August 2012, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Now, Gail Collins Tells Us About John Edwards:   In a column published on June 2nd, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times shared some bitter thoughts about the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, ending with this paragraph:
But, somehow, the public realized that this guy who looked so good and sounded so glib was really a fraud.  Even without knowing about the secret love child or the sleazy right hand man, or the impressive ability to stare right into a TV camera and lie like a rug, they got his number and picked other people to run for president.  Voter's gut instincts are generally pretty good.  They certainly were with John Edwards.  Which is, in a way, a happy ending to an awful story.
I doubt that Collins realizes this, but she just indicted John Kerry, who picked Edwards as his running mate, and Gail Collins, who was head of the Times editorial board when they endorsed the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

She has just told us that she and Senator Kerry, though they had far more information on Edwards than most of us, could not see his faults.

I suppose that we should be pleased that she (and from news accounts, Kerry) eventually discovered those faults, but we can't give either much credit for taking this long to see the obvious.

(In January 2003, I summarized the case against John Edwards, noting, among other things, that he had no "relevant education, experience, or accomplishments" to be president.  I don't claim that post of mine showed any great insight.  Anyone who, for example, read a standard reference like the Almanac of American Politics, could have come to the same conclusion I did.)
- 7:06 PM, 8 August 2012   [link]

Last Saturday, Mike Baxter Of The Mets Drew Five Walks Without A Hit:  That, explained a New York Times article, is surprisingly rare.
Drawing five walks or more in a game is less common than hitting three home runs or throwing a no-hitter.  Baxter drew his five walks in a nine-inning game with no official at-bats, narrowing the list to 29 batters.  It was just the 11th time since 1955, when intentional walks were first tracked, that a batter walked unintentionally at least five times without recording an at-bat.
The record is six walks, which is "rarer than a perfect game or an unassisted triple play".

I am only an occasional baseball fan — but I love these odd statistics.
- 6:39 PM, 8 August 2012   [link]

Some Murders Are More Equal Than Others:  In fact, according to Barack Obama, some murders make us "recoil", while others, presumably, don't.
President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans are ‘‘heartbroken’’ by a shooting this weekend in which six people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Obama told reporters in the Oval Office that Americans would ‘‘recoil’’ at the violence if the victims’ ethnicity turns out to be have been a factor in the shootings.
(Emphasis added.)

Of course most Americans are troubled by those deaths, but would we not "recoil" if we found out that it was a botched robbery?  I think most of us would.

This odd remark of Obama's (which I found at Tim Blair's site), does help explain why he is so unconcerned about the ongoing slaughter in Chicago.   Very few of those murders have racial or religious motives.

(For the record:  Of course the law treats different murders differently, and of course it is natural to feel differently about about murders depending on the motive(s) of the murderer.  But I don't think that murders because of ethnic (or, possibly, religious) differences are inherently worse than murders for gain.)
- 3:07 PM, 8 August 2012   [link]

How Long As It Been Since President Obama Answered A White House Reporter's Question?   Seven weeks.

And counting.
- 9:58 AM, 8 August 2012   [link]

Romney's Race To Win?  That's what Jay Cost says.

(I'm still thinking about the problem, myself, though Cost is absolutely right to remind us about the "bounciness" of summer polls.

And I would add this thought, which I have mentioned before:  It's my impression that Republican candidates tend to gain during campaigns, because voters get a chance to hear arguments that they haven't heard from our "mainstream" journalists.  That would be especially true for non-incumbents like Reagan in 1980 and Bush in 1988.)
- 9:36 AM, 8 August 2012   [link]

The German Ant And The European Union Cicadas:  This cartoon from Brussels expresses a view common on both sides of the Rhine.

Some business reporters in the New York Times hint that the current German success has been partly at the expense of its EU partners.  That seems plausible to me, as long as you remember that "partly".

I have no idea who that green cat in front of the wheelbarrow represents.

(Chancellor Merkel is saying, in my rough translation: "Ach!  I detest the song of the cicadas."

You could change that "cicadas" to "grasshoppers", when translating it to English, if you wanted to remind American readers of the usual English form of the Aesop fable.

