Archive:

November 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Know Anyone Who Has Questions About The Kennedy Assassination?  Then you might refer them to this article.
Fifty years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 59 percent of Americans still believe it was the work of a conspiracy.  I was once among them.  Back in the early 1970s, as a high school senior and college freshman, I read Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment, Richard Popkin’s The Second Oswald, Penn Jones’ Forgive My Grief, and other tomes, some of them best-sellers, that argued the case for a dark plot.

Then, one day, I looked up the footnotes in those books, most of them leading me to the multivolume hearings of the Warren Commission.  I was shocked.  The authors had taken witnesses’ statements out of context, distorted them beyond recognition, and in some cases cherry-picked passages that seemed to back their theories while ignoring testimony that didn’t.  It was my first brush with intellectual dishonesty.
Fred Kaplan then goes through some of the common objections to the theory that Oswald, alone, killed Kennedy.

And to this op-ed.
The facts are that President Kennedy was a martyr in the Cold War struggle against communism.  The assassin was a communist and not a bigot or a right-winger.   Oswald defected from the U.S. to the Soviet Union in 1959, vowing when he did so that he could no longer live under a capitalist system.  He returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife in 1962, disappointed with life under Soviet communism but without giving up his Marxist beliefs or his hatred of the U.S.  By 1963, Oswald had transferred his political allegiance to Castro's communist regime in Cuba.
. . .
The JFK assassination was an event in the Cold War, but it was interpreted by America's liberal leadership as an event in the civil-rights crusade.  This interpretation sowed endless confusion about the motives of the assassin and the meaning of the event.   The vacuum of meaning was filled by a host of conspiracy theories claiming that JFK was a victim of plots orchestrated by right-wing groups.
We will probably never know whether the Castro regime encouraged Oswald to assassinate Kennedy, but the rest of the story is reasonably clear.

(The best book I have read on Oswald is Edward Jay Epstein's Legend.)
- 1:25 PM, 16 November 2013   [link]


Congratulations To Kshama Sawant:  Who has just won election to the Seattle City Council.

Four-term Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin conceded to Socialist challenger Kashama Sawant late Friday afternoon, after Sawant once again increased a lead that now stands at 1,640 votes.

In an interview, Conlin said he sensed the tide that would carry the “Socialist Alternative” candidate, an instructor at Seattle Central Community Council, to an upset victory.

Seattle has had similar politicians before, for instance, Anna Louise Strong.  But not recently.  (Openly, anyway.)

Our local news organizations have been calling her a "socialist", which is true, but not very specific, since socialists come in many varieties.  In contrast, Wikipedia is quite specific.

Sawant is a Marxist, a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a member of the Trotskyist political party Socialist Alternative, an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers' International.[10][11]

Some people may need a refresher on Trotskyism.

Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky.  Trotsky identified as an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, and supported founding a vanguard party of the working-class.  His politics differed sharply from those of Stalinism, as he opposed the idea of Socialism in One Country.  Trotsky still supported proletarian internationalism, and a dictatorship of the proletariat based on working-class self-emancipation and mass democracy.  He did not believe in the unaccountable bureaucracy developed under Stalin after Lenin's death.

In short, a Trotskyite is not just a socialist, but one of those revolutionary socialists we usually call communists.  They are, they would be quick to remind us, communists who believe that Trotsky should have been in charge in the Soviet Union, instead of Stalin.

(Sawant is also, thanks to her husband's job at Microsoft, quite well off, perhaps even rich.  In her financial statement, she gives Vivek Sawant's income as greater than $100,000, the top category in the form.  The value of their checking account, somewhere between $40,000 and $99,999, also suggests that the two are not living in poverty, or even among the working class.)

It is embarrassing, but I have to admit that I am charmed to see a Trotskyite — who I thought were almost all dead — elected to anything.  It is like seeing a Know Nothing, or a supporter of free silver, win.  Her ideas are, of course, crazy, but then so are many of the ideas held by others in Seattle's government.

But I am not charmed to see that she has taught economics at a Jesuit institution, Seattle University, and a community college, Seattle Central Community College.  Alex Berezow is right to wonder about this paradox.

