April 2016, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Some Democrats, Especially In Michigan, Are Calling For President Obama To Resign:  Indirectly, indirectly.  (And I am reasonably certain that few, if any, realize that's the logical implication of their argument.)

As you know, Flint, Michigan has a little problem with lead in their water supply.  Two bureaucracies, the federal Environment Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, are responsible for keeping pollutants out of that water.  Both were informed about the lead problem; neither reacted as clearly and quickly as they should have.

Some Democrats believe that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) failed to supervise the DEQ adequately, and for that he should resign.

By the same logic, the man who should have been supervising the EPA more closely, President Barack Obama (D), should also resign.  And that's without even considering the little problem on the Animas River.

(Dan Wyant, the DEQ director, did resign; Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, has not.)
- 1:24 PM, 15 April 2016   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (24):  Murders are soaring in Chicago.
Chicago has long been troubled by violence, but homicides and shootings have risen sharply this year.  Violent crime remains below the levels of two decades ago, and criminologists caution against finding trends in only a few months of data.  But City Hall, the police and community leaders are alarmed by the surge:  As of Friday, 131 people had been killed here in the first months of 2016, an 84 percent rise in homicides from the same period in 2015.  There had been 605 shootings, nearly twice as many as at this point last year.
The article discusses, at some length, possible causes for these increases.  Many of them may be true, in part.  It is entirely possible, for instance, that some racist police have made it harder to catch and convict the bad guys — and that the "Ferguson effect" is causing police to back off from aggressive policing.

What you will not find in the article is any discussion of the possibility that the nation's three most prominent Chicago politicians: Valerie Jarrett (D), Rahm Emanuel (D), and Barack Obama (D), might not have done what they should have done to reduce those soaring murder numbers.  Or even that some of their policies may have, unintentionally no doubt, increased those numbers.

(The article is not as careful with historical comparisons as it should be.  Chicago's population has been declining; it is down about 20 percent since 1970, so you would expect the murder numbers to have declined proportionately, everything else being equal.

Here's the post I did in 2013 on the same subject.)
- 10:47 AM, 15 April 2016   [link]

"NASA Really Is Trying to Grow Potatoes on Mars"  It's not just a movie.
Researchers at the Lima-based International Potato Center and scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are studying which type of potato could be best suited for extraterrestrial farming to support a human settlement on Mars.   If everything goes as planned, the Martian colonies could be munching on french fries, chips and mashed potatoes one day.

“It’s got to be a Martian potato that tastes good,” Julio Valdivia-Silva, a Peruvian astrobiologist with NASA, said while surveying the reddish-brown desert on a trip to collect soil.  “It’s a big challenge to take a living organism somewhere else.   We’ve never done this before.”
Potatoes, and other green plants, also produce, as a waste product, the oxygen we need.

(I've read the book, but haven't seen the movie.  I'd recommend the book to anyone who wants to read about how a resoucrceful man might solve a series of engineering problems on Mars.)
- 8:07 AM, 15 April 2016   [link]

Two Political Cartoons To Start Your Day:  One that you may not want to share with Trump supporters.

And another that almost everyone will enjoy.    In fact, if there were such a video, I'd be tempted to buy it.

(The New Yorker is, shall we say, reluctant, to run cartoons mocking certain political and religious figures, however much they may deserve mocking.   I suppose that way they keep most of their readers happy — and leave space for others.)
- 7:37 AM, 15 April 2016   [link]

Those Laser-Propelled Starships May Be A Good Idea:   But they aren't a new idea.

First, just in case you missed it, the idea:
Breakthrough Starshot will fund the development of a light-propelled nanocraft -- a spaceship just a few grams in size that would fly through space like ships in the sea, with sails pushed by the physical force of light particles instead of by wind.  Its destination will be Alpha Centauri, our closest neighboring star system.  Once there, it could try to sense habitable conditions -- or even life -- on the planets.
Using lasers to power starships has one great advantage:  The fuel does not need to be carried on the ship, which allows the ship to reach nearby stars in decades, rather than millennia.  (You could also achieve those speeds by using anti-matter as fuel, which may be possible, some day.)

I am not sure just how long the idea has been around, but Larry Niven mentioned it in A World Out Of Time, which was first published forty years ago.

