Archive:

October 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



A Common Sense Way To Reduce Gun Violence?  But one that President Obama would be unlikely to endorse.

There's a question mark in that title because I haven't seen the kind of statistical evidence that I would like to see — not that it may not exist, just that I haven't seen it.

The common sense way is informally known as "stop and frisk", and legally as a "Terry stop".
In the United States, a "Terry stop" is a brief detention of a person by police on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity but short of probable cause to arrest.

The name derives from Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968),[1] in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that police may briefly detain a person whom they reasonably suspect is involved in criminal activity;[2] the Court also held that police may do a limited search of the suspect's outer garments for weapons if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person detained may be "armed and dangerous".[3]
In some cities, notably New York, this has been a powerful crime fighting tool, often enabling the police to disarm habitual criminals.  (Some criminals have tried to cope with the tactic with "community guns.)

This would reduce gun deaths in two ways.  First, it would allow police to arrest known felons if they were acting suspiciously, and carrying a gun (or large knife).  Second, it would discourage these felons from carrying guns routinely, which would reduce impromptu crimes, and make it less likely that a quarrel would end in a shooting or even a death.

Why would Obama and other leftists object to the wide use of stop and frisk.  Because of its disparate impact, which you can see in these statistics from New York:
The Stop-question-and-frisk program, or stop-and-frisk, in New York City, is a practice of the New York City Police Department in which police officers stop and question a pedestrian, then frisk them for weapons and other contraband; this is what is known in other places as the Terry stop. The rules for stop, question and frisk are found in the state's Criminal Procedure Law (the criminal procedure law) section 140.50, and are based on the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio.[1][2]  About 684,000 people were stopped in 2011.[1][3][4]  The vast majority of these people were African-American or Latino.[1][3][4]
(Emphasis added.)

You don't have to know a lot about American politics to understand why that would be a problem for leftists — or a lot about police to know why stop and frisk might sometimes be abused.

But I think it nearly certain that it has reduced gun violence, in the cities where it has been used.
- 1:58 PM, 8 October 2015   [link]


"Yoga For People Of Color"  So far, only talk radio has this story.
Rainier Beach Yoga in Seattle has a class called "yoga for people of color."  It started last week and runs once a month.

Teresa Wang, co-founder of the specialized class, said it was started by five queer people of color who came together to create a safe space for people of color who might otherwise be uncomfortable.

An email blast about the class says it's aimed at people of color and of all sexualities, ages, body sizes, abilities, genders, and experience with yoga.  It specifically identifies "lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer and trans-friendly/affirming," plus people who self-identify as "African American/black/of the African Diaspora, Asian, South Asian, West Asian/Arab/Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, First Nations/Alaskan Native/Native American/Indigenous, Chican/Latin, or Multiracial/Mixed-Race."  The email adds that "white friends, allies and partners are respectfully asked not to attend."
At least she asked respectfully.

That invitation is almost certainly illegal, under both federal and state civil rights laws.

But it is not surprising, since many in Seattle favor discrimination — as long as it is directed against white guys.  This invitation is slightly different than the usual, since Ms. Wang favors discrimination against white gals, too.

(Seattle was the only significant part of Washington state to vote against the 1998 civil rights initiative, I-200.)
- 1:02 PM, 8 October 2015   [link]


What The BBC Won't Tell Viewers (1) — Barack Obama Is The Greatest Gun Salesman In American History:  Whatever his intentions may be, there is no doubt that President Obama has inspired millions of Americans to buy guns.
Gun and ammunition sales have surged over the past several years on fears that Obama would push new control measures.  Gun manufacturer profits have risen as well, through a run of mass shootings and the president's continued inability to persuade Congress to agree to any of his proposed gun legislation, such as expanded background checks.

The stock market shows that story.  If you'd bought shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co. in 2009, they'd be worth about 10 times as much today.  That's a slightly better return than if you'd bought Apple.
And that years-long surge is continuing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed a record number of background checks in the month of September, indicating that gun sales were at an all time high for the month.

The FBI’s National Instant Background Check System processed 1,795,102 applications to buy a firearm in September.  That represents a new record: 335,739 more checks than the previous September high set in 2012, or a 23 percent increase.

The number of checks done in a particular month is considered a reliable gauge of how many gun sales have occurred since background checks are required on all sales made through licensed firearms dealers.  The actual number of sales is likely higher since multiple firearms can be sold to the same person by a dealer under a single background check.  The numbers also do not account for sales between private parties that do not require a background check.
No one who follows the issue here in the United States would be surprised by Obama's success at selling guns,   But, though I watch the BBC regularly (GMT and BBC America), and frequently look at their web site, I have never seen them mention that Obama's efforts to reduce gun ownership here have backfired, badly.  Nor have I ever seen them mention his changed position on gun confiscation; in the 2008 campaign he laughed at the idea that he wanted to confiscate guns, but now he advocates that, though not openly and honestly.