Even more troublingly, how can somebody with her beliefs be allowed to teach an economics course?  This would be analogous to allowing an AIDS denier to teach a medical microbiology course, a 9/11 truther to teach a foreign policy course, or a creationist to teach an evolution course.

Or allowing someone who thinks you can live on sun beams to teach nutrition.

She wouldn't, of course, be the first left-wing activist who was supported by a job (or jobs) at a college or university.  In fact, that is quite common in our colleges and universities.  A few of these activists are decent teachers as well as activists, and a very few of them even produce something scholarly.  But most of them are just activists, and typically quite intolerant activists, at that.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You may be slightly reassured to learn that she does not appear to be teaching currently at either Seattle University or Seattle Central Community College.)
- 9:12 AM, 16 November 2013   [link]


The NYT Compares Obama And ObamaCare To Bush And Katrina:  Professor Althouse refutes them.

Two samples:
3. Bush didn't have the power to redesign the hurricane as he designed his response to it.

4. The Republican Bush believed he could not simply bully past the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans and the Democratic Governor of Louisiana and impose a federal solution, but the Democrat Obama and his party in Congress aggressively and voluntarily took over an area of policy that might have been left to the states.
Simplifying greatly, in an emergency, the governor of a state must ask for many kinds of help, before the president can send it.

President Bush wanted to take charge in Louisiana, but was blocked by Governor Kathleen Blanco, who was almost as incompetent in the emergency as New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Blanco did not run for re-election, probably because she knew her chances for victory were poor.  The man who took her place was the man she had defeated in 2003, Bobby Jindal, who had worked in the Bush administration.

(At the time, and ever since, I have suspected that Governor Blanco was playing politics with the hurricane by blocking Bush's actions, hoping that he would be blamed for not acting.

She may have learned that trick from Florida Governor Lawton Chiles.  When Hurricane Andrew was approaching, the first President Bush called Chiles and offered federal help.  Chiles said they didn't need it just yet.  Then, a hysterical TV anchor in, as I recall, Miami, almost broke down asking Bush to help.  So Bush took some blame for inaction — which is probably just what Chiles hoped would happen.)
- 3:39 PM, 15 November 2013   [link]


What US Cities, Or Parts Of Cities, Are Foreign Tourists Advised To Avoid?  The Washington Post has a list of sixteen: Boston, New York, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles, and El Paso.

They are mostly the same cities, and parts of cities, that I would advise Americans to avoid.

For example:
Los Angeles:  France warns tourists to take care in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Long Beach, and to avoid Watts, Inglewood and Florence.
Germany gives some general advice:
Germany doesn’t warn its citizens about any specific cities, but it does caution against letting it all hang out:  “Although the laws in individual states categorizing nudity as ‘indecent exposure’, are rarely asserted and punished, those laws should absolutely be followed.   Nude bathing and changing clothes at the beach stirs up public agitation and can lead to unpleasantnesses.”
As far as I know, Miami is the only city in that list that has a Republican mayor.  (New York Mayor Bloomberg is now an independent, though elected as a Republican.  His successor is a Democrat.)

From that, Republicans may conclude that Republicans are better at controlling crime; Democrats may conclude that troubled cities are more likely to elect Democrats.

(Fun fact:  Recently, Miami had a mayor nicknamed "Crazy Joe".  His predecessor and rival was nicknamed "Mayor Loco" by Dave Barry.  The current mayor, Tomás Regalado, seems relatively normal, though he did work, for many years, as a journalist.)
- 7:30 AM, 15 November 2013   [link]


Quotes From Yesterday's Obama Press Conference:  Here are two answers that struck me as especially significant.
Major Garrett.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.  You say, while the law was being debated, if you like your plan you can keep it.  You said, after the law was implemented or signed, if you like your plan you can keep it.  Americans believed you, sir, when you said that to them over and over.

Do you not believe, sir, the American people deserve a deeper, more transparent accountability from you as to why you said that over and over when your own statistics published in the Federal Register alerted your policy staff -- and, I presume, you -- to the fact that millions of Americans would in fact probably fall into the very gap you're trying to administratively fix now?  That's one question.

