Archive:

June 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Big Gun Naval Support After D-Day:  Samuel Eliot Morison makes a strong argument that support from the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the American and Royal navies was one of the reasons the Normandy invasion succeeded.

Here's an example from two days after the initial landing:
Nevada between 0587 to 0940 June 8 shot at five casemated batteries and strongpoints.  At 1023 she was called upon for an exceptionally juicy target, a concentration of about 90 tanks and 20 vehicles in the woods along a road half a mile west of Montebourg.  She expended 70 rounds of 14-inch from 23,400 yards range, and her spotting planes reported that all tanks and trucks were destroyed — none got away. (pp. 160-161)
(As you probably guessed, even if you weren't familiar with the term, a casemate is a "fortified gun emplacement or armored structure".)

Although there were wide variations, at that time a Panzer division usually had a little more than 100 tanks, so that shoot would have severely damaged the offensive capabilities of an entire armored division, and if the trucks included the division's fuel trucks, might have prevented the rest of the division from moving any distance for several days.

At a range of more than 11 nautical miles, the Panzer division would have been unable even to return fire, having no guns that shot that far.  And even the most heavily armored tank would have little chance against a 14 inch shell.

Those spotting planes were probably British Spitfires.  They were sent over two at a time, with one plane spotting, and the other guarding against German fighters.  Because the Spitfires had such short ranges, they could only stay for about 45 minutes over targets, before they had to return for fuel. To compensate for that, the British sent them over in relays, so that at any time during a busy day there were likely to be two Spitfires spotting, two returning for fuel, and two coming to take up the next spotting duties.

(For the record:  There were some allied ships in the bombardment groups, including a few French ships, which had the sad duty of firing on their own country.

The Nevada was an older battleship,  Newer American battleships and cruisers were almost all sent to the Pacific theater.  Her history was quite remarkable, and I suspect you may think, as I do, that her ending was more than a little sad.)
- 7:22 PM, 8 June 2015   [link]


Desks That Nag You:  Since sitting too much has been found to be bad for one's health, it was only natural that some manufacturers would start making desks that reminded you, from time to time, to stand, instead.

(The basic technology for such a desk is simple enough.  You need a sensor, a timer, and a little alarm.  I would guess that a good electronics engineer, with the right experience, could build a test device in a week or less, since they would be assembling standard parts, not creating new ones.  The sensor would probably be in the chair, not the desk itself, although I can think of several ways to detect when you are sitting down.)

You can find reviews of one much-publicized model of a nagging desk here and here.

And I am sure there are other, similar desks out there by now.

But it occurs to me that you could get the same health benefits with a very old-fashioned, and much cheaper, solution.  Put an hour glass on your desk where you can see it.  When it runs out, stand up for a while.  When you sit down again, turn it over.

If you are deep in thought, as almost all of us are at some time during desk work, you'll probably miss that polite reminder, but that's fine, as long as it doesn't happen more than occasionally.
- 3:26 PM, 8 June 2015   [link]


Even The BBC (!) Has Doubts About Obama's Current Efforts To Defeat ISIS:  This article is skeptical; this analysis goes beyond skepticism.
As the jihadist fighters of Islamic State push ever further across Syria and Iraq, taking cities, airbases, prisons and border posts, US President Barack Obama has dismissed their gains as "a tactical setback".

The US-led coalition against IS, he insisted, is not losing to the jihadists.  But the awkward truth is, the coalition is certainly not winning.

Every day that IS continues to even exist on the ground, every day that it carries out its harsh rule on a cowed population, and every day that it grows closer to becoming an entrenched, functioning, if albeit pariah state, is a mark of failure by some of the world's richest and most powerful armed forces ranged against it.
Since it is the BBC, the article includes a discussion of some of the defensive successes we've had against ISIS (which are real enough), but the security analyst, Frank Gardner, is not optimistic.  Near the end, he says: "Against this backdrop, official US optimism about the direction of the campaign is unlikely to be matched by reality on the ground."

