March 2011, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Campaign Posters In Sweden Can Be Explicit: Even when the subject is Muhammad.
A Swedish court has ruled that depicting the prophet Muhammad naked together with his nine-year-old wife naked is legal, freeing a local politician on charges of racial agitation.(The politician is Carl P Herslow. He's the leader of the Skåne Party, which is not a big force in Swedish politics.)
If, like me, you can't resist searching for the poster that got Herslow in trouble, you'll see that it is, indeed, explicit.
But those who support freedom of speech have always known that we have to tolerate speech that is in poor taste, dishonest, and even, at times, evil, if we are to be true to our principle. (I put the poster in the first category.)
And so I applaud this court decision.
- 1:07 PM, 16 March 2011 [link]
Here's One Cure for our obesity problem.
Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.If you look at pictures of crowds during the Great Depression, you'll see just how effective that solution can be. Obesity was much rarer then, especially among the poor.
Not many politicians will favor this solution for obesity — openly — but some will back it privately, and will look for ways to raise food prices, especially on bad foods. For example, Washington's legislature raised taxes on soft drinks during the last session. (They were reversed by Initiative 1107. Outsiders might think that Washington state's habit of electing representatives who favor higher taxes &mdash and then voting against those taxes in initiatives is just a little schizophrenic.)
(For the record: On the whole I think that our cheap food has been a great blessing, but I recognize that it is a mixed blessing.)
- 9:04 AM, 16 March 2011 [link]
And Everything Is For The Best In This Best Of All Possible Worlds: When Voltaire said that, he was being sarcastic. But I fear that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is being serious when she says much the same thing about ObamaCare. Politico headlined her piece, "Everyone prospers under health law", and I suspected that the headline writer was, as headline writers sometimes do, exaggerating.
But I have read her piece carefully, and have decided that's a fair headline. For example:
Just 12 months after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law, the American people are enjoying new protections, greater freedoms and lower costs.Greater freedoms? Two federal judges have found it unconstitutional, in whole or part, because of the individual mandates.
Lower costs? Has she heard about the premium increases all around the country, many of them triggered by the law?
Free diagnostic tests under Medicare? Are we to believe that the doctors, nurses, and technicians are working without pay when they do these tests?
When he was arguing for ObamaCare, President Obama again and again asked us to believe impossible things before breakfast, to believe, for instance, that we could extend coverage to millions while saving money overall. Sebelius is following in her boss's footsteps.
When they expect us to believe these absurdities, they insult our intelligence.
- 4:37 PM, 15 March 2011 [link]
President Obama Might Be Just A Little out of touch.
"You may want to buy a fuel-efficient car," quoth Obama, "but you may not be able to afford it. And so you're stuck with the old clunker that's getting 8 or 10 miles a gallon."As usual, imagine the reaction if President Bush had said the same thing.
- 12:59 PM, 15 March 2011 [link]
Radiation From Japan Or Vampires? During the past few days, our local TV stations have been telling us that we probably don't have to worry about radiation from the damaged Japanese reactors. We have even been treated to official statements from the state's department of health, though the stories I have seen have not quoted their blunt conclusion:
But, at least while I have been watching, our local TV stations have been neglecting a much closer danger, the vampires in Forks, Washington.
(Are you sure there are there no vampires in Forks? Then you just haven't been using the Internet effectively. A search with Bing on "Forks + vampires" gets almost 3 million hits.)
And, as anyone who can do grade school arithmetic and who passed junior high science can figure out, those vampires are almost as big a danger to us as radiation from the Japanese reactors. So it is time for our local TV stations to tell us how to prepare for possible attacks from vampires. Should we be stockpiling garlic, wooden stakes, and silver bullets, as well as iodine pills?
In refusing to tell us how to prepare for vampires, our local TV stations are neglecting their clear public duty.
And, though it pains me to mention this, they are also neglecting some of the better-known sources of danger from radiation. They should be telling radiologists that it is time for them to close up shop, they should be warning people not to fly (sorry about that, Boeing), they should be urging the immediate evacuation of Denver and other high altitude cities (visitors to the higher parts of Mt. Rainier might be required to wear shielding), they should be calling for the closing of some public buildings (especially those built with granite), and, of course, they should be urging us not to eat foods high in potassium, like bananas.