Second question. (Laughter.) You were informed or several people in this building were informed two weeks before the launch of the website that it was failing the most basic tests internally; and yet a decision was made to launch the website on October 1st.  Did you, sir, make that test (sic)?  And if so, did you regret that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK.  On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as -- the way it was supposed to.  Has I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great.  You know, I'm accused of a lot of things, but I don't think I'm stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn't going to work.
If President Obama is telling the truth, he should fire the people who didn't tell him, and he should bring in people who will tell him bad news.

In the second answer, he again admits to a lack of knowledge.
Q: You hear criticism on the Hill that you and your White House team are too insular.  Is that how this mess came to be?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think there's going to be a lot of -- there's going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point.  And I'm -- I assure you that I've been asking a lot of questions about that.  (Chuckles.)  The truth is that this is, number one, very complicated.  You know, the website itself is doing a lot of stuff.
. . .
One thing that we've discovered, though, that I think is -- is worth noting, a lot of focus has been on the website and the technology, and that's partly because that's how we initially identified it; you know, these are glitches.  What we're discovering is that part of the problem has been technology, hardware and software, and that's being upgraded.   But even if we get the -- the hardware and software working exactly the way it's supposed to with relatively minor glitches, what we're also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.  And another mistake that we made, I think, was underestimating the difficulties of people purchasing insurance online and shopping for a lot of options with a lot of costs and lot of different benefits and plans and -- and somehow expecting that that would be very smooth, and then they've also got to try to apply for tax credits on the website.
(Emphasis added.)

Well, yes, it is complicated, as Obama could have learned years ago, if he had been paying any attention.

(In 1992, when Hillary Clinton was given the task of reforming health care, I was astounded by her nerve.  In my opinion, reforming health care is the most difficult domestic problem we face, with intersecting political, economic, and health complications.  I don't say that because I can't think of some reforms, but because I can't think of any large reforms that won't involve taking away medical services or tax breaks that many people have come to think of as rights.  And there aren't any large reforms that won't lead to bad consequences for some patients.

Someone who knew more about the problem might not have taken it on.

If you read through much of that transcript, you may be struck, as I was, by the poor quality of the questions, and the non-responsive answers.  Reporters are trying too hard to pack several question into one, and Obama usually ignores most of each question, and sometimes all of it.  That isn't unusual among politicians, but Obama seems somewhat worse than most at ignoring the actual questions.)
- 6:40 AM, 15 November 2013   [link]


If President Obama's Approval Ratings Continue To Decline As Fast As They Have Since The Beginning Of The Year, What Will They Be At The End Of His Second Term?   Approximately Zero.

On 1 January, the average approval rating was 53.5 percent; it is now 41.4 percent, so he is losing slightly more than 1 percent a month.  There are more than three years left in his term.

Of course, the decline will not continue at that rate.  I expect that the economy will continue to improve — perhaps more in spite of his policies than because of them — but he will get some credit for the improvement.  The fall in energy prices will be a big plus for our economy in the next few years, I think.

So there are some likely positives for Obama in the next three years, but I still think he will leave office as one of our most unpopular presidents, ever.

The ObamaCare debacle hurts him in three ways with the public:  His "signature" program will hurt real people, many of whom are, or were, his supporters, his administration looks incompetent, and he looks like a liar.

That last may be the most important in its effect on public perceptions, in the long run.   For years, Obama has had a good personal image with the public, even when they were skeptical about his policies.

Now, that is changing.
A new Quinnipiac University poll this week found for the first time that a majority of Americans — 52 percent — say Obama is not honest or trustworthy.  A Gallup poll released Wednesday showed a five-percentage-point drop since September on those same issues and a 10-point fall since the middle of last year.

Now, according to Gallup, only half the country thinks Obama is honest.
(You have probably figured out which half I am in, though I have been slower to call him a liar than many, mostly because I often have a hard time figuring out what he knows, or believes.  A man who tells you something false is not a liar, if he believes what he is saying.)
- 7:44 AM, 14 November 2013   [link]


Did Boeing Make The Machinists An Offer They Knew The Union Would Refuse?  As everyone in this area should know, Boeing asked for concessions from the state and the union before committing to build the extended version of the 777 here.   The state came through, with unseemly haste.

But the union rejected the deal.

Boeing machinists in the Northwest rejected a contentious contract proposal Wednesday that would have exchanged concessions for decades of secure jobs.

The International Association of Machinists District 751 announced Wednesday night that the proposal was rejected 67 percent of the votes.

