Archive:

May 2008, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The KUOW Gang Of Four Gets Even More Partisan:  Those who have followed this occasional series will recall that the show seldom has much partisan balance.  But with the Democratic nomination contest approaching an end, and the general election contest starting up, the gang has become even more partisan.  Last week and this week the gang got grades of zero.  There was nothing in either hour from independents, Republicans, moderates, or conservatives.

That didn't surprise me this week, since the host was Marcy Sillman, substituting for Steve Scher.   Scher knows there are Republicans, but doesn't much like them (unless they are involved in a sex scandal); Sillman appears not to know about the existence of Republicans.

And, though this may be hard to believe, Sillman may be even more Seattle-centric than Scher.   Neither host knows or cares much about events in this area, outside that reactionary city, Seattle, but the two reacted quite differently to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' suggestion that Seattle should secede.   (He said, through a spokesman, that he wasn't serious.)  Scher understood that Nickels wanted to take much of the productive parts of this area with him; Sillman seemed to hope that a moat could be dug at the Seattle city limits.

Today, the gang began by discussing the departure of the Seattle Sonics, a subject they have discussed before.  From there they moved to the Bush former press secretary, Scott McClellan.  All four seemed certain that McClellan is now telling the truth, and that he was telling lies before.   Why they believe him now, when they didn't believe him before was not clear.  Perhaps they, like so many, are simply believing what they want to believe.  A skeptic might have noted that McClellan now has a big financial incentive to attack the Bush administration, and that his mother (for whom he has worked) had an erratic relationship with the Texas Republican party.

During this discussion, Danny Westneat said something interesting, but failed to see that his argument works both ways.  Westneat said that, after 9/11, much of the country (perhaps including McClellan) was in a "fog", and that we are slowly coming out of it.  As the fog dissipates, we see things more clearly, and turn against victory (although of course Westneat did not use that word) in Iraq.   But Westneat has forgotten something:  After the 9/11 attack, many people, even some journalists, argued that the attack had made us see what we had been ignoring for years, had, if you will, temporarily cleared away the fog.

Since then, the usual fog, much of it created by our "mainstream" media, has come back, and many have returned to the ways of thinking that made us vulnerable to the 9/11 attack.  Since Westneat works for the Seattle Times, which has biggest fog machine in Washington state, it is understandable that he is confused on this point.  Understandable, but not entirely forgivable.

The gang, prompted by a listener, again plugged Westneat's column on travel writer Rick Steves, who is now trying hard to distract us from Iran's race to develop atomic weapons.  All four seemed to believe, despite some obvious objections, that one could learn much about a foreign country by visiting its tourist traps, as Steves has been doing for years.  Those who take that idea seriously are invited to search Steves' programs on France for evidence that he foresaw the riots by young, disaffected Muslims that have become a regular occurrence in that troubled nation.  Or for evidence that France would choose a president, Sarkozy, who is openly pro-American, and friendly to President Bush.

The program ended with the gang wistfully contemplating the salary that Robert Mak, who was a reporter for King 5, will be getting from Mayor Nickels.  None seemed the least disturbed by still another "mainstream" reporter taking a partisan position, although these switches can only hurt the credibility of the news organizations they left.

Last week, the gang began with a discussion of sexism, racism, and ageism, prompted, of course, by the identity politics fight in the Democratic party.  The four took the expected positions; the PI's D. Parvaz (a woman) thinks sexism is a more serious problem than the three men in the gang do.   None seemed to think that we should just ignore sex and race, and choose the best person for the job of president.

The gang discussed the result of the Democratic primary contests in Kentucky and West Virginia.   D. Parvaz seemed to think that Hillary Clinton's margin in Kentucky came from Republicans inspired by talk show host Rush Limbaugh.  None of the four seemed to find this implausible, though a glance at the totals will show almost anyone why that idea is silly.  (And I am not sure that Kentucky even allows last minute party switches.)

Knute Berger contributed one of those gems that keeps me listening the program:  Berger thinks we have too much cynicism.  I could not tell whether he understands how much he, personally, has contributed to cynicism in this area, whether he was engaging in self-criticism.  But he should, and I would be happy to give him some suggestions if he doesn't know where to start.

Shortly afterwards, Berger proclaimed that Seattle was full of rich jerks.  None of the four disagreed; none seemed to realize that the politicians they back generally drive away families, leaving a place that has less civilized behavior than before.

