December 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Two Bill Mauldin Cartoon Collections:  Perhaps not really suitable as Christmas gifts, but almost every American ought to have one of these (or some other collection of Mauldin cartoons), if they want to understand a little of what it was like for ordinary soldiers in World War II, especially the infantrymen fighting in Italy.

The first, Up Front, is a collection from the war, in chronological order, with considerable explanatory text.

The second, Bill Mauldin's Army, contains all those cartoons, and more, and almost no explanatory text.  The cartoons are grouped by themes, rather than chronologically, beginning with a group from training camp.

That makes it something of a puzzle book, which some readers will like, and others won't,  For example, some will be amused by the World War I helmets worn by the soldiers in some of the training cartoons, and will guess, correctly, that those were among his earliest.

The second also includes some that are not in the first, some from late in the war, and a few he might have left out for political reasons, for example a cartoon showing two French women with shaved heads, being pulled in a cart, while a crowd jeers at them.

But what strikes me most about the second is the way his cartoons jump in power and artistry — after he had been in combat,  A few of the early cartoons from training are quite funny, but on the whole they are just average or, in a few cases, below average.  And then Willie and Joe appear, and everything is suddenly on a higher level.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia biography.

If the cartoon on the front of the second book puzzles you, take a close look at the front bumper on the jeep.)
- 4:03 PM, 8 December 2015   [link]

The Encryption Train Left The Station Decades Ago:  Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are complaining that our tech companies are making it too easy for terrorists to hide their messages with encryption.  I can understand why the agencies feel that way — and suspect they are right to think that Edward Snowden made it harder to spy on terrorists, by revealing what we could do.

So the agencies are asking, publicly, for Apple and Google and the others to drop their encryption and, I imagine, asking privately for the companies to install "back doors" that NSA, the CIA, and the FBI can use.

Unfortunately, even if the companies were to drop their encryption, it wouldn't help much.  (Installing back doors might help for a year or two, but I suspect they would soon become public knowledge.)

The reason it wouldn't help much is that there are widely available free encryption tools.  The first was PGP.
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a data encryption and decryption computer program that provides cryptographic privacy and authentication for data communication.  PGP is often used for signing, encrypting, and decrypting texts, e-mails, files, directories, and whole disk partitions and to increase the security of e-mail communications.  It was created by Phil Zimmermann in 1991.[1]
If you aren't familiar with the history of PGP, read further down in the article to see just how seriously our intelligence agencies took it.

If Google, Apple, and the others agreed to drop encryption, it would have almost no effect on the smarter, better informed terrorists, because they have alternative ways to encrypt their communications.  It would be best if our agency heads accepted that fact, and looked for other ways to spy on our enemies.

(There have been rumors since it was founded that the NSA was sometimes a step or two ahead of our enemies, and was able to read their mail when they thought we couldn't.  I have no idea how much truth, if any, there is in those rumors — and couldn't tell you if I did.

Maybe if we live another twenty or thirty years, we'll get to read about what the NSA was able to do back in the 1950s and 1960s.)
- 1:05 PM, 8 December 2015   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon made me laugh.

But I fear that some parents may not find it as funny as I do.
- 10:00 AM, 8 December 2015   [link]

Weird Newegg/Firefox Problem Solved:  Recently I have been spending a lot of time looking for computer parts for the new computer I am about to build,  Naturally, I have been looking at the Newegg site, both for information, and prices.

Last night, I clicked on the site, using the drop-down menu and started exploring — and it was only after I saw the prices in pounds, instead of dollars, that I realized I was looking at their United Kingdom site, rather than their US site.  I corrected the URL, and when I pressed return, saw it go back to the UK.

Since I was tired, I let it go, after checking that I could access the site with my current laptop, or using Windows on my desktop.

This morning I tried the usual blunt-force fixes, first clearing the cache, which had no effect, and then deleting the Newegg cookie, which solved the problem.

So, somehow that cookie got corrupted — and I haven't the faintest idea how that happened.

(For those unfamiliar with Newegg, I'll say that I have found it a good place to shop for computer parts.  The reviews there can be quite useful, though you have to remember that many of them are written by guys who want to make a computer go as fast as possible, even at some risk to the stability of the system.  You can understand them if you think of them as computer hot rodders.

For the technically curious:  I have been trying to decided whether or not to use an Intel Skylake CPU/GPU in the new system.  It has obvious advantages such as better graphics, lower power use, and faster memory, but I am not sure how well it will work — now — with Ubuntu, the version of Linux I've been using for years.

