December 2015, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Chipotle's Problems Are "Organic"   Most likely.

As you almost certainly know, many people have become sick after eating at one of the restaurants in the chain.   Henry Miller (no relation, as far as I know) thinks it's because they use "organic" ingredients.
Outbreaks of food poisoning have become something of a Chipotle trademark; the recent ones are the fourth and fifth this year, one of which was not disclosed to the public.  A particularly worrisome aspect of the company’s serial deficiencies is that there have been at least three unrelated pathogens in the outbreaks–Salmonella and E. coli bacteria and norovirus. In other words, there has been more than a single glitch; suppliers and employees have found a variety of ways to contaminate what Chipotle cavalierly sells (at premium prices) to its customers.
. . .
Although the crops, meats and other foods produced by modern conventional agricultural technologies may not bring to mind a sentimental Norman Rockwell painting, they are on average safer than food that reflects pandering to current fads.

And Chipotle knows it.

“We may be at a higher risk for food-borne illness outbreaks than some competitors,” the company admits in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “due to our use of fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation.”  (Think about that:   Would you agree to open-heart surgery if the anesthesiologist planned to use “traditional methods” instead of state-of-the-art technology?)
And that "organic" explanation seems most likely to me.

For years, I have avoided most* "organic" foods because I think they are more likely to carry diseases than conventional foods.  Not especially likely, but more likely — and they cost more, sometimes much more.

Read the whole article, and if you do eat "organic" fruits and vegetables, scrub them thoroughly before serving.

By way of Kate McMillan.

(*Exceptions:  Foods, basil for instance, that are only available in "organic" choices, and an occasional fruit or vegetable variety that might have an interesting taste.)
- 1:13 PM, 16 December 2015   [link]

The New Hampshire Union Leader Just Endorsed Donald Trump:  For the Democratic nomination.
New Hampshire Democrats have an important choice to make on Feb. 9.  And the choice is clear: Donald Trump for President.

For decades, Trump has consistently supported bigger government, and ridiculed conservative principles.

During his first quixotic run for the Presidency in 1999, Trump told CNN’s Larry King, “I believe in universal health care.”  He repeated that support in his 2000 book, backing a system like Canada’s single-payer system.   And Trump has been consistent, praising Scotland’s single-payer health care system this year.  Trump can carry the Democrat’s banner as a longtime advocate for government takeover of health care.

Trump has a long history supporting abortion, describing himself as “very pro-choice,” even going so far as to oppose the ban on partial-birth abortion.  This year, he chided Republican candidates for wanting to defund Planned Parenthood, saying he’d look at the organization’s “good aspects.”
As I understand it, New Hampshire Democrats (and independents) would have to cast write-in votes for Trump in the primary — and I would encourage them to do so.

(The Union Leader doesn't often endorse Democrats.)
- 10:15 AM, 16 December 2015   [link]

Last Night Was The Last Of These "Debates", For A While:  For which we may all be grateful.

They are, as I've said before, a terrible way to choose a president, emphasizing glib words over serious deeds.

It's not surprising, by the way, that people who make their living with words, journalists, talk show hosts, and the like, tend to give these spectacles so much coverage — and so little coverage to the actual records of the candidates.

To me, that's something like choosing a football coach by having the applicants give locker room speeches — and ignoring their win-loss records — assuming they have any.  (Three of the current Republican candidates don't.)

(If you are still interested in what was said in the debates, look for a transcript, or reed this brief post by Jim Geraghty.)
- 6:23 AM, 16 December 2015   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon is "special".

(Though I can't escape the feeling that the cartoon would have been even better if she had been talking to a daughter, rather than a son.)
- 5:58 AM, 16 December 2015   [link]

If You Are Visiting Thailand, and can't think of something nice to say about the king's dog, don't say anything at all.
Thailand’s strict laws making it a crime to insult the monarchy entered new territory on Monday when a factory worker was charged with disparaging the king’s dog.

In a case brought in a Thai military court, the worker, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, was charged with making a “sarcastic” Internet post related to the king’s pet.  He also faces separate charges of sedition and insulting the king.

Mr. Thanakorn could face a total of 37 years in prison for his social media posts, highlighting what has become a feverish campaign to protect the monarchy and rebuff critics of the country’s military rulers.
Unfortunately for the curious, the military authorities are not revealing what he said about the dog.

