August 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Road Trips And Roadside Geology Books:  This year, I probably won't be able to make my usual disaster area tour, looking at Northwest volcanoes.  We are running out of summer, there is still smoke in part of California, and I have jury duty next week.  (I do have some shorter trips planned, and may take two days to see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.)

So, I have begun my research for a future trip, perhaps in 2010.  As I have done for decades now, that means buying another Roadside Geology book (or digging up a copy that I already have).   To research this future trip, I picked up the Roadside Geology of Montana.

The guides add much to my tours of the country, and to my virtual tours of the country.  It is fascinating to learn, for instance, that Klamath Falls is in a rift valley, or that Virginia has only two natural lakes, or that geologists have no idea how Mima Mounds form.  Or, to take something just a little spectacular, that much of northwestern Montana slid over from northern Idaho, in slabs thousands of feet thick.  (Presumably in one earthquake at a time, rather than one single slide.)

The guides cover much of the United States.  (And the southern part of British Columbia.)  So far I have collected all of those for the western United States, except Utah and New Mexico, and two others, Pennsylvania and Virginia.   Eventually, I expect that I will collect them all.

If you are thinking about getting one of the guides, you may want to know this:  On the whole, the more recent guides, and those written by Alt and Hyndman, are better than the others.  But all of them can be fascinating, whether you are using them to plan a trip, to add to a trip, or just to imagine a trip.

(What I am thinking about doing in that 2010 trip is tracing back the gigantic Spokane floods.  If you aren't familiar with those disasters, you can get the basics about them here and here.)
- 2:29 PM, 15 August 2008   [link]

Kudos To Morton Kondracke:  For this sensible column.  Two samples:
It has become standard among Democrats to accuse Republicans of "smearing" or "sliming" their candidates whenever the GOP goes negative.
. . .
In fact, of all the negative ads run in recent elections, the worst actually was run against Bush in 2000, in which the NAACP charged that the then-Texas governor's veto of a hate crimes bill was tantamount to condoning a racist murder.
As Kondracke says, often there is some truth, sometimes a lot of truth, in negative ads.

In my opinion, the worst ad from a presidential candidate in the 2000 election came from McCain in the Michigan primary.  Feeling that he had been slandered in the South Carolina primary — as he had been — and that the Bush campaign was responsible — like Kondracke, I have seen no evidence that they were — he retaliated with anonymous phone calls charging that Bush was anti-Catholic.
- 1:20 PM, 15 August 2008   [link]

Some Are Clinging Bitterly To An American Recession:  For instance, economist Joseph Stiglitz.
I slapped the side of my television in April when economist Joe Stiglitz called this the worst recession "since the Great Depression."  But now the economy is not only hurting homeowners; it's apparently harming parakeets, too!  An AP item reports that pet owners are abandoning their furry and feathery friends to animal shelters because they can no longer afford to feed them.  Never mind that GDP is puttering along in positive terrain.  Headlines still scream that we're closing in on 1929, not 2009.
. . .
But even the situation for middle-class Americans is not all that dire.  In July the jobless rate among college graduates was just 2.4%, drifting up from 2.1% in March.  That is miles away from the 1981 recession and, of course, you'd need scientific notation to compare it to the Great Depression, no matter what the Obama campaign says.  The job market, while weak, has not collapsed.

Each Thursday morning I look at weekly jobless claims -- how many people trudged up to state unemployment offices, pink slips in hand.  That number has hovered under 500,000. To match up to the level of 1981-82 layoffs, it would have to explode to 1.2 million.  It won't.  Moreover, a big proportion of the layoffs are coming among 16-24 year olds, who are not yet supporting a household.
But so far, a recession refuses to appear, at least in the United States.

(Stiglitz is not just any old economist; he's a prize-winning economist.  So why does he say such foolish things?  This critique provides an answer.

Incidentally, it is possible, even likely, that by raising the minimum wage, the Democratic Congress increased unemployment among young people.)
- 10:34 AM, 15 August 2008   [link]

This Should Embarrass the New York Times.  But probably won't.
- 9:52 AM, 15 August 2008   [link]

Distraction Or Useful Reminder?  Barack Obama thinks that Kwame Kilpatrick would be a distraction at the Democratic convention in Denver.
Barack Obama doesn't want Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his legal troubles to be a distraction at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and he got his wish Thursday when a judge ordered the city executive to stay home.
In my opinion, Kilpatrick would have been a useful reminder, not a distraction.  All across the country, you can find scandal-plagued cities.  Almost all of them are governed by Democrats, but few in the Democratic party are willing to do much to clean up these cities.  (Partly, of course, because many Democratic leaders fear being tagged with charges of racism, since most of the crooks are black or Hispanic.  The people who suffer the most from these corrupt regimes are generally their poor black and Hispanic constituents, but that isn't enough to motivate the leaders of the Democratic party to do anything to clean up these cities.)

