Archive:

July 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The United States And Venezuela, Best Of Friends:  If you follow Venezuelan news only occasionally that thought may strike you as a joke.  But it's not, not entirely, anyway.

In March, as you may recall, the United States declared Venezuela a "national security risk".   (In April, I argued that this declaration did not reflect Obama administration policy, but a bureaucracy acting on its own.  I should have added that it was probably the Drug Enforcement Administration, since we had charged that some high-ranking Venezuelan officials were involved in the drug trade in the United States.)

Since then, however, there have been productive negotiations between the two nations, so productive and friendly that Emiliana Duarte says that two nations should "get a room".
The time has come to put away your Uncle Sam dart-boards, Silvio Rodriguez CD’s and you “Yankee, Go Home!” shirts.  A Red White and Blue dawn has risen over the Ávila!

American love is the future, baby! and I am…so confused.

Remember how we once were so pissed off at the Imperialist North for wanting to pillage our villages and rape our God-fearing women?   It was a huge deal!  Back in March, Venezuelan diplomats were recalled from the U.S. for consultations, visa requirements for gringos were imposed, Dick Cheney was declared persona-non-grata, the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela was issued immediate orders to downsize its staff,   air-raid drills were held, and an aggressive nation-wide drive to collect ten million signatures rejecting the sanctions was deployed.
And now, that is all changed.

Why? Because each side has something the other side wants, according to a Reuters story, a story that Duarte accepts as likely.
A Reuters piece last week finally settled several months’ worth of rumors about State Dept. official Thomas Shannon’s multiple shady meetings with Parliamentary Chief Diosdado Cabello in Haiti and Caracas.

According to an anonymous State Dept. source, these meetings were part of a deliberate strategy on behalf of the U.S. government to openly court (alleged drug kingpin, per U.S. Justice Dept.) Cabello and engage in “soft diplomacy” with Caracas, in order to prevent Leopoldo López´ death via hunger strike.

That Diosdado was so willing to cooperate with the sworn enemy of the regime, and also able to deliver at least some of what was asked of him (election dates, and a couple of political prisoners freed) speaks to both his desperation before the prospect of a lengthy jail sentence for drug offenses, and to his effective power within the government for getting things done.
So should we conclude that the Obama administration is doing some clever negotiating, for a change?  No, not judging by their past record.  Instead, what I think has happened is that another bureaucracy, the State Department, saw that the DEA had given them an opening — and is taking advantage of that opening.

(There are good reasons to fear for the health and safety of Leopoldo Lopez.)
- 7:00 PM, 8 July 2015   [link]


"The IRS Scandal Just Got Even Worse"  As the New York Post notes, in this editorial.
So the Obama IRS wasn’t just persecuting right-leaning nonprofits — it was out to prosecute them, too.  And with the help of the Obama Department of Justice and FBI.

Via Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, the watchdog group Judicial Watch just got evidence of the plot.   A “DOJ Recap” on an Oct. 8, 2010, meeting tells how officials from the three agencies discussed “several possible theories to bring criminal charges under FEC law” against groups “posing” as tax-exempt nonprofits.
And to help the FBI find (or perhaps "concoct") those "theories", the IRS illegally gave the FBI confidential taxpayer information.

The Post ends by calling for a special prosecutor.  I don't care much for special prosecutors in general, but I think one is needed for this scandal.
- 8:56 AM, 8 July 2015   [link]


Speaking Of Hillary, here's a cartoon for her.

(And I hope her dogs get regular food from time to time, too.)
- 7:20 AM, 8 July 2015   [link]


If Those Reporters Following Hillary Clinton Know Any Traditional Western Songs, they might be humming this one.

(A traditional song with music by Cole Porter and words by Bob Fletcher and Cole Porter.)
- 5:44 AM, 8 July 2015   [link]


7/7 Remembered:  Ten years ago today, I awoke to learn that four suicide bombers had murdered more than fifty people in London, and injured many more.

The bombers targeted London's transportation system.
The 7 July 2005 London bombings (often referred to as 7/7) were a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks in central London, which targeted civilians using the public transport system during the morning rush hour.

On the morning of Thursday, 7 July 2005, four terrorists separately detonated three bombs in quick succession aboard London Underground trains across the city and, later, a fourth on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square.  Fifty-two civilians were killed and over 700 more were injured in the attacks, the United Kingdom's worst terrorist incident since the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as well as the country's first ever suicide attack.