Many nations have similar laws, but I don't recall any of them being directed at the pets owned by the monarchs.  Before you decide these laws are strange hangovers from the past, think of how many Americans want our symbol, the American flag, protected from insults.
- 4:32 PM, 15 December 2015   [link]

Multiculturalism Is A Sham:  According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy has attracted praise from all over the world. Time magazine and the Financial Times newspaper recently named her Person of the Year, and delegates applauded her for so long at her party's convention on Monday that she had to stop them.

The speech that followed, however, may have surprised supporters of her policies: "Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies and therefore remains a ‘life lie,’ ” or a sham, she said, before adding that Germany may be reaching its limits in terms of accepting more refugees.  "The challenge is immense," she said.  "We want and we will reduce the number of refugees noticeably."

Although those remarks may seem uncharacteristic of Merkel, she probably would insist that she was not contradicting herself.  In fact, she was only repeating a sentiment she first voiced several years ago when she said multiculturalism in Germany had "utterly failed."
She's right, of course, and is saying what needs to be said in a surprisingly direct way.

Can Germany actually assimilate a million refugees, most of them young Muslim men?  She's going to try, and I hope she succeeds — but I wouldn't bet that she will.

(For the record:  In the past, multiculturalism has sometimes worked reasonably well under absolute governments, especially when the different ethnic and religious groups did not usually compete, directly.  But when those absolute governments break down, when for instance an empire collapses, then the groups which had lived in peace for decades or longer, often turn to fighting each other.)
- 10:39 AM, 15 December 2015   [link]

Worth Watching, Reading, Or Both:  Yesterday's BBC story on flying near the new Chinese bases in the Spratly Islands.
Countries from around the world have insisted that China's expansion into the South China Sea is illegal.

It is building a huge artificial island in the Spratly Island chain, one of the most contested areas in the world.

The islands are difficult to reach, but BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes flew in a small civilian aircraft into China's self-declared security zone, 140 miles off the coast of the Philippines.
There's some background in the story, but if you really want to understand what's going on there, I'd suggest you take a look at the Wikipedia article on the islands.

Two examples:
Chinese texts of the 12th century record these islands being a part of Chinese territory and that they had earlier (206 BC) been used as fishing grounds during the Han dynasty.[23][24][25][26]  However, there were no large settlements on these islands until 1956, when Filipino adventurer Tomás Cloma, Sr., decided to "claim" a part of Spratly islands as his own, naming it the "Free Territory of Freedomland".[27]
. . .
In addition to various territorial claims, some of the features have civilian settlements, but of the approximately 45 islands, reefs, cays and other features that are occupied all contain structures that are occupied by military forces (from China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia). Additionally, Brunei has claimed (but does not occupy) an exclusive economic zone in the southeastern part of the Spratlys, which includes the Louisa Reef.   These claims and occupations have led to escalating tensions between these countries over the status and "ownership" of the islands.
(I reversed the order of those two selections.)

It's likely that many of the Chinese leaders don't think their moves are imperialistic, but simply an effort to restore control over what they have owned for more than a thousand years.  (Interestingly, Taiwan and China agree on this issue.)

Their neighbors disagree.

(If you skim through the section on the centuries-long disputes over the islands, you may end by thinking that perhaps the best solution would be to give them to some neutral country, Switzerland for instance.

You may want to make a small donation to Wikipedia, while you are there.  I plan to, later today.)
- 7:45 AM, 15 December 2015   [link]

Aren't Social Media Public, Or At Least Semi-Public?  So what explains this policy?
Fearing a civil liberties backlash and "bad public relations" for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said.

"During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process," John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis.   Cohen is now a national security consultant for ABC News.
As I understand it, large US companies routinely search social media postings from potential employees, including those from American citizens.

(I can't help thinking I am missing something in this story, since the prohibition seems so bizarre.  No doubt some congressmen have already started asking Johnson to explain his policy, so maybe we'll get an explanation that makes some sense, soon.)
- 12:32 PM, 14 December 2015   [link]

The Oddest "Transgender" Case Yet?  Certainly the oddest one I've seen.
A Canadian man who was married, with seven kids, has left his family in order to fulfill his true identity - as a six-year-old girl.

