Archive:

March 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



So Much For The Clovis Theory:  John Wilford thinks that recent evidence from a Texas site finished it off.
For many years, scientists have thought that the first Americans came here from Asia 13,000 years ago, during the last ice age, probably by way of the Bering Strait.  They were known as the Clovis people, after the town in New Mexico where their finely wrought spear points were first discovered in 1929.

But in more recent years, archaeologists have found more and more traces of even earlier people with a less refined technology inhabiting North America and spreading as far south as Chile.

And now clinching evidence in the mystery of the early peopling of America — Clovis or pre-Clovis? — for nearly all scientists appears to have turned up at a creek valley in the hill country of what is today central Texas, 40 miles northwest of Austin.
At one time there was a fairly solid scientific consensus in favor of the Clovis theory — which should remind us that the truth of a scientific theory is not determined by a consensus but by the internal logic of the theory, and the evidence.  The internal logic of the Clovis theory was fine, but accumulated evidence has forced most archaeologists to abandon it.

(More at the Wikipedia article.

The date of the Texas site was determined by a new technique, optically stimulated luminescence.)
- 3:41 PM, 24 March 2011   [link]


Barack Obama Is Keeping his Peace Prize.

And why not?  It was a good joke when he received it; it's an even better joke now.  (Or, if you want to be more polite, it was an "aspirational" prize, given for what the committee hoped Obama would do, rather than what he had done.  And like most aspirational prizes, it failed.)

(Most recent Peace Prizes have been jokes, with the puzzling exception of the 2010 award to Chinese democracy activist Lu Xiaobo.)
- 9:16 AM, 24 March 2011   [link]


One Nation Is Fully Behind The "Limited Military Operation" In Libya:   Sweden.
Nine out ten Swedes support the UN-backed mission to stop Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi with a vast majority backing Swedish involvement in the military operation in the north African country.

Some 65 percent of Swedes supported sending Jas Gripen aircraft to bomb Libya, according to a Demoskop poll published in the Expressen daily.
How many Jas Gripen jets would they send?  Eight.

I suppose that what attracts the Swedes to this conflict is that there are absolutely no Swedish interests involved.
- 3:12 PM, 23 March 2011   [link]


The British Government Just Cut gas prices.
The Chancellor told the House of Commons that he had "put fuel into the tank of the British economy" as he announced that petrol duty would be reduced by 1p a litre from 6pm this evening.
If my quick calculations are correct, that's about 6 or 7 American cents per American gallon.  (Of course that cut won't make British gasoline cheap.)
- 2:55 PM, 23 March 2011   [link]


Radioactive Rodents In Yellowstone:  With all the attention being given to radiation fears, I thought this tidbit in Annals of the Former World might be of interest.

[geologist John] Love, who has made a subspecialty of the medical effects of geology, had other matters on his mind.  In public lectures and in meetings with United States senators, he had asked what consideration had been given to radioactive water from geothermal wells, which would be released into the Snake River through Henrys Fork and carried a thousand miles downstream.  After all, radioactive water was known from Crawfish Creek, Polecat Creek, and Huckleberry Hot Springs, not to mention the Pitchstone Plateau.  On the Pitchstone Plateau were colonies of radioactive plants, and radioactive animals that had eaten the plants: gophers, mice, and squirrels with so much radium in them that their bodies could be placed on photographic paper and they would take their own pictures.  A senator answered the question, saying, "No one has brought that up." (p. 417)

(At that time, they were considering building geothermal wells in the Yellowstone area.   Most were worried about what the wells would do to Old Faithful, but Love thought that there were more important risks.  You can locate the plateau here.)

Some fear radiation because they see it as unnatural, as something evil that man has created.   In fact, as this tidbit reminds us, there is nothing more natural, and sometimes entirely natural processes concentrate radiation into levels that might worry health experts.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Have there been any scientific studies of the effects of the radiation on these rodents?  I assume so, but didn't find any with a very casual net search.)
- 9:09 AM, 23 March 2011   [link]


Thanks, Lincoln:  Someone named "Lincoln" has just given me free access to the New York Times for the rest of this year.  I'm not sure just who.  Lincoln could be the car company, the name of a person, or a screen name picked by someone who shares my affection for our greatest president.  (Or, I suppose that "Lincoln" could be an account name at the Times, where they must be worrying about losing readers now that they have their limited pay wall.)

