Archive:

May 2017, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



"How Whales Became The Biggest Animals On The Planet"  Specifically, how baleen (filter-feeding) whales became so big.
Whales have an interesting evolutionary history. They began as land-dwelling, hoofed mammals some 50 million years ago.  Over several millions of years they developed fins and became marine creatures.  Between about 20 million and 30 million years ago, some of these ancient whales developed the ability to filter-feed, which meant they could swallow swarms of tiny prey in a single gargantuan gulp.  But even with this feeding ability, whales remained only moderately large for millions of years.

“But then all of a sudden — ‘boom’ — we see them get very big, like blue whales,” said Nick Pyenson, the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and an author of the paper.  “It’s like going from whales the size of minivans to longer than two school buses.”
That jump in size occurred about 4.5 million years ago, which should give you a hint as to the cause.

(The largest toothed whales, male sperm whales, are much smaller than blue whales.)
- 4:37 PM, 31 May 2017   [link]


Worth Buying:  Today's Wall Street Journal, if only for the Bret Weinstein op-ed, "The Campus Mob Came for Me—and You, Professor, Could Be Next".
I was not expecting to hold my biology class in a public park last week.  But then the chief of our college police department told me she could not protect me on campus.  Protestors were searching cars for an unspecified individual—likely me—and her officers had been told to stand down, against her judgment, by the college president.
That's right; according to Weinstein, the Evergreen State College president, George Bridges, chose to deny needed police protection to a member of the faculty because, Weinstein says, of his beliefs, specifically his dissent from Critical race theory.

There's much more in the op-ed, some specific to Evergreen, and some, sadly, not.

(I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that both the college's current practices, and the student demands, are forbidden by Washington state's civil rights intiative, I-200.
Initiative 200 was a Washington State initiative to the Legislature promoted by California affirmative-action opponent Ward Connerly and filed by Scott Smith and Tim Eyman, a mail-order salesman from Mukilteo, Washington.[1]  It sought to prohibit racial and gender preferences by state and local government.  It was on the Washington ballot in November 1998 and passed with 58.22% of the vote.  It added to Washington's law (but not its constitution) the following language:

(1) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
(I don't know why I-200 didn't inlude religion as a protected category, like many other civil rights laws.)

You can find some discussion of these events here.)
- 1:00 PM, 31 May 2017   [link]


The Heart Of The NATO Treaty Is In Article 5:  It has been invoked once.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, requiring member states to come to the aid of any member state subject to an armed attack, was invoked for the first and only time after the September 11 attacks,[8] after which troops were deployed to Afghanistan under the NATO-led ISAF.  The organization has operated a range of additional roles since then, including sending trainers to Iraq, assisting in counter-piracy operations[9] and in 2011 enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.  The less potent Article 4, which merely invokes consultation among NATO members, has been invoked five times: by Turkey in 2003 over the Iraq War; twice in 2012 by Turkey over the Syrian Civil War, after the downing of an unarmed Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet, and after a mortar was fired at Turkey from Syria;[10] in 2014 by Poland, following the Russian intervention in Crimea;[11] and again by Turkey in 2015 after threats by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to its territorial integrity.[12]
(Links omitted.)

So the only time that NATO has acted as a war time alliance was after the United States was attacked.

NATO leaders in Europe want Donald Trump to say that the United States would fulfill our Article 5 obligations if one of them were attacked.  He has, so far, refused to do so.
- 8:16 AM, 31 May 2017   [link]


The Deadly Kabul Bombing:  So far, no one has claimed responsibility.
A powerful vehicle bomb has hit the diplomatic area of the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing at least 80 people and injuring 350.

It struck near Zanbaq Square in the heavily fortified zone, with civilians said to be the main casualties.

The morning rush-hour blast created a massive crater and blew out windows and doors hundreds of metres away.

The Taliban have denied carrying out the attack. There has been no word so far from so-called Islamic State.
Even Barack Obama would, I think, admit that his "surge" in Afghanistan was not a great success.
- 7:43 AM, 31 May 2017   [link]


Reverse Coattails In 2016 (4):  Wisconsin is one of the swing states that gave Donald Trump his electoral vote majority.

But he won the Badger state very narrowly (1,405,284-1,382,536 votes, 47.22-46.45%).

Republican Senator Ron Johnson also won the state, but by a larger margin (1,479,471-1,380,335 votes, 50.17-46.81%).

The polls in the Senate race mostly show Johnson trailing, until the very last week.  If you think the polls are right, you will conclude that a late surge gave Johnson the win.

And, tentatively, that the additional Republican voters Johnson brought to the polls in that surge pulled Trump along with him.  Barely.

(George W. Bush lost Wisconsin very narrowly in 2000 and 2004.  John McCain and Mitt Romney both lost the state.

You can find the earlier posts in this series here, here, and here.)
- 3:27 PM, 30 May 2017   [link]


The May Day Riot That Wasn't:  On May first, I predicted that Seattle would have its annual demonstration/riot, like the one we had in 2016 and the year before, and the year before that, and so on.

I wasn't the first to make that prediction; this was the Seattle Times lead article on April 28th.
May Day is shaping up like others in recent years, with a massive daytime march that historically has been mostly peaceful and the usual prospect of violence and vandalism in the evening.

But there’s a major difference this year: the election of President Donald Trump.
So our local monopoly newspaper was actually expecting a bigger riot this year, thanks to Trump.

