Archive:

June 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Which Group is Most Likely To Make Sexual Attacks In The Military?   Since I am being politically incorrect this afternoon, I might as well go almost all the way.  This New York Times article provides some statistics that allow us to make a rough estimate, in answer to my question.
In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010.  Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.
About 15 percent of the service members are women.

Let's begin by making a crude, but common assumption, common among "mainstream" journalists, anyway:  People fall into one of four categories, heterosexual males, heterosexual females, homosexual males, and homosexual females.  A person's category determines which people would be targets for sexual attacks.

In the general population, about 3 percent of men are homosexual, and about 2 percent of women are.  The discrimination against them might have discouraged some from joining the services in past years, but we'll ignore that for the moment.

So, very roughly, 83 percent of service members are heterosexual men, 14 percent of service members are heterosexual women, 2 percent are homosexual men, and 1 percent are homosexual women.  Very roughly.

And that third group, homosexual men, commits almost half of the sexual assaults.

Immediately, I must add that the reporter, James Dao, goes to some pains to keep you from coming to that politically incorrect conclusion by telling us that many attacks on men come from other men who "identify as heterosexual males".

But he doesn't give any numbers, which might make some think that the third group does commit a disproportionate share of sexual assaults.  But you can explore the question yourself, by playing with the numbers, a bit.

(There is another possible explanation for that disproportion, which I will come back to in a future post, though I don't know exactly when.

You can find the report here.  You can find intelligent commentary on the report from "Cassandra", for example, here.)
- 1:52 PM, 24 June 2013   [link]


What's The Lead Story In Today's Seattle Times?   This one, with this headline: "Transgender people say they’re ready for the spotlight".

From the article, I would judge that they are the new hot victim group, among the politically correct.

I do feel sorry for "transgender" people, but for reasons so politically incorrect they are unlikely to be published in our local monopoly newspaper.  But I do think my reasons are based on solid science.

(And not just in Seattle.  You probably have heard about the Colorado court decision.  I feel sorry for the boy who supposedly won, and more than a little suspicious toward his parents.)
- 1:03 PM, 24 June 2013   [link]


Some Of Our Top Universities Are Selling Out to foreign governments.
In September a joint venture between Yale and Singapore will open on a campus built and paid for by that autocracy.  Then there are the Persian Gulf states.  The United Arab Emirates hosts branches of Paris’s Sorbonne and the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in addition to NYU.  While funding jihadists in Syria and Libya, Qatar is on its way to spending $33 billion on an “education city” hosting offshoots of Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon.

Is it possible to accept lucrative subsidies from dictatorships, operate campuses on their territory and still preserve the values that make American universities great, including academic freedom?  The schools all say yes, pointing to pieces of paper — some of them undisclosed — that they have signed with their host governments.  The real answer is: of course not.
Foreign governments that often have little respect for American values.

(To be fair, Singapore mostly respects American economic standards, and is formally democratic.   I am even prepared to believe that, if the People's Action Party were ever to lose an election — they have governed since 1959 — they might step down.)
- 9:53 AM, 24 June 2013   [link]


"Greedy Africans Are Starving Our Cars"  This mock protest in London made an important point.
“You’ve heard of Live Aid? Well, this is Drive Aid,” an ardent young man says, as he approaches London pedestrians.  “Greedy people in developing nations are eating huge amounts of food that could easily be turned into biofuel to power our cars.  African acreage the size of Belgium is being used for food, and we’re saying it should go to cars here in the UK.  Can we have your support?”

Londoners reacted with disbelief and outrage, the ActionAid UK video shows, and refused to sign his mock petition.  The amusing stunt drove home a vital point: Biofuel programs are turning food into fuel, converting cropland into fuel production sites, and disrupting food supplies for hungry people worldwide.  The misguided programs are having serious environmental consequences, as well.
Paul Driessen doesn't mention this, but it is likely that the biofuels requirement has also contributed, slightly, to increasing economic inequality.  (Those who benefit from it are mostly wealthy farmers and manufacturers.  Poor and working class people tend to pay larger shares of their incomes for gasoline, so they are hurt more by policies that increase its price.)

(There is an alternative to ethanol that deserves consideration: methanol.  It's biggest proponent is Robert Zubrin.   Note that Zubrin wants to shift to methanol, not for environmental reasons, but to win the war on terror.  Note also that methanol can be made from natural gas, coal, as well as almost any kind of biomass.  At one time it was made mainly from wood, and was called wood alcohol, for that reason.

