Archive:

October 2015, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Many Economists Are Backing Hillary Clinton:  Even though she has changed her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which most economists see* as a free trade agreement.  For almost all economists, free trade is a very good thing, even though it can be hard to explain its advantages to the average person.

You might think that those economists would now turn against Clinton, but economist Greg Mankiw doesn't think they will, because:
So, will those economists who like Clinton start to turn against her?  I doubt it.  My guess is that most of them don't believe what she is now saying.  They expect that once she moves back into the White House, she will return to the moderate view of trade deals that her husband championed.  In other words, they are counting on her being untrustworthy.  If they had reason to doubt her mendacity, then they would start to worry.
(Emphasis added.)

In a somewhat similar fashion, many gay activists supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, assuming he was lying when he said he was in favor of traditional marriage.  (The activists were right.)

Still, there is something strange about backing a candidate because you think he or she is lying about an issue that is important to you.

(*I described TPP in that odd way because I haven't seen enough about it to judge whether it really is, net, a free trade agreement.  If it is, then I would almost certainly be in favor of it, partly for strategic reasons.

Presumably what those economists supporting Clinton think will happen is something like this:  If elected, she'll call for some cosmetic changes in the TPP and, if she gets them, announce that now she can back the agreement.  That's more or less what Obama did with the free trade agreements Bush had negotiated with Colombia and South Korea.)
- 9:33 AM, 16 October 2015   [link]


What's The Opposite Of Diversity?  University!

For example, Cornell University.

(Question and answer borrowed from Kate McMillan, who often uses them, as she did in this example.)
- 8:01 AM, 16 October 2015   [link]


The Obama Administration Has Been "Downright Dishonest" About Afghanistan:   Who said that?  A Republican candidate for president?  Some conservative magazine?  Some right-wing web sites?

Well, those too, probably, but if so they have been joined by the New York Times.
Mr. Obama’s decision to keep roughly 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year — rather than drawing down to 1,000 troops by the end of 2016, as the White House had once intended — comes amid Taliban advances and other alarming changes in the region.  While Mr. Obama’s shift is disturbing and may not put Afghanistan on a path toward stability, he has no good options.
.. . .
These are optimistic prospects; the most likely scenario might only be to maintain the security status quo for another year.  It would be foolish to expect the drawdown delay to turn the war around, nor should this decision become an open-ended commitment that costs American taxpayers billions of dollars and takes American lives each year.  The Obama administration and the Pentagon have been disingenuous, and at times downright dishonest, in their public assessment of the progress American forces and civilians have made in Afghanistan in recent years.
There isn't anything complicated about this.  President Obama, for political advantage, and because he believes the United States can make the world better in the long run by withdrawing from much of it, wanted a positive assessment of our progress in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon provided the commander in chief what he wanted.

Reality has intruded, as it always does, and Obama has been forced to change his position, though not to the extent that his generals have recommended.
Mr. Obama is keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond his presidency, about half the strength recommended by his top general in-country.  It marks the sixth time he has rejected the advice of a ground commander on the force size in the long Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Military experts call that streak unprecedented for a commander in chief.
Obama has no education, training, or experience in military affairs.  If he had even a little humility he would tell his commanders his goals, and ask them to figure out what forces are needed to accomplish those goals.  Instead, he has, again, made an arbitrary decision about the size of the forces needed, a decision that will pass the problem on to the next president.

If he were running a hospital instead of our military, he would be telling the surgeons where and how much to cut.

(The Times has accepted reality to some extent, but still thinks that the only long-term solution to Afghanistan is a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.  They do not explain why the Taliban would want such a settlement, if they think they are winning, or why a settlement would be necessary, if the Taliban were losing.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't accept a negotiated surrender, if one is possible, but we shouldn't make a negotiated settlement our goal.

Will the Times now look for similar examples of systematic dishonesty from the Obama administration in domestic issues?  It's unlikely, but they could find those examples if they looked.)
- 6:31 AM, 16 October 2015   [link]


Enemies Of The Democratic Candidates:  Hillary Clinton's answer in their first debate has gotten the most attention, but all of their answers are revealing.
[ANDERSON] COOPER: And welcome back to the final round of the CNN Democratic presidential debate.

