August 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Reading:  Mark Steyn draws lessons from Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz's suppression of Alms for Jihad — and while doing so spots a disturbing connection.
Who is Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz?  Well, he's a very wealthy and influential Saudi.  Big deal, you say.  Is there any other kind?  Yes, but even by the standards of very wealthy and influential Saudis, this guy is plugged in: He was the personal banker to the Saudi royal family and head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, until he sold it to the Saudi government.  He has a swanky pad in London and an Irish passport and multiple U.S. business connections, including to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
Read the whole thing.  And save it for further study.

(An enterprising reporter ought to ask Kean about these connections — but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.)
- 7:39 AM, 5 August 2007   [link]

More On The I-35W Bridge Collapse From The NYT:  Today's New York Times has an article worth reading, and a set of graphics worth a look.   From the article, I learned that designers in the 1960s did not understand the problem of metal fatigue:
The possibility that metal fatigue could cause a bridge to fail was not even considered by bridge engineers in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Minneapolis bridge was designed and built, [bridge engineer] Mr. [Daniel L.] Dorgan said. Research at Lehigh University in the 1970s showed that stresses could be much larger than had been thought.  The I-35W bridge, which had been designed according to less rigid standards devised by the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1961, had components that would not be included in a bridge built today.
And that visual inspections for fatigue cracks are almost worthless:
In a study completed in 2001 by the Federal Highway Administration, 49 working inspectors from around the country visually examined test bridges in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The inspectors correctly identified fatigue cracks only 4 percent of the time.
From the graphic, I learned that:
Inspection reports noted numerous welding problems in the truss.  Bridge collapse experts say that most steel truss bridge failures are related to welding at the joints.
If I understand that last right, those experts are saying that the collapse may have been caused by poor welding, done forty years ago, or perhaps poor repairs since.

Putting these together, and assuming all this speculation is correct, we would conclude that the bridge collapsed because designers did not understand metal fatigue — and did not know that they did not understand the problem.  (In contrast, John Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, knew that he did not understand the problem and so used very large safety margins.  His bridge is still standing.)   And, possibly, because the welding then, or since, was faulty.

(By the way, it is a little surprising that bridge engineers did not know about metal fatigue when the bridge was built.  The first commercial jetliner, the de Haviland Comet, had a number of disastrous accidents during the 1950s, caused by metal fatigue.)
- 4:39 PM, 3 August 2007
Second Thoughts:  An email from a civil engineer showed me that I had been less critical toward the article than I should have been.  The article says that bridge designers did not even consider metal fatigue in the 1950s and 1960s, quoting a bridge engineer.  That seemed surprising to me, but I did not question the statement, just adding the last paragraph about the Comet, because of my surprise.

Now that I have thought it over, I think it more likely that the article has it wrong, that bridge designers then knew about the problem of metal fatigue, but underestimated it.  And I suspect that, if you were to question Dorgan at greater length, he might say something along those lines, instead of the flat statement he did make.  After all, designers have been worrying about metal fatigue ever since the first metal workers, so it seems unlikely that bridge designers would have forgotten what blacksmiths knew in 1000 BC.
- 3:06 PM, 4 August 2007   [link]

Many Volcanoes And A Few Redwoods:  If there have been fewer posts here in the last few weeks than you have come to expect, that's because I have been spending time — maybe too much time — planning my third disaster area tour.

You can get some idea of where I will be traveling from the three books I have been spending the most time with: Roadside Geology of Oregon, Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California, and Fire Mountains of the West.

On this trip, I will be staying in motels with WiFi every night, so I expect to be blogging every day, with a mix of posts on the trip and politics.

And the redwoods?  I'll be driving south on I-5 and route 97, but on my way back, I plan to cut over to the California coast for a day to take a look at the redwoods.  (And, if the weather forecasts are correct, to cool off a bit.)

(If you are at all interested in geology, you should consider picking up one or more of the Roadside Geology books.  Besides the two listed above, I have the guides to Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and the Yellowstone Country, and plan to buy all of them eventually.

