April 2018, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Buying:  Today's New York Times, if only for the superb Jane Brody column, defending GMO foods.

Long-time readers may find this argument familiar:
The [GMO] labeling requirement arose in response to public pressure and a confusing array of state rules.  But while I endorse the public’s right to know and honest labeling of all products, in an important way it is very misleading.  Farmers and agricultural scientists have been genetically engineering the foods we eat for centuries through breeding programs that result in large and largely uncontrolled exchanges of genetic material.   What many consumers may not realize:  For many decades, in addition to traditional crossbreeding, agricultural scientists have used radiation and chemicals to induce gene mutations in edible crops in attempts to achieve desired characteristics.

Modern genetic engineering differs in two ways:  Only one or a few new genes with a known function are introduced into a crop, and sometimes the new genes come from an unrelated species.  Thus, a gene meant to instill frost tolerance into, say, spinach, might come from a fish that lives in icy waters.
(Viruses have been carrying genes between species for billions of years.)

Though Brody puts all the pieces together in a way I have never done.

She ends by urging consumers to take a more "nuanced" approach to GMO foods.

I'm not sure she would consider my approach "nuanced", since, for several years now, I have been avoiding foods labeled as "GMO free".  So, for example, I have given up Cheerios, after eating them for more than 70 years.

I don't like it when companies exploit fear and superstition — and try to charge us more for inferior products.

(For the record:  I don't doubt that, eventually, some scientists will produce a genetically engineered food that is not good for us, or for the environment.   But the benefits from GMO foods, now and in the future, are so immense that we should be willing to take that small risk.)
- 4:06 PM, 24 April 2018   [link]

Wow!  Now that is a humongous correction.

(Perhaps journalists at the New York Times should spend less time watching the BBC.)
- 12:49 PM, 24 April 2018   [link]

You May Or May Not Be Interested In The Special Election Being Held Today In Arizona's 8th:  But you will almost certainly be interested in Nathaniel Rakich's table, "Democratic overperformance in federal special elections", summarizing the special federal elections since Trump took office.

The results have varied, wildly.

(Arizona 8th special election)
- 9:39 AM, 24 April 2018   [link]

Trump Lost Another Handshake Contest To Macron:  You would think he would have learned from his earlier defeats.

Perhaps Trump thinks he won those contests.

(Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the best counter to Trump's handshake game; when the two met, Modi went straight to a bear hug.)
- 9:14 AM, 24 April 2018   [link]

Alek Minassian Killed And Injured Those People In Toronto Because He Couldn't Get A Date?  That's what this CBC article implies.


If true, that isn't what I would have guessed.
- 8:36 AM, 24 April 2018   [link]

James Comey's Seattle Visit:  Yesterday, he did a book talk at Seattle University, a Jesuit school.

This morning he spoke to Amazon employees.

Neither event was open to the public or TV cameras, though I suppose there was nothing to prevent a reporter from buying a ticket to the Seattle University event.

This is not how an ordinary politician would behave.
- 12:58 PM, 23 April 2018   [link]

On The Whole, Republican Governors Are Doing Well With Their Voters:  Especially compared to Democratic governors.
. . . Massachusetts GOP Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland’s Larry Hogan hold the highest job approval ratings in the country, and both are in usually Democratic states.  Baker’s 71/16 approval/disapproval is the best with Hogan’s 68/17 close behind.

The next 13 in order are Alabama’s Kay Ivey (67/17), Vermont’s Phil Scott (65/21), New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu (63/21), South Dakota’s Dennis Daugaard (62/24), Wyoming’s Matt Mead (61/25), Utah’s Gary Herbert (60/23), North Dakota’s Doug Burgum (58/22), and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval (57/22).

Number 11 is Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson (57/25), then Tennessee’s Bill Haslam (57%/24%), Georgia’s Nathan Deal (56/24), Texas’ Greg Abbott (56/26) and Florida’s Rick Scott (55/33), who’s term-limited and seeking a U.S. Senate seat.

The highest ranking Democrats are No. 16 Montana’s Steve Bullock (55/32) and No. 17 Minnesota’s Mark Dayton (53/35).
(I corrected an obvious typo.)

As I am sure you know, Montana usually votes Republican in presidential elections.

These findings are quite similar to those last year.   I would have expected some damage from Trump, especially in heavily Democratic states.

 If I had a general explanation for this pattern, I would share it with you.
- 9:52 AM, 23 April 2018   [link]

If You Fly On Budget Airlines, you may want to find the rest of this article in your local library.

Two of my favorite tactics:  One man bribed the flight attendants with a large box of chocolates — and received much better than first class treatment in economy class.

