December 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Congressman Ron Paul  does say interesting things.   Not always true things, exactly, which is why his supporters have to rush to explain what he really means after many of his statements.

More and more, I am starting to think that he is one of those people who fit the facts to their theories, rather than the other way around.
- 7:47 AM, 24 December 2007   [link]

Global Cooling In 1783:  Caused by the Laki eruption in Iceland.  The consequences were disastrous for Iceland, and for much of the rest of the world.   The story in the Economist is more dramatic, but this Wikipedia article gives the facts more compactly.
In 1783-1784, the system erupted again, from the Laki fissure and the adjoining Grímsvötn volcano, spewing 15 km3 (3.6 mi3) of basalt lava and clouds of poisonous fluorine/sulfur-dioxide compounds that killed over 50% of livestock, leading to famine which killed 21% of the population.
. . .
An estimated 122 Tg (120 Million tons) of sulphur dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere: approximately equivalent to three times the total annual European industrial output in 2006, and also equivalent to a Mount Pinatubo-1991 eruption every three days.[8]  This outpouring of sulphur dioxide during unusual weather conditions caused a thick sulphurous haze to spread across western Europe, resulting in many thousands of deaths throughout 1783 and the winter of 1784.
. . .
The meteorological impact of Laki resonated on, contributing significantly to several years of extreme weather in Europe.  In France a sequence of extremes included a surplus harvest in 1785 that caused poverty for rural workers, accompanied by droughts, bad winters and summers, including a violent hailstorm in 1788 that destroyed crops.  This in turn contributed significantly to the build up of poverty and famine that triggered the French Revolution in 1789. Laki was only a factor in a decade of climatic disruption, as Grímsvötn was erupting from 1783-1785 and a recent study of El Niño patterns also suggests an unusually strong El-Niño effect between 1789-93
There is more at both links.  The Economist says that the change in weather caused massive starvation in Egypt, and as far away as Japan.  The Wikipedia article has more on the effects in Europe.  Note, for instance, that the eruption first made the weather in Europe warmer.

How would we cope with an eruption like that today?  Better, since we have far more resources and a better understanding of volcanoes and their effects on weather.  But it would still be a great disaster.  And I am not sure we could do much to mitigate some of the effects, for example, the massive eruptions of fluorine.

And we will almost certainly have to cope with such an eruption some time.  Iceland is on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and (probably) on a hot spot, as well.
- 7:33 AM, 24 December 2007   [link]

KUOW's Gang Of Four Get Religion:  Well, not really.  But last Friday, the Gang of Four did spend much of the Weekday program discussing religion and politics.  Since none of the four has any religious beliefs, the discussion reminded me, at times, of four monks discussing The Joy of Sex.

(Knute Berger, the former editor of the Seattle Weekly, said on the show that he was in the 18 percent that have no religious beliefs.  Naomi Ishikawa, editor of Colors NW, said she was in that group, too.  Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat says, in this column, that he does not attend church.  The host, KUOW's Steve Scher, did not describe his religious beliefs, but those who have listened to him will agree with me that it is quite unlikely that he has traditional religious beliefs.)

The four seemed somewhat baffled that religion was important to many voters, that it may be more important now than it has been at some times in our past.  I will give them a small hint.   There is an issue that is terribly important to those with traditional religious beliefs, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Orthodox Jews, and even most Muslims.  That issue is, of course, abortion.  And it became a peculiarly bitter issue after a reckless Supreme Court grabbed it, taking it away from our legislatures.  Along with the hint, let me suggest they look at the history of the Civil Rights movement and the causes of the Civil War.

And then there is the question of discrimination raised by Knute Berger, though he did not realize he was raising it.  Let us suppose that people with no religious beliefs do make up 18 percent of the population, as he said.  (That number sounds about right to me.)  In that case, what are the odds that four people, chosen at random, will all have no religious beliefs?  For those who don't have calculators handy, I'll give the answer: about one in a thousand.