(Wondering how this might work with larger ships?  One idea would be to put solar power collectors close to the Sun, and use them to power big lasers, lasers big enough to push a ship carrying crew and passengers.

As I recall, braking was trickier.  You can't just stick out your foot to slow down when you are traveling at, for instance, 1/10 the speed of light (18,628.2 miles per second).   Even then, there were schemes for braking, since most of the time you want to go to, not just through, a star system.)
- 3:17 PM, 14 April 2016   [link]

What Does Les Moonves Think Of Donald Trump?  The CBS chairman is of two minds about the Republican front runner; as a man who generally supports leftists, he's opposed to Trump, and thinks he would be bad for the country, but as the chairman of CBS he's delighted by all the money Trump is bringing his network.

So which of the two, patriotism or profit, is more important to Moonves?   Profit.

Which isn't terribly surprising, but it is a little surprising to see how frank he has been about his willingness to give Trump TV time, even if that hurts America.

In the article, "Donald Trump Is Making the Mainstream Media Richer and More Powerful", Matthew Continetti asks:
Over the course of the last year, Donald Trump has benefited enormously from the selfishness of many individuals and institutions, and from the willingness of voters and candidates and media personalities to put the potential of short-term reward ahead of long-term danger.  The con has become so complicated that it is becoming hard to sort out.  Who is playing whom?
Is Trump playing Moonves, or Moonves playing Trump?

Or are the two of them in a weird alliance, both profiting at the expense of the nation?

(It isn't hard to see how both could profit.  Suppose that Moonves wants Hillary to be president, and that Trump wants, above all, more attention.  Then Trump's run, disastrous for the Republican Party and damaging to the nation, could give both what they want.)
- 2:26 PM, 14 April 2016   [link]

When I Heard That A German Comedian Had Offended Turkish President Erdogan With A Joke, I naturally wanted to know the joke.   (And why that particular joke offended Erdogan.)

Well, it wasn't a joke, it was a poem, and it is causing serious problems between Turkey and Germany.
A German comic has been placed under police protection after he insulted the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan with a crude poem prompting the government in Ankara to seek the funny-man's arrest.

Jan Boehermann read a poem on ZDF on March 31 which linked the hard-line Turkish president with bestiality and the suppression of Kurdish and Christian minorities, prompting an international row.

Turkish officials contacted Angela Merkel's government demanding action against Boehmermann, demanding they prosecute the comedian for insulting a head of state.
Which is against the law in Germany, and some other European countries.  But those laws are rarely enforced.

It isn't clear to me whether Erdogan understands that he is promoting the poem, which by now must be available, in translation, all over Turkey.

Perhaps he thinks punishing one will deter others.  But many nations, including the United States, don't have such laws.

(Warning:  The link that follows may not be safe for work, and is certainly inappropriate for sprogs.

Still curious?  I found this, which claims to be a translation of the sketch, including the poem.  The poem was intended to be crude and abusive, and succeeded in that.  Few will find it funny.)
- 9:27 AM, 14 April 2016   [link]

Basketball Players Will Like yesterday's New Yorker cartoon.

(I'm not so sure about lawyers.)
- 8:25 AM, 14 April 2016   [link]

Need A "Rough Guide" To Donald Trump's Scandals?   David Graham has provided one.
The 2016 presidential election could be the most scandal-plagued match-up since James Blaine’s allegedly corrupt business deals squared off against Grover Cleveland’s alleged illegitimate child in 1884.  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is poised to win the nomination, bringing with her a train-car’s worth of baggage.   But the Republican front-runner is at least as saddled with controversy as Clinton is—and while many of the Clinton cases involve suspicion and shadowy links, many of Trump’s are fully documented in court cases and legal proceedings.

The breadth of Trump’s controversies is truly yuge, ranging from allegations of mafia ties to unscrupulous business dealings, and from racial discrimination to alleged marital rape.  The stretch over more than four decades, from the mid-1970s to the present day.  To catalogue the full sweep of allegations would require thousands of words and lump together the trivial with the truly scandalous. Including business deals that have simply failed, without any hint of impropriety, would require thousands more. This is a snapshot of some of the most interesting and largest of those scandals.
It's an impressive list, and, by now, we should all be open to the possibility that there are more Trump scandals that haven't received publicity — yet.

