Archive:

March 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



What Would Cezar Chavez Have Wanted Google To Do On Easter?  Honor him, as Google did, or honor Easter?

We can't ask Chavez, but given the importance of his Catholic faith in his life and work, I think it nearly certain that he would have preferred that they honor Easter.

Google often avoids noting religious and patriotic holidays.
- 7:19 PM, 31 March 2013   [link]


Andrew Malcolm Recycles his Vietnamese refugees/Easter Bunny story.

And why not.  It's a story worth re-telling.  I wouldn't even mind if he repeats it next Easter.
- 7:01 PM, 31 March 2013   [link]


Happy Easter!  To all those who celebrate it today.

Easter flowers, 2008

And to all those who will celebrate it in May.
- 7:26 AM, 31 March 2013   [link]


Ordinarily, I Wouldn't Put Up A Post On The Doings Of Princesses Sasha And Malia:  But I get annoyed by this heavy-handed news management.  The little story on their trip to Sun Valley, which I saw before it was pulled down, was harmless.

And there is news interest in this contrast:
Meanwhile, the White House remains closed to the public, as the Secret Service is said to lack the funds necessary to keep the building open to all.
President Obama keeps telling us that the rich should share more — but he doesn't seem to think that applies to himself and his family.
- 2:40 PM, 30 March 2013   [link]


Supertasters And De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum:  About 1 in 4 people are "supertasters".
What is harshly bitter to some 25% of the world—often classified as "supertasters"—is barely bitter to about another third.  The rest of us fall somewhere in between.   Such stark differences in how we perceive taste are programmed into our DNA.

Supertasters in general get everything more intense," says Linda Bartoshuk, a professor with the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste and a pioneer in the study of supertasting.  "When you put it all together we say that supertasters live in a neon food world compared to the pastel food world" everyone else lives in, she says.
So differences in taste are not only a matter of individual likes and dislikes (and so not disputable), but partly a matter of real, physical differences among people.

There's much more in the article about the advantages — and disadvantages — of being a supertaster, but the reporter doesn't note the irony of this point:  "A relatively high proportion of professional chefs are supertasters", Dr. Bartoshuk says.

Irony?  Sure.  Those chefs judge what tastes good mostly by their own taste buds — which give the chefs rather different experiences than what most of their customers get from the same food.
- 2:20 PM, 30 March 2013   [link]


Competing Front Pages:  Today, for Matt Drudge, the big story is the threats of war from North Korea.

Today, the New York Times has nothing on the front page about North Korea except a picture of a B-2 and a pointer to a story in the International section about the practice B-2 sortie to South Korea.

So, depending on your point of view, the threats from North Korea are extremely serious, or a matter of little importance.

(The Wall Street Journal made the B-2 flight their lead story.  The Seattle Times didn't mention it on their front page, but did carry the New York Times story inside the paper.)

Who's right?  I wish I knew, but I don't, and I am not sure anyone outside the ruling family in North Korea does.

Inside the Journal, there was another, speculative article in which various experts said they thought Kim Jong-un was consolidating his power, and was making threats for the same reason his father did, in order to get concessions on food aid, and other practical matters.

Unfortunately, it is easy to believe that he might miscalculate, especially with President Obama in the White House, Chuck Hagel at Defense, and John Kerry at State.   These are not names that would frighten most of our enemies.

(Kim's name can be spelled in English in a number of ways.  I'm using the New York Times version, as I generally do for names with variants in English.)
- 1:31 PM, 29 March 2013   [link]


The Land In Puget Sound Is Falling Apart:  It was covered by immense glaciers during the last Ice Age.  They left behind them hundreds of feet of glacial till, which is not inherently stable.

Worse yet, the top layer in this area is often harder and and more compacted than the till beneath it, so you tend to get sudden landslides, rather than gradual erosion.

For example:
How massive was the landslide Wednesday that took down a chunk of a beach cliff on the west side of Whidbey Island?

Enough to fill a football field 90 feet high with dirt.
The landslide is still moving, though more slowly.

