December 2015, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Feel-Good Story From Britain: After the post just below, I needed something more positive.
When pregnant Catherine Bazzard fell downstairs and knocked herself out, she was lucky to have a cool-headed life-saver nearby – her three-year-old daughter Emma.Mrs Bazzard got prompt treatment, baby George was born a month early, but is doing well, as is Emma, though she looks a bit shy in the picture.
- 9:30 AM, 24 December 2015 [link]
It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Anti-Christmas on New York's 5th Avenue.
For many, December required a pilgrimage to Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. No matter the weather, people walked the mile from 38th Street to 59th Street and jammed sidewalks to see these stores’ joyful Christmas windows.If you are feeling too full of holiday spirit, you'll want to read the whole column.
As often happens, I wonder whether this kind of attack on the beliefs and customs of most Americans makes commercial sense, whether those displays will attract customers into those stores.
They might work; those stores aren't trying to attract the average American — and I suppose it says something that Macy's didn't join in this anti-Christmas celebration. But I doubt it.
(I suppose we should be grateful that the Journal only included one photograph with this column.)
- 8:48 AM, 24 December 2015 [link]
Important Stories, Unimportant Stories: This story is, I think, important.
The Project for Study of the 21st Century recently published its survey of major conflict risk. Over six months, we polled 50 national security experts on the risk of a variety of potential wars.(Emphasis added.)
This column describes a whole set of stories, none of which have any great importance
Those last two items underscore [Trump's] bizarre obsession with, and objection to, body fluids. In early November, Daniel Lippman of Politico noted that Trump had “remarked on Rubio’s perspiration at least eight times in the last seven weeks.” On two of those occasions, Trump suggested that sweating would put Rubio at a disadvantage in negotiations with Vladimir Putin, who would find him too soggy.But you don't have to have been paying much attention to the news to know that the first story received way less attention than the second set.
Which is unfortunate, in my opinion, but what we should expect as long as Donald Trump is running for the presidency.
- 4:25 PM, 23 December 2015 [link]
What Exactly Did Hillary Clinton Mean When She Said She Would Close Schools that weren't doing "better than average".
Some smart people — see here and here, for example — thought that she was proposing to close half the schools, or that we were in Lake Woebegone territory, or something similar.
And that was my first reaction, too.
But when I sat down this afternoon to write a brief, snarky post about what she had said, I realized I was enjoying this story way too much, and that I should think about other interpretations.
One point jumped out immediately: Would Hillary Clinton really favor a policy that would cause so much grief for her allies in the teachers unions? And then a second question popped into my mind: Would she announce a policy this important in an informal question-and-answer session in a small town in Iowa?
Both seemed implausible, so I made a quick search and found this article, which explains what she was trying to say in that Iowa context.
What she was trying to say — is that schools in Iowa that were educating students well, but short on money, deserved more support from the state of Iowa.
Which, I'll admit, is not nearly as much fun as what she did say.
(Incidentally, in the fourth paragraph, I am mentioning one of the clues you should look for if you want to avoid "confirmation bias". If you really like a story, then you should put more effort into checking it.)
- 3:41 PM, 23 December 2015 [link]
Bernie Creams Donald in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
Stop the presses! According to a new poll by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) destroys Republican candidate Donald Trump in a general election by 13 percentage points. In this new poll, Sanders has 51 percent to Trump's 38 percent. If this margin held in a general election, Democrats would almost certainly regain control of the United States Senate and very possibly the House of Representatives.Hillary beats Donald in the same poll, but by only seven points.
Almost any Trump supporter would be able to give you reasons — not all of them invalid — why we should ignore this, and similar, polls.
My own view? It's early, but the poll does tell us something. And there is more bad news in it for Trump — and for Clinton.
(Here's the poll.)
- 99:99 PM, 23 December 2015 [link]
Cell Phones Versus Privacy: Suppose I told you that some government agency, for instance the National Security Agency, was tracking your movements, recording where you were, in order to manipulate your actions. Would you think that a little creepy?
Well, the NSA may or may not be doing that — I hope they are for a few terrorist suspects — but private companies, including a start up called Factual, certainly are:
Researchers earlier this year found that dozens of popular smartphone apps collect the location of the devices they run on roughly every three minutes, whether or not the app is in use. What could apps possibly be doing with all that data?For instance, suppose you have a weather app on your smart phone. To give you customized weather info, it needs to know where you are, and so checks your location, every few minutes. Factual, recognizing that others, for instance restaurants near you, could use that information too, is collecting it, and selling it.
