May 2009, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Perhaps I Am Too Cynical: But I find this hard to believe.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrived in Beijing with a pledge that the Obama administration will control its borrowing as he sought to reassure China its holdings of U.S. government debt are safe.Maybe I am cynical because I have seen this chart too many times.
This is like watching an alcoholic guzzling cheap wine while he tells us that he really wants to get sober, and stay sober.
- 5:05 PM, 31 May 2009 [link]
Yglesias Attacks Democratic Congress (And Obama): Leftwing blogger Matthew Yglesias expects any recovery to stall and blames Democrats. Suppose, Yglesias asks, the economy is growing six months from now.
Well it seems to me that we'll be right back where we were in the summer of 2008 where sky-high gas prices were clobbering everything. And we haven't really done anything over the past year to leave ourselves better-prepared for that situation.Since this is essentially the same analysis that I have been making for months now, I won't quarrel with his dismal speculations. (Though I would rewrite the post if I were his editor.) But I will clarify what he means by "we".
When President Bush took office in 2001, he pushed for expansion of energy supplies — with modest success. He did improve our natural gas supplies, and he did provide more encouragement for nuclear energy. But he was often blocked by Democrats, and sometimes by a coalition of Democrats and green Republicans.
After the Democrats gained control of Congress in the 2006 election, Bush shifted tactics and proposed improvements in energy efficiency. Some were enacted; few will have much of an immediate effect.
When gas prices spiked last year, the public scared the Democratic majority into, briefly, lifting some of the restrictions on off-shore drilling. But those restrictions are back and the Obama administration is beginning to add restrictions on natural gas exploration. Working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Obama administration has suspended work on the Nevada storage site for nuclear wastes from power plants. Obama and the congressional Democrats are almost certain to introduce new restrictions on coal mining and coal power plants.
When Yglesias says "we", he means, mostly, his fellow Democrats. Energy prices will rise in the near future, and one party will deserve almost all of the blame.
One thing might save us from those high energy prices. OPEC may miscalculate and deepen the world-wide recession long enough so that they can no longer keep oil prices high. But that isn't a great prospect, either.
- 3:20 PM, 31 May 2009 [link]
"None Of Our Models Were Totally Correct": That's how a NASA representative explained his agency's failure to predict an almost spotless sun.
The latest forecast revises an earlier prediction issued in 2007. At that time, a sharply divided panel believed solar minimum would come in March 2008 followed by either a strong solar maximum in 2011 or a weak solar maximum in 2012. Competing models gave different answers, and researchers were eager for the sun to reveal which was correct.Critics might prefer a stronger conclusion from NASA, perhaps this one: "None of our models was even close."
From that model failure I would conclude that NASA scientists do not understand the sun very well. (Some scientists believe that the sun is — within broad limits — inherently unpredictable. If they are right, then it is impossible to build a model that consistently predicts the sun's output.)
You can see just how bad the predictions were in this post discussing the 2006 predictions.
(You can see a current picture of the sun at Spaceweather.)
- 10:11 AM, 31 May 2009 [link]
For Democrats, Hispanic Judicial Nominees Are Not Created Equal: Most likely, all of the Senate Democrats will vote to put Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. Most of the Senate Democrats voted to keep Miguel Estrada off an appellate court, where he might have become a candidate for the Supreme Court.
They blocked Estrada because he is a conservative — and Hispanic.
Estrada's nomination for a federal judgeship set off alarm bells among Democrats. There is a group of left-leaning organizations -- People for the American Way, NARAL, the Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, and others -- that work closely with Senate Democrats to promote Democratic judicial nominations and kill Republican ones. They were particularly concerned about Estrada.And they succeeded, with dishonest tactics. Estrada's hearings were extremely stressful and took a heavy toll on him and his wife, who died tragically a few years after he had given up his quest to become a judge.
Sotomayor is a bright and hard-working judge, but anyone who looks at the two, without partisan blinders, would have to agree that she is no Miguel Estrada.
- 2:38 PM, 30 May 2009 [link]
Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Chicago: Corruption continues, as usual.
