Archive:

October 2013, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Disappearance Of The Motive From The Murder Stories:   When Tevin Geike was murdered, the first stories were frank about saying that it might be a hate crime.
20-year-old Tevin Geike was walking with two other white soldiers along Pacific Highway SW when a group of black men drove by and shouted a racial comment toward the soldiers, the Lakewood Police Department said.

"One of the soldiers yelled back something about the suspects treating combat soldiers with disrespect," Lt. Chris Lawler said.
. . .
The initial remark that started the encounter seemed derogatory in nature, said Lakewood police Lt. Chris Lawler.  He said it was too early to say that race was the motivating factor, but investigators were exploring whether the killing should be classified as a hate crime.
Now that three arrests have been made, the news stories in this area have turned silent on the motive.  This morning, I watched a Fox affiliate, Q13, do a lead story on the murder, a story in which there was never any mention of a motive.

This Seattle PI story repeats the reasons it might be a hate crime, but then includes this mysterious statement:
Police described [Jeremiah] Hill as the "main suspect" in the case and said he did not make a statement and asked for a lawyer.  Cedarium Johnson, 21, and Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, 21, were also booked into the Pierce County Jail on Monday, Lakewood police said.   Based on information developed during the investigation, Lt. Chris Lawler of the Lakewood police said it does not appear the stabbing was a hate crime.
Like Q13, the PI did not give readers an alternative motive.

Why the silence on the motive?  This is just a guess, but Lieutenant Lawler may have realized that Lakewood would have less unwelcome attention if he did not describe the murder as a hate crime.  And our local "mainstream" journalists would be happy to help him suppress that part of the story, even if it means leaving out the motive.

If I am right, we'll see and hear more stories that describe the murder as "senseless".

(Yes, I know; murders are rarely love crimes, but we know what they mean.)
- 7:37 AM, 8 October 2013
Update:  This morning I heard conservative talk show host John Carlson ask the prosecutor, Pierce County's Mark Lindquist, why the story had changed, why the authorities were no longer saying this might be a hate crime.  In brief, Lindquist said that the key witness did not say it was a racial attack when questioned by detectives.  As of now, Lindquist has no motive for the killing, but has charged Jeremiah Hill with first degree murder, so Lindquist is assuming that Hill had a motive, even though Lindquist doesn't know what it is.

You can listen to the interview here.
- 4:37 PM, 9 October 2013   [link]


In NYC, Stores Can Impose Dress Codes On Their Customers, as long as they don't do so for religious reasons.
Exhibiting a complete lack of common sense, the city’s Human Rights Commission is determined to take seven Hasidic-owned stores in Brooklyn to trial for the high crime of requiring modest dress of their customers.
. . .
At issue are shop signs reported in a Post news story this past summer.  They read as follows: “No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Necklines Allowed.”
Which, as the editorial goes on to say, are an awful lot like the "No shirt, no shoes, no service" signs you can see almost everywhere.

Believe it or not, the lawyer for the HRC, Cliff Mulqueen, actually worries that the signs might make some people "uncomfortable".  I'm not sure when being protected from being "uncomfortable" (or being offended) by other people's beliefs became a human right, but for some activists it obviously has.

By way of Ann Althouse.
- 5:44 AM, 8 October 2013   [link]


Russian Joke:  Along with the 18 September edition of the New York Times came an eight page supplement from Russia.  I suppose you could call it a propaganda supplement, but there were some interesting things in it, and I imagine some of them are even true.

But there was one that puzzled me.  At the end of an interview with Olga Fedina, the author of What Every Russian Knows (And You Don't), there was this question and answer:
If you had to choose just one iconic book, film and joke that would illuminate Russian culture for a foreign audience, what would they be?  Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" has an immortal set of Russian characters.  As for film, I would choose Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev".  And a joke—that "anekdot":  How do you make a Russian jump in the Seine River?  Say that swimming there is forbidden.
All, right, I know about "The Cherry Orchard", and a quick look at the Wikipedia entries for Andrei Tarkovsky and "Andrei Rublev" give me some idea why she made that choice.

But the joke (anekdot)?  I'm still thinking about that one, why she chose the Seine, what she thinks the joke tells us about Russians, and why she thinks it is funny.  (It is, I suppose, mildly funny, but it didn't crack me up.)
- 6:18 PM, 7 October 2013   [link]


Would-Be Immigrants Sometimes have unrealistic expectations.
Asylum seekers at off-shore detention centres asked doctors for breast enlargements, IVF treatments, Botox and cosmetic dentistry, the director of health services has said.
. . .
A spokesman for [Australian] Immigration Minister Scott Morrison reiterated that "those seeking to come illegally by boat won't receive such lavish treatments".
Australia's policy changes on those illegal immigrants are described here.  Be sure to click on the graph for a summary of the effects of those policy changes.
- 3:36 PM, 7 October 2013   [link]


From Kick-Elephant To "Kick-Ass"?  Will there be an opening to the center at the Seattle Times?  Probably not, but it is fun to imagine that the new editor was referring to the Democratic Party, when she said this:

Kathy Best, a longtime Seattle journalist and a Seattle Times editor for six years, has been named the newspaper’s editor, Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen announced Monday.
. . .
At Monday’s announcement, Best told the paper’s news staff that with the uncertain future facing the industry, “all of us in this room need to stay laser-focused on our mission: producing useful, meaningful, kick-ass journalism that readers can’t get anywhere else.”