This is a question to each of you. Each of you, by the way, are going to have closing statements to make.   Each of you will have 90 seconds.  But a final question to each of you.  If you can, just try to -- 15 seconds if you can.

Governor Chafee, Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made."   You've all made a few people upset over your political careers.  Which enemy are you most proud of?

(LAUGHTER)

CHAFEE: I guess the coal lobby.  I've worked hard for climate change and I want to work with the coal lobby.  But in my time in the Senate, tried to bring them to the table so that we could address carbon dioxide.   I'm proud to be at odds with the coal lobby.

COOPER: Governor O'Malley?

O'MALLEY: The National Rifle Association.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Secretary Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians.

(LAUGHTER)

Probably the Republicans. (LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Senator Sanders?

SANDERS: As someone who has taken on probably every special interest that there is in Washington, I would lump Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry at the top of my life of people who do not like me.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Senator Webb?

WEBB: I'd have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he's not around right now to talk to.
Webb doesn't answer the question; all the others, except for Clinton, name only domestic enemies.   Granted, the question seemed to ask for domestic enemies, but they could have said they have domestic opponents, and foreign enemies.

None of them named the terrorist organization al Qaeda, their Taliban supporters, or the other terrorist organization, ISIS, even though we are at war with all three.

And, as many have mentioned, Clinton named, perhaps half jokingly, the "Republicans", who constitute almost half of the electorate.
- 4:55 PM, 15 October 2015   [link]


Need A Family Income Of More Than $10 Million A Year?  The Clintons have shown us all how to achieve that goal.

And I don't doubt that all the organizations that have paid them big bucks for speeches would be delighted to pay us even more for our speeches.
- 1:33 PM, 15 October 2015   [link]


The Chinese Government Is Afraid Of The Magna Carta?  That's what this New York Times article suggests.
China’s leaders have long behaved as if nothing could daunt them.  But an 800-year-old document written in Latin on sheepskin may have them running scared.

Magna Carta — the Great Charter — is on tour this year, celebrating eight centuries since it was issued in 1215 by King John of England.  It is regarded as one of the world’s most important documents because of language guaranteeing individual rights and holding the ruler subject to the law.

One of the few surviving 13th-century copies of the document was to go on display this week from Tuesday through Thursday at a museum at Renmin University of China in Beijing, the British Embassy said last week on its WeChat account.  But then the exhibit was abruptly moved to the British ambassador’s residence, with few tickets available to the public and no explanation given.  (The document is also set to go on display at the United States Consulate in Guangzhou and at a museum in Shanghai, the embassy said.)
The government even blocks Internet searches for the document.

It's the rule-of-law idea that worries the Chinese government, according to the article.

(As I've mentioned before, I wonder why so many wealthy Chinese citizens have been establishing second homes here in the United States, and other Western countries.  Do they know something about the regime that we don't?)
- 12:35 PM, 15 October 2015   [link]


Madisonian Deadlocks In Illinois And Pennsylvania:  In this post, I observed that the Madisonian design of our Constitution meant that deadlocks were inevitable in certain circumstances, specifically when the executive or one of the houses was controlled by a different party than the other two, and one of the three was led by a man or woman who refused to compromise.  Since President Obama has, on the whole, refused to compromise with Speaker Boehner, we have had deadlock ever since the 2010 election.

Our states all use the Madisonian design, with some variations.  The largest variation is in Nebraska, which has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature.  But even there, if the governor and legislature disagree and refuse to compromise, there can be deadlocks.

And so we should not be surprised to see Madisonian deadlocks in our states from time, as we do now in Illinois and Pennsylvania.
While most states’ finances are on the upswing, Illinois and Pennsylvania are showing increasing signs of strain as budget battles long settled in other capitals stretch into the fall.

In Illinois, bills for college financial aid and domestic-violence support services are going unpaid. Lottery winners can’t collect prize money and the state museum has closed.  In Pennsylvania, some school districts are borrowing money to stay open while others warn they soon won’t be able to make payroll.  Social-service providers are trimming staff.
Illinois has a Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and a Democratic legislature; Pennsylvania has a Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, and a Republican legislature.  Rauner wants reforms (which Illinois desperately needs); the Democrats in the legislature oppose reforms — and anyone even vaguely familiar with Illinois politics can understand why.  Wolf wants higher taxes and spending; the Republicans in the legislature oppose him.