Is it possible that discrimination helps explain why four journalists could get together to discuss religion, and all four have no religious beliefs?  Sure.  In fact, I am reasonably certain that many "mainstream" news organizations discriminate against people with traditional religious beliefs.   Not, let me add, as a matter of intentional policy, but because most "mainstream" journalists dislike traditional Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and Orthodox Jews.  It is hard, for example, to imagine KUOW offering a job to a journalist as talented as Fred Barnes — if that journalist shared Barnes' religious beliefs.  And it is simply amazing that neither Seattle paper has picked up movie reviews by Michael Medved.  Or would be amazing if I hadn't learned to expect certain kinds of discrimination.

Would this discrimination at news organizations (and in many other places) encourage some people with religious beliefs to get more involved in politics?  Sure.

Understanding traditional religion would help journalists understand issues not usually thought of as religious.  For example, many environmentalists have beliefs that are, at their core, religious.   (I first realized this when I read John McPhee's wonderful Encounters with the Archdruid, but the idea is much older than that book.)   If you look, for example, at the arguments against drilling in ANWR, you will see that they are, at heart, religious.  Drilling opponents nearly always use religious language in making their arguments.  They will say, for instance, that it would be "sacrilege" to drill there.   Those religious beliefs explain, by the way, why the practical arguments for drilling in ANWR have no effect on most opponents.

Danny Westneat, who seems to be trying to think about these issues, said, during the program, that he wanted to "truth squad" politicians on their religious beliefs.  I am not certain what he means by that, but, if he means what I think he means, I have a suggestion for him:  Call up John Kerry's senate office and ask them how many times Kerry has attended church since November, 2004.  And then call the archdiocese of Boston and ask the same question, and follow it up by asking whether Kerry and his wife (who inherited a lot of money) have made any significant donations to the church.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I thought Kerry's ostentatious church attendance during the 2004 campaign reflected political calculations more than religious beliefs.

The gang is not completely hopeless on religious questions.  When a caller complained that her school's winter concert had too much religious music, Westneat replied that the Seattle schools typically had none.  And Berger made a sensible point; most of the good holiday music is Christian, not secular.

Nor was the entire program as one-sided as it usually is.  The four began by chuckling over Congressman McDermott as the Grinch, though they had no explanation for him voting against Christmas.  (Hint to the gang: Look at the ideological ratings for those who joined him.)   All admitted that the South Lake Union Trolley (which I think has been re-named to avoid that unfortunate acronym) was a silly idea.  It is good to see the gang rejecting one 19th century transportation solution.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The grade for the gang last Friday was 0.10, which may be generous.

Finally, here's an essay from 2005 on the importance of those who oppose traditional religion to the Democratic party.  They are a bigger part of the Democratic coalition than black Protestants.

Today, I forgot that the gang was on until the last twenty minutes of the program.  But that twenty minutes was worth listening to — if, that is, you share my desire to know why "mainstream" journalists are failing so badly.  A caller brought up impeaching President Bush, and got strong reactions from the gang.  Steve Scher made a revealing comment about Ken Starr's "witch hunt".  The Seattle PI's D. Parvaz was enthusiastic about impeachment, and was sure that she knew why Bush should be impeached; Parvaz is absolutely certain that Bush lied us into the war in Iraq.  She did not find it necessary to share any evidence she may have for that proposition with the audience.  (Incidentally, the more I listen to her, the more I am reminded of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.)  Knute Berger loved the idea of impeachment — but suspected it would not help his side, politically.  Danny Westneat was relatively moderate; he wants hearings that might lead to an impeachment.  (Unless I missed it, the four did not differentiate between impeachment and trial, which they should have, for their audience.)

At the end of the program, Scher asked the others what they thought the big story of the year was.   All answered, naturally, the success of the surge in Iraq.  Just kidding!!  None mentioned the surge or its success, and I wouldn't expect them to in future programs.  But that is the biggest story of the year.  That the four don't know that, or refuse to say it, tells us something interesting about them.