A Chicago alderman was indicted Thursday by federal authorities on charges the Democrat accepted $40,000 in home improvements in exchange for supporting a major project by a developer.(And many more probably could have been.)
As far as I have been able to determine, Barack Obama did nothing to lessen corruption in Chicago. Nothing, either as a community organizer or as a politician. He did back some politicians everyone knew were corrupt. And, of course, he helped his corrupt supporter, Tony Rezko, in many ways, though he probably did not realize just how corrupt Rezko was.
- 8:21 AM, 29 May 2009 [link]
What Do Toxicologists Think Of Press Coverage Of Chemical Risks? Not much.
The disdain that toxicologists apparently feel toward traditional journalism is evidenced by their unwillingness to credit the media with getting almost anything right in covering chemical risk. Table 4 shows that nine out of 10 fault the media for not seeking out diverse scientific views to balance stories, and it only gets worse from there. At least 95 percent describe the media's performance as "poor" in distinguishing good from bad studies, distinguishing correlation from causation, explaining the trade-off between risks and benefits, distinguishing absolute from relative risk, explaining the odds ratios, and explaining that "the dose makes the poison" — a fundamental tenet of toxicology.With good reason, in my experience.
"Mainstream' journalists are often wrong on these risks because few can think statistically, and because most put too much trust in "environmental" organizations. Unlike toxicologists.
Among respondents who rate these organizations, large majorities view the leading environmental groups as overstating risk. 96 percent believe Greenpeace overstates chemical risk, 85 percent say the same of the Environmental Defense Fund's risk portrayals, as do 80 percent of those rating PETA. 79 percent believe that chemical risk is overstated by the Environmental Working Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.The toxicologists give these groups higher ratings than I would. All of these groups rely on mass mailings for funds; all of them know that they get more money from the public if they exaggerate risks.
These findings are extraordinary; the scientists told the researchers that "mainstream" journalists routinely get stories on chemical risks wrong, and that few journalists do enough work to understand the risks. That should inspire some self-criticism in major news organizations — but won't.
- 7:52 AM, 29 May 2009 [link]
Plug Computers: They don't look like much, and they don't come ready to do anything in particular. But they may become useful building blocks.
Marvell Technology Group is counting on an army of computer engineers and hackers to answer that question. It has created a "plug computer." It's a tiny plastic box that you plug into an electric outlet. There's no display. But there is an Ethernet jack to connect to a home network and a U.S.B. socket for attaching a hard drive, camera or other device. Inside is a 1.2 gigahertz Marvell chip, called an application processor, running a version of the Linux operating system.And the commenters add some other possible uses.
Key advantage: These little plugs use CPUs developed for cellphones, not PCs, so they need very little power.
Here's a picture and a few specs.
- 7:55 PM, 28 May 2009 [link]
Obama Nominates A Two-Fer: Which was, I believe, predictable, if you remember that he learned practical politics from the Chicago machine.
Among the top priorities for machine politicians who want to appeal to a mixed electorate is ethnic balance. Candidates and appointees are chosen — often quite openly — to be representatives of ethnic groups. To appeal to most feminists (who are like an ethnic group in many ways), Obama wanted to nominate a woman. So much so that he didn't even bother to include a man in his final four.
The president has narrowed his list to four, according to people close to the White House — two federal appeals judges, Sonia Sotomayor of New York and Diane P. Wood of Chicago, and two members of his administration, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.(The New York Times article is — unintentionally — quite funny. Peter Baker claims that Obama is following Clinton's lead and nominating a moderate liberal. You could say that about Stephen Breyer, but not about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has never been a moderate, or even a moderate liberal. A lovely lady in many ways, but no moderate.)
Judge Sotomayer agrees that she is a "two-fer", and thinks that makes her a wiser judge than a white male.
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.(Emphasis added.)
Is that last sentence sexist and racist? Probably the first, probably not the second. Note that she says that "inherent physiological" differences will make a woman a better judge, but that she hedges on race, talking about different experiences and cultural differences, which, one assumes, she does not think are "inherent".
