May 2014, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Just In Case You Missed this Josh Rogin story. (Because you were working, or had some similar excuse.)
Under Hillary Clinton, the State Department repeatedly declined to fully go after the terror group responsible for kidnapping hundreds of girls.For the record, I think it unlikely that putting them on that list — which does have some practical consequences — would have prevented many of their atrocities. But at the same time, I am unable to understand why Clinton opposed that move, and why Obama didn't tell her to go ahead and do it anyway.
Apparently, most of the people in the administration favored that move — and some said so, vigorously. Which leaves me wondering what the counter-arguments were, assuming they went beyond because Hillary said so, or something similar.
(Here's the Wikipedia article on the terrorist group, with the usual caveats. The population of Nigeria is about half Christian, half Muslim — which may explain why the government has not reacted as sharply to Boko Haram's terrorist attacks, as it might have.)
- 4:07 PM, 8 May 2014 [link]
From ACGT To ACGTXY: That's my perhaps cryptic way of saying that a team of biologists has succeeded in expanding the genetic alphabet from four letters. ACGT (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine), to six.
Researchers for the first time created microbes containing artificial DNA, expanding the universal genetic code that guides life. The advance one day could lead to new antibiotics, vaccines and other medical products not possible with today's bioscience.(The two new bases are d5SICS and dNaM. Ask your local chemist what those mean, or, if you are ambitious, try looking at Figure 1 in the Nature abstract.)
The Daily Mail has a more extended description of the processes the scientists used to make this happen.
If you are wondering why this is important, here's a simplified explanation: The four-letter alphabet encodes 20 amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins. A six-letter alphabet could encode for as many as 172 amino acids.
If you want to visualize that, imagine going from a Lego set with 20 different kinds of parts to one with 172 different kinds of parts.
(By way of a front-page article in the New York Times, an article that struck me as more directed to warning us about possible ill effects than telling us about the scientific achievement.
If I read the first three sentences in the abstract correctly, the scientists may be able to add other letters using these techniques:
Organisms are defined by the information encoded in their genomes, and since the origin of life this information has been encoded using a two-base-pair genetic alphabet (A–T and G–C). In vitro, the alphabet has been expanded to include several unnatural base pairs (UBPs)1, 2, 3. We have developed a class of UBPs formed between nucleotides bearing hydrophobic nucleobases, exemplified by the pair formed between d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICS–dNaM), which is efficiently PCR-amplified1 and transcribed4, 5 in vitro, and whose unique mechanism of replication has been characterized6, 7.As I understand that, they have developed a whole class of "UBPs" and, so far, have been able to make two of them work in a bacterial cell.)
- 1:23 PM, 8 May 2014 [link]
Another Obama Traffic Jam, this one in Los Angeles, yesterday.
President Obama routinely ties up traffic for commuters in New York City and Los Angeles while driving around to pick up cash. Not that it stops them from voting for him.And here in the Seattle area, when he is on fund raising trips.
It has happened often enough here so that I have concluded, tentatively, that the scheduling is deliberate, that he gets a kick out of the problems he causes for all those ordinary people. (I suspect some of his donors like that, too.)
- 7:55 AM, 8 May 2014 [link]
This is a funny headline — and it has the added benefit, as Henry Kissinger might say, of being true.
- 7:26 AM, 8 May 2014 [link]
60 Years Ago Yesterday, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile.
Two highlights from the biography:
Bannister went on to become a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College at the University of Oxford, before retiring in 1993.  :When asked whether the 4-minute mile was his proudest achievement, he said he felt prouder of his contribution to academic medicine through research into the responses of the nervous system.I can recall, barely, hearing that impossible claim — and wondering whether it was true.
The current record is 3:43.13. so it has been lowered by more than 16 seconds since Bannister's run.
- 7:52 PM, 7 May 2014 [link]
Bees And Butterflies like crocodile tears.
Floating quietly through a Costa Rican river, a scientist has documented a bee and a butterfly drinking the tears of a caiman crocodile -- and he has the video to prove it.What's in it for the insects? Probably salt and proteins.