Why does the BBC — the most influential news organization in the world — not share these facts with its viewers?  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that most at the BBC don't know them.  But a few should, a few should pay enough attention to the occasional stories by American news organizations so that those few know that Obama has inspired millions of gun purchases.

I suppose those few must have decided that it would be awkward to tell their viewers about this failure, awkward to tell their viewers that a leftist president had failed in a cause he and they share.  That's understandable — but it's not good journalism.

(I do not know whether Obama actually wants to reduce gun violence here, or whether he just wants the issue.   Judging by his recent actions, he now prefers to have the issue.

People often wonder why the United States doesn't have more controls on guns, since majorities appear to favor that.  The reason is simple:  Those who oppose more restrictions on gun ownership are an intense minority, who vote against politicians who advocate limits on gun sales and ownership.   For instance, they were one of the biggest reasons Bill Clinton lost control of the Congress in the 1994 election.   Some politicians, especially if they have safe seats, might defy them anyway, if it weren't for the studies that suggest that most curbs on guns are ineffective.  (Here's a recent example.)

For the record:  I don't have a gun now, and don't see much need for one, living where I do.)
- 8:46 AM, 8 October 2015   [link]


Alaska Versus Venezuela:  This brief piece appeared in the English edition of a Venezuelan newspaper.
The two economies I know best are Alaska and Venezuela.  Both are oil states but one succeeded grandly while one failed miserably for obvious reasons.

In 1960, Venezuela was one of the ten richest nations on earth with a GDP per capita of $6,000.  But in 2015, Venezuela's per capita income is still $6,000 which puts it in the bottom third of the 200 nations on earth.  In 55 years, Venezuela has no per capita GDP growth.

Compare that to Alaska.  In 1960, Alaska was one of the poorest of the 50 states with a GDP per capita under $5,000-- and for the indigenous Natives who comprise 20% of Alaska, it was under $1,000.  This made Alaska the most unequal of the 50 states --Inequality compares the number of rich and poor in a population.

Yet by 2015, Alaska's GDP per capita exceeded $50,000 – that's ten times the income of 1960.  And more importantly, Alaska is now the most equal of the 50 states.  In other words, the Natives are in the middle classes with everyone else.
Anyone familiar with Alaska can tell you that the federal government and the state government made plenty of mistakes during those 55 years — but that comparative record will show you that Alaska got the basics right, and that Venezuela didn't.

(Alaska has less proved oil reserves than Venezuela and, though Alaska has almost twice as large an area (663,268 versus 353,841 square miles), it has much less land suitable for farming.  There is no physical reason why Venezuela shouldn't be a net food exporter, as it once was.

On the other hand, it is also true that Alaska has a much smaller population (about 740 thousand versus about 33 million) to share in that oil money.)
- 7:32 AM, 8 October 2015   [link]


How Were The Taliban Able To Capture Kunduz?  The best answer to that question I've seen is in this Joseph Goldstein article.
The encirclement of Kunduz began in earnest two years ago, as the American military began pulling out of the province in the summer and fall of 2013.

It took only minutes to see the signs in Dashte-Archi, a district northeast of Kunduz, for instance.  There American Special Forces had built up an ethnically diverse police force, recruiting Uzbeks and Turkmens and placing them in Pashtun areas.

But as the Special Forces soldiers drove out of the province, they received radio reports that the district governor had been assassinated, and that the police had abandoned their bases.

“It worked so long as you had a Special Forces team there, and the minute they left it collapsed and reverted to form,” Ted Callahan, then a civilian adviser to the Special Forces and now a security adviser in the north.
Think of the Special Forces as being the keystone of an arch.  Pull them out, and the arch collapses, even though it may have been stable for years.

One thing the Special Forces would have done during those years is protected that Doctors Without Borders hospital.

There's more, of course, and if you want to read more of Goldstein's stories, here's a search list.

(For the record:  Afghan and American forces have recaptured part (most?) of the city.

