someone has to take out the trash.  It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

One of the best at the job over the years has been Tom Maguire.  Here's his latest post critiquing (or, if you prefer, maligning) Krugman, in which he catches the columnist misrepresenting something Bruce Bartlett had written.

(I have "maligned" Krugman once or twice myself, most recently here.  And I am still fond of this 2003 post, where I (jokingly) suggested that Krugman did not write his own columns.
It is not hard to guess who that would be.  Anyone who knows a little about graduate schools knows that graduate students often do much of a professor's work.  Those who know a little more about graduate schools know that the graduate students often feel cheated of credit by their professors.   And those who have heard some graduate school gossip know that a few graduate students take revenge by sabotaging the work of the professors they feel are abusing them.   With this understood, it is easy to see what is happening.  Professor Krugman, not caring to actually write the column, assigned that duty to a graduate student.  The student, feeling abused, has been writing columns that will, in time, completely demolish Krugman's reputation.
That explains the nastiness, the poor writing, and the methodological errors in the column.)
- 7:50 AM, 7 July 2009   [link]


Who Supports Whom?  Victor Davis Hanson meanders a bit in this essay, but ends wonderfully.
Obama has surrounded himself with legions of 'fixers.'  Bright men and women who have Ivy League law degrees, business school credentials, PhDs in the social sciences, and academic pedigrees in science, humanities, and engineering.  Quite impressive, these Platonic Guardians of the soon to be perfect state.  But most of their careers in finance, government, business, and academia have been well-paid jobs critiquing, administering, regulating, nuancing, writing about, and hectoring those who create things—builders, developers, industrialists, farmers, truckers, transportation execs, retailers, lenders and investors.

We are being run now by film critics, not directors, book reviewers not writers, music columnists, not musicians.  And it is far easier to fault than to birth, nuance rather than build.  The irony is that the muscular classes carry the regulating and talking classes on their backs.  They don't mind being whipped occasionally and even bridled, but like any good mule will suddenly stop and no longer move when they feel the rider either does not know where he is going, or is going to kill the mule with his switch, spurs, and yanking on the bit
It is a strange that we have to say that all society depends on those who produce; for most of history everyone took that for granted.  But we do have to say that, and say that a little louder, given our current administration, which contains so few people who have ever produced anything.

(Old style leftists understood the centrality of production.  Oddly, it has been the immense wealth created by capitalists that has allowed our new left to lose that understanding.

By way of Rosslyn Smith.)
- 6:30 AM, 7 July 2009   [link]


Putin Needles Obama:  By thanking Bush for his hospitality.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the hospitality and openness of U.S. former President George W. Bush in a telegramme sent hours before meeting his successor Barack Obama.

"During the last years we have been working on strengthening Russia-U.S. cooperation.  Although there were differences between our countries, I always valued your openness and sincerity," Putin said, congratulating Bush on his 63rd birthday on July 6.

"With special warmth I recall your hospitality in the Crawford ranch and your family estate in Kennebunkport," Putin wrote, referring to their 2007 meeting at the Bush family vacation home when the two leaders went fishing and ate lobster.
Given the timing — the telegram was sent just before he met Obama — everything in it can be taken as a criticism of Obama.  Putin is hinting that Obama is secretive, insincere, and inhospitable.  (I have no idea where Putin might have gotten that last idea.  Certainly not from the way Prime Minister Gordon Brown was treated when he visited Washington.)
- 4:57 AM, 7 July 2009   [link]


Software Engineering And Climate Models:  Here's a significant confession.
From Gary Strand, software engineer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) commenting on Climate Audit:
As a software engineer, I know that climate model software doesn't meet the best standards available.  We've made quite a lot of progress, but we've still quite a ways to go.
I'll say.  NASA GISS model E written on some of the worst FORTRAN coding ever seen is a challenge to even get running.  NASA GISTEMP is even worse.  Yet our government has legislation under consideration significantly based on model output that Jim Hansen started.  His 1988 speech to Congress was entirely based on model scenarios.
(That preceding paragraph needs fixing, but I think you can figure out the meaning.)

If you happen to be a software engineer and want to look at some climate modeling code yourself, there are links in the post to two important programs.