Despite these known dangers, people still build at the tops of these unstable bluffs — and beneath them.  On the top, you have wonderful views; on the bottom, you have your own stretch of beach.  All very nice, but I wouldn't live in either place.

Some of these areas are so dangerous that, according to the article, insurance companies won't sell you landslide insurance.

(I suppose that you could find some insurance company to sell you such insurance if you looked hard enough, but the premiums might be prohibitive.)
- 9:58 AM, 29 March 2013   [link]


Religious Tolerance Isn't Just A Good Idea, It's The Law:   Eleven days ago, I argued that our "mainstream" news organizations might be violating the spirit of our civil rights laws by discriminating against those with traditional religious beliefs.  (And perhaps the letter, too.  I am not civil rights lawyer, not even a lawyer, so I won't opine about that, except in the clearest cases.)

Two days ago, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass pleaded with his fellow journalists to be more tolerant of those with traditional religious beliefs on gay marriage.
No one with half a brain wants to be thought of as a bigot. But that's what I and others risk as members of a distinct and irritating minority — as traditional Christians in journalism.

It is a world of language and political symbolism, a world where ideas are often framed so that they may lead to inexorable conclusions favored by the dominant culture.  In this media world, I sometimes wonder whether the word "sin" has been outlawed by the high priests of journalism for fear of offending one group or another.  And I'd rather not ask.

Now that the debate has been framed, if I hold to my faith and resist applauding the changes, I'm easily cast as some drooling white cartoon bigot of the Jim Crow era, denying black Americans the right to sit at a lunch counter and have a meal with the white folks.
So Kass agrees with me that people with traditional Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) beliefs may face intolerance in our "mainstream" news organizations.  But he doesn't add — perhaps to avoid annoying his employer — that such intolerance can be illegal, as well as unpleasant.

(For the record:  My own, relatively weak, objections to gay marriage are scientific, rather than religious.  I suppose that I should explain them some time, but my argument does not fit into a brief post.)
- 8:37 AM, 29 March 2013   [link]


The 98 Percent Super-Zoom Solution:  By now, I had fully expected that I would have bought a digital SLR.  I have owned a couple of SLRs and loved them for the quality of their photos, their ease of composition , and their power.  (In fact, I am still in love with my first, an Olympus OM-1).

But while waiting for the prices to come down, and the technology to stop changing quite so quickly, I decided to purchase a cheaper digital camera.  I began with a simple point-and-shoot, moved to an Olympus super-zoom, the C-765, and then for better performance to a Panasonic FZ8.

The latter is a good enough camera so that I have kept putting off the purchase of a DSLR, and am now thinking that I may not get one after all.

The FZ8 takes almost as good pictures as a DSLR would in about 98 percent of the shots that I take.  And it is much lighter than a DSLR with a set of lenses that would allow me to take the same pictures, so much lighter that it is quite comfortable to carry in a simple shoulder bag.  (It has 12X zoom lens, the equivalent in a 35 mm cameras to 36-432 mm.)  To get the same range in a DSLR, you would need at least two zoom lenses, both rather heavy and bulky, or one very large, heavy, and expensive zoom.

It doesn't focus instantly, but it focuses fast enough for almost all the pictures that I take.

The menu system is a good compromise between power and ease of use.  The automatic setting is fine for about 80 percent of my shots, and you can get most of the rest using the appropriate "scene" setting.  If, for example, you are shooting a picture of a sunset, you can almost always get a good picture by setting the camera to "scene" and choosing "sunset".

It is good enough so that if I were buying a replacement, I would probably start by looking at Panasonic's current cameras in the same line, specifically the FZ60 and the FZ200.  But there are many other possibilities.

In the last few years, I have also been considering the new Mirror-less system cameras (which some people, perhaps to be humorous, like to call EVIL cameras, but that technology shows no sign of settling down.

That's a bit of a problem for now because, if you get one of these cameras, you are almost certainly going to want to get several lenses to go with it — and it is not at all certain which camera lines will be the most popular, and have the best and cheapest lenses available.

