Archive:

October 2013, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Al Gore May Be Getting A Little Forgetful:  Though this isn't the first time that he has forgotten about his past work in growing and promoting the devil weed, tobacco.

If you are wondering what he is talking about, Australia has had some nasty brush fires recently.  Since the fires can't be blamed on George W. Bush, they have to be blamed on global warming, even though some children have already been arrested for starting some of the fires.

(In Australia, "the ABC" means the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)
- 12:36 PM, 24 October 2013   [link]


Both Sides Are Wrong On ObamaCare:  That's the glum conclusion of that eternal optimist, Robert Samuelson.

I agree with most* of his arguments, but want to stress this one, which I have made before:
Obamacare’s main selling point — always implied, sometimes stated — is that health insurance makes people healthier.  People without coverage don’t get care and are sicker.  This seems compelling but may be wishful thinking.  The link between insurance and health is loose, because many uninsured are healthy, some receive care and some ailments defy cure.  A recent study of two similar groups in Oregon — one with Medicaid, one without — found few differences in health.  Depression was the major exception; those with Medicaid fared better.  Mostly, health insurance provides peace of mind.
(Emphasis added.)

If we want to improve our health, there are better ways to spend the money.

(*The big exception is his belief that ObamaCare will not add much to our deficits.  I know there are official estimates that support him, but similar estimates have almost always been too low in the past.

Although he does not mention this, Medicaid will help people with their bills, even if they don't sign up for it in advance.  A poor person who develops a chronic condition can sign up for Medicaid with, as far as I know, no financial penalty.

There's a brief description of the Oregon experiment in this Wikipedia article on Medicaid.   Note that the authors describe the higher usage of those who had Medicaid, but not the almost identical health outcomes.)
- 9:36 AM, 24 October 2013   [link]


Maybe They Could Dress Up As Something Really Scary:   For instance, a dean of students.
The University of Colorado at Boulder is asking students not to wear Halloween costumes that might be offensive to others, including cowboys, Indians and outfits involving a sombrero.

Dean of Students Christian Gonzales said in a message to students that dressing up as someone from another culture can lead to inaccurate and hurtful portrayals of other cultures.
Seriously.

There is probably still time for students at Boulder to order Dean Gonzales face masks — and it would be easy to emulate the rest of his costume.

(As I understand it, most Halloween costumes are intended to be scary — and nearly all of them are "inaccurate" in some way.)
- 7:12 AM, 24 October 2013   [link]


Another State Is Offering Big Tax Breaks to businesses.
[ ] . . . is creating tax-free zones across the state for new and expanding businesses.  Now businesses can operate 100% tax-free for 10 years.  No business, corporate, state or local taxes, sales and property taxes, or franchise fees.
Which state?  Texas?  Utah?  New Hampshire?

Well, all of them may be offering similar deals, but the site I have linked to belongs to New York state, infamous for high taxes and a business-unfriendly environment.  (Other than for Wall Street, of course.)

In general, I am opposed to this kind of special deal, both because it is often unfair, and because it is seldom the best way to increase employment.

For instance, let's suppose two companies compete, one of them located outside New York.   In some circumstances, the one outside New York could set up a New York subsidiary — and get tax benefits unavailable to the New York company.

In general, states and countries that keep taxes low and regulations reasonable do better, in the long run, than states and countries that try to attract businesses with special deals.   Although it is also true that such states and countries may provide fewer photo-ops for politicians than their special-deal competitors.

(There are some ways of helping new businesses that seem legitimate to me.  For example, some states will offer to run training programs for workers, in order to attract a new factory.   But most of special deals seem dubious.)
- 6:34 AM, 24 October 2013   [link]


Two Mind Bogglers From Yesterday's Science Times:   The Tuesday Science section in the New York Times is the one section I read every time, every article.

If you have a sense of wonder, you may have the same habit.

Yesterday, their lead story was about a team that hopes to visit the stratosphere, fifteen miles up, with a glider.

In 2006, the team set a height record for a glider — 50,726 feet — with an earlier model, the Perlan I, so they have some experience, but not enough money, right now.   Here's their web site.

