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October 2008, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Part 1:  Is Barack Obama Well Read?  Some time ago, I ran across a claim by another blogger that Barack Obama was "well-informed".  (Not named, in order to protect the guilty.)  I was unable to get the blogger to explain why they they thought so.  But the assertion did get me interested in the question.  And so far, whenever I have been able to test whether Obama is, in fact, "well-informed" about a particular subject, I found that he is not.  With, of course, two obvious exceptions; he does know a lot about organizing, and appears to know enough about constitutional law to teach courses, part time, on the subject.  (And he probably knows basketball pretty well, too, though that isn't an important subject for presidents.)

In this post, I want to take a first look at the problem from another angle.  Nearly all of us become "well-informed" — if we do — mostly by reading.  And so I am going to take a look at what Obama has read.  And so far, what I have found is not impressive.

I have three lines of evidence for that tentative conclusion.  First, his answer when he was asked what he was reading by Amazon.  Here's my summary:
He claims to have read one novel (with an Iowa setting), started one serious book, and at some time in the past to have read unspecified fictional books by leftist authors.
None of those would do much to make him better prepared to be president.

Second, his Senate office, which is full of pictures of Obama — but almost empty of books.  (In contrast, McCain's office is full of books, most of them books we would want a president to have read.)

Third, I have skimmed through the first 132 pages of Dreams from My Father and listed all the books he mentions in those pages: When he was a small child, his mother bought him a book on creation stories, titled Origins.  His grandfather had a copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.  (Obama does not say whether he read it.)  As a high school student, he says he read many books by black authors:
Over the next few months, I looked to corroborate this nightmare vision.  I gathered up books from the library — Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright, DuBois.  At night I will close the door to my room, telling my grandparents I had homework to do, and there I would sit and wrestle with words, locked in a suddenly desperate argument, trying to reconcile the world as I found it with the terms of my birth.  But there was no escape to be had. . . .
. . .
Only Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different. (pp. 85-86)
At Occidental, he mentions having read Conrad's Heart of Darkness, though I am not sure he really understood the book.

He does not mention any books he read while he was at Columbia, or working in New York.  Not one.

And that's as far as I have gotten, but I have covered all of his formal education, except for Harvard Law.

Obviously, he read other books during this time, if only textbooks.  But these other books apparently made no impression on him.

He does not mention any works of history (except for Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which he was just starting to read last year).  He does not mention any books on the military, on economics, on public policy, on education, on poverty, on science, on technology, or any of the other subjects that we would want a president to know something about.

Possibly the evidence that I have looked at so far is misleading.  Possibly, he is, in spite of what he has said, what his office shows, and what the first part of Dreams says, well read.   But that isn't the way I would bet.  I will check for other books in the rest of Dreams, and in The Audacity of Hope, but I don't expect to find many.

This is a man who likes to talk, likes to organize, and likes to play basketball.  This is not a man who likes to read.  It is unlikely that he is "well-informed" about most of the subjects that a president needs to know about.

(Caveat:  Given the consistent discrepancies between what he says about his past, and what actually happened, we can not be sure that he was not a reader, though I can't think of why he would hide that part of his past, if he were.

He does mention reading an article that he could not have read:
It was in this context that I came across a picture in Life magazine of the black man who had tried to peal off his skin. (p. 51)
Life never published such a picture.)
- 3:41 PM, 31 October 2008   [link]


Jack Cashill Keeps Plugging Away:  And has gotten some help from other researchers.
Fortunately, five different sets of researchers have taken the challenge to test the hypothesis that Ayers was heavily involved in the writing of "Dreams."  And although there are admitted limits to this emerging science, the consensus among these researchers is noteworthy.
. . .
"Using the chi-square statistic," observes one professor, "Obama's and Ayers's books were indistinguishable, while Obama's book was easily distinguishable from books by other authors."

Writes another analyst, using his own proprietary software, "There is a strong likelihood that the author of "Fugitive Days" ghost-wrote "Dreams From My Father" using recordings of dialog (either tape recorded or notes).  Alternatively, another scenario could be possible: Ayers might have served as a 'book doctor.'"
As I said in my earlier post, I don't know how accurate such tests are.  But, if the tests are any good at all, we have to pay attention if five different sets of researchers come to the same conclusion:  At the very least, Obama had help from Ayers on his books.

I can add a minor point in support of Cashill's thesis:  Help from Ayers would help explain all those racial morality tales that I found at the beginning of Dreams from My Father.

(More on the subject from Jeff Goldstein, who has more training in literary analysis than I do.  Goldstein suggest another possibility:  Obama may have copied from Ayers's book, Fugitive Days.  I think that less likely than Cashill's hypothesis, since it is not easy for an unskilled writer to copy any other writer's style.  In fact, I suspect that such copying requires more skill than just writing well.

The chi-square statistic is used in many statistical tests, if you were wondering.  Years ago, I could have given you a much more precise discussion of when it is used, but I have forgotten much of my statistical knowledge.)
- 1:04 PM, 31 October 2008   [link]


Coincidence?  Probably not.
The Obama campaign has decided to heave out three newspapers from its plane for the final days of its blitz across battleground states -- and all three endorsed Sen. John McCain for president!