Thanks to whoever it was.
- 8:21 AM, 23 March 2011
Update:  I owe my thanks to the car company, according to Taranto, who has some amusing things to say about the paywall.
- 3:49 PM, 28 March 2011   [link]


Are We At War With Libya?  Not according to the Obama administration.
The administration's legal team appears to be distinguishing between a full war and a more limited military operation, on the theory that the Libyan intervention falls short of what would prompt any Congressional authority to control decisions about whether to initiate hostilities.Asked about Mr. Obama's 2007 statement, Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama's national security adviser, said Monday that the administration "welcomes the support of Congress in whatever form that they want to express that support."  But, Mr. Donilon added, Mr. Obama could authorize the operation on his own.

"This is a limited — in terms of scope, duration and task — operation, which does fall in the president's authorities," he said.
And the French prime minister agrees.
Opening the debate on French involvement in Libya, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon reiterated that the intervention was intended to stop attacks against Libyan civilians, and nothing more.

"We are not at war with Libya, we are protecting the civilian population," said Fillon and added, "Our objectives are very specific . . . to protect the civilian population, excluding explicitly any occupation forces."
So, officially, it's a "limited military operation", not a war, and it is being conducted in order to "stop attacks against Libyan civilians".  It may look like a war, but you should believe the president and the prime minister, not your lying eyes.

Still unclear:  Is one of the objectives of this "limited military operation" the removal of Colonel Qaddafi from office?  Perhaps it is an American foreign policy objective, without being an objective of this "limited military operation".  If you see an authoritative pronouncement on that question, let me know.

(Oh, and inquiring minds want to know:  If George W. Bush were still president, could he have started this "limited operation" without authorization from Congress?)
- 8:10 AM, 23 March 2011
Officially, or perhaps semi-officially, we are conducting "kinetic military action" in Libya.  Or perhaps it is a "limited kinetic military operation", where all the options are still on the table.  If that doesn't clear everything up, I don't know what will.
- 9:54 AM, 24 March 2011   [link]


The BBC Has A List of the weapons being used against Qaddafi, and the countries supplying them.

Belgium, for example, has sent six F-16s.   (Apparently, having a caretaker government does not prevent a country from taking military actions.   As you may recall, they had an election last June, but the Belgium parties have not been able to form a governing coalition.  Here's my guess as to why.)
- 6:24 AM, 23 March 2011   [link]


Should We Apologize To Shar-Peis?  When I see a dog that belongs to a breed that has been shaped and reshaped to make it please human tastes, I often feel a little embarrassed for the dog, and more than a little annoyed at the breeders who have created a dog that is so unlike a real dog.

I've always thought that Shar-Peis were one of the more extreme examples; now I have learned that dog breeders have actually made many of them chronically sick.
The gene mutation responsible for the wrinkled skin of Shar-Pei dogs is also linked to a periodic fever disorder, a finding that could have important implications for human health, researchers report.

Shar-Pei dogs have a high prevalence of a periodic fever disorder that is similar to inherited autoinflammatory periodic fever syndromes in humans.
Sick, but useful to researchers.

(Here's the research paper, if you are interested in such things.)
- 2:14 PM, 22 March 2011   [link]


Radiation Dose Chart:  From Randall Munroe, better known by the name of his comic strip, xkcd.

Print it, study it, and share it.  (If you want to share it on line, be sure to include his disclaimer.)  Those who can think quantitatively will find it reassuring; those who can not will find it puzzling, at best.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(And if, by some chance, you have missed his cartoons, you can see one of his best here.  I'd say that it's almost as good as the famous internet dog cartoon.)
- 10:47 AM, 22 March 2011   [link]


Forgive Me, Please, For Slipping Into Tom Friedman Mode:  Very briefly.  This article caused my slip.
Police in eastern China have jailed a man for 10 days and fined him 500 yuan ($76.13) for spreading rumors online that a blast at a quake-damaged Japanese nuclear plant had contaminated Chinese waters, state media said.
When I read that article I was reminded of all the nonsense on nuclear issues I have seen and heard from our "mainstream" journalists, especially in recent weeks, and, just for a second, had a Tom Friedman thought:  Maybe that Chinese dictatorship is doing something right.

But it was just for a second, and I am over it now.

(Our rumor-spreading journalists will probably get promotions, perhaps even prizes, for their work.)
- 9:49 AM, 22 March 2011   [link]


Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (6):  A reformer, a real reformer, is giving up.  Here's a little about his long fight against corruption.
When Roger and Tina Keats drive away from their Sheridan Road home in Wilmette for the last time in a few weeks and head for their new home in Texas, they will be leaving behind a formidable political legacy.

