April 2010, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Buying: Eric Lacitis's article on one of the installations in the Very Long Baseline Array.
Just in case you are not familiar with the VLBA, here's a brief description:
Lacitis describes one of those antennas, and the men who operate it, beginning with these two paragraphs:
Accompanying the article is a brief video showing the antenna.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:36 PM, 30 April 2010 [link]
Need A Scorecard For The British Election Next Thursday? Iain Murray provides one. Two samples:
The third party is the Liberal Democrats, who on occasion act like liberal Democrats, and at other times act like libertarians. Their inability to decide whether they are a party of the statist Left or the free-market Right results in their being thought of as woolly centrists, when, in truth, they have very few centrist policies. This schizophrenia is the result of their being a hybrid party. Once known as the Social Democrat-Liberal Alliance, they are made up of (a) former Labour-party supporters who left the party at its most left-wing ebb in the 1980s and (b) the rump of the once-mighty Liberal party, which championed free trade, free markets, and social liberalism in the 19th century. Their current leader, Nick Clegg, has championed market liberalization within the European Union, but has been unable to put this distinctively liberal stamp on his party.(In Britain, unlike the United States, most of the sex scandals occur in the more conservative party. The most famous is the Profumo Affair, but there have been many others.
Labour, like the Democrats in the United States, has more of the financial scandals.)
- 9:23 AM, 30 April 2010 [link]
Mary Eberstadt Calls the HBO movie on Jack Kevorkian an "exercise in moral Botox". According to Eberstadt, HBO left out most of the interesting — and exceedingly creepy — details about Jack Kevorkian.
Thanks in part to the work of bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, we do indeed know plenty already about the doctor who might better be called Peeping Jack - more, in fact, than some readers will be able to stomach, even in a brief telling. As a medical student, he stalked corridors and entered rooms to watch people die. He next stalked prisons performing executions, repeatedly seeking the bodies of the condemned for experimentation -- a craving that led ultimately to his being ousted from residency in 1958.Eberstadt believes that the movie's producers left out these interesting details because they would not support a "progressive" narrative. If she is right — and I have no reason to believe that she isn't — HBO's documentary is actually a "documentary", and a much less interesting movie than it could have been.
- 8:32 AM, 30 April 2010 [link]
Who Will Win The British Election? There are two answers to that question, according to the bettors at InTrade.
As I write, they are giving the Conservatives more an 82 percent chance of winning the most seats in Parliament — but less than a 37 percent chance of winning an outright majority of seats.
What would happen if the bettors are right about both? It would depend on how many seats the Conservatives won. If they were just a few seats short of an absolute majority, they would almost certainly form a minority government. If they were many seats short, there are many possibilities, including a variety of coalition governments.
- 1:53 PM, 29 April 2010 [link]
Prime Minister Brown Committed A Kinsley Gaffe: He said what he believed, not realizing his microphone was still on.
The Prime Minister spent a full three-quarters of an hour at Gillian Duffy's terraced home to apologise for unguarded comments caught on a radio microphone that he had forgotten to remove.For Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the leftwing Guardian, the incident shows Brown in character.
Brown's problem is that this episode shows him acting not out of character, but entirely in it. It will be rightly taken as evidence of the less attractive dimensions of his personality. Note that it happens because he stresses over the trivial and becomes infuriated by anything or anybody that disturbs his idea of himself as a man in iron control. Mrs Duffy was far from the most tricky customer ever to confront a politician. In fact, he dealt with the initial encounter reasonably well. She even said she was going to vote Labour. Calling it "a disaster" was an over-reaction to a fairly humdrum moment on the campaign trail.It also shows contempt for an ordinary voter with politically incorrect views, a contempt common among leftist politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
(The Telegraph, which is delighted by the incident, has a whole set of videos for those who want to relive it. The Independent, which has not given up hope, says Brown's gaffe was a lapse, not a catastrophe.
If Brown does lose, he may take some solace in this prediction. Whichever party wins faces terrible budget choices.)
- 1:40 PM, 29 April 2010 [link]
Elizabeth Chang Thinks President Obama Should Have Told The Truth When He Filled Out His Census Form: Though she doesn't put it that directly.
Although I knew Obama self-identifies as African American, I was disappointed when I read that that's what he checked on his census form. The federal government, finally heeding the desires of multiracial people to be able to accurately define themselves, had changed the rules in 2000, so he could have also checked white. Or he could have checked "some other race." Instead, Obama went with black alone.She's putting it as gently as she can, but she can't avoid that last "disingenuous". Obama should have told the whole truth on his census form — and didn't.