For those who are not software engineers, two comments:  Writing correct software is difficult, especially for large programs.  And the difficulties are almost always underestimated by those who have taught themselves programming, a group that includes many scientists.
- 5:37 PM, 6 July 2009   [link]


Politicians And Normal Moms:  Politicians are different from normal people.  Bill Clinton, for instance, began his political efforts as a teenager; he even built up a card file of political contacts before he had even graduated from high school.  And there is no doubt that he was, already, aiming for the presidency.

At the top levels, politicians are especially strange.  For instance, a man (or woman) who decides that they want to become president must now be willing to ask literally thousands of strangers to give them money for their campaign, and must endure often hostile attention that few of us could bear.  And they have to accept the fact that not only will they be attacked, but so will their friends and families.  (The Bush twins were opposed to him running for the presidency for just that reason.)

For many who might be willing to serve, that last is a deal killer; men or women who would be willing to accept criticism of themselves are often unwilling to accept the same for their families, especially their youngest children.

Similarly, mothers, especially mothers of young children, tend to be different from the rest of us — but in the opposite direction from politicians.  Most put their children ahead of their ambitions, especially when those children are quite young.  (And I doubt that the human race would have survived if mothers acted differently.)

And so, as I mentioned in my own post, I found nothing strange about Sarah Palin saying that she wanted to put her children ahead of her political career.   James Taranto agrees.
As for Bristol, it hardly seems necessary to rehearse the whole David Letterman kerfuffle.  And along with the cruel humor has come a good deal of ugly commentary that is meant seriously, to the effect that Mrs. Palin, Bristol or both should have had an abortion (so much for privacy and choice!) and even, on the Web site of a once-respected magazine, endless fevered speculation to claiming that Mrs. Palin is actually her son's grandmother.

When Palin protested such treatment, as in the Letterman case, it didn't go away.  Yes, Letterman eventually apologized, but Palin detractors continued to trash her for "playing the victim" by having the temerity to complain.  Why should anyone be mystified that a mother, in the face of such indecent treatment of her children, would finally say enough is enough?
Some still are mystified, but that's because they, like many politicians, see everything in terms of politics.  And will not take the time to understand how a mother of young children might feel about these continued attacks on her family.

(I don't know who first said it, but I have long agreed with the idea that we should not elect anyone to the presidency who really wants to be president.  Unfortunately, we haven't had such a nominee to choose from in many years.)
- 2:14 PM, 6 July 2009   [link]


Comeback For Incandescent Bulbs?  It's already started.
When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb.  The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.
. . .
Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life into Thomas Edison's light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation.  Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products in the next few years.
Better reflective coatings, which turn some of the heat into light, make these new bulbs more efficient than the older incandescents.  (And for now, much more expensive per bulb, though they do last longer.)

And there is experimental work that shows that big efficiency gains may be possible with specially treated filaments.  Whether those treatments can be economic is another question, of course.

The reporter, Leora Broydo Vestal, says that this shows that government mandates can spur innovation, and I have to admit that she appears to be right in this case.
- 12:27 PM, 6 July 2009   [link]


Why Is The Stock Market Up?  There's a simple explanation, which I found in a front page article in the June 13th issue of the Wall Street Journal.  (Not available free on line, as far as I know.)

Here's the first paragraph:
With a 34% rebound in three months, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has pushed into positive territory for 2009, and one of the main reasons is disarmingly simple:  Financial markets are awash in government cash.
And some of it has to go into the stock market.  Pretty simple, when you think about it that way.
- 9:36 AM, 6 July 2009   [link]


The Constitution Imposes Severe Limits On A President's Treaty-Making Powers:   Here's the relevant section:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur;
The Obama administration is finding that limitation inconvenient, and so they are thinking of "temporarily bypassing" the Senate.   Not on any important matter, just a little agreement with the Russians on limiting nuclear arms.

I looked carefully through the Constitution, and could not find any provision that allows a president to bypass, temporarily or otherwise, that limit on his treaty-making powers.

Senator Byrd — among others — isn't going to like this one little bit.
- 8:08 AM, 6 July 2009   [link]


"Obliged" or "Forced"?  Columnist Paul Krugman, who was once a respected economist, prefers the first word.
Now, about those specifics: The HELP plan achieves near-universal coverage through a combination of regulation and subsidies.  Insurance companies would be required to offer the same coverage to everyone, regardless of medical history; on the other side, everyone except the poor and near-poor would be obliged to buy insurance, with the aid of subsidies that would limit premiums as a share of income.