Another man, knowing that the airline served hot water free while charging for cold water, came prepared with dry bowls of ramen and miso — and was able to serve his family a hot meal, without an airline charge.

(I have no idea why hot water was free, while cold water was not.)
- 8:51 AM, 23 April 2018   [link]

President Macron Gives President Trump A Remedial Lesson In Allies:  Macron, like any sensible leader, must be appalled by Trump's practice of picking fights with so many nations (except Russia), at a time when the United States needs allies.

And so, knowing that Trump watches Fox, Macron tried to explain the basics of allies to Trump.
WALLACE:  Let's do what we call a lightning round, quick questions, quick answers.  When the president announced new tariffs on aluminum and steel for the European Union, you said, we will not negotiate with a gun pointed at her head.


WALLACE:  There is now a May 1st deadline.  Who is going to blink, President Trump or you?

MACRON:  I hope -- I mean, he will not implement these new tariffs and he will decide for an exemption for the European Union.  You don't make trade war with your ally.

WALLACE:  But he has said that he is going to implement.

MACRON:  He said exemptions through May 1st.  Let's see what it will do on May 1st.  I just say, where are your priorities?  You cannot make a trade war with our ally.

I'm very -- I'm an easy guy.  I'm very simple.  I'm straightforward.  It's too complicated -- if you make war against everybody.  You make trade war against China, trade war against Europe, war in Syria, war against (INAUDIBLE) -- come on, it doesn't work.  You need ally.  We are the ally.
Macron's English is imperfect (though way better than my French), but I think you get the idea.  It is silly for Trump to pick all these fights at once, when we need allies in the more important fights.

For instance:  The European Union has many of the same trade problems with China as we do.  For example, we should try to work with the EU to stop the theft of technology from both of us, which I think is the most important trade issue uniting the US and the EU against China.

That doesn't mean that we can't still negotiate with the EU on other trade issues, just that those negotiations should be done quietly, without open threats, and Trump posturing.

As Macron says this idea is simple; in its essence it is something most little kids learn on playgrounds.

But somehow the idea of setting priorities in fights has escaped Donald Trump.
- 5:47 PM, 22 April 2018   [link]

Classic De Gaulle Joke:  Charles de Gaulle served bravely in World War I and World War II, became the leader of the Free French after the fall of France in 1940, and founded the French Fifth Republic.

A stiff, formal man, he had much to be proud of, and, understandably, had a very good opinion of himself.

Which led to this joke:
One cold winter night, he and Madame de Gaulle had just gone to bed, when she complained:  "God it's cold!"

He replied:  "In bed, Madame, you may call me Charles."
Note to guys:  In my experience, women like this joke even more than men.

(Charles de Gaulle)
- 3:42 PM, 22 April 2018   [link]

In Germany, As In The United States, Rap "Songs" Are Often Crude, Violent, And Misogynistic:  Now, an album that is also anti-Semitic has just won an award.
BERLIN — In Germany’s hugely popular hip-hop music scene, one of the biggest albums of the past year was from two trash-talking rappers who rhymed about their prowess in bed and in the weight room and about violently dominating their opponents.

The album has racked up sales, but has also attracted a different sort of attention.   In one song, the pair boast about how their bodies are “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners.”  In another, they vow to “make another Holocaust, show up with a Molotov.”

Widespread condemnation turned into an uproar in the last week since the rappers, Farid Bang and Kollegah, won the Echo award for best hip-hop album at Germany’s equivalent of the Grammys on April 12.
I am not an expert in German law, but it looks to me as if the rappers went close to the edge of what is legal in Germany, deliberately I suspect.

According to the Times, Kollegah is a "convert to Islam".  Judging by his background, Bang is also a Muslim.

Though I doubt either has very orthodox Muslim beliefs.
- 3:16 PM, 21 April 2018   [link]

This New Yorker Cartoon Is Crudely Political — and it made me laugh out loud.

(You may have better taste than I do.)
- 1:41 PM, 21 April 2018   [link]

Worth Reading:  Paulina Neuding's article, "Violent crime in Sweden is soaring.  When will politicians act?".
January was a particularly violent month in Sweden.  A 63-year-old man was killed in Stockholm by a hand grenade lying in the street.  A Dutch exchange student was hit by a stray bullet during an execution-style killing at a pizza restaurant in Uppsala.  In Gothenburg, a hand grenade was thrown into a flat and exploded in the kitchen — the same predominantly immigrant-populated suburb where an eight-year-old British boy was killed in a grenade attack less than two years ago.  In Malmö, a grenade was tossed at a police station and exploded outside.  So it has not, so far, been a very happy new year.