Zubrin offered to bet serious amounts of money that he could run a car on methanol, economically.  No one took him up on his bet.)
- 7:08 AM, 24 June 2013   [link]


The "Gang of 8" Immigration Bill Is A "Grandiose Fraud"  So says Mickey Kaus.  The promises of greater border enforcement made in a recent compromise will, he believes, never be kept.
This the reality to keep in the front of your mind when discussing the details of Corker-Hoeven’s border security requirements: None of them is actually going to happen!  The formal requirements will be gutted by future Congresses and bureaucrats.  We’re just trying to figure out if there’s really anything they’ll have to gut.
As Kaus details, the fine print in the bill negates the bold declarations you'll hear from supporters of the bill.  For instance, that fine print allows Janet Napolitano to evade actually building much longer and stronger fences on our borders.

There is no doubt that our immigration system needs fixing, but it would be best to do it piece by piece, starting with better enforcement.
- 5:26 AM, 24 June 2013   [link]


For A Constitutional Scholar, Obama sure loses a lot of Supreme Court cases.
Historically, there is no single litigant more successful in the Supreme Court than the United States.  The court usually pays special attention to the arguments of the government’s representative, the solicitor general, whose office is known to have the best lawyers and the longstanding respect of the justices.  Studies show that, in the past, the solicitor general won approximately 70 percent of its cases in the Supreme Court.  That’s why the solicitor general is often referred to as the “10th justice.”

This term, however, the executive branch has lost far more cases than it has won.  Although there are still some decisions to come—and one or two cases are mixed decisions that are hard to categorize—so far the court has clearly decided 24 cases in which the United States was a party.  Fifteen of those cases went against the government, while only 9 sided with the administration.  That’s a winning percentage of only 37 percent—a huge drop from historical patterns.
Obama may not mind, may see those court losses as political wins.  Or, he and his team may be so sure of themselves that they bring cases without studying the precedents, and the thinking of the current justices.

It should embarrass the Obama administration to lose all those cases, especially since they lost a few of them unanimously, but it doesn't seem to have.
- 7:43 PM, 23 June 2013   [link]


An Irresistible Title:  Today, I ran across Chad Orzel's How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog in the nearest Half Price Books.

I had seen it before, but this time I couldn't resist the title.

It looks like a fun read, though I will admit that I don't currently have a dog to try it out on.

(Orzel has also written a book on quantum physics, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog.)
- 4:01 PM, 23 June 2013   [link]


Snowden To Ecuador, With The Help Of China, Russia, Cuba, And Venezuela?!?  He missed a few countries, if he was trying to demonstrate his opposition to freedom of speech and the press, but that was probably the best he could do on short notice.

Tim Stanley gives us a quick review of press freedom in Snowden's destination, Ecuador.
WikiLeaks describes Snowden’s final destination as “a democratic country” and, yes, Ecuador basically is (more or less).  But it just recently passed a bill restraining press freedom that really ought not to appeal to a whistle-blower.  According to Human Rights Watch, the bill has three worrying components.  A) It prohibits so-called “media lynching”, and allows the state to compel the guilty to say sorry and face legal proceedings.  B) It claims to encourage the press to self-regulate but actually empowers the government to impose sanctions on wrong-doers.  C) Most importantly, the bill asserts that it is a crime for a journalist to undermine “the security of the State”.  Just like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are accused of doing.  So Snowden, the whistle-blower, is relocating to a country that is turning against the culture of whistle-blowing.  Of course, it's also a country that's given refuge (in its London embassy) to Julian Assange – himself fleeing allegations of rape.
The simplest explanation may explain Snowden's behavior:  Like Assange, he is reflexively anti-American, and has learned to use free speech arguments to attack the United States — but not its enemies.

Example:  As far as I know, neither Assange nor Snowden have ever criticized the Communist regime in China for their massive hacking attacks on the United States, though Snowden and Assange surely must have heard of those attacks.
- 3:20 PM, 23 June 2013   [link]


Worth Buying:  The weekend Wall Street Journal, for the front page story on Bangladesh seamstress Mahinur Akhter, who was buried in a collapsed factory.
Five weeks after Mahinur Akhter was dragged, bloody and barely conscious, from the broken concrete of the collapsed Rana Plaza garment-factory building, the teenage girl was back in her hometown, trapped between duty and fear.

In the shade of her family's mud-walled house, Ms. Akhter weighed the $90 to $100 a month she could earn as a seamstress against long hours, harsh supervisors and the terror she endured in the rubble.
(You may be able to get around their pay wall with Google News, but this one really is worth buying.  You can see some pictures, for free, here.)

If you read the whole article, you'll learn that she is the sole support of her family, that she schemed and studied to get that job, and that she is going back, in spite of her fears.

(Accompanying the article is a graph showing how poverty has declined in Bangladesh in the last two decades, from 70 percent of the population to 43 percent.  When you look at their definition of poverty — less than $1.25 a day — you will understand better why Akhter is going back to the factory.

There's much else in the weekend Journal, but this article is worth the $2.00, all by itself.)
- 7:29 AM, 23 June 2013   [link]


NSA Discovers How Terrorists communicate.