Barack Obama gives us an example of this reluctance.  There is corruption in Chicago, and there was all through his career.  As far as I can tell, he did nothing about it.  Nothing.   And he did associate, for years, with Tony Rezko, who is very definitely part of the problem.

Having Kilpatrick on display would be a useful reminder of these scandals, and the willingness of Democratic leaders to tolerate them.  And Kilpatrick should be there; he is, after all, a superdelegate.

(Kilpatrick's legal problems haven't gotten much national coverage.  Here's a partial description.
Kilpatrick and his former top aide, Christine Beatty, were charged in March with conspiracy, perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office, mostly tied to their testimony in a civil trial.   Sexually explicit text messages between the pair, published by the Detroit Free Press in January, contradict their sworn denials of an affair, a key point in the trial last year involving a former deputy police chief.

Separately, Kilpatrick is accused of assaulting two investigators who were at his sister's house trying to serve a subpoena in the perjury case.  District Court Judge Ronald Giles, who ordered Kilpatrick to retain the tether, was to hold a hearing Friday to determine if there is probable cause for trial on the latest charges.
There's more, but that should give you an idea.)
- 7:37 PM, 15 August 2008   [link]

"Sweet Talkin' Guy":  Just realized that some readers may not be familiar with the Chiffons, or with their hit, which has lyrics that I think apply to many politicians.  The Chiffons give us good advice about those guys: "Don't you believe in him, if you do he'll make you cry".
- 3:15 PM, 14 August 2008   [link]

Recession Arrives In Europe?   Maybe.
The European economy, long resistant to the turmoil in the financial markets and in the United States, contracted in the second quarter, according to reports released on Thursday.

Gross domestic product in the 15-nation euro area declined 0.2 percent in the April-June period compared with the first quarter, the data showed, an expected but nonetheless pronounced slowdown under the pressure of slower global growth and higher food and energy prices.  It was the first time since the creation of the euro currency in 1995 that quarterly growth declined in the bloc as a whole.
(Although it is true that Europe has not had a recession since 1995, it is also true that their growth has been slower than that in the United States, for most of that time.)

This should not surprise us, though it does seem to surprise the New York Times.  European economies have been weaker — on the whole — than the American economy for more than two decades now.

For example, German unemployment just rose to 7.7 percent, after decreasing in the last year or so.  The last time the US unemployment rate was that high was 1983.  The difference between the two countries is even larger than it might appear at first glance, since most economists believe that we have full employment when the rate is a little below 4 percent, or thereabouts.  (The numbers for unemployment in the two countries are not exactly comparable, because different nations use different definitions of unemployed, but there is no doubt that unemployment is worse in Europe than in the US, and has been for many years.)

I hope that the Europeans avoid a recession, because I (mostly) wish them well, and because prosperity in Europe is, on the whole, good for this country.  But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't recognize that their policies are more like to result in high unemployment than ours.
- 2:26 PM, 14 August 2008   [link]

What Kind Of People Support Barack Obama?  All kinds, of course.   And among his supporters are people like this enterprising local couple.

Regan "Draco" Lane-Smith and "Naughty" Nonah Elliston outfitted their six-bedroom rental house with 15 mattresses, bondage crosses and sex swings.  They built elaborate sets in their backyard for taking erotic photos.

And they promoted the Hardwood Cabin online.

Up to 60 guests at a time came to mingle, sunbathe nude by the pool and have sex with fellow swingers and fetishists, Elliston said.  Parties were frequent enough that the couple's laundry service was cycling through 50 bedsheets a week.

Enterprising, and public spirited.

The couple hosted a naked rally for presidential candidate Barack Obama and naked karaoke nights.  A friend's "mobile sex dungeon" — created in a small cargo truck — was parked alongside the house.

The article doesn't say why they are backing Obama.  Though, for what it is worth, John Kerry received strong support from the porn industry in 2004, even stronger than the support that Bush received from brain surgeons and rocket scientists.