For Swedes, this has become a familiar theme.  Gun violence is on the rise, with daylight shootings and without regard for bystanders.  In the past nine years, reported and attempted murders involving guns have almost doubled.  According to Swedish police, hand-grenade attacks (which were virtually unknown until a few years ago) are without parallel in countries not at war.
Swedish politicians are finding it hard to admit they have a problem, much less act effectively.
- 4:38 PM, 20 April 2018   [link]

Good Advice:  From authorities.
This seems a little weird, but then I’m not a smoker.  State police and public safety officials in Massachusetts — and automobile insurance representatives nationally — are urging drivers to remain alert and extra careful today, April 20, especially in the late afternoon.

It sounds like an urban myth.  But a recent study by the American Medical Association on driving and the growing use of marijuana found a 12 percent increase in automobile accidents on April 20 (4/20), sometimes known as National Weed Day, and especially after 4:20 in the afternoon.
In general, you should be more alert during those times when you can expect more drivers to be drunk, high, or both.

Best of all, you should avoid driving during those times, if possible.
- 3:02 PM, 20 April 2018   [link]

Trumpledoos?  That's a new one.
I know there are Trumpledoos squeeing with delight that Congress is looking for former FBI Director James Comey’s memos.
(I think Susan Wright means "squealing".)

As you know, my preferred term for Trump fans is 'Trumpistas", which, I am pleased to say, is now found in some dictionaries.

(I prefer "Trumpistas" because it reminds us of the personal attachment so many of his fans have to him, and the way they admire his swaggering masculinity poses, so like those of some of the worst Latin American leaders.)
- 1:09 PM, 20 April 2018   [link]

I/We/You — Michael Hayden's Simple Lesson In Leadership:  I have been re-reading Hayden's book and was struck by a simple — and very smart — decision he made soon after he took over the National Security Agency.

When he took over the NSA (somewhat to his surprise), the Agency was in deep trouble, and he was an outsider, having come from a career in the Air Force.  He knew that he would need the support of the career people there, and he decided to communicate with them all directly with emails he called "DIRGRAMS".

(You can get a glimpse of just how troubled NSA was by this fact:  When he arrived at NSA in 1999, there was no way for the director to send an email to all NSA employees.)

In those emails, he was careful to use the correct pronoun: "we", rather than "I" or "you".  He understood that, regardless of his official powers, NSA needed a leader, not a boss.  (And that if he didn't gain the support of most at NSA, they could easily sabotage what he as trying to do.)

I call that "we" decision very smart because so many in our politics don't understand it.

(To his credit, Hayden also recognized, as most military men would, that he was violating chain-of-command principles by communicating directly that way.  But he thought the gain was worth it.

Michael Hayden)
- 9:43 AM, 20 April 2018   [link]

Here's A Simple Bias Test For Stories on Cuba:  Do the journalists describe the Cuban regime — accurately — as a Communist dictatorship?

Or do they weasel out by calling the regime "socialist" as PBS did last night, and leaving out that nasty dictatorship word?

That doesn't mean that the stories themselves are necessarily inaccurate, though they sometimes are, but those omissions should warn you that the stories are unlikely to be balanced.  You aren't getting the whole truth.

(I was reminded of this persistent bias by some terribly biased BBC stories on Cuba I heard recently.  The corporation is almost as bad on Cuba as it is on Israel.)
- 8:55 AM, 20 April 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Mike Lester's "leggy brunette", Michael Ramirez's ghost, Jim Morin's advisors, and Rob Rogers' sign.
- 8:23 AM, 20 April 2018   [link]

Andy Marlette's Tribute To Barbara Bush Is Funny — and very sweet.
- 6:45 PM, 19 April 2018   [link]

Could Republicans Lose Jeff Flake's Senate Seat?  Yes, in fact, if this poll is reasonably accurate, it looks more likely than not.
So how does [Democrat Kyrsten] Sinema stack up against all of the Republican candidates in a head-to-head race in November?

According to the ABC15/OHPI polling data, the Democrat is out in front to fill the seat previously held by Republican Jeff Flake, and is outpacing her GOP rivals in each of their potential races.
To make matters worse for Republicans, the Republican closest to Sinema, Martha McSally, is trailing Kelli Ward in the primary.

Republicans have held this Arizona seat since John Kyl won it in 1994.

This is just one poll, and it is still early, but this is not a hopeful sign for Republicans.

(Kyrsten Sinema, Martha McSally and Kelli Ward)
- 3:49 PM, 19 April 2018
More:  There is a poll, taken a few days later, that found McSally leading Ward.

Neither poll looks especially impressive.
- 6:34 PM, 19 April 2018   [link]

In The North Korean Regime's All-Out Effort To Develop Nuclear Weapons, They Have Neglected Other Things:  For example, the control of tuberculosis.  As a result, they have a serious tuberculosis problem, with about five times more tuberculosis deaths per capita than in South Korea.