If you think that a judge, like a machine politician, should parcel out goodies to the groups that support the machine, then her statement is just common sense. A judge that favors her own groups is what a machine wants. And that statement helps us understand what Obama means when he says he wants "empathy" in a judge.
The late Mayor Daley would understand completely; he, too, thought leaders of some groups made better decisions; he, too, thought that appointments should be given out on the basis of ethnicity and (later in his life) gender.
(There are two claims about this nomination that have gotten wide publicity, that Sotomayor was first nominated to a federal judgeship by George H. W. Bush, and that her reversal rate (3 of 5, so far) is troubling.
The first is true, but misleading. It would be more accurate, in some ways, to say that she was put on the federal bench by Democratic Senator Patrick Moynihan.
Her reversal rate does not mean what you might think, that she makes many decisions that the Supreme Court has had to correct. He reversal rate appears to be about average. You can understand why the average is so high if you remember that the Supreme Court doesn't take most cases. So the ones that they do take are likely to be cases they think may have been decided wrongly.
For more opinions, see this post, with links to eight editorials on the nomination.)
- 4:36 PM, 28 May 2009 [link]
New Volcano Links: The Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier web cam pictures now have additional links just under them, a higher resolution picture for St. Helens, and three additional web cams, looking in different directions for Rainier. (The main web cam looks north toward the mountain.)
- 2:45 PM, 28 May 2009 [link]
Cost, Benefits, And Expertise: Sometimes there are large lessons in small stories from small towns.
Larkspur - the last city to consider joining the Marin Energy Authority - has rejected the offer to join the county-led collective, saying now is not the time for Marin to get into the energy business.Larkspur is a town in the very liberal, and very green, Marin County.
But when the town looked at the costs of going green, they chose not to.
And they recognized that the city "doesn't know anything about running an electrical utility", that they don't have the necessary expertise. The Obama administration could learn something from this common sense decision — but won't.
(When "mainstream" journalists discuss public support for green initiatives, they seldom mention costs, and how including costs in the discussion reduces support, often dramatically.
Article by way of Bookworm. As you may have guessed, I don't generally read small Marin County newspapers.)
- 11:16 AM, 28 May 2009 [link]
What Does Michigan Think Of Obama's Auto Bailout? Michigan gave Obama slightly more than 57 percent of its vote last November. No state is more dependent on the auto industry. So what do they think of his efforts to save the auto industry?
So far, the verdict is mixed, perhaps even slightly negative.
Michiganians appear evenly divided in their belief that President Barack Obama's heavy involvement in restructuring the auto industry is doing more harm than good, a Detroit News/WXYZ survey shows.There are no pleasant solutions to the auto problem, so perhaps we should not expect a high rating for Obama on this issue, even in a Democratic-leaning state like Michigan. But this low a rating, this early, may be a warning sign.
- 7:16 AM, 28 May 2009 [link]
Another Communist Assassination? Perhaps. Though it was not seen that way in 1967.
The killing in 1967 of an unarmed demonstrator by a police officer in West Berlin set off a left-wing protest movement and put conservative West Germany on course to evolve into the progressive country it has become today.Kurras claims it was an accident, and was acquitted when he was tried for manslaughter. On the other hand, he was an expert with firearms, which makes an accident less plausible. (This Der Spiegel article says that the "exact circumstances surrounding the death of Ohnesorg have never been completely clarified".)
Unfortunately, we may never know the full truth of this story. But we do know, and have known for decades, that the Stasi would have had no moral qualms about committing such a crime. They killed many Germans during the Cold War; one more would not have bothered them.
(It is unfortunate that the Times reporter, Nicholas Kulish, felt it necessary to insert "progressive" propaganda into this story. He could have used that space to fill in some of the gaps in the story. The Irish Times has a less biased version of the story, and the Wall Street Journal gives the other side.
A quick search on Google News turned up fewer stories on this revelation than I would have expected. Possibly some "mainstream" journalists preferred not to write about it, since it does not have, despite Kulish's efforts, a "progressive" message.)
