August 2014, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Mathematicians Will Like these fonts.  And will probably be able to figure out what they are illustrating, without reading the text.

(For the record:  I think I might have figured out the first, but am certain I would have been baffled by the second.)
- 3:00 PM, 16 August 2014   [link]

President Obama's Mysterious Trip Back To DC:  The Hill can't figure out why he is coming back, in the middle of his vacation.  It's a scheduled trip, but none of the obvious, presidential explanations seem to work.

For example:
The president is expected to return to the White House on Sunday, but officials won't say why Obama is taking the unusual, and costly, trip back to Washington.  He's expected to return to Martha's Vineyard, where he's been vacationing, on Tuesday.

Speculation has circled around whether Obama might make an announcement of executive actions he's taking on immigration reform, or a surprise visit from a foreign leader.

But the White House is "not anticipating a major announcement on immigration when the president is in Washington," spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with Obama in Massachusetts.
Or any other "major" announcements.

To my mind that leaves two plausible explanations for the trip:  Obama is coming back to check on some secret, ongoing operation overseas, or he is coming back to meet, secretly, with big left wing donors, in order to figure out how to put even more money into this November's campaigns.

The second seems, by far, the more likely.
- 9:38 AM, 15 August 2014   [link]

"There's Gold In Them Thar Walls!"  The Wall Street Journal was able to resist that until the second paragraph of this article, but I knew it had to be my headline.
PERTH, Australia—Greg Cooke knows where gold worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is hidden.  But like many people in this mining city, his problem isn't finding the precious metal; it is being able to recover it.

That's because the gold is in the form of dust that has accumulated in the brickwork of the old Perth Mint since its founding in the 1890s at the height of one of the world's great gold rushes.  Decades of refining resulted in tiny fragments of gold embedding themselves in the fabric of the mint's historic melting house.  To paraphrase a well-known bit of mining lore, there's gold in them thar walls!
Australian Heritage officials think the history is more important than the gold, so those walls will probably stay as they are, instead of being crushed, and refined.  I suppose that's the right decision.
- 3:27 PM, 14 August 2014   [link]

Max Hastings Omits Three Important Bits Of History in this piece describing Churchill's courtship of the United States.
On its own, the best Britain could do was to avoid defeat. Not until the U.S. joined the war could winning be a realistic aspiration.

Thereafter, Churchill wooed, flattered, charmed and strong-armed the United States with consummate skill as he fought to persuade Americans to set aside their caricature view of Britain as a nation of stuffed-shirt sleepy-heads and to see her people instead as battling champions of freedom.

Few lovers expended as much ink and thought as Churchill did in his long personal letters to President Franklin Roosevelt, two, sometimes three, times a week.  The least patient of men, he displayed almost unfailing forbearance.
Despite that courtship, only Pearl Harbor, Hastings says, brought the United States into the war against Germany.

What Hastings omits is, first, that, at the beginning of World War II, there was little the United States Army could do to help or hurt any other nation.
In September 1939, the U. S. Army had ranked seventeenth in world in size and combat power, just behind Romania.  When those 136 German divisions conquered western Europe nine months later, the War Department reported that it could field just five divisions.   Even the homeland was vulnerable: some coastal defense guns had not been test-fired in twenty years, and the Army lacked enough anti-aircraft guns to protect even a single American cities. (p. 8)
(On the next page, in describing the shortages of equipment, Atkinson notes that: "Only six medium tanks had been built in 1939.")

Second, that the United States was, before Pearl Harbor, already engaged in a low-level war with Germany in the Atlantic.  (If you are unfamiliar with that part of the history of World War II, you might start with this article on the first U. S. S. Reuben James, which was sunk by a German torpedo on 31 October 1941.)

Third, that Adolf Hitler, keeping a promise he had made casually to the Japanese, declared war on the United States, before we had declared war on Germany.  William Shirer, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, says that it was not certain that Roosevelt could have gotten a declaration of war against Germany, even after Pearl Harbor — but that Roosevelt expected Hitler to strike first, and that Hitler was determined, for reasons of prestige, to do just that, even though he had tried to stay out of a war with the United States, earlier.

(There are so many editions of Rise and Fall that I can not be certain that the pagination is the same in all of them.  You can find Shirer's discussion about two-thirds of the way through chapter 25, "The Turn of the United States".