I am thinking seriously of doing something I have avoided in the past, getting close to the cutting edge of technology, and risking a few cuts.  Specifically, I an thinking of installing the 15.10 version of Ubuntu, even though it isn't a long term version.)
- 9:46 AM, 8 December 2015   [link]

Donald Trump And Gresham's Law In Politics:   Remember Gresham's Law?
Gresham's law is an economic principle that states: "When a government overvalues one type of money and undervalues another, the undervalued money will leave the country or disappear from circulation into hoards, while the overvalued money will flood into circulation."[1]  It is commonly stated as:  "Bad money drives out good".
Similarly, in political debates and campaigns, bad rhetoric often drives out good.  You can often see that in comment sections, where a nasty and unfair comment will draw similar replies, and end a rational discussion.

(Sometimes, in my opinion, this is done intentionally, by one or more commenters who want to damage a site, or drive away other commenters.)

And so it has been in this year's campaign; again and again Trump's lines get the publicity and more rational arguments from the other candidates are drowned out.  When, for instance, he talked about building a wall on the border, he did not mention that about half of the illegal immigrants here in the United States crossed our borders legally — and overstayed their visas.  Or that we have been building such a wall for years now.

Similarly, I think there is an irrefutable case for accepting only immigrants who already share most American values, and have been saying that for years.  But that kind of argument won't get the attention that a promise to ban all Muslims will.

In his effort to drag every other candidate into the gutter with him, Trump has had an essential partner, our "mainstream" news organizations — and I am absolutely certain that some "mainstream" journalists give him additional publicity because they know that he is damaging the Republican Party's chances in 2016.

(There is one group of Muslims who should be admitted to this country soon: the translators who worked with American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Many are under death sentences from the terrorists.)
- 8:09 AM, 8 December 2015   [link]

Worth Reading:  Three pieces from the Wall Street Journal on the Venezuelan election.  Let's begin with two magic numbers, 101 and 112.  They are magic because a 3/5 majority (101) in Venezuela's National Assembly gives the majority additional powers, and a 2/3 majority (112) gives them even more powers.  (There are 167 seats in the Assembly.)

Juan Forero and Anatoly Kurmanaev describe some of those powers:
A simple majority permits the opposition to free political prisoners, enact basic laws, approve the budget and government debt.  Three-fifths of congress—101 or more deputies—would permit the passage of powerful laws that could lead to a host of deep overhauls.  The opposition could also remove the vice president or ministers.  Two-thirds of the assembly would give them the power to restructure a judiciary that human rights groups say is stacked with government supporters.

Crucially, two-thirds could also give the opposition the ability to call a constituent assembly—a move that would require Mr. Maduro to step down while a new constitution is drafted.
According to the Wikipedia article on the election — which is very much a work in progress — the opposition coalition (MUD) has won 112 seats.

Mary Anastsia O'Grady gives us some essential background for this electoral revolution.

And, in an earlier article, David Luhnow and Juan Forero explained how a populist "pink tide" was "ebbing" in South America.
- 7:05 PM, 7 December 2015   [link]

President Obama's Speech On Confronting New Terror Threats:  When I heard that President Obama was going to talk to the nation, I immediately suspected that an effective reply to his speech had already been written, that Noah Rothman's post, "The Closing of Barack Obama’s Mind", had already said what would need to be said.

After I read Sunday's speech, I decided I was wrong — but not by a lot.

The terrorist threat has "evolved", according to Obama.
Over the last few years, however, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase.  As we’ve become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. I t is this type of attack that we saw at Fort Hood in 2009; in Chattanooga earlier this year; and now in San Bernardino.  And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the Internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
But, as you can see if you read the rest of the speech, Obama doesn't plan any large change in our anti-terrorist strategy.

(That's not necessarily wrong; there are times in wars when it is correct to continue doing what you have been doing, even though there has been a setback — but I think it is wrong, at this time, for this war.)

And so, although Rothman's general critique is too strong, and wrong in a few details, Rothman correctly identifies the flaws in Obama's thinking, on this subject, and others.
Barack Obama has a self-conceit:  He sees himself as pragmatic, empirical, a man driven by reason rather than emotion, truth rather than dogma.  Which simply underscores how ideological he is.  His self-conception is a self-delusion; he is blind to how closed his mind is and how much he distorts reality in the cause of his meta-narratives.  This happens on issue after issue — Mr. Obama’s intellectual distortions are not, alas, contained to a single topic — but it may be most pronounced in his utter inability to see the struggle within Islam that is unfolding before his very eyes.  He doesn’t want it to be true, and so he won’t allow it to be true.

