Archive:

May 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



What Do Relatives Of Crime Victims Think Of "Stop-And-Frisk"?  Many are in favor of it.  The New York Post found some examples:
A surge in New York City murders — including four people slain in just five bloody hours as the weekend began — has grieving family members begging Mayor de Blasio to bring back the NYPD’s right to search for guns.

“We need stop-and-frisk,” Stacey Calhoun, the devastated uncle of one of the four fatalities, said Saturday afternoon, tears filling his eyes over the nephew he had just lost.

Jahhad Marshall — a charismatic 23-year-old with a promising future as a chef — had died of a stray bullet to his back early that morning outside the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, police said.
If you read further down, you'll learn that some people in high-crime areas favor stop-and-frisk, as long as the police are targeting criminals.  The police would probably agree with that, but say that they often don't know whether someone is a criminal, until they have stopped them (and, if necessary, frisked them).

Those stop-and-frisk policies were so effective that some criminals in New York (and probably other places) reacted by establishing "community guns", guns not carried except right before a robbery, or some other crime, but hidden in some public place, so even if the guns were found, it wouldn't be easy to determine who owned them.

As I understand it, typically three or four criminals would share a gun in this way.

(If you are wondering about the legal basis for these stops, here's the Wikipedia article on "Terry stops".  The article looks OK to me, but I must remind you that I am not a lawyer.)
- 2:10 PM, 31 May 2015   [link]


Worth Buying:  This weekend's Wall Street Journal, if only for this Heather MacDonald op-ed, "The New Nationwide Crime Wave".

The headline is somewhat misleading.  The violent part of the crime wave is almost entirely concentrated in black neighborhoods.
In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over the same period the previous year.   Through April, shootings in St. Louis were up 39%, robberies 43%, and homicides 25%.   “Crime is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said St. Louis Alderman Joe Vacarro at a May 7 City Hall hearing.

Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid-May.  Shootings in Chicago had increased 24% and homicides 17%.  Shootings and other violent felonies in Los Angeles had spiked by 25%; in New York, murder was up nearly 13%, and gun violence 7%.

Those citywide statistics from law-enforcement officials mask even more startling neighborhood-level increases.  Shooting incidents are up 500% in an East Harlem precinct compared with last year; in a South Central Los Angeles police division, shooting victims are up 100%.
(Emphasis added.)

MacDonald blames — as do I — the Obama administration and their cheerleaders in the "mainstream" media.  Together they have done so much to divide the police protectors from the people who most need police protection, the people in those poor, mostly black, neighborhoods.
- 4:58 PM, 30 May 2015   [link]


Two Jokes For Recycling:  That was almost spooky.   I opened an old (1986) collection of political jokes at random.  When I read old political jokes, I almost automatically study them to see if they can be recycled into a current form.  (Many can.)

But I wasn't expecting that the first two jokes I looked at could so easily be recycled into current Clinton jokes.
A Soviet minister, finding that his son was not shaping up very well at college for top people's children, sent him to a careers advisor, who reported: 'Your vocational aptitude test indicates that your future lies in the ministry which is run by your father.'

Starace and Farinacci, two big Italian fascist top-brasses, see a 1000 lire note on the pavement; both run for it and start arguing over who should keep it.  Finally, Farinacci says: 'All right, let's give it to a charitable institution.'

Starace hesitates, and then says, 'No, there's no point in making it go the usual round; let's just share it now.'
The recycling is left as an exercise for the reader.

I have to add that I am a little disturbed that we can recycle Communist and Fascist jokes, and make them about the Clintons, so easily.

(It's a good joke collection, though somewhat dated by now.  And you can learn something from seeing which jokes were popular in which countries.)
- 3:35 PM, 30 May 2015   [link]


Here's What Joanne Jacobs Has To Say on the 50th anniversary of Head Start:
It costs $8 billion a year and makes no difference in anything we can measure.
She is referring to academic gains in later years.  No doubt many Head Start classes provide high-quality baby sitting services.

