Archive:

November 2010, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Walter Mead explains why Kyoto climate pact failed, and why the current negotiations in Cancun (Son of Kyoto) will fail.

Sample:
The truth is increasingly hard to disguise:  Son of Kyoto is a fatally flawed, deeply dumb idea and every minute and every dime spent on it has been wasted right from the start.  Whether you believe in global warming or not, it is (or ought to be) blindingly obvious that nothing short of a coup d'etat or a lost war would get Son of Kyoto through the US Senate.  Any US Senate.  Ever.
(One of the more interesting things about the original Kyoto agreement was that it was negotiated, in part, by Al Gore — who should know something about the Senate.  And yet the agreement was unable to get the support of a single senator.  That's a spectacular failure, by any measure.)
- 6:39 PM, 30 November 2010   [link]


The Potato Diet Worked for Chris Voigt.
In what's indisputably a masterful promotional campaign for a product as bland as a potato, Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, made worldwide news by announcing that, beginning Oct. 1, his diet for 60 days would consist only of potatoes.
. . .
After 60 days of potatoes, Voigt, 45, will have come out of it trimmer (he's 6-foot-1 and has gone from 197 to 180 pounds), and with considerably lower cholesterol and blood-sugar levels (all documented on 20potatoesaday.com and on a Facebook page)
And from his commission's point of view, it was a spectacular success, getting him interviews with almost every major new organization, including the BBC.  (Incidentally, most men should not follow Glyn's suggestion, though it worked for her.)

You could fix many of the dietary deficiencies of Voigt's diet by adding salsa or plain yogurt to the potatoes, without adding many calories.

(Voigt may have been a little desperate because potatoes are hard to promote, and because Washington state is less friendly to farmers and businessmen than its neighbor and competitor, Idaho.)
- 4:00 PM, 30 November 2010   [link]


The North Koreans Used Rockets, Not Guns, In Their Attack On Yeonpyeong Island:  Specifically, they used Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
The 122-mm Multiple Launch Rocket System shells North Korea fired on Yeongpyeong Island on Tuesday are fatal weapons that can kill people and devastate large areas with an extra-high penetration capability.  They are among the weapons most feared by soldiers.

During World War II, the Soviet Union used a version called the Katyusha or "Stalin Organ" against the German forces, and in 1991, the U.S. military terrorized Iraqi soldiers by deploying a modern-day version of the MLRS.  It is extremely rare for a country to use such weapons in peacetime and target unarmed civilians, which experts say deserves international condemnation.
And even those who aren't experts.

(These systems consist of a set of rockets, usually mounted on the back of a truck, though they have been fired from many different platforms.  They are used, usually, to neutralize an area, just before an assault.  Often the trucks will scoot away right after firing, in order to prevent counter-battery fire.  More, including pictures, here and here.)

I had wondered why the shots were spread out so much, and speculated that the North Koreans had incompetent artillery men.  Using these rockets shows me that they intended a terror attack, and that conclusion is strengthened if another South Korean claim, that the North Koreans used fuel-air warheads in the attack, is correct.

The North Koreans intended to kill and injure civilians, intended a pure terror attack.

(Why?  We may never know, but you can read some of the more prominent theories here.)
- 3:25 PM, 30 November 2010   [link]


One Year Since The Lakewood Loss:  And it is still painful for many of us here, even if we had no direct connection to the four officers.

At precisely 8:15 a.m. Monday, four families gathered in a Parkland coffee shop to mark the moment when four Lakewood police officers were gunned down a year earlier as they drank coffee and worked on their laptops.

The solemn gathering inside Forza Coffee brought together the families of victims Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Gregory Richards to remember their loved ones and pray with a chaplain.  The families later invited other Lakewood officers to join them for a few private minutes.

My sympathies to the families and friends of these four police officers, Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Gregory Richards.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:56 PM, 30 November 2010   [link]


To Publish,Or Not To Publish, The NYT's Shifting Standards:  Our newspaper of record is not entirely consistent on what it chooses to publish.  As you probably recall, they refused to publish the Danish cartoons.