One thing to remember about Afghanistan is that it has had horrific losses beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979.  I can't help but think they may have lost many of their best people in those violent decades.)
- 3:49 PM, 7 October 2015   [link]


How Well Is Donald Trump Doing?  He's still leading, but by less than before.
YouGov, which shows Trump's support falling from 36 to 25 percent during September, is not alone in tracking the decline.  The HuffPost Pollster chart, based on all of the publicly released national poll on the Republican nomination, indicates a similar decline, from a peak of just over 31 percent on September 7 to just over 25 percent as of this writing.
If, that is, you agree with Trump that the polls right now are the best guide to the likely victor.

But not if you think the betting markets are the best guide, right now.

(Sympathy for the pollsters:  Polling at this stage is harder than polling when a primary is a week or two away, and much harder than polling when a general election is a week or two away.  Many voters simply haven't thought much about the candidates.)
- 12:28 PM, 7 October 2015   [link]


"Huge Oil Discovery On Golan Heights"  Some will see humor, others justice, in this new find.
Estimates are that the amount of oil found will make Israel self sufficient for very many years to come.
Because, of course, the Golan Heights used to belong to Syria — and the Syrians regularly used the area to shoot down at Israeli targets, including many civilian targets.

(Whenever I think about the military problem Israel had before they captured the Golan, I am reminded of this Bill Mauldin cartoon from the Anzio campaign, which has this caption: "My God!  There we wuz an' here they wuz.")
- 10:57 AM, 7 October 2015   [link]


Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of late-night jokes.

He liked this one best:
Fallon: Hillary Clinton was on “Meet the Press” where Chuck Todd showed her a video of all the times she's flip-flopped on issues.  At first, Hillary said she felt bad about it.  But then she said she’s OK with it.
But I preferred this one:
Conan: In China, people are selling their kidneys to buy an iPhone 6S.  But don’t worry, those people will still have one kidney left six months from now when the iPhone 7 comes out.
Perhaps because I've learned to treat people using cellphones while walking or even driving, in much the same way I treat drunks, as hazards to be avoided.

(If you are looking for Donald Trump jokes, you'll find some in that collection.)
- 10:20 AM, 7 October 2015   [link]


Congratulations To Professors Takaaki Kajita And Arthur McDonald:  Their Nobel Prize, for their discoveries about the nature of neutrinos, appears to be deserved.
The discovery that neutrinos switch between different "flavours" has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

Neutrinos are ubiquitous subatomic particles with almost no mass and which rarely interact with anything else, making them very difficult to study.

Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald led two teams which made key observations of the particles inside big underground instruments in Japan and Canada.
(The detectors are large underground tanks of some fluid which will, very rarely, interact with neutrinos.  They put the tanks deep underground to protect them from other particles, and then wait for evidence of one of those rare interactions.)

That neutrinos could change "flavors" — from "electron" to "muon" or "tau" — implies that they have a teeny, tiny bit of mass.  (You'll have to ask your local theoretical physicist why that is so.)  Which contradicted the Standard Model, which has made so many successful predictions.

Their discoveries are unlikely to have practical applications any time soon, but, along with other challenges to the Standard Model, will keep theoretical physicists busy for years — and, who knows, may have applications a couple of decades from now.

(The BBC says that neutrinos are "ubiquitous".  That's an understatement.  Suppose you are out sun bathing at high noon, and exposing about a square meter to the sun.  Then, every second, about 650 trillion (6.5×1014) solar neutrinos pass through your body.

Don't like that bombardment?  There's nothing you can do about it; even the entire earth won't shield you.  You'll be hit by about as many solar neutrinos sleeping at midnight. as you did sun bathing at noon.  That neutrino ntrusiveness inspired John Updike to write this poem, which now needs revising, thanks to the discovery that neutrinos have mass.

As far as this amateur can tell, this Wikipedia article is a reasonable description of some of the challenges to the Standard Model.)
- 7:45 AM, 7 October 2015   [link]


CJR Commits Journalism:  The Columbia Journalism Review describes the attempts of many, including his friends at the New York Times, where he used to work, to rehabilitate Steven Rattner.

You might think this little incident would make him unwelcome in polite New York society — but you would be wrong.
Recall that Rattner was Obama’s car czar responsible for bailing out and overseeing GM and Chrysler.  Three months into the administration, it emerged that Rattner was under investigation by Andrew Cuomo, then the New York Attorney General, and by the SEC for paying kickbacks to get business from the giant New York pension fund.  Rattner originally got immunity in the investigation until Cuomo caught him covering up his own involvement.
. . .
But settling for big bucks for bribing government officials wasn’t enough to dent Rattner’s media profile.  He’d made too many powerful friends in his long career as a New York Times journalist and then media financier.
I first paid close attention to him when he became "car czar".  I concluded that he (or the people working for him) had deliberately targeted Republican auto dealers.  I won't say I saw direct proof of that, but I did think the circumstantial evidence against him was strong.