In an emotional video with gay news site The Daily Xtra in collaboration with The Transgender Project, Stefonknee (pronounced ‘Stef-on-knee’) Wolscht, 52, of Toronto, says she realized she was transgender - rather that simply a cross-dresser - at age 46, and split from her wife, Maria, after she told her husband to 'stop being trans or leave'.

Now, Stefonknee lives with friends who she calls her 'adoptive mommy and daddy' as a six-year-old girl, dressing in children's clothing and spending her time playing and coloring with her adoptive parents' grandchildren.
(I fixed an obvious typo in the third paragraph, changing "cans" to "calls'.)

I can see why he might prefer that life to working to support seven children.

Mostly, however, I feel sorry for his family, and wish that he could get the psychiatric help he needs.

(Although this is, to say the least, an interesting story, it hasn't gotten much attention from our "mainstream" news organizations.  For instance, it has yet to appear in the New York Times.)
- 8:04 AM, 14 December 2015
Second thoughts:  The more I think about this, the more I suspect it might be a hoax.  The story seems too good — or perhaps I should say too bad — to be true.  After Christmas, I may do some digging on the net.
- 6:39 AM, 15 December 2015   [link]

The Republicans Won The French Regional Elections:  With some help from the Socialists in the second round.

The Republicans (Les Republicains) is the new name of the principal center-right party in France.  (For many years, it was named the Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire), or UMP for short.  I recall being amused in 1994, on my first visit to France, by a billboard urging the French to vote for UMP.)

In the first round of the regional elections, Marie Le Pen's National Front (Front National) came in first in the popular vote, though not by a large margin.

That first-round result caused the French Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) to call for tactical voting in two of the regions.
Runoff elections were held on 13 December 2015 in regions where no candidate was able to win outright in the first round.

After the first round, the Socialist Party withdrew its lists in the regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, where they finished in third place, in an attempt to block the Front National from winning seats in the second round due to split opposition from the centre-left and centre-right blocs.[3]  However, the Socialists chose to maintain their list in the region of Le Grand-Est, which similarly had them in third and the FN with a sizable lead after the first round.[4]

The result was a disappointment for the Front National, which was unable to win any of the regional presidencies in the face of concerted tactical voting.  However, in both the north and the south, they managed to increase their share of the vote from the first round.[5]  Of the 12 regions in mainland France, 7 were won by the Republicans and 5 were retained by the Socialists.[6]
(Links omitted.)

The Socialists blocked the National Front from winning any regional presidencies, but they decreased their share of the popular vote from what it would have been otherwise, and barely came in second.  (Republicans: 10,127,196 votes, 40.24%; Socialists: 7,263,567 votes, 28.86%; Front National: 6,820,147 votes, 27.10%.)

Marine Le Pen and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, came the closest to victory in their regional races, with 42.23 and 45.22 percent of the vote, respectively.

(The French regional presidents do not have much power to set policies, so this election was more about symbolism than policy substance.

A few Americans will wonder whether France also has a Democratic Party.  Not quite, but it does have the small Democratic Movement — which was allied with The Republicans in the second round.)
- 7:10 AM, 14 December 2015
More:  I should have added a link to the previous election, in 2010.  A simple comparison is not possible between the two because France reorganized the regions between the two elections, reducing the number from 26 to 18, and because of the changes in the multii-party system between those two elections.  However, we can say that The Republicans made solid gains, the Socialists suffered staggering losses, and the National Front made equally staggering gains — but won no regional presidencies.

The total vote in the second round was 21,194,314 in 2010, and 24,924,409 this year, a gain of more than 3.7 million..
- 4:08 PM, 15 December 2015   [link]

Who Has More Support, Donald Trump, Or Bernie Sanders?  It's close, but probably Bernie Sanders.  I'll use today's data from three charts to make that tentative argument.

First, Party Identification, where we see that an average of 31.5 percent of Americans consider themselves Democrats, and 24.2 percent consider themselves Republicans.

Second, current Democratic primary choices, where we see that, nationally, Sanders is backed by an average of 31.2 percent of Democrats .

Third, current Republican primary choices, where we see that, nationally, Trump is backed by an average of 34.5 percent of Republicans .

The rest is simple arithmetic; Sanders has the backing of about 9.8 percent of Americans, and Trump has the backing of about 8.3 percent of Americans.  (I remind you that I said "probably".)