The grade for those twenty minutes was 0.00.)
- 5:21 PM, 21 December 2007   [link]

Sometimes The Bias Is So Blatant, It's Funny:  For instance, consider this example from the BBC.  If you look at the captured BBC page, you'll see that the BBC was saying this: "Three Britons were freed from Guantanamo Bay."  Almost anyone reading that would think that we had been holding three British citizens and had just released them — which is exactly what we were meant to think.  In fact, the three had been British residents at one time, but none had ever been British citizens.

We have released four men who were, at one time or another, residents of Britain.  (One, a citizen of Saudi Arabia (Shaker Abdur-Raheem Aamer), is going to that country.  A fifth man, a citizen of Ethiopia (Binyam Mohammed al Habashi), is still being held at Guantanamo.)  The other three are citizens of Algeria (Abdenour Sameur), Jordan (Jamil el-Banna), and Libya (Omar Deghayes).  And, even going by what the BBC says about these men, we can see reasons to think that they may be very bad men, indeed.  For instance, Sameur "admitted having prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks".  (Though now he says he made the admission under duress — naturally.)  And the BBC has left out many interesting details.  They don't mention, for instance, that el-Banna committed a number of crimes in Britain.

Now, do you even know anyone who would refer to any of those men as Britons?  I don't.  Calling them Britons is laughable, though I admit that it may be funnier to those of us who do not have to pay for the BBC.

(For more, see this very funny Littlejohn column, or some of the comments in this open post.)
- 10:35 AM, 21 December 2007   [link]

Here's an inconvenient fact.
The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001.  Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased.  Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming — the greenhouse effect.
The author, David Whitehouse, who is a former BBC science correspondent, goes on to say:
Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly.
Or trillions of dollars.

I'm not sure I would go as far as Whitehouse does in this piece, but I do agree that this requires an explanation.  There may be an explanation that is compatible with the standard global warming models, but I haven't seen it yet.

(A very well-informed correspondent sent me links to one of the standard temperature data sets.  I hope to have a chart or two for you soon after the beginning of next year, so we can take a look at the data together.

As usual when I discuss global warming, I suggest that you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 1:15 PM, 20 December 2007   [link]

Troubling:  First, Ron Paul says he will keep a contribution from a Nazi.   And now there comes a report that he regularly meets with white racists.   The report may not be true — I certainly hope it isn't — but Congressman Paul does seem to draw an awful lot of support from people a decent politician would avoid.

(Paul says that he is keeping the donation because otherwise the man would just use it for something worse than the Ron Paul campaign.  But Paul could, and should, donate the money to some appropriate charity, rather than keeping it.)
- 11:09 AM, 20 December 2007   [link]

Here's A Potential Dilbert strip.
A judge has sided with a man who was fired for posting a "Dilbert" comic strip that made fun of managers on an office bulletin board.
Nasty, brutal fun, but still fun.

More than once I have seen Dilbert strips used in efforts to communicate with managers.  A subordinate will post a strip in an effort to say something indirectly that he feels he can't say openly.  A smart manager will pay attention to such postings, and learn from them.

Scott Adams has some advice about how to use his strips, without getting fired.  He's half serious, half joking, as usual.
- 10:36 AM, 20 December 2007   [link]

Still Another Column On That NIE:  James Schlesinger weighs in on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear weapons, and finds much to criticize in both the estimate and the reaction to it.
The release earlier this month of "key judgments" from the National Intelligence Estimate--including the bald assertion "that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program"--has caused both astonishment here at home and consternation overseas, where it has resulted in confusion about America's policy goals and steadiness.
. . .
But the American media today almost reflexively treat any development as a setback for the administration of George W. Bush.  So, the media quite clearly ignored the obvious: that a surprising decision by Tehran in 2003 to halt the covert weaponization effort likely was a tribute to the successes of American policy and arms during that period.  Thus, administration policies and actions that likely induced caution in Tehran could be characterized, ironically enough, as an administration defeat.
Schlesinger has the experience to support his judgments; as the tag at the end says, he is a "former secretary of defense, secretary of energy and director of the Central Intelligence Agency".  What the tag doesn't mention is that he served Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

(Here's his Wikipedia biography.)
- 8:12 AM, 19 December 2007   [link]

Barack "Arugula" Obama?  Many have had some fun with the Illinois senator's middle name, "Hussein", using it to suggest that the name his Muslim father gave him may show that he has some Muslim beliefs.  Former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey was just the latest to pull that trick, though he did it more cleverly than most.  (Tom Maguire, unable to resist a joke, has taken it even further and likes to call the senator "Barack Hussein Il Jong Obama".)