And the crocodiles? Perhaps they like having their eyes cleaned.
This doesn't entirely spoil the crocodile tears metaphor, but it doesn't help it.
(No political point, just a scientific finding that surprised me.)
- 2:05 PM, 7 May 2014 [link]
Stealing Women From Other Tribes: This morning, I was reading Francis Parkman and ran across a passage that will provide essential background for another, much longer post.
Parkman is describing the son of a great warrior, Mahto-Tatonka, also named Mahto-Tatonka.
Though he appeared not more than twenty-one years old, he had oftener struck the enemy, and stolen more horses and more squaws than any young man in the village. We of the civilized world are not apt to attach much credit to the latter species of exploits; but horse-stealing is well known as an avenue to distinction on the prairies, and the other kind of depredation is esteemed equally meritorious. Not that the act can confer fame from its own intrinsic merits. Any one can steal a squaw, and if he chooses afterward to make an adequate present to her rightful proprietor, the easy husband for the most part rests content, his vengeance falls asleep, and all danger from that quarter is averted. Yet this is esteemed but a pitiful and mean-spirited transaction. The danger is averted, but the glory of the achievement also is lost. Mahto-Tatonka proceeded after a more gallant and dashing fashion. Out of several dozen squaws whom he had stolen, he could boast that he had never paid for one, but snapping his fingers in the face of the injured husband, had defied the extremity of his indignation, and no one yet had dared to lay the finger of violence upon him. He was following close in the footsteps of his father. The young men and the young squaws, each in their way, admired him. (p. 140)So, in that Indian tribe, in the 1800s and probably long before then, stealing women was admired — especially if the man did not, later, pay for the women.
(I don't know of any survey on the subject, but I suspect that attitude is more common than not, among tribal societies. As an example of that near universality, recall why Achilles sulked in his tent during part of the Trojan War.)
Those thefts did not cause Parkman to turn against Mahto-Tatonka; in fact, just a few paragraphs later, Parkman describes the warrior as "the best of all our Indian friends".
(I was reading the Library of America edition. I have a number of books by them and like all of them, because I am a hard-core reader. For example, "The Oregon Trail" went through a number of editions, one of which included illustrations by Frederic Remington. The publisher chose the first version (1849), and included much background, but no illustrations. They probably should at least have included a map of Parkman's travels, but on the whole I prefer having more text.
You don't have to buy the book, or many of his other works, since they are available at the Gutenberg Project. Given our times, I suppose that I should add that they are, depending on your views, either horribly or gloriously politically incorrect.
I had not known, until I read his biography at the end of the book, just how handicapped he was for much of his life, how much he depended on assistants, most of them women.)
- 1:32 PM, 7 May 2014 [link]
Sean Trende Gives A Balanced Assessment of the Tea Party, arguing that it has had successes, as well as failures, in choosing candidates. (I agree.)
He is right, too, to say that these kinds of fights are nothing new in the Republican Party. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh sometimes make arguments that are eerily similar to arguments that supporters of Robert Taft made in the late 1940s, arguments that Limbaugh probably got from his father and grandfather, who were members of the Republican "establishment" in Missouri.
Trende ends with this point, which may annoy some in the Tea Party movement, but one I think they should pay attention to:
Again, the drawbacks of an inexperienced candidate are real. There is a reason that I can count the number of candidates over the past two decades who didn’t hold prior elective office or run a major corporation before winning a Senate seat on two hands, with fingers to spare.Amateurs usually lose to professionals, and that is almost as true in politics, as it is in sports.
(Trende, like almost everyone else, discusses these quarrels in terms of "establishment" versus the Tea Party. As I have said before, I don't think that there is a Republican establishment in any real sense, but I will admit that I haven't found exactly the right terms to describes the sides, although I think that pragmatists versus purists or insiders versus outsiders would be better.)
- 9:49 AM, 7 May 2014 [link]
Congratulations — If That's The Right Word — To David Kirkpatrick, this year's winner of the Walter Duranty award. There are so many American journalists who deserve the award that Kirkpatrick can take a perverse pride in finishing first.