The explosions were caused by homemade organic peroxide-based devices packed into backpacks.  The bombings were followed two weeks later by a series of attempted attacks that failed to cause injury or damage.
Today, Britain is remembering the victims.  You can see accounts of the ceremonies in this Guardian article, or this BBC article.   The Daily Mail led with this article on a widespread, public demonstration.
In memory of those killed in the bombings a decade ago, commuters across London and the rest of the UK today stepped off the train, Tube and bus one stop early to walk the remainder of their journey.

Uniting in their tributes to the dead, they shared photographs of the poignant gesture on Twitter accompanied with the words #walktogether.

Some held signs bearing the phrase while others photographed their feet and held hands, posting their photographs on social media.
That shows the right spirit, I think.
- 5:52 AM, 7 July 2015   [link]


Last Week's Collection Of Jokes from Andrew Malcolm.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Conan: Donald Trump reaffirmed his stance against gay marriage.  Trump said, “Marriage is between a rich guy and his much younger third wife.”
I preferred these two:
Fallon: Hillary Clinton signed a note for a nine-year-old boy the other day, explaining to his teacher that he was missing school to meet her.  And this is nice.  In exchange, the kid wrote Hillary a note saying his dog ate her emails.
. . .
Meyers: NASCAR released a statement urging removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol.  Released a statement?  It should have sent a pit crew.   That thing would be down in under nine seconds.
(I'll try to stay more current with the jokes, but make no promises.)
- 2:33 PM, 6 July 2015   [link]


Want To Feel A Little Cooler?  (Here in the Northwest, we certainly do.)

Then you might want to read this Seattle Times article on the Crater Glacier, the glacier that has grown up inside Mt. St. Helens.

Sandi Doughton describes how it grew, in the crater left by the explosion.
Its northward orientation helped shield snow from the sun. A thick layer of loose, volcanic rock collected on the crater floor, providing an insulating barrier against volcanic heat rising from below.  And when a magma dome began bulging upward — eventually growing nearly 900 feet high — it formed a sheltered niche along the crater’s back wall where snow could pile up.

Normal snowfall alone can’t account for the glacier’s formation, though, said USGS geologist Dave Sherrod.  An extra boost comes from the loads of snow and ice that slough into the crater off the rim and walls.

“It’s as if you’ve doubled, tripled or quadrupled the amount of snow and ice accumulation in this small area,” Sherrod said.  “It’s a fountain of youth as far as the glacier is concerned.”
The mountain exploded in 1980, grew a permanent snowfield in the crater by 1988, which turned into a glacier by 1996, a glacier that survived magma eruptions beginning in 2004.

And Crater Glacier contiues to grow.

(Here's a older aerial picture of the glacier that I like, and here's the Wikipedia article on the glacier.)
- 2:03 PM, 6 July 2015   [link]


What's Happening To The Chinese Stock Market?  As John D. Rockefeller might say, it has been fluctuating.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks.  Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent.  The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
Does this fall reflect a "softening" of the Chinese economy?  Probably, at least in part.
Nevertheless, such volatility in the world’s second largest equity market (by market capitalization) raises questions about the overall health of China’s economy.  GDP grew by 7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, its weakest mark in six years, and stimulus measures adopted by the government have yet to reverse this slide.  According to Ira Kalish, Chief Economist at Deloitte, China’s slowdown has already had consequences beyond its borders.

“Already, the halving of China’s growth has wreaked havoc with global commodity markets and has negatively influenced growth in those East Asian economies that are a vital part of China’s manufacturing supply chain,” he wrote in ChinaFile.   “It could be argued that the imbalances in China’s economy thus represent more of a risk to the global economy than the current and much discussed situation in Greece.”
Although this decline has been slower, it reminds me of 1987's "Black Monday".
In finance, Black Monday refers to Monday, October 19, 1987, when stock markets around the world crashed, shedding a huge value in a very short time.  The crash began in Hong Kong and spread west to Europe, hitting the United States after other markets had already declined by a significant margin.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped by 508 points to 1738.74 (22.61%).[1]  In Australia and New Zealand the 1987 crash is also referred to as Black Tuesday because of the timezone difference.
That crash came when growth was slowing in the United States, as it now appears to be in China, and as problems in the Middle East were heating up.

(Investors, especially active investors, may want to take a look at This Time Is Different, for some historical background.  I haven't read it yet, but have seen good reviews of the book.)
- 8:19 AM, 6 July 2015   [link]


In General, You Don't Do A Person, Or A Nation, A Favor, when you give them a loan that they can't repay.