Note that, as in the national deadlock, all the opponents — I almost said combatants — in these states can claim, with some justification, to have mandates from the people.

Ambition is counteracting ambition in Illinois and Pennsylvania, as well as in our national government.

(The first link in that Google search takes you to a column on Rauner's objectives; the second takes you to the article on the deadlocks in the two states.)
- 7:54 AM, 15 October 2015   [link]


Yesterday's New Yorker Cartoon wasn't great, but it may make you think of half a dozen political analogies, as it did me.

Along, of course, with the obvious personal analogies.
- 6:37 AM, 15 October 2015   [link]


Constable Gary Collins, Super Recognizer:  Constable Collins has a talent that can be exceptionally useful in police work.
Friends call Constable Collins Rain Man or Yoda or simply The Oracle.  But to Scotland Yard, London’s metropolitan police force, he is known as a “super recognizer.”  He has a special gift of facial recall powers that enables him to match even low-quality and partial imagery to a face he has seen before, on the street or in a database and possibly years earlier.
. . .
Soft-spoken and gentle-mannered, Constable Collins carries a baton and pepper spray, but no gun.  His weapon is his memory: Facial recognition software managed to identify one suspect of the 4,000 captured by security cameras during the London riots.  Constable Collins identified 180.
Which is even more impressive when you remember that he would not have seen many, perhaps most, of those 4,000 before, and so could not have recognized them.

The way his talent was identified is a fascinating example of good scientific thinking, since the researcher who began looking for such talents was inspired by earlier work on prosopagnosia.

(No special political point, but the story was so interesting I had to pass it on.)
- 1:18 PM, 14 October 2015   [link]


Angus Deaton Just Won The Nobel Prize In Economics:  Angus Deaton has come to some unorthodox conclusions.
It sounds kind of crazy to say that foreign aid often hurts, rather than helps, poor people in poor countries.  Yet that is what Angus Deaton, the newest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, has argued.

Deaton, an economist at Princeton University who studied poverty in India and South Africa and spent decades working at the World Bank, won his prize for studying how the poor decide to save or spend money.  But his ideas about foreign aid are particularly provocative.  Deaton argues that, by trying to help poor people in developing countries, the rich world may actually be corrupting those nations' governments and slowing their growth.   According to Deaton, and the economists who agree with him, much of the $135 billion that the world’s most developed countries spent on official aid in 2014 may not have ended up helping the poor.
To her credit, Ana Swanson gives some of the more striking evidence for his conclusions in the rest of the article.

Deaton's ideas aren't entirely new; I saw similar thinking from P. T. Bauer years ago, and more recently from William Easterly.

What Deaton appears to have contributed is solid data, which is often hard to find in the developing world.

(Years ago, the government officials in Tanzania who siphoned off so much of the aid to that country were known as the "BMW people", which will give you an idea where the aid money went.)
- 9:55 AM, 14 October 2015   [link]


Why Can't President Obama Close Guantánamo?  Because Congress won't let him.
President Obama has vowed to shut down the facility since he was first elected; he issued an executive order calling for the prison to be closed within a year during his first month in office.  That deadline came and went, and the White House’s proposed road to shutting down the prison has been rocky since. In December 2009, Obama signed a presidential memorandum ordering then-Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to acquire an Illinois state prison as a replacement for Guantanamo.  In May 2010, Congress blocked funding for that prison, and banned the use of federal funds for the transfer of prisoners to American soil.  In Janu­ary 2013, the State Department closed the of­fice responsible for hand­ling the clos­ure of Guantanamo.  Polling shows most Americans say the U.S. shouldn’t close the detention center.
(Emphasis added.)

Even when Congress is controlled by the Democrats, as it was in May 2010.

Obama refuses to accept his defeat on this issue, and so people in his administration have to keep trying to find an alternative.  Or pretending to try.  I doubt that many of them in this latest effort expect to succeed.

(Back in July, I sympathized with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who is being asked to find a solution when there isn't one, legally.)
- 9:29 AM, 14 October 2015   [link]


Last Night, I Didn't Watch The Democratic "Debate"  And I advise you not to watch these "debates", either — if, that is, you are looking for information about the candidates.   (If, on the other hand, you like the debates as entertaining spectacles, for the same reason some people like mud wrestling, then go ahead.)