Here's my take on the reporting that won Kirkpatrick the prize.
(And here's the Wikipedia article on Duranty.)
- 8:54 AM, 7 May 2014 [link]
PC, Semi-PC, And Non-PC Reactions To The Polio Outbreak: From the BBC, we get the first. Medical correspondent Fergus Walsh begins by putting the outbreak in perspective, and then ends with an explanation for the WHO statement.
At first glance it might seem odd for the spread of polio to be declared an international public health emergency.There's nothing false about what Walsh wrote; in fact, I would say that what he wrote is a useful contribution.
But he left something out, something that the Associated Press includes, though even they are less direct than I would like. (Which is why I would describe their article as "semi-PC".)
The vast majority of new cases are in Pakistan, a country which an independent monitoring board set up by the WHO has called "a powder keg that could ignite widespread polio transmission."(Emphasis added.)
But even the AP only hints at this important point: All of the nations — except Equatorial Guinea — where new cases of polio have appeared are either predominately Muslim, or have large Muslim minorities.
That should not lead you to conclude that Muslim nations are not fighting polio; most are. Or that most Muslim leaders do not support efforts to end polio; most do. But you can conclude that most of the organized opposition to polio vaccinations comes from Muslims. And it is not politically correct to say that, even though it is true.
(As I recall, the Guardian published the news about that Pakistani doctor, which had the immediate effects of damaging the polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, sending the doctor to jail, and damaging the US image still further. I suppose that, in the eyes of the Guardian, the last made up for the first two.)
- 2:47 PM, 6 May 2014 [link]
It's Hard To Put Out A Newspaper If You Can't Get Paper: And that is what has happened to one of Venezuela's principal newspapers, El Universal.
Since authorities have failed to issue timely the so-called foreign currency purchase authorization, the latest newsprint shipment forwarded to El Universal daily newspaper has not been cleared by customsThe rolls of paper are in Venezuela and the newspaper has the Bolivars to pay for them, but the regime has not authorized the conversion of those Bolivars into a foreign currency, most likely dollars.
- 6:52 AM, 6 May 2014 [link]
Good Signs For Republicans In The Latest Pew Poll: USA Today (which co-sponsored the poll) has the best summary.
A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan "waves" in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away -- a lifetime in politics -- at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president.(They would be more accurate to say tepid disapproval, since more disapprove than approve (50-44.))
Pew has the best discussion of the findings.
Obama’s current approval measure is much higher than George W. Bush’s at this point in the 2006 midterm, and Obama is less of a drag on his party’s midterm prospects than Bush was. In April 2006, Bush had a 35% job rating and twice as many voters considered their midterm vote as an expression of opposition to the president than as a signal of support (34% to 17%).But they leave out some findings that almost everyone would find interesting. For example, it is not terribly surprising that the split on the generic vote among non-Hispanic whites is 55-36, Republican, but it is mildly surprising to find that the split among non-Hispanic blacks is 17-77.
I wouldn't make too much of that because the sub-sample of blacks is small (110), but it is consistent with this fact: On the whole, poor and minorities have done especially badly while Obama has been president.
Two other things that I found of interest, though I suspect not everyone else would: You would have to go back to April 2003 to find a poll where as many as 50 percent of the respondents were "satisfied" with the direction of the country. We aren't easy to please.
There is an almost equally great stability in our distaste for congressional leaders; the last time more people approved than disapproved of the Republican leaders in Congress was January 2003, and the last time more approved of the Democratic leaders was February 2007. (And more had disapproved of them in the polls from at least February 2004 through October 2006.) You'll notice that those brief peaks of approval occurred after the Republicans took back control of the Senate in the 2002 election, and after the Democrats took control of the Congress in the 2006 election. (And both sets of leaders had remarkably short honeymoons.)
- 7:22 PM, 5 May 2014 [link]
Newark Mayoral Candidate's Racist Rant: The Daily Beast put a mild headline on this article, so mild as to be deceptive.
