Archive:

July 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Mike Munger Catches Professor Ghilarducci In An Embarrassing Mistake With Numbers:  Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, the Bernard L. and Irene Schwartz chair of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research, made a mistake so elementary, it doesn't even qualify as arithmetical.  And she made it in the New York Times.
Ask two questions: How rich is the state?  And what percentage of its children live in poverty?  That's a working definition of good fiscal policy . . . .  Let’s look at North Carolina.  It is the 39th richest state, and yet it ranks 12th for the percentage of children living in poverty – only 11 states fare worse.

Um, ma’am . . . if it is the 39th richest state, that means it's the 12th poorest state.  That means there are 11 states that are poorer.  And if it is the 12th for percentage of children living in poverty . . . then again there are 11 states that are poorer.  It’s exactly the same proportion, not out of line at all.  What's with this "And yet . . . " thing you got going?
(If you are wondering, Ghilarducci earned a Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley.)

The mistake would be entirely amusing — unless you are connected to the New School — if it were not for this:  Professor Ghilarducci is supposed to be an expert on retirement programs.

Megan McArdle linked to the same post and inspired a number of comments that may help you understand this lapse.  I had not known, for instance, about the problems in Notre Dame's economic department.
- 1:24 PM, 16 July 2013   [link]


ABC's "The View" Picks An Anti-Science Co-Host:  A co-host who is accused of being partly responsible for thousands of illnesses, and hundreds of deaths.

To replace token conservative Elizabeth Hasselbeck, producer Barbara Walters is bringing in Jenny McCarthy, who has led the fight against vaccines, and for unproven — and almost certainly ineffective or worse — treatments for autism.
This week, news leaked that The View, a popular daytime talk show featuring a panel of four women, is considering making Jenny McCarthy one of their hosts.  This is a mistake, as it would provide a platform for a dangerous voice.  Over the last decade, McCarthy has become one of the most prominent voices against vaccinations.  She declared, as a fact, that vaccinations had caused her son's autism, and promoted this idea in venues aimed at mothers, such as on Oprah.

McCarthy later insisted that she had cured their son through a combination of diet and vitamins.  She accuses the government of being afraid to confront "the truth" about vaccines.  In the last year or so, although she now admits her son never had autism, she is still selling fear by talking about the schedule of vaccines as dangerous.  She has put the full force of her celebrity to the task of convincing parents to leave their children vulnerable.
More than McCarthy, we should blame Andrew Wakefield and The Lancet for declines in vaccinations.
The MMR vaccine controversy centered around the 1998 publication of a fraudulent research paper in the medical journal The Lancet that lent support to the subsequently discredited theory that colitis and autism spectrum disorders could be caused by the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.[1]  The media has been heavily criticized for its naive reporting and for lending undue credibility to the architect of the fraud, Andrew Wakefield.

Investigations by Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield had multiple undeclared conflicts of interest,[2][3] had manipulated evidence,[4] and had broken other ethical codes.  The Lancet paper was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010, and Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and was struck off the Medical Register, meaning he could no longer practice as a doctor.[5]  In 2011, Deer provided further information on Wakefield's improper research practices to the British medical journal, BMJ, which in a signed editorial described the original paper as fraudulent.[6][7]  The scientific consensus is that no evidence links the vaccine to the development of autism, and that the vaccine's benefits greatly outweigh its risks.
Vaccination rates in Britain, Ireland, and the United States "dropped sharply" after the paper was published.

The paper was so bad that you do not need to be a medical researcher to see some of its flaws, but it inspired many celebrities to attack vaccines.   I have never seen an explanation for the publication of the paper, or even a decent apology from The Lancet.

Here's a site that keeps counts of illnesses and deaths in the United States that could have been prevented by vaccinations.

(Young men may need to know that McCarthy will keep most of her clothes on when she appears on "The View".)
- 8:05 AM, 16 July 2013   [link]


Congratulations To The Mexican Marines:  They caught a big one.
Mexican marines have captured one of the world's most notorious drug-gang leaders in a raid near the US border.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, 40, head of the Zetas cartel, was intercepted with two lieutenants in a pick-up truck near Nuevo Laredo.

Mexican officials said he had eight guns and $2m (£1.3m) in cash.
The BBC says that Treviño Morales is "infamous for his brutality".  That's an example of traditional British understatement.  The Zeta leader is accused, among other things, of the torture and mass murder of (illegal) immigrants, 75 in one case and nearly 200 in another, and sometimes making a "stew" out of his enemies.

If half the things they say about him are true, then, despite his name, he is no angel.

The $5 million reward we offered may have helped lead to his capture.  If so, it was money well spent.

There's video here, if you want to watch the story, and you can find background here and here.
- 6:33 AM, 16 July 2013   [link]


Joke Writers Will Be Delighted by this poll result.
A Quinnipiac poll just out this afternoon shows former Gov. Eliot Spitzer up 48% to 33% over Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in a Democratic controller primary faceoff.

