Archive:

May 2012, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Surprise!  Near the end of my copy of Colin McEvedy's Atlas of Recent History is this passage:
What had been greeted as peace quickly changed into an era of 'Cold War'.  And so it has continued for the last thirty years.  Stalin's successors have tried hard to appear less cold-blooded than he, but under pressure — as when the Hungarians tried to leave the Soviet camp in 1956, or twelve years later, when the Czechs sought to liberalize their regime — they have acted every bit as ruthlessly.  The ideological gulf remains unbridged: there has been détente but no rapprochement.

Whether this situation is comfortable or not, it is certainly stable. (p. 88)
That Atlas was published in 1982; seven years later, the Berlin Wall opened, and the Soviet bloc collapsed.

I can't say that I foresaw that collapse, at least not that soon.  As nearly as I can recall my thinking then, I expected that the Soviet bloc would collapse — of its own contradictions — if we could hold on for one more generation.  (And I wasn't absolutely sure that we could.)

McEvedy was a very smart man, smart enough to be respected by historians, even though he had been trained as a psychiatrist.  But he still missed badly on that prediction (as most did).

(There is a newer version of the Atlas.  I haven't looked at it, but now I think I'll have to, just to see what explanation he gives for that mistaken prediction.)
- 6:57 PM, 31 May 2012   [link]


Obama Insults The Poles:   Again.
President Obama has a long track record of insulting the Poles.  In 2010 he chose to play golf on the day of the funeral of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish First Lady, and 94 senior officials who perished in the Smolensk air disaster.  Eight months earlier he humiliated Warsaw by pulling out of the agreement over Third Site missile defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.  And last night Barack Obama caused huge offence in Poland by referring to a Nazi death camp in Poland as “a Polish death camp” while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Polish resistance fighter.
It's almost as if Obama doesn't like staunch American allies.

These blunders would be a little easier to take, if his supporters would stop telling us how smart the man is.

Much more on the blunder here.
- 3:40 PM, 31 May 2012   [link]


Was Mayor Michael Bloomberg Ever A Teenage Boy?   Logically, he must have been, but it is hard to believe when you see him making decisions like this one.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his controversial proposal to prohibit the sale large-sized sugary soda drinks in the city, arguing that it will combat obesity and cut health-care costs.

During an appearance via video link Thursday at the D: All Things Digital conference, Bloomberg said his plan to ban the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces in restaurants and movie theaters is part of an effort “to encourage people to live longer.”
For those who were never teenage boys, an explanation:  Boys that age are hungry all the time, and thirsty after they have been exercising, especially in hot weather.

So those big sugary drinks often look exactly right to a teenage boy, and almost certainly don't do any harm, in moderation.

Incidentally, the sugar in those drinks is mostly fructose, the sugar found in all kinds of fruits.  Which our ancestors ate for a very a long time.
- 1:15 PM, 31 May 2012   [link]


What They Said About Media Bias Isn't New — but it is interesting to see it coming from Politico.
On the front page of its Sunday edition, the New York Times gave a big spread to Ann Romney spending lots of time and tons of money on an exotic genre of horse-riding.   The clear implication: The Romneys are silly rich, move in rarefied and exotic circles, and are perhaps a tad shady.

Only days earlier, news surfaced that author David Maraniss had unearthed new details about Barack Obama’s prolific, college-age dope-smoking for his new book, “Barack Obama: The Story” — and the Times made it a brief on A15.

No wonder Republicans are livid with the early coverage of the 2012 general election campaign.
(Ann Romney took up horse riding as a way of coping with her multiple sclerosis.)

What I don't think that those running the New York Times, and similarly biased "mainstream" news organizations, realize is that often they don't just look biased, they look laughably biased.

That blatant bias is, among other things, funny.

(As you would expect, many on the left are outraged that Politico would says something this politically incorrect, and accurate.)
- 12:52 PM, 31 May 2012   [link]


What Should George W. Bush Do On His Visit To Washington, DC?  After all, today's meeting is bound to be awkward.
This is a little awkward.

President Barack Obama can't seem to stop bad-mouthing the record of former President George W. Bush.   But on Thursday, Obama is going to welcome his predecessor and proudly preside as Bush's image and legacy are enshrined at the White House forever.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will join Bush and his wife, Laura, as their official portraits are unveiled.  The incumbent is keeping up a presidential tradition typically defined by cheer and graciousness, but not without some uneasiness.
I expect that the Bushes will behave — and I hope that the Obamas will.