Perhaps I am too sensitive, but I sometimes think that Hastings suffers from a little of the anti-Americanism he describes in the first part of that piece.)
- 2:53 PM, 14 August 2014   [link]

ISIS Is A Zionist Plot To Discredit Islam:  It isn't surprising that someone says that — ISIS has been getting a little bad publicity recently — but it is a little surprising to see who said it, and who she works for.
Who is Yasmina Haifi?  She's an official at the Dutch Ministry of Justice who serves as project leader at the Netherlands' National Cyber Security Center.  And she thinks Isis is a Zionist plot to make Islam look bad.
I am reasonably sure that most Dutch civil servants do not share her theory.   Reasonably.

Mark Steyn has a little more to say about her, and then shifts to the demographic changes in Turkey and their effects, which should disturb any thoughtful Westerner.
- 10:06 AM, 14 August 2014   [link]

Two Versions of Rand Paul.
An Iowa evangelical Christian leader stood on stage and told the 1,200 conservatives in the audience and the dozens of reporters that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul had told him he couldn't be at the event Saturday because of a "family commitment."

Then the New York Post's "Page Six" published the news that Paul was in the Hamptons on Saturday with Alec Baldwin.  Paul was "among the intellectual elite" at a fundraiser for a library in East Hampton that Baldwin co-sponsored, the column says.
Senator Paul's aides told the Register that he had a "family commitment", and that the party was just an extra, because he happened to be in New York, but the aides don't appear to have told the newspaper what that commitment was.

Which version is more authentic?  You can make up your own mind on that question.

(The party goers don't look like my idea of the "intellectual elite" — but I tend to be snobbish about such things.)
- 7:05 AM, 14 August 2014   [link]

Another Feel-Good Story From Ernie Pyle:  In some ways, it seems strange that Pyle, who became famous for his World War II columns, and who hated war so much, should have written so many small feel-good stories.  Perhaps it was his way of keeping sane.

Here's one from North Africa, early in 1943.
In a village near one of the airdromes there was a terribly crippled Arab boy about ten or twelve years old.  He could walk, and he used to crawl on his stomach all over town through the dirt and filth.

And what did our soldiers do?  Why, they took the wheels off a battery carrier at the airdrome, and made a little wheeled platform for the kid to lie on, so he could roll along the streets instead of crawl. (p. 82)
That strikes me as a characteristically American thing to do.  (Now, of course, they would probably build him a wheelchair.)
- 2:46 PM, 13 August 2014   [link]

High-Speed Rail, The NYT, And The Triumph Of Hope Over Experience:  While we are on the subject of our newspaper of record, I'll mention an editorial in today's Times, a very silly editorial, which, perversely, cheered me up.

A week ago, the Times published a fine article by reporter Ron Nixon, explaining how the Obama administration had wasted $11 billion on high-speed rail.
The Obama administration has spent nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, but the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China, where trains on average top 220 m.p.h.  Although Republican opposition and community protests have slowed the projects here, transportation policy experts and members of both parties also blame missteps by the Obama administration — which in July asked Congress for nearly $10 billion more for high-speed rail — for the failures.
(Here's some commentary on the article from Tom Maguire.)

This failure should, it seems to me, cause proponents of light rail to re-think their positions, that they should, at the very least, demand reform or new leadership in these programs.

But in their editorial the Times doesn't call for either; instead, they call for doing more of the same.
Most American passenger trains, including Amtrak’s popular Acela service, run at speeds that are far slower than the superfast European and Japanese trains that can zip along at 200 miles per hour or more.  The main reason is that, despite modest investments, American lawmakers have not given high-speed rail the priority it deserves.
Which led me to borrow Samuel Johnson's famous line about second marriages.

(For the record:  I have ridden high speed trains several times in Europe, and enjoyed the experience.  In fact, I have enjoyed almost every long-distance train ride I have taken.  But I have been unable to figure out why other people should subsidize my rides, as much as I enjoy them.)
- 2:22 PM, 13 August 2014   [link]

The Letter Policies At The NYT, Once Again:  Only this time the complaint comes not from me, but from Kenneth Woodward, who backs it up with a powerful example, and more evidence than I ever did.

Two samples:
Whether [David] Carr discovered his mistake by himself or, more likely, someone at the Post called it to his attention, I do not know.  What I do know is that the Times would never have published a Letter to the Editor pointing out Carr’s error.  That’s because, as a matter of policy, the Times will not publish letters that challenge the facts in any piece written by its own columnists or reporters.  I learned this the simple way: by writing such a letter myself.
. . .
Finally, I decided to do a bit of fact-checking of my own—something I invite interested readers of the Times to do for themselves.  In May and June I set aside two weeks each month to read every letter to the editor published in the paper.  Here’s what I found.