That simple bit of common sense was lost on those who were pushing sub-prime loans for house buyers here in the United States, and on the European authorities who kept loaning Greece money, even as Greece's debt rose to levels that made it certain that those loans would never be repaid.

Most of those buyers would have been better off if they had not borrowed money for homes they couldn't afford, and Greece would have been better off without the "rescue" loans from the rest of Europe.

Does that bit of common sense apply to many student loans here in the United States?   Absolutely.
- 7:39 AM, 6 July 2015   [link]


It Will Be "Grexit" Time, Soon:  Greek voters rejected the European Union plan, "decisively".
With almost all the ballots counted, results from the Greek referendum show voters decisively rejecting the terms of an international bailout.

Figures published by the interior ministry showed 61% of those whose ballots had been counted voting "No", against 39% voting "Yes".

Greece's governing Syriza party had campaigned for a "No", saying the bailout terms were humiliating.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says that this will let him go back to the bargaining table, with a stronger hand.

However, the blunt fact is that Greece will never repay most of its debts to the lenders, and it would be better to admit that sooner, with a formal bankruptcy, than to keep these negotiations going with all the pain they cause Greeks, and all the ill will they cause on both sides.

Greece already defaulted once, in 2012.
But sometimes people have good reason to act a bit crazy.  In 2009, Greece was running a budget deficit of more than 15 percent of annual spending, and investors were getting nervous.  They wondered if Greece could make payments on its debt, then totaling about 130 percent of its national output—compared with about 75 percent for Britain, 54 percent for America, 61 percent for France, and 44 percent for Germany—and continue to provide public services.  Investors cut Greece off, and the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank stepped in to provide Greece with €110 billion in return for spending cuts, tax hikes, and asset sales.  The bailout didn’t work, and Greece’s economy continued to spiral down; Europe doubled its lending in 2012.

Lost in all of the talk about Greece’s possible default is that the country defaulted once before.  In 2012, Greece used money from European governments to pay its private-sector creditors about half what it owed them.  Was that a bailout of private creditors?  The private creditors sure thought so—they happily took the deal.   But Greece evidently didn’t default enough, since the rest of Europe felt the cure for Greece’s debts to private creditors was an even greater amount of debt to foreign governments.
I dislike Tsipras and company, but I would have voted no, because I think that a no vote is more likely to force a quick bankruptcy, which is what Greece — and the European Union — need.

(To see just how messed up Greece is economically, take a look at these five charts.

Some news folks are expressing surprise at the vote, but when I glanced at the polls this morning, I noticed that the no side had won 23, the yes side, 6.  Moreover, the yes wins were all by small margins, from 0.4 to 3.0, while the no wins ranged from 1.0 to 32.0.)

- 5:32 PM, 6 July 2015   [link]


Violinist Jenny Oaks Baker Plays "Amazing Grace", accompanied by by Condoleezza Rice on the piano.

It's a lovely version.  Those who know the words will want to sing along; others may want to look up the words before the song begins.

(Alas, I have to mention that the cause that this version is supporting, Wounded Warriors, has received sharp, and, as far as I know, justified criticism for its high overhead.  So you may want to investigate before you buy the song.  Or not; it isn't a lot of money.)
- 4:54 PM, 5 July 2015   [link]


Happy 4th Of July!  And thank you to those who make it possible.

Veterans of Foreign Wars at Kirkland 4th of July, 2015

The picture is from this year's Kirkland 4th of July parade, which traditionally (and appropriately) begins with a veterans group.
- 4:25 PM, 4 July 2015   [link]


"Independence Day Links"  The National Review has them, enough to satisfy most Americans.
- 9:48 AM, 4 July 2015   [link]


How's That Opening To Cuba Working Out?  Not very well, for ordinary Cubans.
In announcing the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, President Obama said “nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight” by his policy of “engagement.”  That’s just as well because in the first six months of Mr. Obama’s normalization of relations with the Communist regime, most indicators of human rights on the island have moved in the wrong direction.
Not coincidentally, in my opinion.

The next-to-the-last sentence in the Washington Post editorial begins with: "We'd like to hope . . . ".  Which, of course, is one of those things you say when you have given up hope, in this case for an Obama policy toward Cuba that shows even a little respect for human rights in Cuba.
- 2:29 PM, 3 July 2015   [link]


Lanny Davis's Harsh Criticism Of Hillary Clinton:  Which he meant as a compliment.
Clinton ally and political strategist Lanny Davis argued on Fox Business Network that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has never changed her position on any issue throughout her entire career.