Here’s the problem:  There is an independent reality apart from what Mr. Obama thinks.  He can ignore the truth, but he cannot wish it out of existence.  And by ignoring the reality of things, he makes everything worse.  (It turns out that calling ISIS a “jayvee team” last year and declaring it “contained” a day before the massacre in Paris doesn’t make it so. Who knew?)
I'd add two specific points to that general critique:  First, President Obama did not reach out to Republican leaders before he delivered the speech, did not even try to enlist bipartisan support for his strategy.  He might not have gotten much Republican support, but he should have tried for it.

Second, he did not say anything about the effects of his strategy on the peoples of Syria and Iraq.  Essentially he is planning to win this war in Syria and Iraq slowly — regardless of the damage that prolonging the war there will do to the people in those countries.

(This may seem persnickety, but I wouldn't say "evolved into a new phase".  Evolved is best reserved for changes in plants or animals that take many years, or, by analogy for organizations that have changed over many years.  Phase can have a precise meaning in science or math, but it is almost always vague outside those areas.

It would be best to say something simpler and more direct, like this:  The terrorists have changed their tactics, and so we have had to change ours to meet new threats.)
- 3:33 PM, 7 December 2015   [link]

What's In Tashfeen Malik's Name?   When the name of the second San Bernardino terrorist came out, I was mildly surprised, because I expected her to be "Mrs. Farook", or something similar.   And I noticed, without paying much attention, that her name was different from her parents' name, too.

Novelist Juliette Ochieng noticed the same things and investigated, learning that Malik had chosen that name, that it is almost always a man's name, and that — well, I won't give away the ending, but I think you'll find it interesting.
- 8:00 AM, 7 December 2015   [link]

Pearl Harbor Day:  This year, as I have before, I will just recycle three of my four posts from 2011: the complete failure of the first phase of the Japanese attack, why we were surprised, and Roosevelt's "day of infamy" speech.

This year, Bing is showing flowers on water, which I think is in remembrance of the day, and as usual Google is ignoring the date.
- 8:44 AM, 7 December 2015   [link]

Venezuela Is Covered With MUD:  And that's a good thing, because MUD is the name of the coalition trying to defeat the Chavistas.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (Spanish: Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD) is a catch-all electoral coalition of Venezuelan centrist, centre-left, left-wing and some centre-right political parties formed in January 2008 to unify the opposition to President Hugo Chávez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela in the Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2010.[1]
MUD is claiming they have won the election.
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Here's the latest on Sunday's important congressional elections in Venezuela (all times local):

10:05 p.m.

Leaders of Venezuela's opposition are saying they won a majority of seats in legislative elections ahead of the announcement of official results.
Despite the regime's efforts to change the results by keeping the polls open longer — illegally.

Opposition bloggers are saying that MUD not only won, but won a two-thirds majority.   For example:
Venezuelan opposition MUD to Win 113 Seats in the 167 seat National Assembly, a 2/3rd Majority.
Will President Maduro accept these results?  He said that he would.
Nicolás Maduro began to walk back his fire-and-brimstone talk about unleashing a virtual civil war if he lost today’s election before the first vote was cast.  In a meeting with UNASUR election observers yesterday, he pledged to accept the results “whatever they may be,” saying his now infamous “como sea” (whatever it may take), which had been at the very corazón-de-lechuga of the PSUV’s campaign, had been “misinterpreted.” “For us,” said Maduro “the life of the people comes first.”

Andrés Pastrana, the former Colombian President, spoke for six former Latin American presidents saying, “a message that brings tranquility is that President Maduro has vowed to accept the result whatever it may be.”
We can only hope that, this time, he is telling the truth.
- 8:37 PM, 6 December 2015   [link]

The National Front Came In First — In The First Round Of French Regional Elections:  In their articles on this first round, the BBC, the Guardian, and the New York Times all described the party as "far-right".