After they have done those things, they can return to smaller problems, like the possibility that radiation from Japan is endangering the Pacific Northwest.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 9:30 AM, 15 March 2011 [link]
Are They Trying To Get Our Troops Killed? That was my instant reaction to the news that a Military Leadership Diversity Commission had found that women and minorities are under-represented in the top ranks of our military.
And so they, naturally, recommended more quotas for promotion, and more women in combat. (Oh, they didn't call them quotas, but we know what they mean — and so does every politically savvy officer. They want more women in combat because combat is almost required for promotion to the highest levels; in other words, they want more women to die in order that a few more women can become generals and admirals.)
Michael Walsh thinks this is crazy.
Just when you think that our govern ment can't get any sillier, along comes something like the Military Leadership Diversity Commission -- and let's face it, up to now you didn't even realize such a thing existed -- to crush your hopes that any sensible people are left in Washington, DC.And so do I.
For a very simple reason. For our forces to be the most effective, to be the best at killing people and breaking things while protecting Americans and our property, we need the best officers. And there is no reason to think that we will get them if officers are chosen, not by their performance, but by their race, ethnicity, and sex.
As they probably already are being chosen, to some extent, under Obama's leadership.
And in the future, those officers are going to get some of our troops killed.
(The commission was another gift from the Pelosi-Reid Congress, as you may already have guessed.)
- 8:37 AM, 15 March 2011 [link]
Snake Bites Model, Snake Dies: And the reason the article gives for the snake's death is too good to check. But I do kind of hope that it is true.
- 6:42 AM, 15 March 2011 [link]
The Complete Idiot's Guide To String Theory: You don't have to know much about string theory to realize that's not a promising title.
String theory is about the most difficult subject I have ever tried to understand. And I won't claim that I have had any success.
So when I saw that title in the Hamilton catalog, I had to learn something about the book. And somewhat to my surprise, the reviewers at Amazon mostly like it.
Maybe I'll have to get a copy. I suppose that I can conceal the title with a book jacket, if I take it out in public.
- 6:31 PM, 14 March 2011 [link]
The Earthquake Brought Japan And The US Closer Together: Literally.
The magnitude-8.9 earthquake that struck northern Japan on Friday not only violently shook the ground and generated a devastating tsunami, it also moved the coastline and changed the balance of the planet.
- 1:46 PM, 14 March 2011 [link]
Are Diesel Generators Reliable? I would have thought so. But they haven't been in those Japanese nuclear plants. And I have yet to see an explanation for the failures.
Let's review: When the earthquake hit, parts of the Japanese power grid went down, and some nuclear power plants shut down, just as they are designed to do. (The plants draw power for their cooling pumps from the grid, rather than from the plants themselves, by design.)
The back-up diesel power generators worked for a time, and then failed in three of the plants. The back-up, back-up batteries worked for a while, but eventually ran out. The operators tried to bring in new diesel generators, but were unable to find generators that would work with their systems. Which is not terribly surprising, since, most likely, the generators they need can not be bought off the shelf at Home Depot. (Fans of connector conspiracies will not be surprised that some have claimed that the new generators were plug incompatible.)
So it was the failure of those diesel generators that changed this from an emergency to a financial disaster. But so far I haven't seen any explanations, not even speculative explanations, for their failures.
- 12:49 PM, 14 March 2011
According to this post, the diesel generators were knocked out by the tsunami.
This situation continued for one hour until the plant was hit by the tsunami wave, which stopped the generators and left the plant in black-out conditions.That makes sense. And that explains why diesel generators failed at some plants, and not others.
- 1:35 PM, 14 March 2011 [link]
NPR's Problem Is Personal, Not Political: So says George Will.
[Jake] TAPPER: George, very quickly.If you listen to the video, you will hear the others chuckling at Will's line. They don't rush to deny what he said, that the people at NPR do not like conservatives. Which is just as well, because what he said is true. (Significantly, they tend to dislike conservatives who happen to be women or blacks even more than they dislike white male conservatives like George Will.)
And that explains much of what is wrong with NPR, and our politics generally. Too often we are making decisions, not on what is best for the nation or the world, but on who we like and, even more, who we dislike.