First, Ms. [Mary] Drohan [of the Letters department] was right.  There were a number of letters that challenged opinions, most of them taking issue with a Times editorial.  A handful of letter-writers, obviously cleverer than I, came close to questioning truth-claims in presenting their opinions.  But none made the case that a reporter or columnist got the facts or the story wrong.
(Emphasis added.)

Essentially, the Times is claiming infallibility, by that policy.  And not for just a few formal statements, but for everything their employees produce.

For years I have argued that the letters policy at the Times had the effect of protecting some of its miscreants from criticism.  I assumed, because of the consistency of the policy, that there was, at the very least, an informal policy to that effect.  But I had no idea that policy was so absurd that the Times will not even allow factual corrections in their Letters section.

(Incidentally, I sent a couple of emails to a previous public editor at the Times, asking whether the policy was formal or informal, and who was responsible.  I never received a reply, which makes me think that the policy is the publisher's.)
- 1:43 PM, 13 August 2014   [link]

Did You Know That The United States has a beer bottle label dictator?
Widely regarded as an eccentric bureaucrat, Kent ‘Battle’ Martin approves essentially every beer label in the United States, giving him awesome power over a huge industry.

For years, one man has approved virtually every beer label design in the United States.

Among brewers, he’s a tyrant.  A legend.
I didn't, though suppose I knew, vaguely, that those labels required some bureaucrat's approval.

(If you ever have to deal with him, remember to call him by his nickname, "Battle".)
- 8:54 AM, 13 August 2014   [link]

"Are Democrats Meddling In The Alaska Senate Primary?"   To be specific, the Republican senate primary?

Almost certainly.
A super-PAC backing Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is attacking both GOP Senate front-runner Dan Sullivan (R) and Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) in a new ad, the latest sign that the primary there remains competitive.

The spot from Put Alaska First rips Sullivan for trying to "give government more power over our land and water," and attacks Treadwell for helping to create "a company that helped the government spy on people."

The ad seems designed to hurt both candidates with libertarian-leaning voters in both the primary and general elections, and potentially boost 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller (R) in the primary.
It's my impression that this tactic of meddling in the other party's primary has become more common in recent years, perhaps since Democratic Governor Gray Davis used it in his successful 2002 re-election campaign.

I can't think of any examples of Republicans using this tactic, though I am sure there must be a few.  (And, as a practical matter, it might not work as well for Republican candidates, since it usually requires some cooperation from "mainstream" journalists.)

The tactic is, in my opinion, unethical, but is likely to be used as long as it is successful.
- 7:48 AM, 13 August 2014   [link]

Unless All The Polls are wrong, Illinois will have a Republican governor next year.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that they will also have a Republican attorney general, which they need even more.  As I have mentioned before, the current attorney general, Lisa Madigan, would have family problems were she to investigate some corrupt Illinois politicians.

(Here are the campaign sites for Republican Bruce Rauner and Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn.)
- 9:01 AM, 12 August 2014   [link]

Genes For Sale:  When I clicked on Real Clear Politics this morning, I was startled to see an ad for cDNA.  According to the brief ad, the company had more than 10,000 kinds and was offering them at the lowest prices.

I had forgotten what cDNA was, and so, until I looked up complementary DNA, I was unsure what they were selling, and why anyone would want to buy it.  Simplifying, perhaps, I found that they were selling individual genes.
In genetics, complementary DNA (cDNA) is DNA synthesized from a messenger RNA (mRNA) template in a reaction catalysed by the enzymes reverse transcriptase and DNA polymerase.[1]  cDNA is often used to clone eukaryotic genes in prokaryotes.  When scientists want to express a specific protein in a cell that does not normally express that protein (i.e., heterologous expression), they will transfer the cDNA that codes for the protein to the recipient cell. cDNA is also produced naturally by retroviruses (such as HIV-1, HIV-2, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, etc.) and then integrated into the host's genome where it creates a provirus.
You don't have to be a biologist to understand why many might want to buy those genes.  If, for example, you wanted to modify a bacteria so it produced human insulin, you might use the appropriate complementary cDNA.

(If you have forgotten the terms from high school biology, you can look in a mirror to see an example of a eukaryote, but you will need a microscope to see prokaryotes.)
- 8:33 AM, 12 August 2014   [link]

Here's A Little French Verse For Seattle's (Openly) Socialist City Council Member, Kshama Sawant:  It's been around for centuries, and for good reason:

Cet animal est très méchant,
Quand on l'attaque il se défend.
(This animal is very wicked,
When attacked, it defends itself.)

For the benefit of Ms. Sawant, I'll add that the verse is ironic.

If you don't follow Sawant closely, you may need to know that she has attacked Israel for defending itself against the Hamas terrorists.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 8:01 AM, 11 August 2014   [link]

How Late Has Obama Been So Far This Year?  Cumulatively, more than 35 hours, according to Philip Bump.