Employers would also have to chip in, with all firms employing more than 25 people required to offer their workers insurance or pay a penalty.  By the way, the absence of such an "employer mandate" was the big problem with the earlier, incomplete version of the plan.
(Emphasis added.)

Note how Krugman tries to minimize this immense restriction on the freedoms of individuals, and even small companies.  If an individual, for whatever reason, good or bad, prefers not to have health insurance, they will be "obliged" to have it anyway.  A more honest way to say it is that Krugman wants to use the government to force individuals to have health insurance, whether those individuals want to have it or not.  And that he wants to force companies to supply health insurance to their employees — even if that bankrupts some companies.

(Earlier in the column, Krugman says something revealing about his motives.
After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do.  For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.
Or to put it crudely, all the cool countries have universal coverage.  Note that Krugman doesn't even bother to argue that universal coverage will improve the health of Americans, or that this system won't reduce medical innovation.)
- 6:17 AM, 6 July 2009
More:  John Stossel answers Krugman, starting with this:
But the French freeload off American innovation!  Can you name any new drugs or medical devices that are invented in France?  Nearly all the world's innovation comes from the relatively profit-driven American system.  If we relied on government healthcare, the world would still be getting 1950's quality care.

Also, the French don't live longer once you factor in that Americans have more car accidents and kill each other more often.  When you account for "Fatal Injury" rates, US life expectancy is higher than in nearly every other industrialized nation, including France, Canada, and the UK.  And this doesn't even account for the high rate of obesity in the U.S.
And Stossel has much more.  Unlike Krugman, Stossel seems to have thought about this problem, and Stossel definitely values freedom more than Krugman does.
- 1:33 PM, 6 July 2009   [link]


Uighurs In The News Again:  But this story won't get much attention in the US.
URUMQI, China (Reuters) — At least 140 people have been killed in rioting in the capital of China's northwestern region of Xinjiang, with the government blaming exiled Muslim separatists for the area's worst case of ethnic unrest in years.

Hundreds of rioters have been arrested, the official Xinhua news agency reported, after rock-throwing Uighurs took to the streets of the regional capital on Sunday, some burning and smashing vehicles and confronting ranks of anti-riot police.
After all, the story can't be used to attack George W. Bush, or to support Barack Obama.  But it is still an important story, though in much of the article the reporters try to minimize the effects of this riot (uprising?).

In the old days, the US would have called this an uprising against communist rule, and supported it, at least with words.

(Key facts:
The riot in Urumqi, a city of 2.3 million residents 3,270 km (2,050 miles) west of Beijing, followed a protest against government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uighur factory workers in southern China, where two Uighurs died in Shaoguan.
. . .
Almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people are Uighurs.  The population of Urumqi is mostly Han Chinese, and the city is under tight police security even in normal times.
Though the article does not say so, I would bet that the population of the province was predominately Uighur, until very recently.)
- 5:18 AM, 6 July 2009
It's an uprising against Chinese colonialists:  This New York Times article is surprisingly frank.
Xinhua reported scattered violence on Wednesday in Urumqi, where Sunday's riots by ethnic Uighurs were followed by reprisal attacks by ethnic Han Chinese.  But the government lifted an overnight traffic curfew, and a beefed-up military force, aided by helicopters clattering overhead, kept streets largely calm.

The Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, once were the majority in Xinjiang but now make up only about half of the province's 20 million people.  Urumqi has a population of more than two million, but Uighurs are greatly outnumbered here by the Han, who make up some 90 percent of China's population.
. . .
Han migration, encouraged in part by government incentives, is quickly changing the demographics here: census figures show that Han made up 40 percent of the population in 2000, a huge leap over the 6 percent in 1949. Under the Chinese Communist Party, Han have always held the power in Xinjiang.  Wang Lequan, the party secretary of the region, is a Han whose hard-line policies have inspired systems of control in other ethnic minority regions of China, including Tibet.
China's president, Hu Jintao, is leaving the Group of Eight summit early to deal with the uprising.

More here from experts and from Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the World Uighur Congress.  Two points worth noting:  Anthropologist Stevan Harrell says that there are "130 million members of China's 55 officially designated minority groups".  Kadeer says, citing sources inside the province, that more than 400 Uighurs may have died in the uprising; official sources have been saying that 156 died all together, and Western reporters who have seen bodies believe that most of the dead were Chinese.  Both reports could be true; the government may not be showing outsiders most of the dead Uighurs.
- 4:36 PM, 8 July 2009   [link]


Maybe Palin Said What She Meant, And Meant What She Said:  You can find many explanations for Governor Palin's decision to resign; Mickey Kaus has collected 14, and he probably missed a few.