This tribal politics is natural, about as natural as politics can be. But it is also, quite often, destructive. We line up on one side or another, because of who we dislike, without even bothering to study an issue.
Tribal politics often leads us to absurd positions. For example, the Seattle Times editorial board has been arguing for a "reset" in our state, by which they mean — but do not say — following the prudent budget policies our state's Republicans have been pushing for years. But the Times often endorses the very Democrats who have caused the problems because, for cultural reasons (especially abortion), the editorial board just doesn't like many Republicans.
(Please note that I did not say — and do not believe — that this tribal politics is found only on one side. But I do think that it is more of a problem on the left, because so many of our journalists are infected by it.)
- 10:17 AM, 14 March 2011 [link]
Negotiating In Bad Faith: That, according to Stephen Hayes and John McCormack, is what the Democratic legislators were doing in Wisconsin.
At a press conference that afternoon, a reporter asked Walker about a letter to him from senate minority leader Mark Miller. Walker had not received the letter—it was released to the media before it was delivered to his office. Miller offered two choices he knew would be rejected and said that if Walker did not meet his demands it would be clear the governor wanted to "keep lines of communications closed."(Mark Miller is, to the best of my knowledge, no relation.)
Governor Walker reached out, again and again, to the Democratic legislators, and more than once thought he had reached an agreement that would bring some or all of them back. It would be interesting to know what kind of pressure was put on the moderate Democrats to keep them in line, and what part, if any, the Obama administration played.
Their union allies were also negotiating in bad faith:
The unions quickly conceded the first of these two points—at least rhetorically. Union leaders and their allies in the state legislature claimed that public employees would gladly contribute more to their pensions and health care premiums—the 5.8 percent of their salaries on the former and 12.6 percent of the premiums on the latter requested by the governor—if they were allowed to keep all of their collective bargaining rights.The Wisconsin Democrats wanted an issue, not an agreement, as did their union allies.
- 9:22 AM, 14 March 2011 [link]
Fashion Tips For Suicide Bombers? Or, to be more precise, for their widows-to-be?
Al-Qaeda has launched a women's magazine that mixes beauty and fashion tips with advice on suicide bombings.I don't think this magazine is a hoax, but offer no guarantees
- 8:43 AM, 14 March 2011 [link]
Before And After In Japan: The New York Times has eight before-and-after satellite photos, showing the destruction in the area hit by the tsunami, with sliders to help you make the comparisons.
By way of Ann Althouse, who is pretty darn busy these days.
- 4:25 PM, 13 March 2011 [link]
The Risks To The Public From Those Damaged Nuclear Reactors In Japan Are Low: This morning, our local ABC affiliate reassured us that people in the Seattle area were in little danger from the damaged reactors, even though we are down wind from them. A few thousand miles, they told us, would be enough protection.
If you have gotten tired of this kind of nonsense, you will want to read this interview with MIT Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering Ronald Ballinger.
Radiation spiked at 1,015 microsievert per hour before the explosion. Is that dangerous?Here's Professor Ballinger's summary: "It might be a financial disaster, but no member of the public has been hurt, and I doubt anybody will be." And that's in Japan. So those of us in the Pacific Northwest can stop worrying about how those reactors might hurt us.
(Here's Ballinger's faculty page.)
- 7:33 AM, 13 March 2011 [link]
What Caused That 8.9 Earthquake Off Japan? North America wouldn't get out of the way of the Pacific Plate.
Yes, odd as it sounds, northern Japan is on the North American Plate. (Along with a big chunk of Siberia.)
- 2:23 PM, 11 March 2011 [link]
Crescent City Did Get Hit By The Tsunami: Ever since my visit there in 2007, I have been wondering if the small California coastal city would be struck by another tsunami.
It was struck, and the damage was extensive, though nothing like the damage from the 1964 tsunami.
Officials in Crescent City are reporting damage after tsunami waves began hitting the harbor this morning.It sounds as if the city was well-prepared. (Though I am still wondering what happened to those condos (apartments?) I saw right on the ocean.
(Oddly, the waves did little, if any, damage any where along the the Washington state coast, why I'm not sure. One of the experts I saw this morning said that we have to fear tsunamis originating in Alaska more than tsunamis originating in Japan. Again, I have no idea why he thinks that.)