But if you read down a few paragraphs, you find something interesting:
The race for mayor was ugly from the start—[Ras] Baraka showed up at [Shavar] Jeffries’ home at 9:30 one night and the two men got in a shouting match; a low-level Jeffries campaign worker set fire to the Baraka campaign bus—but the heat was turned up this weekend when a Web site of unclear origin posted a 10-minute video of a Baraka diatribe. In it, Baraka indicates that whites are the “enemies” of blacks and suggests “We got to plan to remove them and then we got to seize power.” He was apparently addressing gang-affiliated teenagers and trying to impart a message of black empowerment, but even in context the language is extremely inflammatory.Well, yes, I think almost everyone can agree that the language is "extremely inflammatory" — especially when you consider that it was directed to gang bangers, who might decide to act on his suggestions.
Oddly, at this point, the reporter, Charles Upton Sahm, switches back to treating this as an ordinary election story, rather than telling us more about what Baraka said.
But a quick search turned up what appears to be the video, with a partial transcript.
I don’t have no illusions about who these people are … There are some white folks in Arizona who will fight you if you tell them to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday … we’re dealing with a devil…These people will murder you clean, straight out. They’re wiping you whole neighborhood out and you ain’t got nothing to say.(Note: I am unfamiliar with the site, and can not guarantee that the video has not been edited. But I would give 20-1 odds that the video is reasonably accurate, given what was in the Daily Beast article.)
That Baraka argument seems clear enough and, if I may say so, is somewhat worse than anything we have heard from the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
(The Daily Beast may have changed the headline. As I write, it is "The Leak of a Mysterious Video Could Change the Outcome of Newark’s Mayor’s Race", but in their top picks it is "Newark's Explosive Mayor's Race", which is more accurate.
If his name seems vaguely familiar, it may be because you are thinking of his father, Amiri Baraka, who said a few controversial things himself, in his long career.
Here's the Wikipedia article on Newark.)
- 1:17 PM, 5 May 2014 [link]
Will The Courts Save Us From ObamaCare? George Will thinks they might, and explains why in a well-written review of the specific Constitutional provision.
Here are his first and last paragraphs:
If the president wants to witness a refutation of his assertion that the survival of the Affordable Care Act is assured, come Thursday he should stroll the 13 blocks from his office to the nation’s second-most important court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. There he can hear an argument involving yet another constitutional provision that evidently has escaped his notice. It is the origination clause, which says: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.”Is Will's argument correct? I think so, though I must add that I am not an expert on constitutional law. If the individual mandate is a tax, then the bill had to originate — and not just formally — in the House.
But will the Supreme Court come to that conclusion, will they even hear the case? Scott Johnson thinks not, judging by their behavior in many past cases.
Has the Supreme Court ever served as a bulwark of the Constitution or legal nicety when the chips were down? Contrary to popular belief, and the Supreme Court’s own conception of itself, I think the answer is largely negative.It is possible to find cases where they have defended the Constitution, but I fear that, as a general rule, Johnson is right.
(I corrected several typos in the Will quote from the Constitution.)
- 7:58 AM, 5 May 2014 [link]
What Does A License To Operate A Taxi In New York City Cost? Take your best guess. Maybe even write it down.
Then look here for the answer.
(FWIW, my guess would have been too low, even though I have followed this issue, off and on, for years.
There's some background in this Wikipedia article, which you should read with the usual caveats.)
- 7:26 AM, 5 May 2014 [link]
Separated As Babies: Reunited 78 Years Later.
The last time they were side by side was as babies in their mother’s arms.The sisters think they are fraternal twins. The researchers who study separated twins are already questioning them and, I suspect, hoping the two are identical. (I can't tell from their appearances.)
- 2:18 PM, 4 May 2014 [link]
Racist Attitudes Have Been Declining In The United States For Decades: We can see that in polls that have asked the same questions about race over and over, for example, the General Social Survey, which has asked some of the same questions since 1972.