Jacobs would be delighted if Head Start did work — and so would I.  But the research shows that it doesn't.  We ought to accept that fact, and search for programs that do work.
- 2:01 PM, 29 May 2015   [link]


The Biggest Scandal Is That It Was Published In Science In The First Place:  I had heard vaguely about the paper that purported to show that it would be easy for gays to change other people's minds about gay marriage, heard a little less vaguely that it had serious problems, but it wasn't until I read that it had been withdrawn that I realized that it had been published in Science, in one of the two most prestigious science journals in the world.  (The other is Nature.)

To put it gently, the idea that opinions can be changed by personal contact is not new.

Another example of that idea is a trivial finding, a finding that might, perhaps, find a place in a minor sociology or psychology journal, but a finding that doesn't belong in Science.

So why did the editor, Marcia McNutt, even consider it in the first place?

Let me answer that with another question: Suppose she had received an almost identical paper that found that pro-life volunteers could change people's minds on abortion by personal contact.  Do you think McNutt would have considered that paper?

Neither do I.

And from that I draw this tentative conclusion:  We should be skeptical about any paper published in Science on gay marriage, or similar subjects.

And that's a shame.
- 1:17 PM, 29 May 2015   [link]


If You Are A Supporter Of The Clintons, you won't like today's Michael Ramirez cartoon.

But almost everyone else will.
- 8:21 AM, 29 May 2015   [link]


Lenovo's Virtual Keyboards:  I've been wondering when some company would do this, since it seemed like a fairly obvious idea.
Chinese electronics giant Lenovo has unveiled a phone with a built-in laser projector that can be used to display a virtual keyboard or display.

The interactive display can replicate the phone's touch screen, a full-size computer keyboard or even piano keys.
And to show that off, they had concert pianist Lang Lang play "The Entertainer", using the virtual piano keys.

(You could do something similar with gloves containing sensors.  You could even provide tactile feedback, though that would make the gloves far more complex.)
- 1:48 PM, 28 May 2015   [link]


"Chuck Blazer: Fifa 'supergrass'"  I probably wouldn't have linked to this BBC story on the informer at the center of the FIFA investigation.
Of all the stories emerging from the corruption scandal now engulfing Fifa, one of the most spectacular must be that of Chuck Blazer, a member of Fifa's executive committee until 2013 and now reportedly the source of some of the information allegedly implicating a host of other Fifa grandees.
Except that it was fun to see the BBC using a British slang word in their headline, a slang word that will puzzle most Americans.

And because it is worth reminding ourselves that many, many big investigations begin with the police catching one man (or, occasionally, woman) and offering him (or, occasionally, her) a better deal in return for helping catch others.

(I'm not sure there is any exact American equivalent to "supergrass".  Informer doesn't quite have the negative connotations, and we use "stoolie" or "stool pigeon" for habitual informers.  Neither implies a large scale informer, as "supergrass" does.)
- 10:27 AM, 28 May 2015   [link]


When You Can't Trust Wikipedia:  I use the on-line encyclopedia almost every day, but I have learned that there are some classes of Wikipedia articles that you should distrust and verify before using.  And even then you should use them with caution.

That's true, for example, of any Wikipedia article on climate change.  Anthony Watts has, I think, a valid complaint about what some of the contributors there have done to an article on his site.
As we all know, Wikipedia has one major flaw in it’s design: it allows gang warfare.

We see this in many political entries, such as the Wikipedia entries for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which are revised hourly, only to be be revised again by “gatekeepers”. See more here: The-ClintonObama-War-The-Battle-of-Wikipedia

This illustrates the most basic problem with the reliability of Wikipedia in any entry where human opinion is involved.  There are roving gangs (and sometimes individuals who appear gang-like due to their output level, such as disgraced Wikipedia editor William Connolley, who will no doubt wail about this note, and then proceed to post the usual denigrating things on his “Stoat, taking science by the throat” blog) and individuals who act as gatekeepers of their own vision of “truth”, regardless of whether that truth is correct or not.  Some of these people may simply be paid political operatives, others may be zealots who have a belief that they are part of a “righteous cause”, something we know from Climatetgate as “noble cause corruption“.   Many of the people involved don’t even use their real names, so of course hide behind that anonymity.  In my opinion, it’s truly an irresponsible and cowardly way to define “truth” with no responsibility for your actions attached.