Any Trump supporter will immediately note that he is in first, and running against way more candidates, which is true enough; any Sanders supporter will tell you that he has received a small fraction of the coverage that Trump has, which is also true enough.

And any serious student of elections will tell you that it is still awfully early in the election season and that, right now, it seems likely that Trump will lose Iowa and Sanders will win New Hampshire, with unknown effects on the races afterwards.
- 4:28 PM, 13 December 2015   [link]

Two Weeks Ago, I Predicted That the Paris climate talks would end in either "Honest Disagreement — Or Dishonest Agreement".

According to climate alarmist James Hansen, they ended in dishonest agreement. (which was not my preferred alternative).
Mere mention of the Paris climate talks is enough to make James Hansen grumpy. The former Nasa scientist, considered the father of global awareness of climate change, is a soft-spoken, almost diffident Iowan.  But when he talks about the gathering of nearly 200 nations, his demeanor changes.

“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head.  “It’s just bullshit for them to say:  ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’  It’s just worthless words.   There is no action, just promises.  As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Or his preferred alternative, either, apparently.

But, so far, our "mainstream" journalists seem quite pleased with the agreement.

(Here are the two key numbers to look for:  If all the nations keep the promises they made, how much difference will that make in the temperature of the earth's atmosphere?  How much will all those changes cost?)
- 7:37 AM, 13 December 2015   [link]

A "Geppetto Checkmark" For Marco Rubio:  Glenn Kessler gives a rare truth telling award to Marco Rubio, for this statement.
None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them.
(It could be more elegantly phrased.)

Kessler goes through all the recent major recent shootings and concludes that Rubio was right.
This is certainly a depressing chronicle of death and tragedy. But Rubio’s statement stands up to scrutiny — at east for the recent past, as he framed it.  Notably, three of the mass shootings took place in California, which already has strong gun laws including a ban on certain weapons and high-capacity magazines.
And, in turn, I'll give Kessler a "Geppetto Checkmark" of my own, for getting this analysis right, and for having the courage to do it.

(As I've said before, I think Kessler is the best of the fact checkers, and I hope my saying that doesn't make him err on the next one, as he did the last time I praised him.

It's too bad the rules under which he operates prevent him from checking some of fellow journalists, from time to time.)
- 4:32 PM, 12 December 2015   [link]

Steven Hayward's Weekly Collection of pictures.

(This time, I won't name a favorite.)
- 3:48 PM, 12 December 2015   [link]

Value-Added Taxes, In Theory And Practice:  Economists mostly like value-added taxes (VATs) because they do less damage to the economy than most other taxes.

Irwin Stelzer agrees with those theoretical advantages enough so that he would replace all our federal taxes with a VAT, if that were possible.  But it's not, and so he is opposed to a VAT because of the complexity it would add to our tax system, just as the VAT has in Britain.
For one thing, in practice a VAT is rarely if ever a flat tax. In Britain, for example, there are three different rates, as it is reasonable to expect there would be here, when those with access to the political system finished carving themselves a healthy portion of privilege.  Instead of the 20 percent to which Britain's "standard rate" has inched up, children's car seats, fuel, and "mobility aids for older people" are charged at 5 percent, the latter only if you are over 60 and the devices are installed by a builder after you fill out the necessary eligibility forms.  Her Majesty's tax collector warns that "you don't get the reduced rate if you just buy" the mobility device.  Books, newspapers, motorcycle helmets, and children's clothes and shoes are "zero-rated," jargon for exempted, but must nevertheless be reported on business tax returns.  Incontinence products are not taxed, but maternity pads and "sanitary protection products" are.  That difference might not survive our gender-conscious courts.

And it's not as simple as even that.  Hot food pays no tax: When I was in Britain several stores installed microwave ovens to "heat" sandwiches and the like, thereby converting them to tax-free "hot food."  Other food and drink "for human consumption" also incur no tax, unless they are crisps (potato chips to us), ice cream, soft drinks, and other specified items.
. . .
Nor is distinguishing between nontaxable children's clothing and things worn by adults an easy matter.   Her Majesty's tax collectors have decided that bras up to and including size 34B, but no larger, are for young girls and therefore exempt; leotards and swimsuits measuring 27-and-a-half inches (or less) from shoulder to crotch are not taxed.  Shoes up to a certain size are not taxed, and there are special rules for people whose foot sizes are not identical for the right and left feet.
And so on, and so on.