Almost all those theories assume that Palin was not giving the real story on her decision, or at least not the whole story.  But as Scott Simon reminded us yesterday, sometimes politicians tell us the truth.
I suppose I've been fooled many times by politicians.  But many times, being cynical about them fooled me just as badly.
. . .
It's very hard for most of us to appreciate the pressures under which politicians live.

Every word they utter can be quoted.  Smart people know they can advance their careers by bringing them down.  Their lives get X-rayed like diseased spleens, making beauty marks into warts.   Their families become fair game.  If most of us make a lame joke, people groan.  If politicians do it, or don't know the name of the leader of Andorra — Jaume Bartumeu; we looked it up — they're portrayed as idiots.

I can understand if sometimes, one of them just wants to get off the merry-go-round for a while.
(In between the sections I quoted, Simon gave two examples of times journalists were too cynical.)

After hearing that, I took a look at her statement.  She begins her explanation of the resignation with this:
Political operatives descended on Alaska last August, digging for dirt.  The ethics law that I championed became their weapon of choice over the past nine months.  I've been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations, such as holding a fish in a photograph or wearing a jacket with a logo on it and answering reporters' questions.  Every one of these, though, all 15 of the ethics complaints have been dismissed.  We have won, but it hasn't been cheap.  The state has wasted thousands of hours of your time and shelled out some two million of your dollars to respond to opposition research and that's money that's not going to fund teachers, or troopers or safer roads.

And this political absurdity, the politics of personal destruction, Todd and I, we're looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills just in order to set the record straight.  And what about the people who offer up these silly accusations?  It doesn't cost them a dime.  So they're not going to stop draining the public resources, spending other people's money in this game.  They won't stop.
The Palins, unlike the Obamas and the Bidens, have been prudent in managing their finances.  They have done well, but are not rich.  Legal bills amounting to more than a half million dollars are a serious strain on their resources.  (Granted, they can raise much of that money from supporters, but only by spending less time with their children and less time on their jobs.)  And there is every reason to expect those legal bills to keep coming, as long as she is governor (and perhaps for some time after).

So I don't see anything implausible about that part of her explanation.  (Alaska law, as I understand it, makes it easy to file ethics complaints against the governor — no matter how frivolous — complaints which the governor must answer.)

She adds other reasons, explaining how all these attacks are making it harder to do a good job as governor, and then comes to her children:
Some are going to question the timing of this. And let me must say that this decision has been in the works for a while.  In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, prayer and consideration.   And finally I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous.   Well, in response to asking: "Do you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office?"  It was four yeses and one "hell yeah!"   And the "hell yeah" sealed it — and someday I'll talk about the details of that.

I think, though, much of it for the kids had to do with recently seeing their baby brother Trig mocked and ridiculed by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.  And by the way, I sure wish folks could ever understand all that we can learn, all of us, from someone like Trig.  I know he needs me, but I know I need him even more.  And what a child can offer to set priorities right — know that time is precious.  The world needs more Trigs, not fewer.
I think almost every mother, and many fathers, would understand that part of her decision.

Obviously, I can't know her innermost thoughts, but I found nothing in her statement to suggest that she is not telling the truth about her decision, and nothing to suggest that her decision is unreasonable.

Maybe, just maybe, Palin said what she meant, and meant what she said.
- 1:06 PM, 5 July 2009   [link]


Happy 4th Of July!  And to help you celebrate, some fireworks from last year.

4th of July fireworks, Kirkland, 2008

(This shot was taken from the Kirkland waterfront, looking toward Seattle.  I used the FZ8's "fireworks" scene mode, and, of course, a tripod.)
- 3:28 PM, 4 July 2009   [link]


American Dinosaur In London:  Tomorrow being July 4th, today is a good day to display this American dinosaur, even if it is in London.

London Diplodocus carnegiei

For one thing, according to Robert T. Bakker, Diplodocus carnegiei was discovered on July 4, 1899 by Arthur Coggeshall.

And this particular example was created in a characteristically American way.