Right now, there is a war going on over WUWT’s entry on Wikipedia, with a clear intent to apply a smear.
As I write, here's how that Wikipedia article begins:
Watts Up With That? (or WUWT) is a blog dedicated to climate change skepticism or denial[a] created in 2006 by Anthony Watts.[1][2]  The tagline of the blog is "News and commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, weather, climate change, technology, and recent news."[3]
(It's currently blocked from further editing.)

You'll notice that the first sentence makes no sense, since skepticism and denial are two entirely different things.  If you have followed Watts at all you will know that he is not even a pure skeptic; as he says further on in his post, he believes that we have had some warming in the last century from anthropogenic carbon dioxide.  (He is what is sometimes referred to as a "luke-warmist".)

There are other reasons to distrust that entry.  For example, a contributor quotes George Monbiot's attack on WUWT, without identifying Monbiot's place in politics.   (Monbiot has a degree in zoology, earns his living mostly as a journalist, but is, as he would probably admit, a global warming extremist.)  Identifying him only as a "Guardian columnist" is misleading.
- 7:57 AM, 28 May 2015   [link]


It's A Good Offer, but not a great offer.
A Kenyan lawyer has offered President Obama 50 cows, 70 sheep and 30 goats in return for daughter Malia's hand in marriage.

Felix Kiprono Matagei, who is also a student at Oxford University according to his Facebook profile, offered the livestock in order to fulfil his 'dream' of marrying Malia.

He added that he has been 'interested' in Obama's daughter since his first presidential campaign in 2008, when she was just 10 years old.

Speaking to The Nairobian newspaper, he said: 'As a matter of fact, I haven't dated anyone since and promise to be faithful to her.
(Which, judging by Obama's father, is not something one can expect from every Kenyan man.  Or every American man, for that matter.)

According to the article, the typical bride price is "five years worth of the husband's income, which can either be paid in cash, or livestock, and may be paid upfront or in installments which may stretch over years".

According to Wikipedia, the minimum payment is often 10 cows, though the amount varies from tribe to tribe.  Presumably, as a "king's daughter", Malia would be worth much more, which is why I said it wasn't a great offer.

But I will say this in favor of Mr. Matagei:  Though he may be a little old fashioned by Obama's standards, he probably has better values than the entertainment types that Malia has been meeting.

(In partial defense of the bride price:  This custom requires a man to show he can support a family before he can marry, so it operates something like a father's approval once did, in the West.)
- 6:52 AM, 28 May 2015   [link]


Unicorn Sighted:  Well, not exactly a unicorn, but something almost as rare.  The Kirkland library has a convenient parking garage underneath the building, where you can park free, for up to four hours.

I probably use it at least once a week.

Several years ago, they converted one of the parking stalls to an electric car charging station.   Today, for the first time, I saw it in use.

(If there is any place where you would expect electric cars to catch on, it would be this area, which has lots of Green sentiment, and many techies who can afford to buy expensive tech toys.  I think there is even a state subsidy for them, though I could be wrong about that.  But they are still almost as rare as unicorns, even here.)
- 6:12 PM, 27 May 2015   [link]


If You Have Only A Mild Interest In International Soccer (As We Call It), you may still enjoy this Piers Morgan take down of the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter.
The message from today’s dramatic events is crystal clear: the game’s up. And the man in charge of the ‘game’, in every sense, is Sepp Blatter.

Blatter has worked at FIFA since 1975 and run it as President since 1998.

In that time it has morphed from a clean, respected non-political organization to one of the most infamous, scandal-strewn, disgraced and disreputable official bodies in the world.

Yet still Blatter continues, scheming and plotting right now to win yet another election, due to take place this Friday, for his fifth consecutive term in office.

During his tenure, FIFA has been repeatedly mired in charges of bribery and corruption.
(If you have more than a mild interest, you already know about this story — and you may find what Morgan has to say more a cause for anger than amusement.)

Here's the Daily Mail story on the arrests.

(With the by-now usual Mandy Rice-Davies misquote, which, I have to admit, I prefer to the original.  And I had not known until today that some refer to that quote with this abbreviation: MRDA.)
- 4:08 PM, 27 May 2015   [link]


Another Court Victory For Obama's Original Position, Another Court Defeat For His Administration:  You probably recall that President Obama said he didn't have the legal authority to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, not just once but by Speaker Boehner's count 22 times.