Union members who called for a no vote did so to protest the Boeing Co.'s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs.  Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.

The rejection was not a big surprise.  The union has a long history of militancy and distrust for management, the union leaders were ambivalent, and many union members spoke out against the deal before the vote.

Did Boeing management expect this rejection?  At the very least, they must have known it could happen.  And they may have been hoping for a rejection, because they can now say that they tried for an agreement, while they start working on their first choice, moving the production to a lower-cost state.

(If you want a rejection, offering a take-it-or-leave-it deal is good way to get one, especially if you include items that you know the other side hates.)

Of course, this makes Governor Jay Inslee look like a fool, having rushed to give Boeing concessions for jobs that, most likely, will be in another state or states.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:23 AM, 14 November 2013   [link]


Which Sources Do Americans Trust On ObamaCare Information?  None of them.  But the one that we, collectively, distrust the least is Fox News.
The most trusted voice in America on Obamacare isn't the president -- or most of the media, Congress or insurance companies.  It's Fox News Channel.

Just 11 percent said that President Obama is the most trusted source of Obamacare information, about half of those who cite Fox, at 19 percent.
Fox's 19 percent may be the best score in that list, but it is not impressive, especially for a news organization.  And the scores for other news organizations are simply disastrous.
- 2:50 PM, 13 November 2013   [link]


The ObamaCare Site Will Still Not Be Working Well By The End Of This Month:  That's what news reports are saying.
Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.
And that's what almost anyone who knows even a little about the problems of managing large software projects would expect.

Fred Brooks, of Brooks's Law, argued that a manager who realized that his project was late should: "Take no small slips."   For example, if he thinks they can be finished in a month, he should probably slip the schedule by at least three months.

There are two reasons for this, one obvious, and one not so obvious.  It is better to under promise and over deliver.  And, when you have found problems that will force a delay, you should suspect that there are other problems, unknown unknowns in Donald Rumsfeld's classification, that you have yet to find.

Unfortunately, there are practical and legal reasons why the project can not take a sufficiently large slip.  There has to be some way for all those people getting cancellation notices to buy insurance, and soon.

(How long a slip would they need, judging by news reports?  At least a year, in my opinion.  Adequate testing alone would probably require another six months.

And the more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that the security problems, are, in practice, insoluble.  Here's why:  Often those penetrating a system do so, not by some brilliant technical trick, but by fooling a person who does have access, and is insufficiently suspicious.  (Edward Snowden did that to many of his fellow workers in Hawaii.)  So many people will have to have that access, that, inevitably, some will be fooled (or bribed).  Suppose you gave access to secrets to 10,000 people.   Do you think those secrets would stay secret, for long?)
- 1:48 PM, 13 November 2013   [link]


Insulting Millennials:  That's what those bizarre "brosurance" ads for ObamaCare do.

If, that is, you consider being depicted as a drunk or a slut, insulting.

(As far as I can tell, the ads come from Obama supporters, but not anyone formally connected to him.)
- 12:36 PM, 13 November 2013   [link]


Why Is Oregon Democrat Kurt Schrader Attacking Obama?   Here's the key quote.
I think next year at election time people are going to want to know, was I able to sign up?   What is the shape of the benefit package I’m going to get?  How much is it going to cost me at the end of the day?  I think this will… the sign up problems – the horrendous problems we’re seeing now – will be way in the past.  But I think the President was grossly misleading to the American public.
Next year, Schrader will be running for re-election in Oregon's 5th district.   If — and that's a big if — he gets a strong Republican opponent, he could be in serious trouble, even though he won easily in 2012.

According to the 2014 Almanac of American Politics, slight changes in the district have made it more Republican, and Charles Cook now rates it as an "even" district.  George W. Bush carried the district twice, each time by just one point.  McCain lost it in 2008 by nine points (53-44), but Romney lost the slightly more Republican district by only three points (50-47) in 2012.

So, if I were Congressman Schrader, I would be nervous, too.  And I suspect other Democrats in swing districts will be feeling nervous, too.