In the Democratic brawl for mayor, ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner leads City Council Speaker Christine Quinn with 25% support to her 22%.  Former Controller Bill Thompson places third at 11%.
Just think of the joke possibilities from a Weiner-Spitzer ticket.

(National Republicans won't mind, either, since these two won't help the image of the Democratic Party, whether they win or lose.)
- 5:20 AM, 16 July 2013   [link]


The Dubious Origins Of "Whistle Blower"  According to an article in last weekend's Wall Street Journal (which I won't bother to link to), Ralph Nader popularized the term, in its good sense.

According to William Safire, the term came from "whistler", which meant a police informer, or, if you prefer, a stool pigeon.

(I had always thought that it came from the use of whistles as alarm devices.  Even now, people sometimes carry whistles in the back country for that very reason.  Apparently not.)

You may have noticed that I usually use "whistle blower" rather than "whistle-blower" or "whistleblower".  I decided some time ago that I preferred the first, thinking it just a little easier to read.  But that may just show some temperamental conservatism, a preference for the original form, in spite of current fashions.

This isn't, by the way, an error on my part, although I wouldn't be surprised if some newspaper style sheets would not accept it.  Choosing when to combine two words with a hyphen, or when to drop the hyphen in the combination is often a matter of individual taste.

(Here is more than you will probably ever want to know about the use of hyphens.   I link to it only because I learned this rule rather recently.
Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word.  When a compound modifier other than an adverb–adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstanding, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings.  Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a "player of American football" or an "American player of football" and whether the writer means paintings that are 'little celebrated' or 'celebrated paintings' that are little
I'm not sure why I had missed that rule for so many years, since I must have seen examples of it many, many times, but I did.

But then it took me years to notice the way many book chapters start with small caps, in order to lead you, visually.  And I must have seen that thousands and thousands of times before I noticed it.)
- 7:19 PM, 15 July 2013   [link]


Criticism Of The Zimmerman Trial:   From the right.
The trial of George Zimmerman should be taught in law schools and elsewhere as a prime example of one of the most mishandled and politically motivated prosecutions in recent U.S. history.   If we want to reserve the criminal-justice system for deciding guilt or innocence rather than for playing out social and racial grievances, it’s important to review the spectacle we just witnessed.
One of the most troubling events was the firing of Ben Kruidbos, who, as far as I can tell, was simply trying to get the prosecutors to follow the law, and share all the evidence they had with the defense.

And from the left.
Whether George Zimmerman is acquitted or convicted, and I am not making any predictions before hearing closing arguments and reading the jury instructions, the legacy of this case will be that the media never gets it right, and worse, that a group of lawyers, with the aid of a public relations team, who had a financial stake in the outcome of pending and anticipated civil litigation, were allowed to commandeer control of Florida's criminal justice system, in pursuit of a divisive, personal agenda.

Their transformation of a tragic but spontaneous shooting into the crime of the century, and their relentless demonization of the person they deemed responsible, not for a tragic killing, but for "cold-blooded murder," has called into question the political motives and ethics of the officials serving in the Executive branch of Florida's government, ruined the career of other public officials, turned the lives of the Zimmerman family, who are as innocent as their grieving clients, into a nightmare, and along the way, set back any chance of a rational discussion of the very cause they were promoting, probably for years.
Who gained from the case?  Among others, Al Sharpton.  And the Instapundit may be right when he says this case helped Barack Obama win votes last year.

On the other hand, James Taranto may also be right when he says that the muted reaction to the jury's decision (and other non-events) shows that "whites and blacks alike have made enormous progress in their attitudes toward race".

(I don't plan any more long posts on this trial — with one exception — but won't make any promises.)
- 2:43 PM, 15 July 2013   [link]


I Hope "Ender's Game" Is A Good Movie:  Because now it looks as if I'll have to go see it.
The sci-fi action movie "Ender's Game" isn't out until Nov. 1, but it's already the target of an organized boycott.

The group Geeks Out has launched an online protest and is asking people to "Skip Ender's Game" because of anti-gay marriage comments made by Orson Scott Card, author of the 1985 book upon which the Lionsgate film is based.
There aren't any Chick-fil-A outlets near me, or I would have tried out their product at least once, for the same reason.

Even when I agree with a cause, I usually will not join in a boycott to support that cause because boycotts strike me as an unfair way to make an argument.  When successful, which they usually aren't, they often hurt many people who have nothing to do with the cause.

(Almost everyone who likes science fiction, and some who don't particularly, will like the book.  If I recall correctly, it had nothing at all to say about gay marriage.)
- 1:34 PM, 15 July 2013   [link]


Moderate Amounts Of Salt May Not Be That Big Of A Problem, After All:  The Center for Disease Control commissioned a "meta-study", a study of the studies of the health effects of various levels of salt intake.

You can read their report, in pre-publication form, here.  (Although you may strain your eyes doing so.)

Or you can look at one of the many summaries from people who have — we hope — read the report.