And then Obama changed his official position, when it became clear that Congress would not do what he wanted them to do.
With the White House poised to grant executive amnesty any day now despite the American people’s staunch opposition, on Sunday President Obama was asked about the many, many statements he made in the past about his inability to unilaterally change or ignore immigration law.  His response was astonishingly brazen: “Actually, my position hasn’t changed.   When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.”

This is a flagrant untruth: “In fact, most of the questions that were posed to the president over the past several years were about the very thing that he is expected to announce within a matter of days,” reported The New York Times. “[T]he questions actually specifically addressed the sorts of actions that he is contemplating now,”  The Washington Post’s Fact Checker agreed, awarding President Obama the rare “Upside-Down Pinocchio,” which signifies “a major-league flip-flop.”   Even FactCheck.org piled on.
States sued after Obama acted.  A federal court in Texas granted an injunction against Obama's actions, the administration appealed, and a circuit court upheld the decision, and now the case is headed, first to another hearing in the appeals court, and then to the Supreme Court.
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will not seek an emergency stay from the Supreme Court to immediately lift an injunction on President Obama's deferred action program for undocumented immigrants.

Instead, the Department of Justice will focus on an appeals court hearing in July aimed at overturning the injunction in hopes of scoring a clearer victory that could allow the program to go forward, officials said.

The decision on strategy came one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit refused to stay a lower court's injunction, delivering a setback to a core provision of Obama's immigration agenda.  Last fall, the president announced executive action plans to protect as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation and provide them work permits.
(If you need a translation from legalese, here's one from Elizabeth Price Foley.)

It's early in this legal fight, but it is beginning to appear that Obama was right in his original position; he does not have the legal authority to grant amnesty on this massive scale.

(Did Obama believe his original argument when he was making it?  I don't have an answer to that question, and I don't think anyone else, other than Obama, does, either.  But we can say this:  Either he lied, again and again, about the limits on his legal authority, or he is now consciously breaking the law.

In theory, he could have changed his mind, but then he would have had to give us an explanation of how he had come to a new conclusion, and he hasn't bothered to do that.)
- 2:50 PM, 27 May 2015   [link]


Americans (Like Everyone Else) Are Often Misinformed About Important Matters:  For example, as Gallup again found, we vastly overestimate the number of homosexuals.
The American public estimates on average that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian, little changed from Americans' 25% estimate in 2011, and only slightly higher than separate 2002 estimates of the gay and lesbian population.  These estimates are many times higher than the 3.8% of the adult population who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Gallup Daily tracking in the first four months of this year.
Two thoughts:  Despite all the public attention they get, people who think they are "transgender" are exceedingly rare.

Second, even that Gallup estimate is higher than most of the serious studies I've seen, perhaps because it includes bisexuals.

What makes this particular misinformation especially striking is that it must conflict with almost everyone's personal experiences.  Although we may not know all about the sex lives of relatives, friends, and neighbors, we often know enough about them to make rough guesses about their sexual preferences and practices.  There are very few places in America where almost one in four people belong to those four groups.

It shows, I suppose, the power of our media that so many Americans reject what they see in their own lives.

When I glanced through the groups that were especially likely to be misinformed — the young, the less educated, and Democrats — they struck me as groups that get most of their news from television.

(Sometimes our personal experiences lead us to incorrect statistical conclusions.  For instance, American blacks sometimes overestimate their share of the population, which is understandable if they have grown up in some inner city neighborhoods.)
- 9:06 AM, 27 May 2015   [link]


From UMP To Les Républicains:  Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is renaming his party.
Judges in Paris have cleared the way for Nicolas Sarkozy to rename his rightwing UMP party Les Républicains (the Republicans) as he prepares a bid to win back the French presidency in 2017.

The choice of name had sparked furious criticism from the French left which accused Sarkozy of staging a hostile takeover of national heritage.  Socialists argued that French people of all political persuasions call themselves republicans and support the values of liberty and freedom of the French republic.

They said it wasn’t fair for the right to take the monopoly of the term.  The leftwing daily Libération called the proposed name-change a “semantic hold-up”.