But I do think that Bush ought to return to Washington soon, and hold a quiet fund raiser for the private opportunity scholarships that Dick Armey started.

Bush doesn't have to make the obvious comparison — that he is trying to help the poor black kids whose public scholarships were killed by Barack Obama and Dick Durbin — but others will.
- 10:45 PM, 31 May 2012   [link]


Four Murders Today In Seattle:  By, police believe, a mentally ill man.
Seattle police said they believe the same man was responsible for two deadly shootings Wednesday in Seattle.

The man shot himself in the head on a West Seattle sidewalk as police closed in.

He is believed by police to have killed three people and wounded two others at Cafe Racer Espresso in the University District earlier Wednesday.  A half-hour later, a woman was shot to death near Town Hall in the First Hill neighborhood by a man who fled the scene in a black SUV.
Seattle isn't as used to such murder sprees as, for example, Chicago is, and so the city is in a state of shock, relieved only by the word that the suspect, Ian Stawicki, had been captured.

(As so often happens, early reports were wrong.  The police originally said that Sawicki has killed himself; now they are saying he is alive.)
- 6:14 PM, 30 May 2012
The suspected shooter and another victim died last night at the hospital.  One more victim is in critical condition.
- 8:38 AM, 31 May 2012   [link]


Some Of His Best Friends Are Jewish:  But, apparently, they aren't good enough friends to tell Obama that that claim is often made by bigots.  So often that it has become the punchline to many a joke.

Here's more from William Kristol.
- 3:24 PM, 30 May 2012   [link]


The Paul Krugman Recovery Plan:  Fake an alien invasion, so we can get spending up to where it should be.  No, the Nobel prize-winning economist, who calls his New York Times blog, "The Conscience of a Liberal", really did say that.  More than once.

Sample:
This is hard to get people to do, much better, obviously, to build bridges and roads and healthcare clinics and schools.  But my proposed, I actually have a serious proposal which is that we have to get a bunch of scientists to tell us that we're facing a threatened alien invasion, and in order to be prepared for that alien invasion we have to do things like build high-speed rail.  And the, once we've recovered, we can say, “Look, there were no aliens.”

But look, I mean, whatever it takes because right now we need somebody to spend, and that somebody has to be the U.S. government.
On some level, I am sure that Krugman is not serious about this proposal, if only because of the practical difficulties.

But that "whatever it takes" does reveal something about Krugman — and why so few people on the center or right trust him.  (I'm not sure how many people on the left trust him, though many seem to find him useful.)

(For the record, weapons, perhaps including biological weapons, seem like a more practical way to fight off an alien invasion.)
- 8:26 AM, 30 May 2012   [link]


Are These Astrologers Just Trying To Please their customers?
It's unanimous: A panel of renowned astrologers predicts President Obama will win re-election in November.

That's the word from the last day of an astrology conference here that also forecast earthquakes, explored the impact of lunar cycles on U.S. stocks and demonstrated how to use planetary charts to find a job.
Because I would bet that astrologers have more customers among those who plan to vote for Obama, than among those who plan to vote against him.

(Oddly, the reporter, Rick Jervis, seems to take the astrologers seriously.  Respectable newspapers almost always cover astrology with wink, so that readers will know that their reporters haven't been fooled.)
- 6:55 AM, 30 May 2012   [link]


The Three "Mistakes" In Obama's Literary Biography:   In this post, I mentioned the literary biography in which Obama's agent claimed that Obama had been born in Kenya.

I don't think it captures all that I have say on that now infamous brochure.  (Perhaps because I wrote it while I was coming down with a bug.)

Almost certainly, the information in that brochure comes from Obama himself.  It includes at least three "mistakes".
Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.  The son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister, he attended Columbia University and worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation.
Obama wasn't born in Kenya, his father wasn't a finance minister, and Obama wasn't a financial journalist for Business International.

(I am not sure whether the claims about Obama's anti-poverty positions, which follow that segment, are correct.  That's why I said "at least".)

Those "mistakes" almost certainly (probability greater than 99 per cent) came from Obama himself.  And I don't think that there is any mystery about his motive; he inflated his resumé, as so many do, in order to make money, in this case by hyping sales of his book.