As we all know, the symbol of the Democratic Party is the donkey, or, less politely, the ass.  As anyone knows who wants to know, the Seattle Times, for some years, has been pursuing a "kick-elephant" policy of attacking national Republicans, and often local Republicans, whenever they can.

This policy has made the newspaper less interesting, and much less useful to the community.  All the major offices in this local area are held by Democrats; almost all the state offices are, too.  Our local monopoly newspaper is able, sometimes, to criticize a few of the policies of those elected Democrats — but it finds it almost impossible to connect those criticisms to elected Democrats, or even, often, to ask them interesting questions.

For example, columnist Nicole Brodeur interviewed Al Gore when he came through here.  You don't have to know a lot about Al Gore to think of interesting questions to ask him, but if she did ask him any of those questions, they didn't appear in her column.  The column reminded me of a star-struck "tweener" writing about her encounter with Justin Bieber; the vocabulary level was higher, but the attitude was about the same.

For instance, many leftists worry about global warming and have concluded that we should be switching to nuclear power to avoid as much of it as we can.  (You can find a recent example in this Eduardo Porter column, which even has some numbers.)  Brodeur could have asked Gore why he hasn't joined them.

Overall, as I have said before, the Seattle Times acts as if its mission in life is to comfort comfortable leftists, to cover — or often not cover — the news in a way that will not upset people who are well off, and on the left, politically.  That may be a successful commercial strategy; there may be enough comfortable leftists in this area to support the newspaper, but it isn't very enterprising, and it often results in a newspaper that is almost deliberately dull.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For the record:  Our local monopoly newspaper owes the Republicans many "make-up" calls, but in the long run I would prefer that they either be openly partisan, or try to be more balanced in their articles, columns, and editorials.)
- 12:49 PM, 7 October 2013   [link]


As A Science Fiction Fan, I rather enjoyed Maureen Dowd's Sunday column, which begins with these paragraphs:
An ape sits where Abe sat.

The year is 2084, in the capital of the land formerly called North America.

The peeling columns of the Lincoln Memorial, and Abe’s majestic head, elegant hands and big feet are partially submerged in sludge. Animals that escaped from the National Zoo after zookeepers were furloughed seven decades ago migrated to the memorials, hunting for food left by tourists.

The white marble monuments are now covered in ash, Greek tragedy ruins overrun with weeds.  Tea Party zombies, thrilled with the dark destruction they have wreaked on the planet, continue to maraud around the Hill, eager to chomp on humanity some more.
But then I have always been willing to swallow an absurd premise — temporarily — if it is necessary to get the story going.  If you are at all like me, you can enjoy James Blish's "pantropy" stories, even if you think that making the Port Authority the villain in Book 1 rather silly.  (I am more likely to be bothered by inconsistencies in science fiction stories.)

Others reacted to her column more harshly, but I think they erred by taking Dowd seriously.  I would suggest that, instead, they reply in kind, that they write their own dystopian fantasy.

(Fans of Dowd will wonder whether she includes the usual movie reference.  She does, though I must say this one is rather obvious — but few think her writing is too subtle.)
- 8:12 AM, 7 October 2013   [link]


Defeat In Somalia, Victory In Libya:  Here's the Daily Mail summary.
  • Navy SEAL Team Six swam to shore in Somalia and attacked the compound of an al-Shabab leader
  • SEALs encountered heavy resistance and were turned back before the leader could be captured
  • Hours later, the Army's Delta Force team captured Abu Anas al-Libi, wanted for planning the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya
  • No U.S. troops were killed or wounded in either operation
If the sketchy news accounts of the Somalia operation are roughly correct, the SEAL team was right to pull back.

Al-Libi is believed to be responsible for two 1998 embassy bombings, one in Kenya, and one in Tanzania.  Twelve Americans were among the 212 dead.  (The Journal editorial, linked below, says that there were 224 deaths.  I don't know which number is correct — or, for that matter, whether both are wrong.)

I think even Bill Clinton would agree that his response to the bombings was ineffectual.

The analysis of the two operations in this Wall Street Journal editorial seems about right to me.
Al-Libi ought to be an intelligence gold mine if the Obama Administration is willing to extract it. U.S. officials are saying he is likely to be tried eventually in U.S. criminal court.  But for now he is probably on a U.S. Navy vessel, where he can be interrogated safe from American civilian due process.

Al-Libi ought to be brought to Guantanamo as an illegal enemy combatant and tried by military commission.  But it apparently offends the Obama Administration's political sensibilities less to keep captured killers on board a ship for weeks instead.  That's also how the Administration dealt with Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali member of al Qaeda who was captured in April 2011 and kept incommunicado at sea for some two months.  Secret prison, anyone?