The Times did publish an exposé on a perfectly legal bank surveillance program that the United States had established with our European partners.  Those revelations destroyed that program.  (The Times can't claim that others would have published the story anyway, since they did have a scoop.  As I recall, the Times never explained the motives of the bureaucrats who gave them the scoop.)

Their official Green, Andrew Revkin, refused to publish the "Climategate" emails, though he now concedes he was wrong to withhold them.

And they have never done a dump of their own internal documents, though many of them would be of great public interest.
Isn't it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times?  Isn't it important for us to learn "the unvarnished story" of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents?  Sure, we know the official explanation — it's in the newspaper.  But what happened behind the scenes?  Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading?  Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let's make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years.  That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters.  Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.
It would be entertaining, to say the least, if someone at the Times were to steal those documents and give them to WikiLeaks.

(The Times was right, years ago, to publish the Pentagon Papers, or so Jill Abramson tells us.  What she doesn't tell us — almost certainly because she doesn't know this — is that the Times got the Pentagon Papers wrong, wrong, wrong, as Edward Jay Epstein established years ago.  Stories based on stolen material are likely to contain certain kinds of errors of interpretation; for example, reporters and editors will often conclude that the inside story was different from the outside story — even when it wasn't.)
- 10:18 AM, 30 November 2010   [link]


Miss Him Yet?   Jimmy Carter, that is.

Well, I don't miss him, since he won't go away.  But I am nearly certain that, within a few years, most of us will wish that Obama had been as good a president as Carter.
- 7:26 AM, 30 November 2010   [link]


The Washington Post Speaks Up For Tom DeLay:  In part.   What he did, they say, may have been wrong, but probably wasn't illegal.
But it was legal for corporations to donate to Mr. DeLay's political action committee, so it's fair to question how the cash sent to and from the RNC was transformed into criminal "proceeds."  Mr. DeLay's lawyers presented testimony from three current and former RNC officials that such money swaps were common transactions for political parties.

Mr. DeLay's conduct was wrong.  It was typical of his no-holds-barred approach to political combat.  But when Mr. DeLay, following the conviction, assailed "the criminalization of politics," he had a fair point.
And what he did certainly shouldn't be illegal.

Before Democrats rejoice too loudly over DeLay's conviction, they should pause and ask themselves whether Democratic officials may have done similar things, and whether a Republican prosecutor might use this precedent against them.  (I hope not, but what goes around often does come around, especially in politics.)

(The prosecutor in Delay's case, Ronnie Earle, does not have a great reputation.  The jury came from the Austin area, which is not known for its Republican leanings.)
- 2:51 PM, 29 November 2010   [link]


Who Tipped Off the FBI To Mohamed Osman Mohamud?  Perhaps someone in the "Muslim community".

Or perhaps not.
But a law enforcement official familiar with the case would not comment to The Oregonian on whether the FBI received a tip from a Muslim concerned about Mohamud's radicalism.  The official cautioned that the beginning of any criminal investigation is complicated, with many moving parts, and that singling out one of those parts distorts the actual genesis of the government's investigation of Mohamud.
The one thing that seems certain in the news reports is that the FBI began monitoring his email in 2009.
- 10:20 AM, 29 November 2010   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ross Douthat on the "partisan mind".

Sample:
In other words, millions of liberals can live with indefinite detention for accused terrorists and intimate body scans for everyone else, so long as a Democrat is overseeing them.  And millions of conservatives find wartime security measures vastly more frightening when they're pushed by Janet "Big Sis" Napolitano (as the Drudge Report calls her) rather than a Republican like Tom Ridge.
(I made a similar point, though not so well, in this post.)

I have long been aware of the problem of the partisan mind, and have tried to avoid it in my posts, with some success, I hope.  But if you think you see a mistake caused by my partisanship here, please let me know.
- 9:17 AM, 29 November 2010   [link]


Security Procedures?  It's been years since I had a security clearance, so I can't say that I am up on current procedures.  But, if accounts like this one, which suggest that a single, disaffected Army private, Bradley Manning, was able to steal all this information for Wikileaks just by copying it to CDs, are correct, then our current procedures need some work.

And the people who approved Manning for this work, and who supposedly supervised him, need to find other jobs.