(Of course we all know why Obama made that choice. If he had told the whole truth, he would have offended many in his black-voter base. And, who knows, he may think of himself as black; that's delusional but understandable, I suppose.
For the record, I think that Obama is uncomfortable with most people, including most blacks. His skill at posing disguises that, but I can't imagine him actually listening to very many voters.)
- 1:05 PM, 29 April 2010 [link]
Al Gore's Carbon Footprint gets even bigger.
The couple spent $8,875,000 on an ocean-view villa [in Montecito] on 1.5 acres with a swimming pool, spa and fountains, a real estate source familiar with the deal confirms. The Italian-style house has six fireplaces, five bedrooms and nine bathrooms.The climate is mild in Montecito, so the Gore family probably won't have big heating bills, but a house that large almost has to be an energy hog. And I don't think they will use the 1.5 acres to grow their own food.
- 8:21 AM, 29 April 2010 [link]
New York State Has Severe Fiscal Problems: But I don't think they have to go this far: "Proposal: All New Yorkers Become Organ Donors"
(Yes, I know. A state legislator is just proposing that they switch to opt-out rather than opt-in — but that isn't what the headline says.)
- 8:01 AM, 29 April 2010 [link]
David Brooks On Financial "Reform" Greg Mankiw likes this sentence:
The premise of the current financial regulatory reform is that the establishment missed the last bubble and, therefore, more power should be vested in the establishment to foresee and prevent the next one.And so do I.
(Mankiw would probably like it even if Brooks hadn't just given him a plug:
The second big event in Washington this week is the jostling over a financial reform bill. One might have thought that one of the lessons of this episode was that establishments are prone to groupthink, and that it would be smart to decentralize authority in order to head off future bubbles.Some time, I will have to do a more formal discussion of the well-known problems with regulatory bureaucracies, but not today. If you want a hint about those problems, just Google "SEC + porn".)
- 7:41 AM, 29 April 2010 [link]
Channel 13 Misses The Third Alternative: This morning, our local Fox affiliate is running this poll.
The poll offers just two choices, yes and no.
But as any decent pollster could tell you, there are three alternatives. To ask the question properly, you have to re-phrase it.
A first cut might go something like this: Does this law make it more likely that you will travel to Arizona, less likely, or does it make no difference?
Whoever wrote the question at KCPQ apparently did not realize that Arizona's new law is quite popular in that state. I haven't seen any polls on the law in this area, but I would expect that many here would like it, too, that many would find it a positive reason to visit Arizona.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Since I like to help news organizations, I will offer the station another poll, with a parallel question: Some cities, including Seattle, offer "sanctuaries" to illegal immigrants. Would you be more likely to visit a "sanctuary" city, less likely, or would it make no difference?To ask KCPQ's question properly for a real poll, you would have to rewrite the whole thing, adding some information about Arizona's new law. A professional pollster would probably study other polls to get some idea about what the public knows about immigration and the problems in Arizona, before writing that introduction.)
- 7:01 AM, 29 April 2010 [link]
Laura Bush Speaks Out: (Okay, technically she wrote, most likely with the help of a ghost writer, but you know what I mean.)
And she has some interesting things to say, and some scores to settle.
On several occasions in the book, Mrs. Bush admonishes her husband's political adversaries for "calling him names," and she pointedly rebuts criticism of some of his key decisions. She suggested that his highly criticized fly-over of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was in the best interests of the victims and aid workers on the ground.There are probably a few journalists who objected to the personal attacks on Bush then and object to the personal attacks on Obama now, but you would have to search a while before you found them.
- 2:06 PM, 28 April 2010 [link]
Obama And His Administration Treat Reporters Badly: That isn't new news, but the extensive reporting in this Politico article shows just how bad the problem is.
Reporters say the White House is thin-skinned, controlling, eager to go over their heads and stingy with even basic information. All White Houses try to control the message. But this White House has pledged to be more open than its predecessors, and reporters feel it doesn't live up to that pledge in several key areas:So far, that contentious relationship with reporters does not seem to have done much damage to their coverage, judging by what I see in the newspapers and on TV. And I think the White House has worked very hard to have a good relationships with TV anchors (other than those at Fox, of course). But in the long run, this contentious relationship with White House reporters is likely to hurt the administration.
As supportive as most reporters are of the Democrats' agenda, they are still professionals, and they are mostly men and women who do not take this kind of disrespect lightly.