But that's not how the party describes itself, now:
During the 1980s, Le Pen complained about the rising number of "social parasites", and called for deregulation, tax cuts, and the phasing-out of the welfare state.[173]  As the party gained growing support from the economically vulnerable, it converted towards politics of social welfare and economic protectionism.[173]  This was part of its shift away from its former claim of being the "social, popular and national right" to its claim of being "neither right nor left – French!"[174]   Increasingly, the party's program became an amalgam of free market and welfarist policies.[122][175]
Nor does it fit many of the party's policies, now:
Under her leadership, Marine Le Pen has been more clear in her support for protectionism, while she has criticised globalism and capitalism for certain industries.  She has been characterized as a proponent of letting the government take care of health, education, transportation, banking and energy.[171][175]
. . .
Marine Le Pen described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "defender of the Christian heritage of European civilisation."[182] The National Front considers that Ukraine has been subjugated by the United States, through the Ukrainian crisis.  The National Front denounces anti-Russian feelings in Eastern Europe and the submission of Western Europe to NATO's interests in the region.[183] Marine Le Pen is very critical against the threats of sanctions directed by the international community against Russia:  "European countries should seek a solution through diplomacy rather than making threats that could lead to an escalation."  She argues that the United States are leading a new Cold War against Russia.  She sees no other solution for peace in Ukraine than to organize a kind of federation that would allow each region to have a large degree of autonomy.[184]  She thinks Ukraine should be sovereign and free as any other nations.[185]
Most of those ideas can be found on the right in the United States, but they are more common on the left.  For instance, Bernie Sanders would agree with her that the government ought to "lake care of health, education, transportation, banking and energy".

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the French elections, which should have more numbers, soon.)
- 6:11 PM, 6 December 2015   [link]

Donald Trump Had A "Senior Adviser" with an interesting background.
Donald Trump knew a man he named as a senior business adviser in 2010 had been convicted in a major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme, according to Associated Press interviews and a review of court records.

Trump had worked with Felix Sater previously during the man’s stint as an executive at Bayrock Group LLC, a real estate development firm that partnered with Trump on numerous projects after renting office space from the Trump Organization.  But Sater’s past was not widely known at the time because he was working as a government cooperator on mob cases and the judge overseeing Sater’s own case kept the proceedings secret.  After Sater’s criminal history and past ties to organized crime came to light in 2007, Trump distanced himself from Sater.

Less than three years later, however, Trump tapped Sater for a business development role that came with the title of senior adviser to Donald Trump.  Sater received Trump Organization business cards and was given an office within the Trump Organization’s headquarters, on the same floor as Trump’s own.
Earlier, "a New York State court had sentenced Sater to more than a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass".

It's hard to know what to make of this relationship, hard to know what Trump thought he would get when he hired Sater as a senior advisor.  For now, I'll reserve judgement, though I. like you, can think of speculative explanations, good and bad, for that position.

(If you are interested in how some Trump supporters think, you can find examples in these comments.   You'll notice, for instance, the use of the Tu quoque fallacy.)
- 3:27 PM, 6 December 2015   [link]

If You're Looking For Immigrants, Or Diversity, You'll Find Them in San Bernardino.
San Bernardino is home to numerous diplomatic missions for the Inland Empire, being one of four cities in California with numerous consulates (the other three being Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco).   The governments of Guatemala and Mexico have established their consulates in the downtown area of the city.[8]
. . .
Western, central, and parts of eastern San Bernardino are home to mixed-ethnic low-income populations, of which the Latino and African American populations dominate.  Historically, many Latinos, primarily Mexican-Americans and Mexicans lived on Mount Vernon Avenue on the West Side,[28] while the Medical Center (formerly known as Muscoy) and Base Line corridors were mostly black since the 1960s, in particular in the east side and west side areas centering on public housing projects Waterman Gardens and the public housing on Medical Center drive.  The heart of the Mexican-American community is on the West and Southside of San Bernardino, but is slowly expanding throughout the entire city.[29][30] San Bernardino's only Jewish congregation moved to Redlands in December 2009.[31]  Some Asian-Americans live in and around the city of San Bernardino, like a late 19th-century-era (gone) Chinatown and formerly Japanese-American area in Seccombe Park on the east end of downtown and currently, a large East-Asian community in North Loma Linda as well in nearby Loma Linda to the south across the Santa Ana River serves as an example.
In general, cities that diverse lack community, lack a common sense of purpose, and, most important, lack trust.
Harvard professor of political science Robert D. Putnam conducted a nearly decade-long study on how multiculturalism affects social trust.[162]  He surveyed 26,200 people in 40 American communities, finding that when the data were adjusted for class, income and other factors, the more racially diverse a community is, the greater the loss of trust.  People in diverse communities "don’t trust the local mayor, they don’t trust the local paper, they don’t trust other people and they don’t trust institutions," writes Putnam.[163]  In the presence of such ethnic diversity, Putnam maintains that
[W]e hunker down.  We act like turtles.  The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined.  And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us.  In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.[162]
(Fortunately, Putnam had tenure, when he came to that politically incorrect conclusion.)

