May 2015, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Memorial Day: When we should remember these brave men in Arlington Cemetery.
(Recycled from 2009.)
- 7:16 AM, 25 May 2015 [link]
Newt Gingrich Is A Talented Polemicist: As you can see in this piece, where he blames the ills of Baltimore on — Democrats.
Here's how he begins:
Fact: The last Republican city council member in Baltimore City left office in 1942. That is 73 years of solid Democrat city councils.(He continues, at some length, with those facts.)
Talented enough so that, even as a Republican back bencher in the House, he was sometimes able to get coverage for his ideas from "mainstream" journalists.
After you enjoy that polemic — if you are a Republican or just like effective rhetoric — you might take some time to think about his analysis, and his proposals for reform.
I would say that there is much truth in his analysis although, not surprisingly, he leaves out non-governmental causes, and that his reform proposals would have mostly good effects, though not as large as he might claim.
- 8:20 AM, 22 May 2015 [link]
Taking Your Dog For A Walk? Then you might want to tell it about this study.
The bond between humans and dogs can feel very strong, deep and profound. It may also be much older than we once thought.Actually, if you follow that link, you'll find that the estimates on dog domestication vary widely, though it is true that 11,000 to 16,000 years ago has been (and may still be) one of the more accepted ranges. (You can download the paper — I'd say a reader with some scientific background can understand most of it — or you can glance through this Wikipedia article to get an idea of how much those estimates have varied.)
It isn't hard to guess why the article didn't mention the range of previous estimates; most likely the reporter, Elahe Izadi, re-wrote a Harvard press release, which had already simplified the background.
Finally, note that, in most of the world, dogs are not man's best friend:
The dog was the first domesticated animal and although it is said that the "dog is man's best friend" regarding 17-24% of dogs in the developed countries, in the developing world they are feral, village or community dogs, with pet dogs uncommon. These live their lives as scavengers and have never been owned by humans, with one study showing their most common response when approached by strangers was to run away (52%) or respond with aggression (11%).If we had a time machine and could go back to the tribes that first domesticated dogs, I suspect we would find something similar, with the first dogs being, not "best friends", but uneasy allies.
- 7:14 AM, 22 May 2015 [link]
Before We Had Radiometric Dating, geologists could often place the ages of rocks, relatively; they could often tell you which rock was older than another rock.
But they couldn't tell you how old any particular rock was, and their estimates were often wildly off.
I was reminded of that a few weeks ago, when I was re-reading Hans Zinsser's classic, Rats, Lice, and History, and came across this passage:
Reasoner has collected from the paleontological literature a number of descriptions of conditions of bacterial origin occurring in prehistoric animal remains. He mentions the remains of a reptile, Dimetrodon, of the Permian age (21,000,00 years ago), described by Gilmore, in which there was evidence of chronic osteomylitis of the spine; also a Jurassic crocodile (14,000,000 years ago) described by Auer, which presented signs of infection in the pelvis, with metastases in the femur, the sacral vertebrae, and the palate. (p. 105)You don't have to know a lot about geology to recognize that those ages for the Permian and the Jurassic are both off by more than a hundred million years.
Zinsser was a medical researcher, and was probably using estimates from a standard, but perhaps a little dated, geology text. (His father-in-law was a mineralogist.)
So he was most likely repeating mistakes that respected and, for their time, competent, geologists had made.
(I said Zinsser's book is a classic; I suppose I should expand on that a little for those who have not read the book. Zinsser describes how diseases, especially typhus, have changed history in a book that begins with a twelve-chapter-long digression — an entertaining digression — and gives us, without intending to, a partial picture of his times. The book will make you laugh — and make you think.
If you want to know more about geologic dating, I'd suggest you start here, and then move on, if you want to know details, to this article.)
- 6:25 PM, 21 May 2015 [link]
Baltimore Police Indicted; Baltimore Crime Soars: Minorities hardest hit.
The 28-year-old [Andre] Hunt was lured out of the barbershop, according to his attorney, and shot in the back of the head on the afternoon of April 29. He was among more than 30 people slain in Baltimore in 30 days, an alarming number of killings and part of an undercurrent of violence here.And probably just as high a proportion now.