As you may have guessed from the name, Andrew Carnegie had sponsored the expedition that found this Diplodocus.  And he was pleased to support the display of his dinosaur.
One one of his frequent visits in British high society, Andrew Carnegie met with Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.  Aware of Carnegie's enthusiasm for the exploration of dinosaur sites in Wyoming as an aspect of his new-found passion for public service, the Prince of Wales suggested Carnegie might be pleased to have his people find another Diplodocus for the British Museum, which had no complete specimen.

Back in America, William J. Holland, director of the Pittsburgh Museum, was aghast at Carnegie's request.  New quarries not already being worked by other new American museums were extremely difficult to find, and it would be impossible to guarantee quick delivery.  Holland proposed a complete plaster replica instead.  So, in due course, the Pittsburgh technicians assembled beautifully accurate plaster casts of Diplodocus carnegiei and shipped them to London complete with instructions for assembly.  A characteristic American approach—the prefabricated, instant dinosaur kit.  Soon Carnegie was besieged by envoys by Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg for matching gifts of a Diplodocus.  And Andrew was delighted to comply.  Within a few yeas, nearly every major European capital had its own prefab Diplodocus. (p. 203)
(Presumably, this one was moved from the British Museum to the Natural History Museum sometime later.)

(More on Diplodocus at Wikipedia.)
- 3:40 PM, 3 July 2009   [link]


A Honduran Lawyer Explains The Honduran Constitution:  In particular, Octavio Sánchez explains why President Zelaya had to go.
These are the facts: On June 26, President Zelaya issued a decree ordering all government employees to take part in the "Public Opinion Poll to convene a National Constitutional Assembly."  In doing so, Zelaya triggered a constitutional provision that automatically removed him from office.

Constitutional assemblies are convened to write new constitutions.  When Zelaya published that decree to initiate an "opinion poll" about the possibility of convening a national assembly, he contravened the unchangeable articles of the Constitution that deal with the prohibition of reelecting a president and of extending his term.  His actions showed intent.

Our Constitution takes such intent seriously.  According to Article 239: "No citizen who has already served as head of the Executive Branch can be President or Vice-President.  Whoever violates this law or proposes its reform [emphasis added], as well as those that support such violation directly or indirectly, will immediately cease in their functions and will be unable to hold any public office for a period of 10 years."
There are good historical reasons for that article, as anyone familiar with the history of Latin America would know.

Prediction:  Sánchez's arguments should be of great interest to a man who taught constitutional law (part time) at the University of Chicago, but the Obama administration will ignore them.

Jonathan Gewirtz thinks that Obama supports Zelaya because he sees "no enemies on the left".
- 1:58 PM, 3 July 2009   [link]


Internet Problems:  Had trouble connecting to other sites this morning.   I don't know why.  The symptoms made me wonder whether this area had lost a key Domain Name Server, but I am no expert in such things.

For what it is worth, the KOMO TV and radio stations were knocked off the air by an electrical fire in their building last night.  Be interesting to know what else is in that building.
- 10:58 AM, 3 July 2009   [link]


Virtue Rewarded?  One US car company is doing better than the other two.
June sales suggest that is happening.  Ford, which has not asked for a government bailout, said its sales were down 11 percent from June 2008.

By contrast, sales fell 33 percent for General Motors, which has temporarily shut many of its factories to pare inventories, and 42 percent for Chrysler, which closed all of its United States plants while it operated in bankruptcy protection.

Ford also outsold Toyota in June for the third consecutive month, and the company is regaining share while discounting its vehicles less than G.M. and Chrysler.
If you click on the graphic accompanying the article, you will see that, of the top ten automakers, only Kia, which lost 5.1 percent in sales last month compared to June, 2008 did better than Ford, and that Ford actually had gains for two popular models, the Escape (1.6 percent) and the Fusion (26.0 percent).
- 8:42 PM, 2 July 2009   [link]


Snowfall Records At Mt. Rainier:  Mt. Rainier gets a lot of snow every winter.  In fact, for many years it had the world record for snow in a single year.  (It lost the record in 1999 to another Cascade volcano, Mt. Baker.)

To keep the winter months together, Mt. Rainier totals the snowfall beginning July 1 and ending June 30 of the next year, so last Tuesday was the end of a snow year, making this week a good time to plot the yearly snowfall since the winter of 1920-1921.