At the end of the article, Stelzer reminds us that many politicians like VATs because they are invisible to most consumers, which makes it much easier to raise them.  
- 3:18 PM, 11 December 2015   [link]

Thinking, Fast And Slow, About Politics (Introduction):  In the last few months, I realized that I could explain many political decisions, using Daniel Kahneman's dichotomy, as described in his book.
In the book's first section, Kahneman describes two different ways the brain forms thoughts:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious
We use the first one for most of our decisions, because it is a cheap way to decide, and because it is good enough, most of the time.

For example:  In choosing the parts I wanted for my new computer (which I will be putting together in about ten days), I chose the case using System 1.  The case on the computer I am using now has worked well for more than five years — so I ordered another one just like it, in much the same way some people always order the same thing at a restaurant.  And it took me literally seconds to make that decision.

The two posts I put up this morning were intended to appeal to your System 1s; I assumed you would understand them without having to do any conscious thought.

But from time to time, I do put up posts that required me to use System 2, and may have required you to do the same, in order to follow my argument.  (The post I plan to do after this one will ask you to do a little System 2 thinking.)

I should make two things clear at the start:  First, System 1 decisions are often right, or close enough, and System 2 decisions can be wrong, because it is easy to make mistakes in the steps often required for System 2 decisions.

Second, when we train for emergencies, we are often trying to convert System 2 thinking into System 1 thinking, because System 1 is so much faster.
- 2:21 PM, 11 December 2015   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Fallon: Republicans now think Trump is their party's best shot to win the general election.  Interesting because Democrats also think Trump is their party's best shot at winning the general election.
I preferred these two:
Conan: Kim Kardashian waited several days to reveal her new baby’s name, Saint. Asked why the delay, Kim said, “We’re very private people.”

Fallon: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was on CBS this week. It featured models from Brazil, Sweden and Portugal.  Trump said, “I've changed my mind on immigrants.”
Granted, the Kardashian joke is obvious, but sometimes, as Orwell reminded us long ago, we have a duty to say the obvious.

By the way, Malcolm now has so many Trump jokes that he is putting them in a separate section.  Some of them are harsh, some of them are funny, and a few are both.
- 8:23 AM, 11 December 2015   [link]

It Was Unfair Of Me, and it is something I try very hard not to do — judge a person's ideas by their appearance — but this morning I couldn't help it.

BBC GMT was doing one of their usual propaganda pieces on global warming — they don't even pretend to be fair on the subject — and were interviewing Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, in Paris.

She didn't have much specific to say, just the kinds of things that a smooth PR person might give a friendly reporter, and so I found myself distracted by her hairdo, which bounced slightly as she talked.  (She wasn't wearing the glasses.)

And so I began wondering just how much fossil fuels had to be burned to produce and maintain that odd look.
- 5:44 AM, 11 December 2015   [link]

If You Are Looking For A Present For A Science Fiction Fan, you might consider Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials.
In this illustrated field guide to extraterrestrials-a 1980 nominee for the ABA and Hugo Awards and named one of the Best Books of Spring 1980 by School Library Journal-Wayne Douglas Barlowe paints 50 denizens of popular science fiction literature.  150 full-color paintings show each character not only in full figure but also in detail
I've enjoyed the book for years.  Many of his paintings have made me think, often wondering whether particular aliens were actually possible, naturally.

(Barlowe has another collection, for those who like fantasy.)
- 6:44 PM, 10 December 2015   [link]

What Explains Chancellor Merkel's Mysterious Decision To Invite A Million Migrants, Most Of Them Muslim, Into Germany?  In the opening scene of Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis argues that top financial leaders usually have a plan, even they they are doing something that looks random.

The same is true, in my opinion, of top political leaders; they usually have a plan, a reason even for decisions that seem to make no sense.  And so I have been trying for weeks, without success, to figure out what Angela Merkel was thinking when she opened the gates to Germany.

The only theory I've seen with any plausibility at all is that she was trying to solve Germany's demography problem, by letting in many young people.  But it seemed to me that she could have been more selective, could have set up a guest worker program of the kind Germany has used before, and chosen from migrants who were less likely to include so many trouble makers.

The Wall Street Journal apparently has been wondering about the same question because today they published a long (2,094 words), heavily researched article that attempts to answer it.