(Republican Congressman Greg Walden represents Oregon's 2nd district.  He is now chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and, according to the Almanac, takes winning Schrader's seat "far more seriously in 2014" than national Republicans did in 2012.)
- 9:35 AM, 13 November 2013   [link]


Can President Obama Make A "Course Correction" On ObamaCare?  Jon Meacham asks, and sort of answers, his own question.
A Morning Joe panel Wednesday morning argued that President Barack Obama’s biography worked against his ability to effect a “course correction” to the dysfunctional Affordable Care Act rollout, and that instead his self-reliance will work against him by convincing him to dig in his heels on process.

“Do we have anything in Obama’s life where he’s been able to do a course correction?” guest and historian Jon Meacham asked.  “And is there anything in his life experience, which is something that’s important to all of us, naturally—but he’s so much a candidate of biography?”
. . .
“My fear is the biographical impulse is the opposite,” Meacham said.  “That having to raise himself, having to be so self-reliant—the father gone, the mother [passed]—what his first forty-four years taught him is that if he relies on himself, he’ll do well.  He becomes the President of the United States when he’s forty-six year old.  That psychological makeup leads to—”

“‘I’m going to count on me and nobody else,’” guest Donny Deutsch finished.
I am going to score that as probably not.  If I understand Meacham, he does not expect Obama to make the necessary course change because Obama is too self reliant.  Or, to put it in another, less complimentary way, too rigid and too unwilling to listen to other people.

Meacham is not a conservative.  I would describe him as a relatively open minded man of the moderate left, and at least as much a journalist as a historian.

(The question and answer seem disconnected because in between there was a long Joe Scarborough rant on how Bill Clinton, and other presidents, were able to change course, and an interesting, but not-to-the-point, description of Obama's lack of management skills by a British woman I didn't recognize.)
- 8:49 AM, 13 November 2013   [link]


Congratulations To Harry Reid And Nancy Pelosi:  The Senate Majority Leader and the House Minority Leader (and former speaker) are the two people most responsible for this long slide.
Americans' approval of the way Congress is handling its job has dropped to 9%, the lowest in Gallup's 39-year history of asking the question.  'The previous low point was 10%, registered twice in 2012.
They've had help, even sometimes from Republicans (including the Republicans who thought it would be a good idea to shut down the government), but Reid and Pelosi have done more to damage our national legislature than anyone else.

The average voter may not follow Congress closely, may not know, for instance, that Harry Reid's Senate refused to pass budgets year after year, but the average voter can see, over time, that the Senate has been dysfunctional for years, and so was the House, under Pelosi's leadership.
- 7:17 AM, 13 November 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  Bret Stephens explains how we came to make that tentative deal with Iran, and why the French were realistic enough to rescue us from our folly.

The chief negotiator for the US, Wendy Sherman, has not had an impressive career.  (Nor have her superiors.)
Ethics scolds might describe the arc of her career as a revolving door between misspending taxpayer dollars in government and mooching off them in the private sector.  But it's mainly an example of failing up—the Washingtonian phenomenon of promotion to ever-higher positions of authority and prestige irrespective of past performance.

This administration in particular is stuffed with fail-uppers—the president, the vice president, the secretary of state and the national security adviser, to name a few—and every now and then it shows.  Like, for instance, when people for whom the test of real-world results has never meant very much meet people for whom that test means everything.
In contrast, the French — to their credit — are living in the real world, at least when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

(The current national security advisor is Susan Rice.  She was preceded by Thomas Donilon.  Both remind me of this Duke of Wellington quip about some British generals:  "I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.")
- 1:09 PM, 12 November 2013   [link]


Were We Saved From A Bad Agreement With Iran By A "Gun-Slinging French Frog"?   Maybe.  (Or, if you prefer, peut-être.)
Talks to end the stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme ended without progress in Geneva last night, with the Iranians for once directing more anger at the French than the usual suspects: Britain and the United States.

Following France's rejection of a plea by Washington to sign a stopgap agreement, some Iranians have jokingly suggested France could replace the US as "le grand satan".
The diplomat the Iranians called a "gun-slinging French frog" is the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.  If the Iranians really wanted an agreement, they probably wouldn't insult one of the principal negotiators on the other side of the table.

(Fabius doesn't look like a frog or a gun slinger, at least to me.  He's been in public life for many years, and was even the French prime minister back in the 1980s.)
- 11:08 AM, 12 November 2013   [link]


Salena Zito Wonders why President Obama has refused to visit Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's famous speech.
In nine days, this town will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s speech with a ceremony at the same Soldiers' National Cemetery featuring the U.S. Marine Band, Governor Tom Corbett, and a reading of the Gettysburg Address.