Nate Silver and Allison McCann combined those questions to produce an "index of negative racial attitudes". They found that racist attitudes among white Democrats and Republicans declined under Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43. But then something changed.
There hasn’t been much of an overall increase or decrease in the index since Obama took office. On average, between the 2004 and 2006 editions of the surveys — the last two before Obama was either a president or a candidate — the index of negative racial attitudes stood at 22 percent for white Democrats and 26 percent for white Republicans. Those values are within the margin of error for those in the 2010 and 2012 surveys.(Emphasis added.)
Silver and McCann do not speculate on why improvement stopped since Obama was elected, but I will. The Obama political team chose, after he was elected, to emphasize racial divisions in order to increase black support for Obama (and other Democrats). That worked, politically. Black turnout was higher than white turnout in 2012, and blacks, unlike almost every other group, were about as loyal to Obama in 2012 as they had been in 2008.
Remember all those people who were saying that electing Obama would lead to an era of racial harmony? They weren't thinking about the possibility that the Obama political team might not want racial divisions to decrease.
(The Silver/McCann post was written to compare attitudes of white Republicans and Democrats. The authors found, from the survey data, that Republicans were a little more likely to give "racist" answers to some of the questions asked in the survey.
I don't think they are mis-reporting the data, but I don't agree with their conclusion. As they say in their fourth paragraph, there may be a problem with social desirability bias, "the tendency of respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others". In this context that would imply that some respondents, not wanting to be labeled racist, would give politically correct answers, rather than saying what they really think.
But the authors don't consider that the bias may be stronger for white Democrats than for white Republicans. Nor do they consider any questions that would test what George W. Bush memorably called the "soft bigotry of low expectations". Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think that blacks do not need help from affirmative action programs. I think that reveals that some white Democrats think that blacks are inferior, but will concede that it could also mean that some Republicans don't recognize the effects of past racism.)
- 1:50 PM, 4 May 2014 [link]
Bush Rising (2): In 2010, I predicted that the "more Americans see of Barack Obama, the better they will like George W. Bush". You can decide for yourself whether we now like Bush better because we like Obama less, but there is no doubt that our opinion of Bush has improved.
Since April, Bush’s favorable rating has averaged 49.3 percent. His unfavorable rating has averaged 46.3 percent. More Americans now like Bush than dislike him. Of course, 49.3 percent is far lower than Jimmy Carter’s 58 percent favorability rating, recorded in April 2013, but Bush has seen a moderate improvement over the past four years. In his last weeks in office, Bush’s favorable rating averaged just 37.3 percent; his unfavorable rating averaged 57.8 percent.And no doubt that our opinion of Obama has fallen.
- 12:58 PM, 4 May 2014 [link]
Almost A Balanced Ticket For Washington State: Different places, and different times, call for different kinds of balancing.
Tammany Hall politicians (and other ticket balancers) would admire Washington Governor Jay Inslee's latest pick:
Judge Yu is, for Washington state, almost a balanced ticket all by herself.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Will Yu be a good choice for the state's highest court? I don't know enough about her record to say, but I suspect — given who appointed her — that she won't be.For what it is worth, our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times, argued for an appointment that would bring some geographical and ideological balance to the court. They suggested that Inslee pick someone from eastern Washington, someone who was at least occasionally sympathetic to property owners.)
- 4:12 PM, 3 May 2014 [link]
This Year's Seattle May Day Riot wasn't as bad as the riots in 2012 and 2013.
(Ed. note: This report contains graphic language.)So, judging by arrest numbers, this riot was about half as bad as last year's.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that our local journalists love covering these riots. Local TV stations gave this one hours of additional coverage, from every possible angle.
(And, of course, it wasn't even within an order of magnitude of the 1999 WTO riot.)
- 7:45 AM, 2 May 2014 [link]
Two Good Cartoons From The New Yorker: One from Tuesday, and one from Wednesday.
(Could I make political points about the two cartoons? Sure. But there is no need to. Not everything has to be about politics.)