I have no idea which insect Aesop used in the original Greek, though cicada seems more likely, given their annoying song.)
- 9:21 AM, 8 August 2012
With just a little bit more reading, I learned that in the original Greek version, the lazy insect is a cicada, that there is a variant in which the lazy insect is a dung beetle (!), and that there are versions in which the ants are bad examples.
- 9:48 AM, 8 August 2012   [link]

Kevin Drum Does The Right Thing:  He condemns Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Here is Harry Reid on Mitt Romney's taxes: "I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for 10 years."  PolitiFact rates this a Pants on Fire lie.

An awful lot of liberals disagree.  Typical reasons include sophistry ("PolitiFact doesn't know that Romney paid any taxes"); revenge ("Romney's been telling lots of lies, so why shouldn't we?"); disingenuousness ("All Romney has to do is release his tax returns to clear this up"); or lying as a virtue ("Politics ain't beanbag").

Come on, folks. Reid didn't say I'll bet Romney didn't pay any taxes.  He didn't say he talked to someone familiar with high earners who told him Maybe Romney won't release his returns because he didn't pay any taxes.  He made a flat statement of fact.   He said he has an "extremely credible source," which in this context means someone with direct knowledge of Romney's taxes who decided to pick up the phone and dish about it to Harry Reid. Does anyone really believe this?  Really?  Then, as if that weren't enough, Reid made his little bluff even less plausible by deciding that Romney didn't just avoid all taxes for one year, he avoided them for ten years.  Yeah, baby, that's the ticket!  Put these two things together with the fact that Reid hasn't even tried to make his fairy tale sound believable (it's just some guy he talked to) and this is not a story that a five-year-old would credit.  It's just Reid making stuff up in order to put pressure on Romney, and I think we all know it.
Kudos to Drum for saying this.

(If you are feeling too hopeful after reading that piece, you may want to read the comments to see just how many leftists (or as Drum would say, liberals) disagree with him.)
- 7:28 AM, 8 August 2012   [link]

Voting Twice For Congress:  I just got to do that, legally.

Thanks to my former congressman Jay Inslee.

When Inslee resigned last March he chose a date late enough so that he thought there would be no special election to replace him.  He was wrong.  (And provided one more bit of evidence that he is not as good a lawyer as his opponent, Rob McKenna.)

So we are simultaneously having a primary to choose a candidate for a two-year term — and a candidate for a one-month term, which will start after the November general election.

Oh, and just to confuse things further, the state has been redistricted, so that the new 1st district does not include the same voters as the old 1st district.  I'm in both, but thousands of other voters were in the old 1st district, but are no longer.  So they get to vote twice, too, but not in both 1st district races.

Oddly enough, I get to choose from seven candidates for the two-year position, and eleven candidates for the one-month position.  (There's only one Larry Ishmael running, despite the double listing.)
- 1:17 PM, 7 August 2012   [link]

Ann Romney Visits Llangynwyd:  And provides more evidence for my theory that the Romneys are a "super normal" family.  They do the same things that other middle class American families do, but more of them.

For example:
The sleepy Welsh village of Llangynwyd was stunned on Saturday when the woman vying to be the next U.S. First Lady dropped in for a traditional pub lunch.

Taking time off from helping husband Mitt get to the White House, Ann Romney called in to 850-year-old pub, the Old House, searching for long-lost relatives and promoting her rags-to-riches story as the granddaughter of a Welsh coalminer.
Doesn't that sound typically middle class?

Her grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1929 (not the best year to arrive), worked in the car industry, and was able to bring over his whole family, in time.
- 9:27 AM, 7 August 2012   [link]

President Obama Celebrated The Landing Of Curiosity On Mars:   After cutting NASA's budgets in a way that will make similar celebrations by future presidents less common.
Almost immediately President Obama, whose minions have been whacking the NASA space budget ruthlessly for money to spend elsewhere while promising grand vague things ahead, issued a statement celebrating American exceptionalism:

"The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.  It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination."

Alas, budget cuts have retired the entire U.S. space shuttle fleet scores of missions short of their designed flight lifespans.  Highly-trained American astronauts are steadily retiring.  While those remaining must rent seats aboard Russian rockets to reach the International Space Station for years to come.  While China plans manned Moon landings before 2020, an American return is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Incidentally, spending on space programs is — for those who favor such things — a fine economic stimulus.