The first mistake has drawn by far the most attention, but the other two mistakes deserve just as much, because of what they tell us about Obama's truthfulness.  Even at that stage in his life, he had an exotic background that he could use, but he couldn't resist embellishing it.
- 10:39 AM, 29 May 2012   [link]


Why Does Obama Hate Camp David?  According to Helene Cooper, it's the lack of golf.
Cooper said Obama “hates” going to Camp David, and she had never been able to understand why President O[b]ama doesn't like going there until her most recent trip there with the Commander in Chief.

Said Cooper: “Everybody's going, ‘why doesn't he spend more time up there?’ . . . No golf . . . It’s all about the golf.”
Curious.  President Eisenhower, another avid golfer, was quite fond of Camp David, which is named after his grandson, David.

More likely, Obama simply isn't as comfortable in the country as he is in the city.   Obama has admitted to disliking the suburbs where most Americans live, so we shouldn't be surprised to find that staying in the countryside, where there are even fewer people, makes him unhappy.
- 6:46 AM, 29 May 2012   [link]


For Memorial Day, I recommend this picture — and this speech, both by Reverend Donald Sensing.
- 12:54 PM, 28 May 2012   [link]


Is Obama Preparing To Write A Third Fictionalized Autobiography?  With some new characters, for added interest?
In two campaign speeches over the last two days, President Barack Obama has twice mistakenly mentioned “my sons” when defending his administration’s regulation requiring virtually all health-care plans in the United States to provide women, without any fees or co-pay, with sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that can cause abortions.
I don't think Obama is referring to any real sons; I think that he slipped into saying sons, because he could use them to support an argument he was making.

And that, perhaps, may be the way to understand Obama's fictionalized autobiographies.   They are intended to make a series of political arguments, with the facts modified, from time to time, when Obama needed to, in order to support his conclusions.

It's something we should remember as we listen to him during this presidential campaign.

And for the sake of the country, we can hope that he will have the time after November to write his third autobiography — and I won't complain if it includes some instructive stories about his nonexistent sons.
- 9:24 AM, 27 May 2012   [link]


Courtship Secrets Of Sir Thomas More:  You probably know that Sir Thomas More was Henry VIII's chancellor, and came to an unfortunate end when he could not help Henry out with his marital problems.  If you have seen "A Man For All Seasons", you probably admire him for his conscience.  And , if you are Catholic, you probably know that he was canonized in the 1930s.

But you may not know how practical he was about some matters.

A few days ago, I was re-reading David Bodanis's The Secret House, and in a section on the customs when everyone in a family slept together, ran across this little historical tidbit.
All this sharing of bed and bedroom led to a certain easing of manners.  There's the account in Aubrey's Brief Lives where Sir Thomas More invites Sir William Roper into the family bedroom to choose a wife.  It was early in the morning, and More's two teen-aged daughters were still asleep.  More removed the sheets over the two girls, which revealed 'them with their smocks up as high as their armpits'.  They slowly turned over, not bothering to pull down their smocks; Roper said 'I have seen both sides', patted one on the bottom, and said she would be his wife.
Now doesn't that sound practical?  There's no mention of any marital problems in this brief biography of Roper, so it is likely the marriage was a success.

(The Bodanis book would be great fun for anyone who wants to see the science in daily life, along with a little history.)
- 2:54 PM, 26 May 2012   [link]


The Anti-Science New York Times:  This is a sensitive subject, so I am going to begin abstractly, before giving you the specifics.

A scientist makes a study.  A decade later, he decides that the study was fatally flawed and that he no longer believes in his original conclusion.

Can we, on that basis, decide that his original conclusion was a "pseudotheory"?

No, because as millions of high school chemistry students can tell you, doing an experiment with the wrong procedures does not invalidate a theory.

A poor experiment (or study) shows us nothing, or almost nothing, about the theory it is supposed to be testing.  (Although it often shows us something about the researcher.)

Now, let's apply that simple, common sense understanding of science to an editorial in yesterday's Times.