The NY POST, WASHINGTON TIMES and DALLAS MORNING NEWS have all been told to move out by Sunday to make room for network bigwigs -- and possibly for the inclusion of reporters from two black magazines, ESSENCE and JET, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.
You'd almost think he fears critical scrutiny.
- 12:20 PM, 31 October 2008   [link]


Even Slate Doesn't Believe Obama:  If Obama wanted to release the names of his small donors, he could.
Barack Obama refuses to release the names of the 2 million-plus people who have given his campaign less than $200.  According to campaign officials, it would be too difficult and time-consuming to extract this information from its database.

So how come we were able to do it in a couple hours?  Not literally—we don't have access to the campaign's list of donors—but we created a database of similar size and format in a Web-ready file and posted it online.
The Slate authors, John Dickerson and Chris Wilson, even suggest that this would help Obama politically, that there are so few problems in that immense list that Obama would gain from being more open.

I think Dickerson and Wilson are delusional when they come to that conclusion.  When politicians hide information, they almost always have good reasons to do so.

(Just in case you missed it, Slate's employees have revealed their voting choices, 57 for Obama, 1 for McCain, and 1 for Bob Barr.  I am glad that they are honest enough to do this.  And perfectly willing to make some obvious inferences.  For instance:  It is clear to anyone that Slate discriminates ideologically when it hires.  And you can probably add other inferences without much effort.)
- 5:57 AM, 31 October 2008   [link]


Michelle Malkin makes a good point.
If Joe the Plumber were Jawad the Suspected Terrorist, civil-liberties activists would stampede the halls of Congress on his behalf.

Liberal columnists would hyperventilate over the outrageous invasions of his privacy by Ohio state and local employees.
In her usual understated way.

But she does have a good point.  And it is simply a fact that the worst abuses of government power have been committed by Democratic presidents, including Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson.   So it is not paranoid to expect more of these attacks, should Barack Obama be elected president.
- 5:18 AM, 31 October 2008   [link]


The Japanese Aren't Having Enough Children:  This may help explain why
A Japanese man has enlisted hundreds of people in a campaign to allow marriages between humans and cartoon characters, saying he feels more at ease in the "two-dimensional world".
Apparently he isn't the only one in Japan who prefers cartoon characters to real people.
- 4:52 AM, 31 October 2008   [link]


Tax Deadweights:  Almost* all taxes impose a deadweight loss on society.  If that idea is new to you, consider this simple example.  Suppose a foreign power imposes a tax of $100 on a small community.  The foreign power collects the $100 and burns it.

Is the loss to the community $100?  No, because the imposition of that tax distorted the market.

For goods supplied in a perfectly competitive market, tax reduces economic efficiency, by introducing a deadweight loss.  In a perfect market, the price of a particular economic good adjusts to make sure that all trades which benefit both the buyer and the seller of a good occur.  After introducing a tax, the price received by the seller is less than the cost to the buyer.  This means that fewer trades occur and that the individuals or businesses involved gain less from participating in the market.  This destroys value, and is known as the 'deadweight cost of taxation'.

The deadweight cost is dependent on the elasticity of supply and demand for a good.

Most taxes — including income tax and sales tax — can have significant deadweight costs.

(You can find a simple graph illustrating the argument here.)

This deadweight loss implies, at least to me, that we should be careful about increasing taxes.  And particularly careful, according to economist Gregory Mankiw, with imposing high tax rates, which have particularly large deadweight losses.

Standard theory says that the deadweight loss of taxation rises approximately with the square of the tax rate.

So there is a powerful economic efficiency argument for broad-based taxes, with low rates.   Economic efficiency is not everything — at least for most of us — but it does set limits on what we can do as a society.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*The most important exception is a land tax.  That inspired Henry George to propose a single tax on land, and some of his followers to develop a predecessor to the game of Monopoly.)
- 5:43 PM, 30 October 2008   [link]


First Impressions Of Dreams From My Father:  I have been skimming through Obama's first book for a series of posts on a single subject, but I can't help pausing to give you two first impressions.

First, whoever wrote the book, Obama, or Obama with some help, is obsessed with race, and tells tale after tale of how blacks were oppressed by whites, including many tales that happened before he was born.   Obama more or less admits that some of the stories that he got from his grandfather are probably not true, but that doesn't matter.  (I am not sure that any of them are true, partly because some seem implausible, partly because we know that Obama does not always tell us the truth about his past.)   The tales do not read like autobiography, but like political morality.  In contrast, there are almost no personal morality tales in the first part of the book.

Second, his father was an even more disgusting man than I had thought.  So far, I have found just one example of his father doing something kind, when he brought a few presents to Obama in Hawaii.  Years after abandoning Obama and his mother.

Those two impressions suggest a common picture.  Obama would not be the first leftist to excuse disgusting behavior from a man belonging to an "oppressed" group.

Whatever the reason, Obama seems, as I have said before, to idolize that self-centered, destructive man, his father.
- 4:20 PM, 30 October 2008   [link]


More Evidence That's McCain's Prospects are improving.  (The alien may have better vote prediction technology than we do.)
- 1:34 PM, 30 October 2008   [link]


Ohio's Vote Fraud House:  Michelle Malkin has the pictures.  Here's the story.
Four well-heeled New York Democrats are under investigation by an Ohio prosecutor for setting up a temporary home in the swing state - where two have already cast their ballots - just so that their votes will be counted there, The Post has learned.