(Gardner, who wrote that scathing criticism, is not an average journalist.  Before joining the BBC, he had considerable experience in both Britain's military and the Middle East.)
- 1:25 PM, 8 June 2015   [link]


Dick Cheney Finds President Obama puzzling, as I have from time to time.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R) said on Sunday that he has not figured out what motivates President Obama.

“I’ve tried for a long time, John, to understand what makes him tick, and frankly, I don’t know,” Cheney told host John Catsimatidis on AM 970’s “The Cats Roundtable” in New York.

Cheney said he was particularly mystified by Obama’s counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East.
Where, as Cheney might have said, the means and ends are inconsistent; Obama says our objective it to defeat ISIS (or whatever he is calling it now), but doesn't authorize enough force to make that happen, hasn't even accepted a strategic plan from our military.

(For those who don't often follow military affairs, this reminder:  What officers do when they aren't fighting wars is make plans for fighting wars.  If the folks in the Pentagon are even semi-competent, there are — right now — half a dozen plans for defeating ISIS that Obama could adopt.  Unless, of course, he has forbidden them to make such plans.)

In April, I said that I agreed with Victor Davis Hanson that the key to Obama's foreign policy decisions was his ideology, which appears not to have changed much since he was a college student in the early 1980s.

Today, I would just add this point:  In foreign policy, President Obama is one of the least pragmatic leaders I have ever seen, which, understandably, puzzles a supreme pragmatist like Dick Cheney.  Obama judges his foreign policy decisions, not by their results, but by his intentions, which, from his point of view, are always good.

Story by way of Jim Hoft, though I had to do some searching to find a good link to what Cheney has said.

(One of the most famous examples of war plans are the "color plans" created by the American military between World War I and World War II.)
- 12:38 PM, 8 June 2015   [link]


Micro Aggressions Against Women, Macro Aggressions Against Women:  At our colleges and universities, the first — which apparently they spell as a single word — is of prime importance.  Phyllis Chesler thinks that the latter is more important, that we should worry more about women being turned into war booty by ISIS than whether a pampered college student was offended by some man assuming she knew how to cook.
Six weeks ago, Human Rights Watch documented a “system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces.”  Their victims were mainly Yazidi women and girls as young as 12, whom they bought, sold, gang-raped, beat, tortured and murdered when they tried to escape.

In May, Kurdish media reported, Yazidi girls who escaped or were released said they were kept half-naked together with other girls as young as 9, one of whom was pregnant when she was released.  The girls were “smelled,” chosen and examined to make sure they were virgins.  ISIS fighters whipped or burned the girls’ thighs if they refused to perform “extreme” pornography-influenced sex acts.  In one instance, they cut off the legs of a girl who tried to escape.

These atrocities are war crimes and crimes against humanity — and yet American feminists did not demand President Obama rescue the remaining female hostages nor did they demand military intervention or support on behalf of the millions of terrified Iraqi and Syrian civilian refugees.
You don't need to be a feminist to agree with Chesler on this, just a decent, civilized person.

(Chesler's biography would fascinate almost any young woman.)
- 9:08 AM, 8 June 2015   [link]


Turkish Surprise:  (It's too soon to say whether it will be a Turkish Delight.)

Racip Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) have ruled Turkey for 13 years.  They had 311 of the 550 seats in parliament and were hoping to expand their majority.
The AKP's goal is likely to be to win more than 330 seats in order to have the right to put constitutional changes to a referendum, or more ideally 367 seats to bypass a referendum and change the constitution directly within parliament.[2]
But the voters decided otherwise.
Turkey's governing AK party has lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years, near-complete election results show.

The surprise outcome also sees the pro-Kurdish HDP crossing the 10% threshold, securing seats for the first time.