Authorities in the Seattle suburb where they live, Des Moines, have now shut them down, claiming that they were running a business.  They aren't fighting the ruling, but instead are looking for a commercial location.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(This reminds me, a bit, of the story from a few years ago.  One precinct in Illinois contained many convicted sex offenders, because, as I recall, it contained a large half-way house, or perhaps several of them.  The precinct gave strong support to Democrats.)
- 1:37 PM, 14 August 2008   [link]

90 Percent Of You Already Know This:  Maybe 95 percent.  But for those who don't, or for those, like me, who were only vaguely aware of it, you can get free MP3 songs from Amazon — no surprise there — and some of those songs are quite good, which did surprise me a little.

For instance, right now, they are offering all fourteen tracks on this Smithsonian album of American folk songs.  (I downloaded three songs from that album, "Red River Valley" by Woody Guthrie, "Shout On" by Lead Belly, and "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?" by Doc Watson and Bill Monroe.)

Amazon also has albums with many free songs from, among others, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Benny Goodman, and Mahalia Jackson.

I found these when I was looking for a few sample songs for the new voice recorder, if you are wondering why I just now learned something that almost everyone else already knows.

(I would guess that the MP3 songs on the Smithsonian album don't lose much in quality, because most of the original recordings were lousy.  But audiophiles should feel free to tell me if I am wrong in that guess.

And, yes, it is silly to include a sound from the Watergate break-in on a folk album.)
- 9:52 AM, 14 August 2008   [link]

How To Get Fooled By A Candidate:  Journalist Walter Shapiro has decades of experience.   He followed candidate John Edwards closely for several years.  But Shapiro now admits to having been fooled completely.
Five days after Edwards flat-lined on "Nightline," I am still embarrassed by how badly I misjudged him both in print and in my personal feelings.
. . .
Without overstating these bonds, I naively believed that I knew Edwards as well as I understood anyone in the political center ring.  Yet I never saw this sex scandal coming -- partly because I accepted the mythology that surrounded the Edwardses' marriage and partly because I assumed that any hint of a wandering eye would have come out during the 2004 campaign.  But then Rielle Hunter and the National Enquirer brought us all into the real world.
Shapiro thinks it inevitable that reporters will be fooled by candidates, and much of his column laments that sad state of affairs.

But what he does not consider is that many were not fooled by Edwards.  For example, in 2003, a blogger noted that Edwards had no significant accomplishments — but wanted to be president, anyway.  In 2004, columnist Jim Pinkerton looked at Edwards' investments and found that they were incompatible with his rhetoric, incompatible with his claims to be working for the poor and against racial injustice.  Those facts, easy to find in the public record, should have been enough to tell journalists that they should not trust everything Edwards said.

Shapiro failed because he judged Edwards by what Edwards said: "My mistake about John Edwards was believing all his public boasts about his nearly perfect marriage."  The blogger and Pinkerton succeeded because they judged Edwards by what Edwards did.

Since Shapiro does not understand why he failed, it is likely that he will continue to fail, will continue to be taken in by sweet talkin' guys (and gals).

(It is only fair to add that, as a partisan Democrat, Shapiro would be less likely to be a sucker for a sweet talkin' Republican.)
- 9:09 AM, 14 August 2008   [link]

There Will Be No Shortage Of Limousine Liberals In Denver:  But there will be a shortage of limousines.
Limousine liberals may be forced to take the bus at the Democratic National Convention this month because Denver simply does not have enough limos and black cars to go around.
According to the article, Denver has 271 limousine companies, but most of them are small, so there may be fewer than 1,000 limos in the city.

Apparently, the most popular choice for these wealthy Democrats is a black SUV — presumably because nothing demonstrates environmental responsibility better than a chauffeur-driven black SUV.
- 6:47 AM, 14 August 2008   [link]

Another Theory For Economists To Test:  Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson ends his column on China with this line:
A nation that can assemble 2,000 perfectly synchronized drummers has clearly staked its claim as the world's assembly line.
Unfortunately, he doesn't develop the point, so I don't know whether, for example, 2,000 perfectly synchronized trombonists would also stake a claim to the world's assembly line.  But I do hope that economists test Meyerson's theory.  They might start with North Korea, where many activities are synchronized.

(Does Meyerson know that many modern manufacturing plants do not use assembly lines?  Probably not.)
- 7:25 PM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Some People Will Think there's a conflict of interest in this Pelosi investment.
Which brings us to Madame Speaker's 2007 financial disclosure form.  Schedule III lists "assets and 'unearned income'" of between $100,001-$250,000 from Clean Energy Fuels Corp. - Public Common Stock."   Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is a natural gas provider founded by T. Boone Pickens.  Yep, that T. Boone Pickens— former oilman-turned-wind power evangelist whose ads touting a national wind campaign are now as ubiquitous as Viagra promos.