(One simple — and I would have thought — obvious fix:  The computers used to access such secrets should not be equipped with CD writers or USB ports.)
- 6:39 AM, 29 November 2010
More here and here.  One important qualification:  That three million might have access to our secrets does not mean that three million do have access to all those secrets.

The Pentagon is starting to close some barn doors.
The Defense Department's new initiatives, which include both short- and long-term solutions, aim to prevent the potential for another theft of classified information.  For example, officials said they were disabling all "write" capability to removable media such as thumb drives or disks, on DoD classified computers, "as a temporary technical solution to mitigate the future risks of personnel moving classified data to unclassified systems."

The department will also limit the number of computer systems authorized to move data from a classified system to an unclassified one, according to an outline of the new rules the Pentagon released Sunday.   And the department is developing procedures "to monitor and detect suspicious, unusual or anomalous user behavior" that is akin to the ways credit card companies watch card user behavior to spot fraud.   The initiatives follow two reviews directed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in August that stemmed from the first WikiLeaks leak over the summer.
Better, I suppose, late than never.
- 12:41 PM, 29 November 2010   [link]


Max Boot Thinks That News Organizations That Publish Our Diplomatic Secrets should be ashamed.
There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second.  There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press.  We now seem to have reached a moment when the West's major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it.  This is journalism as pure vandalism.  If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment.  But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.
Der Spiegel doesn't even pretend that publishing these secrets won't be damaging; instead they say that publishing them will cause a "meltdown" for our foreign policy.  Which is, they appear to believe, a good thing.

All too many journalists, here and abroad, share that opinion.)
- 6:11 AM, 29 November 2010   [link]


Planning To Buy Some Tech Toys On Cyber Monday?  (Or later.)   Then you might want to consider buying them from Newegg, a company with good prices, a great selection, and good policies.  Newegg doesn't sell Macs, but they sell almost every other brand of hardware.  I have been buying from them for years, and have never been dissatisfied.  In their annual survey, Consumer Reports found that their readers rated Newegg high on price and selection, the only mail order company to get a top grade in both categories.

You should know this about their user reviews:  Many of their customers are computer geeks, and have the values that computer geeks commonly have.  For some, that will be a plus, since their user reviews are usually more knowledgeable than those at, for instance, Amazon.  For others, it will be a minus, since they care about different things than the average computer geek.  (For example:  You are less likely to see info on the color accuracy of photo printers at Newegg than at Amazon.)

If you are thinking about building your own PC — as I would urge many of you to do — but are uncertain about your ability to select parts that go together, Newegg has a large number of DIY combos to choose from.  They aren't complete kits, but they do make the harder decisions for you.
- 7:49 PM, 28 November 2010   [link]


New Game Controllers:  Buried inside this rather pretentious New York Times article is some interesting information on two new game controllers, Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move.  The Move controller is not novel; Schiessel just calls it a "more accurate and precise version of the Wii control wand".

Microsoft's Kinect is far more impressive, since it gets rid of the controller entirely.  Or, to put it another way, allows you to become the controller.  (If you have missed all the publicity about Kinect, you can find a summary here.)

As I said when the Nintendo Wii was introduced, I hope these technologies move from dedicated game machines to personal computers.  Fortunately, Microsoft, has, after some initial complaining, accepted experimentation by outsiders on the Kinect.  Even experimentation that allows the Kinect to work with PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes.

I would expect that we will see some impressive results from that experimentation soon, and not just for games, in fact, not even primarily for games.

By way of comparison, you may want to look at the game controllers that are currently being sold for PCs.  I don't follow the field closely, but I didn't see anything in that collection that looks new.

(I don't know if anyone at the Pentagon has realized that the Kinect could have military uses — but it could.)
- 7:16 PM, 28 November 2010   [link]


Leftists Or, Sometimes, Reactionaries:  That's my answer to this question:  "So what do we call them?"  (First posed by Brian Micklethwait, and then echoed by Glenn Reynolds.)

Micklethwait and Reynolds are wondering what to call "liberals" and "progressives", given that they are neither liberal nor progressive.

For some years, as I've explained before, I have called them leftists.  Not liberals, because they do not fit the original definition of liberal, as William Safire explained:
liberal  currently, one who believes in more government action to meet individual needs; originally one who resisted government encroachment on on individual liberties.