One person who will not be among those honoring Lincoln is President Barack Obama.

The White House gave no reason why the president would not attend.
I think it is because Obama doesn't like associating with "bitter clingers", and there would be many of them in that part of Pennsylvania, at that kind of celebration.

It is no secret that most urban leftists don't much care for rural whites, or, often, even rural non-whites.  The contempt that Obama expressed in that famous comment — to wealthy people at a San Francisco fund raiser — is not at all unusual in his crowd, or, for that matter, among many "mainstream" journalists.

(Gettysburg is well worth a visit — I've been there twice — even if Obama doesn't think so.  When the weather is nice it is an especially good destination for bicyclists.)
- 7:15 AM, 12 November 2013   [link]


Dino Bouterse Has Just Been Indicted (Again) In New York:   It is not a routine case.
The son of Suriname's president has been charged by the United States with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.  Dino Bouterse was allegedly paid millions of dollars to provide a base and weapons for Hezbollah fighters.

The Shia militants were planning attacks on the US and the Netherlands, Suriname's former colonial ruler, US prosecutors say.

The son of President Desi Bouterse was extradited from Panama in August.  He had already been charged with trying to smuggle cocaine and weapons into the United States.  Mr Bouterse could be sentenced to life in jail for the drugs and weapons smuggling charges and to up to 15 years for the terrorism-related accusations.
His father has committed a crime or two himself — if you consider taking power in a military coup, executing political opponents, and drug smuggling, crimes.

Suriname doesn't produce much, but it is in a strategic location.

Where would Hezbollah get the millions of dollars necessary to set up this kind of base?  Almost certainly, from Iran.  (Possibly from drug smuggling, as well.)

One of the reasons many are skeptical of an agreement with the Iranian regime is that, over the years, they have sponsored so many terrorist attacks on us, and on our friends.
- 6:22 AM, 12 November 2013   [link]


Early News Reports On Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda Were somewhat exaggerated.
Terrible though this storm was, it only ranks as a Category 4 storm, and it is clear nonsense to suggest that it is “one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall
As the BBC did.  And they were topped by the Daily Mail, which confused kilometers per hour with miles per hour.

(Here's a description of the Saffir-Simpson scale.)
- 5:09 AM, 12 November 2013
The local Fox affiliate, Q13, just told me that Haiyan/Yolanda might be the most powerful recorded storm, not one of, but the most powerful.
- 5:56 AM, 12 November2013   [link]


Last Year Was Very Good For One Of Washington State's High Tech Businesses:   Apples.

Apples were worth more than $2 billion to Washington farmers in 2012, the first crop in state history to cross that threshold, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That was 16.5 percent more than in 2011, and the increase was fueled by a big increase in Washington production and catastrophic weather problems in the competing states of New York and Michigan.
. . .
If you throw in the value of apples diverted to make juice, applesauce and other products, Washington apples were worth a staggering $3.4 billion in 2012, according to the Washington Growers Clearing House in Wenatchee.

High tech?  Sure.  Just look at the increase in productivity in recent decades.

In the past, apple trees were planted at a rate of 300 to 400 per acre, and produced up to 40 bins of apples per acre, [president of the Washington Apple Commission Todd] Fryhover, said.  But new techniques allow growers to pack up to 1,500 trees per acre, producing more than 100 bins of apples per acre, he said.

The result is that apple production grew from 109 million bushels in 2010 to a record of nearly 129 million bushels last year.  A bushel is the equivalent of 42 pounds of apples.

Or look at some of the complex techniques for raising apples that have been developed over the centuries.  (Those who fear gene mixing may not want to know that commercial apple trees have two sets of DNA, one in the root stock, and one in the rest of the tree.).

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you would like a challenge, and know a little economics, or game theory, you might try to work out the best strategy for an apple farmer when a new variety becomes popular, as the Granny Smith did some years ago, and the Honeycrisp has, recently.  It is not a trivial problem.  You have long lead times, so you have to guess, years ahead, what competing farmers will do, and how long consumers will like the new variety.)
- 2:33 PM, 11 November 2013   [link]


For The Post Just Below, I consulted the US Census population clock for our current population.  The clock can be fun to watch, briefly.