Pickens and Pelosi now share the same talking points downplaying the need to drill and open up more access to American oil.  Instead, the Pickens pie-in-the-sky plan campaign proposes to completely replace natural gas with wind power in power generation and theoretically free up natural gas for America's transportation needs.
It wouldn't be the first conflict of interest for Pelosi.  (There are even people, not all of them Republicans, who think that Pelosi was not the best choice for Speaker, if you really wanted to clean the House.)
- 4:49 PM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Like To See A Post On John Edwards That Isn't About His Affair?  Joanne Jacobs has one.  (Though she does mention it.)  Jacobs suspects that Edwards might be a phony on poverty, as well as fidelity.  She's almost certainly right.
- 3:11 PM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Northern Spotted Owls And Science:  In 1991, District Judge William Dwyer declared that the federal government was not doing enough to protect northern spotted owls and shut down most logging in Northwest old growth forests.  In 1994, Judge Dwyer approved a Clinton administration plan that made that shutdown permanent.

Dwyer's decisions were devastating for many small logging communities in the Northwest.  (Though some say that the logging would have to have cut back soon, anyway, because so much of the old growth areas had already been logged.  I don't know what the facts are on that question.)

At the time these decisions were being made, I saw a striking statement from a mid-level federal bureaucrat; he said that if the northern spotted owl had not existed, it should have been invented.  What he meant by this is that he and his allies favored stopping logging in old growth areas for other reasons (valid or not) and that the listing of the bird as endangered made it possible to do that.

What he said made me wonder if he was accidentally telling the truth, whether the owl had — in a sense — been invented by bureaucrats who agreed with him.  There were two ways this might have been done.  The northern spotted owl might not be a true sub-species of the spotted owl.  Taxonomists don't always agree on these questions, but some appeared to believe that, though the owl varied over its range (from British Columbia all the way down to central Mexico), it was not broken into sub-populations.  (For what it is worth, Peterson's field guide to Western Birds lists it as a single species — but my copy may be out of date.  In contrast, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior is certain that there are three sub-species of the spotted owl — but the question has become so politicized that I am not sure I can trust anything from the Audubon Society on this subject.)

Second, I thought that the scientists who said that a loss of old growth forests was causing the decline in northern spotted owls might have been wrong.  (I am not saying that any scientists were being deliberately deceptive, but it is possible that some scientists wanted a particular result, and let that affect their thinking, and how they presented their findings.)  It can be terribly difficult to explain changes in population levels, especially with interacting predators.

I have seen nothing since then that settles the first question.  But this Seattle Times article, and the data in the chart that comes with it, gives me more reason to think that I was right on the second point, that the loss of old growth forests might not be causing the decline in northern spotted owls.  First, the data.  If you look at the chart (which you can find in the PDF file labeled "Spotted owls in decline") you will see that the owls have declined steadily in the Northwest since the two Dwyer decisions, in spite of very large areas set aside for their protection.  Logging was stopped in these areas, but the number of northern spotted owls continued to decline.

And some biologists are finding more evidence that it is competition from the barred owl, not the loss of habitat, that is causing the decline of spotted owls.  They have even tried the obvious experiment:

Desperate government wildlife managers are now considering experiments of systematically shooting barred owls.

In a preliminary test in Northern California, researchers shot seven barred owls near former spotted-owl nesting sites.  Spotted owls returned to all the sites.

I don't regard this evidence, and this one experiment, as definitive, but I think that, taken as a whole, the evidence is strong enough so that the experiment should be repeated, in other areas, and with different conditions.  If, that is, we want to get the science right, follow the law, and protect the northern spotted owl.  (I want to do all three, though I favor extensive changes in the laws governing endangered species, partly because those laws often have perverse effects.)  If, on the other hand, we just want to stop all logging in old growth forests, and don't care about the rest, then we should continue doing what we have been doing.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(More information in this Wikipedia article, with the usual caveats.