The reporters, Marcus Walker and Anton Troianovski, begin by describing all the ways it has hurt Merkel with her European neighbors, her party, and the German voters, but never really explain why she made that decision — unless you count this incident:
Ms. Merkel’s stance was evolving when she took questions at a televised July forum. A 14-year-old Palestinian from Lebanon, living in Germany, told the chancellor of her dream of finishing her German education and of the fear of deportation while her family’s asylum claim was processed.  Ms. Merkel replied that she was working to speed up the bureaucracy but that sometimes the decision would be “no.”

“You know, there are thousands and thousands in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon,” Ms. Merkel said.   “And if we say ‘you can all come,’ and ‘you can all come from Africa,’ ” she said, “we cannot handle that.”   The girl began crying.  The chancellor froze midsentence.  Her awkward attempt to comfort the girl went viral.

Her tone would soon change.
Did that encounter with the crying girl tip Merkel into her reckless decision?  That's what Walker and Troianovski are implying, if I read them correctly.  (She refused to be interviewed for the article, so they don;t have even an official explanation for her decision.)

And we shouldn't forget Merkel's experiences growing up in East Germany, where people could not move in, or out, freely.

I don't know enough about Merkel, and what she was thinking before her decision, to endorse that explanation — but it's the best I've seen so far.

(Here's a two-minute video, with sub-titles, showing Merkel's encounter with the girl.)
- 3:41 PM, 10 December 2015   [link]

Why Hillary Attacks Big Business And Donald Attacks "Mainstream" News Organizations:  It's pretty simple, really.

Remember that Pew poll I mentioned, briefly, back in November?
Majorities of adults, regardless of partisan and ideological affiliation, say the national news media is having a negative effect on how things are going in the country today.  However, conservative Republicans and Republican leaners are particularly critical: 82% say the national news media has a negative impact, while just 14% say it has a positive impact.
. . .
Majorities of both conservative and moderate Democrats (59%) and liberal Democrats (75%) say large corporations have a negative impact.  Among Republicans, 47% of conservatives and 44% of moderates and liberals say they affect the country negatively.
So, for Clinton and Trump, the targets are obvious, big business if you are trying to appeal to Democrats, "mainstream" news organizations if you are trying to appeal to Republicans.

Whether either is serious about those attacks is something you can judge for yourselves.

(Some may think this a little unfair of Clinton and Trump, since she and her husband have received so much money from big corporations, and he has received so much coverage from "mainstream" news organizations, but politics is seldom fair.)
- 10:12 AM, 10 December 2015   [link]

Five Days Ago, I suggested that the timing of Syed Farook's gun purchases, in 2011 and 2012, might be an important clue to how long he had been planning a terrorist attack.

Now the FBI investigators are finding evidence to support that theory.
Syed Rizwan Farook, the man at the center of last week’s massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., might have plotted an attack as far back as 2012 with one of his longtime friends, senior law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

In addition, the F.B.I. revealed Wednesday that Mr. Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were discussing jihad and martyrdom online in 2013 before they were married and she came to the United States.
That he had been planning an attack at least since 2011 seemed likely to me for a number of reasons, especially this one:  Farook and his "friend", Enrique Marquez, purchased the four guns in four separate transactions, at different gun stores and in different years.  One can think of plausible explanations for that, but they are less likely than the obvious one, that the two were attempting to hide what they were doing.

Note, please, that 2011 is a lower limit, and that Farook may have been thinking of an attack for years before then.

This timing has caused some to speculate that the marriage was arranged in order to give Farook a terrorist partner.  That seems plausible to me, especially when I look at that picture of the grim pair arriving in Chicago.

(Here's another speculation:  Some in Farook's family must have known, in a general way, what he was planning.)
- 8:04 PM, 10 December 2015   [link]

William Galston Wants To Fix President Obama's "Antiterror Credibility Gap"  By doing more to win the war against ISIS.
Few analysts believe that we can defeat ISIS through bombing alone. Yet we could use air power more effectively.  On Nov. 24, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell said in a television interview: “We didn’t go after oil wells—actually hitting oil wells that ISIS controls—because we didn’t want to do environmental damage, and we didn’t want to destroy that infrastructure.”

But if we are truly at war, as Mr. Obama reaffirmed on Sunday night, then we must fight to win.   Infrastructure can be repaired and environmental damage remedied.  A serious policy would subordinate these considerations, however important, to the highest priority: victory.
(Emphasis added.)