The targets of the probe - including the daughter and son-in-law of a New York City real-estate titan, a former New York Sun reporter and a Bank of New York Mellon executive - are connected to Vote From Home, a Manhattan-based political action committee set up to get voters to the polls in Ohio, where residents are allowed to cast ballots 29 days before Election Day, investigators said.

The New Yorkers and nine other members from across the country are accused of packing themselves into a modest three-bedroom house in Columbus, waiting 30 days - and then registering, even though the Buckeye State is not their permanent residence.
They were too obvious, and were caught.  They won't be prosecuted, but their votes won't count.  And one of them, who works for Democratic Congressman John Hall, has been fired.   (There may be an error in that article; in other articles, the group's name is "Vote From Home", not "Vote Today Ohio".  Or they may be using more than one name.)

How did the group meet?  At Oxford, as I understand it, where some of them may be Rhodes scholars — with the sterling characters we have learned to expect from Rhodes scholars.

This is, of course, another example of what I have been calling distributed vote fraud since 2004.  They group acted, as far as I know, independently of candidates and party organization.

(This kind of vote fraud, where voters are moved into a district just before an election, was quite common early in our history, when electorates were much smaller, and controls were weak.)
- 1:06 PM, 30 October 2008   [link]


Is Obama A Socialist?  Economics professor Donald Boudreaux answers that question with a no:
No.  At least not in the classic sense of the term. "Socialism" originally meant government ownership of the major means of production and finance, such as land, coal mines, steel mills, automobile factories, and banks.

A principal promise of socialism was to replace the alleged uncertainty of markets with the comforting certainty of a central economic plan.  No more guessing what consumers will buy next year and how suppliers and rival firms will behave: everyone will be led by government's visible hand to play his and her role in an all-encompassing central plan.  The "wastes" of competition, cycles of booms and busts, and the "unfairness" of unequal incomes would be tossed into history's dustbin.
And with a maybe:
But what about a milder form of socialism?  If reckoned as an attitude rather than a set of guidelines for running an economy, socialism might well describe Senator Obama's economics.  Anyone who speaks glibly of "spreading the wealth around" sees wealth not as resulting chiefly from individual effort, initiative, and risk-taking, but from great social forces beyond any private producer's control.  If, say, the low cost of Dell computers comes mostly from government policies (such as government schooling for an educated workforce) and from culture (such as Americans' work ethic) then Michael Dell's wealth is due less to his own efforts and more to the features of the society that he luckily inhabits.
That's about the same answer I would have given myself, adding these two caveats.  First, Obama would fit comfortably in many of the world's socialist parties, not all, but many.  So, if you define socialist as agreeing with the policies of most socialists in the world, then Obama might qualify as a socialist.

Second, and more important, we can not be certain that what Obama says in this campaign reflects his real views.  He has been so deceptive about his past that we can not believe what says now.  Please understand, I am not saying that Obama is a secret socialist, just that we can not trust what he says about his beliefs.

(There is no reason to believe that Obama has studied the classic critiques of socialism, in fact, some reason to think that he has not.  So he may not agree with Boudreaux that socialism "utterly failed".)
- 5:22 AM, 30 October 2008   [link]


Another Obama Supporter Stumped:  When asked this question:  Name the most significant thing Barack Obama has done on the national stage.  (The video would be even funnier if Obama were not leading in the presidential race.)

And the supporter has no answer.  He doesn't even try to redefine the question as I think I would, to make it about Obama's accomplishments, in general.

This is no ordinary supporter who was stumped; this was the very famous Professor Jeffrey Sachs, a man who is supposed to be very well-informed.

(Thanks to a reader for the tip.)
- 6:59 PM, 29 October 2008   [link]


The Shrinking Seattle Times:  No, I am not about to discuss their shrinking circulation, or even their shrinking staff.

Instead, I am going to discuss their their shrinking ideological boundaries.  A newspaper which was once open to many views has become, more and more, limited to views from those on the left.  This can be seen most clearly in the changes in the editorial pages.

First, a little bit of history, which will be familiar to most in this area, but not many elsewhere.  Until 1995, conservative talk show host (and 2000 Republican gubernatorial candidate) John Carlson had a regular column in the Seattle Times.  He was dropped, according to then editorial page editor Mindy Cameron because he was using the same material in his column and on his radio show.  (Not everyone believed her explanation, but it may be true.)  After Carlson left, the Times brought in conservative columnist Michelle Malkin.  But when Malkin left, the Times did not find a similar outspoken conservative to replace her.

In the years since Malkin left, the range of acceptable opinion at the Times has shrunk.  The current editorial page editor, James Vesely, has never shown the same interest in a range of opinion as his predecessor, Mindy Cameron, did.  Instead, Vesely has a weakness for leftwing academics, especially leftwing academics with only loose attachments to mere facts.  (I once jokingly suggested that he published some of these academics in order to discredit them.  He denies that.)

The editorial pages declined further after the arrival of the man I think of as the intern, Ryan Blethen.  There are people, cruel people no doubt, who think that Blethen would not be associate publisher if he did not have the same last name as the publisher, Frank Blethen.  You can get some idea of Ryan Blethen's thinking from this column, where he describes his visit to a far left group — without ever telling us that the group is on the far left.  And, as far as I know, Blethen has never shown the slightest interest in criticism from open-minded liberals or moderates, much less conservatives.  (Though polls such as this one suggest that he, and other leftwing journalists, might learn something from those who are not on the far left.)