Here's one that seems reasonable to me.
The report also discusses emerging debates about the proper level of dietary sodium intake.   "Despite efforts over the past several decades to reduce sodium intake in the United States, adults still consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium every day," the researchers wrote.
. . .
Nevertheless, high blood pressure remains a risk factor for high-sodium diets, and those with high blood pressure should not consume more than the suggested daily salt intake.  In a 2011 study, 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older were analyzed for almost five years.  Their risk of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and death from heart disease increased significantly when they consumed more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day or consumed less than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.  As lower sodium levels decrease, triglyceride levels increase, which leads to increased insulin resistance and thus increased risk of heart disease.
So most of us are eating about as much salt as we ought to — but we should not eat a bag of potato chips every day, or try to give up salt entirely.

(There are other sources of sodium in our diet besides salt, but as far as I can tell from a quick search, they aren't very important for most of us.  Not so incidentally, you can balance some of the effects of sodium with potassium, which is found in many foods.  That's one of the reasons I eat bananas, regularly)

You may want to contrast the new advice with the old advice from the FDA.

If New York Mayor Bloomberg, who has been campaigning to reduce salt consumption in New York, and elsewhere, has accepted this new consensus, he has not said so, as far as I can tell from a quick search.

Sometimes I think our nutritionists are like Macaulay's Puritans: "The puritan hated bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators."  Similarly, our nutritionists seem to automatically suspect any food ingredient that gives us pleasure.

(By the way, salt shakers, the experts agree, are not the main source of salt in our diet.

(The FDA was trying to explain salt and came close to flunking elementary chemistry with this: "Sodium is one of the chemical elements found in salt."  Much better would have been something like this: Ordinary salt is a compound made up of two elements, sodium and chlorine.   Most of the salt sold in the United States is "iodized", that is, it has small amounts of iodine compounds mixed in with the salt, to protect our thyroids against goiter.)
- 1:13 PM, 15 July 2013   [link]


You'll Be Pleased To Know That President Obama Is On Track To Set a personal record for golf games played this year.

Pleased, if, like me, you think that the nation is better off when he is on the golf links, rather than in Oval Office.

(And charmed if you recall that, fairly or unfairly, golf has often been a plutocratic symbol.  Even President Eisenhower, who came from a working class family, was criticized for spending so much time playing a rich man's game.)
- 5:52 AM, 15 July 2013   [link]


The United States Changed The Rules Of War After Pearl Harbor:   Unilaterally.

Here's a description of how and why we changed the rules from Volume IV of Morison's history.
The United States was a signatory of the London Naval Treaty of 1930, in which article 22 forbade submarines to sink merchant ships "without having first placed passengers, crew, and ship papers in a place of safety."5  Since that proviso made the use of submarines against armed or escorted merchant vessels impractical and since it was assumed that Japan would arm and escort her merchant fleet in case of war, American submariners were not trained to attack merchant ships.  The United States Fleet's basic doctrine was:  "The primary task of the submarine is to attack enemy heavy ships.  A heavy ship is defined as a battleship, a battle cruiser, or an aircraft carrier.  On occasions, the primary task may, by special order, be made to include heavy cruisers, light cruisers, or other types of ships."6  Treaty and doctrine alike went by the board on the first day of the war, when the Chief of Naval Operations issued the terse order, "Execute unrestricted submarine and air warfare against Japan."  The enemy, by his calculated breach of treaties and international law at Pearl Harbor, had absolved the United States from observing any rule restricting methods of naval warfare unless dictated by self-interest or the danger of retaliation.  After 7 December 1941 combatant were still considered prime targets, but the employment of submarines to lance the arteries of enemy trade now became of major importance. (pp. 189-190)
There are, I think, several lessons for us in this decision.

We decided, without any hesitation, to make some Japanese civilians targets in the war.  And as the war continued, we ended up making almost all Japanese civilians war targets.

Our thinking was simple:  If the Japanese weren't going to follow the rules of war they had agreed to follow, neither would we.

That decision to wage unrestricted submarine warfare was effective.  The American submarine force began slowly but, by the end of the war, had almost destroyed Japan's merchant fleet — and Japan's ability to import the goods and materials it needed to keep the war going.  (Oddly enough, the Japanese did not similarly target our merchant fleet, even though the Japanese had just 13 fewer submarines at the beginning of the war.  They did, from time to time, attack our merchant ships, but they did not mount an all-out, persistent campaign against them.)

Similarly, our terrorist enemies chose not to follow the same rules of war we have agreed to follow.  I think this absolves us from following those rules, in our war against them.

Unless, of course, it is in our self interest to follow those rules, or we fear retaliation.

This seems to me an obvious, common sense conclusion, but as you know, there are many, especially on the left, who disagree, who think that we should follow rules of war that our terrorist enemies laugh at.

(Here's a very brief, and perhaps confusing, description of the London Naval Treaty.)
- 8:08 PM, 14 July 2013   [link]


Is David Boardman Getting Out While The Getting Is Good?  That's the question that popped into my mind when I saw this article in the Seattle Times.

After 30 years — and four Pulitzer Prizes — David Boardman, executive editor and senior vice president of The Seattle Times, is moving on.