(Does cartoonist Dan Wasserman know about steganography?  It's hard to say from the cartoon, but he might.)
- 7:00 AM, 23 June 2013   [link]


Americans' Views Of President Obama Are Now Mixed:  Pew saved their most interesting findings for the middle of their report.
The survey finds that the one-word impressions people have of Obama have changed a great deal throughout his presidency.  Terms like incompetent and liar now are among the most frequently used words to describe Obama.  In April 2009, when his job approval was at 63%, these words were rare.
Showing you the whole "Changing One-Word Impressions of Obama" table would go beyond fair use.  (Though, since it is an image, you can easily make a copy for yourself.)  But I can give you the top ten words for 2009, 2012, and 2013, along with the percentage of respondents mentioning each word.

2009:  Intelligent (30), Good (29), Socialist (20), Liberal (17), Great (16), Confident (15), Honest (13), Inexperienced (12), Trying (12), Smart (11)

2012:  Good/Good Man (38), Trying/Tried/Tries (30), President (27), Failed/Failure (25), Incompetent (24), Great/Greater (21), Honest/Honesty (17), Intelligent (17), Disappointing (14), Liar (14)

2013:  Good/Good Man (34), Incompetent (27), Honest (18), Liar (18), Excellent (17), Great (15), Intelligent (15), Socialist (15), Fair (14), Leader (11)

As you can see, in 2009, Americans almost all had a positive impression of Obama, a very positive impression.  (Some readers may need reminding that "socialist" is, for many Americans, a positive word.)

That has changed as we have had a chance to judge Obama by his actions, and not just by what "mainstream" journalists say about him.

It has even changed since the glow of the 2012 election campaign has faded, with increasing numbers seeing him as incompetent, a liar, or both.

What you can also see in those 2013 answers is more evidence of just how polarizing he has been as president.  Only two of the seventeen words are not strongly negative or positive, President and Trying/Tries.  (It is remarkable, by the way, to see how Trying/Tries dropped from 30 percent in September 2012 to 8 percent in June 2013.)

One last thought:  In 2009, Americans were trying to fit him into ideological categories, which is why you find Socialist or Liberal in the top five.  Now, fewer use socialist, and many fewer use liberal to describe Obama.  As I have said before, I think of him as a leftist, or a social democrat, who would fit comfortably into some of the world's socialist parties, but not all.

I have never thought of him as a liberal, either in the classical, limited-government sense, or in the way the word is most often used in modern American politics.  Younger readers may not realize this, but in the 1960s and 1970s leftists like Obama often made their sharpest attacks on the "liberals" who then dominated the Democratic Party.   Saul Alinsky attacked liberal Democrats far more often than he attacked conservative Republicans.   Similarly, the 1972 Democratic convention can be seen as struggle between the leftists backing George McGovern and the once-dominant liberals.

(Mildly technical note:  I've always liked these one-word impressions, because it allows us to understand a little bit about how the respondents think, without forcing them to use the pollster's categories.
- 9:26 AM, 22 June 2013   [link]


Congressman Jim McDermott Should Get His Eyes Checked:   (And should review some basic biology.)

You may have seen or heard his latest.

A single tip from the public can save countless lives.  A terrorist could be right in front of your own face.  That’s why the FBI rolled out a new ad campaign on billboards and buses.  It shows the faces of 16 of the world's most wanted terrorists.

Some, however, say they're being depicted in a less that flattering light.

“You look at the pictures, they're all one color of folks,” said Congressman Jim McDermott of Seattle.  McDermott has asked the FBI to pull the ads, calling them “racist” because there are no white people.

Now, take a look at that picture.  Do you see a whole range of colors in those faces?   Or take a look at the entire 32 on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists.

What I see in that list is 31 men and just 1 woman.  So the FBI might be sexist.  If you assume that men and women are equally likely to commit violence.

Or, since there are 30 in that list who appear to be radical Islamists, and just 2 who do not (Chesimard and San Diego), the FBI might be religiously bigoted.  If you assume that followers of different religions are equally likely to commit violence.

But what anyone should be able to see in that poster, or in that list, is that the terrorists do not belong to a single race, and have a variety of skin colors.