But that's not a subject that would interest the New York Times, since the dealers were mostly Republicans in "flyover country".

(Here's his Wikipedia biography, with way more than the usual caveats.)
- 6:09 PM, 6 October 2015   [link]


Three Top Obama Aides Quit:  Here's another Obama administration story that makes you go hmm: "ABANDON SHIP: Obama’s Top Advisers on ISIS, Russia, and Cyber-Security Have All Resigned Over the Past Two Weeks".

We know that President Obama hasn't seen any big successes in those areas, recently.

But we don't really know whether each of the three — John Allen, Evelyn Farkas, and Ari Schwartz — jumped, or were pushed.

It seems more likely that each of the three jumped.  This is the beginning of the time when even successful White House aides begin to think of getting out, for the sake of their own careers.  And I wouldn't be surprised if the three saw little chance of triumphs in the nest year or so, if they stay in the White House
- 4:40 PM, 6 October 2015   [link]


Balloon Politics in Brazil.
A new figure looms over Brazil’s already volatile politics, stirring controversy wherever it goes:  A 50-foot-tall balloon depicting Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a striped jailhouse uniform, complete with ankle ball-and-chain.

The balloon, recognizable as Brazil’s best-known politician because of its big belly and gray beard, first appeared at a mass demonstration in mid-August.  Overnight, it became a national mascot for protesters seeking to oust leftist President Dilma Rousseff, a da Silva protégé.
There's even a video game:
The road trip got going Aug. 28, when the da Silva balloon was inflated on an iconic São Paulo bridge that serves as the live backdrop of the megacity’s popular morning talk show, “Good Morning SP.”  But the show’s producers shut blinds on the set to avoid showing the controversial balloon.

In the afternoon, handlers took the balloon to the São Paulo mayor’s office.  There, a young activist allegedly stabbed it and police are considering destruction of property charges.

The incident inspired an online videogame released days later.  In it, a player guides a group of protesters hoisting the da Silva balloon as they rescue bags of cash flying willy-nilly from public coffers.  The player must use the arrow keys to keep the balloon from being popped by a redshirted Workers’ Party member with a knife.
The balloon seems like more fun than the giant puppets that often appear at lefist demonstrations here in the United States.  I'll bet you can think of a few American politicians who deserve similar balloons.

(If you don't follow Brazilian politics, here's a brief explanation.  While "Lula", as he is called in Brazil, was in office, the Brazilian economy was booming.  He used the extra tax money to introduce some popular social welfare programs, and then turned the country over to Rouseff.

She is less likable than he, the economy is in serious trouble, and there is a massive corruption scandal.  As a result, Brazilians are talking about impeaching her, and removing her from office.

The balloon is a way of attacking her most important supporter, "Lula".

For the record:  I have no idea whether he deserves prison, whether he, like so many other Brazilian politicians, is corrupt.)
- 6:37 AM, 6 October 2015   [link]


Xi Jinping's Cold Advisor, Wang Huning:  You can almost always learn much about a leader by the way people closest to him behave.  Which is why I found this New York Times article on Wang Huning so troubling.
As President Xi Jinping made his first state visit to the United States, including a day of pageantry and diplomacy at the White House on Friday, Mr. Wang was among a small group of advisers at his side.

A member of the Communist Party’s elite Politburo, Mr. Wang, 59, studied American society as a politics professor in Shanghai and an adviser to Mr. Xi’s two predecessors.  In the process, he got to know American scholars and officials.

Yet, people who knew Mr. Wang back then say he has become unapproachable and ignores invitations for conversations. American officials find it difficult to talk to him casually on the sidelines of international forums.

They and other Western officials say that this icy remove is true not only of Mr. Wang, but also of other advisers with whom Mr. Xi travels, including Li Zhanshu, essentially Mr. Xi’s chief of staff, and Liu He, his top economic adviser.
(Link omitted.)

According to this Brookings biography, Wang has had the opportunity to meet many Americans.  For example:
He was a visiting scholar at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa (USA) and the University of California at Berkeley (1988–89).
Most likely, Wang became "unapproachable" because that's what Xi wants, and perhaps because that reflects Wang's changed views of the United States.

This change is not a good sign, whatever caused it.

(This Wall Street Journal article is consistent with the Times article, and includes, in a sidebar, a couple of quotes from Wang's 1991 book, America Against America.  If you have trouble with that link, try the second page of this search.)
- 4:22 PM, 5 October 2015   [link]


Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Boehner, McConnell, And Madisonian Democracy:  What I am about to argue is that many of the things that frustrate voters and activists on the left and the right are inherent in the design of our Constitution.