Boardman announced Wednesday he was taking a new job as dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.

But I may be projecting.  I know that I wouldn't want to work for Ryan Blethen, currently associate publisher and executive producer, and headed, presumably, for the publisher's office eventually, and so I suspect that Boardman may not want to, either.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those unfamiliar with the Seattle Times:  It has been owned and run, approximately forever, by the Blethen family.

The Seattle Times has not asked for my advice, and wouldn't pay any attention to it, if they did, but I'll give them some anyway, in the public interest.  Take a look at what geneticists learned, more than a century ago, about regression to the mean.  And if you know anyone at the New York Times, you might pass the same advice on to them.)
- 1:05 PM, 14 July 2013   [link]


Neo-neocon Gets Off a good line:
Are Congressional Republicans growing a spine?

Or maybe at least a notochord?
(Here's a link in case you have forgotten your high school biology.)

The post is a sensible discussion of immigration policy.  For example:
Plus, since President Obama has made it clear he won’t enforce parts of laws he doesn’t like, why trust him to enforce anything he doesn’t like in this one or any other one?
On immigration policy, I share Mickey Kaus's — take your pick — cynicism or realism about the likely effects of the Senate bill.  We both think that it won't do what the backers claim it will, and we agree that many of the senators who voted for it know that.
- 12:37 PM, 14 July 2013   [link]


Zimmerman Found Not Guilty:  The Sanford police investigated the case, and found no reason to arrest George Zimmerman.

The local prosecutor found no reason to charge George Zimmerman.

The special prosecutor chose not to take the case to a grand jury.

We can surmise that the special prosecutor was not sure that a grand jury would return an indictment, after they saw the evidence.

So we should not be surprised that the jury, looking at some of the same evidence would return a not guilty verdict.

I followed the case casually, but I saw four strong lines of evidence that Zimmerman was telling the truth, when he said he acted in self defense:  The injuries to the two men were consistent with Zimmerman's story.  The time line made it almost certain that Martin had attacked Zimmerman, not the other way around.  (Martin had plenty of time to get back to where he was temporarily living — about four minutes to go 100 yards — even after Zimmerman had spotted him, but he chose not to.)  The witness who saw part of the fight made it clear that Martin was beating Zimmerman.

Finally, there was evidence from Martin's background that the jury mostly did not get to hear:  Martin was, it is reasonably clear, a part-time burglar and a wannabe gang banger, who had boasted about his successful fights in the months before his encounter with Zimmerman.

(Most likely Martin was, just as Zimmerman suspected, looking for homes he could burglarize.   Most likely, Martin became afraid that Zimmerman had seen him do something suspicious, and that was the reason for his attack on Zimmerman.)
- 7:57 AM, 14 July 2013   [link]


Republican Chances Of Picking Up A Senate Seat In Montana improve.
Former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s surprise announcement Saturday that he won’t run for Senate in Montana imperils Democrats’ chances of holding the seat and could further narrow an ever-shrinking 2014 Senate map.

Already, Republicans are favored to win two seats left vacant by Democratic retirements — in West Virginia and South Dakota — and the Schweitzer move will make it much easier for the GOP to win in Montana.
The magic number for the Republicans is six.  (Or five if independent Angus King of Maine agreed to switch.)

In 2012, President Obama was beaten badly in Montana (55.30-41.66%), but the Democratic Senate incumbent, John Tester, narrowly defeated (48.58-44.86%) the Republican challenger, Denny Rehberg, thanks in part to some shenanigans that drove the libertarian vote up.
In the waning days of Montana's hotly contested Senate race, a small outfit called Montana Hunters and Anglers, launched by liberal activists, tried something drastic.

It didn't buy ads supporting the incumbent Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester. Instead, it put up radio and TV commercials that urged voters to choose the third-party candidate, libertarian Dan Cox, describing Cox as the "real conservative" or the "true conservative."

Where did the group's money come from?  Nobody knows.
The people who contributed the money know — and the rest of us can guess.

Even if that trick is pulled again, the Republicans would be favored to win that open seat.
- 4:46 PM, 13 July 2013
Sean Trende and Guy Benson put the chances of a Republican takeover of the Senate at about 30 percent.
- 6:56 PM, 15 July 2013   [link]


"The Libertarian War Over The Civil War"  Rachel Weiner explains.
In fact, libertarians have spent years trying to deal with the sliver of their movement that is focused on re-litigating the Civil War.  Yes, the Civil War, which officially ended 148 years ago.

The divide is between so-called “neo-Confederates” and the “cosmotarians” or “liberaltarians” (all disputed terms) who oppose them.
There are, naturally, even more divisions, as she goes on to explain.

You might think that libertarians would, more than most others, be opposed to slavery, but you would be wrong.  Even here in Washington state, you can find neo-Confederates among the libertarians, as I found out when I put up a small tribute to Lincoln a few years ago over at Sound Politics.

For many libertarians, the dislike of state power is so strong (and not entirely unjustified) that any use of that power, even to end slavery, is unattractive.