Keats, who served as the Republican state senator for much of the North Shore from 1978 to 1992, worked closely with Harold Washington to enact legislation that adopt judicial sub-circuits for Cook County and cleared the way for minorities and Republicans to hold judgeships.

The reform, fought by many Democrats, was an integral part of the cleanup of corruption in the Cook County court system that was uncovered by Operations Greylord and Gambat.
And here's the letter he sent to explain why he is leaving
As we leave Illinois for good, I wanted to say goodbye to my friends and wish all of you well.   I am a lifelong son of the heartland and proud of it.  After 60 years, I leave Illinois with a heavy heart.  BUT enough is enough!  The leaders of Illinois refuse to see we can't continue going in the direction we are and expect people who have options to stay here.  I remember when Illinois had 25 congressmen.  In 2012 we will have 18.  Compared to the rest of the country we have lost 1/4rd of our population.  Don't blame the weather, because I love 4 seasons.
. . .
We live in the most corrupt big city, in the most corrupt big county in the most corrupt state in America.  I am sick and tired of subsidizing crooks.  A day rarely passes without an article about the corruption and incompetence.  Chicago even got caught rigging the tests to hire police and fire!  Our Crook County CORPORATE property tax system is intentionally corrupt.  The Democrat State Chairman who is also the Speaker of the Illinois House and the most senior alderman in Chicago each make well over a million dollars a year putting the fix in for their client's tax assessments.
Barack Obama could have worked with people like Roger and Tina Keats to bring about much-needed reforms in Illinois — but chose not to.

(By way of the Washington Examiner.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of errors in their piece; Roger Keats was not elected Cook County Board President, though he ran for the office, and Illinois's population is declining relative to the rest of the United States, not absolutely.)
- 7:56 AM, 22 March 2011   [link]


Senator McCaskill Will Be Paying Some Back Taxes:  After making a couple of completely understandable mistakes.
Ah Senators, they're just like you and me!  Who among us hasn't forgotten to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on our private aircraft, after billing the government to use it 88 times?  But because McCaskill is getting folksy with her admission of wrongdoing -- she said the word 'damn,' so clearly she takes this matter very seriously -- all is forgiven, right?
This all came out because McCaskill, accidentally I am sure, billed the federal government for a political trip.  (She's already reimbursed the taxpayers for that little $88,000 mistake.)

McCaskill is a Democrat so her mistakes have gotten surprisingly favorable coverage.  Or, perhaps I should say, unsurprisingly favorable coverage.   (For example.)

At best, the mistakes show incompetence.  And surprising incompetence in someone who served as Missouri's state auditor.

(There may be another scandal or two to investigate in her family finances.  Her husband, Joe Shepard, owns "dozens" of "affordable-housing" companies.  Typically, that kind of housing is heavily subsidized, and there are many opportunities for abuse, as Obama's former friend and ally, Tony Rezko, could tell you.)
- 6:58 PM, 22 March 2011   [link]


Bomb Libya, Re-Elect Sarkozy?  It would be in "poor taste" to say that directly, so Jonathan Freedland says it indirectly.
It would surely be poor taste to accuse Nicolas Sarkozy of leading France into combat for purely selfish political reasons — but that won't stop some in the president's inner circle wondering if Operation Odyssey Dawn might just save the skin of a man who, a matter of days ago, seemed destined for electoral humiliation.  Ever so discreetly, they will be hoping Libya can do for Sarkozy what the Falklands did for Margaret Thatcher — anoint a successful war leader deserving of re-election.

"The French do like to have their president play world statesman," mused one diplomat in Paris last week, before France's Mirage and Rafale fighter planes had taken to the skies.  "A good crisis," he added, might be just what Sarkozy needs.
Freedland makes the accusation very skillfully, I must admit.

In American politics, international crises almost always cause a president's approval ratings to go up, temporarily.  (There's even a name for the phenomena, "rally round the flag".)  I wouldn't be surprised to find that the same is true of France.

That said, I also think that Sarkozy might well have acted as he has even it he didn't think it would help him in the upcoming election.
- 4:08 PM, 21 March 2011   [link]


Even With Barack Obama As Their Commander, I'm still betting on the Marines in this conflict.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Squirrels: too many times they are seen as cute, fuzzy, friendly animals that run around collecting acorns and playing tag with each other.   But to some, they are a menace with a penchant for car rubber and bird feeders.
This seems like a good opportunity for the Marines to work on their marksmanship, though not with their usual weapons.
- 12:47 PM, 21 March 2011   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ross Douthat on President Obama's liberal war.
In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention.  It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council.   It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton's State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates's Pentagon.  Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security.  And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.
And, as Douthat goes on to say, this war has almost no connection to US interests, as opposed to US values.  For many on the left, that is the key; it is all right for the US to go to war — as long as we don't gain anything from it, even more security.