At least as mind boggling is this estimate: "There are roughly 10,000 trillion ants on the planet, . . . "

The Guardian has the same number, but gave the origin of that estimate, and made the obvious comparison.
At any given moment, it is estimated that there are about 10,000 trillion living individual ants.  Myrmecologists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O Wilson noted that their combined weight would roughly equal that of all living humans combined.
Just for fun, let's write that number out:

one million: 1,000,000
one billion: 1,000,000,000
one trillion: 1,000,000,000,000
one thousand trillion: 1,000,000,000,000,000 (one quadrillion)
ten thousand trillion: 10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten quadrillion)

Roughly.

(I'm using the American definition of quadrillion, a definition that is not used in every country.  Hölldobler is German, which probably explains why the two scientists didn't say 10 quadrillion.  The number wouldn't have meant the same in Germany as it does in the United States.)
- 8:19 AM, 23 October 2013   [link]


You Can Learn Something Even From Nasty, Anonymous Messages:  The Daily Beast broke this story.
Jofi Joseph, an official in the National Security Staff at the White House, was fired last week after being caught as the tweeter behind @natsecwonk, a feed that’s been leaking internal information since 2011.
But Marc Ambinder had — from my point of view — a more interesting selection of tweets.

Three examples:
Joseph, a former Senate staffer who worked in the non-proliferation shop at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was the secretary, portrays virtually all of his superiors as kiss-ass incompetents surrounded by sycophants.

He tweeted that his one-time boss, then-National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, "only selects young attractive women" for office positions.
. . .
His perch afforded him access to sensitive internal debates, and his tweets occasionally offered clues to his identity.  On Sept. 2, he asserted that President Obama did not ask Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel or Secretary of State John Kerry before he made the decision to ask Congress to authorize his use of force in Syria.
. . .
Jofi, as @natsecwonk, admired President Obama but called many of his foreign policy appointments "crappy."
The last, in some ways, is the most interesting.  Joseph apparently thinks that Obama is a good leader — even though Obama continually makes bad appointments.

It would be a mistake to make too much of this; every administration has some nasty gossips — although these days most are smart enough not to gossip electronically — but it would also be a mistake not to recognize that there are people inside the Obama administration who share his views about the incompetence of their fellow workers.

You will be relieved to learn that he wasn't working on anything important, just nuclear proliferation.

- 7:37 AM, 23 October 2013   [link]


President Oblivious Didn't Know About The Problems At The ObamaCare Web Site Until The Opening Disaster?  That's what Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a long CNN interview.

(Sebelius, a political pro from a political family — her father, "Jack" Gilligan, was the Democratic governor of Ohio — shows the skills she has learned over the years in that interview, evading question after question, without ever sounding or looking evasive.)

It is unclear from the interview when Sebelius herself learned about the problems — and almost certain that she does not yet understand how serious the problems are, or how to fix them.

(There's a homely analogy that better programmers have learned to use.  If you see one cockroach in a home, you conclude that the home is infested, not that there is just that one cockroach.  Similarly, finding a bug in a computer routine should inspire you to look very hard for more bugs in that routine.  And finding many design and execution failures in the ObamaCare web site implies, to me, that there are many more to be found.)

But she should have known, at the very latest, in March, when the problems got some unwelcome publicity.  (Probably because the contractors and the bureaucrats were already realizing it would be a disaster, and were starting the blame game.)

If what Sebelius said is true, Obama's ignorance is simply amazing.  It's as if the president of Apple didn't know that his latest iPhone wouldn't work when it went on sale, or as if Eisenhower didn't know that most of the boats for the Normandy invasion weren't seaworthy.

This isn't just a little project thought up by someone else; this is the principal Obama domestic initiative, with his name on it.

(David Bernstein jokes that the roll out failed because "Obama and his top aides hate government, and therefore can’t be trusted to run a major government program".

Younger readers may not know why many will find Obama's and Sebelius's use of the "best and brightest" phrase ironic.  You can find an explanation here.)
- 6:01 AM, 23 October 2013
Kathleen Sibelius strikes back?  In today's New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg gives us a Sibelius defense:
"Kathleen has the title, but she doesn't have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference," said one person close to Ms. Sibelius and the White House, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal decision-making.  "Everyone thinks she's the driving force, but unfortunately she's not."