Kudos to Warren Cornwall and the Seattle Times for a balanced piece on a sensitive and difficult subject.)
- 2:00 PM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Charles Murray Doesn't Think Much Of College degrees:  In fact, in a ideal world, he would eliminate most of them.
Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance.  Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees.  Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews.  That measure should express what they know, not where they learned it or how long it took them.  They need a certification, not a degree.
He's right, and we may move toward certification, instead of degrees, because employers need something that better predicts what an employee can do. (Exception: Many government jobs, which have different constraints.)
- 8:38 AM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Lands' End Comes Through:  As I mentioned in this post, UPS lost one of my packages last week.  After trying, fruitlessly, to get in touch with someone at UPS who could help me, I called Lands' End and asked them to send me a replacement.  The customer representative suggested that they send it signature required, which seemed like a good idea in the circumstances.

Just a few minutes ago, I heard a knock on my door.  I slipped on a shirt and took the seven steps to my front door and found the replacement package.  The UPS driver was vanishing to where he had parked his truck.  And, yes, the package did say "signature required".  I would guess that this was the driver who lost last week's package, and that he was too embarrassed by his mistake to wait for me to sign for the package.

So, thanks to Lands' End for fixing this problem, quickly and professionally.  And now I have one more funny story to tell about UPS.  (They really should get some help on customer service from a company that knows how to keep customers happy — Lands' End, for instance.)
- 3:26 PM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Different Men, Different Offices:  Nancy Benac of the Associated Press describes the senate offices of McCain and Obama.  McCain's office looks pretty much the way I thought it would; Obama's office is even worse than I would have expected.  For example:
Another of Obama's office walls displays a more personal collection of photos taken by his former personal assistant, David Katz, an amateur photographer.  The photos, hung five tiers high, show Obama in various political settings, such as the Democratic National Convention and a Rainbow PUSH event, but also in more intimate encounters with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia, and at home in Chicago.
. . .
The credenza behind his desk contains a handful of file folders in one drawer, but otherwise is completely empty.
What I infer from those two bits is that John Edwards was not the only narcissist in the presidential race, and that Obama has done little work as a senator.  (It would be fine to have a wall of photos showing Obama in a reception area, but in his own office?)

And I find it telling that Senator McCain has "stacks" of books in his office, while Obama has just two:
"I Have Risen," a collection of essays by African-American young people, and the catalog of the U.S. Senate's fine art collection.
For some time I have been wondering how much Barack Obama knows, how well educated he is.  That may seem a strange worry about a man who graduated from Columbia University and Harvard law, but it is easy to get through both schools without learning what you need to know to be an effective president.

(Obama's own claims about what he has read are unimpressive.

The article has a set of miniature photos of the two offices; it was the only version I found that has more than one picture, which is why I used this one.)
- 2:00 PM, 12 August 2008
More:  Similar thoughts from "Bookworm".

And a correction:  There is at least one more book in Obama's office: L'Audacia della Speranza.  But I doubt that Obama can read the Italian translation of his book.  And there are probably a few other books in that cabinet under the TV, though I can't be certain.

The pictures show the titles of a few of McCain's books.  All that I can see look like books that I would like a president to have read.

For what it is worth, neither man appears to have a computer in his office.
- 9:01 AM, 13 August 2008   [link]

Faking It:  The Chinese, as usual.
Chinese officials have admitted deceiving the public over another highlight of the Olympic opening ceremony: the picture-perfect schoolgirl who sang as the Chinese flag entered the stadium was performing to another girl's voice.
On the side of the Telegraph article, you can find a list of six other examples of Chinese fakery in this Olympics.

(Some suspect that the Chinese are lying about the ages of some Chinese gymnasts, that some of the girls are not 16 or older, as they must be to compete in the Olympics.  If those charges are true, then that would be a far bigger scandal than lip-synching, or tarting up a fireworks display.)
- 1:15 PM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Those American Swimmers:  Some of their speed comes from good old American know-how.  (All right, good new American know-how.)
A fluids mechanics professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., is using experimental flow measurement techniques to help American swimmers sharpen their strokes, shave seconds from their lap times, and race toward a gold medal in Beijing this summer.
One way this kind of research might help is in designing better swimming suits, among other things.  (Those Speedo suits don't sound right for casual use, since they can take a half hour(!) to put on.)
- 12:31 PM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:  The Washington Post demolishes the main arguments against offshore drilling.  The Post doesn't go all the way toward a rational policy, but they go more than half way, as they criticize an ad from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The NRDC's arguments above neatly encapsulate the position taken by environmentalists and other opponents of offshore drilling.  And they include a couple of good points.  Contrary to the baldly political suggestions regarding lower gasoline prices by President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), drilling would make no impact on today's pain at the pump because it would be years before any oil flowed from the Outer Continental Shelf.  We agree that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with its varied and sensitive ecosystems, should be preserved.  In the quest for new sources of energy, there are trade-offs.   That pristine area must remain off-limits.  But there are three "truths" masquerading as fact among drilling opponents that need to be challenged:
And challenge them they do.