There were three incidents in earlier programs to which I would draw your attention.  In each case because, as in the Sherlock Holmes story, nothing happened.  Some time ago, Seattle Times editorial writer Bruce Ramsey was filling in for Westneat.  Ramsey said, early in the program, that news organizations were full of Obama mania.  Later in the program, when asked, he said that he was backing, for president, the candidate who must not be named.  (Who is different from the candidate who must not be middle-named, though both candidates have drawn what one might call uncritical support.)  Both comments should have led to interesting discussions, discussions that would have added considerably to the — sorry, but I must use the word — diversity of the program.  Both times, the other three said nothing, treating what Ramsey had said like a [insert vulgar metaphor here].  I am no fan of the candidate who must not be named, but I would have asked Ramsey why he was backing the man.  (And I might even have asked him what his candidate had accomplished.  If anything.)

In a later program, Steve Scher read part of an email from a Republican who criticized the program for its constant Bush bashing.  Scher said that Republicans should call up and make their own case.   In other words, taxpayers (including Republicans) should pay for this biased program, and if the Republicans didn't like the bias, Republicans were responsible for trying to restore some balance.   (I doubt that Scher would make the same argument to a politically correct minority.)  But I am not sure that Scher even meant what he said.  As it happens, some time ago, I offered to help Scher bring some balance to the program, to bring on a token Republican.  He never replied to my email.  (Credit where due:  Knute Berger has suggested a Republican for the program, at least once.)

Finally, a practical suggestion for both Sillman and Scher:  Consider writing your principal questions before the program.  It is distracting, sometimes even painful, to listen to you fumbling around, trying to formulate a question.  And a suggestion for all four:  You should show your work.  Long ago, most of you came to definite conclusions on many subjects (too definite, in most cases).  And so you often state those conclusions on the air — without explaining how you arrived at them.  For example, if you believe that the earth is flat — and this would not surprise me completely — you should not simply say that the earth is flat, you should give your evidence and your reasoning.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:46 PM, 30 May 2008   [link]


Sounds Like A Joke:  But it isn't.  
Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli says he believes operatic treatment of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" will help people see the world's environmental predicament from a fresh point of view.

"Opera makes you reflect," he said in a phone interview Friday.  He is working on an opera based on Gore's book and film about climate change.
(Now that I think about it, this may be appropriate.  Many operas have absurd plots.)
- 2:59 PM, 30 May 2008   [link]


Perfectly Legal:  But not at all ethical.  That's how I would describe how Barack Obama won his first race.  
In his first race for office, seeking a state Senate seat on Chicago's gritty South Side in 1996, Obama effectively used election rules to eliminate his Democratic competition.

As a community organizer, he had helped register thousands of voters.  But when it came time to run for office, he employed Chicago rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers.

The move denied each of them, including incumbent Alice Palmer, a longtime Chicago activist, a place on the ballot.  It cleared the way for Obama to run unopposed on the Democratic ticket in a heavily Democrat district.
And it deprived voters in that district of any real choice in the election.

Typically, the signatures for these petitions are gathered by volunteers, who may not be familiar with all the legal requirements.  And Barack Obama's lawyers took advantage of their ignorance.   Here's how one of his opponents, Gha-is Askia, describes the tactics used by Obama's legal team.
But back at the time he was running for state Senate, Askia said, he was dismayed Obama would use such tactics.

"It wasn't honorable," he said. "I wouldn't have done it."

He said the Obama team challenged every single one of his petitions on "technicalities."

If names were printed instead of signed in cursive writing, they were declared invalid.  If signatures were good but the person gathering the signatures wasn't properly registered, those petitions also were thrown out.
Since Palmer was the incumbent, it is likely that she would have beaten Obama if he had not gotten her disqualified.

(There are more details in this Chicago Tribune article.)
- 6:26 AM, 30 May 2008   [link]


Congratulations To The Sierra Club:  And to former vice president Al Gore, Senator Maria Cantwell, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, and many, many others.  They have achieved, at least temporarily, what they have been working toward for decades.

Before I say why I am congratulating them, let me take a small detour into the past.  (Trust me, this will make sense in a few paragraphs.)  Remember the great controversy over cold fusion?  Two scientists, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, claimed that they had achieved fusion without high temperatures and elaborate magnetic bottles.  If they were right — and very few scientists now think they were — we might have had a wonderful new source of cheap energy, with little pollution.

Not everyone thought that was a great prospect.  In fact, a few extreme environmentalists openly said that they hoped that Fleischmann and Pons were wrong, that we did not have a wonderful new source of cheap, low pollution energy.  (Even though it might displace other sources of energy that caused far more pollution.)  For these extremists, providing more energy for people was wrong, in itself.

At the time, this seemed strange to me because of a well-known, but seldom-discussed, fact:  The rise of human civilization was made possible by increasing use of energy.  For instance, the rise of agriculture in the Middle East was enabled by the men who learned to hitch an ox, or a team of oxen, to a plow, and to supplement human energy with animal energy.  And everyone — well, almost everyone — knows that the Industrial Revolution was based on steam, generated by burning coal.