With 99% of the vote counted, the AKP has 41% of the vote, state-run TRT television reports.
Like many nations with proportional representation, Turkey eliminates parties that fall below a threshold.   That 10 percent threshold in Turkey is the highest I've seen, and was a big plus for the AKP in the 2002 election.

One interesting detail:  The AKP won 327 seats in the last election, in 2011.  So they have lost 16 seats since then.  That is large enough to suggest that they have had defections — and that, in turn, suggests that the party has internal problems.

But, until I learn more, you should treat that as speculation.
- 3:45 PM, 7 June 2015   [link]


Unlike John Hinderaker, I think the former Obama aide was joking when he tweeted:
Another accomplishment — Obama first President to have a Triple Crown winner since Carter

— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) June 6, 2015
But I'm not absolutely sure of that.

Which worries me, a little.
- 2:56 PM, 7 June 2015   [link]


D-Day Celebrations And The Power Of Round Numbers:   Today is the 71st anniversary of D-Day, and it will receive less attention than last year's 70th anniversary.  (And way less than the 50th anniversary in 1994.)

Logically, there is no reason to treat the 71st anniversary differently from the 70th, but we need some way to distinguish a few from the rest, and so we choose, arbitrarily, round numbers.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found that I had skipped a mention last year, even though I usually mention the day, as I did in 2012 and 2013.

And so powerful are those round numbers that I find that the omission bothers me, just a little.

Here's a link-filled commemoration from David Foster, and here's a link to a D-Day museum.
- 10:55 AM, 6 June 2015   [link]


St. Paul Schools Try "Race Equity" Theory:  The result is a disaster.
Two years ago, kids who'd spent their academic lives in specialized classrooms for behavioral issues and cognitive disabilities were mainstreamed into general classes, along with all the kids who spoke English as a second language. More than 3,000 made the transition.

The district also shifted its thinking on discipline, influenced by data that showed black kids being suspended at alarming rates.  Such punishment would now come as a last resort.  Instead, disruptive or destructive students would essentially receive a 20-minute timeout, receive counseling by a "behavioral coach," then return to class when they calmed down.

The changes came at the behest of Superintendent Valeria Silva.  When she took up the torch of St. Paul's schools in 2009, she inherited an urban district like so many others — one with a dire achievement gap between students of color and their white counterparts.

She charged teachers with the job of fixing this gap, lest they be complicit in the cycle of poverty among black and brown communities.
Even those familiar with "blackboard jungles", as they were once called, will be surprised by some of the stories in that article.  Teachers, and other school workers, have been physically attacked — with no real consequences for the attackers.

Some teachers have decided they aren't going to take it any more.  Many have resigned, and others are turning to politics.
That discontent came to head this spring.  The Caucus for Change, a teachers' movement backed by the DFL, vowed to oust all four school board members who are up for re-election this fall.  They blame the board for backing Silva's changes despite teacher outcry.
The DFL is the Minnesota Democratic Party and not, in any way, a conservative organization.

You won't be surprised to learn that defenders of Silva are playing the race card.

The big losers are, of course, most students in these schools.  Those who are disrupting the school will most likely be spending time in prison soon; those who suffer from the disruption will learn far less than they might have, otherwise.

By way of Joanne Jacobs.

(You won't be surprised to learn that "race equity" theory has strong supporters in the Obama administration.  Or that there are similar experiments going on in schools in this area, and probably many others.  I expect these experiments will have similar, though perhaps less dramatic, results.)
- 8:46 AM, 5 June 2015   [link]


If You Are A Primary Producer, You're Probably A Republican:  That's the tentative conclusion I draw from this paired list of occupations and partisanship.

On the Democratic side, there are just two occupations in that category: architects and carpenters.  On the Republican side, there are six: logger, home builder, plumber, farmer, cattle feeder, and petroleum geologist.