In the original sense the word described those of the emerging middle classes in France and Great Britain who wanted to throw off the rules the dominant aristocracy had made to cement its own control.
Originally, liberals believed in free markets, free speech, and, more generally, limited government.   They favored religious toleration, and mostly opposed racial laws.

You can still find the original sense of the word in the names of political parties, for example, the Australian Liberal Party, or the Danish Venstre, Danmarks Liberale Parti.  (Both parties are often described as "conservative", sometimes even in constructions like this one: the conservative Australian Liberal Party.  Which, you will have to admit, sounds weird, though not to many of our journalists.)

Leftist does not have as precise a definition as liberal once had, but the new Labour Party leader, Ed Milliband, gives us a useful start:
Asked by presenter Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live "Are you a socialist?" he replied:  "Yeah, I am a socialist."

He added: "I am not embarrassed about it. . . . My Dad would have considered himself a socialist too. . . . He would have said we need to have public ownership of everything, of many of the important things in society.

"I don't subscribe to that view.  What I do say is that there are big unfairnesses in society and part of the job of Government is to bring about social justice and to tackle those unfairness and that is why I am a politician, that is why I am in politics."
(Emphasis added.)

So a leftist is one who thinks that "society" is filled with "unfairness", and that governments should work to reduce that unfairness.  (If they also believe, as I am almost certain that Milliband does, that democratic reforms, rather than totalitarian edicts, should be used to reduce the unfairness, they are "social democrats", who are a subset of leftists.  Conservatives often ally with social democrats against fascists and communists.)  Leftists may not favor government ownership of the "means of production", but they do favor strong government actions of many other kinds.

Nearly always, the means that leftists choose in their efforts to reduce unfairness end up reducing liberty, which is why it is strange to call them liberals; often the means they choose are self-defeating, which is why it is strange to call them progressive.

Nearly always, the means that leftists choose to reduce "unfairness" concentrate power in government officials, and unelected bureaucrats.  When they claim, usually honestly, to favor equality, they nearly always mean economic equality, not political equality.

As I said, for years I have used "leftists" to refer to the people most often called "liberals".   But sometimes, when I am in a puckish mood, I will call them "reactionaries".  When I use that term, I am partly joking, but only partly.

Our modern "liberals" often favor policies and technology from the 19th century, and even earlier.  They commonly support the kinds of rail transit that began in the 19th century, not accepting how our cities have changed since then.  They favor the kinds of social insurance programs pioneered by German Chancellor Otto von Bismark, who introduced those programs in order to make workers more dependent on the state.  They favor rules, and even laws, that treat different races differently, something almost universal a century or more ago.  If they are also Greens, as many leftists are, they often want to go back to more primitive (and less productive) methods of farming.

If a reactionary is someone who wants to return to the past, then our "liberals" are, in some ways, reactionaries.
- 9:28 AM, 28 November 2010   [link]


Cool It! Opens Nation Wide:  And gets a surprisingly positive review from the New York Times.

By the second half, however, [director] Ms. [Ondi] Timoner has found her footing, and the film really digs in.  Debunking claims made by "An Inconvenient Truth" and presenting alternative strategies, "Cool It" finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore's meticulously graphed assertions are systematically — and persuasively — refuted.  (I was intrigued to hear Mr. Lomborg say, for instance, that the polar-bear population is more endangered by hunters than melting ice.)

(Andrew Revkin, the official Green at our newspaper of record, is distressed by the review, but gamely describes the movie as "eminently watchable".)

In this area, the reviews I've seen have been less positive.  At the Seattle Times, John Hartl attempts to split the difference in his review, giving Lomborg credit for correcting Al Gore on some points, but also saying that Lomborg's movie is "hardly free of bias".  Hartl does add one local bit, which makes it much more likely that I will see the movie.

Indeed, "Cool It" ends with a loaded exchange between Lomborg and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington state, who discuss the virtues of Denmark versus the United States.  Guess who gets the last word.

(As most of you know, I am represented in Congress by Jay Inslee — much to my embarrassment.)