(If you are wondering — I was — a "cosmotarian" is a cosmopolitan libertarian.)
- 4:15 PM, 13 July 2013   [link]


Why Is The Trayvon Martin Case So Much More Important Than The Molly Conley Case?  (To most people, and to almost every "mainstream" journalist, though not to me.)

Not familiar with the Conley case?    (If you don't live in this area, there is no reason for you to be familiar with the case, since it has received so little national coverage.   And even here it has received less coverage than it merits.)  Then you can find a write-up in this Daily Mail article, along with pictures of Eric N. Walker, who has arrested in the killing.

I think almost everyone will agree that Conley is a more sympathetic victim than Martin — but she hasn't received much sympathy from our national "mainstream" journalists.

So that isn't it.

I do have an answer to my own question, but I think I'll reserve it for a day or two.

However, I should warn you that if you pass on this question to a friend or neighbor, you may get a blank stare, or even some hostility.
- 7:25 AM, 12 July 2013   [link]


Supermarkets In The Netherlands Are Rationing powdered milk.
“To ensure that customers are not faced with shelves empty of milk powder, we will only sell a single pack to those we do not know (that is to say the Chinese).  To regular customers from the village, we will sell two packs per person.”  So reads an internal supermarket memo obtained by NRC Handelsblad.

For several months, Dutch supermarkets have had to contend with shortages of milk formula for babies.  Ever since the 2008 melamine contamination scandal, which affected 300,000 infants in the People’s Republic, the Chinese, who have no faith in the quality of dairy goods produced in their country, have been buying massive quantities of milk powder abroad, and notably in the Netherlands.
(At least six babies were killed by that melamine-contaminated milk.)

And not just in the Netherlands.  Britain, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand are taking similar steps to limit sales to Chinese nationals.  Sometimes the supermarkets impose the limits, sometimes the governments.

The powdered milk can be sold in China for about twice what it costs in the Netherlands, so we shouldn't be surprised to find entrepreneurs taking advantage of that price difference.

(Meanwhile, the Chinese government is trying to force foreign milk producers and processors to share their technology in partnerships.

Melamine is often used as an adulterant in food because it fools common tests for protein, making a food appear to contain more protein than it does.  And because, in some forms, it's really, really cheap.)
- 5:45 AM, 12 July 2013   [link]


Mining Deaths Are Down, Again:  The big good news, I have observed, is often found in small, back-page articles.  So today I wasn't surprised to see that the New York Times gave just one paragraph to the good news on mining deaths.  (And then botched their condensation of an AP article, leaving out the name of the agency that made the report.)

The Washington Post — which probably has some miners among its readers in Virginia and West Virginia — ran a better article.
U.S. mining operations had the lowest death and injury rates in their history last year with 36 on-the-job fatalities, federal regulators said Wednesday.

That’s one more than the Mine Safety and Health Administration had announced in preliminary totals in April.  MSHA said it added the Dec. 28 death of a coal miner at the Choctaw Mine in Walker County, Ala.

The final figures also show the lowest rate of contractor deaths since the agency began tracking them in 1983, MSHA said.  Five contractors died last year, down from 11 the previous year.
But I thought this fact sheet was even better, partly because it includes this historical background
Total deaths in all types of U.S. mining, which had averaged 1,500 or more per year during earlier decades, decreased on average during the 1990s to under 100 per year, and reached historic lows of 35 total deaths in 2009 and 2012.  The average annual injuries to miners in all segments of the mining industry have also decreased steadily.
And this graph and these tables.

I would add one more point to their fact sheet:  Mining deaths have become terribly expensive for mining companies, for many reasons.  And that has given those companies a very powerful incentive — whether they are run by good guys or not — to reduce those deaths.

(While George W. Bush was president, our newspaper of record complained, several times, because he had brought in people from the mining industry to help improve mining safety.  If you'll look at those graphs, you'l see that there was progress during his time in office, progress that is probably just about as much as one can expect, given the great reductions in deaths before then.)
- 1:41 PM, 11 July 2013   [link]


Michael Ramirez has some fun with Max Baucus's train wreck prediction.
- 1:00 PM, 11 July 2013   [link]


Daniel Ellsberg And Aurelia Fedenisn?  Younger readers may need some background on Daniel Ellsberg; older readers may just need to be reminded that men working for Nixon burglarized his psychiatrist's office.

Now, we learn that someone burglarized the offices of the lawyer representing whistle blower Aurelia Fedenisn, who has charged that the State Department suppressed reports of crimes by department personnel.  And a most odd burglary it was, says former Obama voter Peggy Noonan:
Point two, the other whistleblower case that came to light Sunday.  It came from Foreign Policy magazine’s online news site, The Cable, which noted that the office of a law firm that represents State Department whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn had been broken into.  Citing the reporting of a local Fox TV affiliate in Dallas, The Cable said the burglars took three computers and broke into a locked metal filing cabinet.  Other items of value—silver bars, electronic and video equipment—were left untouched.  KDFW aired video footage from a security camera showing two people, a man and a woman, entering the office building in which the law firm, Schulman & Mathias, is located.
. . .
Tuesday, in a telephone interview, Schulman told me the break-in was “odd—curious.”  Adding to the strangeness, the burglars seem to have come not once but three separate times over the weekend of June 28-30.  That’s “high risk behavior for a burglar,” he said.  “I have never seen a commercial burglary where they come back multiple times.”
I have heard of a few such cases, but they are unusual.