If you look through his analysis, you'll see that Bump is underestimating Obama's lateness, in several ways.  For example:
And we also included times when Obama was early. In April, he was often early to events (in part, perhaps, because he was traveling in Asia).
(Emphasis added.)

On that trip to Asia, Obama would not control the timing of the events; instead, his hosts would, so he shouldn't be given credit for being on time (or even early) at those events.

It would be interesting to know how much this Obama lateness is a conscious tactic, and how much a lack of self-discipline.

(When Stalin first met Lenin, he was surprised that Lenin did not use that tactic, that Lenin did not come in late to the meeting in order to make a more impressive entrance.

The comments are mostly critical of Obama, which doesn't happen on every Post article about the president.)
- 6:45 AM, 11 August 2014   [link]

Neil Abercrombie's Crash:  Hawaii's Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie was beaten badly in the Democratic primary Saturday.
In a stunning defeat for an incumbent, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie was unseated by a fellow Democrat in Saturday's primary election, as voters chose state Sen. David Ige as their nominee in one of two marquee races that have divided the party.
The current mostly complete count gives Ige a 67-32 percent lead.

What makes this especially surprising is that Abercrombie has been a popular politician in Hawaii for many years.
At the end of his council tenure, Abercrombie once again ran for Congress and won in 1990, and was re-elected ten times.  In the 2008 election, he won with 70.6% of the vote.
. . .
Abercrombie defeated his challenger, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary election on September 18, 2010, 59.3 percent to 37.7 percent.[20][21][22]

On November 2, 2010, Neil Abercrombie defeated his Republican opponent James "Duke" Aiona Jr. by a margin of 57.8% to 40.8% to become Hawaii's 7th governor.[23][24]

So, what went wrong?  Why did the man who had been a favorite of Hawaiian voters for so long become so disliked, while governor?

I haven't seen a formal analysis, but I suspect that this may have been part of the reason for his crash:  Abercrombie had been a legislator all those years, and a legislator can not be as easily held responsible by voters, as an executive.  (This is especially true if the political reporters are bad at covering legislators, as almost all are.)  To do all the things that Abercrombie wanted to do, he had to ask for tax increases.  As a legislator, he could have been on both sides of that issue, favoring higher spending and tax cuts, or at least targeted tax cuts.  Similarly, a legislator can be a pain to work with, and still be re-elected over and over again, but an executive has to have some ability to play well with others.

(Hawaii has just two House seats, so Abercrombie was facing half of the state's electorate in those twelve elections.)
- 8:50 PM, 10 August 2014   [link]

Sergeant Reckless Was Quite A Marine:  Although, with four legs, she looked a little different from the average Marine.  But she did her duty well, and had a beer or two with fellow Marines, when she was off duty.  So she fit right in — and appears to have known that.
- 7:54 PM, 10 August 2014   [link]

Politico's Michael Hirsh Uses Obama's Golf Game To Critique Obama's Presidency:  Hirsh, though a leftist, is an honest enough journalist to recognize that Obama does not play well with others.

Yet in five and a half years of slashing his way through courses from Maryland to Hawaii, Obama has managed to turn this most gregarious of games into an intensely private obsession, one he has shared almost entirely with the handful of close friends—many of them old high-school pals from Hawaii—and White House aides he asks into his foursome.  Mostly, he plays with junior White House aides.  So Obama spends most of his time with golf partners he not only doesn’t have to persuade—he doesn’t even have to talk to them.
. . .
It’s fair to question whether his isolationism on the course reflects his entire approach to leadership.  This president who once billed himself as an intellectual seeker has largely cut himself off, while in office, from new ideas and new discussions.  Thomas Jefferson was just as private and reticent a man as Obama—and of course he didn’t play golf, then confined only to Scotland—but even Jefferson used to regularly lay on big dinners for a broad mix of guests at the White House.
. . .
The problem is that this president doesn’t seem to possess the skills or the desire to get enough votes—full stop.  He certainly hasn’t tried very hard to woo wayward members of the opposite party, as many presidents before him have done.  And he’s certainly not going to make much progress by spending five hours a day addressing a little white ball—and no one else—on Martha’s Vineyard.
In short, Obama has campaign skills, but not some of the skills most essential to governing — in a democracy.

That fact was evident to some of us way back in 2007, and it says something about our leftists, almost certainly including Michael Hirsh, that they didn't see it, then.

(There were people in Chicago who recognized those defects even sooner, of course.)
- 1:09 PM, 9 August 2014   [link]