This relationship between civilization and energy use is so strong that you can measure the advance of a society by measuring the amount of energy it uses, per capita.

FDR, for all his faults, understood this.  That's why, for instance, he backed the REA.

(Total energy use isn't the whole story.  It is also true that using energy more efficiently can help a society advance.  One of the most famous examples is the invention of the horse collar, which made horses far more efficient in plowing.)

So when I saw these extremists oppose a potential source of cheap, clean power, I wondered what they had against civilization, and further advances in civilization.  Reporters at the time did not share my curiosity, and so I never saw an answer to that question.

But it still interests me because their attitude — in a diluted form — has become more and more common.  It is easy to find environmentalists who want us to sharply cut back our use of fossil fuels — even if that cutback means that almost everyone has less, even if we are forced to lower our level of civilization.

(There are a few extremists who explicitly call for humans to go back to the Stone Age, in order to live in a "sustainable" society.  Sustainable until the next asteroid comes along, anyway.  I haven't seen any polling data that would tell us how many share their views.)

Environmentalists are not always as frank about their desire to cut our energy use as they should be.  Instead of saying, directly, that they want to cut energy use, they say that they want to switch to "renewable" fuels — and don't bother to mention that those fuels will be more expensive than the fuels we use now.  (Or we would be using them already.)

But when pressed on the point, most environmentalists will admit that they want us to use less energy.  And they understand that the simplest way to achieve that is to make energy more expensive.  If you have bought gasoline recently, or looked at your electric bill, you can see how successful they have been (with more than a little help from OPEC) in raising energy prices.  And that is why I congratulated the Sierra Club to start this post.  They have wanted us to pay higher energy prices for many years — and we are, though not entirely in the way that they wanted.

(I included Tom Friedman in my brief list — which could have gone on for pages.  I included him mostly because he has been frankly arguing for higher energy prices, specifically gas prices, for years, as he did in yesterday's column.   It is true that Friedman, a wealthy urbanite who probably commutes by rail, mostly wants to raise the cost of energy for other people, mostly poorer people in rural areas.  But he is frank enough to say that he wants higher energy prices directly, unlike many other environmentalists.  I would be more impressed if frequent flier Friedman would argue for increasing the costs of air fares or for smaller houses in the Northeast, but one can't have everything.)

To make us pay higher energy prices, the Sierra Club had to have the unwitting and witting help of many politicians.  Washington state's two senators provide an example in each category.  For those not familiar with them, I can summarize them by saying that Senator Patty Murray is a nice lady who is not a rocket scientist, and that Senator Maria Cantwell is a not-so-nice lady who could be an assistant to a rocket scientist.  (Do a search on "Patty Murray + rocket scientist" if you are wondering why I chose that example.)  Given Senator Murray's intellectual abilities, I am willing to believe that she does not want higher energy prices.  She just consistently votes for measures that will increase energy prices, without understanding the consequences of her votes.

Washington state's junior senator, Maria Cantwell, is smart enough to know that she is voting for higher energy prices.  And she is also smart enough not to admit that, at least in public.  But she owes her senate seat to environmentalists, in particular the Sierra Club, which ran a very expensive, and very nasty, campaign against her opponent in 2000, Slade Gorton.  We can be reasonably certain that she wouldn't have won without that help, because she won by just 2,229 votes.  (I have long thought that, were it possible to magically eliminate the illegal votes, she might have lost that election.)  And she has more than paid them back since then, by working hard to make our energy more expensive.

(Incidentally, a real reporter should ask her some time whether she agrees with her supporters in the Sierra Club, whether she thinks that energy should be more expensive.  Not that she would tell the truth, but her reply would still be interesting.)

Al Gore's example shows why Cantwell has been smart (if deceitful) to conceal her desire for higher energy prices.  Though Gore had advocated higher energy prices through much of of his career, even a BTU tax in 1993, he found it necessary to claim — falsely — in 2000 that he was opposed to higher energy prices.  The implausibility of that claim is one of the reasons he lost to George W. Bush.

Politicians imitate successful politicians.  Cantwell, and many other politicians, most of them Democrats, have gotten away for years with claiming that they favor lower energy prices, while they work to raise energy prices, so we can expect to see more politicians using the same trick.  While she, and others like her, are in power, expect your energy bills to continue to rise.  And expect further advances in our civilization to be hobbled.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you want a succinct summary of how Cantwell and company raise our energy prices, check out Michael Ramirez's April 11th cartoon.  And share it with your friends.)
- 7:53 PM, 29 May 2008   [link]


Magical Thinking:  Nasty magical thinking.  In the Australian parliament.
Victorian MP Sophie Mirabella, who is 34 weeks pregnant, yesterday accused NSW Labor MP Belinda Neal of saying to her that "evil thoughts will turn your child into a demon".