This year, the Times reduced the range of acceptable opinion still farther by cutting the weekday editorial pages from two to one.  In the past, the Times had followed a common pattern for large newspapers; on most days, they gave two pages to opinion, including much space for disagreeing columnists and letters.  (As I have said in the past, I thought the Times policy on letters was generally fair, much better than the policy at the New York Times, where very few disagreeing letters get past their letters editor.)  Now, it is not uncommon to read their single page and see only leftist views.  I particularly miss their disagreeing letters, since I can easily read most columnists elsewhere.

This change has been very bad for the Times because almost all of us are more likely to learn that we are wrong from those who disagree with us.

Let me give a telling example of that point.  Two weeks ago, I gave a talk to twelve journalists from the former Soviet Union.  Like me, the twelve were dismayed by a nasty Seattle Times typo that I noticed last July — a typo that has still not been corrected.  I published that post at Sound Politics, as well as my own site.  (For those not from this area: Sound Politics is probably the most important local political blog.)  But no one at the Times saw that post, at least no one who was willing to make a simple correction.   Let me be blunt:  The editorial writers need not read my humble site regularly, though all of them could learn something there, but all of them should read Sound Politics regularly — so they can find out when they are wrong.  As they often are.

The Seattle Times has chosen, more and more in the last ten years, not to print disagreeing material — and we can expect, as an inevitable consequence, that they will make even more mistakes.  And lose still more subscribers and reputation.

Some on the center and the right — especially after the outrageous bias in most newspapers this year — would like to see newspapers like the current Seattle Times disappear.  I am not in that group and would prefer that even the current, ideologically-crippled Times continue.  (Even better would be to see the Times restore some of the openness to new ideas it had not that long ago.)  Although I don't want them to disappear, I have concluded, sadly, that I can trust almost nothing in the newspaper.  (As far as I can tell, they almost always get the game scores right.)

For years, I have urged those who want to be well-informed to read a good newspaper — critically.  The decline of the Seattle Times, and many other newspapers, has led me to change that advice.  I now suggest that those who want to be well-informed read a good newspaper — suspiciously.  And I now advise them not to do even that unless they are willing to also read sources that are generally critical of that newspaper.  In short, don't trust the Seattle Times, and very definitely verify what you read there.

Though they are the least likely to take this advice, those on the left are the ones who would benefit most from it.  As I said, we are most likely to learn that we are wrong from those who disagree with us.  And in our society, leftists have to do a little more work to find those sources.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Like most other newspapers, the Seattle Times has increased their on-line content, at the same time that they have cut back on their printed content.  But I don't consider on-line letters, posts, and blogs entirely adequate substitutes for printed material.

Although those on the right and in the center are now unwelcome at the Seattle Times, they do now run a column, every Monday, from far left David Sirota.  In general, I find his arguments embarrassing, but sometimes revealing, as when he argued for a return of corrupt political machines.)
- 3:45 PM, 29 October 2008   [link]


What Did Obama Do While He Lived In New York?  We know that he earned a bachelor's degree from Columbia, that he worked for Business International Corporation, and that he worked as a community organizer.  And we know that what little he has said about those years is often misleading, and sometimes false.

But that is about all we know.  We haven't seen his Columbia transcript — though we know he did not graduate with honors.  We have not seen his undergraduate thesis, though we know he wrote one.  (He claims to have lost it.)  Trying to find out what Obama did in those years is like peering into a fog bank.  Some vague shapes appear from time to time, but it is hard to know what they are, and certain that much is hidden.

Blogger "zombie" has the most complete account of those years in New York that I have found.  Zombie does not settle any of the mysteries; in fact, he(she?) raises more.  For instance, Obama has claimed that he moved many times while he was in New York, but a check of the phone books for those years shows only one Obama address.  It is possible, as zombie notes, that he informally sublet one place while moving around.  Possible, but unlikely.
But seriously:  How likely is that?  It's much more likely that Obama simply stayed in this one location the entire time, and later concocted a tale of being poor and itinerant as part of some narrative about his rise from poverty, or something along those lines.
As I have noted, for instance here, Obama's stories about his past often help him make a political point.  Or to be blunt, when he deceives us about his past, he appears to be looking for political advantage.  (For example, when he claimed to have "worked his way" through college and Harvard Law, he was making a traditional appeal to American voters.)

Zombie uses all this background to explore the possibility that Obama was involved with violent extremists while in New York, in particular with the unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.  Zombie does not resolve that question; the title of the piece is: "Barack Obama's Close Encounter with the Weather Underground", but the subtitle is a more accurate description: "Did the presidential candidate and the revolutionary terror group cross paths at a violent 1981 anti-Apartheid protest?"  And elsewhere, I might add.  We do know that there was, at most one degree of separation between Obama and Ayers during this time; both knew the extremist Palestinian professor, Edward Said.

And we also know this:  When a candidate hides part of his past, it is fair to infer that they are hiding something bad.  What they are hiding may be trivial, such as the DUI that almost lost Bush the 2000 election.  Or it may be serious, such as Kennedy's poor health.  We may never learn what a candidate is hiding, but we can be sure that the candidate does not think it will help him with the voters.