Let me begin a little indirectly, with a hypothetical:  Suppose that we had a parliamentary democracy like that found in Britain or Australia.  What would have happened after the 2010 election in which Republicans won control over the lower house in our legislature?

(In most parliamentary democracies, the lower house is supreme, if there even is an upper house.)

A few days later at most, John Boehner would have become president (or, if you prefer, prime minister), and Barack Obama would have become the minority leader in the House.  (And might have resigned, as losing leaders often do.)  And then Boehner and the Republican majority would have reversed almost all of what Obama, Pelosi, and Reid had done, in the previous two years.

As you may have noticed, that didn't happen.  In fact, despite their victory, the Republican majority had little success in repealing any of the Obama programs they objected to.

Nor has that changed since the Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2014 election.

Which, sadly, is about what I expected would happen.

I expected that because of the design of our Constitution — and because of Barack Obama's ideological rigidity.

In a Madisonian democracy, like ours, the legislative process is set up to make it easy for a minority to veto any changes.  The classic explanation for that is in Federalist 51, written by James Madison.   You can read a brief explanation of it in this Wikipedia article, or, better yet, read the whole thing, here.

Here's a selection that shows Madison's thinking:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.  The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack.  Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.  The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.  It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government.  But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.  In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
So, to prevent a dangerous concentration of power, we have two co-equal houses of our legislature, and a president who can veto legislation even when the two houses agree.

(Congress can pass legislation over a president's veto, but it requires, as you no doubt recall, two-thirds majorities in both houses.  Occasionally, important legislation gets passed that way, for instance, Taft-Hartley, but not very often.)

Now, what happens if one of the three disagrees with the other two?  That depends on how large the disagreement is, and how willing the three are to compromise.

As it happens, our two parties have been growing more ideologically distinct for decades, and so when one party controls one of the three, the House, the Senate, or the presidency, it is likely to want very different things than the other two.  (Oddly, as the parties have grown more distinct, the belief that they are similar appears to have grown among activists, especially on the right.)

Even large gaps can, sometimes, be bridged if the two parties are led by men and women who see compromise as inevitable, perhaps even desirable, when there is divided government.  Unfortunately, the leaders of all three have to share that desire for compromise.

And, as we all should know, President Obama, unlike almost all of his predecessors, does not share that desire for compromise.  He has been unwilling to work with Speaker John Boehner in the way that George W. Bush worked with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Bill Clinton worked with Speaker Newt Gingrich, just to take the two most recent examples.

And so, since the 2010 election, little has changed in our national government — just as Madison would have predicted.  Ambition has counteracted ambition.  Obama has been unable to press forward with new domestic initiatives, and Speaker Boehner has been unable to roll back many of the Obama policies he opposes.

Inevitably this frustrates leaders and activists on both sides, especially since each can, with some justification, claim a mandate from the people; Obama won the presidency in 2008 and 2012, and Boehner won House majorities in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

The two great exceptions also show that Madisonian design.  Madison intended that the legislature, especially the House, be supreme in budget matters — and Boehner and company were able to put a brake on Obama's spending spree.  Similarly, Madison intended that the president should be strongest in foreign policy — and Republicans were unable to block the Iran nuclear "deal".

And if you don't like this stasis?  Then start thinking of ways to amend the Constitution, or ways to elect men and women who are more pragmatic, more willing to compromise, than Barack Obama has been.

The second seems like the more practical approach.

(If you are interested in Madisonian theory, you might want to look at Robert Dahl's A Preface to Democratic Theory.

There is another model of democracy or, some would say, "democracy", that I hope to look at, soon.)
- 1:58 PM, 5 October 2015   [link]


The Invisible Woman:  Who?   Hillary Clinton, who said at a town hall meeting: " . . . I've gone longer and farther to be as transparent as possible."

So, if you have had trouble seeing her recently, now you know why.

(We can all hope she has shared this invisibility technology with the CIA — or maybe that is where she got it.)
- 12:27 PM, 5 October 2015   [link]


President Obama Deliberately Snubbed Netanyahu at the UN.
When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Thursday to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, America’s ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, was not there.  Neither was Secretary of State John Kerry.  Though both Kerry and Power were in New York.

Representation of the U.S. was left to a lineup of lesser State Department eminences.