Parliament's official record, Hansard, shows Ms Neal twice denied making the comment, but this morning she told the House of Representatives she was "unreservedly" withdrawing any remarks that may have caused offence to Ms Mirabella.
What kind of person would say something like that to a woman who was 34 weeks pregnant?  (And, yes, Neal does have children of her own.)  As a member of the Australian Labor party, we can probably assume that Neal is a leftist, but I can't find anything else that would explain this behavior.

By way of Tim Blair
- 3:17 PM, 29 May 2008   [link]


Prices Of Necessities:  We all need food.  So the recent increase in the price of food in this country is a bad thing.  (For most of us.  Some farmers are better off.)

We all need clothes.  So the long term decrease in the cost of clothes is a good thing.  (For most of us.  Some retailers and manufacturers are worse off.)
As luxury fashion has become more expensive, mainstream apparel has become markedly less so.  Today, shoppers pay the same price for a basic Brooks Brothers men's suit, $598, as they did in 1998.  The suggested retail price of a pair of Levi's 501 jeans, $46, is about $4 less than it was a decade ago.   A three-pack of Calvin Klein men's briefs costs $21.50, only $3.50 more than in 1998.  Which is the better buy?

Factoring for inflation, each of these examples is actually less expensive today.  In current dollars, the 1998 suit would cost $788, the jeans would be $66 and the underwear would be nearly $24.  As consumers adjust to soaring prices for gasoline, food, education and medical care, just about the only thing that seems a bargain today is clothes — mainstream clothes, anyway.

Clothing is one of the few categories in the federal Consumer Price Index in which overall prices have declined — about 10 percent — since 1998 (the cost of communication is another).
We all need housing.  (Unless, perhaps, we are willing to live on a beach in Hawaii.)  So a decrease in the price of houses should be a good thing.  (For most of us.  Speculators in the housing market may be worse off.)  But the New York Times doesn't agree.
Two reports released Tuesday captured the bleak picture.  One showed that home prices nationally fell 14.1 percent in March from a year earlier.  The other showed sales of new homes, although up slightly in April, remained mired near their lowest levels since 1991.

While Wall Street is growing hopeful that the economy might dodge a recession, many economists warn that the pain in the housing market may last for several years.  Even local markets like Seattle, which once seemed immune to the slump, are weakening.  Prices nationwide might fall as much as another 10 percent before a turnaround takes hold, economists said.
Perhaps I am perverse, but I think the decrease in the cost of housing is a good thing, net.  (The fall in sales of new homes is a bad thing, but the price decrease will eventually fix that.)  And, perhaps I am wrong about this, but I seem to recall that some of the same news organizations that now think that the decrease in home prices is a bad thing were saying, just a few years ago, that the increase in the cost of housing was also a bad thing.
- 1:15 PM, 29 May 2008   [link]


Perhaps We Can Judge Obama By His Pose:  As the Onion suggests.
As the 2008 presidential election draws closer, Democrat Barack Obama has reportedly been working tirelessly with his top political strategists to perfect his looking-off-into-the-future pose, which many believe is vital to the success of the Illinois senator's campaign.
Not that any voters would actually base their decision on how a candidate looks.
- 9:40 AM, 29 May 2008   [link]


Pay Little Attention To What Obama Says About Foreign Policy:  That's what one Obama supporter says.
The phrase "without preconditions" has come to represent a supposedly key foreign policy difference between likely Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain.
. . .
In the end, I think this is one of those periodic issues which appears enormously important during a campaign, but which fades into insignificance once the election is over.

In fact I think it's a mistake to pay too much attention to what any candidate says about foreign policy during a campaign.  Any President who lets his foreign policy be dictated more by what he said on the campaign trail than by actual circumstances and events ought not to be President anyway.
(So much for campaign promises.)

This leaves me puzzled.  "Gene" of Harry's Place says that Americans should pay little attention to what Obama says, at least on foreign policy.   But then how do we voters judge Obama?  He has no significant record on foreign policy, so we can't judge Obama by what he has done.  And I suspect that Gene would reject judging Obama by associates like Weatherman William Ayers, fixer Tony Rezko, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

If we can't use words, deeds, or friends to judge Obama, what can we use?

(Gene botches history seriously in his post, notably in his claim that Nixon met the leaders of Communist China without preconditions.  But he is an Obama supporter, so perhaps we should not judge him by his words.)
- 8:53 AM, 29 May 2008   [link]


What Do Britons Think About Journalists?  Not much, according to a recent survey.
Public trust in journalists has dipped sharply in the last five years, according to a new survey released by the British Journalism Review.
. . .
There was however one slender piece of good news in the survey for journalists.