(The FZ8 and the FZ200 can both save pictures in a "raw" mode; the FZ60 can not.   What that means is that both can give you the "raw" data from the sensors, before it is processed into a jpeg photo.  Occasionally, that allows you to take and create photos that you could not get otherwise.  And, if you like fooling around with Photoshop, or similar programs, it can be great fun to play with the raw pictures.

When I was last looking at super-zooms, I found that the quality of the electronic viewfinders varied considerably.  That may not matter to you if you plan to compose with the LCD screen, but will if you plan to use it like an SLR.)
- 4:39 PM, 28 March 2013   [link]


Charges Of Racism!  Corruption!  Special Interest Privileges!  Where?  Here in clean, green, "progressive" Washington state.

At this point you may be wondering why you haven't heard about this scandal, even if you don't live in Washington state.  It is just possible that it hasn't gotten much coverage because the scandal occurred on a local Indian reservation, and the people charging racism are non-Indians.  (Or at least not full-blooded Indians.  One of the things I learned from the article is that some distinguish between people who are "F.B.I" — which does not mean Federal Bureau of Investigation, in this context — and others.)
There's no sign that marks the Sauk-Suiattle reservation.  Indeed, driving on State Route 530 in the foothills of the northern Cascades, you could miss the tiny enclave in a blink of an eye.  Essentially, it's one looping road, home to less than 100 people.

Yet, the reservation, which despite its small size boasts a multi-million budget, has been the site of an intense drama over the last couple of years.  It kicked off with the sudden firing of 11 staffers--allegedly a purge aimed at non-Indians.
There's much more in the article, enough so that you can come to your own conclusion, however tentative, about the charges.  Naturally, there are lawsuits, but because of "sovereign immunity", they have less chance in court than they would outside the reservation.

(The link to the full article in the summary doesn't work, but you can find the full article here. This is, of course, just another example for my argument about the inevitability of tribalism.)
- 1:47 PM, 28 March 2013   [link]


Our Superb Freight Railroads Are Getting Even Better:   That's the message of this positive Wall Street Journal article.
Welcome to the revival of the Railroad Age.  North America's major freight railroads are in the midst of a building boom unlike anything since the industry's Gilded Age heyday in the 19th century—this year pouring $14 billion into rail yards, refueling stations, additional track.  With enhanced speed and efficiency, rail is fast becoming a dominant player in the nation's commercial transport system and a vital cog in its economic recovery.
That capital expenditure is up from less than $6 billion a decade ago.

And how has the government helped these infrastructure improvements?  By leaving the freight railroads alone.  The article does not mention a single thing the federal or state governments did to help (or hurt) the railroads.

But picky customers did help the railroads.  For example, pressure from UPS helped the railroads become more reliable, though trucking companies still have an advantage there.

(I'm not sure whether the article is behind their pay wall, since I got to it using a Google News search.

The article also provides evidence, should you need some, that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not in the interests of Warren Buffett.)
- 8:43 AM, 28 March 2013   [link]


Is Amanda Knox Innocent?  Almost certainly, says Edward Jay Epstein.
As I show in The Annals of Unsolved Crime, there was not a scintilla of evidence that placed her at the murder scene.  Nor was there a witness.  The case proceeded from a wild theory of prosecutor Giuliano Mignini that she was a "she devil."  The same prosecutor had previously made a fool of himself in the so-called "Monster of Florence" case by blaming a non-existent satanic cult for the suicide of a Perugian doctor, and was now trying to redeem himself by spinning another Satanic cult crime.
But you will have to buy Epstein's latest book, to get his full argument.

(I was skeptical from the beginning about the prosecutor's theory, simply for statistical reasons.  If a young woman has been murdered, the murderer is usually a young man.   The murderer is much less likely to be a woman, or a group of people.  So I think that any investigator should begin his investigation by looking at the young men in the woman's vicinity.)
- 7:56 AM, 28 March 2013   [link]


Will The ObamaCare Insurance Exchanges Be Ready By 1 October?  Probably not, say Megan McArdle, who had years of software experience before she went over to the dark side and became a journalist.
There have been rumblings for a while about the possibility that the exchanges might not be ready in time to open on October 1st.  That's the date when the law says that they're supposed to be up and running, so that everyone can buy the insurance that they'll be legally required to have on January 1st, 2014.