Here's a sobering thought from a late, great political scientist:   "V. O. Key said of voters, ‘when given a choice of scoundrels they will likely pick one.’"

(A few of the Trump scandals were new to me.  My favorite is still his father buying all those casino chips.).
- 2:39 PM, 13 April 2016   [link]

"Archaeology Speak" And That Viking Site In Newfoundland:  You probably heard at least a passing story about the Viking site discovered in Newfoundland.
A team of archaeologists say they’ve made a potentially “seismic” discovery in Canada that could “rewrite the history of Vikings in the New World” — and they did it with the help of medieval sagas and the latest satellite technology.

Medieval sagas, considered to be masterpieces of literature from the Middle Ages, capture the stories of the intrepid Vikings — the master seafarers and warriors who, starting around the 8th century, ventured beyond their Scandinavian homelands to raid and trade in foreign lands.
When I heard these extravagant claims, I was immediately reminded of what Colin McEvedy said about "archaeology speak", the tendency of archaeologists to inflate the importance of every finding.

He gave four examples, including this one:  "History will have to be rewritten"

Which, McEvedy says, you should translate into something like this:  "Confirms an existing footnote in the standard work on the subject"

And that, I think, is a fair description of the actual findings in this Newfoundland site.  It's a nice piece of work, especially the technique used to locate it, but it isn't "seismic".

(You may wonder why archaeologists so routinely exaggerate their findings.  I suspect it's because, like so many other scientists, they need grants, and it is easier to get them if your work looks important.)
- 1:30 PM, 13 April 2016   [link]

It's Been Two Years Since Boko Haram Abducted 200 Nigerian School Girls:  Since then, Nigeria replaced its president, Goodluck Jonathan, with Muhammadu Buhari, who seems to be a more effective leader.

The Nigerian army has made progress against Boko Haram, driving it out of much of its territory.  The terrorists have reacted by turning more and more to suicide bombings, often using girls to carry the explosives,

But the abducted girls have not come back, nor have many of the other girls — and boys — the terrorists have abducted.

This BBC analysis answers five questions about the abductions, including this one: .
3: Why did Boko Haram abduct the girls?

The group condemns those who have been educated in the "Western" system, and is against the education of women.

It has also threatened in the past to kidnap Christian women in retaliation for the arrest of members' wives by the Nigerian security services.

The group's leadership also have a practical reason; insurgents on the move need camp followers and servants.

Women who have escaped in the past have said the group forcibly married captive women to favoured commanders as a reward, or used women as sex slaves for their troops.
The BBC has been running stories on this sad anniversary, including one showing interviews with a few of the mothers who lost their daughters.  The mothers are obviously poor — but proud enough to wear what I would guess are their best clothes for the interviews.  The interviews are almost physically painful to watch — and I would recommend that you watch them if you get a chance.

The article doesn't mention a certain hashtag campaign, which is kind of the BBC.

(How accurate are the BBC stories?  Ask several Nigerian specialists for opinions.   I suspect they would say something like roughly accurate, but would not agree, entirely, on where the BBC had erred.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Boko Haram, with the usual caveats.

I still haven't seen a good discussion of Boko Haram's logistics, though I have been, casually, looking for one.)
- 10:18 AM, 13 April 2016   [link]

"Want to Watch Zombies 24/7?"  Well, no, actually, but those who do will be pleased to know that they can.
Last year Chuck Meré and his buddy surveyed the world of subscription online video, dominated by the likes of Netflix, and spotted an underserved market.  There wasn’t a service dedicated specifically to enthusiasts of the zombie apocalypse.

Now, for $5 a month, people can sign up for “Zombie Go Boom,” which streams videos of Mr. Meré and friends cheerfully brandishing chain saws, Christmas trees, pencils and a “lock in a sock” to destroy zombie effigies.
There are other niche video services, if that one's not to your taste
- 6:05 AM, 13 April 2016   [link]

Jihadis Are Fans Of Michael Moore!?!  And many other Western leftists, according to Bret Stephens.
Years ago I had a chat with three young Muslim men as we waited in a Heathrow airport lounge to board a flight to Islamabad.  I was going to Pakistan to report on the fallout from a devastating earthquake in Kashmir.  They were going there to do what they vaguely described as “charitable work.”  They dressed in white shalwar kameez, wore their beards in salafist style and spoke in south London accents.