Whereas in 2003 redtop journalists were the least trusted people in public life — in the latest survey estate agents had dropped six percentage points giving them the wooden spoon.
(By "redtop", the British mean low quality, at least when they are discussing newspapers.  Here's an explanation of estate agent.  And I assume that last place finishers get wooden spoons.)

Although the ratings for BBC journalists dropped by 20 points, they are still fairly high.  But I am working on that problem.
- 4:39 PM, 28 May 2008   [link]


Are Barack Obama's Gaffes Important?  Some are, some aren't, says Karl at Protein Wisdom, as he divides them into three categories, the trivial, the self-aggrandizing, and the "Kinsley" gaffes, in which Obama says what he believes, even though it hurts him politically.  For example:
Third, there are so-called Kinsleyian gaffes, in which the candidate accidentally says what he or she really believes.  Such gaffes are potentially more serious because voters will take note of the departure from the highly-scripted campaigning that characterizes modern politics and consider the gaffe to be particularly revealing.  Obviously, a classic in this cycle would be Obama's comments to wealthy donors in San Francisco that people in small town Pennsylvania (and in the Midwest, though Obama is wrong to place PA there) are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations" over the last 25 years of US economic policy.  His apology was of the "sorry if you were offended" variety, precisely because he believes what he said was true.  The comments are thus an indicator that he buys the Marxist concept of false consciousness as played out in Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, despite plenty of data to the contrary.
Karl sees the third category as the most important, and has a good discussion of a number of Obama gaffes in that category.  Ordinarily, I would agree that the second category is less important than the third, since self-aggrandizement is so common, especially among politicians.  But Obama does it so consistently that I have come to believe that it is as important as the third.

Let me repeat something I have said a number of times before:  Whenever a journalist checks what Obama has said about his past, the journalist finds discrepancies.  And this time let me add something about those discrepancies:  They always help Obama make a political point of some kind.   And I believe those two facts tell us something about Obama's character, something unpleasant.   Exactly what they tell us is not clear to me.  Obama could be simply a con man, telling us whatever he thinks will fool us.  Or he may have come to believe his own stories — which is even more troubling.  Or, and I think this the most likely, some mixture of the two.  When Obama tells us one of these stories, he usually believes it — partly.  If the second is true, then Obama is living in a fantasy land much of the time; if the third is true, then Obama is wandering back and forth between reality and a fantasy land.  Neither seems desirable in a president.

And this consistent pattern of discrepancies should make us dubious about everything else that Obama says, especially in his public speeches.

(Karl begins with some lists of Obama gaffes, if you need a review.  I'm especially fond of the time in which he claimed to see dead heroes in his audience.)
- 4:07 PM, 28 May 2008   [link]


Some Immigrants Don't Show Much Respect For Our Laws:  For example, some Muslim immigrants.
Although polygamy is illegal in the U.S. and most mosques try to discourage plural marriages, some Muslim men in America have quietly married multiple wives.

No one knows how many Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families.  But according to academics researching the issue, estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.

You can see some of the women involved in polygamous marriages in the lobby of Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit women's center in New York City.  It bursts with color as a dozen women in bright African dresses and head wraps gather for a weekly noon meeting for West African immigrants.  The women come each week to this support group where they discuss hard issues, such as domestic abuse, medical problems, immigration hurdles and polygamy.
(Some of the polygamous US Muslims may be natives, but the article doesn't give any examples of them.  And the reporter does say that most of the polygamists come from nations where polygamy is common.)

Little is known about these polygamists, but it is clear, even from this article, that abuse is common (especially if one of the wives is an illegal immigrant), and that these marriages impose some burden on public and private welfare agencies.

As happens too often, a reporter helps conceal a criminal:
Mona, a Palestinian woman with six children from her first marriage, is happy to be a second wife.   When Mona got divorced in 1990, she became a pariah in her conservative Muslim community in Patterson, N.J.
. . .
NPR is not revealing Mona's last name, and her husband would not be interviewed for this story.  Her husband could be charged with bigamy.
A reporter whose salary is paid, in part, by the US taxpayers.

Not all of the men in polygamous marriages are romantics.
As the Senegalese owner, Miriam Dougrou, weaves cornrows on a young woman, she says that her father married four women and she had 19 or 20 siblings.  She lost count.  So did her father.

"Sometimes he doesn't know who's who, and he forget the name" of his children and wives, she said.