Noonan doesn't mention it, but this suspicious burglary immediately reminded me of the Democratic activist, Curtis Morrison, who has confessed to bugging Mitch McConnell's office.   According to Fox News, Morrison visited the White House just days before he did the bugging.
- 10:59 AM, 11 July 2013   [link]


More On Nortel:  Yesterday, Kate McMillan linked to my post on Chinese cyber-theft and the demise of Nortel. There were several informed and thoughtful comments on her post, some of them coming from people who are, right now, defending against cyber attacks from China.  If you are interested in this subject, you'll want to read them.

(There was also one comment, the 19th, which made me sigh.  In summarizing the PBS interview, I very carefully said that Nortel had other problems (and linked to an account of some of them) and that the cyber theft probably contributed to its bankruptcy.  In short, I very carefully qualified the damage the Chinese theft had caused, trying hard not to go beyond what the security expert had said.

And the comment was written by someone who seemed to think I had said that Chinese cyber theft caused the bankruptcy.

If you wonder why I sometimes seem to be re-stating the obvious, it's because there are a few readers who need those re-statements.)
- 10:20 AM, 11 July 2013   [link]


New Anti-Cholesterol Drugs Coming?  Researchers found two young women, one in Dallas and one in Zimbabwe, with abnormally low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL).  (They've since lost the Zimbabwe woman.)  The two women were beneficiaries of favorable mutations, and unlike others with such mutations, each had two copies, one from their mother and one from their father.

So now at least three big drug companies are in a mad race to develop drugs that can mimic the effects of those mutations.
The discovery of the mutation and of the two women with their dazzlingly low LDL levels has set off one of the greatest medical chases ever.  It is a fevered race among three pharmaceutical companies, Amgen, Pfizer and Sanofi, to test and win approval for a drug that mimics the effects of the mutation, drives LDL levels to new lows and prevents heart attacks.  All three companies have drugs in clinical trials and report that their results, so far, are exciting.
(And there may be other companies working on such drugs, but secretly, which is why I said at least.)

By exciting, they mean that the drugs really, really lower LDL levels, so much so that the companies have stopped administering them to some test subjects.

The commercial opportunities are immense, since the drugs would be very expensive at first, and might eventually be prescribed for as many as "one in four American adults".

(Some skeptics think that we are wrong to attribute most heart attacks to cholesterol.   I have no opinion on the subject, since I haven't taken a look at the studies the two sides cite.)
- 6:38 AM, 11 July 2013   [link]


The United States Is Less Corrupt Than Most Countries:  That's one conclusion I draw from this study.
One in four people paid a bribe in dealing with public services and institutions in the past 12 months, according to a global corruption survey.

In the world's largest assessment of public opinion on the subject, Transparency International found that political parties are considered the most corrupt institutions, followed by the police, the judiciary, parliament and public officials.  Religious institutions are seen as the least corrupt.
In the United States, just one in twenty said they had paid a bribe, a number quite close to the "noise" level.  (Pollsters have found that about one in twenty will say yes to almost any proposition, whether or not it is true.)

On the other hand, 72 percent of us think that the government is ineffective in fighting corruption, and the same percentage say that corruption increased between 2007, and the year this part of their survey was conducted, 2010.

(Here's the Transparency site, if you want to know more.)
- 2:38 PM, 10 July 2013   [link]


Huffington Post Contributor Nichi Hodgson Warns Us about Obama.

Without ever mentioning his name.

Some may think this warning is a bit late, and I wouldn't quarrel with anyone holding that opinion.
- 9:24 AM, 10 July 2013   [link]


Michelle Malkin Says What A Lot Of People Are Thinking about that hunger strike in Guantánamo. (Link fixed.)

(Though few of us would say it quite so fiercely.)
- 7:15 AM, 10 July 2013   [link]


Michael Barone Thinks That Republicans Can Take Control Of The Senate Next Year:  And goes through the races, state by state, to make his case.

At the end of the column, he qualifies his argument:
Well, you might ask, isn't it unusual for parties to sweep all the close races?  Actually, sometimes they do.  Republicans did in 1980 and Democrats did in 1986 — and those were the same seats.

Republicans won the bulk of close races in 2002, and Democrats won the bulk of close races in 2008 — the same seats again and the ones up next year.

A sweep is by no means certain this time.  But if the Obamacare rollout is a "train wreck," as Baucus feared, the odds get better.
Here's my own, tentative view:  Republican Senate gains next year are likely.  Republican Senate control is possible but not currently likely, simply because they have to win so many currently Democratic seats (and will probably lose the New Jersey seat held by Jeff Chiesa in the October special election).