I tried to steer the conversation to the earthquake.  They wanted to talk about politics.  Had I seen Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”?  I avoided furnishing an opinion about a film they plainly revered.  The unvarnished truth about Amerika—from an American.  Authority and authenticity rolled into one.
From that encounter, and much other evidence, Stephens has concluded that:   "If Islamism is their ideological drug of choice, the political orthodoxies of the modern left are their gateway to it."

Some young Muslims turn to radical Islam, after having absorbed the leftist critiques of Western civilization.  And often continue using them in their arguments.

What Stephens says doesn't surprise me because I made a similar argument, with, granted, less evidence, in 2013 — and 2004.
- 4:32 PM, 12 April 2016   [link]

Surrounded By Power Tools:  I came back from lunch, planning to rest my eyes for a few minutes, and then write a couple of posts, which I had already outlined in my mind.

But the men remodeling two apartments in my building chose this afternoon to move some of the work outside, just under my windows.

So I didn't get as much done as I had hoped to.

But it did occur to me that this might be a new way to encourage terrorist prisoners to talk — assuming it isn't forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.
- 3:39 PM, 12 April 2016   [link]

Worth Reading:  Arthur Brooks's op-ed , "Bipartisanship Isn't for Wimps, After All", in which he describes — and decries — America's increasing political polarization.

Whether or not you agree with him that this is a bad thing, you'll find his description and his numbers of interest.  For example, "polarization in the House and Senate is at its highest level since the end of Reconstruction in the 1879s".

(What he means by that, I assume, is that vote studies have found more party-line votes now than in any time since the bitter end of the Civil War.

As I've said before, this increasing polarization is almost invisible to many activists who assert that the two parties are alike, even as they have become more and more distinct, in easily measurable ways.  If the activists identify with one of the parties, they may even claim that their own party is run by "wimps" and sell-outs.)

One of the reasons for the increasing polarization is the increased importance of "social issues", abortion, gay marriage, and the like — and the increased willingness of our courts to make policy on those issues.  By taking on these issues, the courts have often blocked the kind of messy compromises that legislatures often produce, compromises that make it easier for the side that loses — and often gives them a little bit as part of the deals.

For my Republican friends, I perhaps should add that many of President Reagan's successes were the result of compromises with Democrats in the House and Senate, including his tax cuts, the arms build-up, saving social security, the 1986 tax reform bill, and so on.   For my Democratic friends, I perhaps should add that many of Bill Clinton's successes were also the result of bipartisan compromises.  This is not to say that either Reagan or Clinton always received unanimous, or even majority, support on these issues, but that each reached out to people in the other party and won some of them to his side, often by giving them something.
- 10:50 AM, 12 April 2016   [link]

Steven Hayward's Latest Week in Pictures.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I liked the Al Sharpton picture best.
- 8:33 AM, 12 April 2016   [link]

News And Opinion — Without Ads:  Almost every morning after I wake up I begin the morning by reading the two morning newspapers that are waiting for me, beside my bed.

No servant brings them to me; instead, I turn on my Kindle e-reader and download them from the "Cloud".

The Kindle editions are different from the paper editions, and even the digital editions, in a number of ways, but one is immediately noticeable:  They have no ads.   (Amazon will sell you a Kindle that does have ads, for slightly less — but I think all those ads come from Amazon, itself.)

Omitting ads solves one problem for news organizations — but causes another.   As news organizations will admit, to the extent they depend on ads, they have conflicts.   Years ago, the Readers's Digest refused to accept ads, for that reason.

The conflict is worst for broadcast news, where the listener or viewer is what is being sold.   I don't think it's entirely coincidental that, in recent years, I have seen hundreds of TV ads for the Indian casinos in this area — but almost no critical stories on them.   Similarly, I don't think it's coincidental that the New York Times publishes pages of ads for entertainment in New York — and pages of reviews for that same entertainment.