This petty behavior could only have come with the blessing and at the orders of America’s top boss, and it was a gross insult, from the president of the United States to the nation of Israel.
Here's the conclusion Claudia Rosett draws from that absence:
America's enemies have read John Kerry's and Samantha Power's absence from Netanyahu's speech as open season on Israel.
On Israel, and our allies in the Middle East, and elsewhere.

What strikes me most about that absence is how childish Obama is being.  In one way or another, Obama will have to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu until some time in January 2017.  Even adolescents can usually figure out that sometimes they have to be polite to people they dislike, instensely.  So why can't Obama figure that out?  Or put away his personal feelings, for a time, in order to do the right thing?
- 8:55 AM, 5 October 2015   [link]


What Great Jobs for drug traffickers.
Two former senior officials in the Venezuelan police were indicted on drugs charges in a U.S. court last month, documents seen by Reuters show, the latest case to involve Venezuela, a suspected major smuggling route for South American cocaine.

Former head of intelligence Pedro Martin and the former top anti-drugs investigator Jesus Itriago, both are accused of trafficking cocaine to the United States for years via Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, according to the court documents.
In fact, I can't think of any better jobs for men in that business.  They could even arrange to have a few small-time traffickers to be arrested from time to time, to strengthen their cover stories — and eliminate competition.
- 7:17 AM, 5 October 2015   [link]


What Do Britons Think Of American Football?  Judging by the comments after this article, they like the cheerleaders, and they really wish we wouldn't call it football.

(I assume the NFL has scheduled three games in London this season because they believe that, in time, Britons will come to like the game, as well as the cheerleaders.  And I suppose that not all of those 40,000 fans at the rally in Trafalgar Square were Americans, so perhaps the NFL's plan is working out.

Does the NFL have some kind of "no-poaching" agreement with the Canadian Football League?  It wouldn't surprise me.  Players go back and forth, but I have never heard of any teams crossing the border.)
- 7:33 PM, 4 October 2015   [link]


Worth Reading:  In 1996, John Tierney wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine, "Recycling Is Garbage", arguing that the benefits of much (but not all) recycling were less than the costs.

That heresy drew a little bit of criticism; the article "broke the New York Times Magazine's hate mail record".

Today, he's back to the same subject again, with more studies, and this spectacular example:
To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach.  If you sit in the front of the plane, it’s more like 100,000 bottles — and you have to make sure not to rinse any of them with hot water, because that little extra energy could more than cancel out any greenhouse benefit of your labors.
To be absolutely clear, Tierney did not argue, and is not arguing, that all recycling doesn't pass cost/benefit tests; instead he is saying that much of it does not, and that more of it fails those tests now than in 1996.

But for many Greens, that was heresy then, and is heresy now, and they don't care how many numbers Tierney can show them in support of his arguments.

(Briefly, recycling metals and paper often pass cost/benefit tests, which is why both were recycled by private companies and volunteer groups before recycling became part of a religion; recycling other materials usually doesn't pass those tests.

Tierney won a $10,000 bet on the price of oil, a few years ago.

It occurs to me that this is the third religious post in a row.  Sometimes it just works out that way.)
- 7:11 PM, 4 October 2015   [link]


The Muslim Son Of Muslim Immigrants Worries That Too Many American Muslims Are Assimilating:  And doing so in a standard American fashion, by choosing American names.
“ALHAMDULILAH, by the greatest blessings of God, we are overjoyed to announce the birth of our beloved new baby son, Aidan.”

I sincerely celebrated the good news, deferred to social media etiquette and clicked “like” on my friend’s post. *nbsp; Another new Muslim baby Aidan had entered the world.

He joins lots of little Aidans, Rayans and Adams, Sarahs, Laylas and Sophias smiling and drooling their way through my Facebook feed.  Not popping up as much?  Bouncing baby Muhammads.

The logic goes that “Rayan” can blend in as a moderate “Ryan,” “Aidan” is cool, mysterious and thus inherently likable; and “Adam,” inspired by the prophet, is sturdy, safe and reliable like George, William and Oprah.   And who doesn’t like a plain and tall “Sarah,” an exotic “Layla,” who even got Eric Clapton on his knees?
Wajahat Ali understands that an obviously Muslim name will be a handicap in much of America.  (And for that matter, in nearly all the non-Muslim world.)

But he still regrets that symbolic assimilation — and seems unaware that such name changes have been routine for immigrants to the United States, regardless of their faiths or ethnic origins.

(So, what did he and his wife name their own son?  "Ibrahim", which Ali sees as a compromise, Muslim, but not too obviously so.)
- 5:12 PM, 4 October 2015   [link]


No, The Vatican Didn't Fire A Priest because He's Gay; They Fired Him because he was breaking his vow of celibacy.