The White House kept close tabs on the effort, with particular attention to the web site's design, but managing the details of the software development was left to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services, which Ms. Sibelius oversees.
If that is roughly correct, then Sibelius — or at the very least one of her defenders — is claiming that she was formally in charge, but not actually, and that the "White House" was monitoring the development closely.

Even if true, this doesn't prove that Obama knew about the problems before the release, since the White House aides may not have told him about them, perhaps in an effort to preserve his plausible deniability.  (This morning, talk show host Michael Medved, who has some Washington contacts, was claiming that Obama is less interested in mere details than any other president, ever.)
- 1:33 PM, 23 October 2013   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Two I liked:
Conan: At an Olympic exhibition game, the U.S. and Canadian womens’ hockey teams got into a full-on, all-female brawl.  Olympic referees ruled the incident, “unsportsmanlike,” “unprofessional” and “super-hot.”
. . .
Conan: Today President Obama called for a new era of bipartisan cooperation.  Obama said that because he likes to start off each speech with a joke.
Liking the first joke is slightly embarrassing, I'll admit.  On the other hand, the second joke is even funnier because Obama almost never realizes when he is being absurd — as he almost always is when he calls for bipartisanship.
- 1:49 PM, 22 October 2013   [link]


One Of The Things I Like About George W. Bush Is That He Is Willing, Sometimes, to say the obvious:
On Monday's CBS This Morning, the New York Times' Peter Baker didn't reveal anything shocking about George W. Bush's opinion about the liberal paper.  Charlie Rose wondered about one detail concerning Baker's new book on Bush and Dick Cheney:  "Why wouldn't President Bush talk to you?"  He replied, "President Bush didn't believe that a book written by a New York Times reporter could be fair.
I suppose that I could think of one or two reporters there who might be fair, possibly John Tierney or Gretchen Morgenson, but I can't think of any who cover politics regularly who I would expect to treat Bush fairly, now.

Baker himself is definitely not in the tiny fair-to-Bush group.  He is, instead, in the comfort-the-comfortable-leftists group, who are now so common among our "mainstream" journalists.  (You can find two examples of why I say that in this post.)
- 1:13 PM, 22 October 2013   [link]


Was The ObamaCare Site Another "Death March" Project?   It certainly looks as if it was (and may still be, with a slightly different set of programmers).

First, for those unfamiliar with this common software development term, a definition, and two examples:
In project management, a death march is a project where the members feel it is destined to fail and/or requires a stretch of unsustainable overwork.  The general feel of the project reflects that of an actual death march because the members of the project are forced to continue the project by their superiors against their better judgment.
. . .
Among the most infamous death march projects are the Denver Airport baggage handling system and WARSIM, a U.S. Army wargame.[1][2][3]  The latter project was originally called WARSIM 2000 at its inception in the early 1990s.  A decade after its original scheduled delivery date, WARSIM has yet to support a single Army training exercise, but is still being funded, largely to vindicate those who conceived of the system and defended it over the lifetime of its development.  The WARSIM schedule slipped many times.  Moreover, WARSIM has a clumsy architecture that requires enough servers to fill a small room, while earlier "legacy" wargames run efficiently on a single standard desktop workstation.
Such projects are so common that, ten years ago, software expert Edward Yourdon published the second edition of his book of suggestions on how to survive such projects.  (The first edition had this sub-title: "The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving 'Mission Impossible' Projects".)

Few who have worked on large software projects, or even observed them, will be surprised by some of the details in this Washington Post article.
One key problem, according to a person close to the project, was that the agency assumed the role of managing the 55 contractors involved and had not ensured that all the pieces were working together.

Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person.  As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.
Appalled, perhaps, but not surprised.

Since software is hard for most of us to visualize, let's try an extended metaphor.  Imagine that a federal agency — which had never built a car before — decided to build a car and contracted out the parts, the transmission, the engine, the body, the tires, and so on to 55 different sub-contractors.  All of these sub-contractors were building the parts to new designs.

As of 26 September, six days before the car is to be assembled and working, the parts manufacturers did not have full working prototypes that could pass bench tests.  The engine didn't run right, the transmission didn't fit the engine, the body didn't fit either, the tires were inappropriate for the car, and so on.

That, assuming the Post article is reasonably correct, is roughly what we have with the ObamaCare site.