(There is much in this 2007 New York Times article that is worth reading — and worth sharing with undecided voters.  Anyone who reads it with an open mind will realize that what Obama says about his past can not be trusted.  And anyone who can make a simple inference will conclude that what he says can not be trusted on other matters, either.)
- 9:58 AM, 29 October 2008   [link]


Epsilon Eridani Has Planets:  Which will please fans of Star Trek
Star Trek fans, take heart — Mr. Spock's fabled home star, the nearby Epsilon Eridani, could harbor an Earth-like planet.

NASA astronomers today report that the triple-ringed star has an asteroid belt and a Jupiter-like giant planet in roughly the same orbits as in our own solar system.  Only 850 million years old, a fifth the age of Earth's sun, Epsilon Eridani resembles a younger twin to our solar system.  About 62 trillion miles away, it is the closest known solar system.
And even those who don't care for Star Trek should be interested in a solar system that seems so similar to our own.
- 7:40 AM, 29 October 2008   [link]


Gallup's Two Results:  When I started out to make an electoral prediction, I began, as I usually do, by looking at Gallup's results — which turned out to be two results, giving entirely different pictures of the campaign.   First, the trend with Gallup's "expanded" likely voters.

Gallup trend, expanded voter model, 10/28/08

Next, the trend with with Gallup's traditional likely voters

Gallup trend, traditional voter model, 10/28/08

(My apologies for the fuzzy appearance of the first graph.  I had to use a screen shot to capture it, for some reason.)

If you believe the first graph, McCain is far behind and probably not catching up.  If you believe the second, McCain is close and catching up.  In fact, if you do a simple extrapolation on the second, you would predict that McCain will win the popular vote by a few percentage points.

Now what in the world can we conclude from those two graphs?  One thing is obvious; we can conclude that Gallup, for whatever reasons, does not trust their likely voter model, even though it has performed well over the years.

Gallup may be right, but we won't know for sure until late November 4th, at the earliest.

Here's how Gallup explains their "expanded" model:
Gallup's "expanded" likely voter model determines likely voters based only on current voting intentions.  This estimate would take into account higher turnout among groups of voters traditionally less likely to vote, such as young adults and minorities.
Note that, unlike their "traditional" model of likely voters, it does not include past behavior.  (Or, to be more precise, reports of past behavior.  When Gallup tries to figure out whether a respondent will vote in this year's election, they ask them whether they voted in past elections.  And then, in their traditional voting model, they use that to weight the responses.  Other pollsters also do this, though it isn't universal.  No single method of weighting works best in all elections.)

In general, I prefer a weighting method that uses all the relevant data, not just some of it.   But I have enough respect for Gallup to think that they must have some reason for using both models in this election — other than hoping that Obama will win, as they appear to.

But, since it hasn't been tested in a general election, I trust their traditional model more.   And since I do, I conclude that, were the election to be held today, John McCain would lose the popular vote and, almost certainly, the electoral college.  By, perhaps, three percentage points.

That implies that the election is still close enough so that McCain could come from behind and win next Tuesday.  Let me be more precise, using a simple example.  Suppose someone came to me, wanting advice on a small election bet.  (Small because that way I can ignore utility curves.)   As I write, the Iowa Electronic Market is predicting that Obama will win by about eight percent.  I would advise a bettor to take McCain's side of that bet.  As I write, InTrade is giving McCain a 12.5 percent chance of winning.   That's a harder choice, but I would advise the bettor to take McCain's side of that bet, too.

As of today, in other words, I think that McCain will get more than 47 percent of the two-party vote, and that he has more than one chance in eight of winning the election.  As we get closer to the election, I will try to be more precise, but I can't promise to do better, unless the poll results get clearer.
- 4:52 PM, 28 October 2008
Dick Morris thinks that the undecided voters are "likely" to break for McCain.  I don't always agree with Morris's political analyses, but I almost always read them with interest.
- 7:50 AM, 29 October 2008   [link]


Think We Have Problems?  Take a look at Iceland.
Iceland's central bank raised its key interest rate by 6 percentage points to 18 percent on Tuesday, two weeks after it had eased policy to soften the impact of the country's financial meltdown.

The move, which one economist called extreme, was the latest by authorities to prop up the country's frozen currency and markets, offering investors a high return for putting money back into the North Atlantic island's crippled financial system.
The increase was part of their deal with the International Monetary Fund, which wants to see nations suffer before lending them money.

(What kind of government does Iceland have?  Judging by the CIA Handbook, it's a social democratic government, similar to those found in most Scandinavian countriess.  Iceland has a "remarkably even distribution of income", which did not prevent this financial collapse.)
- 1:55 PM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Obama Has At Least Two Positions On Defense:  He wants to strengthen our military, and he wants to weaken our military.  Based on what he has said, you can make arguments that he favors either position.
When it comes to defense, there are two Barack Obamas in this race.  There is the candidate who insists, as he did last year in an article in Foreign Affairs, that "a strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace"; pledges to increase the size of our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines while providing them with "first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training"; and seems to be as gung-ho for a surge in Afghanistan as he was opposed to the one in Iraq.

And then there is the candidate who early this year recorded an ad for Caucus for Priorities, a far-left outfit that wants to cut 15% of the Pentagon's budget in favor of "education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction."