To see that may require you to actually look at the poster or list, rather than just roll out the usual racism charge, as McDermott did.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I suppose I should add two points for the McDermotts of the world:  Color is not a good way to identify people of different races.  For example, people in the southern part of India often have dark skins, but they are more closely related to, for example, Swedes, than to Nigerians.   Second, scientists who divide people up into races almost always group people from Europe and people from the Middle East and North Africa — where most terrorists come from — together.  So most of the terrorists in that FBI list belong to the same race as I do, and as Congressman McDermott does.)
- 1:42 PM, 21 June 2013   [link]


Michael Barone Learned from Detroit's failures.
When people ask me why I moved from liberal to conservative, I have a one-word answer: Detroit.  I grew up there, on a middle-class grid street in northwest Detroit and a curving street in affluent suburban Birmingham, and I got a job as an intern in the office of the mayor in the summer of 1967 when Detroit rioted.  I was at the side of Mayor Jerome Cavanagh and occasionally Governor George Romney during the six days and nights in which 43 people, mostly innocent bystanders, died.  I listened to the radio in the police commissioner's office as commanders announced, shortly after sundown, that they were abandoning one square mile after another.  The riot ended only after federal troops were called in and restored order.

Cavanagh was bright, young, liberal, and charming.  He had been elected in 1961 at age 33 with virtually unanimous support from blacks and with substantial support from white homeowners—then the majority of Detroit voters—and he was reelected by a wide margin in 1965.  He and Martin Luther King, Jr., led a civil rights march of 100,000 down Woodward Avenue in June 1963.  He was one of the first mayors to set up an antipoverty program and believed that city governments could do more than provide routine services; they could lift people, especially black people, out of poverty and into productive lives.  Liberal policies promised to produce something like heaven.  Instead they produced something more closely resembling hell.
Barone couldn't ignore the evidence that those policies had failed — but many others still do.

Barone believes that two later mayors, Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick, did great damage to Detroit during their years in office.  (If you read the Wikipedia article on Young, you'll find a much more favorable picture than Barone gives us.  I would trust Barone's picture more than Wikipedia's.)

(The article title refers to Edward Banfield's wildly controversial book, The Unheavenly City.  I have studied the original version and learned much from it, but never got around to buying the "Revisited" version.)
- 7:37 AM, 21 June 2013   [link]


Chicago Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis May Want To Use a different metaphor than "elephant in the room".

(If you are not familiar with Ms. Lewis, here's an article on her latest speech, and an analysis of her arguments.  Karen McQueary concludes that Lewis and her union are, in practice, big supporters of the status quo.)
- 6:01 AM, 21 June 2013   [link]


The Sun Provides A Helpful Guide for President Obama, so he won't confuse Jeffrey Osborne and George Osborne, again.

By way of Guido Fawkes.

(Here's Jeffrey Osborne's best-known song

And here's an description of George Osborne's current job, which sounds fairly important, at least to me.)
- 4:41 PM, 20 June 2013   [link]


Yesterday's Danny Westneat Column In The Seattle Times Was A Model Of Rational, Civilized Commentary:  Most likely, journalism classes are being asked, even now, to study the column, for the lessons it contains.  This may surprise Westneat, but I suspect that the column will also be used in logic classes, and, perhaps even political science classes.

Westneat disagrees with the reform coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats that has taken control of the Washington state senate, and he explains why in a detailed discussion of the policy alternatives — showing, all the time, a decent respect for the people on the other side, and their opinions.  I was especially impressed by his careful use of numbers to support his argument.

Above all, Westneat avoids the ad hominem attacks all too common on the left.

When I finished reading the column, I still didn't agree with Westneat, but I had to admit that my respect for him, and for his newspaper, had grown.  I especially admired his ability to put aside his partisanship, and discuss the leader of the coalition, Rodney Tom, and his ideas, in a fair and balanced way.

Oh, you are wondering what Westneat said?  If you don't want to read the column, here's an executive summary of Westneat's arguments about Majority Leader Rodney Tom: "turncoat", "self-serving manipulator", "a lonely man who feels this need to be important", "previously little-known", "bizarre ideas", "anointed himself", "reptilian figure", "trusted by no one", "simply bad ideas".

(My favorite in that list is "reptilian figure".  If that doesn't show a dedication to rational, civilized discourse, I don't know what would.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(This morning, talk show host John Carlson said that Westneat's column had some factual errors.  That's hard to believe, but I am sure that, if there were any mistakes, they will corrected quickly.)
- 2:36 PM, 20 June 2013   [link]


Another Problem for modern mothers.  Some modern mothers, anyway.

(If you know any young women who are considering tattoos, you may want to share that cartoon with them.)
- 7:30 AM, 20 June 2013   [link]


Bomfog From Berlin:  That's my summary of President Obama's speech there, which did not go over well, even though the audience was limited to 4,500 invitees.

Two samples:
But I come here today, Berlin, to say complacency is not the character of great nations.   Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity — that struggle goes on.  And I’ve come here, to this city of hope, because the tests of our time demand the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago.
. . .
I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experience.  Our alliance is the foundation of global security.  Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy.  Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.  When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do.   So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.
There's more, but that should be enough for you to see what I mean by bomfog; the speech is filled with, as Safire explains in his dictionary, "high-sounding, glittering generalit[ies]" that sound good, but mean little or nothing.