What should you do instead?  Read up on the candidates.  For instance, any decent American library would have copies of the Almanac of American Politics, which would provide you brief political biographies of all current governors and members of Congress.

To get a brief summary of, for instance, Bernie Sanders' career, you could look in the 2014 edition, or the 2016 edition when if becomes available.  Similarly, you could find a summary of Hillary Clinton's Senate career in the 2008 edition.

To learn more about particular issues, or to go in depth on their careers, the political magazines are your best source.  For example, the current Weekly Standard has a whole set of articles on Hillary Clinton, including one I found especially interesting, on her effort to reform education in Arkansas.

Naturally, you have to read those articles with some skepticism, because all of them are written by partisans of one kind or another.

Occasionally, reporters for our newspapers do stories that are worth reading; as you almost certainly know, Real Clear Politics is a good place to look for such articles.

As I have mentioned many times before, you should read political articles at Wikipedia with extra skepticism — and I would say the same is true of listening to political talk shows — especially if you generally agree with the host.  (Michael Medved is a partial exception, since he so often has left wing guests.)

Because almost all of our "mainstream" journalists are on the left side of the stream, if you are on that side too, you should make a special effort to expose yourself to differing viewpoints, here, or elsewhere.

(For the record:  I don't have cable or a satellite connection, so I would have had to watch the debate on line, which would have been awkward.  But I knew that when I decided not to get cable.  I may look through the transcript, eventually.)
- 8:39 AM, 14 October 2015   [link]


Social Psychology Is A Mess:  Andrew Ferguson begins this longish article with the part of that mess that has drawn the most attention, recently.
On this August morning Science magazine had published a scandalous article.  The subject was the practice of behavioral psychology.  Behavioral psychology is a wellspring of modern journalism.  It is the source for most of those thrilling studies that keep reporters like Vedantam in business.

Over 270 researchers, working as the Reproducibility Project, had gathered 100 studies from three of the most prestigious journals in the field of social psychology.  Then they set about to redo the experiments and see if they could get the same results.  Mostly they used the materials and methods the original researchers had used.  Direct replications are seldom attempted in the social sciences, even though the ability to repeat an experiment and get the same findings is supposed to be a cornerstone of scientific knowledge.  It’s the way to separate real information from flukes and anomalies.

These 100 studies had cleared the highest hurdles that social science puts up. They had been edited, revised, reviewed by panels of peers, revised again, published, widely read, and taken by other social scientists as the starting point for further experiments. Except . . .

The researchers, Vedantam glumly told his NPR audience, “found something very disappointing.  Nearly two-thirds of the experiments did not replicate, meaning that scientists repeated these studies but could not obtain the results that were found by the original research team.”
(In the article, Ferguson switches back and forth between "social psychology" and "behavioral psychology".  I prefer the first.)

But the part of the mess that troubles me most is this:  There is good reason to think that fraud is common in social psychology.  Researchers in the field are, all too often, making stuff up.
The last three years have brought several well-publicized cases of prominent researchers simply making up data.   An anonymous poll four years ago showed that 15 percent of social psychologists admitted using questionable research practices, from overmassaging their data to fabricating it outright.  Thirty percent reported they had seen firsthand other researchers do the same.
And getting money from the taxpayers, more often than not, to commit that fraud.

You, on the other hand, may be troubled most by this:  These problems in social psychology are at least four decades old, and probably even older.  I knew about them in the late 1970s, and I am sure many others did, as well.  I recall reading an appendix in a book on methodology, where the author described a small experiment he had run, with the help of his graduate students.  They had written to a number, twenty or so as I recall, of researchers asking for copies of their raw data so the students could replicate the analyses in published papers.   A few sent the data, and the students found that they often could not repeat the analyses, but most of the researchers did not send their data, often giving absurd excuses for that failure.

Those unfamiliar with universities may wonder why university presidents have not tried to clean up these messes, on their own campuses.  Briefly, it's because departments have so much autonomy.  A president can often stop a department from doing something they want to do, but can rarely force them to do something against their will.  So pragmatic university presidents look for fights they can win.