"He calls them No. 1 and No. 2," says Dougrou's husband, Timothy.
Although the article does not mention this, in African polygamy the wives often support the husband.   And some polygamists have used welfare systems in the West to let the taxpayers support all of them.  For example, countries that have allowances for children can provide a pretty decent living for a man with three or four wives and a dozen children.  (As I recall, the Somali warlord who attacked our troops in the Blackhawk Down incident, was being supported, in part by four wives living off Canadian welfare.)

Hopefully, some district attorney will start prosecuting some of these men.
- 8:42 AM, 28 May 2008   [link]


Environmental Dilemmas:  Wendy Richardson has them.
Here's the type of conundrum that Wendy Richardson often finds herself debating: If she is three miles from her office and realizes she has forgotten her reusable water bottle, is it more environmentally friendly to drive her Toyota Prius hybrid back to get it, or to walk 100 feet to a convenience store and buy a bottle of water?

Most people wouldn't even think twice about buying the bottle of water, then tossing it in the trash.   But Richardson is the type of person who tries, with everything she does, to literally help save the world.
This is all pretty funny but neither Richardson nor the MSNBC reporter, Allison Linn, realizes how silly this will sound to many people.  (But that isn't unusual; religious cults often have rites that seem strange to outsiders, but perfectly ordinary to those inside the cult.)

People my age, or older, will find the first example especially weird.  A generation ago, bottled water was something that only the rich, or the odd, drank.  Richardson is willing to sacrifice, but not to the extent of drinking from a public water fountain, or a tap — even though that is what almost every American did fifty years ago.  (And many still do, some, like me, because they think bottled water is a ripoff, at least in areas with good public water.)

(If Richardson really wanted to reduce resource use, what should she do?  It is hard to say without knowing more about how she lives, but one thing does occur to me:  According to the article, she lives with her husband and two children.  She could probably reduce energy use greatly by asking an elderly relative, or friend, to move in with her family, assuming that person now lives in a home or apartment of their own.)
- 6:02 AM, 28 May 2008   [link]


A Streetcar Named Undesirable:  Last December, at considerable expense, Seattle started a new streetcar line.  (Which immediately acquired an unfortunate nickname.)  The streetcar has been a great success — except that almost no one wants to ride it.

In fact, ridership is almost exactly where the city predicted it would be the first year — about 1,000 average daily trips, based on logs by streetcar drivers.  Sounds high, but it breaks down to eight riders per one-way trip.  Since some people get off partway, five or six typically are aboard.

During a recent midday stretch, six to 22 people were aboard the streetcar during a 2 ½-hour period, while a rush-hour sampling found 20 to 30 riders.

And passengers like [Jane] Nelson, who pay cash for the $1.75 adult ticket, are even fewer.  Ticket sales cover 5 percent of the estimated $2.1 million annual operating cost, mainly because the overwhelming majority of riders use King County Metro Transit passes.

According to the Seattle Times reporter, Mike Lindblom, it cost $52 million to build the line.

There are vans that carry eight riders, in considerable comfort.  (I haven't seen numbers, but I suspect that those vans use less fuel than a streetcar does.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The article has comparable numbers for other forms of transit in this area.  I knew that our buses were heavily subsidized, but I had not realized just how heavily.)
- 2:06 PM, 27 May 2008   [link]


Are We Safer?  John Hinderaker asks and answers that question.
On the stump, Barack Obama usually concludes his comments on Iraq by saying, "and it hasn't made us safer."  It is an article of faith on the left that nothing the Bush administration has done has enhanced our security, and, on the contrary, its various alleged blunders have only contributed to the number of jihadists who want to attack us.

Empirically, however, it seems beyond dispute that something has made us safer since 2001.   Over the course of the Bush administration, successful attacks on the United States and its interests overseas have dwindled to virtually nothing.
After 9/11, I certainly expected more attacks on Americans than we have had since then.
- 1:27 PM, 27 May 2008   [link]


Worth Studying:  Physicist Freeman Dyson takes on global warming again.  He begins with a discussion of the carbon cycle, and how much effect plants have on it, seasonally.  (More than I would have guessed.)  He continues with a discussion of the costs and benefits of various proposals to fight, or mitigate, global warming.  The best proposal, in his view, is to use our brains to find a low cost way to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
The fifth and last kind is called "low-cost backstop," a policy based on a hypothetical low-cost technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or for producing energy without carbon dioxide emission, assuming that such a technology will become available at some specified future date.  According to Nordhaus, this technology might include "low-cost solar power, geothermal energy, some nonintrusive climatic engineering, or genetically engineered carbon-eating trees."
. . .
The main conclusion of the [William] Nordhaus analysis is that the ambitious proposals, "Stern" and "Gore," are disastrously expensive, the "low-cost backstop" is enormously advantageous if it can be achieved, and the other policies including business-as-usual and Kyoto are only moderately worse than the optimal policy.  The practical consequence for global-warming policy is that we should pursue the following objectives in order of priority.  (1) Avoid the ambitious proposals.  (2) Develop the science and technology for a low-cost backstop.  (3) Negotiate an international treaty coming as close as possible to the optimal policy, in case the low-cost backstop fails.  (4) Avoid an international treaty making the Kyoto Protocol policy permanent.  These objectives are valid for economic reasons, independent of the scientific details of global warming.
Dyson does not say so, but this is fairly close to what the Bush administration has been doing.