You can find similar reactions to the speech here and here.

(Nelson Rockefeller inspired the word.  He used the phrase "brotherhood of man, under the fatherhood of God" so often that his stenotypist, Hy Sheffer, began writing it as "bomfog".  Reporters picked up on it because it seemed to combine, however unintentionally, bombast and fog.  The word hasn't been used much recently, but I think we need it now, at least as much as we did fifty years ago.)
- 7:09 AM, 20 June 2013   [link]


On A Light Note, A Case Of Confessed Adultery:  A light note?  Yes, once you learn who the supposed correspondent is.
But now a councillor in Whitby, North Yorkshire, has made one that really is - Labour's Simon Parkes says he fathered a child with an alien.

The married father-of-three, who represents Stakesby, said his wife had rowed with him after revealing he had a child called Zarka with an alien he refers to as the Cat Queen.
I'd love to know whether the "row" went something like this:  "How could you?  And with an alien!"  Or, as seems more likely, like this:  "Have you gone out of your mind?"

In either case, I do sympathize with Mrs. Parkes.

(Judging by the duties described in this Wikipedia article, as a councillor he probably can't do much harm.  On the other hand, his day job is as driving instructor, and that does make me worry, a little.)
- 8:17 PM, 19 June 2013   [link]


Are You An American-American?  Many of us are, in spite of the efforts, official and otherwise, to divide us.
In the 2000 census and since, more than 20 million people said their origin was American.   Those who so answered are heavily concentrated in greater Appalachia, Florida and Texas, have a strong populist streak and share cultural ties that frighten outsiders: “To be perfectly blunt,” wrote Nate Silver, identifying your origin as American is “a pretty good proxy for folks that a lot of us elitists would usually describe as ‘rednecks.’ ”

Yet it would be a mistake to confuse the self-declared ethnically American (call them American-Americans?) with the Confederacy.  The areas where American ethnicity is claimed are also the ones that rebelled against the rebels, such as West Virginia, which was so pro-Union that it seceded from Virginia in 1863.
Kyle Smith is getting that data from a book by James Robbins, Native Americans, which definitely sounds worth reading.

By way of Orrin Judd, another American-American.
- 6:41 PM, 19 June 2013   [link]


If You Like Babies, you'll love this picture.  (Link fixed now.  Sorry about that.)
- 1:56 PM, 19 June 2013   [link]


President Obama Is A Failure As A Diplomat:  Who says so?  Many people, but it is news when the New York Times says that in a front page article.

Here's how Mark Landler and Peter Baker begin:
Over porterhouse steak and cherry pie at a desert estate in California earlier this month, President Obama delivered a stern lecture to President Xi Jinping about China’s disputes with its neighbors.  If it is going to be a rising power, he scolded, it needs to behave like one.

The next morning, Mr. Xi punched back, accusing the United States of the same computer hacking tactics it attributed to China.  It was, Mr. Obama acknowledged, "a very blunt conversation."
(Michelle Obama didn't help, by not taking time to meet with Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, while she was visiting the United States.  Some Chinese saw that as a deliberate insult.)

In the rest of the article you'll learn how Obama failed with Putin — which is understandable — and with François Hollande — which is not.  (Obama and his team thought they could use former president Dimitri Medvedev to work around Putin.  You don't have to be Machiavelli to understand why that probably wouldn't work, but would certainly anger Putin.  French President Hollande wanted, among other things, more help in suppressing terrorists in Mali.  We should have given it to him promptly and gladly.)

The strongest relationship that Obama has with a foreign leader, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, does not seem to have yielded any benefits to the United States.

Near the end, Landler and Baker make this devastating comparison to three Obama predecessors:
The first George Bush moved gracefully in foreign capitals, while Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush related to leaders as politicians, trying to understand their pressures and constituencies.
In short, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, all tried to understand the other leaders, before negotiating with them.

Obama has, it is only fair to add, been handicapped by his secretaries of state, first Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry.  But Obama could have chosen someone better for that position, twice.

As you would expect, the reporters interviewed several supporters of Obama, who attempted to make excuses for him.  But none of them mentioned any Obama successes, not a single one.

(Professor Althouse, who is two time zones ahead of me, wrote her post first, and came to similar conclusions, earlier than I did.  Incidentally, some of the comments after the post are quite funny.)
- 1:45 AM, 19 June 2013   [link]


According To An Anonymous Source, Kim Jong-un has ordered his top people to read Mein Kampf.
The magniloquent wrath of North Korea rained down on a group of 'scum' defectors today after they published a report claiming copies of Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' were handed to its officials as a leadership guide.

The defectors claimed in the report that leader Kim Jong-un had handed out copies of the Nazi dictator's manifesto to top officials for inspiration.
This story is almost too good to check, but I did find it in a Korean newspaper.