Typically, they are the kind of places where if you see something, you don't say something.

And so we shouldn't be surprised to find that Syed Farook was able to hide — in plain sight — in San Bernardino.

(It is probably not entirely coincidental that San Bernardino was, until surpassed by Detroit, the largest city in the United States to go bankrupt.)
- 2:38 PM, 6 December 2015   [link]

Here's Another Mischievous Thought:  Suppose that you were a pure speculator, interested only in profit.  Suppose further that you knew in advance that the New York Times was going to run that front-page anti-gun editorial.

What would you do?  Would you look into buying, or selling, gun stocks?

If you follow the news at all, you would know that similar calls for limits on gun ownership — by President Obama, for example — had spiked gun sales, and so you would have been tempted to buy gun stocks (or options on gun stocks).

There were people who knew about that editorial before it was published,  Many of them, perhaps most of them, work for the Times.

Is it possible that one or more of them speculated on gun stocks before the editorial was published?

Possible, of course, but very unlikely, in my opinion, which is why I called it a mischievous thought.

But one worth asking the public editor about.

(Here's a vivid example of how such calls for gun control sell guns, and increase support for the National Rifle Association.)
- 7:38 AM, 6 December 2015   [link]

Automation, Chinese Demography, And Levis:  This Wall Street Journal article has them all.

And connects the three, coherently.

Here's the number that startled me: 212 million.  (Or perhaps that should be: -212 million).
China’s foreign shipments rose about 6,700% between 1980 and 2007, when China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest exporter.  Manufacturers who had been automating U.S. and European factories to shave labor costs stopped once they set up in China.  “Machines couldn’t compete,” says David Love, a Levi executive vice president. As late as 2002, Chinese labor costs were just 60 cents an hour, according to the Conference Board, a business research group.

But China’s working-age population recently peaked, and its so-called demographic dividend has started to turn into a demographic drag.  By 2050, the working-age population will decline by 212 million, estimates the United Nations—roughly as many people as live in Brazil, the world’s fifth most-populous nation.
So the Levi company is looking for other places to manufacture its jeans — and ways to automate production, especially ways that give it more flexibility.
- 4:22 PM, 5 December 2015   [link]

What Was This Seattle driver thinking?
A Tuesday night traffic stop in Seattle took an unexpected turn when the driver tried to snort cocaine right in front of the officer.

Officer Nic Abts-Olsen had pulled the 73-year-old man over in South Seattle when he drove by without his lights on.

Abts-Olsen was going to give the man a warning because he had a clean driving record, until he found him scooping a portion of cocaine from a glass vial.
After the driver gets out, I hope he'll answer that question — assuming he can.
- 1:43 PM, 5 December 2015   [link]

Best Non-Terrorist Motive Yet for the San Bernardino terrorist attack:

Post-partum depression.

I can't guarantee that no one will top that, but it won't be easy.
- 12:25 PM, 5 December 2015   [link]

The NYT Panics:  This morning I woke up early and, as I usually do, checked the Kindle editions of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.  The Journal had the front page I was more or less expecting, but the Times startled me.

Their lead story was, just as you would expect, about the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.  But when I clicked on the next article, I didn't get another story on that subject, or some other important subject, but an editorial.   Thinking I had made a mistake, I went back up and found that the Times had put an anti-gun editorial (which I didn't bother to read) in their front page section of the Kindle edition.  And, as I learned later, on the front page of their print editions, too.

(I'll try to put up a picture of the front page for you, in a day or two.)

Why?  Because the Times wants, desperately, to change the subject to the threat of guns, rather than the threat of radical Islamists.

(According to the Times, the last time they ran a front-page editorial was in June 1920, when they were protesting the nomination of Warren Harding.)
- 8:45 AM, 5 December 2015   [link]

Worth Reading:  John Tierney's brief, but link-filled, post on growing narcissism among young people, especially young women.

(I had missed those facts about the original fuss at Yale.)
- 12:29 PM, 4 December 2015   [link]

How Long Had Syed Farook Been Planning His Terrorist Attack?  There is a clue in the timing of the gun purchases.
Two of the four legally purchased firearms used in Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, which left 14 people dead and 21 injured, were purchased in San Diego.