Calling Obama by his full name is fun, but, if we want to understand him, another middle name might be more appropriate than "Hussein".  I didn't pick "Arugula" for that name at random.
Still, during his first major Iowa farm visit earlier this summer, he made it clear that he sometimes forgets he is not in his intellectually and financially affluent section of Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood.

On the farm that day, while trying to make a sympathetic point that farmers have not seen an increase in prices from their crops, Obama posed the following question:

"Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?" he asked.  "I mean, they're charging a lot of money for this stuff."
Forget for a moment who said that and suppose you had been asked to describe the person who made that comment about the high price of that staple of poor families, arugula.  How would you describe them?  Wealthy?  Snobbish?  Out of touch with ordinary people?   I think most of us would suspect that there might some truth to all of those.

If we forget about his color for a moment and think about Obama's background, we can see reasons to think that those descriptions may have some truth in them.  He was raised (mostly) by well-off white grandparents, who sent him to that humble prep school, Punahou, where the yearly tuition is now a mere $15,725.  From there Obama went to Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law, all of them schools that have more than their share of wealthy students, students who are used to the same kinds of privileges that Obama grew up with, students who would know what arugula is, and might even demand it in their cafeteria meals.

Obama's career choices (excluding one year working for Business International Corporation) are also typical of children of privilege.  He worked as a community organizer, a lawyer, and a professor.   (Granted, being a community organizer is more common among the children of wealthy leftists, but it is still often a choice of the wealthy.  None of us would be surprised to learn that a young Kennedy, for example, had begun his or her working career with that job.)  All have enough status to satisfy most aristocratic families.  (Raising arugula would probably work, too, but raising an ordinary crop, such as corn for hogs, wouldn't.)

It is only his color that makes Obama's arugula side hard to see.  But it is there, and that odd little conversation with the Iowa farmer tells us something about the man, something more amusing than terrible, but something that also tells us that Obama may be out of touch with many Americans.

(Full disclosure:  I can't recall buying arugula, though I probably have eaten it a time or two.  Having read about it for this post, I have decided to try it, thinking that it might spice up an otherwise bland salad.  Assuming it doesn't cost too much, of course.

Obama made a large mistake in that interchange, though a common one.  In fact, many farmers have seen better prices for their crops in recent years.  Corn farmers have done especially well.

If Obama is not a Muslim, what is he?  Formally, as you almost certainly know, he is a Christian, specifically, a member of the United Church of Christ.  But the particular church he belongs to, the Trinity United Church of Christ, has what some might consider an unusual set of beliefs, with more than a touch of racism.

I think it unlikely that Obama shares those beliefs, though I do think that he ought to answer questions about them some time.  And I can't help noticing that his membership in that church would have been quite helpful to him early in his political career.)
- 3:06 PM, 18 December 2007   [link]

It's Just A Correlation:  Which, as everyone who took a course in statistics knows, does not necessarily show causation.

First, the findings:
Statistics on Palestinian homicides and foreign aid to Gaza and the West Bank reveal that as aid increased to the Palestinian government, so too did the numbers of people (both Israeli and Palestinian) killed by Palestinian militants.
. . .
The correlation between aid and homicides becomes even stronger when comparing the amount of aid given in one year to the number of homicides occurring in the following year, . . .
But as everyone who was truly paying attention in statistics class knows, correlations sometimes do indicate causation.