And that does seem a little creepy to me, though Factual says — of course — that it respects users' privacy.
(As I have argued before, the spread of the Internet is taking all of us back to what it is like living in small towns, where your neighbors can, and often do, know a lot about your private life. In a small town, a young woman might ask her friends and relatives about a young man, before becoming involved with him; now she can do something similar, wherever she lives, with Bing or Google,)
- 6:45 AM, 23 December 2015 [link]
Thinking With Numbers About The Spanish General Election: Yesterday, I watched two BBC stories on the Spanish general election, one on GMT in the morning and one on BBC America in the evening.
Neither story made much sense because the news readers gave so few numbers, and didn't use any of the standard ways to present numbers, tables, bar graphs, and the like. So let me see if I can do better, with the help of a pair of bar graphs, borrowed from the Wikipedia article.
There are 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, making a majority 176. A glance at the second graph will show you that the only possible two-party majority coalition would be between PP and the Socialists. Such "grand" coalitions do occur from time to time in European countries, but they aren't common, so, since there appear to be more leftists from the minor parties, the most likely government would seem to be a minority coalition of the Socialists and Podemos — but you really need to consult a specialist in Spanish politics on that question.
Anyone comfortable working with numbers could have spent a few minutes with the Wikipedia article and come up with a similar description. If they weren't familiar with all the Spanish parties, they would have also had to do what I did, quickly glance at the articles on the parties they didn't know. (I had read about all five, but had to check the names of the three minor parties.)
The BBC news readers didn't do that, and the BBC producers didn't provide them any visual aids on those two stories I saw. I think that's because they are more comfortable working with words than numbers, and didn't call in their election specialists.
Unfortunately, far too many "mainstream" journalists in the United States have that same difficulty with numbers, which makes it as hard for them to discuss elections (and most policy questions) as a color blind man, trying to describe a flower show.
(*According to Wikipedia, the party describes itself as center-left, but others describe it as center-right, so I have compromised.
In covering British elections, the BBC usually brings in election specialists who, whatever other faults they may have, are at least able to present the basic numbers.)
- 2:25 PM, 22 December 2015 [link]
Today's New Yorker Cartoon isn't especially funny, but it did remind me of this question: Are there any religions you can't make fun of in the United States?
Well, yes, there's one, and we all know which one it is. But I can't, offhand, think of any others.
(There are a few members of that faith who make a living partly by telling jokes on their own, but I don't expect any of those jokes, or variants on them, to appear in the New Yorker.)
- 8:36 PM, 22 December 2015 [link]
More Evidence That President Obama Wasn't Serious about working "every minute of every day" for the American people.
Jerry Seinfeld's next guest on his online series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" may not technically be a comedian, but it is the first elected official to appear.Not that we needed any more evidence.
President Obama would have done better if he had spent the same amount of time listening to four or five prominent thinkers on grand strategy — assuming, that is, that he was actually willing to listen to them.
(I can't think of any other presidential couple who have embraced the celebrity/entertainment sub-culture the way the Obamas have, not even the Reagans, who had worked in entertainment for many years. From what I know, Seinfeld isn't a bad fellow, but this show does remind me of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death.)
- 8:11 AM, 22 December 2015 [link]
Clifford Berryman: I do a lot of digging when I am looking for subjects for this blog. Anyone familiar with mining won't be surprised to learn that, most of the time, I don't find anything valuable enough to share.
But occasionally I strike gold, as I did when I decided to find out more about the cartoonist, after I ran across this cartoon on the Hitler-Stalin pact in a book of World War II cartoons.
In his November 16, 1902 Washington Post cartoon, "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," Berryman depicted President Theodore Roosevelt showing compassion for a small bear cub. The cartoon inspired New York store owner Morris Michtom to create a new toy and call it the teddy bear.You can see many more of his cartoons here.
(The answer to the question in the cartoon is: until 22 June 1941. By the way, there are some details in the cartoon that are worth looking for.)
- 1:03 PM, 21 December 2015 [link]
At His Year-End press conference President Obama promised:
In short, for all the very real progress America has made over the past seven years, we still have some unfinished business. And I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as President to deliver on behalf of the American people. Since taking this office, I’ve never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I’m going to leave it out all on the field.(Emphasis added.)