The guides can add distractions while you are driving.  But they aren't as bad as cell phones.)
- 10:02 AM, 3 August 2007   [link]

Mona Charen comes up with the best lines yet on Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy:
Within the past several weeks, presidential aspirant Barack Obama has announced that he would meet with America's enemies and attack America's friends.  Those interested in a dramatic departure from Bush/Cheney need look no further.
As she goes on to say, this is the approach used by President Carter, which produced many successes, including mullah-controlled Iran.
- 9:07 AM, 3 August 2007   [link]

Complete Coincidence:  Here's the headline for this story: "With Bonds in town, Dodgers host steroid awareness clinic"

The Dodgers say that it was a "complete coincidence".  If it was a coincidence, the timing was a wonderful piece of luck for the Dodgers.
- 8:40 AM, 3 August 2007   [link]

Welcome President Sarkozy!  His choice for a vacation surprises some observers.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy would not have to stray far from the Champs-Elysées to find a summer holiday spot most Americans can only dream of.  A castle in the Loire valley.  A country estate in Provence.  A villa on the French Riviera.

But non.

Sarkozy, his country's celebrated new leader, is planning to get some rest and relaxation on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
. . .
It is unclear whether Sarkozy's family is accompanying him or why he has chosen Wolfeboro; local residents interviewed did not know of any previous connection.
But not me.  Judging by this biography, Sarkozy has spent little time in the United States.  He most likely just wants to get to know us better.  And it is easier to do that on a vacation than on an official visit.

(It would be great if some American politicians, especially some on the left, would follow his example.)
- 8:11 AM, 3 August 2007
More:  And, as I am sure Sarkozy planned all along, his American "vacation" almost required President Bush to invite him to informal lunch.  Which, judging by news accounts, went well, even though Cécelia Sarkozy did not attend.

There's a general lesson, often forgotten by our "mainstream" journalists, in this improvement in French-American relations (and in German-American relations):  It takes two sides to have good relations, but only one side to have a quarrel.  When we have problems with another nation, there is often little an American president can do to fix the problems, and sometimes little that he should do, since pleasing the leader in the other nation may require us to give up some of our principles.   President Bush has not changed, but the French have elected a new leader, and we have better relations, immediately.  Bush did not deserve blame for the poor relations with France while it was led by President Chirac — and deserves only a little credit for the recent improvement.
- 7:19 AM, 16 August 2007   [link]

Book Burning In Britain:  Here's the sad story.
Cambridge University Press has agreed to destroy all unsold copies of a 2006 book by two American authors, "Alms for Jihad," following a libel action brought against it in England, the latest development in what critics say is an effort by Saudis to quash discussion of their alleged role in aiding terrorism.

In a letter of apology to a wealthy Saudi businessman, Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, Cambridge University Press acknowledged that allegations made in the book about his family, businesses, and charities were "entirely and manifestly false."  The publisher wrote, "Please accept our sincere apologies for the distress and embarrassment this has caused."
. . .
Libel law in England is more advantageous to the litigant than is American law, which has stronger First Amendment protections.
That's putting it mildly.

Most likely the books were pulped, not burned, but I wish they had been burned, just for the symbolism.

Wonder whether any American publisher will realize that they can pick up the book — assuming the contract allows that — and make a fair amount of money selling it here.

(Although the legal agreement has no force in the US, Amazon is no longer selling the book because Cambridge University Press is no longer shipping it — even to countries that are freer than Britain.  I'll have to see if I can find a library copy.)
- 4:44 PM, 2 August 2007   [link]

New Effect of global warming.   At least one I hadn't seen before.  But I wonder why the effect is limited to Bulgaria.  (Not suitable for younger sprogs.)
- 4:18 PM, 2 August 2007   [link]

Glad He Cleared that up.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday he would not use nuclear weapons "in any circumstance" to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance," Obama said, with a pause, "involving civilians."  Then he quickly added, "Let me scratch that.  There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons.  That's not on the table."

Obama was responding to a question by the Associated Press about whether there was any circumstance where he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat terrorism and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Doesn't sound as if Obama has really thought this through, does it?
- 3:09 PM, 2 August 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Morton Kondracke looks at Barack Obama's foreign policy vision and finds it "naive and irresponsible".
The foreign policy offered by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is bold, idealistic, muscular, expansive, Kennedy-esque.

It also is, as his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) charges, naive and irresponsible.  It sounds like the vision of a freshman Senator.  Or, possibly, a Texas governor with no foreign policy experience.
. . .
But completely missing from Obama's breathtaking agenda is any sense of priorities, limits, difficulties -- or humility.  His pronouncements exude hubris and inexperience.
Kondracke exaggerates, but still makes a valid point with this comparison:
Another flaw in Obama's inveterate Bush-bashing -- Clinton's, too -- is that they set themselves up to make a key Bush-like error.  On taking office, Bush rejected everything Clintonian -- including Bill Clinton's concern about terrorism -- leading to disastrous consequences.
Bashing Bush will please the Democratic base, but may not lead to the best policies.  One of the things I liked about Bush's record as governor of Texas is that he built on the educational reforms of a Democratic predecessor, Mark White.  If the other party has a good idea, it is better for the country if your party copies it, even if that disappoints your activists.