And it is not hard to think of a simple theory to explain this correlation.  Leaders of the Palestinians want to kill Israelis or their rivals, but are limited by their resources.  Give them more resources and they are able to order more killings.

That brutal theory is unpleasant, so unpleasant that many, especially those in the soft left, prefer not even to consider it.  But it does fit the data — and it does fit what Palestinian leaders say internally, though not what they say to the Westerners who supply most of the aid.

By way of Daniel Pipes.
- 6:21 AM, 18 December 2007   [link]

The Two Parking Lots:  Yesterday afternoon I drove over to the Kirkland post office to mail some last minute packages.  When I got there I found a line of cars stretching out on to the main street (6th).  People were waiting for others to leave the small customers' lot in front so that they could park and go inside and wait in line.

Since I had just three easy-to-carry packages, I pulled around the line, drove about a block, and parked on a public street.  As I walked to the post office with my packages, I had a good view of the large parking lot in back of the post office.  A sign said that the lot is reserved for the post office vehicles and employees' cars.  It was more than half empty.

When there is a parking shortage in this area, private malls almost always give preference to their customers.  For example, a very large mall, Bellevue Square, requires their employees to park off site when the mall expects crowds.

The private malls put their customers first; the public post office puts their employees first.  And I think that we should understand that this difference is typical, that it is what we should expect.   Bureaucracies, public and private, tend over time to become run for the benefit of the insiders.  But private bureaucracies are disciplined by markets, by the existence of other choices.  If Bellevue Square makes it hard for me to shop there, I have other choices.  But the post office still has a monopoly on many services, and that explains why their employees get the large parking lot, and their customers get the small lot.

(There's something else that interests me about the local post office.  As far as I can tell, most of the employees are now foreign born.  Why that is so I'm not sure.  I had always thought post office jobs were, for the skill levels required, relatively well paid, and quite secure.  But sorting and delivering the mail are becoming jobs that, at least in this area, native born Americans don't do.)
- 5:50 AM, 18 December 2007   [link]

Some Offers Are Easy To Refuse:  For instance, this one.
Standing atop a stage in a livestock auction barn, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton likened the experience to her quest to woo undecided voters in the closing days before Iowa's pivotal caucuses.

"I've been to cattle barns before and sales before, in Arkansas, but I've never felt like I was the one that was being bid on," Clinton told a crowd in western Iowa.  "I know you're going to inspect me.  You can look inside my mouth if you want.  I hope by the end of my time with you I can make the case for my candidacy and to ask you to consider caucusing for me."
However, I would like a chance to look at some of her papers from the Clinton administration.

(Humorist Calvin Trillin has suggested that young men contemplating marriage should check the teeth of prospective wives, because bad teeth could be so expensive over the long run.  But most of us are not thinking about marrying Hillary, just trying to figure out whether she would be an acceptable president.

I'm not sure where I saw Trillin's suggestion, perhaps in Alice, Let's Eat.)
- 6:27 AM, 17 December 2007   [link]

Do Journalists Deserve Special Privileges?  Many journalists think so.  That might help explain this incident.
A foxy Philly anchorwoman - who once e-mailed sexy swimsuit snaps to a married TV talking head - became an anger woman yesterday, calling a female NYPD cop a "dyke bitch" and slugging her in the face, law-enforcement sources said.

Alycia Lane - an anchor for Philadelphia's KYW-TV and a former TV reporter in The Bronx - was in a cab with her hunky boyfriend, K-Rock ex-jock Chris Booker, when they got stuck behind a slow-moving, unmarked police car in Chelsea, the sources said.
Most drivers have gotten unhappy at having to wait for another car, but few of us think we have the right to order the police around.  I can't help but suspect that Ms. Lane's profession has given her a sense of entitlement.

(As I have said before, I am opposed to special privileges (including shield laws for journalists — or any other would-be aristocracy.)
- 5:53 PM, 17 December 2007
Update:  What did Lane do as soon as she got out of jail?  She called Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.  (By the way, don't miss the hilarious geography mistake, since corrected.)
- 7:24 AM, 18 December 2007   [link]