The benefit of capturing such men, as opposed to firing a missile from a drone, is to gain intelligence to stop future attacks.  The Obama Administration has captured very few al Qaeda operatives and as a result we know less than we should about the ways that al Qaeda is decentralizing and expanding in Africa.  Let's hope it doesn't offer al-Libi a Miranda warning.
With, of course, the caveat that we can't be sure how complete and accurate the news accounts of the two operations are.
- 7:43 AM, 7 October 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  This Weekly Standard post interviewing David Samuels about his Kindle interview of Donald Rumsfeld.

This won't surprise very many people:
On the other hand, I think he honestly believes that Obama is incompetent, when it comes to geopolitics and also to making decisions that affect the American economy.  “I begin with incompetence as a problem,” he told me in the interview.  “I think his behavior reflects a lack of experience and a lack of a strategic concept, or some principles or values that he tests things against.”  Accordingly, says Rumsfeld, “We are contributing to a vacuum in the world that’s going to be filled by people who don’t have our values and don’t have our interests and our beliefs, and that means it’s going to be a more dangerous world for us and for others.”
That's close to the same conclusions I have come to.

(I hope the interview becomes available in another form; I don't want to buy a Kindle just for that one interview, but I do want to read the whole thing.)
- 9:19 PM, 6 October 2013   [link]


There Are Risks To Committing Crimes In Small Towns, or even small cities.
There aren't many secrets in a place like Gaffney, so when two heating and air conditioning workers suddenly quit their jobs and began buying stuff like a big screen TV, a used car and a riding lawn mower with $100 bills so old they didn't even have the off-center portrait of Benjamin Franklin, people started talking.

Police said all that talk got back to Lois Brown, who had hired those men a few days earlier and made them a deal.  She told the workers just before her husband died seven years ago, he said he had hidden thousands and thousands of dollars in the basement.  Her family had never found the money.
What would surprise most people who grew up in such places is that the three thought they could get away with it.

Gaffney has a population of about 12,000, and most of them probably keep pretty good track of their neighbors, for good reasons and bad.

(I don't know about you, but I kind of like that water tower.)
- 8:23 PM, 6 October 2013   [link]


Snow Line On Mt. St. Helens:  This is a cropped screen capture from yesterday, but you can see the same thing today, and probably most of tomorrow.

Mt. St Helens snow line, 4 October 2013

Just to the left of the center of the picture, you can see the Crater Glacier, "North America's youngest and fastest growing glacier".

(The best pictures will come from the hi-res camera, and the best times are — usually — around sunrise and sunset.)
- 3:28 PM, 5 October 2013   [link]


California Is Becoming Feudal, says Joel Kotkin.
As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class.  Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal.  According to recent census estimates, the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country.  By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo.

At the same time, the Golden State now suffers the highest level of poverty in the country—23.5 percent compared to 16 percent nationally—worse than long-term hard luck cases like Mississippi.  It is also now home to roughly one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients, almost three times its proportion of the nation’s population.
Kotkin is using feudal, metaphorically, to describe an increasingly inegalitarian society, rather than literally, to mean a system in which everyone's rank is fixed at birth.  If you accept his metaphor, then you will almost certainly agree that he makes a powerful argument for his conclusion.

The Democratic Party, especially in California, has been responsible for many of the policy changes which are leading to that feudal society — which must be very hard for an old "Truman Democrat" like Kotkin to accept.
- 10:05 AM, 5 October 2013   [link]


From 24 To 23 Pairs Of Chromosomes:  On Wednesday, my copy of Matt Ridley's Genome arrived, and I have been dipping into it.

I had known — as almost anyone my age with an interest in science would — that scientists once thought we had twenty-four pairs* of chromosomes, and that this mistake was finally corrected in the 1950s.

But, until I read the second chapter of Genome, I had not known who made the original mistake, and how long the mistake had lasted.

In 1915, Theophilus Painter made a count — I'll omit the details of his procedure as not entirely suitable for a family site — and came up with twenty-four.
Others later repeated his experiment in other ways.  All agreed the number was twenty-four.

For thirty years, nobody disputed this "fact'.  One group of scientists abandoned their experiments on human liver cells because they could only fine twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in each cell.  Another researcher invented a method of separating the chromosomes but still thought he saw twenty-four pairs.  It was not until 1955, when an Indonesian named Joe-Hin Tjio traveled from Spain to Sweden to work with Albert Levan, that the truth dawned.  Tjio and Levan, using better techniques, plainly saw twenty-three pairs.   They even went back and counted twenty-three pairs in photographs in books where the caption stated that there were twenty-four pairs.
Ridley ends that paragraph with: "There are none so blind as do not wish to see."  But I think a better conclusion would be:  We see what we expect to see.

And that probably explains what appears to be a simple arithmetic error on Ridley's part, saying thirty years, when he should have said forty.

(*Except, of course, for the sperm and egg cells, which each have half as many chromosomes.