Dyson ends with a point that must be made, again and again, because it explains why we find it so hard to develop a rational policy on the issue of global warming.
Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion.
And so anyone who disagrees with one of tenets of environmentalism — regardless of scientific findings or costs — will be treated as a heretic.

(I have given this review my top rating, "worth studying".  I'll go even farther and say that you should consider emailing it to anyone interested in the subject of global warming.)
- 9:41 AM, 27 May 2008   [link]


The Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Has Been Forced To Resign:  You can probably guess why, just by looking at the picture of his ex-girlfriend.  But there is more:
The Prime Minister says Mr. [Maxime] Bernier failed to uphold his promise to protect cabinet confidences.

A source tells The Canadian Press that Mr. Bernier left an extremely sensitive classified document at Ms. [Julie] Couillard's apartment, and her lawyer notified the Foreign Affairs department about the document on the weekend.
And there's more in the article about Couillard's past associates.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has mostly governed shrewdly, as far as I can tell, but the appointment of Bernier to a position this sensitive does seem to have been a serious mistake.

(If you are wondering how Bernier got this position, here's a possible answer.  He is "one of the few high-profile Conservative MPs from Québec".)
- 8:34 AM, 27 May 2008   [link]


Obama Tried To Please One Questioner, And One Audience:  And has been stuck ever since.  That's Charles Krauthammer's explanation for what may be the worst gaffe of the campaign.
Before the Democratic debate of July 23, Barack Obama had never expounded upon the wisdom of meeting, without precondition, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il or the Castro brothers.  But in that debate, he was asked about doing exactly that.  Unprepared, he said sure -- then got fancy, declaring the Bush administration's refusal to do so not just "ridiculous" but "a disgrace."

After that, there was no going back.  So he doubled down.  What started as a gaffe became policy.  By now, it has become doctrine.  Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity.
If you have heard that question — and you probably have — you will recall that the questioner really, really wanted Obama to say yes to meetings with enemy leaders.

That's a shrewd guess, but it isn't the only possible explanation for what Obama said, and why he is sticking to it.  I hope to supply at least two more explanations some time soon.
- 7:25 AM, 27 May 2008   [link]


Party Time!  This won't surprise anyone familiar with bureaucracies, especially government bureaucracies.
Hospitals and NHS managers were pressured into spending hundreds of millions of pounds before the start of the financial year to "hide" a £1 billion surplus.

Opposition parties have accused the Government of encouraging NHS financial mismanagement after it emerged that some trusts had been ordering millions of pounds of equipment "as long as they could be invoiced before the end of March" — the end of the financial year.
But the scale is impressive.  That's about two billion dollars.  The British population is about a fifth as large as the American population, so the equivalent spending spree here would be about ten billion dollars.

(This practice is so common in bureaucracies that I suspect there is a slang word for it, but I can't recall having heard one.)
- 5:17 AM, 27 May 2008   [link]


Hopelessly Confused:  This New York Times article on Microsoft providing support for the Open Document Format.  Here's the paragraph that made my inner geek chuckle, after I finished grumbling:
ODF was developed in 2005 by the Oasis Forum, a group that includes Microsoft competitors like I.B.M. and Sun Microsystems.  The idea was to let consumers save and archive documents, spreadsheets and presentations in their formats of choice.  The result was OpenOffice, a software application package that resembles Microsoft's Office 2007 — and can save files in Word formats — but also enables users to save documents in 25 formats.  It is free.
Where to start?  Perhaps with the first sentence.  The format was published in 2005, but had been under development for years before that.  Or maybe the second sentence.  The idea was to provide a set of formats, for commonly used programs, word processors, spreadsheets, et cetera, so that they could exchange data files, without losing either content or format.  A person could write a document using, for example, Corel Word Perfect, save it as an open text document (.odt), and send it to another person who could read it with an entirely different word processor.   And then that person could modify the document in his word processor, and send it back to the first person.

Or perhaps the third sentence.  OpenOffice (which I use occasionally) is not the result of this effort to make a standard for file exchange.  Instead, it is an office suite, originally developed in Germany as a competitor to Microsoft Office, under the name, StarOffice.  Sun bought the company, and after having little success selling the suite (though it isn't a bad set of programs), released the source code and helped sponsor a free version, OpenOffice, which has grown in capabilities over the years.   (You can still buy StarOffice from Sun.  Sun's version comes with some extras, as I recall.)