(For the record, I have long thought that an American President should pursue both our interests and values — and that balancing the two when they conflict, as they often do, is often extraordinarily difficult.)
- 9:51 AM, 21 March 2011   [link]


Ralph Nader Is More Consistent Than Most Leftists:  He was in favor of impeaching George W. Bush; he's now in favor of impeaching Barack Obama.
Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader says that President Obama should be impeached for committing "war crimes" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am mostly consistent on this point; I think Nader is wrong on both presidents.  (I wonder whether he would say that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was guilty of far more "war crimes" than either Bush or Obama, should have been impeached?)

(More consistent, not completely consistent.  For some examples of Nader's inconsistencies, see the Nader chapter in Peter Schweizer's entertaining Do As I Say (Not As I Do).
- 8:49 AM, 21 March 2011   [link]


Even Gang Bangers Are Looking For Math Talent:  This morning, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna was interviewed by KUOW's Steve Scher.  The interview began with a speech by McKenna on the problem of gang violence.

The whole interview is worth listening to, but there was one detail that struck me.   McKenna was describing the recruitment efforts of gangs and quoted an anonymous teacher:

You know which kids they want to recruit?  The ones who are good at math.

So even gang bangers are looking for math talent.  And it isn't hard to understand why, since gangs have to keep books — often at least two sets — and calculate wages and profits, though probably not taxes.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

You can, as I write, listen to the whole interview here.  Start at about 11:20 to hear what McKenna has to say about recruitment.

(I've saved a copy of the MP3 file (WeekdayA20110318.mp3), so, if you really want to hear the interview and it's gone from KUOW, email me.)
- 2:37 PM, 18 March 2011   [link]


Are Wind Farms Dangerous To Whales?  That's what one study found, according to James Delingpole, who passed this information on to us with true British understatement.
So wind farms don't just despoil countryside, frighten horses, chop up birds, spontaneously combust, drive down property prices, madden those who live nearby with their subsonic humming, drive up electricity prices, promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), ruin views, buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character, require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage, destroy 3.7 real jobs for every fake "green" job they "create", blight neighbourhoods, kill off tourism and ruin lives, but they also

KILL WHALES!
In that last, dramatic, line, Delingpole had linked to a Telegraph piece making that connection.  Alas for those who like a little irony, that link is dead and the Telegraph is now running this cautious correction.
Prof Ian Boyd, of the University of St Andrews, said the construction of offshore renewable energy sites is likely to cause some species to move to other areas and to distrub their feeding and reproductive cycles.  At present it is not possible to predict precisely how this will affect their populations.
So offshore wind farms probably don't kill whales.  Probably.

(But we should also note that much of Delingpole's earlier indictment is accurate.)
- 1:33 PM, 18 March 2011   [link]


If You Want To Follow Events At The Fukushima Nuclear Plants, this MIT site would be a good place to start.
- 12:34 PM, 18 March 2011   [link]


False High Readings At The Damaged Reactors In Japan?  When looking for information for a blog post, I often follow a lot of trails without finding anything very interesting.  But sometimes a search leads me to something unexpected, and genuinely important.

Megan McArdle recommended this Derek Lowe post for its sensible advice on those potassium iodide pills:  If you live in the United States, don't take them.  Good advice, but nothing particularly novel though, as a chemist would be expected to do, Lowe adds some details that you won't see in most news articles.

But, down in the comments following the Lowe post, I found something that surprised me from "jdg", who identifies himself as a retired nuclear engineer.
If I lived downwind of of the Japanese reactors I would NOT be dosing with KI.  Why?  Because there has been no release of I-131 that matters and there probably won't be.

What we found at TMI was that the radioiodine and radiocesium chemically combined to form the solid cesium iodide.  This chemical dissolved in the water inside the containment where it stayed.   So instead of the iodine being a volatile gas, it became a harmless (outside the containment) compound.

The wildly varying radiation readings on the ground around the plant tell me that they're measuring noble gas emissions.  The isotopes of xenon and krypton.  The problem is, these isotopes being gases, they get INSIDE the instruments and cause false high readings.  The instruments are calibrated to measure radiation coming from outside the instrument.
(TMI = Three Mile Island.)