Wikipedia gives somewhat different dates, but they may be referring to publication dates, rather than discovery dates.  They also say that Painter at first thought there were twenty-three pairs, but then changed to twenty-four.)
- 8:36 AM, 5 October 2013   [link]


In Seattle, You Can "Smear" A Candidate By Claiming That They Supported A Civil Rights Initiative:  The controversy over this charge — which is probably false — is instructive.

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn's campaign charged that his opponent in the mayor's race, state senator Ed Murray, had secretly supported equal treatment of the races, and of men and women.

Here's the Seattle Times editorial reaction:

At a Monday campaign event, a McGinn supporter, former state Rep. Velma Veloria, described Murray as secretly dismissive of a 1998 bill which supported affirmative action, believing “women and minorities had achieved equal rights.”

The story has an odd ring because Murray publicly signed onto that bill and campaigned against the anti-affirmative action Initiative 200 in1998.  Other fellow lawmakers dismiss the story as baloney.  But the allegation has spread nonetheless, in news coverage and in Facebook comments suggesting hidden racism.

To understand that controversy, you should know that, in 1998, Washington passed a straightforward civil rights initiative, I-200.  Here are the key words from the initiative.

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

It passed easily, with more than 58 percent of the vote, statewide.  It won in every part of the state, except Seattle.

The Seattle Times and most Washington state Democrats opposed the initiative, since, by their standards, favoring equal treatment of the races is wrong, possibly even racist.  And I assume, though they don't say so in the editorial, that favoring equal treatment of the sexes would be sexist.

So, if Ed Murray secretly favored it, that would make him a racist, and probably a sexist, too — by Seattle standards.  (It is true that he likes women less than most men do.)

Sometimes I think no one at our local monopoly newspaper has a sense of irony.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(During the I-200 campaign, we learned some interesting things about the beneficiaries of preferences.  The principal beneficiaries of preferences in contracting turned out to be white women, and since they were contractors we can assume they were, at the very least, well-off white women.  (It is likely that white men were the second biggest group benefiting from those contracting preferences.  Washington is a community property state, so many women already owned 50 percent of their husband's contracting businesses.  As you can see, it wouldn't take much to make them the majority owners.  Men lucky enough to have daughters would also have an easy way to create a business that was majority women owned.)

Japanese-Americans were treated inconsistently; they were beneficiaries of preferences in contracting, but not in college and university admissions.)
- 1:29 PM, 4 October 2013   [link]


Who Is Winning, Politically, From The Government Shutdown?   Today's Wall Street Journal has two answers to that question, both of them, unfortunately, behind their pay wall.

The Weekly Standard put up a post with the key quote from a Journal article by Carol E. Lee and Peter Nicholas:
Said a senior administration official: "We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us" how long the shutdown lasts "because what matters is the end result."
(The elision is in the original Journal article.)

So Obama and his administration believe they are winning, politically, from the government shutdown.

A few pages later, in a Kimberly Strassel column, we learn of others who think they are winning from the government shutdown.  As usual, it helps if we follow the money.
The defund campaign is best viewed as just one (lucrative) moment in a larger power play by a handful of outside conservative groups.
Specifically, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Jim DeMint's Heritage Action, and the Club for Growth (which I always think of as the Club for the Growth of the Democratic Party).   Demanding defunding of ObamaCare, and forcing a government shutdown, has been great for their fund raising.

It would be wrong to think of the Obama operation, or these conservative groups, as simple scams; it would be just as wrong to ignore their interests in keeping the shutdown going for their own political gains — regardless of the effects on the country.
- 12:25 PM, 4 October 2013   [link]


Reince Priebus Is Trying To Improve the Republican presidential nominating process.
Priebus’s perilous, and probably thankless, task is to rally a fraying party behind rules that will solve two entangled problems: the delegate-selection calendar and the number of candidate debates.

The delegate-selection process needs to be long enough to test the candidates’ mettle but not so protracted that it leaves the winner politically battered and financially depleted.   Debates must be numerous enough to give lesser-known and modestly financed candidates opportunities to break through.  They must not, however, be so numerous as to prolong, with free exposure, hopeless candidacies.  Or to excessively expose the candidates to hostile media debate managers.  Or to leave the winner’s stature reduced by repetitive confrontations.
George Will approves, and so do I.

I will add a point I have made before:  We really need something better than debates, or as we should call them, "debates", since they seldom allow candidates to make their full arguments, and reply to their opponents in any extended way.

In particular, we need some way to judge how good the candidates are at listening and reading, and at thinking with numbers.

All three are absolutely essential skills for executives of any large organization, but the current process gives us very little direct information about how much of those skills the candidates have.

Those who make their living by producing words — George Will, for example — are less likely to think about the importance of skills at consuming words, and skill at working with numbers, but the rest of us shouldn't ignore those skills, when choosing a president.

(I will admit that I have no practical suggestions, yet, for public ways to judge the candidates on these skills, but I am continuing to think about the problem, because it is so important.   And I will continue to give you what information I can find in their records that gives us ways to judge them on those skills.)
- 8:31 AM, 4 October 2013   [link]


If You Are Wondering Why The French Are So Unhappy With Gypsies, you can find some answers in this Daily Mail article.
Children as young as 10 were part of a ‘criminal army’ of Roma immigrants which included 13-year-old wives ‘bought’ for up to 170,000 pounds each, a court heard today.