"Thanks so much for the Caucus for Priorities for the great work you've been doing," says Mr. Obama in the ad, before promising to "cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending . . . slow our development of future combat systems . . . not develop new nuclear weapons."
(Here's the ad, if you would like to listen to it.)

When Obama made that ad, he was competing in Democratic primaries and caucuses.  Now, he is running in a general election.  So now he sounds more like the Foreign Affairs article, and less like the Caucus ad.

But which Obama is the real Obama?  Which represents what he would do as president?  (Assuming that one of them does.)  Judging by his slim record, the Caucus ad tells us more about what he would do as president than the article.  If you want us to cut back on military spending, especially on missile defense, then you should support Obama.  (As almost all of our enemies do.)  If you think that would be imprudent, then you should support McCain.

(Younger folks may want to see this 1984 "bear in the woods" ad, which makes a similar argument.

Similar thoughts here from the Investor's Business Daily.)
- 1:22 PM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Another Paradox:  Or so the New York Times thinks.  For this Associated Press article on increasing new home sales, a Times editor chose this headline:  "Sales Rose, but Prices Fell for New Homes in September".

You have to love that "but".  Especially in a newspaper that runs thousands of pages of sales ads every year.

(This interactive graphic is worth several looks, if you want to understand our housing problems.  Try, for instance, comparing Dallas, where the housing market is less regulated, with San Francisco, where the housing market is, to put it mildly, more regulated.)
- 12:51 PM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Strange Canadian Election Rules:  Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh won his seat in the Canadian parliament by just 33 votes, close enough to trigger an automatic recount.  The judge in charge of the recount recounted a sample of the ballot boxes, 28 of 184.  The recount reduced Dosanjh's margin to 22 votes.  The judge declared him the winner.

As far as I can tell, the judge was following the Canadian rules.  But the result doesn't make sense.

(There is nothing wrong, in principle, with a sample count in close elections.  But I would never use one when an election is this close.)
- 10:29 AM, 28 October 2008
Or Maybe Not:  When I looked through the comments following the post, I found that there is a dispute over whether the judge followed the Canadian law — and I am inclined to think that those who say he didn't have the better case.  But I know almost nothing about Canadian election law.
- 10:46 AM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Bob Kerrey Is A Democrat And An Honest Man:  The former Nebraska senator has some sharp things to say about his own party.
On the question of public funding of presidential campaigns, we Democrats who strongly support Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy and who previously supported limits on campaign spending and who haven't objected to Obama's opting out of the presidential funding system face an awkward fact:  Either we are hypocrites, or we were wrong to support such limitations in the first place.
Read the whole thing.  It is refreshingly honest.  (But then it comes from the Democrat who once said: "Bill Clinton is an unusually good liar.  Unusually good.")

By the end of the op-ed, Kerrey admits that he may have been wrong about those limits, so he is coming closer to the position I have held for years, along with the ACLU.  (They aren't wrong about everything.)   I favor the free speech position on this issue, not because it is a good solution, but because all the other solutions are worse.
- 8:28 AM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Is Barack Obama "Well-Informed" About Iran?  French President Sarkozy doesn't think so.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is very critical of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's positions on Iran, according to reports that have reached Israel's government.

Sarkozy has made his criticisms only in closed forums in France.  But according to a senior Israeli government source, the reports reaching Israel indicate that Sarkozy views the Democratic candidate's stance on Iran as "utterly immature" and comprised of "formulations empty of all content."
None of these reports come from named officials, but they are consistent with what we know about Sarkozy and Obama.

What may be even worse is that Obama may not realize that he is not "well-informed" about Iran.  (And many other subjects.)
- 7:57 AM, 28 October 2008   [link]


Worth Buying:  David Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama.  (Worth buying is my highest accolade, by the way.  Or perhaps I should say, worth paying for, as that would allow for contributions, as well as purchases.)

If every voter read this book, Obama would lose next Tuesday, by a very large margin.

The central argument in the book is straightforward:

Obama's ethnic pedigree understandably attracts much interest and fascination.  But it is far less interesting than his unusual political pedigree.  He is the product of a marriage between two of the least attractive parts of Democratic politics—the hard-core radicalism of the 1960s era and Chicago's Machine politics. (pp. x-xi)

The first part of that political pedigree has gotten far more attention from conservatives than the second.  But the second may be just as important to understanding Obama.  It explains why, as an elected official, Obama never worked for reform in Chicago — a corrupt city in great need of reform.  He planned all along to use the Daley machine, not fight it.  He talks about about hope and change, but he wants to take us back to the bad old days of the big city machines.

And that part of his pedigree tells us how seriously to take his promises.  A machine politician makes whatever promises he thinks he needs to make to win elections — but does not think of those promises as pledges.  For the machine to continue, it must win almost all elections, and so a typical machine politician will say (and sometimes do) whatever is necessary to win elections.

That part also explains why he has been so tolerant of corrupt individuals and extremists.  A machine politician will put together a coalition from the available groups, without much worrying about whether all those groups are fit for polite society.  For instance, at one time, one ward in Chicago was widely believed to be controlled by organized crime — which bothered the Daley machine not at all.  Machine politicians have many faults but they are not, on the whole, "judgmental".