Be sure to take a look at the graphic, which shows how the murder rate increased, starting on 27 April.
By way of Paul Mirengoff.
(For the record: Mirengoff is certain that police who arrested Freddie Gray did something wrong. I am not so sure about that, because I still have seen no explanation of how he was injured, how his spinal cord was almost severed. I am not even sure the injury happened after Gray was arrested. I can think of scenarios in which the police are almost blameless, and others in which manslaughter, or even murder, might be appropriate charges.
Baltimore's population is about 620,000, of whom about 64 percent are black. If the upsurge in murders continues, about 300 people, almost all of them black, will be murdered in Baltimore this year. Those murders will draw almost no national attention.)
- 12:55 PM, 21 May 2015 [link]
Judging By Top Offices Held, "The GOP Is the Strongest It's Been in Decades", the strongest, specifically, since 1928.
Last fall, RCP Election Analyst David Byler and I put together an index of party strength. While most journalists look at presidential performance as a measure of party strength (see the ubiquitous “Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections”), we take a broader view of party strength. Rather than look simply at presidential performance, we look at party dominance at the federal, congressional, and state levels. One need only look at fights over voter identification laws, redistricting, food stamp benefits, Obamacare expansion, and a multitude of other battles from the last few years alone to understand the importance of non-federal elections. We therefore believe this approach gives a more complete measure of party strength.These indexes are always somewhat arbitrary, but this strikes me as a reasonable one, especially since Sean Trende and David Byler show that some of the plausible changes in their index would have little effect on the values.
Two thoughts: First, it seems clear to me that Republican voters are now distributed in ways that help the party win House seats and state legislatures; there are many Democratic districts where the incumbent may get 80 or even 90 percent of the vote, but few similar Republican districts.
Second, although Republicans may be stronger than at any time since 1928, the same is not true of conservatives. Beginning in the late 1930s, Southern Democrats were often more conservative on economic issues and foreign policy than Northern Democrats, and often joined with Republicans on those issues.
(I began with a qualifier, because I think that qualifier is essential to understanding what you can, and can not, conclude from this study. There is a more common way to judge the strengths of the parties, the simple democratic way of counting the numbers who belong to each party. If you use that, you come to somewhat different conclusions.)
- 7:51 AM, 21 May 2015 [link]
Washington State Now has its first dinosaur fossil.
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture paleontologists have documented the first dinosaur fossil from Washington state. The fossil was collected by a Burke Museum research team along the shores of Sucia Island State Park in the San Juan Islands.It's a small piece of a theropod's femur, and was found two years ago, here. It's about 80 million years old.
That find makes Washington one of 37 states where dinosaur fossils have been found.
(Why are dinosaur fossils so rare here? Because the exposed rocks of the right age — about 240 to 66 million years ago — are almost all marine rocks, and dinosaurs were land animals, This fossil was washed out to sea and buried with a bunch of clams, and other sea animals.)
- 7:15 AM, 21 May 2015 [link]
Wonder Why The British Polls Were So Wrong? So do the pollsters. Mark Blumenthal and company describe seven possible ways the pollsters might have gone wrong.
I am pleased to see that Harry Enten found that the poll results were suspiciously close.
Herding - FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten noticed that national polls "seemed to converge rapidly in the final days of the campaign." Virtually all of the final UK polls showed a one point or even margin Labour and the Tories (the one notable exception was an online poll conducted by SurveyMonkey, which correctly forecast the size of the Tory win). Enten calculated a standard deviation to measure the variation across the final polls in their estimate of the margin between the top two candidates. His findings show the UK poll results converging to a greater degree this year than in any other election since 1979. Perhaps confirming the trend, one pollster claimed they "chickened out" and failed to publish results giving the Tories a wider lead because "the results seemed so 'out of line' with all the polling conducted by ourselves and our peers."Because that's what I thought when I looked at the final polls; the "consensus" was suspicious.
- 6:24 PM, 20 May 2015 [link]
Josh Earnest On The Ramadi Defeat: Yesterday, President Obama's press secretary took many questions on the defeat at Ramadi. The answer he gave to ABC's Jonathan Karl got the most attention:
Q Now, on the overall track record of military operations of the President’s strategy on this, you said we've seen periods of progress and success. Would you say that overall, this strategy has been a success?(You can tell from the answer that Earnest was prepared for the question, and had his talking points ready.)