And you may find a surprise or two at the site.  I had not realized just how close Florida is to passing New York in total population.

(How accurate is the clock?  That would depend, mostly, on how accurate the last census was, and how recent that census was.  Right now, the clock is probably wrong by less than a million.  The world clock may be wrong by less than 100 million, but I wouldn't bet that it was wrong by less than 10 million.

Consult your local demographer if you want better guesses than mine.)
- 6:47 AM, 11 November 2013   [link]


Armistice Day:  On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice ended the fighting in World War I.  (Though not without difficulty.   Some American troops, having spare shells and wanting the glory of having the last shot, competed with each other, for a time, after the official end.)

For many European countries, the war was a disaster from which they have never completely recovered.  The casualties they suffered were so immense that, even now, they astonish.  They were so large that, from the very beginning, the combatants lied about them on a grand scale, and even now historians argue about the numbers, especially the numbers in eastern Europe.  This Wikipedia article gives some of the common estimates of the casualties.  The almost 1.4 million French military dead are more than all the deaths the United States has suffered in all our wars, combined.  More than 1 million of them were from France itself, with the rest coming mostly from the French colonies.  Since France then had a population of about 40 million, more than 1 in 40 died in the war; for us, now, the equivalent loss would be almost 8 million deaths.

After World War II, we renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to honor the soldiers of all our wars.  When we honor, as we should, especially today, the American soldiers who served, and sometimes died in our wars, we should also spare some thought for those who fought at our side and who suffered far more than we did.

(This is an edited version of a post I first put up in 2002.)
- 6:19 AM, 11 November 2013   [link]


Obesity And Gut Bacteria:  This piece in today's New York Times, by behavioral economist Sendhill Mullainathan, is the best short description of the evidence for the theory that I have seen.

A key finding, and a striking experiment:
And yet, a study by a biostatisticians in the Proceedings of the Royal Society challenges this interpretation.  They collected data from animals raised in captivity; macaques, marmosets, chimpanzees, vervets, lab rats, and mice.  The data came from labs and centers and spanned several decades.  These captive animals are also becoming fatter: weight gain for female lab mice, for example, came out to 11.8 percent a decade from 1982 to 2003.
. . .
Researchers harvested bacteria from pairs of twin mice, where one twin was obese, and the other was not.  Then they transplanted these bacteria into different mice.  The mice who received bacteria from the obese twin gained weight, while the others did not.   The mice did not eat more:  Their metabolism changed so that they put on more weight even with the same caloric input.
Some scientists think those gut bacteria may also be able to manipulate our cravings, may influence the amount, and kinds, of food we eat.

As I have said before, bacteria run the world, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to learn how much they may influence us.

(As you probably figured out, one possible consequence of this theory, or set of theories, is that we may catch obesity from a chubby friend or relative.)
- 8:26 PM, 10 November 2013   [link]


NYT Columnist Gail Collins Repeated one of her greatest misses yesterday.

Some of you have already guessed what it is, and are hoping you are wrong.  Sorry.
Did you miss that [2012] election?  back then we had Mitt Romney's dog on the car roof.  Now we have Barack Obama's website on the fritz.
Two equally bad things, in Collins's world.  (Incidentally, the ObamaCare web site is not "on the fritz", because that implies that it did work, at one time.)

How many times has she mentioned Seamus in her columns?  At least 57, counting this time.

And she has been wrong every time.

Wrong, because she kept saying, although she didn't say it this time, that Seamus was "strapped to the roof".  In fact, he was in a dog carrier, with a windshield set up to protect him.   And, after Seamus got used to that way of traveling, he loved it.
Seamus loved riding in the carrier, Romney told reporters on the campaign trail in 2007.

"He scrambled up there every time we went on trips," Romney said. "He got (up) all by himself and enjoyed it."  He also said PETA had targeted him because there was a rodeo at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and because he went quail hunting in Georgia.  "And they're not happy that my dog likes fresh air," he added.
Which is what anyone who has known actual dogs would expect.  Most dogs prefer to be out where they can sample the smells as they travel.

Collins has attempted, from time to time, to explain her repeated crimes against good journalism. Here's an example.  You can decide for yourself whether she succeeded; I'll just note that she once promised that she would stop after the Republican primaries.