- 1:31 PM, 11 March 2011 [link]
Barry From Brussels? Daniel Hannan says that President Obama wants to "Europeanize" the United States — and that that would be a very bad thing.
The will of the people is generally seen by Eurocrats as an obstacle to overcome, not a reason to change direction. When France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted against the European Constitution, the referendum results were swatted aside and the document adopted regardless. For, in Brussels, the ruling doctrine—that the nation-state must be transcended—is seen as more important than freedom, democracy or the rule of law.A very bad thing if, that is, you believe in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
- 10:26 AM, 11 March 2011 [link]
USGS Info On The 8.9 Magnitude Japanese Earthquake: Here.
They note that it was preceded by "a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days". (You can see their locations if you click on the earthquake map underneath the "Overseas" heading on the left side.)
- 5:50 AM, 11 March 2011
More: One of the experts I saw on television this morning noted that the point locations of earthquakes, whether they are dots, or squares, or asterisks, or whatever, that you see on so many maps, are misleading. This earthquake, for example, occurred along a fault for about 300 to 500 kilometers. So a more accurate way to picture it would be line along the fault, rather than a square at the epicenter.
- 9:59 AM, 11 March 2011 [link]
What Was In The Bill Passed By The Wisconsin Senate Last Night? I have been searching news sites this morning — and finding plenty of coverage — but no clear explanation of what the bill would do. (According to Jim Lindgren, the text of the bill is here, but I can't decode 138 pages of legalese in any reasonable amount of time.)
The best short explanation I've found is in this American Spectator article.
If passed, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's emergency budget will allow workers to opt out of joining a union and still keep their jobs. It would allow workers to vote every year on whether they want to keep their union. And it would take away the unions' ability to automatically deduct dues from workers' paychecks. All of these threaten organized labor's power by giving workers more choice.If we were to try summarize that in a single sentence, we might come up with something like this: Individual workers will have more freedom; public service unions will have less power. And we could, if we wanted to, describe those changes as gains in worker rights. For example, you could say that workers will now have the right to decide whether they want to be represented by a union, and will be able to vote on that every year, if they want to.
Is that summary accurate? Those who can read and understand that legalese could tell us, but our reporters don't seem interested in asking them, so far.
I am inclined to think that it is reasonably accurate, but make no promises.
(Governor Scott Walker has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, but he doesn't explain the bill either. Even so, his op-ed is worth reading, if you want to understand his thinking.)
- 10:48 AM, 10 March 2011 [link]
NBC's Andrea Mitchell Needs To Get Out More Often: That might keep her from saying things as funny — and as obviously false — as this:
And what's gotten lost in this, is the fact that National Public Radio journalists are in, in war zones all over the world, particularly in the Middle East. That nobody is suggesting that their journalism has been at all biased.Nobody?
Perhaps nobody in her circle, which is why I think she ought to get out more often.
(Even NPR has admited that some think they are biased.)
- 6:30 AM, 10 March 2011 [link]
The $200 Tablet Computer: It's a modified Barnes & Noble Nook.
Here's a description of the modification. You should study this warning, if you are even thinking about doing it:
Before you start the process, you should keep in mind that rooting the Nook Color very likely voids the warranty. When you make after-market modifications to the embedded software on a consumer electronics device, there are always risks. In this case, there is a possibility that you could brick the device. Rooting also exposes the user to greater risk of potential security issues.For some time, I have been vaguely wondering why tablet computers cost so much, since they are inherently simpler than, say, netbooks. That Barnes & Noble could sell theirs so cheaply — though they may have been selling it as a loss leader — suggests that those high prices won't last.
- 3:15 PM, 9 March 2011 [link]
Obama's Decision To Keep Guantánamo Open? It's Bush's fault. (Oh, and it's the fault of the Congress, too.)
If, that is, you are on the New York Times editorial board.
The prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has long been the embodiment of Bush-era arrogance and lawlessness, and Barack Obama raised the hopes of millions around the world in 2008 when he campaigned on the promise of closing it. On Monday, that promise crumbled, the victim of Congressional spinelessness and President Obama's inability to create political support for a way out of the moral quagmire created by his predecessor.They don't let off Obama entirely, but they do absolve him of most responsibility for his executive decision. (Will they next blame Bush for Michelle Obama's clothes choices? Don't bet against that happening.)