(You may wonder whether other psychology fields have similar problems.  I would guess that some do, but that the size of the messes varies widely among the different fields.)
- 1:13 PM, 13 October 2015   [link]


John F. Kennedy Pretended To Like Classical Music:  It was a way of presenting himself to the public as an intelligent and classy sort of fellow.  He wasn't the only one who pretended; it was fairly common then for ambitious politicians to at least feign an appreciation of high culture.

But now the Obamas tell us — and it may be true — that they have rather low class tastes.

Low class, and politicized.  Whatever you may think of JFK's pretense, he didn't believe that everything had to be about politics.

(For the record:  My own taste in music is eclectic, to put it nicely; I like many kinds of music.  But I would never think that a good pop song was in the same class as, for instance, Beethoven's 5th, and I dislike most political message music, other than a few patriotic songs, even if I agree with the message.)
- 11:06 AM, 13 October 2015   [link]


He May Get High With A Little Help from his friend.
An SNP MP said that her Rastafarian boyfriend's civil liberties are being infringed because he cannot legally use cannabis.

Anne McLaughlin, the MP for North East Glasgow, said that the needs of Rastafarians should be taken into account when deciding future drugs policy.
. . .
'He's probably the only Rastafarian - oh I might get shot down in flames for this – who has never used cannabis.'
A Rastafarian member of the Scottish National Party who doesn't smoke pot.  I'm not sure which of those two seems the least likely.

Incidentally, McLaughlin's boyfriend, Graham Campbell, is now working for her, which is legal in the British parliament, but not in the Scottish parliament.  (Don't let the Scottish name fool you; he looks way more Rastafarian than Scottish.)
- 10:35 AM, 13 October 2015   [link]


If You Would Like To See More Than A Hundred Predictions On The Canadian Election, take a look at this post.   (And add your own prediction, if you like.)

You won't have to read many of them to notice that (1) they vary widely, and (2) many commenters want the Conservatives to win — but don't expect them to.

(If you know anything about military insignia, you'll get a chuckle out of this mistake.)
- 8:11 AM, 13 October 2015   [link]


Where To Advertise "Truth", the ironically-named movie where Robert Redford and company attempt to rehabilitate Dan Rather, attempt to show that the story about George W. Bush that got Rather and Mary Mapes fired was not false?

Suppose you were unscrupulous enough to take a job placing ads for that movie.  Where would put them?   You would want a news organization that attracts many viewers or readers who are still in the grip of "Bush Derangement Syndrome", viewers or readers who would believe almost any story attacking the former president, no matter how thoroughly it had been discredited.

In this area, the promoters have decided that those viewers can be found at our local PBS station, KCTS, where I have been seeing an ad* for the movie every day now, ever since it was released.  So far, I haven't seen the ad on any other TV stations.  (I assume there are ads running in the movie sections of the Seattle Times and our alternate newspapers, but haven't checked them to be sure.)

Viewers of KCTS should feel insulted by that ad, in my opinion.

(*Yes, I know, technically it isn't an ad — but no one who sees it would mistake it for a public service announcement.

And you might promote the movie with the help of the New York Times, if you thought our newspaper of record was less concerned with the truth than it ought to be.)
- 7:46 AM, 13 October 2015   [link]


One Week From Today, Canada Will Hold A General Election:  This Wikipedia article will serve as score card, if you need one.
The 2015 Canadian federal election (formally the 42nd Canadian general election) will be held on October 19, 2015 to elect members to the House of Commons of Canada.
. . .
The 2011 federal election resulted in the continuation of the incumbent Conservative government, headed by Stephen Harper while the New Democratic Party (NDP) became Official Opposition and the Liberal Party became the third party.  The Bloc Quebecois won four seats and the Green Party won one seat.
So, three national parties, a provincial party, and a minor Green Party.

The other four parties are to the left of the Conservatives but, because they were divided, Harper was able to win a majority in 2011, with just 39.62 percent of the popular vote.

Until a few days ago, I would have looked at this poll chart and said the popular vote trend favored the Conservatives.

2915 Canadian polls

(Here's a larger version of the chart.)

Now I am not so sure about that trend.

On the other hand, the polls in Canada tend to be less reliable than the polls here in the United States, and the betting sites, as you can see here and here, favor the Conservatives winning the most seats.  (But not necessarily a majority.)

I don't know enough to make even a tentative prediction, and haven't looked at the polls by ridings (as they call their districts), which would be necessary for any serious prediction.