(For the record:  To some extent, I agree with the NASA critics who want to privatize much of space travel.  But I think it was foolish to drop the space shuttles before we had replacements, and foolish to give up much of our lead in space to our competitors, and enemies.)
- 8:35 AM, 7 August 2012   [link]

Body Types, Ballet, And Gymnasts:  Neo-neocon looks at the way ballet and gymnastics select for certain girls' body types — and then shape those gymnasts and ballet dancers further so they can make their incredible moves.

I've been fascinated for years by this general subject, by the way, for example, you can identify a gymnast, male or female, from behind.  Or the way so many swimmers have that sleek, seal-like look.  Or the way crowds at professional basketball games are noticeably taller than average.

(Can't do politics all the time.  You lose your sense of perspective if you do.)
- 2:44 PM, 6 August 2012   [link]

Professor Reynolds Calls, Again, For Higher Taxes on Hollywood.
Republicans, if they're smart, can nonetheless teach them that tax increases do, in fact, hurt.

They should head into the next budget battle with a list of proposals for tax increases that will sting Democratic constituency groups, but which will seem eminently fair to voters.

The first such proposal would be to restore the 20 percent excise tax on motion picture theater gross revenues that existed between the end of World War II and its repeal in the mid-1950s.  The campaign to end the excise tax had studio executives and movie stars talking like Art Laffer, as they noted that high taxes reduced business income, hurt investment and cost jobs.
If you believe, as I do, that in recent years Hollywood has done more harm than good to society, then such a tax would be Pigovian, and could be imposed for somewhat the same reasons that we put extra taxes on cigarettes.
- 9:35 AM, 6 August 2012   [link]

Did A Top Obama Advisor Take Iranian Money?  Maybe not Iranian money, but money from a firm with Iranian partnerships.
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who was President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran’s government.

A subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, paid Plouffe for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff.
You'll want to read the whole thing, if only to see Plouffe's side of the controversy.

I have long thought that many such speaking fees were legal bribes.  For example, there is no reason to think that Nigerian audiences were eagerly awaiting Plouffe's words of wisdom, or that he had anything special to say to them.

(And, yes, Republican advisors and politicians have accepted dubious speaking fees, too.)
- 9:07 AM, 6 August 2012
Mickey Kaus has the same suspicions I have, and he's seen Plouffe talk.

Kaus points out that many journalists get these speaking gigs, too, which may give them an incentive to protect Plouffe.
- 7:10 AM, 8 August 2012   [link]

With His Usual Good Humor, Tim Blair Explains Why Australia's Olympic Gold Medal Count Is So Low:  It's the carbon tax.
- 8:12 AM, 6 August 2012   [link]

Ugly Chinese:  In recent decades, China has made massive investments in African countries, usually to get at their mineral riches.  David Blair begins by describing one of the most troubled investments, the Collum coal mine in Zambia, argues that in general the Chinese are exploiting the Africans, and ends with this remarkable quote.
While opposition leader in 2007, [Zambian President Michael] Sata said: “We want the Chinese to leave and the old colonial rulers to return.  They exploited our natural resources too, but at least they took good care of us.  They built schools, taught us their language and brought us the British civilisation.  At least Western capitalism has a human face; the Chinese are only out to exploit us.”
- 7:27 AM, 6 August 2012   [link]

Curiosity Mars Landing?  In less than two hours, I will be watching, live, the landing of the Curiosity on Mars
Curiosity is scheduled to land in the Red Planet's Gale Crater late Sunday or very, very early Monday, depending on your Earthbound time zone.  Confirmation of the landing should come at about 10:31 p.m. PT Sunday for folks on the U.S. West Coast, or 1:31 a.m. ET Monday for those on the East Coast.  The rover will have actually touched down before that, but there's a 14-minute communications lag time for signals traveling the 154 million miles from Mars.
And what an odd way they plan to land it, with it being lowered on a cable from a hovering lander.  There must be a good explanation for using this system — rather than one that has worked before — but I haven't seen it.  It's not quite in Rube Goldberg territory, but it does seem unnecessarily complex.

(Air bags were used to cushion the landings of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.)