And now a big international charity, the Global Fund, is about to suspend aid to North Korea.
A Bloomberg News report this week warned of the threat of North Korea’s “other weapon” — tuberculosis.   In February, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria announced that it would suspend grants to combat tuberculosis and malaria in North Korea by June 30.

Global Fund officials stress that they hope to resume funding to the country in the future, and North Korean officials have implored the Global Fund to maintain its funding on humanitarian grounds.
Jeremy Youde doesn't know why the Global Fund made this decision, but recognizes that it adds weight to the official sanctions against North Korea.

I have thought for many years that one of North Korea's most effective diplomatic weapons against us was that it held its own people hostage.  And I am certain that that weapon is even more effective against South Korea.
- 10:43 AM, 19 April 2018   [link]

This Morning, The Views Through The Mountain Web Cams are spectacular, and should be so, all day.
- 8:09 AM, 19 April 2018   [link]

Math Fans May Like the current "Pepper . . . and Salt".
- 7:55 AM, 19 April 2018   [link]

We Are Being Rained On By Viruses:  Hundreds of millions of them, every day.
High in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain, an international team of researchers set out four buckets to gather a shower of viruses falling from the sky.

Scientists have surmised there is a stream of viruses circling the planet, above the planet’s weather systems but below the level of airline travel.  Very little is known about this realm, and that’s why the number of deposited viruses stunned the team in Spain.  Each day, they calculated, some 800 million viruses cascade onto every square meter of the planet.

Most of the globe-trotting viruses are swept into the air by sea spray, and lesser numbers arrive in dust storms.

“Unimpeded by friction with the surface of the Earth, you can travel great distances, and so intercontinental travel is quite easy” for viruses, said Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia.  “It wouldn’t be unusual to find things swept up in Africa being deposited in North America.”
If you read the whole article — and you should unless you are a real germophobe — you may conclude, as I did, that it is wrong to say that bacteria run the planet.  (As I have said from time to time.)

Instead we should say that together viruses and bacteria run the planet.

- 7:43 PM, 18 April 2018   [link]

Even Political Cartoons Showing Monsters Can Be Funny:  For example, there is David Low's famous cartoon on the Hitler-Stalin pact.

I think it is even funnier than the Berryman cartoon on the same subject I showed you in 2015.

(You can understand why I try hard to respect copyrights on cartoons if you read the Wikipedia explanation for why and how they are showing that Low cartoon.)
- 2:43 PM, 18 April 2018   [link]

The Venezuelan Stock Market Continues To Rise:  As you can see in Bloomberg's real-time feed.

In spite of bad news like this.

And this.

Ordinarily, stock markets do not celebrate bond defaults and essential workers quitting because they aren't earning enough to live on.

Perhaps the rise is because of all the bad news.  Perhaps some medium-term investors are betting that the regime will collapse soon — which could be very good for Venezuela.
- 1:52 PM, 18 April 2018   [link]

Another Part Of Barbara's Bush's Legacy?  A week ago, I linked to this Joanne Jacobs post, which summarizes the latest disappointing results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

But I didn't say enough about the bright spots:
Florida was the bright spot, led by gains in Miami and Jacksonville.  Scores rose for almost all students, including Hispanics and blacks, low-income students, students with disabilities and those still learning English.

Whites in Florida did as well as whites in top-performing Massachusetts, which has a more educated population, writes Barshay.
More impressively, Florida had smaller gaps between students of color and whites. Florida’s Hispanic fourth-graders outscored Massachusetts’: 242 vs. 234 in math. . . . In reading too, Florida’s Hispanic population outscored Massachusetts’.
Adjusting for student demographics, Florida looks even better, reports the Urban Institute.  Texas also moves up to the Massachusetts’ level.
Do Florida and Texas have anything in common?  Well, yes; both had governors named Bush who pushed ambitious programs of educational reform through their legislatures.

(I haven't had time to look at the NAEP or the Urban Institute's findings, but I have found Jacobs to be quite reliable on educational issues.

What would be especially interesting is to see which states do worse than you would expect after you have included demographics.)
- 8:19 AM, 18 April 2018   [link]

Congressman Jim Jordan has quite a sense of humor.

Or is totally deaf.

(Either is a kinder hypothesis than assuming he meant what he said, or is willing to tell an enormous lie, and then stick to it.)
- 7:27 AM, 18 April 2018   [link]

RIP, Barbara Bush:  And that's all for the moment, though I do plan to say more about this remarkable woman, later.
- 6:50 PM, 17 April 2018   [link]

For Tax Day, this cartoon seems weirdly appropriate.
- 4:25 PM, 17 April 2018   [link]