For the United States, the best outcome would be another Conservative win — though President Obama, if he is paying any attention, would probably disagree with me on that.

I am unimpressed by the leaders of the two main opposition parties, Thomas Mulcair, because his party is too far left and he's too unscrupulous, and Justin Trudeau, because he seems to have no significant accomplishments, unless you consider being the son of a famous father an accomplishment.

I expect to be following the returns next Monday, and may even live blog it, if I have anything interesting to say then.

(Here's an example of just how bad polls can be in Canada.)
- 7:09 PM, 12 October 2015   [link]


Worth Reading:  This interview with Freeman Dyson.

This bit will probably draw the most attention:
Are climate models getting better?  You wrote how they have the most awful fudges, and they only really impress people who don't know about them.

I would say the opposite.  What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what's observed and what's predicted have become much stronger.  It's clear now the models are wrong, but it wasn't so clear 10 years ago.  I can't say if they'll always be wrong, but the observations are improving and so the models are becoming more verifiable.
But there's much more in the interview on other subjects, including Dyson's thoughts on interstellar travel and string theory.

(The Register calls him a boffin, a word from World War II that I've always liked.

Here's the usual Wikipedia biography, with more than the usual caveats, because of Dyson's views on climate change.)
- 1:48 PM, 12 October 2015   [link]


These Maps Show How The ISIS Attacks Spread over a year (29 June 2014 to 20 June 20 2015).

This may seem odd, but that spread reminds me of a cancer, metastasising.

And to change back to Obama's metaphor, I'd say they have proved they aren't "jayvees".

Unfortunately.
- 12:35 PM, 12 October 2015   [link]


Lions Have To Worry about what they eat, too.
- 10:37 AM, 12 October 2015   [link]


Happy Columbus Day!  (Or, if you are living in Seattle, Happy Indigenous People's Day.)

I was going to suggest you read this wonderful Columbus biography to celebrate the day, but then found that the Instapundit had beaten me to it.

(But I can add that there are many different editions of the biography, and that some have advantages that might be important to some readers.  This two-volume set is, I believe, a copy of the original, and thus would include material not found in the one-volume editions.  This 1942 edition is "Illustrated by Folding maps", which for some readers would be a big plus.)

Here's a post I wrote two years ago on what Columbus got right, and got wrong.

(Recycled from last year.)
- 10:18 AM, 12 October 2015   [link]


What Are The "Migrants' In Germany Doing Wrong?  You can find out from this list of do's and don't's a German mayor put up on his town's web site.

Sample:
The mayor of a small town in Germany has drawn up a bizarre set of rules for refugees housed in his community which include leaving toilets clean and not pinching fruit from orchards.

Mayor Volker Rohm, 55, also encourages the new settlers in Hardheim in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg to not open supermarket goods before paying for them, not to relieve themselves in public or to make a noise after 10.00pm at night.
The rules don't seem at all bizarre to me — and I am reasonably confident that nearly all of them were inspired by incidents in the town, or near by.

For what it's worth, before I travel to other countries, I always do a little bit of research on how people there expect everyone to behave.

(There are accounts that lead me to think the "migrants" are sometimes treating each other far worse than they treat Germans.)
- 9:43 AM, 11 October 2015   [link]


ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, Or Daesh:  What to call the terrorist organization?

I've chosen the first, since that is what most American news organizations use — and because it amuses me that, in English, Isis is the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess.
Isis (/ˈaɪsɪs/; Ancient Greek: Ἶσις IPA: [îː.sis]; original Egyptian pronunciation more likely "Aset" or "Iset"[1]) is a goddess from the polytheistic pantheon of Egypt. She was first worshiped in Ancient Egyptian religion, and later her worship spread throughout the Roman empire and the greater Greco-Roman world.  Isis is still widely worshiped by many pagans today in diverse religious contexts; including a number of distinct pagan religions, the modern Goddess movement, and interfaith organizations such as the Fellowship of Isis.
As you can see, she is depicted as an attractive woman.

ISIS

And not at all Islamic. (That's an ankh in her left hand, not a Christian cross, but it would look like a cross to most ISIS terrorists.)