“Is she going further left because of that, because of [Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders] resonating?” FBN’s Dagen McDowell asked.

“She hasn’t changed a single position in her entire career, she has been a progressive Democrat.  So I don’t know what you mean by going left.  Name me the issue she went left on,”Davis said.
Alex Griswold then gives a little list of issues on which she has changed her position.

But I think that Lanny Davis is more right than wrong; Hillary Clinton has adopted different positions from time to time for tactical, political reasons, but I can't think of any issues where she has changed her mind because she has learned something since she graduated from Wellesley in 1969.

For all her intelligence, she is unable, or unwilling, to learn from experiences, hers or others.

And that should frighten anyone who thinks she might be our next president.
- 2:04 PM, 3 July 2015   [link]


"Country Music Finds A Home Far From Home, In Kenya"   Every once in a while, you run across a headline that makes you do a double take.

For example, that one.

But the New York Times article makes it less surprising, perhaps even inevitable.
Sir Elvis, dressed in a yellow and black plaid shirt, jeans, boots and a black cowboy hat, tuned his guitar under the wooden roof and neon beer advertisements of the Reminisce Bar and Restaurant. With a signal to the band, he began singing the Don Williams country hit “It Must Be Love” in a purring baritone.  Patrons got up to dance, rocking back and forth.

This would not be an unusual sight for Nashville or just about any country tavern in the United States.  Except this was not East Texas, but Nairobi in East Africa, where American country music has a surprisingly robust, and growing, following.

“I grew up with it, and my parents loved country,” said Elvis Otieno, 37, who has become perhaps the best-known Kenyan country performer.  Sir Elvis, as he is known onstage, was born the year Elvis Presley died, and was named after him by parents who were big fans of the King.
That sounds familiar, and this will too, to anyone familiar with country music.
One of the few female country musicians here, Ms. [Esther] Konkara, 27, grew up in a village north of Nairobi and sang gospel in Kikuyu at church.  “We had potatoes, maize, beans, but the only thing we did not have were horses,” she said, comparing her village with the American West.  Ms. Konkara won a scholarship as a teenager to study at a music academy and now performs around the country.

“Just like Dolly Parton sings about her Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, I want to sing about the hills of Kiambu,” she said.
(You can listen to one of her songs, here.  I'm no music critic, but she sounds pretty good to me — and looks good on that horse.)

Many Kenyans are country folks, or just one generation away from the country, and so many of them naturally like country music.  It's that simple.

(Here's Kiambu County, if you are wondering where those hills are.)
- 6:31 PM, 2 July 2015   [link]


Remember Leland Yee, the California Democrat who was charged with everything from gun running to money laundering, to mopery with intent to gawk?   Okay, maybe I made that last one up, but the list of charges was amazing.

He's taken a plea deal.
Closing a dark chapter in California politics and capping the downfall of a prominent Bay Area legislator, former state Sen. Leland Yee on Wednesday pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge that is expected to land him in a federal prison cell for at least several years.

The 66-year-old Yee cut a plea deal with federal prosecutors, avoiding a looming August trial date but forcing him to admit he took payments in return for promises to use his political clout for a host of powerful interests, from NFL owners to medical marijuana businesses.   Dressed in a dark suit and calm enough to chat casually with reporters before entering his guilty plea, Yee confessed in his plea agreement that he used his bids for secretary of state and San Francisco mayor as racketeering enterprises to extort bribes for his cash-starved campaigns.
Unfortunately:
Yee's plea deal avoids a detailed exploration at trial of his political dealings, and could be used to coax some leniency from the judge.  But it also spares the government an attack on its sprawling four-year covert investigation, which included FBI undercover agents doling out bags of cash and countless hours of audio and video recordings, including some that crossed paths with numerous high-profile figures who were not implicated in any wrongdoing, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
That should make you wonder whether some of those "high-profile figures" might have crossed some ethical lines, if not necessarily legal lines.

In 2014, I argued that four very high-profile had good opportunities to know about Lee's illegal dealings.  For instance, I noted that the districts represented by Lee and Nancy Pelosi have overlapped, considerably.

And California journalists could have known about some of his illegal activities, if they had only bothered to do routine checks.   Instead, they gave him good government awards.

Let me say this fairly bluntly:  Few of our "mainstream" journalists are interested in investigating minority Democrats who hold leftist positions on important issues, as Yee did.