Read the whole thing to learn just how grand — and how naive — Obama's foreign policy vision is.  Then ask yourself this question: Is this the kind of person we want in charge of our nuclear weapons?

(It is not quite true to say that Bush had no foreign policy experience.  As governor of Texas, he had worked with Mexican authorities on some problems.  And it would be more accurate to say that he and his team worried about terrorism, but were contemptuous of what the Clinton administration had done about it — for good reason.

I continue to think that Obama does not believe much of what he says.  As his autobiography shows, he has a gift for telling people what they want to hear.   It is more likely, I think, that he knows that he is exaggerating, and sometimes making up stories, than that he believes what he says.  He is, in other words, cynical, not deluded.)
- 7:38 AM, 2 August 2007   [link]

The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse:  Here's the New York Times story.
An Interstate highway bridge in downtown Minneapolis loaded with rush-hour traffic dropped more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River last night, sending at least 50 vehicles and passengers into the water.

Chief Jim Clack of the Minneapolis Fire Department said at least 7 people were killed and more than 60 were injured.  The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported that 9 were dead, 20 were missing and 60 were injured.
Because there were so many cars on the bridge when it collapsed, we should expect that death toll to rise, as bodies are recovered from the river.

So far, there is no official explanation, or even speculation, on what caused the I-35W bridge to collapse.  Some public officials have said that they do not suspect a terrorist attack, but it is too soon to rule that out.  (Though no large explosion was heard, there are other ways terrorists could destroy a bridge.)

There may be some clues in the pictures of the collapsed bridge.  If you look at pictures 4, 6, and 15 in that slideshow, you will notice that the bridge is twisted on the south side, as if it failed there and then broke the joints connecting other sections.  This Google Earth view of the bridge, looking north, may help you locate the pictures.

I-W35 Bridge

Some already know who to blame; if you look through the comments on that New York Times story, you will find many who are sure that the collapse was the fault of — President Bush.

(More here and here.)
- 6:17 AM, 2 August 2007
More:  This security camera video shows that the collapse did start on the south side, as the still photos suggested.
- 2:00 PM, 2 August 2007
Still More:  Some perspective from other bridge failures and some speculation on the cause of the failure.  It is distressing to learn that the bridge, finished in 1967, was designed so that the failure of a single component could take down the whole bridge.
- 3:21 PM, 2 August 2007   [link]

Does Obama Know That Pakistan Has Nukes?  Nothing in this article suggests that the junior senator from Illinois grasps that point.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday that he would possibly send troops into Pakistan to hunt down terrorists, an attempt to show strength when his chief rival has described his foreign policy skills as naive.

The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.
Or even that he knows that Pakistan has between 600,000 and 1,000,000 men in its active duty military.

What would he do if the Pakistanis resist, even without using their nukes?
- 10:49 AM, 1 August 2007
Ed Morrissey took Obama's proposal more seriously than I did, and wrote an extensive rebuttal.  I doubt that Obama does mean the proposal seriously; instead he is just saying something that will contrast with Bush's policies and look tough.
- 1:23 PM, 1 August 2007   [link]

Some Victims get little respect, or even attention.
The blood of innocent Christian missionaries spills on Afghan sands.  The world watches and yawns.  The United Nations offers nothing more than a formal expression of "concern."  Where is the global uproar over the human rights abuses unfolding before our eyes?

For two weeks, a group of South Korean Christians has been held hostage by Taliban thugs in Afghanistan.  This is the largest group of foreign hostages taken in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001.  What was their offense?  Were they smuggling arms into the country?  No.  Inciting violence?  No.  They were peaceful believers in Christ on short-term medical and humanitarian missions.  Seventeen of the 23 hostages are females.   Most of them are nurses who provide social services and relief.
. . .
Across Asia, media coverage is 24/7.  Strangers have held nightly prayer vigils.  But the human rights crowd in America has been largely AWOL.  And so has most of our mainstream media.  Among some of the secular elite, no doubt, is a blame-the-victim apathy: The missionaries deserved what they got.  What were they thinking bringing their message of faith to a war zone?  Didn't they know they were sitting ducks for Muslim head-choppers whose idea of evangelism is "convert or die"?
You'd almost think it was because they were Christians.
- 9:28 AM, 1 August 2007   [link]