The brief review in the Seattle Weekly will not enhance Nicolas Rapold's reputation.  It's filled with conclusions, but offers no evidence to support any of them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For more, here's the book, and here's the movie's web site.)
- 3:44 PM, 27 November 2010   [link]


Pterosaur Take-Offs:  This BBC article passes on big claims for the flying abilities of the largest pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus.
So [Mike] Habib teamed up with Mark Witton, a British paleontologist, to plug in factors like wingspan, weight and aerodynamics into a computer model.

The results, which they presented at a conference last month, were staggering: They revealed an animal that could fly up to 80 miles an hour for 7 to 10 days at altitudes of 15,000 feet. The maximum range, Habib says, was probably between 8,000 and 12,000 miles.
But what I found most interesting was the video showing their speculation about how these big animals took off.  The scientists think that pterosaurs may have used their wings like a pole vaulter's pole, to spring into the air.  (For what it's worth, vampire bats use that trick to get air born.)

(Quibble:  The BBC article calls them "lizards" at one point.  It's true that "pterosaur" means winged lizard, but pterosaurs were far from lizards in almost every way.  Pterosaurs must have had high metabolisms and active lives; in contrast almost all lizards are so limited that they can not even run and breathe at the same time, as I learned from Peter Ward.)
- 11:03 AM, 27 November 2010   [link]


FBI Prevents Terrorist Attack In Portland:  Here's the basic story from the Oregonian.
The FBI thwarted an attempted terrorist bombing in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square before the city's annual tree-lighting Friday night, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon.

A Corvallis man, thinking he was going to ignite a bomb, drove a van to the corner of the square at Southwest Yamhill Street and Sixth Avenue and attempted to detonate it.

However, the supposed explosive was a dummy that FBI operatives supplied to him, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint signed Friday night by U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta.
(Since it's the Oregonian, they don't use the M-word, "Muslim", anywhere in the story, though they do admit that Mohamed Osman Mohamud wanted to commit some form of "violent jihad".)

If the explosives had been real, he might have killed hundreds, perhaps even thousands.  According to KATU, the van contained somewhere around a ton of fake explosives.
On Friday, an undercover agent and Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.
(A gallon of water weighs about 8.3 pounds.  Using that as a basis for a guesstimate, the total weight of the fake explosives would be around 2640 pounds.  But some explosive materials are less dense than water.)

The articles I have seen don't tell us much about Mohamud, just that he was born in Somalia, is a naturalized American citizen, and that he lives in a college town, Corvallis.

Most likely, his parents came to the United States as refugees from Somalia, and he received his citizenship when they did.  He's a student at Oregon State.  I haven't been able to determine whether he lived in Corvallis before he entered the university.

If my guess is correct, Mohamud and his parents might well be dead, if we had not allowed them to come to the United States.  He doesn't seem to be overflowing with gratitude.

(Interesting, though probably irrelevant, fact:  According to a 2003 study, Benton, the county that contains Corvallis, is the "least religious county" in the United States.  People there might find it hard to understand Mohamud's motivations.

The story is coming from the FBI, so they naturally take credit for this arrest.  But the original intelligence might have come from another organization, or even from a tip to the police.)
- 8:32 AM, 27 November 2010
More:  A tip did start the investigation.
A law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that federal agents began investigating the suspect after receiving a tip from someone who was concerned about the teenager.  The official declined to provide more detail about the relationship between Mohamud and that source.
The "source" may have been a relative or friend.
- 1:41 PM, 27 November 2010
Correction:  Mohamud was a non-degree student at Oregon State, but dropped out this fall.
- 7:16 AM, 29 November 2009   [link]


Oakland Mayor Jean Quan Is Off to a good start.
Incoming mayor and current Councilmember Jean Quan received an unwanted surprise Tuesday when she found a boot on the car she had parked in her reserved City Hall spot.

The car in question, a Toyota Prius, is registered to Quan's husband, Floyd Huen.  A police technician ran a check on the car and discovered that it had more than $1,000 worth of unpaid parking tickets, parking officials confirmed.
Quan campaigned for increasing revenue from parking.  It is good to see her making a direct contribution to her cause.  (Although picky people might think that Quan and her husband, Floyd Huen, might set a better example by obeying parking rules from time to time.)
- 1:06 PM, 26 November 2010   [link]