Although the list is not comprehensive, I think that much the same pattern would be found in a comprehensive list — and that this difference helps explain why Republican leaders are now more likely to talk about production.  And Democratic leaders about regulation and redistribution.
- 8:04 AM, 5 June 2015   [link]


Pluto's Moons Move Almost Like Clockwork; Pluto's Moons Move Chaotically:  You may think both of those can't be true at once, but they can be.

Let's review.  Pluto has one large moon, Charon, that is so large and so close to Pluto, that the two are tidally locked.

Pluto has four other moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx.  The four revolve around Pluto and Charon in almost resonant orbits — almost like clockwork.

But at least two of the four, Nix and Hydra, and probably all four, rotate chaotically.
In an article published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Mark R. Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and Douglas P. Hamilton of the University of Maryland calculated more precisely the orbits of the four smaller moons and turned up some surprises.

For one, Nix, jostled by the competing gravitational pulls of Pluto and Charon, appears to be rotating chaotically.

“It’s not just a little bit chaotic,” Dr. Showalter said. “Nix can flip its entire pole.  It could actually be possible to spend a day on Nix in which the sun rises in the east and sets in the north.  It is almost random-looking in the way it rotates.”
They revolve predictably — and rotate unpredictably.  To put it another way, the "years" on these moons would be predictable, but the "days" wouldn't be.

I've read a lot of science fiction, but can't recall any story using the second, though the first is common, perhaps because we have an example in our backyard.

If you want more, here's a good discussion from Amy Thompson, and lots of pictures from the Daily Mail.
- 7:33 PM, 4 June 2015   [link]


The Black Death In Idaho:  So far, only ground squirrels are known to be infected.
Nearly two weeks after ground squirrels southwest of Boise tested positive for plague, no cases of the disease have shown up in people or pets, public health officials say.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Central District Health Department and Idaho Department of Fish and Game are still tracking information about the outbreak and asking the public to be cautious until late June or early July, when the ground squirrels go into hibernation.
Plague, which may have killed more than one third of Europe's population in the 1300s, can be treated with antibiotics, and the insect carriers can be killed with insecticides.

It is not as well known as it ought to be, but the plague has been established among ground living rodents in the Western United States for more than a century.

(That Wikipedia article gives higher estimates on European deaths — "30–60% of Europe's total population" — than I have seen before, which is why I said one third.   Unfortunately, their footnote links to a book that will not be found in most home libraries, and certainly not in mine.  And, if you follow the footnote, you'll find it links to a table showing ghastly losses from a series of epidemics — and links to two references I haven't seen.)
- 2:28 PM, 4 June 2015   [link]


Chuckle:  Right now, here's the top-rated comment after that Daily Mail article:
Dear FBI, if you arrest Blatter and the rest of the rats at FIFA and get the world cups changed, we will no longer make fun of you for calling football, soccer.  Yours sincerely, the rest of the world.
As I write, the comment has 88 negative ratings (red arrows) — and 2,579 positive ratings (green arrows).

Sounds fair to me.
- 1:49 PM, 4 June 2015   [link]


How Far Back Does The World Cup Bribery Go?  The more we learn, the further back the tainted choices go.
FIFA whistleblower Chuck Blazer has admitted taking bribes to vote for both the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.

The American also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and accepting bribes and kickbacks connected to five Gold Cups — the North and Central American confederation’s flagship tournament.

This damning admission of criminal activity on FIFA’s executive was contained in Blazer’s plea-bargain testimony given to the FBI in November 2013 but made public for the first time on Wednesday night.
If this Wikipedia biography is correct on the dates (and it probably is), Blazer began taking World Cup bribes as soon as he could, because he joined the FIFA Executive Committee in 1996.

Did the bribe taking begin before 1998?  Probably.  If you know more about world soccer than I do, which isn't hard, you may want to look through the list of World Cup countries, which you can find here, for likely beneficiaries.

(Did this revelation of just how much the FBI knows have anything to do with Sepp Blatter's decision to step down as FIFA president, after just winning re-election to that office?   Possibly.  Certainly something happened to change his mind.)