It is hard to know what Obama and Gibbs think they might gain from this behavior. Perhaps they think they can get away with following Chicago rules in national politics.
- 1:38 PM, 28 April 2010 [link]
A Very Iowa protest.
Ottumwa, Ia. — A crowd of about 200 people gathered Monday evening at a rally to voice opposition to President Barack Obama's Iowa visit - but they wanted to be polite about it.I mention this small protest not because it is unusual for Iowa, but because it is typical. And because I want to add that this kind of protest is more likely to win support than making the same arguments in a nastier way.
(In my experience, Iowans are some of the nicest people in the United States, on the average. That's why I worry when an Iowan becomes a diplomat sent to deal with a nasty regime or regimes. If you need an example to understand my thinking on this subject, consider the career of Henry A. Wallace who was wrong about the Soviet Union, but honest enough to admit it, eventually.)
- 8:02 AM, 28 April 2010 [link]
Immigration "Reform" As A Political Strategy: The Hill explains Harry Reid's thinking.
An aggressive and polarizing push for comprehensive immigration reform could bolster the chances of vulnerable House Democrats who need a high Latino turnout to keep their seats this fall.In general, I think this strategy is nuts, but it could work in a few districts. (One thing the article does not mention: Polls show that "Latino", or to be more honest, Mexican-American, voters are not united in support of more illegal immigration, or amnesty.)
The strategy is especially unlikely to work in an off-year election, where turnout of minority voters is typically lower.
- 7:18 AM, 28 April 2010 [link]
Another Obama-Pelosi-Reid Stimulus Failure: The headline on this New York Times article says the tax credit for home purchases was a success, but to believe that, you have to ignore the details, or be an awfully easy grader.
The program is inefficient:
Though the Treasury Department and the real estate industry have termed the program a success, helping 1.8 million people buy homes, many tax policy experts say it has been singularly cost-ineffective: most of the $12.6 billion in credits through end of February was collected by people who would have bought homes anyway or who in some cases were not even eligible.The program was wide open to fraud, almost as if by design:
But the program was open to widespread misuse. The first two phases of the credit did not require taxpayers to prove that they had actually bought a house. The Treasury's inspector general found in October 2009 that the I.R.S. had allowed $139 million in credits to people who had not yet bought homes, and $479 million to taxpayers who were not first-time buyers.So open to fraud that it must have tempted some ordinarily honest people to cheat on their taxes.
(Incidentally, isn't it amazing to see the IRS resisting requiring that proof? Most likely that was a decision made by political appointees, since the bureaucrats at the IRS usually like to see proof of a taxpayer's claim for a big credit.)
- 7:40 PM, 27 April 2010 [link]
Today, Michael Ramirez explains why corporate hiring may be slow for some time.
(Incidentally, I think that Ramirez has figured out how to draw Obama almost perfectly.)
- 4:25 PM, 27 April 2010 [link]
Will PowerPoint Cost Us Victory In The Afghan War? Take a look at this by-now infamous slide, and you will see why some are making that argument — and why they are only partly joking when they make it.
When he saw the slide, General McChrystal had a partly reassuring reaction.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.Partly because one of his officers, or some civilian staffer, did show him that slide.
(The New York Times actually put a copyright notice on the image, which is pretty outrageous, since they just copied a slide from the government.)
- 2:06 PM, 27 April 2010 [link]
Why Did Goldman Sachs Employees Give Barack Obama A Million Dollars In Campaign Contributions? I've been wondering about that question for some time, and have come up with some possible answers.
Most of those employees must have had high enough incomes so that they knew that they were likely to pay more in income taxes, if Obama was elected. (That's one promise I expect him to keep.)
So I am willing to exclude simple self interest as a motive for those contributions to the Obama campaign.
Here are some possible explanations, listed from best to worst:
I don't have any idea which of those five may have been the most important. If you do, or if you just want to guess, let me know what you think explains all those Goldman Sachs contributions.
And it would be fascinating to know how many of those contributors have had regrets since Obama's election.
(Goldman Sachs wasn't alone in backing Obama; the finance and insurance industries gave him almost 40 million in campaign contributions.
- 1:41 PM, 27 April 2010 [link]
NPR And NYT Say Obama Is Wrong On Future Bailouts: Tom Bevan credits the two news organizations for catching another bogus Obama claim — and debits Obama for more demagoguery.
The bottom line is that Obama's habit of declaring opposing viewpoints as outside the bounds of legitimate discourse doesn't serve the country or the President well at all. It is exceedingly divisive, poisons serious bipartisan debate and won't help the President's credibility and moral authority in the long run.Did George W. Bush ever say his opponents' arguments were "illegitimate"? Not that I recall, but Obama does it all the time.