- 6:31 AM, 28 May 2009 [link]
North Korea Raises: And accompanies the raise with brutal threats.
North Korea announced today that it is abandoning the Armistice that brought an end to the Korean War 56 years ago, and threatened war if there was any effort to search its ships for weapons of mass destruction.As any poker player can tell you, a bluff must be executed with conviction, if you want to sell it to the other players. So this is — almost certainly — another bluff.
But, as matter of law, we are now in a state of war with North Korea, because that's what happens when you abandon an armistice.
North Korea does have a new grievance.
North Korea threatened Wednesday to launch military strikes against South Korea if any of its ships were stopped or searched as part of an American-led operation to intercept vessels suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.If there are any good solutions to this problem I haven't seen them. The best approach, in my opinion, would be to explain to tell North Korea's chief support, China, secretly, that they had better rein in the Kims. And China has the power to do just that.
Hours after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea detonated its second atomic device, Beijing condemned the test. "The DPRK conducted another nuclear test in disregard of the common opposition of the international community," a Foreign Ministry statement, issued May 25, noted. "The Chinese government is firmly opposed to this act."We have more than a little leverage with China, if we choose to use it.
- 2:12 PM, 27 May 2009 [link]
Has Senator McCaskill Ever Heard Of Justice Clarence Thomas? Apparently not.
Certainly, she doesn't know his life story.
- 7:48 AM, 27 May 2009 [link]
Seal Heart: Michaelle Jean promotes Canadian products.
Canada's governor general, Michaelle Jean, has helped to butcher and eat a seal in an apparent act of solidarity with hunters.It is unlikely that this will help Canadian hunters, since they aren't as cute as seal pups. But it is good to see her making this effort.
You would have to know more about possible seal parasites to be certain, but there is probably no more risk in eating raw seal heart than in eating steak tartare.
(Here's my original post on Michaelle Jean, a most unusual choice for a governor general.)
- 7:30 AM, 27 May 2009 [link]
Wonder Why Wal-Mart Continues To Grow? Vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright explains.
Q. So what do you think the process should be?He listens to customers and he listens to employees. Two radical, but very successful, ideas.
I probably should say something about why those ideas seem strange to many executives, why so many prefer, for example, to go away from the business to meet a consultant and develop a vision statement, rather than talk to customers and employees. Part of it, I think, is that many of us prefer to avoid people we think are our social inferiors. It may seem crude to say that many executives are crippled by snobbery, but if you think about your experiences with big organizations, I think you will find evidence for that idea.
And many executives would rather look for simple solutions than do the hard work of doing the same job, but just a little bit better each year.
- 2:33 PM, 26 May 2009 [link]
Could The Republicans Win Control Of The House And Senate Next Year? The InTrade bettors think so. As I write, they are giving the Republicans more than a 10 percent chance to win the Senate, and more than a 16 percent chance to win the House. (Although both contracts are very thinly traded.)
For what it is worth, both odds are a little higher than I would have guessed.
(If you are wondering why I expect Republican gains and give them slim chances to win back the House and Senate, read (or re-read) this post.)
- 1:33 PM, 26 May 2009 [link]
23 Million Hostages: The North Korean atomic test reminded us, again, of just how unpleasant that nation is, how difficult it is to deal with. What makes all our choices bad is that the Kim Jong-il regime is perfectly willing to use its own citizens as hostages.
Like nearly every communist regime, North Korea is unable to grow enough food for its own people. In the late 1990s, the shortages were so bad that outside experts estimate that about 10 percent of the population died from starvation.
Since then, North Korea's ostensible enemies, South Korea, the United States, and Japan, have supplied North Korea with vast amounts of food aid. (Other nations have contributed, too, but most of the aid came from those three.) The food aid has not prevented widespread malnutrition, but has prevented, so far, mass starvation.
In March, the Kim regime rejected the food aid — half a million metric tons — that the United States had promised last year. They rejected the aid, and conducted a nuclear test after four informal diplomatic approaches from the Obama administration.