By eliminating the ads, you eliminate those conflicts.

You also, of course, eliminate the ad revenue.  But the cost of distributing the newspaper this way are so low that the newspaper might be able to break even, or even come out ahead, by switching to this model, especially if they were able to sell significantly more copies.

I am not an expert in these matters, but I believe that, assuming at least 10,000 people buy it this way, a newspaper could sell individual copies — without ads — for less than 50 cents a copy, and make a profit.

(Getting the Kindle newspapers is a simple process.  The newspapers are kept in the "Cloud" until I want to read them.  When I want the latest one, it takes, usually, thyrr taps to get it.  At the third tap, the Kindle sends a message out over ATT's 3G network, and the paper is downloaded to the Kindle in about 10 seconds.  At any one time, eight days will be available.

The Kindle editions are not, let me repeat, not, complete.  They do not include box scores, stock tables, or all the photographs.  When they include figures, the figures are small, and of poor quality.  Basically, you get the text of the newspapers.  Most of the time, that's all I want.)
- 3:02 PM, 11 April 2016   [link]

In 2008, Barack Obama Promised, Secretly, To Make Electricity Prices "Skyrocket"  If the electricity came from coal, as about half of it did, then.

On the whole, President Obama has kept that promise, though the effects of his regulations vary widely from state to state, and, I am sure, from utility to utility.

The poor in the areas with higher rates will have been affected, disproportionately.
Most analysts agree rising residential electricity prices are also harmful to American households.  Pricey power disproportionately hurts poorer families and other lower-income groups as the poor tend to spend a higher proportion of their incomes on “basic needs” like power, so any increase in prices hits them the hardest.

As essential goods like electricity becomes more expensive, the cost of producing goods and services that use electricity increases, effectively raising the price of almost everything.  The higher prices are ultimately paid for by consumers, not industries.
And, in some cases, by lost jobs, in energy-intensive industries.

(For efficiency, economists generally prefer to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by what they call a "carbon tax", a tax on carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.  Politicians tend to be wary of that solution, even when the money is returned to taxpayers, because it makes it too obvious who caused the pain voters see in their electric bills.)
- 10:31 AM, 11 April 2016   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Latest Collection of jokes:  Malcolm liked this one best, after he modified it:
Meyers: Donald Trump was in Washington recently to meet privately with members of his newly-established foreign policy team.  They went over key points like, “This one’s Europe.”
(I agree with the modification, but think you should be able to tweak it even further.)

I preferred these two:
Conan: Big story about these Panama Papers. It’s a huge document leak exposing shady financial dealings involving famous people like Vladimir Putin and Jackie Chan.  I don’t know about you, but I smell a buddy movie.

Meyers: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a debate Thursday in Brooklyn.  Which is about as close as Bernie Sanders can get to Wall Street without spontaneously combusting.
Each, for the sheer absurdity.
- 9:24 AM, 11 April 2016   [link]

Bernie Sanders, Escaped Mental Patient?  Yesterday, King 5 began their 5 PM news program with the four escapees from a state mental hospital, Western State.  Officials consider two of the four extremely dangerous, so the escapes have been the top local story here for a few days.

The news reader began with a background showing a bland picture of the hospital, but, as she was reading about the escapees, the background changed to a picture of . . . . . Bernie Sanders.

(Probably, someone at the station just jumped ahead to the next story, on his win in Wyoming, but it is possible that some Clinton supporter, or closeted Republican, decided to do a little editorializing.

As I write, three of the four, including the two considered dangerous, are back in custody.)
-7:31 AM, 10 April 2016   [link]

How Many Republican Contests Has Donald Trump Won By An Absolute Majority?  One.

The Northern Mariana Islands caucus, where he won 72.82 percent of the vote — with a total of 343 votes.

(He came close in both Massachusetts (49%) and Mississippi (47%).)

So it isn't quite true to say that he hasn't won an absolute majority in any of the approximately 40 contests we've had so far.
- 11:06 AM, 9 April 2016   [link]

Will Rogers Once Said:  "The more you read and observe about this politics thing, you've got to admit that each party is worse than the other."

(The obvious 2016 version is left as an exercise for the reader.)
- 10:26 AM, 9 April 2016   [link]