Nor is there anything inherently implausible about the story.  Stalin, before the German invasion, was something of an admirer of Hitler.  (It wasn't mutual.)  And the ideas about "racial purity" common in the North Korea regime fit better with fascism, than with communism, which has almost always claimed to be international.

(Here's the original web post.)
- 10:28 AM, 19 June 2013   [link]


James Taranto Provides The Dots:  The biggest supplier of Lifeline phones (often called "Obama phones") is TracFone.  A big chunk of TracFone is owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who also owns a big chunk of the New York Times.

And then suggests, slyly, that our newspaper of record might want to try to connect those dots.
Just some interesting dots.  We'll leave it to our friends at the Times to tell us if and how they're connected.
Ever since Slim bought into the Times, I have been wondering about his motives.   You wouldn't think that a shrewd businessman like Slim would invest in the Times expecting substantial profits.  And I can't help noticing that he comes from Mexico, where businessmen sometimes attempt to buy influence, in any number of ways.

(Slim's family came from Lebanon, and, as I understand it, businessmen in Lebanon also sometimes attempt to buy influence.)
- 7:33 AM, 19 June 2013   [link]


"Redmond, Seattle"  This sad story did have an amusing mistake.
A woman trying to live on nothing but water for up to six months is calling it quits after 47 days.

Naveena Shine, 65, from Redmond, Seattle, stopped eating on May 3 in a bid to explore breatharianism - the concept that food is not necessary and sunlight provides all of the nourishment the body needs.
That should remind us that even British journalists, who should know more about the United States than most Europeans, don't always understand the basics.  And we should recognize that American journalists are often equally clueless about the foreign countries they write about.

I'm glad she stopped this dangerous stunt before she killed herself.

(There's more on breatharians here.)
- 6:43 AM, 19 June 2013   [link]


Need A Joke?  I do, so here's Andrew Malcolm's usual weekly collection.

Two I especially liked:
Fallon: Last week Obama asked China's president to stop spying on Americans.  And the Chinese leader responded, "You first."

Leno: The good news is Tim Tebow got a job playing for Boston.  The bad news is, it's the Patriots.  So now the IRS is investigating him.
- 1:38 PM, 18 June 2013   [link]


Anonymous Man Convicted In The Netherlands:  This BBC story describes the conviction of the killers of a volunteer soccer official — but doesn't name any of the killers.
Six teenagers and the father of one of them have been found guilty of kicking a volunteer linesman to death in the Netherlands.

The court in Lelystad sentenced the 50-year-old father to six years in prison.

Five teenagers were sentenced to two years in youth detention and another was sentenced to one year.  All seven are expected to appeal.
Rules, either in Britain or the Netherlands, might prevent the BBC from naming the teenagers, but the missing name of the father automatically made me suspicious.

So I did a quick search and found a likely explanation for that strange omission.
Judges in Lelystad sentenced the 50-year-old father, identified only as El-Hasan D, to six years in prison.  Five teenage players drew two-year sentences in youth detention for their roles in the December attack and another was sentenced to a year.  A seventh player, age 15, was sentenced to 30 days detention for assault.
. . .
The attack took place Dec. 2 in the Dutch city of Almere after the home team, Buitenboys, drew 2-2 with Nieuw Sloten, which is based in a mostly immigrant neighborhood of Amsterdam.
I think we can all guess why the BBC story didn't include the name, or that helpful background.  The version published by the Guardian did include the name and that background information, so it seems almost certain that British laws did not force the BBC to be so mysterious.

(For the record:  All seven insist they are innocent.)
- 1:09 PM, 18 June 2013   [link]


Wire Tapping Teddy Roosevelt (II):  A few days ago, I quoted William Safire quoting William Roscoe Thayer on how enemies of Roosevelt had tapped his phone before the 1912 Republican convention.

Shortly after that, I took my own advice and downloaded Thayer's biography of Roosevelt, in order to get the context.  Here's the full paragraph that I quoted, in part, before.
Roosevelt had not intended to appear at the Convention, but when he discovered that the long distance telephone from Chicago to Oyster Bay, by which his managers conferred with him, was being tapped, he changed his mind.  He perceived, also, that there was a lack of vigorous leadership among those managers which demanded his presence.  By going, he would call down much adverse criticism, even from some of those persons whose support he needed.  On the other hand, he would immensely strengthen his cause in Chicago, where the mere sight of him would stimulate enthusiasm.
It doesn't appear that either Roosevelt or Thayer thought that the tapping was a horrible invasion of privacy, or even very wrong.  After I read that paragraph, I naturally wondered whether Thayer had said anything more about his friend being tapped.  A search on the word found only that one example.