(Why did Seamus get sick on that first trip?  Probably for the same reason little kids often get sick on long car trips; they aren't used to the motions.  But we don't think worse of their parents, if that does happen.)
- 2:56 PM, 10 November 2013   [link]


Typhoon Haiyan:  The BBC has a coherent, but necessarily incomplete, account of the damage, so far.
Around 10,000 people may have died in just one area of the Philippines hit by Typhoon Haiyan, according to officials.

One of the worst storms on record, it destroyed homes, schools and an airport in the eastern city of Tacloban.

Neighbouring Samar island was also badly affected, with reports of 300 people dead and 2,000 missing.

The Philippine government has so far only confirmed the deaths of 151 people throughout the country, but hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
The Daily Mail has many more pictures, including some of preparations for the storm in Vietnam.

President Barack Obama gave up his weekly golf game so he could coordinate American help to our friends in the Philippines.  Well, no, actually, he didn't.  But he should have.

In fact, there doesn't seem to be a coordinated American effort yet, just vague statements from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry.

("Haiyan", which means sea bird, is the Chinese name; in the Philippines, the name is Yolanda.  And if I knew how to say that Yolanda was a real witch in Spanish, or Tagalog, I would.

If you are obsessive, you may want to read this explanation of the naming groups, and conventions, for tropical cyclones.)
- 7:22 AM, 10 November 2013
The initial Obama administration offer of aid looks like a joke.
The Obama administration made an initial $100,000 available Saturday to provide basic health care, clean water and sanitation following the Philippines government's request for international assistance.  That figure is likely to grow as damage and humanitarian needs are assessed.
Especially compared to the initial offers from the Britain and the European Union.
The European Commission released 3m euros ($4m; £2.5m) in emergency funds and is sending a team of humanitarian experts

The UK Rapid Response Facility is to provide £5m ($8m) in aid and a £600,000 shipment of emergency equipment.  A team of four experts is already in the disaster zone
Now it is true that we are also providing helicopters and aircraft, but that amount — $100,000 — is absurdly small, even as a first contribution.

Even if you are indifferent to the humanitarian catastrophe, just consider the diplomatic failure in that amount.  It's like seeing the most prominent (and still richest) citizen in a town give two cents to a disaster relief.  Is Obama really this indifferent to a nation which has had such close ties, for so long, to the United States?
- 7:22 PM, 10 November2013   [link]


The Strange Cornelius Gurlitt Story Keeps Getting Stranger:   You have probably heard the basic story.
A private collection of 1,500 paintings seized by the Nazis, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, has been discovered, according to a German magazine.  Authorities discovered the art in a Munich apartment.

Bavarian customs investigators originally found the art in a trash-filled Munich apartment belonging to an 80-year-old man more than two years ago, but it was not disclosed at the time, Focus magazine reported on Sunday.

The stash includes artwork by renowned painters like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Liebermann. Focus estimated the collection to be worth 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion).
But you may not have heard some of the weird details, or noticed that the news accounts are inconsistent.  For instance, according to an article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal, the prosecutors say that Gurlitt doesn't have a lawyer, and that "they don't know where he Gurlitt is or even whether he is still alive".

I don't know what the rules are in Germany, but I think American prosecutors would want to keep track of a man who had been in the possession of more than a billion dollars worth of art.

You can find inconsistencies even on the basics.  For instance, the news accounts agree that the prosecutors have been silent for some time, but disagree on how long, months, or as much as two years.

And to just confuse matters further, some of the art works almost certainly belonged to his father, art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, legitimately, and thus, probably, to Cornelius.

According to some accounts, Gurlitt did not register with the police, a legal requirement in Germany.  According to another account, he had no bank account, which is hard to believe, though I suppose that he could have had one in Switzerland, but not in Germany.

This story is so weird that I plan to follow it, even though it does not have large, current political implications — as far as I can tell.

(Many of the art works may have been hidden in France.  Credit where due:  The BBC notes that the Soviets, like the Nazis, took advantage of World II to acquire vast amounts of art.

Here are some thoughts from a lawyer who specializes in art works stolen during the Nazi era.)
- 1:31 PM, 9 November 2013   [link]