By way of Jazz Shaw who, like me, thinks that Yee's (alleged) co-conspirator, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, has a great nickname for a gangster.
- 2:08 PM, 2 July 2015   [link]


But Is It A Good E-Reader?  This morning, inspired by a review in the Wall Street Journal, I spent many minutes trying to get a Kindle Paperwhite to show me a book, or even a block of text.  But the display model at a local Staples store baffled me — or perhaps it wasn't set up to demonstrate its principal use.

That failure seemed so perverse that I began to wonder whether Amazon was sending out models to stores that were deliberately crippled, in order to encourage you to buy directly from them.  Almost certainly not, but it did seem odd that they wouldn't show blocks of text first, since they are boasting about the readability of the new models, which even have their own brand-new typeface, Bookerly.

(There are four new models, with and without 3G, which allows you to download books through a cellphone network, and with and without ads.  3G adds $60 to the cost; without ads adds 20 dollars, which gives you an idea how valuable those ads are to Amazon.)

In the past, I would have, fairly automatically, looked for an alternative product from a competitor that was not becoming a monopoly.  But sometimes you have to admit that a monopoly has won, and I fear that may be true in e-readers.

Of course a tablet would be an alternative, and there are many of those now, some quite reasonably priced.
- 12:39 PM, 2 July 2015   [link]


Are Journalists Conspiring With Hillary Clinton?  The Washington Examiner finds two possibilities in those Clinton emails.  One, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, makes a plausible case for his innocence; the other, Leslie Gelb, looks guilty.
The Pulitzer Prize winner appeared in 2009 to be quite interested in writing the former first lady a flattering profile, according to an email written by longtime Clinton ally Lynn Forester de Rothschild.

"I spent yesterday with Les Gelb on Nantucket.  He had lots to say which might be of interest, but I thought the most important thing to tell you is to make sure you are aware of the Parade magazine piece he wants to do about you," she wrote in an email addressed to the now-Democratic presidential candidate.  "He would like to do a day in your life, when you meet with members of Congress and international figures.  He wants to show the impact you are having domestically and internationally."

She added in a passage that reflected poorly on Gelb, "He said he would give you a veto over content and looked me in the eye and said, 'she will like it.'  Maybe you know this, but did not want it to fall between the cracks.  Enjoy your vacation and love to all of you."
Gelb "did not respond to the Examiner's request for comment".

Parade magazine routinely runs flattering pieces on prominent people, so flattering that I usually don't bother to read them, since I'm sure they are leaving out much of interest.

But, if Gelb did make those offers, then he was, essentially, offering to conspire with Clinton to make sure that the usual Parade puff piece had everything in it she wanted.

(There's nothing new about this kind of conspiracy; Don Hewitt conspired with Bill and Hillary Clinton to paint a false picture in a 60 Minutes program, a program that may have saved the Clinton campaign in 1992.

But you won't see that in his Wikipedia biography, which should remind us, once again, to be cautious about relying on Wikipedia political articles.)
- 7:45 AM, 2 July 2015   [link]


Happy Birthday!  To our Canadian friends, who are celebrating Canada Day.  (Which they used to call "Dominion Day".)

Canadian flag

  Since Canada was founded in 1867, this is their 148th birthday.  The man most responsible for that founding was Canada's first Prime Minister, John Macdonald.

Here's a brief statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   (Which President Obama would do well to imitate, three days from now.)

Recycled, with some changes, from 2008.

(Picture notes:  This flag appears every Canada Day, a few blocks from where I live, along with the American flag, which you can just see behind it.  In 2008, I finally met the couple that own the flags.  He's American; she's Canadian.  And the two seem to be getting along very well, which may be a lesson for our two nations.)
- 1:57 PM, 1 July 2015   [link]


Worth Reading:  Matt Ridley on "The Climate Wars’ Damage to Science".

Here's how he begins:
For much of my life I have been a science writer.  That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories.  It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise.   If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it.  There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.

Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience—homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on.  But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting.  The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test.  So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think.  Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind.  It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.
His account of the problems of climate science is the most comprehensive I've seen.
- 12:59 PM, 1 July 2015   [link]


Those Hillary Clinton Emails are pretty funny.
At the same time, Clinton’s emails from 2009 illustrate a strange disconnect from the White House she served: a canceled meeting at the White House, finding out about a Cabinet gathering on the radio—and senior White House staff asking for her personal email address.