One of the universal characteristics of "death march" projects is unrealistic schedules; the customers request and the managers promise unrealistic delivery dates.  It looks to me as if the ObamaCare site companies tried to solve that problem by throwing manpower at the project — with the usual bad effects, many lines of code, but not many good solutions.

Another almost universal characteristic of "death march" projects is changing specifications.  Using our car analogy again, that is as if the engine sub-contractor was told, half way to the deadline, that the car actually needed a six-cylinder engine, rather than a four-cylinder engine.  And something like that appears to have happened, over and over, on the ObamaCare web site.

(My guess is that we will see even more damning details as the various actors try to reduce the damages from the inevitable investigations and lawsuits.  That Post article gives us just a few of the early moves in the blame game, which is likely to last a decade, or more.)
- 10:06 AM, 22 October 2013
More:  The lead article in today's Wall Street Journal adds this detail:
CGI Federal Inc., a unit of CGI Group Inc., told investigators last week that the decision to require all visitors to the Healthcare.gov website to create accounts in order to browse its insurance offerings was made barely a month before the site was launched by the Obama administration, according to a [House] committee document.
That's not a trivial change in specifications.  But its appearance in the House committee document is another move in the blame game.

(They have now dropped that requirement, at least temporarily.

Unfortunately, the article is behind the Journal pay wall.)
- 12:39 PM, 22 October 2013   [link]


Another Obama Fainter:  You probably have heard that, when President Obama made his sales pitch for ObamaCare yesterday, a woman fainted.

This has happened so many times at his events that many suspect that we are seeing staged faintings, that people are pretending to faint so that Obama can pretend that he cares about them.

It occurs to me that there is a simpler explanation for the number of these fainting spells.   If you have a large crowd, standing, a few of them will faint, eventually.  The longer they stand, the more likely one or more of them will faint.  All that is well known to any medic who has worked with large crowds.

Now let's add something that we all should know about Obama:  He is habitually late to his campaign events.  And not just by a few minutes.  So the people in his crowds are likely to have been standing much longer than the people at most campaign events.

So, naturally, he has more fainters than most politicians.

It is distressing that his people decided that it would be good to have a pregnant woman with diabetes standing behind him as part of his back drop, though she seems to have been willing enough to be part of the sales pitch.  Traditionally, gentlemen, and ladies for that matter, would have tried find a seat for her.  But traditional courtesies have little place in the Obama White House.

If Obama actually cared about the people in those crowds, he would be on time, consistently.  And he would show a little more compassion for a woman in a delicate condition.

(The woman, Karmel Allison, was hoping to get more publicity for her cause, diabetes.   If the accounts of her background I've seen are correct, she and her husband are well off enough so that she would not need government help to get insurance, even with her pre-existing condition.)
- 8:22 AM, 22 October 2013   [link]


Some Federal Computer Projects Succeed:  Some time, possibly during the government shutdown, at least three of the web cams at Mt. Rainier National Park were upgraded.  Two of them (east and gh) were changed to wide angle cameras.  Both now have more coverage of the main parking area at Paradise, which suggests to me that the change was for security reasons.

The third change was a pleasant surprise.  The highest web cam in the park, at Camp Muir, was also upgraded to a wider angle, giving us this view, taken on Saturday.

View from Camp Muir, 21 October 2013

There are three large volcanoes on the horizon.  The mountain at left center is Adams, the faint mountain in the center is — I believe — Hood, and the mountain on the right is St. Helens.  (When the weather is clearer, you should have a good view of Hood.)

Since the camera is looking south, I am guessing that the best views will be in the morning, shortly after sunrise, and in the late afternoon, shortly before sunset.
- 2:06 PM, 21 October 2013   [link]


Worth Reading:  This John Kass column on a set of experiments with social spiders.

No, seriously.  Even if you don't like spiders, you'll find the column interesting.   This selection should get you interested, if you aren't already:
It turned out that the docile (let's call them "good") spiders quickly created large productive colonies with many little spider kids.  And the aggressive spiders (the "bad" spiders) had fewer spider children and smaller colonies.  The medium spiders (let's call them "kinda like people") with aggressive and nonaggressive traits, had medium-sized colonies.