He cut the press conference short, because:
Okay, everybody, I got to get to Star Wars. Thank you. Thank you guys. Appreciate you. Merry Christmas, everybody.And later headed out for a two-week luxury vacation in Hawaii, stopping for a few hours in San Bernadino to — if you are more cynical — campaign, or — if you are less cynical — comfort families of victims. (He could have been doing both, I suppose.)
He broke that "every-minute-of-every-day" promise in what may be record time. It's an absurd promise, but he could have pretended to keep it for a day or two, or even cut a day or two off his planned vacation.
(I am reasonably sure that President Obama does not realize just how funny that combination is, and I worry that no one close to him does, either.)
- 7:24 AM, 21 December 2015 [link]
President Obama's Former Secretaries Of Defense Agree About His Administration: They are all critical of Obama and his administration.
There have been three, in order: Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel.
After he left office, Republican (barely) Robert Gates wrote a book, Duty, critical of the Obama administration.
After he left office, Democrat Leon Panetta wrote a book, Worthy Fights, partially critical of the Obama administration.
Now, after he left office, Republican Chuck Hagel has done an interview sharply critical of the Obama administration.
When Chuck Hagel resigned as defense secretary last year, the narrative was clear: President Obama and he did not see eye-to-eye on how to prosecute the war against the Islamic State, so Hagel needed to go. White House officials, speaking anonymously, said at the time that the president had lost faith in Hagel’s ability to lead — a charge that Hagel’s advisers brushed aside.That these three very different men have come to broadly similar conclusions about President Obama and his administration tells us something, but what? Here's my best guess: All three believe that Obama and his national security team do not have a plausible US strategy for the Middle East, and all three think that the processes of strategic decision making in the Obama White House are fatally flawed.
The second may seem petty compared to the first, but it's not, even though complaints about it often sound trivial. If the decision making processes are fatally flawed, even the best personnel will be unable to make and execute decisions, effectively.
Together, the three men have delivered a devastating critique of this administration.
(Gates "considers himself Republican", but is not even registered in the party. Panetta was a Democrat for so long that people may not realize that he started out as a Republican, and even worked for a time in the Nixon administration, before he resigned over disagreements on civil rights..
It is nearly certain that the current secretary, Ash Carter, agrees with that criticism, as I have said in previous posts. Note that Carter was a deputy to both Panetta and Hagel. Ordinarily deputies agree with the top guy, at least on the key issues.)
- 5:22 PM, 20 December 2015 [link]
In Japan, It's KFC for Christmas.
Christmas is coming, so it’s time to reserve fried chicken and cake in Japan.To be more serious for a moment, one of the fundamental differences in cultures, world wide, is whether their religions are exclusive, like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or inclusive, as Japan's are:
Slightly fewer than 1% of Japanese are Christian. Most others follow Buddhism or the indigenous religion of Shinto, or both Buddhism and Shinto depending on the occasion: Traditionally, weddings are Shinto ceremonies and funerals are Buddhist.When you already believe in two religions, it can be easy to add customs from a third, as the Japanese have done, in their own, idiosyncratic way. (For similar reasons, the Chinese have happily adopted many parts of our Christmas, without feeling they were giving up their own beliefs.)
- 7:47 AM, 20 December 2015 [link]
Steven Hayward's week in pictures.
You'll notice the influence of a certain just-released movie.
My favorites? The first Ramirez cartoon and the first Branco cartoon.
- 12:31 PM, 19 December 2015 [link]
Some Non-Thoughts On The Omnibus Budget Bill: Last night I read and studied the bill, studied discussions of it from experts I trust, listed the pluses and minuses in the bill and weighed them against each other, made my best estimate of the bargaining strengths of the two sides, and came to an overall conclusion on the bill.
Okay, I didn't do any of those things. But neither did anyone else, though you don't have to look far to find people who are sure that it is a terrible bill and that the Republican leaders (or President Obama) could have done much better.
But I don't see how anyone can come to such conclusions, rationally, without going through the process I outlined in the first paragraph. And even budget experts would find it difficult to do that in less than a week or two.
Of course I am sure there are parts of the omnibus bill that I would dislike — there have been parts I disliked in every budget during my life time. Of course I am sure there are parts of the omnibus bill that I would like — there have been parts I liked in every budget during my life time.
And it would be easy, and perhaps entertaining, to pick a few in either category and come to an overall conclusion.