- 7:51 AM, 27 April 2010 [link]
The Dinosaurs Just Took A Long Time To Die? The Telegraph passes on another theory about dinosaur extinction, but gets a little confused with dates.
While studying fossils and minerals from the Arctic Svalbard, Norway, they concluded the sudden change in the Atlantic Gulf Stream during the Cretaceous period would almost certainly have wiped out the ''abundance'' of the world's dinosaurs.Sounds plausible, and, in fact, it's just the revival of an old theory that once had considerable support.
Except, the fossils the scientific team studied were from 137 million years ago, as the paragraph just before those three tells us.
So the sharp fall in temperatures the team found could not have wiped out the dinosaurs — unless they took 72 million years to realize that they were extinct after that cold snap.
The press release from Plymouth University is less confusing than the Telegraph article, but is still not a model of clarity.
As I understand it, the team found strong evidence of a sharp drop in temperatures 137 million years ago, a drop that made a northern land less hospitable to dinosaurs.
I don't understand how anyone gets from there to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In fact, if anything, this new evidence would seem to argue against a climate change theory of dinosaur extinction since we now know that they survived such a change early in the Cretaceous, and flourished for millions of years after that cold snap. I'll have to look for another article on the study, I suppose, just to satisfy my curiosity
(Some of the commenters at Watts suspect that the scientists are linking this event, 137 million years ago, to global warming in order to get more attention.)
- 7:23 AM, 27 April 2010 [link]
California, China, And Rare Earth Mines: Not that long ago, the United States produced most of the rare earths (and did most of the research into new uses for these elements). Now, China has a near monopoly on the production of most of them.
It isn't hard to understand how China gained that monopoly; they ignored the damage to the environment that their mines caused, and underbid everyone else. Now they are talking about working "upstream" and limiting the export of some rare earths so that they can monopolize industrial production of devices that require them. (And there are more of those than you might guess.)
The rest of the world is beginning to react, and beginning to think about finding new mines, and re-opening old ones.
This discouraging New York Times article shows why that will be hard for most Western nations.
Molycorp once operated an enormous rare earths mine in California, and is planning to reopen it.
The chasm, in Mountain Pass, Calif., used to be the world's main mine for rare earth elements — minerals crucial to military hardware and the latest wind turbines and hybrid gasoline-electric cars. Molycorp Minerals, which owns the mine, announced on Monday that it had registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering to help raise the nearly $500 million needed to reopen and expand the mine.But the reasons the mine closed show some of the obstacles that Molycorp faces:
The Mountain Pass mine shut down in 2002, even as researchers elsewhere were perfecting a welter of green energy applications for rare earth elements. The mine closed because China's production costs were lower, because a mine pipeline leaked faintly radioactive water in a nearby desert and because state regulators delayed renewal of its operating permit.(Emphasis added.)
In other words, California regulators helped ship jobs — very high paying jobs, probably, off to China.
And the regulators probably had the backing of most Californians. Miners may have built California, originally, but they are now vastly outnumbered by Californians who are in the grip of Green superstition. And one of the most common tenets of that creed is that mines are evil.
(After World War II, the United States took mineral shortages so seriously that we built stockpiles of strategic minerals. No doubt those programs had waste and, probably, abuses, but they weren't based on completely false ideas.
For background, see my earlier posts here and here)
- 4:46 PM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Good News On Cancer, Maybe: A Seattle company, Dendreon, may have a treatment for prostate cancer, that uses a patient's immune system.
A decision is due this week on Dendreon's application to bring the country's first cancer-treatment vaccine to market.Provenge isn't a vaccine in the usual sense of the word; it would not prevent prostate cancer, but would treat it.
As of now, assuming Provenge does help some patients, I see it as more a proof of principle than a magical cure.
- 1:17 PM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Good News From SurveyUSA On Senator Murray: (Unless you are a "mainstream" journalist, in which case you may find this distressing, or even threatening.)
Here's the lead paragraph from the SurveyUSA press release.
(No one, including Rossi as far as I can tell, knows whether he will run.)
The race has national implications. It is unlikely that Republicans will recapture control of the Senate, but, if they do, they will have to win two or three races like this one.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(Those who are not familiar with Senator Murray may want to read this post. In recent years, local journalists have given her an extraordinary degree of protection, even objecting to a commercial, which quoted her accurately, in context — a commercial that showed that Murray simply is not qualified to be a US senator.This post at Pollster.com has some interesting, and one or two instructive, comments.