- 1:37 PM, 4 June 2015   [link]


In Poor Taste, but too funny not to share.
- 8:13 AM, 4 June 2015   [link]


Open Covenants, Openly Arrived At  That's the short version of the first of President Woodrow Wilson's famous 14 Points.  Here it is, in full:
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
In an ideal world, that would be a good thing.  In the real world, secret agreements are sometimes necessary, but I have never thought they were needed for free trade agreements.

President Obama's secrecy on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership has raised suspicions, even among Democrats.
Democrats — even some of Obama’s closest allies — say it’s not enough for the president to pronounce his trade agenda the most progressive in history.

The lawmakers want assurances that the agreements under negotiation, particularly a huge deal being finalized with Pacific Rim nations, will protect U.S. jobs — assurances many say they simply haven’t gotten.
. . .
They’re also accusing the administration of pushing trade agreements benefiting corporations and other well-heeled interests, while leaving working-class Americans out in the cold.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) characterized the TPP as “a secret deal negotiated in back rooms and designed to help multinational corporations reap trillions while Americans lose their jobs.”
(Barbara Lee is about as far left as House Democrats get.)

My own feelings are mixed.  There is no doubt that free trade agreements have made the world more prosperous; there is also no doubt that they have often cost jobs, sometimes disrupting whole communities.

So I favor them, but not as much as the average economist would.

Experience has shown that it is almost impossible to pass free trade agreements through Congress without "Fast Track" authority, in which Congress agrees to a straight up-or-down votes, with no amendments.

But I don't see any reason for this secrecy, and I am dubious about any agreement this complex, and with this many nations (12) involved.
- 7:07 AM, 4 June 2015   [link]


President Obama Believes Carbon Dioxide Emissions Pose A Threat To Humanity:  President Obama does not believe that he should reduce his carbon dioxide emissions, in order to set an example.

That is, by now, an old story, but Jim Treacher has come up another example, the visit of David Attenborough to the White House, for a "chat".

Attenborough found that "baffling", but if he were to go back far enough in his own country's history, he would find some enlightening precedents among the English monarchs.  Many believed that there was one set of rules for peasants, another set for nobles, and a third, very different, set for kings and queens.

For example, Henry VIII would agree that the rules for the peasants do not apply to the top man.  (Though Henry would wonder why Obama had not put more effort into producing a male heir.)
- 6:15 AM, 4 June 2015   [link]


And The Approval Leader Is President Bush:  No, no, not that President Bush, this one: George H. W. Bush.

Not by lot, in fact, almost within the common 3-point error margin, but it is still true that Bush 41 has the highest net approval rating of any living ex-president.  Here are the ratings, so you don't have to read that pdf file, if you don't want to: George H. W. Bush (64-30), Bill Clinton (64-34), Jimmy Carter (56-30), and George W. Bush (52-43).

What made this poll popular at Politico is that George W. Bush is now out-polling Barack Obama (49-49), though not by a lot.  On the other hand, it is also true that Bush 43 has been gaining, fairly steadily, on Obama.

Given the length of that trend, I am willing to predict that Bush will be leading Obama by 12-14 points in net approval, some time before the 2016 election.  I don't see that as certain, but I do think it the most likely outcome.

(As you probably would guess, the comments after that Politico article are, uh, spirited.)
- 3:48 PM, 3 June 2015   [link]


What Happens When Political Reporters Are Subjects Of News Stories?  They behave as badly as the politicians they cover.
The next time a journalist gripes about some newsmaker’s unwillingness to play ball with journalists, he or she might consider this: Journalists aren’t exactly an open book, either.

When they’re on the other side of a microphone or press pad, reporters can be as thin-skinned, controlling and paranoid as the people they cover.  And they can be as unforthcoming about themselves and their organizations as any other source.
Paul Farhi has covered journalists for years, so he is speaking from some experience.  My contacts with journalists have been far fewer, but I have come to similar conclusions.