Mt. Rainier total snowfalls, 1920-2009

(There are two gaps in the snowfall records.  According to the national park, the road to Paradise was closed during World War II.  And for six years beginning in 1948, the park says, somewhat mysteriously, that the records are "not available".

The data in the plot, from 1920 through 2007, comes from a file available at the park site.  For the last two years, I used data from the automated phone message at the park.  (There was 947 inches of snow, total, in 2007-2008, and 711 inches in 2008-2009.)   Four of the yearly snowfall records are given with decimal fractions, including an improbable 410.02.   I rounded those four to the nearest integers.)

I'll have more to say about this snowfall data in the future — though not necessarily what you might expect — but I thought you might be interested in seeing the data, now that I have done enough work to make a basic plot.

Oh, all right, I'll make one remark.  What still surprises me, though I have seen this data many times, is how "noisy" it is, how much it jumps up and down from year to year.  As any statistician can tell you, that makes it harder to draw inferences from the data.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can see some pictures of the snow at Rainier, taken in March, 2008, here.)
- 5:17 PM, 2 July 2009   [link]


Michael Ramirez is brilliant today.  (As he often is.)
- 12:15 PM, 2 July 2009   [link]


Two Chuckles From Thomas Friedman:  The New York Times columnist began his Wednesday column with this:
There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate.  It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others.  A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption.  It is pathetic that we couldn't do better.  It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters.  It stinks.   It's a mess.  I detest it.
Immediately followed by this:
Now let's get it passed in the Senate and make it law.
You can read the rest if you like, but that transition was the highlight of a rather silly column.

(Most of you have already thought of this, but I will add it anyway.  Since a bill must be passed in identical form by both the House and the Senate, Friedman could have urged the senators to fix some of the problems in the bill, and urged the House to accept those fixes in conference.  But he didn't.)

And for the second chuckle, a picture showing just how much Thomas Friedman is willing to sacrifice to cut down on energy use.  That's right, Friedman lives in a mansion with a carbon footprint larger than that of many villages in India and China.  And, as far as I can tell, he is not even a little bit embarrassed by that fact.

But he will continue to lecture the rest of us on energy conservation.

(By way of comparison, here are the facts on George W. Bush's Crawford home.)
- 11:29 AM, 2 July 2009   [link]


Note To A Few Of You:  I had planned to go here today, but am delaying the trip until early Saturday morning.
- 11:02 AM, 2 July 2009   [link]


Is One Of The Reasons Governor Palin Inspires So Much Hate because she looks like this?  (Even after five kids.)

I suspect that might be part of it.

Near the end of the Runner's World article, she challenges Obama:
What about in a race?  Could you beat the president?
I betcha I'd have more endurance.  My one claim to fame in my own little internal running circle is a sub-four marathon.  It wasn't necessarily a good running time, but it proves I have the endurance within me to at least gut it out and that is something.  If you ever talk to my old coaches, they'd tell you, too.  What I lacked in physical strength or skill I made up for in determination and endurance.  So if it were a long race that required a lot of endurance, I'd win.
Perhaps one of my running friends can tell me whether she is right in thinking that she could beat Obama in a long race.  (As far as I know, he has never even run in one.)

(She sounds as if she is as obsessive about running as President Bush was before injuries forced him to switch to bicycling.)
- 4:45 PM, 1 July 2009
Marty Mazur tells me: "Short answer: Palin would win."  If he does a post on the question with his longer answer, I'll link to it, naturally.  And I will add that I have now reached the point with Obama where I am (usually) pleased to hear that he is doing something other than working in the White House, so I would be delighted to see the two of them run together in a marathon.

(Her best time in a marathon is much better than Al Gore's best (4 hours, 58 minutes), though not as good as George W. Bush's (3 hours, 44 minutes).)
- 10:44 AM, 2 July 2009
Marty Mazur was kind enough to supply the long answer.

And Douglas MacKinnon, writing at the Huffington Post(!), argues that, yes, envy may explain why Palin has so much trouble with, for instance, Maureen Dowd.

And all that hate may have taken its toll.  As you probably have heard, she will be resigning at the end of the month, and will not be running for reelection as governor.
- 1:19 PM, 3 July 2009   [link]


How Did Pelosi And Waxman Get Enough Votes To Pass The Waxman-Markey Bill?   (More accurately known as the cap-and-tax bill.)   They bought them.
As the most ambitious energy and climate-change legislation ever introduced in Congress made its way to a floor vote last Friday, it grew fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions and out-and-out gifts intended to win the votes of wavering lawmakers and the support of powerful industries.