- 3:10 PM, 1 May 2014 [link]
Ed Moloney Thinks IRA Leader Gerry Adams Should Get Away With Murder: While I was reading this article, I was at first surprised by his argument, but then came to understand it — though not to agree with it.
First, the murder:
On a cold December evening in 1972, 37-year-old Jean McConville, a recently widowed mother of 10 young children, was with her family in their cramped apartment in Divis Flats, a working-class housing project on the edge of Catholic West Belfast, when the door was forced open and a gang of masked young women burst in and dragged her away.Nor did the children ever see their mother again. She was taken away by IRA operatives, shot, and buried in a place that they expected would never be found. (They were wrong about that.)
It is likely that IRA leader Gerry Adams ordered her shot, thinking, probably falsely, that she was an informer. (She was a natural suspect since she had been raised Protestant and converted when she married her Catholic husband.)
Years later, Boston College interviewed some IRA terrorists, promising that the interviews would be kept secret until the people had died. In those interviews were claims that Adams had ordered the murder.
The British government found out about the material, and after a mere three years of legal wrangling, got access to it.
And so Adams is facing interrogation (voluntarily), and may face a murder charge.
Which Moloney thinks is unfortunate.
There is much more at stake than just Adams’s freedom and reputation, however. He was the principal architect of the IRA peace strategy; without him the IRA would never have been maneuvered out of violence. If the British put him on trial, his hardline opponents’ accusations of naiveté or selling out will be justified and the peace process will be seriously undermined.(Moloney thinks that the Obama administration could and should have stopped the British government from getting access to those interviews.)
So, to put it bluntly, Moloney thinks that Adams should be allowed to get away with ordering the cold-blooded murder of a widow with 10 children, a widow who was probably innocent of the charges the IRA had made against her. Because, to do otherwise, might revive IRA violence.
As I said, I don't agree with him (and will admit that I do not have a good idea of how likely that revival is), but I do understand his thinking.
(I called it an article, because that is what the Daily Beast is calling it. But it sure looks like an opinion piece to me.)
- 1:22 PM, 1 May 2014 [link]
Andrew McCarthy Summarizes The Obama Administration's Benghazi story.
[Jay] Carney was grilled about just-released e-mails that corroborate what many of us have been arguing all along: “Blame the Video” was an Obama-administration–crafted lie, through and through. It was intended, in the stretch run of the 2012 campaign, to obscure the facts that (a) the president’s foreign policy of empowering Islamic supremacists contributed directly and materially to the Benghazi massacre; (b) the president’s reckless stationing of American government personnel in Benghazi and his shocking failure to provide sufficient protection for them were driven by a political-campaign imperative to portray the Obama Libya policy as a success — and, again, they invited the jihadist violence that killed our ambassador and three other Americans; and (c) far from being “decimated,” as the president repeatedly claimed during the campaign (and continued to claim even after the September 11 violence in Egypt and Libya), al-Qaeda and its allied jihadists remained a driving force of anti-American violence in Muslim countries — indeed, they had been strengthened by the president’s pro-Islamist policies.McCarthy also argues — correctly, in my opinion — that the rioting in Cairo had little to do with that video.
- 7:52 AM, 1 May 2014 [link]
Seattle Is Finishing Preparations for the annual May Day riots.
With anti-capitalist protesters expected to hit Seattle streets again this year on May Day Thursday, several small businesses are preparing for the worst too.(I can understand her feelings, even though I don't agree with her suggestion that the rioters hit other places.)
Seattle's most famous city council member, Trotskyite Kshama Sawant, says she opposes violence — and has put out a statement that appears to encourage it.
"I also oppose the provocative statements and actions of the Seattle Police Department in relation to May 1st. The Seattle police are acting in a repressive, anti-democratic manner along with the corporate owned mass media who are attempting to whip up a polarized state of fear,” she said.Seattle Mayor Ed Murray doesn't think her statement is helpful.
Last year, and the year before, the anarchists used the protection of large, mostly peaceful demonstrations to attack businesses and the police. Businesses and the police appear to be expecting something similar today.
- 5:37 AM, 1 May 2014 [link]