(Could we use this accidental name similarity in our propaganda?  Probably not, but it's worth thinking about, since ISIS recruits would not be flattered to see themselves depicted as pagan women.)
- 7:23 AM, 11 October 2015   [link]


The Binge TV Sub-Channel:  When the digital sub-channels came along, I was intrigued by the strategic problem they posed for the existing TV stations.

To see that problem, begin with this uncomfortable fact:  Viewers are what are being sold by the commercial sub-channels.  They make money by attracting enough viewers to buy the products advertised on them to pay their costs, and a little more.

Because production costs are so high, the commercial stations in this area have chosen to re-broadcast old programs, some so old they are in black and white.  (One station (Q13) briefly experimented with a weather sub-channel, but gave it up.)

So, what kind of viewers would they want to attract with those old programs?  The very best would be viewers who didn't watch their own programs.  Otherwise, the stations would be competing with themselves.

Recently, an independent station in this area, KSTW, began broadcasting the Decades network on its sub-channel.

Decades has an interesting strategy; on weekends, they broadcast hour after hour of a single TV series.   This weekend, if i wanted to, I could binge on "Naked City"; on previous weekends I could have binged on "Lost in Space" or "That Girl".

I think it unlikely that these binges will cut much into their regular viewership, but am unsure whether they will attract enough other viewers to make them profitable.  I suppose if they keep doing it for a year or more, it will because they are making money, but can't go beyond that obvious point.

(Here's a problem for those who know more about the television business than I do:  What would have happened if the stations had been required to sell their sub-channels at open auction, when the system was established?  I suspect that at least one of those sub-channels would now be a direct competitor of the older stations, but I could be wrong about that.)
- 12:40 PM, 10 October 2015  [link]


"Hallucinatory"  That's how the New York Times describes President Obama's Syria war strategy, in today's lead editorial.
The Pentagon will stop putting rebel fighters through training in neighboring countries, a program that was designed to ensure that fighters were properly vetted before they could get their hands on American weapons and ammunition.   The new plan will simply funnel weapons through rebel leaders who are already in the fight and appear to be making some headway.

“Obviously, this is a different approach, where we’re going to be vetting leaders as opposed to each individual fighter,” said Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon’s chief of policy.

The initial plan was dubious.  The new one is hallucinatory, and it is being rolled out as the war enters a more perilous phase now that Russia has significantly stepped up its military support of Mr. Assad’s forces.
(Oddly, the editorial does not cite the "cooking" of intelligence on Syria, even though the Times has published some good articles on that scandal.)

Sadly, what the Times proposes — reliance on a diplomatic solution — seems equally hallucinatory.

Perhaps the editors should read Niall Ferguson's essay, "The Real Obama Doctrine", in this weekend's Wall Street Journal.  Professor Ferguson first confesses:
I have spent much of the past seven years trying to work out what Barack Obama’s strategy for the United States truly is.   For much of his presidency, as a distinguished general once remarked to me about the commander in chief’s strategy, “we had to infer it from speeches.”
And then tries to figure out that strategy from Obama's actions as president.  What Ferguson has to say is interesting, as he almost always is, but mistaken in my opinion.

Mistaken because Ferguson, along with many others, is looking for something that isn't there.  I concluded some time ago that Obama doesn't have a foreign policy strategy.

Once you come to that conclusion, you expect Obama's plans to be incoherent, expect his plans to have no rational relationship between ends and means.  Obama isn't playing chess; he's just posing by the board, and from time to time moving a piece, in order to give the cameraman a new shot.
- 8:02 AM, 10 October 2015   [link]


Another Obama Visit, Another Traffic Mess:  Here's President Obama's schedule for today.  You don't have to know a lot about the Seattle area's traffic problems to recognize that it is timed, almost perfectly, to disrupt afternoon and evening traffic for much of this area.

Was the timing deliberate?  This has happened so often that I am inclined to think it is, that Obama, or someone on his staff, enjoys messing up commutes for all those Seattle-area working folks.  Note that San Francisco is treated much better, as it often is on Obama's trips to the West.

Or, take a look at that schedule and see if you could arrange one that doesn't hit rush hours in Seattle and San Francisco.  (It's not a difficult problem.)

But perhaps that's too conspiratorial for you.  At the very least, you'll have to concede that whoever is choosing the timing of these flights and motorcades does not care about the delays they cause ordinary people.