OpenOffice does support the ODF, but so do many other programs, and suites, including, according to this Wikipedia article, KOffice, Google Docs, NeoOffice, Zoho, IBM Lotus Symphony, and Corel WordPerfect Office X4.

OpenOffice is free, so the last sentence of the paragraph is correct.  (You can get a copy here, if you want to try it out.)

So what was that article all about?  Microsoft has promised to support ODF, with a "native" driver, so that, for example, a user of Microsoft Word could save a text document in the .odt format.   Microsoft is already supporting the format indirectly, by providing ways to translate its formats into the ODF formats.

(Other than proving that you can not always trust the newspaper of record, is there anything else that non-geeks should know about ODF, and this development?  Very definitely yes.

Software buyers have learned, often the hard way, that they can be at the mercy of a software supplier if they use the supplier's proprietary file formats.  One of the things protecting Microsoft's monopoly over office software is their proprietary formats, in Word, Excel, et cetera.  The competitors to Microsoft — and some large customers — joined to weaken Microsoft's monopoly by providing a set of formats that had all the capabilities of the Microsoft formats, but were open to everyone.  Microsoft developed its own open format, OOXML, but was unable to kill ODF.

The weakening of Microsoft's monopoly over office software will be good for everyone — except Microsoft.)
- 6:28 PM, 26 May 2008   [link]


Memorial Day:  It's not just for barbecues.  William Kristol asks us to remember what it is for.
Last Thursday, the soldiers of the Third United States Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) placed a small American flag in front of each of the 260,000 or so grave markers in Arlington National Cemetery.  The soldiers remained on duty throughout the weekend, replacing flags that had fallen or been removed, to ensure that each grave was appropriately decorated and honored on Memorial Day.

This decades-old tradition exemplifies the attention the military pays to honoring its veterans and, above all of course, its fallen warriors.  But what of the rest of us?  Most of us in the Washington area didn't visit Arlington this weekend.  Most of us across America aren't participating in Memorial Day services or commemorations.
Reverend Donald Sensing, who served his country long and honorably, has more to say about Memorial Day here.  And even more to say here, where he gives the text of his talk to a group of Gold Star mothers.
Although this address was specifically honor U.S. Marines who died, I offer it here to honor the men and women of all services who have died for our country.

There was a time in our country when families such as ours did not have to form organizations to offer one another moral and material support because a large percentage of Americans served in the military.   Almost every extended family had a member in uniform at one time or another and endured separation or loss like we endure. Families of deployed service members were woven throughout the fabric of every town or city and so was a support structure for them.
You'll want to read the whole thing.

Reverend Sensing also recommends another piece for Memorial Day, this one by Christopher Hitchens.
- 1:17 PM, 26 May 2008   [link]


Congratulations to NASA:  For the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Probe.  The lander is already sending back pictures, some of which you can see here.  (At least for now.)

And congratulations to Aerojet Redmond, which built the retrorockets for the lander.

We should know in a few days if Phoenix will be fully operational, but it has passed the two most worrisome tests, a soft landing, and establishing radio contact with earth.  If the robot arm (which works like a small backhoe) operates as planned, the lander should be a great success.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:45 PM, 25 May 2008   [link]


Jack Kelly Catches Up With Me:  If you read Kelly's latest column, you'll find some familiar arguments.  Examples:
What should be the theme song for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign?

Some think it should be Carly Simon's 1972 smash hit, "You're So Vain," (I bet you think this speech is about you).
And:
Mr. Obama's prolonged response to the Knesset speech - one of the largest unforced errors I've seen in politics - suggests another candidate for campaign theme song, Sam Cooke's 1960 ditty, "Wonderful World." The opening lyric is: "Don't know much about history."
Both song suggestions can be found in this post.

Kelly makes a point explicitly that I just hinted at:
Little seems to annoy Mr. Obama more than when others do not hold him in as high esteem as he holds himself.  He apparently was dozing in the pews when his pastor said America is no better than al-Qaeda and our government created the AIDS virus to exterminate blacks.  But his ears perked up when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright implied that he had been insincere in describing their relationship:  "That's a show of disrespect to me," Mr. Obama said.
A mortal sin, in Obama's book.

(Though I wrote about these Obama songs before Kelly did, I am sure that others beat me to it, since both are fairly obvious choices for the junior senator from Illinois.  In fact, I know that Gina Cobb beat me to the first song, because I found her post when I was searching for "You're So Vain".  And should have mentioned that in my Obama song post.)
- 8:58 AM, 25 May 2008   [link]