And that part may help explain his wife.  Her father, whom she admires greatly, was a part of the Daley machine, a precinct captain, I believe.  So it should not surprise us to find Obama working with Daley's son, and supporting most of his candidates — including some that everyone knows are corrupt.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(When I read a popular book on politics, I almost always find mistakes.  So far, I have found no mistakes in The Case Against Barack Obama, and I have studied the book closely, even checking some of the footnotes.

Incidentally, one of the things I like about the book is that Freddoso rejects some of the sillier rumors about Obama, for instance, that he was sworn into office on a Koran.)
- 4:04 PM, 26 October 2008   [link]


First Cartoon:  In this post, I asked for some help, since I can't draw.   Specifically, I asked for someone to draw this cartoon:

Obama, looking much like Lucy in Peanuts, is holding a football labeled "tax cuts".  Joe Voter, looking much like Charlie Brown, is getting ready to kick the football.

And someone, who prefers to be anonymous, did.

Obama/Lucy holding football for taxpayer

As I said in the original post, we all know what happens next, even though Charlie Brown never did.

Many thanks for the help.  (And I will have another cartoon challenge before the end of this week.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:06 PM, 26 October 2008   [link]


What To Learn From From History:  And what not to learn from history.   Before I come to the main subject of this post, let me remind you of the sad history of cholera, a ghastly disease that has killed millions.
Vibrio cholerae is a Gram-negative bacterium that produces cholera toxin, an enterotoxin, whose action on the mucosal epithelium lining of the small intestine is responsible for the characteristic massive diarrhea of the disease.[1]  In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known, and a healthy person may become hypotensive within an hour of the onset of symptoms; infected patients may die within three hours if treatment is not provided.[1]   In a common scenario, the disease progresses from the first liquid stool to shock in 4 to 12 hours, with death following in 18 hours to several days without oral rehydration therapy.[3][4]
In the first half of the 19th century, there was a series of cholera pandemics.  At that time, medical professionals could offer nursing help, which would save some patients, and could use quarantines to limit the spread of disease.  And that was it.

In the second half of the 19th century, medical professionals discovered that the disease was spread through contaminated water, identified the bacteria responsible, and developed a vaccine.

Now, supppose that you read a history of cholera that took you up to about 1850.  Would it be sensible for you to conclude that the only modern ways to treat cholera were nursing and quarantines?

No, that would be absurd.  But John Sweeney makes a similar mistake with Afghanistan.   (Sweeney is "an award-winning investigative journalist", almost certainly this BBC journalist.)  In a review of a book on Afghanistan history by David Loyn, Sweeney concludes that the West may be engaged in an impossible mission in Afghanistan, because the British had problems there in the 19th century.
On the other hand, the Afghan narrative is almost absurdly unchanging.  Any foreign military adventure in Afghanistan is doomed to fail: the land is unforgiving and the people are hostile, secure in their Islamic faith - which ratchets up to a fresh level of purist absolutism with every bomb that falls.   They may lose battle after battle, but still they fight.
And most of the Afghans are now fighting on our side.  That news has reached most news organizations, even the BBC, as far as I know.  But Sweeney ignores that minor point.

Sweeney's argument is silly for many reasons.  For one thing, Sweeney gets the history wrong.   The British often lost early battles in their colonial campaigns, and prevailed in the long run.   Look up the history of the Sudan, Ghana, or South Africa for examples.  And that is pretty much what happened in Afghanistan.  Though the British never made a colony of Afghanistan, they did dominate the nation as much as they wanted, enough to stop raiding and to keep the Russians out.

Sweeney gets the present wrong, too; he ignores the vast changes in Afghanistan since the 19th century.  And he ignores the fact that, in most of Afghanistan, the Taliban have no significant presence.  And he seems to have missed, entirely, the lessons taught by General Petraeus in Iraq.  Sweeney must know that almost identical arguments were made, just a couple of years ago, about Iraq.  And he dismisses the advantages technology gives to the West — though few Taliban fighters would make the same mistake.

Mark Twain once said this about learning from experience.
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid.  She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
Sweeney is not even learning from his own experience.  Instead, he has read about some cats in the 19th century, and became convinced all stoves are hot, and that modern stoves are exactly like those in the 19th century.

It is not hard to understand why members of the Defeat Now! caucus, as I like to call them, make this impossibility argument, first about Iraq and now about Afghanistan.  If it is impossible to win in either nation, then a withdrawal, preferably under terms, is the only sensible course of action.   Members of the caucus then do not even have to consider whether their policy is honorable or or in our interests.

(Sweeney is following, though he may not know it, a tradition among British intellectuals, who were, as Orwell pointed out, defeatist in World War II, as well as the present.)
- 2:39 PM, 26 October 2008   [link]


How Common Are Abortion Clinic Murders?  Less common than you might think, especially in the last ten years.

(Natalie Solent blogs less regularly than some, but almost every post she writes is worth reading — so I still check her site regularly.)
- 10:03 AM, 26 October 2008   [link]


Patterico's Site Has Been Moved:  At least temporarily.  Here's the latest in the strange story.  I read the site often, and sometimes learn something from the posts.   (That's next to my highest accolade.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:42 AM, 26 October 2008   [link]


Running Out The Clock:  Sports fans will recognize this strategy.
On Oct. 24, 2007, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said that as president he would hold regular press conferences and "not just call on my four favorite reporters."