(That's unusual for a politician, most of whom prefer not to annoy voters, if they can avoid it.)

For what it's worth, people in this area seem to have had about enough of these presidential visits.   President Xi's visit seems to have been a breaking point, for many.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(One of my friends had a brilliant suggestion:  Obama should have planned to use our light rail, rather than a motorcade, to get to and from the airport.)
- 4:07 PM, 9 October 2015   [link]


Is Whole Milk Good For You?  Well, it certainly is when you are very young — but the United States has been recommending against it, for years, based on what seemed to be sound, if incomplete, research.

Now many researchers have changed their minds, as evidence accumulated that a blanket recommendation to avoid the saturated fats found in milk (and many other foods) was mistaken.

In this thoughtful article, Peter Whoriskey explains how the original recommendations came to be, and why many scientists now think they were wrong.  Here's the single piece of research that I found most impressive.
One of the flaws of nutrition studies is that they rely on people to accurately recall what they’ve eaten over the course of a year.  Those recollections are vulnerable to inaccuracy, especially for dairy fats which can be found in small amounts in many different foods.  This inaccuracy may be one of the reasons studies have yielded contrary results on the link between milk and heart disease.

To improve estimates, [Marcia] Otto and [Dariush] Mozaffarian used a blood sample for each of more than 2,800 U.S. adults.  Using the blood sample, they could detect how much dairy fats each had consumed.   And over the eight-year follow up period, those who had consumed the most dairy fat were far less likely to develop heart disease compared to those who had consumed the least.
(If you are like me, you would really like to see a number instead of that "far less".)

In my continuing puzzlement over what to eat, I have sometimes wished that one of the more, uh, forceful government in the world, China for instance, would do the kind of experiments on parts of their populations that we do on lab rats, experiments that randomly assigned people to completely controlled diets, and then followed them until they died.  That's wrong, I know, but such experiments could settle many open scientific questions.

But, now that studies like that one by Otto and Mozaffarian can be done, I see less need for such Chinese studies.

And I suppose I should add that I think we will find, more and more, that what kinds of foods you should eat will depend on your genes, that what is healthy for one population may not be for another.

(Some vitamins are soluble in water, others in fat.  Could the fat in whole milk be especially good at dissolving vitamins, so the body can use them?  That's just a speculation, but it seems like a reasonable one, to me.

For the record:  Some years ago, after I developed lactose intolerance, I switched form low=fat milk to soy milk.  When the producers of soy milk began touting its freedom from genetically modified ingredients., I switched to the lactose-free low-fat milk.  A few months ago, thinking it might taste better, I switched to lactose-free whole milk.  I may have been right to do so, accidentally.)
- 9:49 AM, 9 October 2015   [link]


Corbyn's Dilemma:  The new leader of Britain's Labour Party is a life-long republican; he believes the British monarchy should be abolished.  (Without, I assume, the bloody ceremony that occurred the last time England abolished its monarchy.)  As leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, Corbyn has been appointed to the Privy Council.

And the Privy Council has a little ceremony that Corbyn might find awkward.
Mr Corbyn, who is a longstanding republican and does not believe in a hereditary monarchy, has suggested he would like to dispense with the pageantry involved, triggering speculation as to whether he would be willing to kneel before the Queen, as is traditional in the swearing-in ceremony.

The ceremony, which is held in private, concludes with the new member kissing the hand of The Queen.   Those wishing to join the Privy Council must also take a lengthy, binding oath dating back to Tudor times.

This obliges them to be a "true and faithful servant" to the Crown, to "bear faith and allegiance" to the monarch's "majesty" and to "keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council".
(The BBC article includes the entire oath, if you are curious.)

So far, Corbyn has avoided the dilemma by going on vacation (which annoyed the Daily Mail), but at some time he will either have to take the oath, kneel, and kiss her hand — or declare that he won't compromise his beliefs.

Whichever happens, it will be entertaining, though less so for those who live in Britain.

(I have no idea what happens, legally, if he refuses to take that oath.  Could he attend the meetings anyway, even if he isn't a member of the Council?  The British are practical folks, so perhaps they'll be able to work something out, though I must admit I can't see any obvious compromise.

Fun fact:  The British Cabinet, which actually runs the country is, formally, a committee of the Privy Council.)
- 7:41 AM, 9 October 2015   [link]