The deal making continued right up until the final minutes, with the bill's co-author Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, doling out billions of dollars in promises on the House floor to secure the final votes needed for passage.

The bill was freighted with hundreds of pages of special-interest favors, even as environmentalists lamented that its greenhouse-gas reduction targets had been whittled down.
(Emphasis added.)

Paul Krugman might say that some of the congressmen had to be paid to keep them from committing treason against the planet, but I suppose that he would still support the result.

(The reporter, John Broder, seems disgusted by the vote buying, as he should be.)
- 3:53 PM, 1 July 2009   [link]


A Tiny Bit Of Credit Where A Tiny Bit Of Credit Is Due:  While making his pro-regime propaganda film, Rick Steves missed, completely, the very large number of Iranians who were dissatisfied with the regime.  Very dissatisfied.  On Sunday, the travel writer, who should be apologizing for missing a story that big, gave us his second thoughts.

Today, the relatively peaceful Iran I experienced is in turmoil.  And it's not America that's radicalizing its population, but its own government.

But Steves does not ask, much less answer, the obvious question:  Why did he miss, completely, the turmoil underneath that "relatively peaceful Iran"?

Still, he deserves credit, a tiny bit of credit, for recognizing that his picture of Iran does not not now fit Iran.

But only a tiny bit of credit, because he uses most of the piece to argue that he was right all along — right after events have proved him wrong, wrong, wrong — and because he served a helping of bigotry with this comparison:

A year ago, while the U.S. was in the throes of a dramatic presidential election, Iran's campaign was just heating up. Being in Iran then, I thought that if McCain won in the U.S., Ahmadinejad would win in Iran.  Ahmadinejad's political base is made up of less-educated, small-town, fundamentalist-Muslim, concerned parents, motivated by the same things that motivate many American voters: fear of foreign influence and love of their family.  If these people are your political base, you shore up their support with fear.  Our politicians do, and so do Iran's.

That's right, if you voted for McCain, Steves thinks you are much like Ahmadinejad's supporters.   Incidentally, the suggestion that McCain — one of the bravest men alive — motivates people by fear is absurd, as well as slanderous.

Foreign travel is supposed to be educational.  Rick Steves is evidence that this need not be so, that one can travel in a foreign country without learning much about it.  Even worse, Steves shows that some people are unwilling to give up their preconceptions even when events prove them wrong.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(As I mentioned in my April post, Steves did not bother to tell viewers that the Iranian regime has been supplying weapons and training to the terrorists who are trying to kill Iraqis and Americans.  Just yesterday, General Odierno reminded us of that unpleasant fact.  (The help the Iranian regime has given to terrorists in Iraq has killed many Americans, and many, many Iraqis.)

Does Steves know about this Iranian interference in Iraq, interference that has killed Americans and Iraqis?  Would he care if he did know?  It is a terrible to thing to say, but I do not know the answer to that second question.

I say that because of an interview that Steves did in 2006, an interview described in this David Postman post.   (Which reminds me how much I miss Postman, and how much the Seattle Times needs a few real reporters.))
- 3:13 PM, 1 July 2009   [link]


The Language Of Love:  For fireflies, it's flashes of light.
The fireflies flashing in the air are all males.  Down in the grass, Dr. [Sara] Lewis points out, females are sitting and observing.  They look for flash patterns of males of their own species, and sometimes they respond with a single flash of their own, always at a precise interval after the male's.  Dr. Lewis takes out a penlight and clicks it twice, in perfect Photinus greeni.  A female Photinus greeni flashes back.

"Most people don't realize there's this call and response going on," Dr. Lewis said.  "But it's very, very easy to talk to fireflies."
If you have been studying them for years, like Lewis.

And that same language is also used by fireflies to deceive other fireflies, and by a firefly, Photuris, which preys on other fireflies.

(The article doesn't mention them by name, but fireflies make light by using a luciferase to oxidize a luciferin.  Click on the luciferase link to learn about some of the ways we are beginning to use these compounds.)
- 12:59 PM, 1 July 2009   [link]


Think Like A Machine Politician, Not An Economist:  That's the advice I would give David Leonhardt, who is trying to figure out why the Obama economic forecasts went so wrong, so fast.  Leonhard says there are two possible explanations:
The first explanation is that the economy has deteriorated because the stimulus package failed.   Some critics say that stimulus just doesn't work, while others argue that this particular package was too small or too badly constructed to make a difference.