That answer made me wonder whether Earnest had said the same thing to other reporters, and whether he had walked back that "Overall" claim.
So I went through the transcript, and found that he had said essentially the same thing to "Jim", Nadia", "Carol", and "Bill". (My apologies for giving first names only, as the transcript does.) And that he never walked back that assessment, never qualified it, in any meaningful way.
So I think we can conclude that the official White House position is that our war with ISIS is an overall success.
Near the end there was a significant exchange with "Kevin":
Q Ten thousand -- we’ve heard that figure used before, say, that we would like to have seen what might have happened if say, 10,000 were left there.Those questions didn't have the if-you-knew-then-what-you-know-now form, but that was what "Kevin" was asking. And you will notice that Earnest doesn't answer him, doesn't even try to defend Obama's decision to withdraw all American ground troops from Iraq.
- 2:05 PM, 20 May 2015 [link]
Osama Bin Laden Read Noam Chomsky: In 2004, and then again in 2012, I noted the remarkable similarities between the ideas of the terrorist leader, and the far-left MIT linguist.
Now, we know one possible reason for that similarity; two of Chomsky's books were on bin Laden's "bookshelf", along with many books devoted to spreading conspiracy theories.
Or perhaps I should say many other books devoted to spreading conspiracy theories, since I have long thought that Chomsky often spreads conspiracy theories, when he discusses politics.
(Which two Chomsky books? Hegemony or Survival and Necessary Illusions.
I don't know if Chomsky is pleased by his influence on the late terrorist leader, but another American, William Blum, was delighted when he learned that bin Laden was reading his books.)
- 8:52 AM, 20 May 2015 [link]
High-Heel Gate? This morning, one of our local TV stations — I'm leaving out the name to protect the guilty — decided that one of the most important news stories for their local broadcast was that a French film festival was, or was not, requiring women to wear high heels to a film showing.
Cannes Film Festival organisers denied a report Tuesday that they were enforcing a strict high-heel rule for women on the event's legendary red carpet after a storm of protest on social media.Ever think our journalists, especially our TV journalists, may be just a little frivolous?
(For the record: I know that high heels often make women look sexier, but I seldom see a woman wearing them without wondering whether her feet hurt and feeling, not attraction, but sympathy.
I have no idea how common that attitude is among men. But I can pass along this story. A friend who had worked for a large and well-known company decades ago told me that the executives there (all men at the time) had voluntarily given up their reserved parking places, close to the office, so that their secretaries (all women at the time) would not have to walk some distance, in high heels.)
- 7:07 AM, 20 May 2015 [link]
This Diversity Officer Is For Some Kinds Of Diversity — and against other kinds.
The university equality officer at the centre of a racism and sexism row could lose her job after she allegedly tweeted a hashtag 'kill all white men'.She looks white to me (and, in the picture illustrating this article, rather attractive). But I suppose she doesn't identify as white.
In case you haven't followed these matters, I should note that her position — that only whites and men can be racist and sexist — is not uncommon in what you might call the "diversity" community.
(Goldsmiths is part of the University of London, and gets its name from actual goldsmiths, specifically, the "Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, one of the City of London Livery Companies".
The BBC doesn't have the latest news about her, but it does have this "discussion" of her position.)
- 4:53 PM, 19 May 2015 [link]
George Stephanopoulos Is Worth $15 Million A Year To ABC News Because? And I am sorry to say that I can't think of a legitimate answer to that question. There was a time when "anchors" had real followings, when having Walter Cronkhite or David Brinkley read the news meant extra viewers for a network. But, even if there are still a few such figures, it is hard to believe that Stephanopoulos is one of them, that the number of people who watch because he is reading the news is greater than the number who don't watch ABC, for the same reason.
There is, I am sorry to say, an illegitimate answer to that question. Let's say you were a top executive at ABC and you wanted to curry favor with the Clintons. It might occur to you that giving George a nice contract would be a good way to do that.