If I had to put probability estimates on those two outcomes — and I don't — I would say that the Republicans have more than a 75 percent chance of gains next year, and less than a 25 percent chance of control.

(For what they are worth — not much right now — here are the current quotes in the Iowa Election Market.

Democrats currently hold 52 seats in the Senate, and there are two independents who caucus with them, socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine.  King has said that he might caucus with the Republicans, if they win a majority.

Assuming the Democrats win back the New Jersey seat in October, the Republicans would need to gain six seats, net, to take control of the Senate in the 2014 election.  Unless, of course, they win five seats and King decides to switch.)
- 6:06 AM, 10 July 2013   [link]


Symbiosis And Sideways Gene Movement In A Mealybug:   Those little pests — from our point of view — don't look very complicated, but one of them has a complex life, and an even more complex history.
The citrus mealybug looks like a walking dandruff flake, or perhaps a woodlouse that’s been rolled in flour.  It’s also the insect version of a Russian nesting doll.  If you look inside its cells, you’ll find a bacterium called Tremblaya princeps.  And if you look inside Tremblaya, you’ll find yet another bacterium called Moranella endobia.

The two bacteria aren’t just passing hitchhikers.  They’re symbionts— constant fixtures of the mealybug’s cells, and necessary for its survival.  The trio cooperates to manufacture essential nutrients, such as amino acids.  This involves a chain of chemical reactions, and it takes enzymes from all three partners to complete every step.  Imagine a single production line with machines from three different manufacturers.  Raw ingredients enter; amino acids come out.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, some of these machines are built using genetic instructions that are loaned from three other groups of bacteria.  These microbes probably lived inside the mealybug’s ancestors and transferred some genes into the insect’s genome.  So, six different branches on the tree of life have come together to allow this three-way partnership to make the nutrients they need!  “It’s almost too fantastic,” says John McCutcheon from the University of Montana, who has studied this hierarchy.
It's a mind boggling example of genetic engineering.

I suspect biologists are going to find more such examples of sideways gene movement, now that biologists know it can happen, and have the tools to study it.  This isn't the first example of such movement I've seen, but it's the most striking.

(Here's a related New York Times article by Carl Zimmer.)
- 5:49 PM, 9 July 2013
Terminology note:  Biologists almost always call "sideways gene movement", "horizontal gene transfer", so if you are searching for information on the subject, that's the phrase you want to use.  I didn't resist the cheap alliteration, but probably should have.
- 7:33 AM, 10 July 2013   [link]


What Happens When A Libertarian Tries To Make Over-The Top Leftist Comments At The Guardian?  Leftist commenters there approve.

(Or, at the very least, don't say that they disapprove.)

This approval of manifestly false (and nutty) comments might have surprised me fifteen years ago, but it doesn't any more.
- 3:29 PM, 9 July 2013   [link]


If The "Greatest Transfer Of Wealth In History" Doesn't Bother You, How About Helping Bankrupt An Important North American Company?  Last month, I argued that we should pay more attention to threats from China, and to their endless cyber attacks on our defenses — and our intellectual property.
China also gains economically from cyber spying. Years of Chinese commercial cyber theft have yielded "the greatest transfer of wealth in history," says U.S. National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander.  To maintain rapid growth, China needs technology that its domestic firms don't produce and that means pillaging foreign intellectual property.
That claim by Alexander, however impressive, is abstract.  And for that reason, most of us will feel less emotional impact than we might from a story about a single defense project, or company.

Yesterday, the PBS News Hour ran a piece on these Chinese attacks, which included this example:
RAY SUAREZ:  Companies targeted by hackers and thieves won't talk about it publicly.  They're loathe to let competitors or shareholders know they have had business plans, data and designs stolen.

But one veteran cyber-security investigator detected scores of important documents stolen over the course of a decade at a company that is now defunct.

BRIAN SHIELDS,  Former Nortel Computer Security Official: When we found out that we had a problem with the stealing of data out of our big document server, we found that the access was coming into our network.  Where the attack was occurring was through remote access.

RAY SUAREZ:  Brian Shields worked for Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications giant that once employed nearly 100,000 people.  He said scores of documents were stolen before Nortel know the Chinese had penetrated their systems and that Nortel failed to beef up cyber-security.

BRIAN SHIELDS:  We were tracing the origination of the log-in activity and saw that it was coming -- mostly, went the downloads was occurring, it was coming from the Shanghai area in China.

RAY SUAREZ:  Nortel filed for bankruptcy in 2009.  I asked Brian Shields if he thought all the cyber-stealing from Nortel contributed to the downfall of the company.

BRIAN SHIELDS:  Absolutely. They kept stealing, and stealing, and stealing.

RAY SUAREZ:  One company, Huawei, the largest telecommunications company in China, is suspected of acquiring Nortel's stolen documents and, Mulvenon says, making good use of them.
It can be rather hard to compete against a company that has all your secrets.

Nortel had other troubles, but Shields is almost certainly right when he says that that cyber theft contributed to its bankruptcy, and the loss of almost 100,000 jobs.