But when I scrolled down a little, I found this:
A still more extraordinary piece of news came from Hooker to the effect that he had in some way intercepted a telegram "from Murray Crane to his nephew saying that Crane and Barnes would 'fight or ruin' and that it was now 'use any means and sacrifice the Republican Party.'  Had it not been for the way he told us, I couldn't have believed such a thing possible."
From the context, I concluded that Hooker was a "Roosevelt scout" at the convention, a man who was trying to win delegates for Roosevelt — or perhaps foil the Taft forces in other ways.

So Roosevelt's people were reading some of their opponents' electronic communications.   If Thayer disapproved, he does not say so.  And I think we can conclude, at least tentatively, that Roosevelt did not see the tapping of his phone, or the interception of the telegram, as anything especially unusual, or even very wrong.

(Just for fun, imagine the reaction to similar incidents, today.)
- 9:33 AM, 18 June 2013   [link]


French Cartoonist Plantu's Cartoon on President Obama's indecision on Syria is pretty funny.

Unless, of course, you happen to be a peaceful citizen of that war-torn country.

(Plantu works for Le Monde, which is roughly equivalent to our New York Times in ideology and influence.  Since he is a French leftist, he is routinely anti-American, sometimes obnoxiously so — but he can be very funny.)
- 7:15 AM, 18 June 2013   [link]


Egypt Needs Tourists:  But the new governor of Luxor may not be the best person to attract them.
The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has appointed a member of the hardline Islamist group Gamaa Islamiya to the governorship of Luxor – a tourist city in which militants associated with the group killed 58 tourists in 1997.

The symbolism of the appointment has enraged Egypt's sidelined non-Islamist opposition, who see it as further evidence that Morsi is unconcerned about the country's increasing polarisation.

Tourism is the lifeblood of Luxor, home to some of Egypt's most dramatic ancient temples and pharaonic tombs, including that of Tutankhamun.  The city has been hit hard by the downtown in foreign visitors during the past two years of turmoil.
Salafists like the new governor, Adel Asaad al-Khayyat, aren't big fans of alcohol, sunbathing, gambling, and the other things that you will find in most tourist destinations.  They aren't even big fans of the main tourist attractions in Luxor.

(I'm using the New York Times version of his name, as I do for consistency.  The Guardian spells it "Adel el-Khayat", and you can find other spellings of his name, without much effort.)
- 5:17 AM, 18 June 2013   [link]


The Poor Fast Food Service Indicator Is Showing Improvement:  In this area.

Yesterday, because of the power outage, I went out for breakfast at fast food place, and then had lunch at another.  Both places got my orders wrong.

Which I see as a good indicator for jobs, in this area.

Over the years I have found that poor service at fast food places is more common when the economy is growing briskly, than when it is stagnant, or losing jobs.

When jobs are scarce, the fast food places — which are at the bottom of the legal job ladder — find it harder to hire good workers, and harder to keep the ones they have.  In a bad economy, that reverses.

And the economy here in metropolitan Seattle is better than in most of the nation, thanks mainly to monopolists like Microsoft, and duopolist Boeing..
- 4:37 PM, 17 June 2013   [link]


Obama's Approval Rating Is Down, but probably not by 8 points.  Here's the CNN story.
President Barack Obama's approval rating dropped eight percentage points over the past month, to 45%, the president's lowest rating in more than a year and a half, according to a new national poll.

The CNN/ORC International survey released Monday morning comes as the White House has been reacting to controversies over a massive U.S. government surveillance program; the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of tea party and other conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status; the administration's handling of last September's attack in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead; and the Justice Department's secret collection of journalists' phone records as part of a government investigation into classified leaks.
And here's Mark Blumenthal's discussion
Obama's job approval ratings have been drifting steadily downward since January, eliminating the gains that occurred during the fall reelection campaign and just before the inauguration.  The Pollster chart's estimate of Obama's approval rating, based on all public polls, stands at 46.7 percent as of this writing, just slightly higher than the 46.4 percent recorded in early July 2012.

. . . But other polls do not show as steep a decline as CNN - The issue is mostly that CNN's prior survey, showing Obama's approval at 53 percent, was something of an outlier. Of 36 other polls logged in May, none except CNN had Obama's approval higher than 51 percent.
Three other polls (Gallup, Rasmussen, and Economist/YouGov) found a decline for the last month of 2 points, and one (Fox) found a decline of 1 point.

Which, if you are a Republican looking forward to 2014, or even 2016, is just fine.  One or two points decline in every month between now and the November 2014 election takes Obama into the please-don't-come-and-campaign-for-me territory.  (But not quite into the please-endorse-my-opponent-if-you-really-want-to-help territory.)

(I expect Obama's approval ratings will continue to decline before the 2014 election, though at a slower rate, if he gets below 40 percent.  And I think that CNN was putting too much weight on the scandal stories, and not enough on the sluggish economy.)
- 4:19 PM, 17 June 2013   [link]


Fake Villages for the G8.
When the G8 world leaders fly into Northern Ireland for their major summit there on June 17, they will see a vista of progress that has been created to deceive them.