The Post understands a fundamental point, that there are trade-offs.  It would be silly to give them credit for understanding that, except for the fact that so many do not, or do not mention trade-offs when they make arguments about energy and the environment.  It is impossible, for instance, to imagine the Post's competitors at the New York Times writing an editorial half this sensible.

(For the record: I favor drilling for oil in ANWR.  The small area that would be affected is nothing special, unless you are a mosquito.  And I have heard claims that a change in policy would affect oil prices, even before new supply became available.  I don't know how much evidence there is for that argument.)
- 8:25 AM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Putin For President?  "Spengler" makes the case.
If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb?  Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda?  Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela?  Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers?   Just ask Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.

In answer to Spengler's questions, yes, yes, yes, and yes.  So Spengler is wrong, but his argument is so entertaining that you might want to read it anyway.

And he is not entirely wrong when he argues:
If the West is going to put itself at risk for 3.8 million ethnic Georgians, roughly the population of Los Angeles, or 5.4 million Tibetans, or 2 million Albanian Muslims in Kosovo, why shouldn't Russia take risks for the South Ossetians, not to mention the 100,000 Abkhaz speakers in Georgia's secessionist Black Sea province?  Once the infinite regress of ethnic logic gets into motion, there is no good reason not to pull the world apart like taffy.
More on that enormous problem in future posts.
- 8:04 AM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Putin For President?  "Spengler" makes the case.
If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb?  Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda?  Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela?  Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers?   Just ask Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.

In answer to Spengler's questions, yes, yes, yes, and yes.  So Spengler is wrong, but his argument is so entertaining that you might want to read it anyway.

And he is not entirely wrong when he argues:
If the West is going to put itself at risk for 3.8 million ethnic Georgians, roughly the population of Los Angeles, or 5.4 million Tibetans, or 2 million Albanian Muslims in Kosovo, why shouldn't Russia take risks for the South Ossetians, not to mention the 100,000 Abkhaz speakers in Georgia's secessionist Black Sea province?  Once the infinite regress of ethnic logic gets into motion, there is no good reason not to pull the world apart like taffy.
More on that enormous problem in future posts.
- 8:04 AM, 12 August 2008   [link]

Kirkland's Criterium:  Early yesterday evening, I wandered down town and saw that they were preparing for an event.  I wasn't sure what they were preparing for until I saw the Shimano tape and the bicyclists warming up.  They were getting ready for Kirkland's first Criterium.
A criterium, or crit, is a type of bike race held on a short course (usually less than 5 km), often run on closed-off city centre streets.

Race length can be determined by a total time or a number of laps, in which case the number of remaining laps is calculated as the race progresses.  Generally the event's duration (commonly one hour) is shorter than that of a traditional road race — which can last many hours, sometimes over the course of several days or even weeks, as in a Grand Tour.  However, the average speed and intensity are appreciably higher.  The winner is the first rider to cross the finish line without having been "lapped."
This race was timed; the winner was the rider leading after forty minutes.

Kirkland Criterium, August 2008

There were four races yesterday.  This picture was taken during the first race, which was for the slower men, though they seemed fast enough to me.  There was a race for kids, one for women, and one for the faster men.  (I don't know how they decide which men go in which class.)

Fun to watch, though I didn't understand the strategies the teams were using, in spite of the efforts of one of the volunteers to enlighten me.

(The picture was taken with my Panasonic FZ8, using the sports scene mode.  All of the pictures that I took were fairly sharp, in spite of the speed of the riders.)
- 4:19 PM, 11 August 2008   [link]

Latest Toy:  I am planning to do more interviews for this site in the future, so I purchased a digital voice recorder, the Olympus WS-311M.  I was surprised to see how small it is, 3.75 inches long, 1.5 inches wide, and .5 inches thick.  That would make it easy to use the recorder surreptitiously, and Olympus will sell you a microphone to make it even easier.
The ME-15 is a small, lightweight tie-clip microphone that can be clipped to the tie or the collar, or under a jacket or shirt for concealment.
They will also sell you a connector so you can record phone conversations.

I don't plan to use my recorder to secretly record conversations, on the phone or in person.  And I should mention that doing so is probably illegal in some states.