Details of the sinister network emerged during the trial of 27 men and women aged between 19 and 55 in Nancy, eastern France.

All face up to 10 years in prison after being accused of a wide range of crimes, ranging from robbery to people trafficking.

The case began on the day that France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared Romania and Bulgaria should not be allowed into the passport-free Schengen zone due to security fears.

Ultimately run by a 66-year-old woman, the network expected boys and girls to bring in at least 4000 pounds a month through robbing people in the street or in their homes.
(Incidentally, the "4000 pounds" is the value of the items to the owners, not what the fences are willing to pay for them, after they have been stolen.)

Marriage customs among the Roma, as the French call them, appear to be more directly commercial than in most Western societies.

There are a few who will be pleased to see that the Roma are apprenticing their children in profitable, if not entirely legal, trades, early in life.  And a few more who will be pleased by the redistribution going on.
- 7:45 AM, 4 October 2013   [link]


Time To Bring In Vice President Joe Biden:  If, that is, the Obama administration wants an end to the budget standoff.

Unlike Obama, Biden is able to handle a relatively simple negotiation, as he has shown in the past.  He has also shown that he is willing to sit down and listen — as well as talk — to Republicans.

Unlike Obama, Biden understands that you are less likely to reach an agreement if you insult your negotiating partners.

For years, I have been saying that Biden would be a better president than Obama, and I think this latest standoff provides more evidence for my argument.  It's not that Biden would be a great president, but he would be a better president than Obama.

And what should Obama do while Biden is negotiating?  He can go play golf at the Andrews Air Force Base — since the three courses there are being kept open as vital services.  Or, if the weather is bad, he can go play basketball, with some of his buddies.

(It is likely that both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid want to prolong the standoff, for the political advantages they think it is bringing them.  Obama may think, probably incorrectly, that this is the best way to win the House back; Reid may think, possibly correctly, that this will help him stay majority leader.)
- 5:46 AM, 4 October 2013   [link]


We Need Jokes More Than Ever, given the news from DC, so here is Andrew Malcolm's weekly collection.

Two I liked:
Letterman: The United Nations brings hundreds of world leaders to New York City each September.  They get full diplomatic immunity.  I saw one dictator walking down Broadway with a 16-ounce drink.
. . .
Fallon: President Obama won’t postpone his Asia trip over the government's fiscal problems.   Obama said, “Who do you think I'm gonna ask for the money?
- 3:42 PM, 3 October 2013   [link]


Is The British Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, His Father's Son?   That's what the Daily Mail asked, and it's a good question, since Ralph Miliband was a committed Marxist all his adult life.
On a hot summer day, a young man made his way alone to Highgate Cemetery in North London to make a lifelong vow.

Solemnly, he stood at the grave of Karl Marx at a moment when, in his own words, 'the cemetery was utterly deserted . . . I remember standing in front of the grave, fist clenched, and swearing my own private oath that I would be faithful to the workers' cause'.

The year was 1940.  The young man was Ralph Miliband, a Jewish immigrant who, with his father, had fled to London from Belgium just weeks earlier to escape the Nazi Holocaust.
It is fair to say that he kept that pledge — and equally fair to say that he appears to have learned little from the practical effects of Marxism.  (Given his successful academic career, he had little incentive to confront unpleasant facts, as that would have alienated his supporters.)

Now then, do his sons share his views?  His older son, David, does not, as far as I can tell.  But, to some extent, his younger son, Ed, does, which is one of the reasons that Ed defeated David in their fight for leadership of the Labour Party.

Let me repeat, to some extent.  If I were a British voter, I would really want to know how much Ed shares Ralph's views, where he agrees with his late father, and where he doesn't.

(This Wikipedia biography of Ralph Miliband illustrates one of Wikipedia's weaknesses.  As I write, they mention the Daily Mail attack on Ralph Miliband, but link, not to the attack, but to a Guardian reply — which also does not link to the attack.

As you no doubt guessed, Ed Miliband is not very happy about the Daily Mail article.)
- 9:36 AM, 3 October 2013
Here's more on the controversy over the article from a well-informed Briton.

Americans will find some eerie similarities to some of our own controversies — and it is worth mentioning that Ralph Miliband spent part of his academic career here in the United States.
-6:57 AM, 4 October   [link]


Thermopylae And Artemisium Were Defeats; Salamis, Plataea, And Mycale Were Victories:  Some Republican activists have been appealng to the spirit of Thermopylae, the battle in which 300 Spartans died trying to hold off the Persian army — a battle the activists seemed to have learned about mostly from a historically inaccurate movie.

The activists argue that it is glorious to fight, even when you know your defeat is certain.   And it can be, though that is not the lesson that I draw from those five battles.

First, a very brief summary of those battles:  (Those who want more details can find them in the Wikipedia articles.)  In 490 BC, the Persians sent a force to punish Athens for the Atheninan support of Greek cities rebelling against the Persian empire.  In the Battle of Marathon, the Athenians defeated the Persians, and learned that the heavy-armed Greek infantry was superior to the light Persian infantry, but that they had to avoid the Persian cavalry, having almost none of their own.