But you are still going to see (and hear) claims that he was fired because of his sexual orientation.  For instance, the New York Times put his headline on that Reuters story: "Priest Dismissed by Vatican After Saying He Is Gay".  And the Seattle Times put this headline on an Associated Press story: "Priest Stripped of Vatican duties after publicly coming out as gay".

You don't have to be Catholic — I'm not and never have been — to know about that celibacy vow.   And to know that you can break it with many kinds of partners, and that however you break it, the Catholic church will consider it grounds for dismissal.

(Similarly, many Protestant churches would consider adultery reasons to dismiss a pastor, whether they committed that adultery with a man or woman.)

At best, the headline writers are misinformed on a central teaching of the world's largest religious organization.  Or so into the whole gay thing, that they didn't bother to read the whole article, carefully.  At best.

(For the record: The headlines I've seen use "after", or something similar, instead of "because".  But most casual readers and listeners will read or hear that after as because.  You can decide for yourself whether the headline writers were being deliberately deceptive.)
- 4:34 PM, 4 October 2015   [link]


Did This Woman Like Men?  Here's something she wrote, years and years ago.
That man seems on a par with the gods who sits in your company and listens to you so close to him speaking sweetly, and laughing easily, such a thing makes my heart flutter in my breast, for when I see you even for a moment, then power to speak another word fails me, instead my tongue freezes into silence, and at once a gentle fire has caught throughout my flesh, and I see nothing with my eyes, and there's a drumming in my ears, and sweat pours down me, and I become paler than grass, and I seem to fail almost to the point of death in my very self. (p. 414)
I doubt that you would find many people who would say she didn't, after reading that.

So it may surprise you a little to learn who wrote that.

That's right, it was the Greek poet, Sappho, who has given us the adjective "sapphic" and the noun, "lesbian", after her home island, Lesbos.

(Note please: That's a prose translation of Greek poetry.  You can probably find an English verse translation with a little searching, or with the help of a classics scholar.

This is the first in a series of posts.  Near the end, I'll be making an unusual, and politically incorrect, argument, so I decided I wanted to lead up to it, gradually.)
- 8:18 AM, 3 October 2015   [link]


Sexual Assault In New York:  But it was accidental, and it ended well.

A 92 year old lady was waiting in a clinic, when she began groping around for her purse.  She found something on her blind side, but it wasn't her purse, it was a young man's lap.
“Oh my God,” I said, “I’m so sorry.  I am blind in the right eye and I was looking for my handbag.”

Back came his answer: “What a shame, I thought it was my lucky day.”
In that situation, I'd say that his reply was both clever and, in a way, gallant.

And I doubt that many of us guys would be able to think of that good a reply, that quickly.

(It's fun to take the incident, and switch things around.  If, for instance, we switch the ages so that a young woman accidentally gropes an older man, it would probably end about as well as it did.  On the other hand, if you switch the sexes around, I think it unlikely that it would end in a story that the man would want to share with the world.

I don't know why the Instapundit, who has been collecting stories of women misbehaving, missed this one.  Maybe it doesn't have the right "immoral".)
- 2:33 PM, 2 October 2015   [link]


If You Believe In Romance Even A Little, you'll like this story.
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Adrian Franklin can remember the exact moment when he was told he had to be in a wedding with Brooke.  He was only five years old but to him it was like yesterday, “I was devastated.  I was like ‘tell me I don’t have to walk down the aisle with her!”

Seventeen years ago, he was the ring bearer and she was the flower girl in the wedding of a family friend.   Brooke, who was also five, said she had the biggest crush on Adrian.  He knew it and he hated it.
But he changed his mind by middle school, and on 19 September, they walked down the aisle together again, happily.

(Interesting detail:  "Now 21 and 22 years old, the couple says they’ve been told they’re too young."  I wonder if the people who told them that know when people typically got married fifty years ago?  Or how old a woman should be to have the best chance of bearing a healthy baby?)
- 1:42 PM, 2 October 2015   [link]


"Yes, I'll Admit It's Getting Better"  That's isn't the headline over Nicholas Kristof's latest column, but it could be.
One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years.  Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That's 95 percent of Americans – who are utterly wrong.  In fact, the proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty hasn't doubled or remained the same.  It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world – and I count myself among the guilty.
(Though Americans may find this hard to believe, in the rest of the world "extreme poverty" is often defined as "earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day".)

Kristof follows that with enough numbers to satisfy almost everyone in that 95 percent.

But he doesn't even mention the man who deserves the most credit for those gains, Norman Borlaug.