What [researcher Jonathan] Pruitt found was that at the most productive colonies, other spiders showed up, to hang out, uninvited.  He didn't use the scientific term "hang out."   He used the term "infiltrate."

"They're social parasites," he explained of the infiltrators, who were attracted to the spider colony by pheromones.  They stole food, and attacked and fed on the colonists.
The medium colonies were most likely to survive, which would not surprise game theorists.

(Here's Professor Pruitt's web site.)
- 12:55 PM, 21 October 2013   [link]


A Fiasco, Not A Few Glitches:  When I said that the ObamaCare site was a fiasco, I was prejudging it, by calling it a complete failure.  I may be too early on that, but I think we can already see that describing the problems as "glitches", minor technical problems that often go away on their own, is far too mild.

If I am wrong, and they somehow get it working in the next month or so, I'll apologize, and find a noun somewhere between fiasco and glitch to describe the site's problems.

(By the way, the origin of fiasco surprised me, and may surprise you.  It was originally a French sneer — at Italians.  It literally means a kind of bottle, but came to stand for, according to my American Heritage dictionary, the "linguistic errors committed by Italian actors on the 18th-century French stage".)
- 9:17 AM, 21 October 2013   [link]


Some Thoughts About The Management Styles Of LBJ And BHO:   The ObamaCare web site fiasco made me think, again, about the differences between the management styles of these two Democratic presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama.

Johnson was famous — some would say infamous — for his interest in every personnel and policy detail.  He understood that he would be blamed for the failures and scandals of his administration, and so he worked, incessantly, to prevent them, or to hide them if necessary.

Two examples:  Johnson would sometimes take out a federal phone directory and phone a mid-level bureaucrat, at random, and ask him what he was doing, right then, for the country.  Johnson often would look at proposed bombing targets in North Vietnam, and personally approve or disapprove items on the target list.  (He thought, wrongly, that he was communicating with the North Vietnamese by his choices, and hoped to get them to come to a bargaining table, where he expected to get what he wanted from them.)

Obama is already famous — some would say infamous — for his disinterest in personnel and policy details.  He understands that our "mainstream" journalists will almost never blame him for the failures and scandals of his administration, and so he spends almost no time trying to prevent them, or even hide them, after they occur.

Even though he is the president, he often poses as an outsider and a critic of our government.

Two examples:  He named Eric Holder attorney general, in spite of Holder's involvement in one of the worst scandals of the Clinton administration.  Obama seems to have been unaware of the problems with the ObamaCare site, until they broke, even though lower level people were issuing dire warnings, months ago.  (I expect that those lower level people will turn out to have been optimists from my own experience with botched software projects.  Usually, even the people who see the problems don't see all of them.)

Most management experts would, I suspect, say that both men erred, that Johnson did not delegate enough, and that Obama pays far too little attention to personnel and policy details.  My own view is that the best presidents are more like Johnson than Obama, that they are always seeking information from below.  I come to that conclusion partly because I have found that those at the bottom usually know about the problems long before those on the top.

A president, or the head of any other large organization, needs to dig for that information, because the mid-level people in his organization will often (usually?) bury problems, and because the problems may not reach his top people, through ordinary channels.
- 8:36 AM, 21 October 2013   [link]


This Story Has No Political Significance (as far as I know), but is too weird not to pass on.
The wife of Seattle Mariners outfielder Carlos Peguero is facing federal wire-fraud charges for allegedly using a debit card belonging to the wife of star pitcher Felix Hernandez to make nearly $180,000 in online purchases, according to sources and court documents.
(Those who don't follow baseball may need to know that Peguero is not a star.)

That won't do anything for team morale, which probably isn't too high anyway, given their record in recent years.

Oh, and one last detail:  Mrs. Peguero has a public defender, though her husband earns about $500,000 a year.  (The judge has ordered her to pay $200 a month for that legal help.)
- 7:40 AM, 21 October 2013   [link]


Those Who Remember The Clinton Era will think this story sounds familiar.
Months after whistleblowers accused the State Department of covering up employee sex scandals, most of the cases have been ignored or swept under the rug, critics charge.