But the Democratic presidential nominee hasn't held a full press conference -- submitting himself to more than a handful of questions from his whole press corps -- in more than a month, since Sept. 24, 2008, in Clearwater, Fla.
But Obama did find time on Saturday to do an exclusive interview with actor Mario Lopez.

Obama believes — correctly — that he is ahead, and does not want to do anything to endanger that lead.  If our "mainstream" reporters were not so partisan, they might demand that he answer questions, might even wonder what he is hiding.

In most sports, there are rules to prevent one team from just sitting on the ball and running out the clock.  We don't have formal political rules to prevent a candidate from running out the clock, but in most election years, "mainstream" reporters would not tolerate being frozen out like this, even by a Democratic candidate.  But they have become so partisan this year that even a few working journalists are beginning to protest, openly.   (And a few more anonymously.)
- 7:47 AM, 26 October 2008   [link]


Jonathan Valania Is Joking:  But he is also revealing his deep prejudices.
As a lifelong Caucasian, I am beginning to think the time has finally come to take the right to vote away from white people, at least until we come to our senses.  Seriously, I just don't think we can be trusted to exercise it responsibly anymore.
. . .
That's why this ban on white people voting I'm proposing has got to be statewide.  And I'm sorry to say, it's going to have to include all white people, even those who would vote for Obama, because you can't just let some white people vote.  That would be unfair.

By this point, you either think I am joking or are calling me an elitist.  I assure you I am neither.  OK, maybe a little of both.  But it wasn't always like this.  I come from the Coal Belt, from that Alabamian hinterland between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as per James Carville's famous formulation.
. . .
I have broken kielbasa with those people.  I went to school with their children.  I have gone to Sunday Mass with a deer-hunter hangover with those people.  They are bitter with good reason, and they are armed because they are scared.  They mean well, but they are easily spooked.

I fear for what is to become of them after the campaigns leave town for the last time, and Scranton and Allentown and Carlisle go back to being the long dark chicken dance of the national soul they were before the media showed up.
A generation ago, leftists almost worshiped the white working class, especially ethnic minorities.  Now, leftists sneer at the same people.  Both the worship and the sneer are absurd.  And they are absurd for the same reason:  Rather than doing the hard work of finding out what people in Scranton and Allentown and Carlisle actually believe, this "elitist", like most earlier elitists, recites his prejudices.  (I know that he says that he knows "those people", but the phrase he chooses shows that he doesn't even want to know them.)

Does either presidential candidate share Valania's prejudices?  Of course.  Valania is saying just what Obama said to the wealthy leftists in San Francisco.  As of today, Americans would probably elect Obama, in spite of his prejudices.  But we have a week to change their minds.

(There were exceptions in the past.  Earlier leftists sometimes did study working class communities honestly.  George Orwell didn't worship or sneer at the British working class, he lived with them, and studied them, producing classics such as The Road to Wigan Pier.   I mention that book for a reason; what Orwell learned in Wigan Pier did not entirely fit the leftist orthodoxy of the time.  He agreed that working Britons were miserable and that they needed socialism, but he thought that British socialists were too full of class prejudice and silly ideas to appeal to the working class.  They were, in short, too much like Jonathan Valania.

More on The Road to Wigan Pier here.

Note, by the way, that this was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, most likely because an editor there shares Valania's prejudices.  Shares them so much that he may not realize how much this will help the McCain campaign.)
- 5:42 AM, 27 October 2008   [link]


Linux Sneaks In The Back Door:  Tired of waiting for your PC to boot?   Some manufacturers are solving that problem — by installing Linux on Windows PCs
In June, H.P. introduced a new kind of fast-booting laptop, for $1,200, and the company says the technology is destined to spread quickly.  Right now, H.P.'s goal is to offer PCs that boot in 30 to 45 seconds, said Philip McKinney, chief technology officer for the company's personal systems group.  "In 18 months, you've got to be 20 to 30 seconds."

Until Microsoft comes up with a way to greatly shorten the time it takes to load Windows, PC makers are speeding up boot times using programs that bypass Windows.  The systems vary technically, but they all rely on a version of an operating system called Linux that gives users quick access to Web browsing and other basic functions of their computer.  In some cases, Windows never boots, while in others, Windows starts in the background.
Linux comes in all sizes.  You can run it from a floppy disk, or on a supercomputer.  So it is not hard to build a small version of it that lets you run your mail program and your browser, but not much more.  And then, if you need to work in Windows, that small version can start Windows for you.

It is odd, in some ways, that Microsoft, which got its start building small programs for small computers, does not see that there is still a need for a small operating system.  And that, if Microsoft doesn't supply it, someone else will.

After reading this, I checked my own system and found that, running one of the common Linux variants, Ubuntu, the system boots from a cold start in one minute and forty seconds, including logon.  But then I have a system that is several years old by now, and was never state of the art.

(For many years, I said that I did not recommend Linux to most people.  It is suitable, I said, for those who know a lot about computers, and for those who know nothing about computers — as long as they have someone to set it up for them and keep it running.  And, of course, anyone who wants to learn about computers should, absolutely, experiment with Linux.

With Linux now somewhat easier to use, and with it coming pre-installed on some PCs, notably the little "netbooks", I am changing that advice a bit.  I would now say that people with simple needs, email, web browsing, and letter writing, can do fine with Linux, even if they know only a little bit about computers.)
- 3:30 PM, 26 October 2008   [link]