The second answer is that the economy has deteriorated in spite of the stimulus.  In other words, the patient is not as sick as he would have been without the medicine he received.  But he is a lot sicker than doctors realized when they prescribed it.
Leonhardt, who may still be stuck in the Oprah mode when thinking about Obama, favors the second.

Tigerhawk prefers a third, more cynical, explanation
There is, of course, a third, which is that the Obama administration could not honestly forecast the depth of the recession (even as it was pushing for the stimulus package) because then the Congressional Budget Office would have projected deficits even worse than now foreseen, and that would stoke opposition to President Obama's vast and expensive program to redesign the health care, energy, and financial sectors of the economy.  Call me a cynic, but I pick the third.
As I said in a comment to that post, I choose all of the above.  The stimulus package has been ineffective, the Obama administration did underestimate the severity of the recession, and the Obama administration was dishonest in its estimates.

But all three explanations come from thinking about the problem as an economist would.  Given Obama's training in Chicago politics, it is often more enlightening to think about his decisions as a machine politician would.  (And sometimes more enlightening to think about them as an ally of unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers would.)

If you think like a machine politician, you realize that the stimulus package was not intended to solve an economic problem; it was intended to reward political supporters over the years before the next presidential election.  Study Tammany Hall, not John Maynard Keynes, if you want to understand the purpose of the package.

And if you think like a machine politician, you will realize that, for Obama, the accuracy of his economic projections is irrelevant.  A machine politician says what they have to say to get elected, or to pass a measure, and does not worry about whether it is true.  They expect that, whatever happens, they will be able to fool the voters next time.  And if the voters are as gullible as New York Times columnist Leonhardt, the Obama people may be right.

(A note of clarification: Tigerhawk thinks that the Obama team was lying to us and knew that its forecasts were wrong.  I am saying that the Obama team didn't even care whether its forecasts were wrong or right.

If Leonhardt wants to think seriously about the stimulus package, he should look at the criteria that Larry Summers proposed while the package was being written, and them judge the package against those criteria.)
- 8:23 AM, 1 July 2009   [link]


Shikha Dalmia Thinks Obama Is Telling Five Big Lies About Health Care:   Here's her introduction.
President Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office with a veritable halo over his head.  In the eyes of his backers, he could say or do no wrong because he had evidently descended directly from heaven to return celestial order to our fallen world.  Oprah declared his tongue to be "dipped in the unvarnished truth."  Newsweek editor Evan Thomas averred that Obama "stands above the country and above the world as a sort of a God."

But when it comes to health care reform, with every passing day, Obama seems less God and more demagogue, uttering not transcendental truths, but bald-faced lies.
And not just about health care reform.

(I had forgotten that Oprah line.  If someone were to say it to me, I would reply, "Too bad the truth didn't stick to his tongue.")
- 7:30 AM, 1 July 2009   [link]


Rank Hath Its Privileges:  But those with rank shouldn't abuse them.
PARIS - Michelle Obama and her girls enjoyed a special Sunday shopping trip in Paris this month thanks to friends in high places who bent France's Sunday store-closing rules.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that calls were made to open a swanky children's boutique, usually closed by law on Sundays, where the First Lady and her two daughters perused racks of $200 summer dresses and $100 sweaters.
When in France, I try to follow French laws, and Michelle Obama should do the same.

(The reason for the Sunday closing laws (not rules) is interesting.  Most stores have to pay double time on Sunday, and small shops say they can't afford that.)
- 7:11 AM, 1 July 2009   [link]


You Can Fool Some Of The People Some Of The Time:  But you cannot fool all of the people all the time.
A Gallup Poll finds a statistically significant increase since last year in the percentage of Americans who describe the Democratic Party's views as being "too liberal," from 39% to 46%.  This is the largest percentage saying so since November 1994, after the party's losses in that year's midterm elections.
This shift in opinion has not helped the Republican party much, but it will, in time.  (And it will help more quickly if Governor Sanford will just be quiet about his personal problems for a while.)
- 5:54 AM, 1 July 2009   [link]