And, if you know anything at all about the Clintons, you know that they are pretty good at keeping their side of the bargain in such situations, so a nice contract for George might help get favorable treatment from a President Hillary.
The timing of this big contract is consistent with that hypothesis. Stephanopoulos began with ABC as a commentator, and the network originally said that he would not be doing straight news. And, presumably, not making especially big bucks, by the standards of the network news business.
At that time, his relations with the Clintons were cool; they were unhappy about some of the things he had said in his book, All Too Human. (True things, as far as I know.)
But, relations improved, and they were very good friends by last year, when he got the big contract. No doubt the Clintons were able to forgive Stephanopoulos in part because ABC by then had him doing straight news, which made him, potentially, far more useful to them.
(Don't miss the end of the column, where there are two funny quotes from two men running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley.)
- 3:51 PM, 19 May 2015 [link]
"The Fall Of Ramadi Exposes Obama’s Weak Islamic State Strategy" The Washington Post is blunt.
It has been apparent for some time that the United States lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State since it has no plan to root out the terrorists’ base in Syria. There was hope, though, that Mr. Obama’s half-measures might be enough to blunt the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq, leaving the Syria problem for the next U.S. president. With the stunning fall of Ramadi on Sunday, even that modest optimism is questionable.And by pinning this failure on President Obama, they are putting the blame where it belongs, unlike most of our networks. Last night I was able to watch the stories on the fall of Ramadi on BBC America, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. All described the loss of Ramadi as an American defeat. Some expressed skepticism about positive statements coming from administration spokesmen. None blamed President Obama for this failure.
In protecting Obama in this way, they missed a chance to make the story more powerful. They could have ended by telling us what Obama was doing while Ramadi fell, golfing, and setting up a twitter account.
And, if he were a Republican, they might have done just that.
The Post editorial ends with this sentence: "But it is Mr. Obama’s unwillingness to match means to strategy that threatens to prolong this war."
They're right about that.
(This Associated Press story also calls the US strategy a failure, but doesn't tie that failure directly to Obama. Its approach is broadly similar to the network stories I saw last night.)
- 9:25 AM, 19 May 2015 [link]
Candidate Chase: The Daily Mail is having fun trying to cover the Hillary Clinton campaign.
For reporters trying to cover the opening months of Hillary Rodham Clinton's second presidential campaign, Waterloo, Iowa might be her Waterloo.Doesn't that sound like more fun than asking her questions about immigration, trade policy, or the latest ISIS success?
(Trying to hide from reporters like this strikes me foolish, politically. It's the kind of mistake that Bill Clinton would never make.
What would her best tactic be, now? I haven't thought much about it, but something like this would probably work: Let all the reporters know what she is doing — and grant a few friendly reporters carefully controlled interviews.)
- 8:12 AM, 19 May 2015 [link]
Need Help Spelling George's Last Name? Here's a trick I thought of, just yesterday: Break it into three parts, like this: Stephan O. Poulos, as if it were his whole name. The "Stephan" is easy, the "O." makes a middle initial, and then you just have to remember that "Poulos" is a common ending for Greek names.
(If this entry is correct, and it probably is, "-poulos" is roughly equivalent to "son of")
- 3:40 PM, 18 May 2015 [link]
Bill Clinton And Haiti: If you were to make a list of nations that could choose "Born Under A Bad Sign" for their national song, Haiti would probably be in your top ten list, maybe even your top five list. Haiti can say, with considerable truth, that, "if it wasn't for bad luck" they "wouldn't have no luck at all".
And part of their bad luck was that they got adopted by Bill Clinton, especially after the 2010 earthquake.
Think that's too strong? Then read this opinion piece by Patrick Moynihan, who is "the president of The Haitian Project and head of its Louverture Cleary School, in Haiti, for gifted but poor children".
Here's what Moynihan says about one of Clinton's cronies.
One example of Bill Clinton's dressing a wolf in lamb's clothing with his win-win spell is the Irish telecom mogul Denis O’Brien. Clinton cannot seem to praise his billionaire friend and foundation donor enough. In an article he penned for Time, Clinton wrote, “In Haiti ... phones have revolutionized the average person's access to financial opportunity,” and goes on to write glowingly about O’Brien’s role in Haiti’s mobile “revolution.”Well, it's a win-win for Clinton and O'Brien.