The recorder seems to work fine, though as a user of Linux I would prefer that it did not record in Microsoft's proprietary WMA format.  (It's also a music player and can play both WMA and MP3 files.)  But I suppose that I will figure a way around that limitation.  And I do wish that manufacturers were less imaginative about their USB plugs, so that I could just leave one plugged in and use it for all my temporary devices.

(Oh, and since I just updated my post on UPS problems, I'll mention that the recorder came in a package delivered by Amazon Fresh.)
- 3:05 PM, 11 August 2008   [link]

Tom Friedman Flies To Denmark:  To celebrate how the Danes are saving fossil fuels.
A day later, I flew back to Denmark.  After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour.  And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles.  That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here.  If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I'd go to work that way, too.  It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining.  No matter.  The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking.  If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark!
Actually, he and his wife flew back to Denmark from Greenland.  The round trip for the two of them must have used a lot of fossil fuel.  There is nothing in the column, nothing I repeat, to suggest that Friedman realizes just how funny this combination of jet setting and a plea to use less fossil fuels sounds.

(There is one interesting bit in the column.  Friedman has been calling for higher gasoline prices for years now.  I have been wondering how much higher, and he mentions a target; the Danes are now paying ten dollars a gallon, and Friedman thinks that is about right.

I have never seen any evidence that Friedman understands just how hard such prices would be on the rural working poor.  But then he doesn't live in a rural area, and is not even close to poor.)
- 1:44 PM, 11 August 2008   [link]

"It's News When We Say It Is":  Years ago, when I was creating software for a living, I noticed something odd about myself.  I noticed that I was beginning to think that any computers in my vicinity belonged to me.  I don't think I am the only programmer who has felt that way from time to time.  And I suspect that workers in other fields make similar mistakes.  I would not be surprised to learn, for instance, that some mechanics think that the cars they work on belong to them, in some sense.

For some years, I have been wondering whether journalists did not have the same proprietary attitude toward the news, whether many of them thought that the news — in some sense — belonged to them.   This strange quotation from New York Times columnist David Carr supports that idea.
I was taught when I was a young reporter that it's news when we say it is.  I think that's still true -- it's news when 'we' say it is.  It's just who 'we' is has changed.
(Carr was trying to explain why the "mainstream" media was so slow to cover the Edwards scandal.)

Note that Carr says he was "taught" that curious idea, that he was taught that news is not something that journalists dig up, but more something that they create, or in some cases, ratify.  For Carr (and probably many other journalists), news belongs to journalists.  Which helps explain many strange things about their behavior.

By way of Newsbusters.

(Carr does understand that "mainstream" news organizations have lost their monopoly; that's why he says the "we" has changed.)
- 1:22 PM, 11 August 2008   [link]

Thoughts On Georgia/Ossetia/Russia:  From Anne Applebaum.  A sample:
Russia, by contrast, is an unpredictable power, which makes responding to Moscow more difficult.  In fact, Russian politics have become so utterly opaque that it is not easy to say why this particular "frozen" conflict has escalated right now.  Russian sources said yesterday that Georgia had launched an invasion of South Ossetia, aiming to pacify the breakaway region.  Georgia, meanwhile, said that its troops entered the South Ossetian "capital" in response to escalating attacks, which have been intensifying for a week — and have been taking place for years, really — as well as the Russian aerial bombardment of Georgian territory.
James Traub claims that the independence of Kosovo prompted Putin to act now.  Traub may be right, but it is hard to see why Putin, or any Russian, would care much about Kosovo's status.  Maybe Putin is doing this just to show the West that we have to pay attention to his views.

(I don't know enough about the conflict to add anything to her column, except two historical tidbits.   Stalin has long been rumored to have been of Ossetian ancestry, at least on his father's side, though the rumors mostly come from Georgians who despised him.  And, the Ossetians are descended from the ancient Alans.)
- 10:53 AM, 11 August 2008
More:  Simon Sebag Montefiore says definitely that Stalin's father was of "Ossetian descent".  (Montefiore is the author of two biographies of Stalin, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin.  He doesn't mention Ossetia in the first book, but Stalin's ancestry would be a natural subject for the second.)
- 2:34 PM, 12 August 2008   [link]

If Clark Hoyt can believe this.
The John Edwards "love child" story finally hit the national news media and made the front page of yesterday's Times.  For weeks, Jay Leno joked about it, the Internet was abuzz, and readers wondered why The Times and most of the mainstream media seemed to be studiously ignoring a story of sex and betrayal involving a former Democratic presidential candidate who remains prominent on the political stage.
. . .
I do not think liberal bias had anything to do with it.
He can believe anything.