Of course, the emails, released Tuesday night by the State Department, present just one window into Clinton’s communications and interactions.  (It’s the second large-scale release of Clinton’s emails, following the publication in May of hundreds of her communications on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.)  The documents only show declassified emails and exclude phone calls, meetings, and classified communications—none of which we can see.

But that imperfect window reveals some odd things.  [Sidney] Blumenthal, in particular, comes across as the foreign policy equivalent of a late night drunk texter.  The “give me a call” email is one of many the moonlighting adviser fired off in 2009.  Blumenthal sent that message in June, as Clinton was considering whether to bring him onto her State Department staff, an idea the White House eventually nixed.  But that didn’t stop the journalist and longtime Clinton loyalist from chiming in on myriad issues and personalities on which he purported to have insider knowledge.
But also pretty dismaying.

In theory, President Obama and Secretary Clinton should have been working on our foreign policy together; in practice, they seem not to even have communicated with each other, in any regular and systematic way.  For instance, Clinton was unable to get any guidance on what, if anything, to say to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, after Obama had announced a new policy for Afghanistan.

Those who have studied how organizations work — and don't work — will already be thinking of how they can turn these emails into case studies on what not to do.
- 10:47 AM, 1 July 2015   [link]


What's The Most Common Vertebrate?  Of all the fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, which is the most common?

A little fish, the bristlemouth, that I can't recall even having heard of before yesterday.
Water, however, is a different story.  It covers more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface and goes down miles.  Scientists put the ocean’s share of the biosphere at more than 99 percent.  Fishermen know its surface waters and explorers its depths.   But in general, compared with land, the global ocean is unfamiliar.

Which helps explain why scientists have only recently come to realize that the bristlemouth — a fish of the middle depths that glows in the dark and can open its mouth extraordinarily wide, baring needlelike fangs — is the most numerous vertebrate on the earth.
. .
[I]chthyologists put the likely figure for bristlemouths at hundreds of trillions — and perhaps quadrillions, or thousands of trillions.

“No other animal gets close,” said Peter C. Davison, a fish scientist at the Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research, in Petaluma, Calif.  “There are as many as a dozen per square meter of ocean.”
A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking about quadrillions of these little fish.

At a quadrillion, you leave budget numbers behind (for now), and begin to share numbers with astronomers.

Scientists don't know a lot about these fish, but they have discovered that they can change sexes, naturally.
But this strange little fish makes up for its diminutive size with staggering numbers, as well as a behavioral trick or two.

It starts life as a male and, in some cases, switches to become a female.   Scientists call it protandrous — that is, a male-first hermaphrodite — a phenomenon also seen in certain worms, limpets and butterflies.

John C. Avise, the author of “Hermaphroditism,” said the adult male bristlemouth tended to be smaller than the female and had a better developed sense of smell — apparently, he said, to find mates in the darkness.
(Emphasis added.)

It would be more precise to say that it is always both male and female, but that, in some bristlemouths, the male genes get turned off, and the female genes get turned on.   (Evolutionary theorists are probably delighted by this example — and frustrated by the difficulty of studying the fish.)

The article does not answer the question that will occur to most non-scientists:  Are bristlemouths good to eat?  Perhaps investigators should send a few of the fish to some of the more creative cooks in Louisiana to find out what dishes can be made from them.

(The most common land vertebrate?  Probably the domestic chicken at about 24 billion.

For more, here are the Wikipedia articles on bristlmouths, protandry, and the man who first saw bristlemouths in their natural environment, William Beebe.

Minor correction:  William Broad begins the article by saying that the zone of life is narrower on land than in the water.  That's true if you are discussing vertebrates, but not true if you include bacteria.)
- 7:18 AM, 1 July 2015   [link]


Another Marriage Proposal For The Obama Family:  This one less serious than the one to Malia.
Robert Mugabe has mocked America's decision to legalise gay marriage across all 50 states by vowing to travel to the White House and proposing to Barack Obama.

During his weekly interview with the national radio station, the Zimbabwean president joked that he planned to travel to Washington DC 'get down on one knee and ask his hand'.
Presumably, President Mugabe would ask Justice Kennedy to preside over the ceremony.

On a more serious note, whatever your views about gay marriage, you should recognize that President Obama's embrace of it will cause diplomatic problems for us in many nations, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

And I think we can conclude that Mugabe does not respect President Obama.  It doesn't matter much what Mugabe thinks, but it is likely that many other, more serious leaders don't respect Obama, either.

(We can be sure that Mugabe is not serious because he is not offering any cows for Obama.)
- 5:34 AM, 1 July 2015   [link]