By way of Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw.
- 3:02 PM, 18 May 2015 [link]
Kshama Sawant Believes In "Science" — And Human Will: This morning I listened to talk show host John Carlson attempt to interview Seattle's only open socialist (or, if you prefer to be specific, Trotskyite) member of the city council. Ms. Sawant had joined the people protesting against the Shell Oil rig at the Port of Seattle.
Sawant said often, and rather loudly, that the science on climate change is settled. (She did not explain why this news has not reached Freeman Dyson and Steven Koonin, two pretty good scientists.)
When Carlson asked her about a minor contradiction — some of the most visible protesters are paddling kayaks, which are made from plastics, that is, from oil and other fossil fuels — she asserted that "human ingenuity" could solve all such problems, that we could easily replace oil and other fossil fuels if only we had the will.
So if we don't already have, for example, faster-than-light travel, it is only because we haven't tried hard enough.
And because, as Sawant would add, we haven't moved beyond capitalism to socialism.
This kind of thinking was often found in that half-brother movement to ordinary socialism, the movement that produced, among other things, "Triumph of the Will".
(You can listen to the interview here, but I should warn you that the file loads slowly.)
- 1:29 PM, 18 May 2015 [link]
Thirty-Five Years Ago Today, Mt. St. Helens Exploded: Here's how Wikipedia describes the event.
On May 18, 1980, a major volcanic eruption occurred at Mount St. Helens, a volcano located in the state of Washington, United States. The eruption (a VEI 5 event) was the only significant one to occur in the contiguous 48 U.S. states since the 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a huge bulge and a fracture system on the mountain's north slope. An earthquake at 8:32:17 a.m. PDT (UTC−7) on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the entire weakened north face to slide away creating the largest landslide ever recorded. This suddenly exposed the partly molten, gas- and steam-rich rock in the volcano to lower pressure. The rock responded by exploding a hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock toward Spirit Lake so fast that it overtook the avalanching north face.In time, the Forest Service installed a low-resolution camera that gives us pictures of the mountain. From time to time I capture them, and made this collection in 2009.
As the eruptions subsided, Crater Glacier began to grow around the central lava dome. This picture, from 2006, shows the glacier in the process of surrounding the dome. The convex lobes show that the glacier is advancing.
A video from NASA showing the changes in the mountain over ten years.
An astonishing set of scrolling, full-screen 360 degree pictures of the mountain.
Finally, the best book I know of on the Cascade volcanoes, Stephen Harris's Fire Mountains of the West.)
- 8:32 AM, 18 May 2015 [link]
The Seattle School Cheating Scandal: It isn't on a large scale, and it may never be resolved entirely, but it is instructive.
Here are the basic facts, from a May 4th article:
Students at Beacon Hill International School were back in class Monday with a new interim principal after a cheating scandal forced the former principal out. The alleged cheating has been under investigation since last spring, and on Friday principal Po Tang and teacher Judy Eng were placed on leave.The cheating was crude; officials found massive erasures on the tests, tests that been stored in a closet that a number of school officials had keys to.
The cheating was, in some sense, predictable. When you begin using test scores to judge schools you increase the temptation to cheat — especially if you tie those test scores to rewards for teachers and principals. The cheating can be as simple (and hard to detect) as a few hints while the test is being given, or it can be as crude as it was at Beacon International.
- 7:55 AM, 18 May 2015 [link]
Worth Buying: This weekend's Wall Street Journal, if only for this survey article by Walter Russell Mead on the "The Plight of the Middle East’s Christians".
The Christian communities of Syria and Iraq have survived 2,000 years of tumult and war. In some of them, prayers are still said in Aramaic, the language that Jesus used in daily life. These communities now tremble on the brink of destruction.Mead sees this plight as ultimately coming from the breakdown of the Ottoman empire, which both exploited and protected the Christian communities under its rule.
It's a point I've made before, that the collapse of an empire often results in deadly conflicts between the groups that it had mixed together.
- 6:48 AM, 17 May 2015 [link]