Ten years later, the Persians invaded Greece with their main forces.  They were met by Greek ground forces at Thermopylae and by Greek naval forces at Artemisium.

The Persians won on both land and sea, and continued their advance.  At Thermopylae, the Spartan king, Leonidas, sent most of his forces away, and then died with all his remaining Spartans.  The defeated Greek ships retreated in good order.

The Persian advance was checked when the Greek ships won a great victory at Salamis.  The Persian king, Xerxes, retreated with most of his forces, but left a large army in control of most of Greece.   Next year, a large Greek army, led by the Spartans, advanced and was able to bring the Persians to battle at Plataea, on ground where their cavalry was ineffective.  The Greeks won a victory as decisive as Marathon, and were victorious for the same reason: man for man, the Greek infantry was superior to the Persian infantry.  At the same time the Spartans were leading an army against the Persian army, the Athenians were leading a navy against the Persian navy.   The Persian forces were so demoralized that they beached their ships and retreated to a fortress at Mycale.   The Athenians burned the ships, stormed the fortress — and won control of the Aegean Sea for decades.

After the three victories, Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, the Greeks were safe from Persian invasion, and took the offensive against the Persians.

If you want to win political victories, I think you can learn more from Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale than from Thermopylae and Artemisium.

For example:  Before Plataea, the Spartan commander manuevered for days trying to bring about a battle on ground where the Persians could not use their cavalry.   He was finally able to achieve that when the Persians, who had had the advantage in the skirmishing that preceded the battle, mistook a tactical retreat for something more.

The Spartan king, Pausanias, was brave — but he was also smart, and didn't seek battle until the odds were on his side.

(Although I have described the naval forces opposing the Greeks as Persian, all the ships and sailors came from nations that had been conquered by the Persians.  The ships carried Persian soldiers, and were commanded, overall, by Persians, so it is usual to call them Persian forces.  The allied Greeks tried to subvert the Greek ships fighting on the Persian side, but had little success before Salamis.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Battle of Salamis, I'd recommend Barry Strauss's book, which is that rare combination, entertaining and scholarly.)
- 8:46 AM, 3 October 2013   [link]


Yesterday, The BBC's Katty Kay Cracked Me Up:   Unintentionally.  The lead anchor on BBC America began the program on our local PBS station, KCTS, with some video of President Obama telling us how hard he had tried to work with Republicans when he came to Washington.

In context — Obama's spokesmen are comparing the Republicans to terrorists, arsonists, and hostage takers, and Obama is refusing to negotiate with them — that was extraordinarily funny, like John McCain claiming to be a pacifist, or Oprah claiming to be size 5.

It would be even more funny to anyone who knew even a little about the 2012 presidential race where Obama won largely by demonizing a very good man, Mitt Romney.  Or about the way he has insulted so many Republican leaders during the past five years.

But here's the best part:  As far as I can tell from her presentation, Katty Kay didn't get the joke, though it seemed obvious that the reporter she went to in Washington did.

(It is possible, I suppose, that she is a brilliant actress, that her deadpan look was a pose, but judging by her past performances that's exceedingly unlikely.

I'll see if I can find the video for you, but make no promises.)
- 6:56 AM, 3 October 2013   [link]


Is The DNC Nearly Broke?  It looks that way.
While Americans are focused on a government shutdown precipitated in large part by America’s debt crisis, the fundraising arm of the party that advocates spending trillions of dollars in borrowed money has a debt crisis of its own.  As a result of spending during the 2012 election campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is nearly broke, even as it struggles to pay its own vendors.

The numbers paint a bleak picture.  At the end of May, the DNC had $6 million in cash and $19.8 million in debt, and was paying off its bills at a rate of less than $1 million per month.  Through August, the DNC owed $18.1 million to its various creditors.   Several of those creditors, speaking anonymously to avoid any blowback from the DNC, described the organization as one falling further and further behind in its ability to pay past due bills.
Whose fault is this?  Directly, the chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has financial troubles of her own.
DNC officials note that their problems are exacerbated in part by the White House, as well as DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who reportedly has no strong relationships with anyone in the administration.  Tellingly, Wasserman Schultz has personal debt issues that mirror the organization she represents.  She is currently over a million dollars in debt, with two mortgages worth at least $750,000 in total, and another $350,000 in home equity and personal loans.  In 2012, Wasserman Schultz also carried more than $50,000 in credit card debt.  By contrast, she has $100,000 worth of spouse-held stock in the community bank where her husband is employed, and other smaller accounts that include college savings plan for her children.
Indirectly, President Obama, because he chose her for the job, and because his own organization, Organizing for Action, is competing for money with the DNC.

Here's about the nicest way I can say this:  I have not been impressed, overall, by the quality of Obama's picks for executive positions.