Here, from Wikipedia, is a description of the scientist and the controversial study.
Robert Leopold Spitzer[1] (born May 22, 1932) is a retired professor of psychiatry and psychologist[2].  He spent most of his career at Columbia University in New York City, New York, United States and was on the research faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.  He was a major architect of the modern classification of mental disorders.  He retired after 49 years[3] in December 2010.[4]  He is called arguably the most influential psychiatrist of the 20th century.[5]
. . .
n 2001, Spitzer delivered a controversial paper, Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? at the 2001 annual APA meeting; in that paper, Spitzer argued that it is possible that some highly motivated individuals could successfully change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.  A 2001 Washington Post article indicates that Spitzer held 45-minute telephonic interviews with 200 people who claimed that their respective sexual orientations had changed from homosexual to heterosexual.  Spitzer said he "began his study as a skeptic," but the study revealed that "66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had arrived at what [Spitzer] called good heterosexual functioning," defined as "being in a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the past year, getting enough satisfaction from the emotional relationship with their partner to rate at least seven on a 10-point scale, having satisfying heterosexual sex at least monthly and never or rarely thinking of somebody of the same sex during heterosexual sex."  Spitzer also found that "89 percent of men and 95 percent of women said they were bothered only slightly, or not at all, by unwanted homosexual feelings," but that "only 11 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women reported a complete absence of homosexual indicators, including same-sex attraction."  The Post reported that "[s]ome 43 percent of the sample had been referred to Spitzer by 'ex-gay ministries,'" while "an additional 23 percent were referred by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality."  Spitzer has stated that his research "shows some people can change from gay to straight, and we ought to acknowledge that."[17]  Considering how difficult it had been to find 100 participants, and that they were considered the best cases of conversion therapy, Spitzer concluded that although change could occur, it was probably very rare.[19][20]
Now Dr. Spitzer has recanted — and I use a word with religious connotations quite deliberately — and so the Times celebrated by claiming that his recantation showed the death of a "pseudotheory".

No, it doesn't, for the reasons I gave at the beginning of the post.  Only a better study could refute the theory.

Incidentally, considering how minimal his original claim was, that a very few gays and lesbians can change orientation, it would be a hard theory to disprove.  (And an easy theory to substantiate, since all you need to do is find a few solid examples.)

Long ago, I accepted that scientists will often come to conclusions that displease me.   The editorial writers at the Times need to come to the same conclusion, and begin judging scientific conclusions, not by their political correctness, but by the data.

(For the sake of relative brevity, I went along with the claim that the study is fatally flawed, but I have my doubts about that, too, since Spitzer was simply looking for examples.  The study was flawed, certainly, but not perhaps fatally.

I'll have more to say about what real science says about this general subject eventually, but for now, I'll just give you this teaser.)
- 2:32 PM, 25 May 2012   [link]


"A Cow Pie Of Distortion"  Many have noticed, as Drudge intended us to, how crude Obama's metaphor was.  Professor Althouse reminds us, at considerable length, how stupid it was.  But you don't need to read her post, as entertaining as it is, to come to that conclusion.

Here's the key paragraph from Obama's speech:
Now, I know Governor Romney came to Des Moines last week; warned about a "prairie fire of debt."  That’s what he said.  (Laughter.)  But he left out some facts.  His speech was more like a cow pie of distortion.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know whose record he twisted the most -- mine or his.  (Laughter.)
It is easy enough to understand Romney's metaphor, though it would have been better if he had said debt growing like a prairie fire.

But what do cow pies have to do with distortion?  That combination makes no sense at all.  It's just crude.

(What could the Obama speechwriter have used instead of "cow pie"?  Fun house mirror is traditional, and would work, and there are many other possibilities.  And there are ways you could use "cow pie", directly or indirectly, in a political speech and make sense.   But that wasn't one of them.)
- 9:52 AM, 25 May 2012   [link]


Greece Has Tax-Free Shipping Companies:  Ever wonder why Greece has such successful shipping magnates?  I have, once or twice.  Yesterday's New York Times gave me a partial explanation.

In an article on what Greece's rich are doing about the country's financial crisis (not much), reporters Landon Thomas, Jr. and Eleni Varvitsioti explained that Greek shipping companies don't have to pay taxes.  Their tax-free status is not a temporary tax break; it is protected by the Greek constitution.  (Technically, I think they mean that the shipping companies don't have to pay the direct taxes that other companies do.  They probably pay indirect taxes.)

Are the shipping companies likely to pay taxes in the future?  Probably not, since almost everyone assumes that the companies would just leave if they lost their tax-free status.   And Greece can't afford to lose its "top single foreign-exchange earner".

(The reporters, Landon Thomas, Jr. and Eleni Varvitsioti, make a more general claim about Greek business that may help explain Greece's troubles:
Many economists say the [financial] oligarchs are big part of Greece's economic problem, because they have capitalized on the insular, quasi-monopolistic approach to business that is one reason their nation has long lagged the far more competitive economies of many other euro zone nations
It's a plausible claim, but I would like to see a few of those economists' names.)
- 7:45 AM, 25 May 2012   [link]