(BTW, if you have a sense of mischief, and want to conduct a simple experiment, try this:  Find an article, column, or editorial that has a mistake in it, and send a polite email to the journalist who wrote it — with this twist:  Misspell the journalist's name, in a way that looks like a simple typo.  Odds are you will get a reply, complaining about the misspelled name — and ignoring what you said about the mistake.)
- 9:42 AM, 3 June 2015   [link]


It's A Trivial Problem, But It Was Bothering Me:  As I mentioned a week ago, I was entertaining myself by trying to guess the original English in a French translation of Calvin and Hobbes.

One of the phrases that bothered me was "(ouf ouf)".  Originally, that was "(pant pant)".  The translation is only approximate, perhaps because — and this is something I hadn't thought of until today — the translator had to find words that would fit into the original cartoon "bubble".

Another example:  In that strip, Calvin announces that he is home, is attacked by Hobbes, and the two fight.  In the final panel, Calvin pants, and then asks Hobbes: "Why do you always do that?"  ("Pouquoi tu me fais toujours ça?)

Hobbes replies: "Natural exuberance is one of those qualities that makes us tigers so darn endearing!"  ("L'exuberance naturelle est une des qualités qui font du tigre un animal si attachant!")

You don't have to know French to realize that the translator included "animal" and left out the "darn".  Those two changes made the words fit in the same six lines used in the original.

(I found the original version in The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, and it is probably in other collections, as well.)
- 3:19 PM, 2 June 2015   [link]


What American Jobs Are The Most Dangerous?  Alex Berezow has the latest numbers.
Loggers, fishermen, pilots/flight engineers, roofers, and (to my surprise) garbage collectors constituted the five most dangerous occupations in America.

Be thankful, therefore, to the good men and women who provide us wood and paper, tasty fish, fast transportation, and nice, clean homes.  Many have died providing us these basic comforts.
I was surprised by two of the five, pilots/flight engineers and garbage collectors.   Airplanes that carry large numbers of passengers are so safe that I didn't realize that the same was not true of smaller airplanes and helicopters.  Why collecting garbage is dangerous I'm not entirely sure, but it may have something to do with working in tight spaces around large machines.

Berezow is too much of a gentleman to mention this, but the vast majority — probably somewhere around 95 percent — of those dangerous jobs are held by men.  And I am old-fashioned enough to think that's the way it should be.
- 2:44 PM, 2 June 2015   [link]


One Of The Good Things About Being A Lone Blogger is that you can skip some news stories, no matter how much attention others may be paying to them.

So, unless there is some startling development, you are unlikely to see anything here about the sad case of the man, suffering from a mental illness, who is in the process of having himself surgically mutilated.   I am sorry for him — and even more sorry for the victims in his car accident — and beyond that there doesn't seem to be much to say.

Except, of course, that this attempted change ignores basic biology.

(If you are interested in the medical questions, you should look at Paul McHugh's op-ed in the June 2014 Wall Street Journal.  This search will get you past the pay wall.)
- 2:17 PM, 2 June 2015   [link]


A Temporary Majority Of One:  The Senate vote on renewal of the Patriot Act was blocked — for a few days — by a single senator, as the Senate rules allow.

John Hinderaker wonders what Rand Paul was trying to achieve by this delay, finally concluding:
Given those facts, it is hard to see Rand Paul’s temporary blocking of Patriot Act provisions as anything other than grandstanding, intended to fool those who are not familiar with the relevant legal principles.
There is another, somewhat cynical, reason that will occur to almost anyone who is familiar with his father's political career.  Ron Paul's political campaigns have often been partly money making operations.  The contributions that came in went to employ friends and members of his family.

I expect that this latest Rand Paul stunt will increase the contributions going to his campaign, and that some of that money will find its way back to his friends and family.

From the Paul family point of view, it's a nice combination of profit and principle.
- 7:59 AM, 1 June 2015   [link]