A quick glance at the Wikipedia article on Geiger counters persuaded me that his argument is plausible.  (Here's the article on noble gases if you need to brush up on that subject.)

(How high?  He doesn't say, but a factor of two, or even more, wouldn't surprise me — assuming he is right about the errors, and their cause.)

Some of the comments following his remind us of an important point; radiation comes in different forms and you need to protect yourself differently against, for example, alpha particles than against beta particles or gamma rays.
- 8:26 AM, 18 March 2011   [link]


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

And if you would like to go beyond the green beer, the pinches for those not wearing green, and the rivers dyed green, you may want to read this Wikipedia biography of the saint.  We know little about the man for certain, but what little we do know is fascinating.

(Republished from 2008, and if you still haven't read that article on St. Patrick, let me urge you to do so.)
- 3:01 PM, 17 March 2011   [link]


President Obama Is Against Bullying:  Unless his administration is doing the bullying.
President Obama's conference on bullying Thursday was deeply ironic to some in the White House press corps.  That's because every reporter who regularly covers the place knows that President Obama's staff has a policy — an actual, pre-conceived policy — of bullying.

It's a tactic that amount to no less than suppression of speech.  By the "openness" administration.

The White House bullies reporters to try to ensure favorable coverage.  When White House officials, particularly members of the press office, see a story they don't like, they often call and verbally abuse the reporter who wrote the piece.
Independent reporter Keith Koffler has worked for CongressDaily, National Journal magazine, and Roll Call, three very respectable news organizations, so I am inclined to believe what he says about the White House bullying.

Moreover, for years these kinds of bullying tactics have been common in Chicago, which is where Obama served his apprenticeship.  So it is not surprising to read that Obama and his team may have brought them to our capital.
- 1:31 PM, 17 March 2011   [link]


Elected Officials Shouldn't Get Death Threats:  One would like to think that we all could agree on that simple principle, if only because such death threats are attempts to reverse the results of elections.

But not everyone does, in practice, as leftist — he would say liberal — Lee Stranahan complains.
Why isn't the mainstream media talking about the death threats against Republican politicians in Wisconsin?

Try to set aside whatever biases or preconceptions you might have for a moment and ask yourself why death threats against politicians aren't considered national news, especially in the wake of the all too fresh shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other bystanders.  And there hasn't just been one death threat, but a number of them.
When our "mainstream" news organizations ignore these death threats, as almost all of them have, they are saying that death threats against elected Republicans are no big deal, are not news that even requires perfunctory coverage.

It would be wrong to say that our "mainstream" news organizations approve of these death threats — but they obviously don't disapprove of them strongly enough to say so.
- 12:01 PM, 17 March 2011   [link]


Can Small Amounts Of Radiation Be Beneficial?  Of course, and that's something that almost everyone should have learned when they were growing up.  Moderate amounts of sunshine are good for us, high amounts are bad for us.  (And right now, here in the Seattle area, we could really use a little more sunshine.)

But what about other kinds of radiation?  The subject is wildly controversial.  Almost every expert agrees that small amounts of dangerous chemicals can be beneficial, a phenomena called hormesis.  And you can be even more general:
The best known and virtually undisputed example of hormesis is physical exercise.   Complete lack of physical activity is associated with increased incidence of a variety of diseases.   Excessive exercise is also harmful.   Moderately intensive, regular exercise has many beneficial effects, including improved function of the cardiovascular and immune systems.  This relationship, characterized by positive effects at an intermediate dose of the stressor, is characteristic of hormesis.
Experimenters claim that the same is true of hundreds of chemicals, that they are beneficial in small or moderate amounts, bad for us in large amounts.  Again, you should be able to think of many examples from your own experience.

But is the same true for ionizing radiation, the kind that you could get from a failing nuclear power plant?  Ann Coulter thinks that it probably is.
This only seems counterintuitive because of media hysteria for the past 20 years trying to convince Americans that radiation at any dose is bad. There is, however, burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.

As The New York Times science section reported in 2001, an increasing number of scientists believe that at some level -- much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government -- radiation is good for you.  "They theorize," the Times said, that "these doses protect against cancer by activating cells' natural defense mechanisms."
For a somewhat more skeptical view of radiation hormesis, see this Wikipedia article.

My own, semi-informed opinion?  Probably small amounts of ionizing radiation are good for us, though I would like to see more studies, especially studies that explain how it helps us.
- 8:48 AM, 17 March 2011   [link]