Suspected shooter Syed Rizwan Farook bought a 9mm-Springfield pistol at Turner’s Outdoorsman store in San Diego, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) confirmed.  An acquaintance purchased another .223-caliber DPMS rifle at the same store on Farook’s behalf.
. . .
All four guns were bought four years ago, according to ATF officials.  In California, the state requires paperwork when guns change hands privately, but it’s unclear if the rifles were currently registered under Farook’s name.
So, almost certainly, Farook had been planning a terrorist attack for at least four years.

(You will almost certainly have noticed that he did not buy the guns at the nearest gun store, where someone might have recognized him, and that he used a confederate to buy the rifles.

Caveat:  At least one news source said he bought the guns within the last three years.  Perhaps he and his confederate spread the purchases over a couple of years.)
- 10:54 AM, 4 December 2015
Update:  Farook bought pistols in 2011 and 2012, and his accomplice(?) bought rifles in the same years.

Note that Farook bought his psitols in different years, and at different gun shops, and that neither shop was in San Bernardino.
- 12:58 PM, 5 December 2015   [link]

The San Bernardino Massacre Was A Terrorist Attack:  Beyond any reasonable doubt.

Here, for instance, is one more piece of evidence.
The woman who helped carry out the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook posting, according to federal law enforcement officials.

There is no evidence the Islamic State directed the woman, Tashfeen Malik, and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, to launch the attacks, which killed 14 and wounded 21, the officials said. But the Facebook post has led investigators to believe that the couple took inspiration from the group, they said.
A terrorist attack was always the most likely explanation for the massacre, however much some wanted to reject that explanation.

(I don't know how Facebook handles back-ups, but I suspect that it would be impossible for an individual to erase a post completely, so that official investigatorss couldn't get at it.  And I assume — or, perhaps hope — that the FBI and NSA are continually monitoring Facebook sites, looking for keywords like ISIS.)
- 10:32 AM, 4 December 2015   [link]

Looking For Gift Ideas?  Here's one, if the recipient happens to be a cat.   (Or a dog, now that I think about it.)

On the other hand, if you are looking for a gift for a human, you might consider Freedom's Forge.   (I read it a few years ago, and thought it excellent.)
- 10:10 AM, 4 December 2015   [link]

Yesterday's "Prickly City" (link fixed) gave me a chuckle.

Partly, I admit, because it would be fun to see Hillary Clinton face some of today's campus radicals.

(Often the best political commentary in the Seattle Times can be found in that strip — which makes me wonder, from time to time, why the newspaper hasn't dropped it.)
- 3:01 PM, 3 December 2015   [link]

Today Is The First Electoral Test for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.
The Oldham West and Royton by-election is a UK parliamentary election to be held on 3 December 2015 in the constituency of Oldham West and Royton in Greater Manchester.  This will be the first by-election of the 56th UK Parliament.
In the general election, earlier this year, the Labour candidate, Michael Meacher, won 54.8 percent of the vote, running against four opponents.  (He passed away on 21 October, which is why they are holding this election,)

But there is a real chance that Labour may lose this apparently safe seat.
In 24 hours, the polling stations in Oldham West and Royton will be open and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will face its first test at the ballot box.  Labour has held the seat for several decades and returned it with a 14,000 majority in May’s general election — so it should be an easy victory.  But Corbyn’s leadership appears to dragging the party towards electoral oblivion, while Ukip is chipping away at the formerly solid Labour working-class vote in the North of England.

So will the party manage to hold onto the seat? Although the implied odds from bookmakers say Ukip has a 27 per cent chance of winning, there are signs on the ground that all is not well for Labour.
Partly because this is a special election, so you can get, just as in the United States, odd results because one party's supporters may be far more inclined to turn out than the other parties'.

And possibly because Labour supporters are already turning against Corbyn.

This graph shows why some think Corbyn may be a drag on his party.

Results should be available early this afternoon, Pacific Standard Time.

(Here's a review of UKIP, if you need one.)
- 10:05 AM, 3 December 2015
Update:  The BBC says that the results are "expected early on Friday morning", but don't explain why the vote count will take so long.  Perhaps they won't start until tomorrow.
- 12:47 PM, 3 December 2015
Update 2: Labour won, easily.   Unfortunately.
- 5:48 PM, 3 December 2015   [link]

So Far, So Good With "Ash" Carter:  Last year, I speculated, gloomily. that President Obama would be unable to find a good candidate to be Secretary of Defence.
Worst of all, the new secretary will have to defend Obama policies that are, to put it mildly, incoherent, policies where the means are routinely inconsistent with the ends that Obama claims to be pursuing.