Records show that staffers were given cushy jobs or allowed to retire, and watchdogs say the feds have hardly bothered to investigate since the shenanigans came to light this past summer.
It sounds as if someone at the State Department was suppressing, or minimizing, these stories about "bimbo eruptions", to use Betsey Wright's wonderful phrase.

Now, who could that be?  The person in charge of the State Department during this period, perhaps?  Or someone working directly for her like Cheryl Mills?  Both women have some experience in this area.
- 7:06 AM, 21 October 2013   [link]


"We Aren't That Far From Lebanon On The Potomac"  Years ago, Western journalists would often visit Lebanon and explain the struggles there in left-right terms.  A Christian group, the Phalangists, would often be described as "right-wing" (and they still are in that Wikipedia article).  A Shiite group would often be described as "left-wing".  And so on.

Now, the very serious and respectable New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, is reversing that analysis, and arguing that our current struggles Washington, D.C. are much like those in Lebanon.
It's striking how much the Tea Party wing of the G.O.P. has adopted the tactics of the P.O.G. — "Party of God" — better known as Hezbollah.
In the next paragraph, Friedman allows that "The Tea Party is not a terrorist group", an admission that will disappoint many on the left, but then later repeats his charge that the Tea Party is using "Hezbollah-like tactics".

You can understand why Western journalists often tried to force their usual political categories on to the religious factions in Lebanon.  Those were the categories they were used to using, and so they assumed the categories could be used even in a nation where they were wildly inappropriate.  It was terrible journalism, but understandable, especially in an almost entirely secular group of reporters.

But there is no similar excuse for Friedman's absurd comparison of the Tea Party to Hezbollah.  Theoretically, Friedman should know enough about both groups to realize that his comparison is both offensive — and silly — both slanderous and unintentionally comical.

But he doesn't, apparently.

And that tells us something about this very serious and respectable columnist — and the newspaper of record he works for.

(Friedman also throws in an argument about monoculture, which would be amusing if the issues weren't so serious.)
- 8:38 PM, 20 October 2013   [link]


Remember Brooks's Law?  If so, then you can guess what I think will be the result of this effort.
The Obama administration Sunday said it’s called on “the best and brightest” tech experts from both government and the private sector to help fix the troubled website at the root of the Obamacare enrollment problems.

The unusual Sunday 600-word blog post from HHS was the first update in more than a week on the many failings of an expensive website that HHS itself described as “frustrating for many Americans.”  But it didn’t specify who the administration had called in, or when the American people would see clear-cut results on Healthcare.gov.

“We’re kind of thinking of it as a tech ‘surge,’” an HHS official told POLITICO.
If you need a review on Brooks's Law — Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later — you can find one here.

Brooks's Law is, as its creator said, an "outrageous simplification", but it is true often enough, with large software projects, so that most of those who have worked on such projects treat it with respect.
- 3:08 PM, 20 October 2013   [link]


Edward Snowden's Hawaii Facility Didn't Have The Latest Anti-Leak Software?  Here's the story, which I will admit that I find puzzling.
The U.S. National Security Agency failed to install the most up-to-date anti-leak software at a site in Hawaii before contractor Edward Snowden went to work there and downloaded tens of thousands of highly classified documents, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.
. . .
The main reason the software had not been installed at the NSA's Hawaii facility by the time Snowden took up his assignment there was that it had insufficient bandwidth to comfortably install it and ensure its effective operation, according to one of the officials.
Puzzling, because modern operating systems already keep track of who is doing what to which files, so adding another level of monitoring should not require much additional bandwidth.

Even those who know only a little about the National Security Agency know that the agency has almost never been short of computers, or "bandwidth".

Perhaps there are some complications that only those with appropriate security clearances would know about.

But there are other, more sinister, explanations for this delay.  From what little this article tells us, I would say they are unlikely — but I certainly think they should be investigated.
- 9:53 AM, 20 October 2013   [link]


NYT Executive Editor Jill Abramson Admits That Obama Is Worse Than Bush on journalists.
NORAH O’DONNELL: Let me ask you, though, about this administration's crackdown on leaks.  David Sanger, of course, one of your best reporters in Washington said that this White House that “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I have ever covered.”  Has it been that difficult?

JILL ABRAMSON: It has been really difficult.

GAYLE KING: Worse than the Bush administration?