I've been skeptical for a while.  It's a long time since I used to work on big IT installations, and maybe things have changed a lot.  But in my day (the late 1990s), I would have said there was no way that you could, starting in mid-February, get this kind of system up in time.  And mid-February was the deadline that HHS gave to the states to declare whether or not they would run their own exchange; until then, the government couldn't be sure how many it would be running in the states that declined.
And John Capron, who has "35 years of IT experience".
Wow, what can go wrong here?  Let me assess this based on my years of experience in this industry.  The federal government is going to build 50 exchanges, using a data hub that doesn’t exist physically and in fact, the design hasn’t been solidified, and must be accessible to a variety of data processing technologies that range from archaic to old.

Each of the 50 states have different eligibility rules, and with a significant number of states opting out, the federal government now has to learn the intricacies of each state’s Medicaid eligibility models which then scale to different applicability rules for different members of a given family.  The thousands of pages of bureaucratic rules that will drive requirements haven’t been completed yet, and those requirements are needed to drive design not only for the application programs, but for the entire processing architecture.  The issue of network, processor, and storage performance has to be decided, modeled and tested.
My software experience is not as recent as McArdle's or as extensive as John Capron's, but it looks impossible to me, too.  It would be impossible, even if it weren't a government project, and it is triply impossible because of that.  (Yes, I know.   Strictly speaking something is impossible, or it is not.  But, I think you know what I mean.)

And if those aren't discouraging enough, let me add this:  Even very experienced software people tend to be too optimistic in their time and budget estimates.
- 7:29 AM, 28 March 2013   [link]


Is Bill Clinton Opportunistic?  Specifically, did he oppose gay marriage for political advantage, and now supports it for the same reason?

For many of us, that's like asking whether the sky is blue.  We doubt whether Clinton has ever cared much about anything other than the pursuit of women and power, and we think that he is one of the best ever at faking sincerity.

But Peter Baker of the New York Times has missed Clinton's history of politically advantageous shifts in position — or doesn't want to believe what anyone can see in that history, if they will only look.  And so Baker has provided us with a front page, serious article on Clinton's "evolution" on the issue.

Probably, Clinton has been for gay marriage all along.  Certainly, he has always been for himself ahead of any mere principle.

(Baker is one of those reporters whose name at the head of an article triggers my warning flags.  He is, shall we say, even more protective of elected Democrats than the average reporter at the Times.  For example, he didn't mention Obama's gaffes on his trip to Myanmar (Burma), although he was traveling with the president and must have known about them.)
- 7:36 AM, 27 March 2013   [link]


Kevyn Orr Has My Sympathy:  As would anyone who took on this job.
Kevyn Orr arrived for his first day on the job at 7 a.m. Monday, an early start to a historic day as Detroit's first emergency financial manager tasked with fixing the city's budget crisis.
. . .
Orr, 54, a Washington, D.C., bankruptcy lawyer, will assume broad powers traditionally held by the mayor and the council when the state's new emergency manager law takes effect Thursday, including control of the city's budget and the ability to consolidate departments, sell off assets and negotiate with labor unions.
And, he can cut the pay of elected officials, which should give him some bargaining advantages.

Orr appears to have the right background and experience for the job.  The American news accounts I've seen did not mention one of his obvious advantages, letting readers figure it out from a picture, but the Guardian included it in their story.
Orr is also African-American, a potential selling point in a majority black city where he will have to take some tough decisions in the coming months.
Frankly, I would have been surprised if Governor Rick Snyder had not picked an African-American for this job.
- 6:40 AM, 27 March 2013   [link]


The 22nd Century May Come Early:  In The Forever War, Joe Haldeman's protagonist, William Mandella, learns that medical science has advanced far enough so that medical technicians can grow some new organs for people.  Since Mandella has lost leg in battle, this is good news — and bad news, since it means the army can patch him up and send him back into battle with the Taurans.  (The scene takes place in 2189, but the techniques had already been around for some time before then.)