(Caveat:  Ahlert does not link to any sources, so there was no quick way to check his numbers.  I believe that he got most of his information on the DNC from this article, and most of his information on Wasserman Schultz from her official financial reports.)
- 3:39 PM, 2 October 2013
Correction:  Organizing for America is now Organizing for Action.  I've corrected the text above.
- 7:07 AM, 3 October 2013   [link]


Dinosaur Porn?  All right, dinosaur "erotica", or as we used to call it, soft-core porn.
Dinosaur erotica looks set to be the latest niche craze in the world of sexy fiction as a trio of books on the topic is released to buy for the Kindle.

The naughty novels, with titles such as Running From The Raptor and Taken by the T-Rex focus on the fantasy of helpless young women being attacked and seduced by dinosaurs.
And here all this time I thought it was mostly little boys that had fantasies about dinosaurs.

(The authors, who have, or at least use, women's names do not limit their novels to dinosaurs; they "also write dragon, orc and weretiger erotica".)
- 2:34 PM, 2 October 2013   [link]


So What Is The Earth's Average Temperature?  For climate modelers, it's now just a little bit more than 14 degrees centigrade, or, if you prefer, Celsius.

So the official average, as we might call it, is about 57 or 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climate alarmists are predicting that it might go up by four or five degrees Celsius, might go up to 65 or 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

(To get that average, the scientists had to make a whole set of assumptions about where to make the individual measurements, and how to combine them.  I have a vague idea of how they might have done all that, but only a vague idea.)
- 1:27 PM, 2 October 2013   [link]


Drowning In Spaghetti:  I spent much of this morning trying to follow the argument over the replacement of one reasonably understandable graph in the IPCC's fifth Assessment Report with a spaghetti graph.

The graph was replaced. Steve McIntyre believes, so that "observed values are no longer outside the projection envelopes from the earlier reports".  In other words, it was replaced so that the failures of earlier predictions were no longer obvious.

McIntyre is someone I have come to trust, but I still like to verify the reasoning in his arguments, and thought I might be able to do so quickly for this one.  I was wrong, but I'll come back to the graph discussion, some time.

Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts on the controversy that might help me, and others, understand it, please share them — now that I have warned you that this is not a five minute problem, for most of us.
- 12:27 PM, 2 October 2013   [link]


Three WSJ Stories, Three Health Lessons:  Yesterday's "Personal Journal" section of the Wall Street Journal had three stories on its first page, each containing a lesson on health.

The first story had an unexpected lesson; sometimes those medical gadgets can help people heal.
A mechanical pump that was invented as a temporary life support for patients with advanced heart failure is emerging as a potential tool to help hearts heal and function for the long term on their own.

The device, called an LVAD, takes over most of the heart's main pumping function and was designed initially to enable patients to survive until a donor heart became available for transplant.  But doctors have discovered to their surprise that the heart can get better on the pump.  When they remove it later to perform a transplant, the heart is sometimes dramatically improved.
Note, please, the "sometimes" qualifier.  For example:
Not every patient is likely to see the heart recover with an LVAD. Patients whose heart failure is caused by a heart attack—about 60% of all cases—aren't good candidates for the strategy because damage to the heart muscle hinders its ability to regain effective pumping function.  And heart failure is often accompanied by kidney problems that could undermine the ability of patients with advanced disease to tolerate the drug regimen that is used in the new LVAD study.
Nonetheless, this is still a pleasant surprise.

The second story appears to have surprised the reporter, Anne Lukits, but wouldn't surprise any traditional American mother or grandmother.
Boys and girls who start dating at a young age are disrupting the typical pattern of teenage romantic development and may have more school and behavioral problems than their peers, suggests a Canadian study to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Adolescence.
. . .
Entering into intimate relationships too early can leave teens ill-prepared to handle typical problems couples face and without the support of peers at the same stage of romantic development, researchers said.  These experiences can increase the risk of unsafe sexual activity, alcohol use and delinquent behaviors, the study says.  Late-starting daters, while also out of step with peers, appeared to have no apparent social or emotional difficulties.
It's that second finding — that late starters do just fine — that appears to have surprised Lukits and others, although it didn't surprise me when I learned that the "late bloomers" in the study started dating at the ancient age of 14.9 years.

The third article described a problem that was discovered in the 19th century and is still unsolved; doctors (and other medical workers) can spread diseases from one patient to another, if they don't wash their hands between patients.

And though every doctor should know this, it is extraordinarily difficult to get all doctors to routinely wash their hands between patients.
Hospitals have reduced certain infections over the past four years with measures such as removing unnecessary catheters and washing a patient's skin before surgery with antibacterial soap.  Some have lifted hygiene compliance to nearly 100% with strict "wash in, wash out" protocols, and some have designated unidentified staffers to secretly monitor co-workers.  Some hospitals link merit increases to compliance and temporarily suspend clinical privileges of doctors who ignore the rules, says Gina Pugliese, vice president of the Safety Institute at hospital purchasing alliance Premier Inc.  According to a 2010 study, a disciplinary program at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington that included suspending doctors' privileges led to improved compliance rates.
(Emphasis added.)