In order, we humans must have air, water, and food.  Air is available everywhere on earth, though there are places, Beijing for instance, where the air is dangerously polluted.  Water is available almost everywhere, and we now know how to prevent water-borne diseases and how to eliminate contaminants.  In fact we knew those things in 1950, and most of them in 1900.

But it wasn't until Borlaug and other researchers showed everyone how to increase food production — dramatically — in the rest of the world that we knew how to provide food for everyone.

(Title borrowed from the Beetles song, which you can read here or hear here.)
- 10:02 AM, 2 October 2015   [link]


Right Now, I Don't Have Much To Say About The Umpqua Killings, except this usual reminder:  Partisans of all kinds try to use these horrific incidents to support the arguments they have been making all along.

And they are usually wrong.

Suppose, for instance, that the murderer — whose name I am deliberately omitting for now — had been a supporter of Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.  Would this prove that supporters of Mitt Romney were evil, or would it simply show that when you receive almost 61 million votes, a few of those votes will come from evil people?  Similarly, among the almost 66 million people who voted for Barack Obama, there are undoubtedly a few who are evil.

(It would be fairly easy, by the way, to make rough estimates* of how many people had voted for each man — and then committed a murder since the 2012 election.  And such estimates would prove nothing about either Romney or Obama.)

I am not naming the murderer because I suspect that there is a "copycat" effect, that some of these men, and they are almost all men, are inspired by what other lone murderers have done, and that we encourage them by publicizing each mass killing.

(For the record:  I haven't read any of the studies on "copycat" effects, partly because I can see that it is a difficult statistical problem, where even the best researchers may not be able to come up with definitive results.

*If you are wondering how to make such a rough estimate, here's one approach:  Take the total number of murders since the 2012 election, reduce it by, say, 60 or 70 percent since many murderers are ineligible or don't want to vote, and then allocate the remaining murders by the demographics of the election results and murderers.   I think that simple procedure would get you within a factor of two of the true numbers.)
- 8:21 AM, 2 October 2015   [link]


Read The Pew Immigration Report, Not The Articles:  Three days ago, Pew Research issued their latest report on immigration, legal and otherwise, to the United States.

If you read any newspaper regularly, you almost certainly saw one or more articles on the report.  (And, if you watch TV news, you almost certainly saw a story or two on it.)

But you would be better off if you spent the same time looking at the report — not necessarily reading the whole thing, since it is 128 pages long, but picking out the parts that interest you.

For instance, almost everyone will be interested in their lead paragraph in their press release:
Fifty years after passage of the landmark law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy, nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushing the country’s foreign-born share to a near record 14%.  For the past half-century, these modern-era immigrants and their descendants have accounted for just over half the nation’s population growth and have reshaped its racial and ethnic composition.
But you may or may not share my interest in these two facts:
1 There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014.  The population has remained essentially stable for five years, and currently makes up 3.5% of the nation’s population.  The number of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, when this group was 4% of the U.S. population.
. . .
4 Unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1% of the U.S. labor force.  In the U.S. labor force, there were 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants either working or looking for work in 2012.  Among the states, Nevada (10%), California (9%), Texas (9%) and New Jersey (8%) had the highest shares of unauthorized immigrants in their labor forces.
So, assuming Pew's numbers are roughly correct, there are now about 1 million fewer illegals in the United States than there were in 2007.  (Most likely, that small decline reflects greater efforts at enforcement put in place during the Bush administration, at least in part.)

A little bit of thought will show you that in some fields, there must be almost no illegals and that in others they must be a much larger share of the work force than 5 percent.

(By the way, about half of those here illegally did not jump a fence; they came here legally — and then stayed.  Anyone serious about reducing the number of illegals in the United States will need to think hard about how to solve that problem.)
- 8:24 AM, 1 October 2015   [link]


Political Betting:  I've added a new site, Political Betting, to the "Overseas" list.

They describe themselves, with traditional British restraint, as follows: "Britain's most-read political blog — and the best online resource for betting on politics".

I'm adding them because I believe the betting markets are the best long-range predictors of electoral success, the best, for instance, for predicting next year's presidential election here in the United States.  (I think economic models are also worth looking at this early.)

"Best" does not imply "good", just better than the two main alternatives: polls and pundits.

(The top post as I write, on Marco Rubio's improving odds, does not seem to have any links, so here's a table showing odds on the Republican nomination, and here's a link to the Odds Checker site.  If you are like me, you may have to refer to this Wikipedia article to decode the numbers at Odds Checker.)
- 6:40 AM, 1 October 2015   [link]