And, as they have for years, they ignore the reasons prisoners of war are almost all kept until the end of the war. Here, I'll spell it out for them: Prisoners of war are usually kept until the end of the conflict so they don't go back to killing soldiers, and, with this bunch, civilians.
This refusal to recognize reality would be annoying in high school paper. In our newspaper of record, it strikes me as, depending on my mood, hilarious, outrageous, or, usually, both.
- 12:45 PM, 9 March 2011 [link]
"Is Obama A War Criminal Yet?" The Washington Times has a good question.
President Obama quietly signed an executive order on Monday instituting a system for indefinitely holding terrorist detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba. The administration also announced that terrorist trials by military commission would recommence. This is a win for U.S. security, but the country has paid a heavy price for Mr. Obama's on-the-job training in counterterrorism.The Washington Times doesn't think he is — but they do think he owes President Bush an apology.
- 10:47 AM, 9 March 2011 [link]
It Must Be Because She Was Too Conservative: NPR President Vivian Schiller is out.
Earlier this week, she gave a possible reason for her firing.
"So, certainly we do get criticized about all manner of things," said Schiller. "In terms of the liberal, and I will tell you that it maybe doesn't get as much attention, but we get a tremendous amount of criticism for being too conservative as well. I wish that those folks could be in our editorial meetings and see what goes on and the care that our reporters and our journalists and other editors take to get it right.And those leftist critics finally got her.
Okay, now back to being serious.
Schiller was, most likely, exaggerating the extent of the criticism they receive for being "too conservative", exaggerating but not inventing the complaints completely. You can find — however hard this may be for some naive conservatives to believe — leftists who think that that PBS is too conservative. (And from their point of view, it probably is.) But the argument that Schiller was making is fallacious.
It's worth taking a bit of time over it, because it is a favorite argument of "mainstream" journalists. They often seem to believe that, if they can show that they are being criticized by both sides, they must be in the fair-and-balanced middle. This is wrong for PBS because their audience is, as polls have shown, significantly to the left of the American public.
But that's a small point. Quite often, one side or the other is wrong, and to be in the middle means that the story is at least half wrong. (There's probably a Latin phrase that describes this particular appeal-to-the-middle fallacy, but I can't think of one off hand.)
For example, in this area we often see accusations of police misconduct in our newspapers and on our local TV news programs. As far as I can tell, most of those accusations are false. But some are not. So the in-the-middle stories that we see so often, with accusations from a defendant's lawyer, and defenses from a police union, are, usually, partly wrong. (There are incidents where there was fault on both sides, but I doubt that the majority fall in that category.)
Don't get me wrong; I would prefer to hear from both sides in a dispute. (And a disturbingly large number of TV and radio stories in this area don't bother with that elementary requirement.) But that is not enough, by itself, to show fairness, or accuracy, in spite of what Schiller, and many other "mainstream" journalists, appear to believe.
(Occasionally, the left and the right criticize "mainstream" journalists — and both are correct. For example, "mainstream" journalists often described Angela Davis as an "activist", though she called hersel a "communist". Conservatives thought the journalists were concealing her radicalism — and those on the far left often agreed.)
- 9:55 AM, 9 March 2011 [link]
Scientists Are Unwelcome On Juries: That's what scientist Alex Berezow concluded after his brief experience in a Washington state court.
When I received my jury summons in the mail, I had the same reaction most Americans must: "No! Why me, and why now?" I resolved to do whatever it took to get out of this legally mandated fiasco as soon as possible.Or even people with scientific attitudes. Berezow was the first juror rejected. I was the second juror rejected in a minor criminal case in another Washington state court, just after the police officer.
To be more precise, scientists and people with scientific attitudes will be unwelcome for one of the sides in the trial. The defense probably would have liked to have Berezow on the jury; the prosecutor probably would have liked to have me on the jury in that car prowl case.
(My experience strengthened my belief that American courts allow too many peremptory challenges, too many opportunities for lawyers to win cases by selecting the right jury.)
- 7:39 AM, 9 March 2011 [link]