I have never seen a good explanation for the refusal of many doctors to routinely wash their hands between patients.  But the severity of the measures taken to encourage them to do so shows us just how strong their resistance is.

(There is a general lesson that I draw from the second and third stories:  Not always, but often, following traditional, tested ideas will lead to better outcomes.

I used Bing's news search to get to two of the articles, and you may have to do the same.)
- 7:08 AM, 2 October 2013   [link]


The ObamaCare IT Mess Looks Even Worse, in light of the information in this Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Last week, I argued that the ObamaCare exchange software would be late and buggy, and that the system was exceptionally vulnerable to breaches of privacy.

Today, two genuine experts, Dr. Scott Gottleib of the American Enterprise Institute and former Social Security commissioner Michael Astrue, make me think that, if anything, I underestimated the difficulties.
President Obama is bracing Americans for inevitable problems as the Affordable Care Act rolls out this week, but what he calls "glitches" are hardly routine.  Information technology is ObamaCare's Achilles' heel.  The faulty IT will expose Americans to lost data, attempts to enroll online that fail and the risk of fraud.
. . .
The biggest risk involves data security.  The Obama administration created unnecessary opportunities for fraud with the White House's pork-minded insistence on funding favored community groups to employ "navigators" to solicit applicants and help them input their personal information, such as income and Social Security numbers.  The navigators were hastily hired and trained (they are still being hired) and were not given extensive background checks.  The personal data for millions of people will be entrusted to these navigators—and to a computerized system that has been rushed into operation.
This morning, the Washington Post said in an editorial that "Everyone should hope ObamaCare works".  True enough, but it is also true that no one should expect that it will work.

At best, we should expect that it might be made to work after three or four years of fixes — assuming that there are competent managers in charge of the fixes — and I don't see any reason to assume that.

Even if there were such managers in charge, this hyper-political administration might not be allow them to do the necessary fixes, since some of those fixes would almost certainly impose political costs.

(Even very experienced software developers often underestimate the difficulty of problems they have not worked on before.  Typically, in thinking about new problems, they see only a portion of the complexities.)
- 2:19 PM, 1 October 2013   [link]


Remember Angela Merkel's "Stunning Election Triumph"?  It was so stunning that she may not be able to form a government until next year.
“The formation of a new government will probably take months,” reports Die Welt.  On October 4, Angela Merkel is to meet with leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to begin what will likely be extended and complex negotiations on a possible grand coalition.

The two parties have numerous differences, particularly with regard to Europe.  The SPD is demanding that the Chancellor set aside drastic austerity measures, notably in the countries of southern Europe.  Another bone of contention is the increase in taxes on Germany’s wealthier citizens, advocated by the SPD and categorically ruled out by the CDU.
So when she does form that government, she will have to give up much of her party's platform.  (She is also meeting with the Greens.  If she formed a coalition with them, she would also have to give up much of her party's platform.)

As I said eight days ago, it was not a stunning triumph for her coalition, because she lost her coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP).

And she might have been able to avoid that loss.
The CDU's trounced allies, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), crashed out of parliament for the first time in more than half a century, according to early results, after Merkel had snubbed their desperate call for help on the campaign trail.

Merkel had implored her supporters to resist an FDP call to "split" their district and party votes between the CDU and FDP to save the coalition.
The Free Democrats were under the five percent minimum for seats by just 0.2 percent.   That's small enough so that it is reasonable to assume that Merkel could have saved them, had she acted differently.

(I have no idea why she didn't act to save her coalition partners.  With a doctoral degree in quantum chemistry, she is certainly smart enough to do the arithmetic.  Perhaps she hoped to win a single-party victory for the CDU/CSU, although the polls I saw suggested that was unlikely.)
- 8:32 AM, 1 October 2013   [link]


Tornado!  (But no sharks.)  The violent weather didn't end in this area on Sunday; we had a tornado Monday morning.
A small EF-1 tornado touched down in Frederickson Monday morning, causing damage to two building's roofs, tipping over rail cars, and causing debris-blown damage to cars in a nearby parking lot.

No one was hurt.

The twister struck just after 7:20 a.m. near the Boeing Frederickson plant and caused roof damage at the EnCon and Northwest Door near 190th Street and East Canyon Road.

The damage, including a jagged 40-by-40-foot hole in the roof at Northwest Door, stopped work at the factory that makes garage doors. About 100 workers evacuated.
. . .
The National Weather Service said the tornado rated an EF-1 on the 6-rung Enhanced Fujita Scale with estimated wind speeds of 110 mph.  It was on the ground less than 5 minutes and carved a path that was a mile long and 75 yards wide, the Weather Service said.  Damage was estimated at $25,000.
It's calmer today, though parts of western Washington will still be getting plenty more rain.

(News accounts described the location of Frederickson variously; one, for instance, said it was near Seattle, which is accurate enough if you divide the state into near-Seattle and not-near-Seattle areas.   For those who know a little more about the state's geography, I would say that Frederickson is south of Tacoma and Puyallup.

Here's a description of the Fujita scale, and its replacement, the Enhanced Fujita scale.)
- 7:02 AM, 1 October 2013   [link]