As you may know, the majority of Mars probes have failed, so I have good reason to worry.
- 9:01 PM, 5 August 2012
The landing was a success, and the landing sequence was even more complex than I had thought.

According to this Wikipedia article, air bags were rejected because of the weight of the rover, one ton.  A legged landing, which seems the obvious alternative, was rejected for several reasons, including the possibility that the lander would come down on uneven ground.
- 5:47 AM, 6 August 2012   [link]

The Weekend Wall Street Journal Is Almost Always Worth Buying:  This weekend, for instance, they have the usual thoughtful column by Matt Ridley, who is almost always worth reading.

For example:
For constructive critics, this is the problem with modern climate science.  They don't think it's a conspiracy theory, but a monopoly that clings to one hypothesis (that carbon dioxide will cause dangerous global warming) and brooks less and less dissent.  Again and again, climate skeptics are told they should respect the consensus, an admonition wholly against the tradition of science.

Last month saw two media announcements of preliminary new papers on climate.  One, by a team led by physicist Richard Muller of the University of California, Berkeley, concluded "the carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we've tried" for the (modest) 0.8 Celsius-degree rise in global average temperatures over land during the past half-century-less, if ocean is included.  He may be right, but such curve-fitting reasoning is an example of confirmation bias.  The other, by a team led by the meteorologist Anthony Watts, a skeptical gadfly, confirmed its view that the Muller team's numbers are too high-because "reported 1979-2008 U.S. temperature trends are spuriously doubled" by bad thermometer siting and unjustified "adjustments."
(Actually, in practice, scientists mostly respect consensuses, though they shouldn't, ideally.)

Besides that, this issue has a lead article on the two-periods-of-sleep theory, an article on work-first for rehabilitating released prisoners, and a number of good book reviews.  I especially liked Jonathan Lopez's review of Ken Perenyi's Caveat Emptor, a memoir by an unrepentant, and very successful, art forger.

(The Journal's reviews are, in general, much better than those found in their competitor, the New York Times, though I have to add that they review many fewer books.)

And they have a few of those tidbits that provide us with small talk.  For example, they have evidence that women react to economic downturns by putting on more war paint, by buying more lipstick and other cosmetics.
- 10:32 AM, 5 August 2012   [link]

Mitt Romney Is Right About Cultures, according to David and Richard Landes.
The son of historian David Landes -- whom Mitt Romney has been citing since 2005 to back up his argument that some countries are more economically vibrant because of their cultures – says that both him and his ailing father generally support Romney’s views.

David Landes, author and former Harvard professor, had a stroke and is unlikely to respond to controversy over Romney’s analysis of his work, according to his son.  But Richard Landes, a history professor at Boston University and author himself who is currently spending time in Jerusalem, provided a statement Friday morning to the Globe that is largely supportive of Romney.
That cultures have much to do with the successes (and failures) of peoples is one of those things that everyone knows — but that can't be said in politically correct circles, unless it is phrased in carefully disguised ways.

(Yes, there is a grammatical error in that first sentence; Viser should have written "he and his ailing father".  And since I am nit picking, I'll add that the sentence would read better without that "both".)
- 7:31 AM, 5 August 2012   [link]

That Off-Year Feeling:  If I were to judge only by the campaign ads that I have been seeing, I would conclude that this is an off-year election.   Since both the Obama and Romney campaigns expect Obama to win Washington state easily, neither has bought TV time here, at least in the Puget Sound area.  I read about the campaign ads shown elsewhere, and sometimes follow links to actually watch them, but I don't see them here.

Our biggest race is for governor, where the state's attorney general, Rob McKenna, will be facing my former congressman, Jay Inslee, who quit earlier this year so he could he could campaign full time.  Implausibly, Inslee, a mediocre party hack, is claiming to be an independent, which is pretty funny to those familiar with his career.

Inslee is campaigning for governor as if he were running for Congress again, with much talk about national issues like "green" energy, and little on our state's mediocre schools or poor transportation strategy.  (If he has noticed the rash of green energy failures in the last few years, it is not apparent.)

One of the things that surprised me this year is that Inslee has no real competition from other Democrats.  The state has many Democrats who are convinced that they would be great in office, and some of them can pay for their own campaigns, but none challenged Inslee.  He has spent much time during the last few years rounding up party and interest group support, and that may have scared them off.