Which leads me to this gloomy speculation:  Anyone who would accept the job, under the current conditions, is probably not fit to be secretary of defense.  
As far as I can tell from a great distance, Secretary Carter has managed a difficult balancing act rather well; he has not openly broken with President Obama, but he has pushed to make our strategies more rational, or, perhaps I should say, less irrational.

For example, he has gone along with Obama on closing Guantánamo, but managed to block any real action.   And he has pushed, with some success, for a more realistic strategy against ISIS.

So I am inclined to think that I was wrong — and I certainly hope that I was.

It is likely, I think, that Carter took that thankless job out of patriotic reasons, that he planned to do what he could to save our military from Obama's mistakes.  Carter can't say that, of course, except possibly in his memoirs.

(Here's the usual Wikipedia biography, which should persuade you that Carter is a very smart man, with considerable relevant experience.  And I can't be the only one who thinks that knowing some medieval history might be useful for a defense secretary, right now.)
- 8:46 AM, 3 December 2015   [link]

Condemn The Usual Suspects:  Near the end of Casablanca, the French police chief orders his men to "round up the usual suspects".

Yesterday, after the mass killing in San Bernardino, we saw many journalists and political leaders condemn the usual suspects.  For example, BBC America devoted most of their half-hour program to arguing for more gun control in the United States.  I listened fairly carefully, and don't recall them mentioning the religion of the two dead suspects, or that they (or someone else) had planted bombs in the building they had attacked.

Similarly, President Obama — well, you know what our president did, his usual blame America first, and call for more gun control, without specifics.

Not all journalists or political leaders did this, of course.  Most of the Republican presidential candidates were responsible enough to express sympathy for the victims — and wait until they knew more.

Which is pretty much what I decided to do, though it was obvious, quite early, that this was probably an Islamist terrorist attack.  But, though we have learned more since then, we can not yet be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that radical Islam motivated the attackers.

(For those who want a number, I'd say that, right now I would estimate that it is at least 90 percent likely that the attackers were radical Islamists.

For the record:  Of course there are some on the right who expressed a certainly that, in my opinion, goes beyond what is known publicly.  But none of those people are president, or anchors on our main network news programs.)
- 6:48 AM, 3 December 2015   [link]

If France Is Really In A War With ISIS, President François Hollande Should Consider Ordering French Forces To Capture Sirte:  Sirte?

Yes, Sirte, Libya.

Sirte location map

Which has been held by ISIS, since last February.  It is probably the most strategic metastase of the ISIS cancer, a seaport with easy access to all of North Africa — and southern Europe.

Here's a description of the situation in Sirte, from the Wall Street Journal.
MISRATA, Libya—Even as foreign powers step up pressure against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the militant group has expanded in Libya and established a new base close to Europe where it can generate oil revenue and plot terror attacks.

Since announcing its presence in February in Sirte, the city on Libya’s Mediterranean coast has become the first that the militant group governs outside of Syria and Iraq.  Its presence there has grown over the past year from 200 eager fighters to a roughly 5,000-strong contingent which includes administrators and financiers, according to estimates by Libyan intelligence officials, residents and activists in the area.
(Here's a similar description from the New York Times, which calls the city by one of its alternative names, "Surt".)

You don't have to be a military expert to visualize an operation that could capture the city, and kill or capture the ISIS fighters and administrators.  The French Navy would blockade the port, their aircraft carrier would provide close-in air support, paratroops would be used to cut off escape routes, and so on.

Nor do you have to be a strategic genius to realize this would do far more damage to ISIS than a few more bombing raids in Syria and Iraq.

Of course, France would have to promise to return Sirte to a Libyan government, if and when the Libyans manage to agree on one, but that's no big problem.

If President Hollande decides on such an operation, we should offer him any help he might need.

(You would expect the French Foreign Legion to play a leading part in such an operation.  According to Wikipedia it currently has a strength of 7,700 men.)
- 10:03 AM, 1 December 2015
Update:  The map now shows you the rough location of Sirte, and the rough locations of the two largest cities in Libya, Tripoli (about 1.1 million) and Benghazi (about 600 thousand).
- 1:29 PM, 2 December 2015   [link]

Lord Monckton Versus The AP's Seth Borenstein On Climate Change:  Christopher Monckton, the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, does a detaied critique of an Associated Press article by Seth Borenstein, beginning with this paragraph:
PARIS (AP) — This time, it’s a hotter[Satellites show no global warming for the 223 months (i.e., 18 years 7 months) since April 1997], waterier[Water vapour is difficult to measure, but some records show no change in water vapour except in the vital mid-troposphere, where it has actually declined], wilder Earth[The IPCC, both in its 2012 Special Report on Extreme Weather and in its 2013 Fourth Assessment Report, says there has been no particular overall trend in storminess, floods or droughts] that world leaders are trying to save[They are not trying to save the world: Bjorn Lomborg has reliably calculated that the effect of honouring all nations’ Paris pledges will be to reduce global temperature by 0.05-0.17 C° by 2100 compared with having no pledges, and the cost of getting that reduction will be $1 trillion].
(The comments in bold brackets are Monckton's, as you probably guessed.)