Galston passes on more ideas from military experts, ideas that, as far as I can tell, deserve consideration.  And he is blunt about the lack of support we are getting from our allies in the region, a problem Obama is leaving for the next president.

(I was mildly amused to see Galston — who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore — begin his column with a political argument for trying harder to win the war.

The spell checker fixed a typo in the column's title.)
- 7:13 PM, 9 December 2015   [link]

Why Did Enrique Marquez Buy The Rifles Used By The San Bernardino Terrorists?   Yes, he had a personal connection to Syed Farook, but that didn't seem enough of an explanation, by itself.  And investigators have learned that there was also a religious connection.
Mr. Marquez started attending the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco four and a half or five years ago, soon after he converted to Islam at a different mosque, according to Azmi Hasan, the facilities manager at the Islamic Society.  At first, Mr. Marquez came about once a month, usually to Friday Prayer.
. . .
As time went on, Mr. Marquez attended less often, perhaps every three or four months.  Once, he went eight months between visits.
If the previous reports I've seen are correct, Marquez bought the rifles in the same years, 2011 and 2012, when Farook bought the pistols.

So what was happening with Marquez and the rifles in the three years since then?  You can speculate as well as I can, and I think all of us will be struck by his decline in attendance at that mosque.  Was he attending another, more radical mosque, or was he losing his faith?

(I find it intriguing that the FBI has not formally named him as a suspect, if only for providing the rifles.   Perhaps he is talking just enough so that they are holding back on that for the time being.)
- 12:55 PM, 9 December 2015   [link]

An Example Of How Bad Rhetoric Drives Out Good In Today's New York Times:  President Obama's speech on Sunday was a failure, a failure that provided an opportunity for those who disagree with his anti-terrorist policies to make an intelligent case for a change in strategy.

The lead story in today's Times was about what Trump said; a second, front-page, story was about the world's reaction to what he had said.  There was an article in the "International" section noting that Trump's plan to exclude all Muslims "Might Survive a Lawsuit", a second article saying Muslims in his old neighborhood want him to get to know them, and a third article about reactions at his latest rally.  On the editorial pages, there were columns by Thomas Friedman and Frank Bruni, an op-ed by Wajahat Ali, and three letters all attacking Trump.

The Times is a big paper, and so the Trump story didn't drive out all non-Trump stories.  For example, there was this article in the "International" section:
Many of President Obama’s Democratic allies in Congress say they do not believe he is being aggressive enough in confronting the terrorist threat of the Islamic State after last week’s attacks in California, undermining Americans’ sense of safety, especially among voters who will decide the party’s fate in elections next year.

The concerns began to surface last month, when senior administration officials went to Capitol Hill to urge Democrats to reject a bill to curb a Syrian refugee program and were rebuffed.  That hostility grew with their increasingly uncomfortable efforts to defend Mr. Obama’s strategies in the Middle East after the attacks in Paris and California.

And Mr. Obama’s address to the nation Sunday — which several congressional Democrats said was an idea they pushed — left them wanting more.
(I've thought for some time that one of the reporters, Jennifer Steinhauer, is, essentially, a spokesman for congressional Democrats, which makes this even more interesting.)

But, although we learn from the article that congressional Democrats are unhappy, we don't learn much about what they would do, differently.

There was also, buried deep in the "National" section, an article, "Jeb Bush Takes Voter Questions, but Has No Answer for Donald Trump", on Bush's troubles getting attention, when almost everyone is discussing Trump.

But, although we learn about Bush's campaign problems, we don't learn much about what he would do differently from Trump and Obama.

There were no articles, editorials, columns, op-eds, or even letters in today's Times discussing more rational strategies in our war against radical Islamists.

Bad rhetoric drives out good.  And, in this case, the Times is helping that happen.
- 8:23 AM, 9 December 2015   [link]

It's Been A Dark And Stormy Morning Here, and it was a dark and stormy night last night — which reminds me, almost inevitably, of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  That, in turn, reminded me that I had not written about this year's winners.

This one seems especially appropriate for today.
Winner, Adventure:

After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there. — David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, LA
As usual, Wikipedia has some background, some of it new to me.
- 7:08 AM, 9 December 2015   [link]