As it turns out, Haldeman was pessimistic in that prediction.
Since a laboratory in North Carolina made a bladder in 1996, scientists have built increasingly more complex organs.  There have been five windpipe replacements so far.  A London researcher, Alex Seifalian, has transplanted lab-grown tear ducts and an artery into patients.  He has made an artificial nose he expects to transplant later this year in a man who lost his nose to skin cancer.
And they hope soon to be able to make new hearts.  Amusingly, hearts were one of the organs that could not be grown in Haldeman's 2189.

On the other hand, Haldeman was way, way ahead in his predictions on space travel, giving us interstellar travel starting in the 1980s.

(The Forever War is a book I find infuriating, for several reasons — and a book that I go back to regularly.  The Wikipedia article gives away the complete plot, and should show you why I find it infuriating.)
- 4:15 PM, 26 March 2013   [link]


Leftist Law Professor Jonathan Turley Thinks That President Obama is following Nixonian policies, but more successfully.
This month, I spoke at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal with some of its survivors at the National Press Club.  While much of the discussion looked back at the historic clash with President Nixon, I was struck by a different question: Who actually won?  From unilateral military actions to warrantless surveillance that were key parts of the basis for Nixon's impending impeachment, the painful fact is that Barack Obama is the president that Nixon always wanted to be.
And Turley doesn't even mention that both presidents expanded the Food Stamps program, greatly.

For many leftists of a certain age, Nixon is the great villain of our times, so Turley's comparison is bound to hurt them.  I wouldn't agree with the comparison, for many reasons, but I thought you might enjoy seeing Turley's op-ed.

(More here on the comparison from Ed Driscoll.  If you need to see Turley's leftist credentials, you can find them here.)
- 3:10 PM, 26 March 2013   [link]


President Obama's Duke Of York Afghanistan Strategy:   No, not the current Duke of York, Prince Andrew, rather the Grand Old Duke of York, who you almost certainly learned about in grade school.
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
(If you are like me, you are probably remembering how much fun it was to act out that song.)

As I am sure you recall, President Obama promised more attention to the Afghanistan war during the 2008 campaign.  When elected, he asked the generals how many men they needed for a surge, gave them part of what they had asked for, and then set a definite time limit for the withdrawal of the reinforcements.

So, being just a little bit metaphorical, we can say that Obama marched the troops up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again.

Which was not a good strategy for the Duke of York, or for the United States.

(That doesn't mean that the strategy will fail, since even bad strategies can succeed, in some situations.)
- 12:48 PM, 26 March 2013   [link]


Polls Under-Estimate Opposition To Gay Marriage by about seven percent.
Polls on gay marriage ballot initiatives generally under-estimate the opposition to gay marriage by about seven percentage points, according to a 2010 study by New York University political science professor Patrick J. Egan.
Interestingly enough, the same polls tend to be about right on support for gay marriage.

The Washington Post reporters find this puzzling, but I don't.  Our "mainstream" journalists long ago made it clear that they think that people who oppose gay marriage, whether their reasons are religious or, in my case, scientific, are bigoted.  Naturally, some respondents choose to hide their opposition when a stranger asks for their opinion over the phone.
- 12:18 PM, 26 March 2013   [link]


If You Are A Bit Of A Contrarian (as I am), you reacted to this news by thinking that you really ought to start using the word, ungoogleable, from time to time.

For example:  I searched the Internet for an hour before deciding that the statistic I was looking for was ungoogleable.