According to Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, local councils have hired workers to paint fake shop fronts stocked with attractive but illusory produce.

They have also been contracted to cover derelict buildings with colorful billboards, the better to hide the real economic hardship being felt in towns and villages close to the five star golf resort where G8 leaders will meet this month.
. . .
In the one-street town of Belcoo, the changes haven't just been cosmetic.  A grand deception has been crafted to fool the eye of any passing stranger.  At a former well known butcher's shop, colored stickers applied to the windows show a packed meat counter and suggest that business is booming.

Across the street another empty shop has been set up to look like a supply store.  From the window of a speeding limousine it's sure to make a favorable impression.
By way of the Wall Street Journal.

(The article makes the obvious comparison to Potemkin villages, but, if this Wikipedia article is correct, that's unfair to Grigory Potemkin, who decorated villages, but didn't create fake ones.)
- 12:28 PM, 17 June 2013   [link]


Phelim McAleer Had The Best Lines in this New York Times article on "Pandora's Promise", a documentary supporting nuclear energy.
"I hate film festivals," Mr. McAleer said.  "There is not one film shown that anyone would disagree with at a Manhattan dinner party."

"Pandora's Promise" is not an exception, Mr. McAleer said, adding: "Nuclear power has become semi-respectable among environmentalists.  It's now a way of attacking coal and gas."
Even though he had nothing to do with the film.

McAleer is making a serious point, vividly.  Film festivals, as the reporter, Tom Rostom, more or less admits, do discriminate against documentary films with the "wrong" messages, regardless of the truth of those films, or even their artistic quality.

(I haven't seen "FrackNation", the latest film from McAleer and his wife, Ann McElhinney, but hope to soon.

Here's the "Pandora's Promise" site.)
- 11:03 AM, 17 June 2013   [link]


"Give Me Your Spouse Beaters . . . ."  Mickey Kaus identifies another group of immigrants that might be welcome in the United States, if the "Gang of Eight" amnesty bill passes, in its present form.
But the most controversial part of the bill might be the specific actual misdemeanors that won’t stop an undocumented immigrant from being more or less instantly legalized: They include, not just DUI offenses, but also domestic violence and child abuse.
Well, perhaps not welcome, exactly, but not necessarily excluded, either.  (There is a limit —the illegals must have fewer than three misdemeanor convictions — but the Secretary of Homeland Security — currently Janet Napolitano — can override that limit, if it's in the "national interest" to let that illegal in.)

Kaus links to Byron York, who in turn links to Heather MacDonald:
The bill’s authors apparently think that staying on the right side of the law is an insuperable burden and that having a criminal record is an ordinary part of being an American.
In some neighborhoods it is, but not in most of the United States.
- 8:32 AM, 17 June 2013   [link]


If You Think President Obama's Plan To Arm Rebels In Syria Makes Sense, Keith Koffler has a very generous prize for you.

And eleven reasons why you are unlikely to collect that Porsche Boxter, beginning with this one:
1. We are aiding the rebels now that they are losing, instead of when they might have won.  Go figyah!
Nor are the weapons we will be sending likely to make a difference, except to prolong the war.

Of our post-World War II presidents, Obama is by far the worst as a strategic thinker, worse even than Lyndon B. Johnson.

Obama, like Johnson, tends to see foreign problems as an unwelcome distractions from domestic concerns.  But Obama has, in my opinion, a disadvantage that Johnson did not.

Presidents generally try to promote American values and interests.  Our presidents helped the British suppress the Atlantic slave trade, and sent warships to protect our own commerce against pirates.  For Obama, promoting our values and interests both pose problems.

Like most in our academic communities, Obama has been infected by the almost incurable disease of "multiculturalism".  Those suffering from this affliction find it hard to even think about American values as special, as worth spreading around the world.  Obama can, from time to time, make speeches in which he says that American values are worth sharing, but, like Shelby Steele, I doubt that Obama believes in what he says in those speeches.

Similarly, Obama finds it hard to defend American interests — unless they are directly connected to his political power.  Like many others on the left (and some on the Ron Paul right), he sees this nation as guilty of many sins, as undeserving the rewards that our preeminence in the world has given us.

Whatever else you may say about Johnson, he did want to promote our values and interests, unlike Obama.

If he can't, or won't, devise a foreign policy that spreads our values and promotes our interests, what's left for Obama?  Mostly posing on the world stage for political gains at home.  And from time to time making gestures that please the politically correct here and at home.

(If you are interested in the academic debates over American exceptionalism, try this Wikipedia article, with the usual caveats about their political articles.)
- 7:30 AM, 17 June 2013   [link]