What I find interesting about this story is not Edwards' behavior, but the unwillingness of "mainstream" news organizations to investigate the story.  (All right, I find his behavior a little interesting, because it has been so strange, specifically so narcissistic, as he said himself.  That famous video, showing him brushing his hair, tells us more about him than any in-depth article has.)  What's important about this story is not what Edwards did, but what the New York Times didn't do.

And, in spite of what the public editor for the New York Times believes, there is no doubt that liberal bias is one of the reasons that they didn't cover the story.

(Earlier posts on personal morality in politics here and here.)
- 12:50 PM, 10 August 2008   [link]

Kansan Or Kenyan?  Barack Obama likes to present himself as a child of the Great Plains state, because his mother was born in Kansas, although she didn't live there very long.   But Obama almost never mentions that he is, through his father, a Kenyan citizen.  So he has never been a Kansan, but he has been a Kenyan since 1963, when Kenya gained independence.

American law now allows dual citizenship, but does not encourage it.  (A Supreme Court decision in 1967 allowed American citizens to acquire citizenship in another country.  I have no idea why the Court did that.)

If Obama wants to be president of the United States, he should renounce his Kenyan citizenship.

(On the whole, I think that we should not allow dual citizenship, considering the problems it creates.  And we should certainly not allow American elected officials to be citizens of more than one nation.

There is an interesting precedent to our north.  The current Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, renounced her French citizenship when she was named to that position.  On the other hand, many Canadian politicians before her had dual citizenship, in Britain or France.

You can learn more about the complexities of dual citizenship in this Wikipedia article and get a little more background from this Michael Barone piece.)  
- 7:21 AM, 10 August 2008
Second Thoughts:  After re-reading the post, I think I made my point too sharply.  Obama did nothing to get his dual citizenship, and has done nothing to act as a citizen of Kenya.  (In contrast, Canadian Governor General Jean had applied for her French citizenship some years before she was named governor general.)  But Obama should still give up his Kenyan citizenship.
- 3:28 PM, 11 August 2008   [link]

Hypothetical:  On Thursday afternoon, I worked on a post criticizing Obama's claim that we could save enough oil with proper tire pressure in our cars.  I didn't post it because, though I thought I had an important point to make, I wasn't satisfied with the way I was making it.

Yesterday, I found Shannon Love's post on the same subject and was delighted.   He had made the point I wanted to make, but far more elegantly than I had in my unfinished post.  Here are his first two paragraphs
Obama stated that we didn't need to drill for more oil domestically in currently taboo areas because we could save the same amount of oil by getting everyone to properly inflate their tires and tune their engines.  I think this minor issue neatly encapsulates a systemic fault in the thinking of Obama and leftists in general.

To whit: They believe that the mere hypothetical existence of a good means that one can enact real-world policies to reliably accomplish that good.
You'll want to read the whole post.

(I can add one small point:  In the long run we might get people to take better care of their tires by encouraging, or even requiring, valve caps that signaled when the pressure was too low.   Such valve caps are already available, but I am not sure, judging by the mixed user reviews, that they are ready for mass use.  Here's an example, if you are curious.  And you can find some alternatives at Amazon with a simple search.)
- 3:57 PM, 9 August 2008   [link]

Recession In Europe?   Maybe.
A plunge in orders for German exports this week increased fears that Germany, and much of Europe, is slipping into recession.  When preliminary figures for second-quarter economic growth are released next Thursday, most economists expect that nations using the euro will show a decline in economic activity.
. . .
"It now looks likely that the euro zone will be the first major economy to fall into recession," Jonathan Loynes, the chief European economist for Capital Economics, wrote after the report of sagging orders in Germany.
Even Britain may not escape this time, though they have avoided recessions for 17 years.

There would be nothing surprising about a recession in Europe.  The recent oil shock didn't help European economies, with the exception of Norway.  And by keeping European currencies high, they have made it harder for their manufacturers to compete with ours.

For what it's worth, the Intrade bettors now think the chance of a recession in the United States is, as I write, less than 25 percent.  (I'll have more on our economic prospects in a few days.)

(If there is a recession in Europe this year, but not in the United States, we may need a variant on Tom Wolfe's famous quip in The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America: "the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe."  Perhaps something like this: "the gloomy night of a recession . . . ."  One thing is certain.  If we avoid a recession this year, the Bush administration and it appointees will get almost no credit from the "mainstream" media.)
- 2:21 PM, 9 August 2008   [link]