(And it's fine with me if you use the word, even if you use other search engines more often than you use Google.  As I do.)
- 8:39 AM, 26 March 2013   [link]


Up To A Point, Lord Keller:  In Evelyn Waugh's wonderful Scoop, an underling corrects his press lord, carefully.
Lord Copper, the newspaper magnate, has been said to be based on an amalgam of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook: a character so fearsome that his obsequious foreign editor, Mr Salter, can never openly disagree with any statement he makes, answering "Definitely, Lord Copper" and 'Up to a point, Lord Copper" in place of "yes" or "no".
And so, in that spirit, I hope someone at the New York Times told former editorial page editor Bill Keller that on Iowa, he was right, "up to a point".
The Patchwork formula doesn't fully explain why Iowa, one of our least urbanized states, has accepted same-sex marriage, or why voters in the most urbanized state, California, voted to reject it.
In fact, Iowa has not accepted same-sex marriage.  It was imposed on them by the Iowa Supreme Court — and as soon as Iowans got a chance to vote on the question, they tossed three of those judges out.

Those three rejections were not enough, to tip the court balance, but they did show that Iowans have not accepted same-sex marriage.

(I can't recommend the rest of the column, a meandering discussion of how the states sometimes do things that Keller likes, and sometimes do things he dislikes.  The print edition left me wondering whether the layout artist shares my low opinion of the column, since the column contains a large cartoon of a man, positioned so as to make the whole column more difficult to read.)
- 7:15 AM, 26 March 2013   [link]


Politico's Lois Romano Hit a triple when she described NRA head Wayne LaPierre as "a tired old white guy".  In a single phrase, Romano showed us ageism, racism, and sexism .  (And there is probably another "ism" in that "tired".)

Are those prejudices common among our "mainstream" journalists?  I think so.

(This Wikipedia biography — which appears to have been written by Romano, or some friend of hers — only strengthens my suspicion that she has all the fashionable prejudices.  But then I will admit that I am prejudiced against any reporter who starts out in a "Style" section.)
- 5:28 AM, 26 March 2013   [link]


New Jersey Has An Old-Fashioned Political Sex Scandal:   With a modern twist.  The legislator — a Democrat, no surprise there — was involved with a lobbyist and sent her rather explicit, and even for these times, somewhat kinky emails.

What the Post doesn't discuss, but should, perhaps in a separate article, is what the legislator was doing for the lobbyist's organization.

The voters of New Jersey ought to know whether Assemblyman Joe Cryan followed Jesse Unruh's crude advice about lobbyists.

(Karen Golding was a lobbyist for Prudential.  When she was arrested for stalking Ryan, after they broke up, she got bailed out by then New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, a friend of hers.)
- 2:05 PM, 25 March 2013   [link]


Payment For Non-Performance?  According to Al Aribiya, Obama has unilaterally unfrozen aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Newsbusters wonders how President Obama can go ahead and spend money the Congress said he couldn't spend.

That's a good question, and there is, I think, an even better question:  What are we getting in return for that aid?  The last time Obama pulled this stunt, Andrew McCarthy reviewed the record.
White House spinmeister Tommy Vietor stated that President Obama made the decision to pour American taxpayer dollars into Palestinian coffers in order to ensure “the continued viability of the moderate PA government.”  He added the claim that, as the report puts it, “the PA had fulfilled all its major obligations, such as recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence and accepting the Road Map for Peace.”

In the real world, the very immoderate PA has reneged on all its commitments.  In addition to violating its obligations by unilaterally declaring statehood, the PA has also agreed to form a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The PA continues to endorse terrorism against Israel as “resistance.”  Moreover, the PA most certainly does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
You could argue that the Palestinian Authority would be an even bigger nuisance if we didn't give them aid.  But I think it more likely that Western aid to the Palestinians has enabled their support for terrorism.
- 6:58 AM, 25 March 2013   [link]


Faux Faux Fur:  That is, real fur sold as fake fur.
In some ways, think of it as “faux faux fur.”  No, that’s not a typo.  It’s what results when national retailers advertise items of apparel as fake fur, when in fact, they contain, well, fur.  Those are just some of the allegations in recent FTC complaints against The Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., DrJays.com, Inc., and Eminent, Inc. (which shoppers may know as Revolve Clothing).
And. yes, that's illegal, just as selling fake fur as real fur is illegal.
- 5:20 AM, 25 March 2013   [link]