ABRAMSON: All of our national security -- yeah, I was Washington bureau chief during the Bush administration, and that was not necessarily a completely open administration, to say the least.  But the Obama administration has initiated seven criminal leak investigations.

CHARLIE ROSE: So you're saying the Obama administration is worse than the Bush administration?

ABRAMSON: The Oba-- it's demonstrable because these seven leak investigations are more than double, all of the criminal leak investigations in all administrations before the Obama administration.  And it puts a chill on what is really a healthy discourse between journalists and their sources.  And it`s our sources who mainly risk going to prison.
The Media Research Center director, Tim Graham, thinks that O'Donnell, King, and Rose are having trouble believing that the Obama administration is worse than the Bush administration, but I think the follow-up questions were intended to get Abramson to be explicit, to admit openly that Obama was worse than Bush on journalists.

(The interesting questions in the CBS interview begin after about two-and-a-half minutes of "source greasing" flattery.  Near the very end, Abramson offers a defense of publishing military secrets that, unfortunately, the CBS journalists do not follow up on.  Incidentally, in the past surveys have found that most Americans would prefer that our news organizations keep more of our national security secrets.

My own — rather boring — view is that it is exceptionally difficult to find the right balance between keeping military secrets, especially in a time of war, and the public's right to know.  I have my doubts whether news organizations should control this balance, as much as they do.)
- 9:23 AM, 20 October 2013   [link]


Another Reason to close journalism schools.
A journalism degree can cost nearly $100,000 for graduate students, but for many it's a waste of money because they are leaving school without the skills needed in the new age of digital reporting and publishing, according to a sweeping new survey of the industry.

The highly-regarded Poynter Institute, an international strategy center and leader in journalism education, found in their 2013 “Future of Journalism” study that only one quarter of journalism school students showed up on the job ready for work.
For some time I have been saying that news organizations should treat a journalism degree as a defect in a job application, not a fatal defect, but a defect nonetheless.
- 2:57 PM, 19 October 2013   [link]


Don't Trust Iran:  Good advice from George W. Bush.

Are Barack Obama and John Kerry smart enough to take that advice?  Probably not.

If you wonder why I would not be inclined to trust the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, consider this quotation from his book:
While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the nuclear conversion facility in Isfahan.  By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work there.
When a man boasts that he has conned you, it probably not a good idea to get into any more serious negotiations with him.
- 2:43 PM, 19 October 2013   [link]


What's The Hot Issue In Britain Today?   Jumpers.

Which will make more sense if you know that energy costs are rising in Britain, thanks to their Green policies, that Prime Minister Cameron suggested dressing warmer to cope with colder weather, and that, in Britain, the first meaning of "jumper" is a loose outer jacket, and the second, a pullover sweater.

There is a serious problem, despite the chuckles.  European countries that have gone in for Green energy policies in a big way are finding that many of their poorer citizens are having trouble paying their energy bills.  There are even claims that some people, mostly elderly, have died because they could no longer afford to keep warm.

(I haven't looked hard enough at the claims to know how much truth there is in them.  In a country as large as Britain, with more than 60 million people, I would expect that at least a few of those stories are true, but I haven't seen the kind of well-researched numbers that would tell me how big the problem is, and whether it is growing.)
- 11:01 AM, 18 October 2013   [link]


Some Germans Think The Timing Of This Donation is suspicious.
Angela Merkel's party received a big donation from major BMW shareholders - just as her government is lobbying the EU against stricter emissions limits.  Many think it's time that party donation rules were reformed.
. . .
Less than three weeks after the general election, three members of the Quandt and Klatten families transferred some 690,000 euros ($930,000) to the CDU.  As is legally required of any donation over 50,000 euros, the figure was published on the German parliament's website.
The emissions they are trying to control are the emissions of carbon dioxide, and the rule the European Union was considering would have given an advantage to countries that manufacture lighter cars, like Italy, and a disadvantage to countries that manufacture heavier cars, like Germany.

That may well have been the reason the Merkel government took the position they did.  One of the reasons the United States Senate objected to the Kyoto Protocol — unanimously — was that the senators believed, correctly, that the treaty would make it harder for the United States to compete, economically.  There are even some cynics, myself among them, who believe that some other countries favored it, in part, because of those effects on American competitiveness.