(I have to admit that Inslee's TV ads have, probably, been effective.  He's a good looking guy, and he has a more-than-competent ad agency putting together ads that present him well.  It will be interesting to see whether he can stand up to the obvious negative ads that I expect outside groups to run.

I say "will be facing" because our top-two primary ballots do not have to be mailed until next Tuesday.  In theory, someone else could displace Inslee or McKenna, but that strikes most as very unlikely.)
- 12:32 PM, 4 August 2012   [link]

The $440 Million "Glitch"  Testing software thoroughly can help one avoid this kind of problem.
Knight Capital Group Inc. KCG +56.98% scrambled Thursday to shore itself up and reassure panicked customers after disclosing a stunning $440 million loss from a computer-trading glitch.

Knight officials blamed software installed earlier this week for causing the brokerage firm to enter millions of faulty trades in less than an hour on Wednesday morning.  The orders roiled trading in almost 150 stocks and left Knight holding losing positions in many shares at the end of Wednesday's trading session.
That sounds exciting — and more than a simple "glitch".

The company is now looking desperately for help, and may have found some.

(If I have time, in a few weeks I'll look for a technical explanation of what went wrong with the software.)
- 3:37 PM, 3 August 2012
One of the stranger things about this episode is that Knight didn't kill the program quickly.  Yesterday, the New York Times had this to say about the failure to use an "off switch", quickly.
Several market insiders said that they were bewildered, because in a market where trading losses can pile up in seconds, executives typically have a simple command that can immediately halt trading.

"Even just a minute or two would be surprising to me.  On these time scales, that is an eternity," said David Lauer, a trader at a high-speed firm until a year ago.  "To have something going on for 30 minutes is shocking."
Thanks to a helpful reader, I have a possible explanation for that failure:  The rogue program was a test program that Knight did not realize was running.

(Here's some of the data that led to that conclusion.)

That explanation sounds plausible — especially if the programming team was short on sleep, as such teams often are.
- 9:25 AM, 5 August 2012   [link]

The Bias At Our Universities Isn't Surprising:  But the willingness to admit it is.
Psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers, based at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, surveyed a roughly representative sample of academics and scholars in social psychology and found that “In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues.”

This finding surprised the researchers.  The survey questions “were so blatant that I thought we’d get a much lower rate of agreement,” Mr. Inbar said.  “Usually you have to be pretty tricky to get people to say they’d discriminate against minorities.”
You don't have to be a cynic to suspect that the number who would discriminate is larger than the number who say they would discriminate.

But I should add that, for many academics, this would be a hypothetical question, since conservatives are rare in those fields.

(Even those academics who do not want to discriminate against conservatives, or other minorities, might do so unconsciously.  That's why, for instance, that some orchestras have blind auditions, where the performer is hidden.  Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any easy way to hide an academic applicant's ideology.)
- 9:36 AM, 3 August 2012   [link]

Harry Reid May Have Learned This Dirty Trick from LBJ.
As a young man running for office in Texas, [Hunter] Thompson wrote, Lyndon Johnson needed to slow down a foe's momentum.  And so LBJ ordered an aide to spread the rumor that their opponent was "enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows."

The aide blanched, and objected. No one would believe a claim like that!

"I know," Johnson was said to have replied, "but let's make the sonofabitch deny it."
And now Harry Reid is spreading rumors about Mitt Romney's taxes, not, one can be almost certain, because Reid believes those stories, but because he wants to make Romney deny them.

(Is the story true?  Johnson was not the most scrupulous of politicians, but Thompson is not the first person you'd pick if you wanted the facts, and nothing but the facts.  I am reasonably sure that Johnson told that story from time to time, but I am not sure it actually happened, at least in his own campaigns.)
- 9:12 AM, 3 August 2012   [link]

Our College Problems Have Made The New Yorker Cartoons:  Today's daily calendar shows a little boy sitting on his living room floor, studying.  His mother is telling him: "There will be plenty of time for playing after you get into college."

And, if he picks the right major and our colleges haven't reformed by then, she's right.

(You can see — and, if you want, buy — the cartoon here.)
- 8:31 AM, 3 August 2012   [link]