Almost certainly, because — oddly enough — Huawei has not let any outsiders take a really good look at its computers.  (There may be an expert or two at NSA who has had access to those computers, and could tell us what Huawei may have stolen — but those experts aren't talking these days.)

To balance that uncertainty, we should remind ourselves that cyber theft can be hard to detect, and that companies routinely conceal such losses.  So the subset we learn about publicly is less than the companies and governments know about, and that, in turn, is less than the total.

I doubt that even the best-informed expert could tell you how much less.

Suarez also interviewed James Mulvenon, who has enough credentials to qualify as an expert on this subject, and has co-authored Chinese Industrial Espionage.  You'll find his comments definitely worth reading (or hearing, if you prefer the video).

(Two mildly technical points for those inclined:  According to Shields, the attackers sometimes installed root kits that could survive disk formatting.

And the Chinese have a very active program to develop stealth hardware parts, which would allow later system infiltration.  The U. S. Defense Department is worried enough about this problem so that, since 2008, they have been developing a "Trust in Integrated Circuits" program.  I have no idea of how much success they have had, and couldn't tell you if I did.)
- 2:56 PM, 9 July 2013   [link]


Edward Snowden's "Unsettling" Relationship With China:  Gordon Chang provides some more dots in the developing picture.

Some of those dots — let's admit this right up front — may not be real dots.  We should always be cautious about speculations from unnamed sources, and especially cautious when those unnamed sources may have reason not to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But the speculations are interesting enough so that we ought to know about them, if not necessarily to swallow them whole.  Two examples:
As an initial matter, China may have helped him gather information from the National Security Agency.  Sources in the American intelligence community suspect the famous "leaker" was really a "drop box," receiving information from others in NSA who were working for China.   It was his job to act as the courier.
. . .
Beijing may also have encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave Hawaii.  One of my sources indicates that Chinese intelligence, either directly or through FBI personnel working for China, tipped Snowden off that NSA investigators were closing in on him.
According to Chang, Snowden chose to release information at a time when it would be most beneficial to China.
He insisted, for instance, that the Washington Post time its initial disclosures so that they would occur on the eve of last month's "shirtsleeves" summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.  When the Post refused to give a guarantee -- we learned this from Wolf Blitzer's June 10 interview with the paper's Barton Gellman -- Snowden dealt mostly with the Guardian, which evidently proved to be more pliable. The timing of the Guardian's disclosures benefited the Chinese enormously, changing the global narrative from Chinese hacking to American surveillance.
It is never wrong, when looking for motives in a crime, to ask who benefited from it.  And there is no doubt that China has, so far, come out way ahead in the Snowden affair.

(I've been wondering about a possible Chinese connection since his flight to Hong Kong.

If, like me, you were trying to remember that Latin phrase for who benefits, it's here.)
- 8:01 AM, 9 July 2013   [link]


Here's A Better Comparison Of The Risks Of Shipping Oil from Diana Furchtgott-Roth.
Between 2005 and 2009, road had the highest rate of incidents, with 19.95 per billion ton-miles.   This was followed by rail, with 2.08 per billion ton-miles.  Natural gas transmission came next, with 0.89 per billion ton-miles.  Oil pipelines were the safest, with 0.58 serious incidents per billion ton-miles.

The same can be seen from rates of injury per ton-mile. Rail transport was 37 times more likely to result in injuries requiring hospitalization than pipeline, and road was 143 times more likely.

Fatality rates showed the same pattern.  Pipeline transportation was safest, with rail 25 times as likely to have fatalities, and road 70 times as likely.
As she notes, road incidents are somewhat less likely to be reported, so those numbers probably underestimate the differences between road and other means of transport.

The Greens who oppose pipelines like the Keystone XL seem to think that the oil will not be transported by other, more dangerous, means.  As long as world oil prices are as high as they are now, they are wrong to think so, since it is still highly profitable to ship that oil by rail (and even, in many cases, by roads).

(Here's a link to her issue brief, if you want even more numbers.

I should mention that some oil buyers prefer rail to pipelines, even though rail shipments cost more, because of the greater flexibility.)
- 6:49 AM, 9 July 2013   [link]


"When Is A Coup Not A Coup?"  The BBC's Mark Mardell uses Alice in Wonderland to explain the Obama administration's refusal to call the Egyptian coup a coup.
In Through the Looking Glass, Humpty tells Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, doesn't have that luxury.  If he called the Egyptian military's intervention in the democratic process a "coup", it would clearly mean the huge amount of aid the US gives to Egypt would have to be cut off.
Since the Obama administration doesn't want to cut off the aid — and what little influence we have left in Egypt — they can't call a coup a coup.

(I won't claim to know of a better alternative to our current policy, but, unlike the administration, I recognized long ago that the Muslim Brotherhood was not secular, in our sense of the word, and was unlikely to ever be our friend.

Is the administration breaking the law by continuing the aid?  Probably.)
- 6:01 AM, 9 July 2013   [link]