If that interpretation is correct, then Merkel was not being bribed, but was working for the immediate economic interests of her country, as national leaders often do.

But I will admit that it sure looks like a payoff, a legal payoff, but a payoff, nonetheless.

(There's more on the international horse trading over the emission limits in this Der Spiegel article.

The laws on campaign finance in Germany remind me of the laws in the United States, about forty years ago.  For all the problems we had then, I think that we were better off before we adopted all these "reforms" and limits.)
- 6:39 AM, 18 October 2013   [link]


David Plouffe Snarked about the House Republicans committing "economic treason".

Some leftists took him seriously.
In a petition with the admirably direct title of "Arrest and Try House GOP Leadership for Sedition," those champions of democracy are clamoring for the following:
I call on the Justice Department of the United States of America to arrest Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and other decision-making House Republican leaders for the crime of seditious conspiracy against the United States of America.
The website claims that there are currently more than 25,000 signatories, which I guess speaks well for the other 300 or so million of us.
Note, by the way, that MoveOn is "hosting" the petition, but does not necessarily agree with it.   So there are some limits to their partisanship.

(Some may have forgotten that MoveOn was founded by people who were calling for us to "censure" Bill Clinton, and "move on".  Since anyone can censure anyone for anything, I expected them to lead the way with their own resolution of censure.  They never did, which led me to wonder whether they really thought Clinton should be censured.

Nor did they ever explain why a president who commits perjury — in order to cheat a working class woman in a law suit — deserves no legal penalty.  Or why it is appropriate for a president to tacitly approve when his administration gives a job (in the Pentagon!) to a young woman in return for her sexual favors and silence.)
- 5:38 AM, 18 October 2013   [link]


Cats Are Only about ¼ domesticated.
Of course, the cat’s other qualities probably did not go unnoticed.  Their appealing features, soft fur and ability to learn to become affectionate toward us led to their adoption as pets.  Yet cats still have three paws firmly planted in the wild.

In contrast to almost every other domestic animal, cats retain remarkable control over their own lives.  Most go where they please and when they please and, crucially, choose their own mates.  Unlike dogs, only a small minority of cats has ever been intentionally bred by people.  No one has bred cats to guard houses, herd livestock or assist hunters.
John Bradshaw goes on to tell us about the accommodations that made that partial domestication possible.  Some of what he says is speculative, but even those parts seems plausible.

For instance, timing is crucial:
Studies of dogs in the 1950s established the notion of a “primary socialization period,” when puppies are especially sensitive to learning how to interact with people.  For dogs, this is between 7 and 14 weeks of age.  The concept also applies to cats, but it starts earlier.  A kitten that is handled regularly between 4 and 8 weeks generally develops a powerful attraction to people.  One that does not meet a human until 10 weeks or later is likely to fear people for the rest of its life.
Years ago, I recall reading about a young woman who adopted a kitten at very young age (before its eyes opened, if I recall correctly).  The young woman liked salads and showers — and so did her cat.
- 10:58 AM, 17 October 2013   [link]


One More Annoying national park incident.
Kelly Sanders decided to take her crew of six international students, including two visiting Port Angeles from its Japanese sister city, on a hike to Marymere Falls over the weekend.
. . .
Sanders pulled off U.S. Highway 101 into the Barnes Point lot at Lake Crescent — where two other cars were parked — got out and posed the students for a picture behind the Storm King Ranger Station sign when she heard another car pull up.
. . .
It was Park Ranger Jennifer Jackson's patrol car.
. . .
All three drivers received $125 tickets for “Violation of Closure (Government Shutdown)” as the students, the two Japanese students from Mutsu City and four Peninsula College students from Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, watched puzzled.
(The closure sign confused a local hiker, since it said that "this National Park Service facility" was closed, not that the park was closed.  I would have guessed, as she did, that they meant that you couldn't use the bathrooms.)

These incidents of petty harassment strike me as bad politics, as well as well as bad policy.   An adolescent political operative might think these are clever, and that the other party will take most of the blame for them — but I think that's unlikely.

(Lake Crescent is part of the Olympic National Park, and is an absolutely gorgeous lake.)
- 7:50 AM, 17 October 2013   [link]