On the whole, I'd give this fight to Monckton, by a TKO.  (A TKO because he goes further on some points than I would.)

The comments following the article are interesting, detailed, and often include graphs.  I probably should add, for some of you, that they are not a quick read.

(As the Wikipedia biography shows, Mockton is an interesting fellow — and somehow I had missed his creation of the Eternity puzzle.   If you read the biography you will notice that much of it comes from those who consider him a heretic on global warming.)
- 7:48 AM, 2 December 2015   [link]

Sometimes, A Comment Is So Nutty It Deserves Passing On:  The former mayor of Tower Hamlets, in London, Lutfur Rahman, is in more legal trouble.
A former London mayor has declared himself bankrupt sparking a High Court battle over half a million pounds of legal costs.

Lutfur Rahman was elected as mayor of Tower Hamlets, but he was removed from office after being found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices after accusations of claiming racism and Islamophobia to silence his critics.
Anyone who had followed his scandals even casually knows that he had been a member of the Labour Party, and that he had been allied with a radical Islamist group.

But that didn't prevent a commenter, who chose a crude screen name, and claims to be from Hollywood, from writing this comment, accusing the Daily Mail of shielding a Republican:
The article doesn't mention whether he is a Republican or Democrat, but I'm willing to bet he was Republican.   DM isn't mentioning his party be cause they have a right-leaning bias.
(Two British commenters gently correct the commenter.)
- 5:37 AM, 2 December 2015   [link]

One Top NY Pol Down, Two To Go?  Sheldon Silver has been convicted.
Sheldon Silver, who held a seemingly intractable grip on power for decades as one of the most feared politicians in New York State, was found guilty on Monday of federal corruption charges, ending a trial that was the capstone of the government’s efforts to expose the seamy culture of influence-peddling in Albany.

The verdict was a quick and unceremonious end for Mr. Silver, who, during his more than two decades as the State Assembly speaker, displayed a Teflon-like quality in deflecting questions about his outside income as well as calls for his ouster.
Dean Skelos may be next.
Former New York state Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos was sitting in his own public-corruption trial Monday afternoon when he learned that a federal jury across the street convicted his longtime colleague, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, of trading his political influence for financial gain.

Mr. Skelos, a 67-year-old Long Island Republican, showed no visible reaction to the jury’s verdict in the case against Mr. Silver, a 71-year-old Manhattan Democrat.  Testimony in Mr. Skelos’s trial continued uninterrupted.
And, after him, Governor Andrew Cuomo?
Not to rush things, but Bharara’s brief against Skelos — a sad man who allegedly indulged an arrogant, greedy, stupid son by strong-arming businessmen — isn’t nearly as nuanced as was the case against Silver.

That is, jury deliberations in the Skelos case aren’t likely to last longer than the minute and 45 seconds that it took to convict Silver.

And then there will be one man left standing — Gov. Cuomo, who has been squarely in Bharara’s sights for months now; not-guilty verdicts in Silver’s case would have let the steam out of whatever it is that the prosecutor is planning for Cuomo, and that didn’t happen.

Which has to weigh heavily on the governor.  Though no one is suggesting that he ever put an untoward penny in his own pocket, he’s beefed up his campaign accounts with millions from people who figured prominently in both the Silver and Skelos cases.
(Emphasis added.)

You'll notice that this set of scandals is bipartisan.  From what I can tell, New York Democrats are more likely to be corrupt, but New York Republicans sometimes join in the games, and have not done as much as they should have to expose Democratic corruption.

If Skelos is found guilty and Bharara indicts and convicts Cuomo, then the three most powerful politicians in New York state will be going to prison.  That would be impressive, in a depressing sort of way.

(Here are the Wikipedia biographies for Silver, Skelos, and Cuomo, with the usual caveats.)
- 7:23 AM, 1 December 2015   [link]