Less well known is that four separate high-level US delegations - nominally private but including Stephen Bosworth, now the Obama administration's point man on North Korea - visited Pyongyang earlier this year.The author of that analysis, Aidan Foster-Carter, an "honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University", thinks that shows that Kim is not trying to get Obama's attention. From that, I conclude that Foster-Carter has never played poker, or negotiated a union contract.
We have been bribing the regime with food aid, and other concessions, to behave only semi-badly. This rejection of US food aid, and this atomic test, are exactly what Kim would do if he wanted a bigger bribe. And he probably does. It is plausible that, having sounding out the Obama administration, Kim decided that they were soft enough so that he could get more from the new president than he could from Bush.
And he has those 23 million hostages to back up his threats.
(To be fair, it is also possible that the regime, perhaps for internal reasons, as Foster-Carter suggests, is not rational. But the payoffs for apparently irrational behavior in the past have been so large that Kim has every reason to think that he can get an even better deal from Obama if he stages an immense tantrum.
The BBC article shows just what kind of propaganda a totalitarian regime can get away with:
A few days ago, a report by the official North Korean news agency KCNA declared that the US was the worst human rights violator in the world - and said that US workers were deprived of the elementary right to food and clothing.We have been feeding them for more than a decade, and they still think they can get away with that kind of claim. And they are probably right.)
- 11:24 AM, 26 May 2009 [link]
Higher US Unemployment Pleases Some People: For instance, Floyd Norris of the New York Times. He is pleased because our unemployment may be as high as Europe's.
For many years, unemployment in the United States was lower than in Western Europe, a fact often cited by people who argued that the flexibility inherent in the American system — it is easier to both hire and fire workers than in many European countries — produced more jobs.If you look at the graphic accompanying the article — and I urge you to do so — you will see that US unemployment has been lower than unemployment in 15 European Union countries since 1992, and before then. It is now, for the first time in decades, approaching the EU level.
From this, Norris concludes, along with his allies in the leftist CEPR, that the "American system" is no longer working, and that we should emulate Europe. (He has probably believed that all along, but is pleased to have new evidence to support his argument.)
Serious people will want to see more than one quarter's evidence. (And decent people will not be pleased by greater unemployment, here or in Europe.)
(In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the US did not have lower unemployment than Western Europe. The divergence in unemployment rates since about 1984 should be a considered a plus for the "American system", but often isn't.
You can better understand why European unemployment has not increased as much as US unemployment if you read this article on auto manufacturing in the two continents; the Europeans are paying many more workers not to produce cars. That can work for a year or so.
One of the reasons that I say that Norris is pleased by higher US unemployment is this blog post, where he claims that we are in the "worst recession in five decades". Judging by this New York Times interactive graphic, we are not — so far — even close to the worst.)
- 9:11 AM, 26 May 2009 [link]
South Park Gnome Strategies? That's what the Obama administration is using, says Bret Stephens.
Consider the 1998 "Gnomes" episode -- possibly surpassing Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" as the classic defense of capitalism -- in which the children of South Park, Colo., get a lesson in how not to run an enterprise from mysterious little men who go about stealing undergarments from the unsuspecting and collecting them in a huge underground storehouse.Those missing Phase Twos would explain many of Obama's otherwise inexplicable policy decisions.
(You can find a link to the full episode here.)
- 7:58 AM, 26 May 2009 [link]
Global Warming Claims And MP Expense Accounts: There is a connection. Britain, like the United States, has a freedom of information act, but those with the secrets, whether those secrets are comments on official climate documents, or dubious claims for second houses, have not been eager to release them.
Which will, inevitably, lead many to suspect that some climate scientists, like some members of the British Parliament, have something to hide.
(Incidentally, the MP expense stories have come out now, not because the House of Commons finally followed the law, but because the Telegraph bought the information.)
- 7:01 AM, 26 May 2009 [link]
Memorial Day: When we should remember these brave men in Arlington Cemetery.
- 3:48 PM, 25 May 2009 [link]