But instead the demonstrations were almost entirely peaceful.  This year, the anarchists chose not to make them more exciting.

I don't know why they chose to avoid violence this year, but I can offer you this speculation:  The Seattle police have been getting better and better at responding to these annual riots, and so the rioters chose to strike at easier targets in the state capital, Olympia, and in Portland, Oregon, both places that did have May Day riots this year.

But that's just speculation.
- 1:54 PM, 30 May 2017   [link]


Good News On Antibiotics:  Scientists are using a new strategy to strengthen an old antibiotic, vancomycin.
US scientists have re-engineered a vital antibiotic in a bid to wipe out one of the world's most threatening superbugs.

Their new version of vancomycin is designed to be ultra-tough and appears to be a thousand times more potent than the old drug, PNAS journal reports.

It fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much less likely that the bugs can dodge the attack.
Even if this new version fails — and it has not been tested in lab animals, much less people — the strategy of creating antibiotics that have more than one way of killing bacteria makes sense to me.

(Background on vancomyicin.

Fun fact:  "Vancomycin was first isolated in 1953 by Edmund Kornfeld (working at Eli Lilly) from a soil sample collected from the interior jungles of Borneo by a missionary.")
- 6:55 AM, 30 May 2017   [link]


Unnecessary Bureaucratic Rules are increasing health care costs.
- 6:16 AM, 30 May 2017   [link]


Kaimakshalan And Memorial Day:  In one chapter of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West describes her thoughts on visiting a minor battlefield of World War I.

Her thoughts are, I think, appropriate for Memorial Day:
Everything I saw or heard as I sat on the boulder pleased me, yet the battlefield below proved that I had been born into an age too uncertain about fundamental ideas for continued existence to be easy.

Yes, the proof was there.  Surely there are things about a a battlefield that can be taken for granted by everybody; the first being that if men fought well there for a worthy object they proved themselves valuable human beings.  How can it not be so?   There are objects worth fighting for: the fate of the Slavs under the Turks proved it once and for all.  That non-resistance paralyses the aggressor is a lie; otherwise the Jews of Germany would all be very well today.  A race that has not good soldiers must be enslaved by any neighboring race that has them; a race that has not the soldierly characteristics of courage and discipline cannot in later years refuse to fight unnecessary wars and insist on proceeding with the work of civilization.  If ever peace is to be imposed on the world, it will only be because a large number of men who could have taken part in the drill display by the Guards or the Marines or the Royal Tournament turn their strength and precision to the service of life. (p. 742)
West was not afraid of politically incorrect ideas.

(I used her spelling in the title; if you don't like that one, there are many others to choose from.  She says it means "butter tub" which is slightly different from the meaning in Wikipedia.)
- 11:12 AM, 29 May 2017   [link]


Mostly, This Is Embarrassing:  But it does have its funny aspects.

Donald Trump lost two handshake battles to the new French president, Emmanuel Macron.

If Trump were seven years old, instead of a few weeks short of seventy-one, this would be understandable, and mostly funny.

I suppose we will have to get used to apologizing to foreign nations for Trump, just as we did for Obama.

(And I fear we will see more Trump defeats, since he is unlikely to give up these childish contests, and old enough so that he will lose most of them.)
- 4:58 PM, 28 May 2017   [link]


Dangers Sometimes Lurk just around the corner.
- 10:56 AM, 28 May 2017   [link]


At First Glance, You May Think this cartoon is about a politician who is much in the news.

But if you look at the hair color, you'll see it isn't that specific.
- 3:00 PM, 27 May 2017   [link]


The Montana Special Election:  RealClearPolitics has the basic numbers; Wikipedia has the numbers and the context, including a link to the 2016 election.
A special election was held on May 25, 2017, to determine the member of the United States House of Representatives for Montana's at-large congressional district.  The election was necessitated by Incumbent Republican Representative Ryan Zinke's appointment as United States Secretary of the Interior.  Zinke resigned on March 1, 2017, upon his confirmation.[1]  At around 10:30pm MST, the election was called for Greg Gianforte after 77% of the votes were counted.[2][3]
(Links omitted.)

In 2016, the Republican incombent, Ryan Zinke, won easily (285,358-205,919 votes, 56.2-40.6%); in this special election the Republican candiate, Greg Gianforte, lost ground (189,473-166,483 votes, 50.2-44.1%).

You can find, if you want to, many interpretations of those results; for now, I'll just note that Zinke is a better campaigner than Gianforte.
- 9:41 AM, 26 May 2017   [link]


This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  In Politico, Mike Lester's "What Created Trump" and Nate Beeler's "Wailing Wall"; in RealClearPolitics, Gary Varvel's "Middle East Road to Peace".

(I probably should mention that my favorites are the cartoons that make me smile, or make an important point particularly well.  Usually I agree with them, too, but not always.)
- 8:42 AM, 26 May 2017   [link]


"Loose Lips Sink Ships"  If you somehow missed that World War II propaganda poster, you can see copies here.

Now, would someone in the White House please make a copy of that poster for President Trump?
Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart revealed that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movements secret is key to their mission.
In this instance, there probably wasn't any harm done, but it would be pleasant if Trump, for a change, would set a good example.
- 7:41 AM, 25 May 2017   [link]


As Far As I Know, None Of The Budget Airlines has gone this far — yet.
- 6:48 AM, 25 May 2017   [link]