- 9:35 AM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Worth Reading: Ross Douthat on South Park.
Across 14 on-air years, there's no icon "South Park hasn't trampled, no vein of shock-comedy (sexual, scatalogical, blasphemous) it hasn't mined. In a less jaded era, its creators would have been the rightful heirs of Oscar Wilde or Lenny Bruce — taking frequent risks to fillet the culture's sacred cows.It is oddly refreshing to see "decadence" used, without irony, in the New York Times.
(Credit where due: Last night, The Simpsons gave South Park a little support.)
- 8:54 AM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Does The Election In November Look Threatening Or Promising? That depends, right now, on whether you are a Republican or Democrat. So it isn't hard to guess the political affiliation of the New York Times editor who wrote this headline: "Democrats' Long-Held Seats Face G.O.P. Threat"
And it isn't hard to guess the political affiliation of Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney, the reporters who wrote the article. They begin with these two paragraphs:
Representative David R. Obey has won 21 straight races, easily prevailing through wars and economic crises that have spanned presidencies from Nixon's to Obama's. Yet the discontent with Washington surging through politics is now threatening not only his seat but also Democratic control of Congress.But you shouldn't let the open bias prevent you from reading the article on Republican Sean Duffy's challenge to Obey, or from looking at the interactive map of the Senate contests.
(It is possible to write headlines and articles neutrally, so that a reader can not guess immediately which party the editor and reporters belong to. Possible, but tricky, because it is more natural to describe any conflict from one team's side, rather than from a referee's point of view. And I have to admit that it is more difficult to make the writing interesting if you take the referee's point of view.
Here's another example of this "mainstream" journalistic bias from John Hinderaker)
- 7:09 AM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Funny And Inappropriate: Nathan Guttman wonders whether a Jewish joke told by National Security Adviser James L. Jones was funny or inappropriate. Having read an account of the joke, I can tell you that it is mildly funny — and inappropriate. (You can see video of the joke here.)
Inappropriate because Jones is not Jewish, and because he is speaking as a public official, in public. (Jones could have modified the joke, making it about a clever Afghan merchant, and it would have worked, beautifully.)
(Isaac Asimov has a good discussion of all those joke-telling problems in his Treasury of Humor, which includes a section of Jewish jokes. I would tell some of his Jewish jokes directly, to the right audience, and some indirectly, ascribing them to Asimov. Some, like the "rococo" joke, I would adapt, because there is nothing inherently Jewish about them. Some of the jokes I can't tell, because I can't do the accents they require. And few I wouldn't tell, because I don't think they are funny.)
- 6:29 AM, 26 April 2010 [link]
Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Chicago: Crime has gotten so bad that some Democrats want help from the National Guard.
Two state representatives called on Gov. Pat Quinn Sunday to deploy the Illinois National Guard to safeguard Chicago's streets.It would be unfair, of course, to blame Obama for the high level of murders in his adopted city. But it is fair to note that he did little or nothing to control crime while he was living in Chicago.
- 7:48 PM, 25 April 2010 [link]
Today's Mt. Rainier "Now" Cast: Today, I was planning to go down to Mt. Rainier — if the weather was good for skiing and for photography. So this morning I checked the web cams down there from time to time to time, and was able to see that the weather for skiing would be good, but the weather for photography wouldn't be.
This picture, taken this afternoon, shows pretty much the same thing that I saw this morning.
The "now" cast, as I like to call it, saved me from making a mostly wasted trip. (And to be honest, I have chores to do that are, or should be, higher priority than another trip to the mountain.)
I am still learning to use web cams for planning, but have already found them remarkably valuable, especially when combined with other sources of information.
- 3:13 PM, 25 April 2010 [link]
Why Are The Obamas Vacationing In North Carolina? The Telegraph explains.
The Obamas spent their holidays last year in Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island beloved of millionaire businessmen and celebrities.(But he won't give back their campaign contributions, so they shouldn't feel slighted.)
This vacation will remind many of Bill Clinton's camping trip, which he took after Dick Morris showed him that it polled well. (Clinton hated it.)
(Thomas Lifson is unhappy because the Obamas immediately ate at a barbecue place after getting to North Carolina. I like that, because it added a brief touch of authenticity to the show. I am pretty sure the Obamas ate barbecue because they wanted to eat barbecue. As I would, were I in North Carolina.)
- 6:31 AM, 25 April 2010 [link]