But an urgent court challenge brought by leftwing associations under the banner “We are the Republicans”, as well 140 individuals – including a family who have the surname Républicain – has been thrown out by a Paris court.
Neither the Guardian article, nor the accounts I saw in AFP and Reuters, mention the first thing most Americans will notice about this story:  Sarkozy has chosen the name held by a certain American party, since the 1850s.

I'm pretty sure that Reince Priebus won't object.  He might even approve, quietly.

(If you are interested in the history of UMP, the Union pour un mouvement populaire, start here.   But, if you go back a few years, you'll discover something curious; most of the presidents of the 5th Republic have been on the center right, but they have been supported by a series of parties, of which UMP is the latest.  So they have combined stable policies with an unstable party system.

Credit where due:  Some of the commenters after that article noticed the American connection.)
- 7:31 AM, 27 May 2015   [link]


Calvin et Hobbes :  When I was sorting through my humor collection two days ago, I discovered that, on one of my trips to France, I had picked up a copy of this book.  (You don't have to go to France to get a copy; Amazon is perfectly willing to sell you one, here.)

And I have spent a little time since, translating some of the cartoons back into English, as best I can.  Some, like the one on the cover, are easy.  Others require guessing how standard sounds are rendered in French — I think, for instance, that "(ouf ouf)" means "(oof oof)", but it could be, from the context, "(ow ow)".  And still others would require getting out a French textbook, assuming I still have one somewhere.

Doing those translations would be, I suspect, good practice for anyone who is trying to learn conversational French, which, like conversational English, is much less formal that what you see in most text books.

For additional French practice, I suppose you could go on to reading Asterix in the original French.
- 3:11 PM, 26 May 2015   [link]


Why Did Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Feel It Necessary to lay on the flattery this thick?
At today’s Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day observance, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “troops of such caliber demand great leaders, and there’s no doubt they have one in our commander in chief.”

“I see that every day,” continued Carter, who assumed his post in February.  “He knows well the challenges we must face, the obligations we must meet, and the opportunities we must seize in order to keep our nation safe and to make a better world for our children.  And I see that he cares deeply about the safety, welfare, and dignity of our men and women in uniform and their families.”

“For all that, and so much more, I am tremendously proud to serve as his secretary of Defense,” he added.
At a Memorial Day observance, no less.

Secretary Carter is a smart man, with considerable first-hand knowledge of the Obama administration, so he must know how badly Obama has failed.  But Carter is choosing to pretend otherwise, and to do so at an event that should not have been about Obama, at all.

Here's my speculation:  Carter wants some things from Obama, most likely a mix of policy and personnel decisions — and he thinks that this flattery is one of the things he has to do to get those things.  Carter is, we can hope, secretly embarrassed by this flattery, but has decided that this is the best tactic for dealing with Obama.

And I won't say that Carter is necessarily wrong, in that decision.

(Carter may also have been warning people in the military not to criticize Obama openly, or through leaks.)
- 10:45 AM, 26 May 2015   [link]


RIP, John And Alicia Nash:  This Wikipedia biography is better than any of the obituaries I've seen.  It will give you a rough idea of his achievements even if you aren't a mathematician, and an extensive account of his illness and his partial recovery.

(Accounts of the accident, in which the two of them died, suggest to me that they might have lived, had they been wearing seat belts.)
- 7:54 AM, 26 May 2015   [link]


Authors React To Being On Osama Bin Laden's "Book Shelf"   Politico did something clever; they got reactions from three of the late terrorist's favorite authors.  (Unfortunately, Noam Chomsky is not one of the three.)

You should be disgusted by the first, from Greg Palast, but you may find the reactions by two serious analysts, Christine Fair and Michael O'Hanlon, of interest.  Here's a sample:
Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

My book examined Pakistan's derelict policing infrastructure, shambolic civilian intelligence, poor border control, unmanageable cities, and its shameful duplicity in targeting some terrorists while harboring and facilitating others.
As you probably have heard, the US government is not planning to release even a list of the extensive collection of pornography found in bin Laden's compound.  Which is unfortunate, because it would be good propaganda for our side, and it might tell us something about how he, and others like him, think.

(I put "book shelf" in quotation marks, because I believe the copies were found on hard drives, not as physical books.)
- 7:23 AM, 26 May 2015   [link]