But it wouldn't be rational; it would be just another example of "thinking fast", when "thinking slow" is required.
So I don't have any overall conclusion about the bill, but I may have a tentative conclusion in a week or so.
(One of the hardest parts to judge, especially from the outside, is the bargaining strengths of the two sides. If you don't mind something a little technical, take a look at this Wikipedia article on the bargaining problem to get an idea of the difficulties.)
- 7:57 AM, 18 December 2015 [link]
Ash Carter, Too? Another Cabinet secretary was not using an official email system.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter relied on a personal email account to conduct a portion of his government business during his first months at the Pentagon, according to White House and Defense Department officials and copies of Mr. Carter’s emails obtained by The New York Times.This is not, despite the attempt to link the two, much like Clinton's private email server; Secretary Carter was being careless, not criminal. But it was still a stupid thing to do, even if all the emails were on unclassified subjects.
(Do I still think Carter is a "very smart man"? Yes, but even very smart men do stupid things from time to time.)
The third paragraph in the article is fascinating for what it says about the relationship between Secretary Carter and President Obama.
It is not clear when Mr. Carter stopped using the account. But an administration official said that when the White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, learned about Mr. Carter’s email practices in May, Mr. McDonough directed the White House Counsel’s Office to contact the Defense Department to ask why Mr. Carter was relying on the personal account.Barack didn't just call Ash (or talk to him after one of their formal meetings); even Denis didn't just call Ash.
That isn't what I would call a close working relationship. And apparently it took McDonough months to find out what was going on.
(I have argued that Carter would, to some extent, subvert Obama's policies, would work to make our defense policies more rational. The distant relationship between the two men is consistent with my tentative conclusion.
As most of you would have guessed, both men would understand that it would be hard for Obama to fire Carter, especially now.)
- 7:20 AM, 18 December 2015 [link]
President Obama Is Cold, But Not Logical: That Weekly Standard article just below reminds me that there are still people who think that our president is a rational thinker, rather than a man trapped in his ideology.
For example, Froma Harrop:
Obama is an educated intellectual, prone to cold reasoning and recognition of facts. I happen to like him for that, but that's me. The political reality is that many voters want to imagine the president as their pal.For example, James Fallows:
After President Obama’s anti-ISIS speech, I said that I agreed with his strategy and its underlying logic, but could understand why it might not reassure those who felt most fearful. Last night several readers responded, including one who talked about the president’s super-rational “Vulcan”/Spock-like style.In fact, on issue after issue, Obama has simply refused to face facts, because they do not fit his ideology.
People, including people who should know better, mistake his cold "style" for logic, think that he is a rational thinker because he doesn't often get excited in public.
- 4:02 PM, 17 December 2015 [link]
Grim, But Worth Reading: This article, by Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn.
Here's how they begin:
President Barack Obama says his administration will continue releasing terrorists from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, so long as those released are less dangerous than the jihadists currently fighting against the U.S. and its interests.(Emphasis added.)
Naturally, I had to check whether Obama really said those things.
- 3:12 PM, 17 December 2015 [link]
Still A Few Bugs In Amazon's Delivery Systems: About ten days ago, I ordered the last three parts I needed for my new PC. Two of them came promptly; the third, an Intel CPU/GPU was promised to me on the 21st. Then, a few days later, Amazon sent me an email saying they would deliver it yesterday.
However, when I tracked the package, Amazon told me it hadn't been shipped, and kept telling me that until about 6 PM yesterday. And now they are back to promising it to me on the 21st.
This wouldn't have mattered much except that yesterday it was not raining — and today it is.
Oh well, that is, as they say, a First World problem, of tiny importance, except that it makes me wonder how this all happened..
(I have no idea why it is taking Amazon so long to ship this to me; it's a standard 6th-generation Intel CPU/GPU, and is in stock, elsewhere.)
- 1:46 PM, 17 December 2015 [link]
Donald Trump Doesn't Know What The "Nuclear Triad" Is: When I read the Trump quote in Daniel Hennnger's column, "GOP Wars: Episode V", early this morning, I thought that perhaps Trump had been caught by a trick question, or that the term had simply slipped his mind. (As another old guy, I can tell you that happens from time to time.)
So, I looked at the transcript:
HEWITT: Mr. Trump...Not only was it not a trick question, Hugh Hewitt defined triad, and mentioned problems with each leg. And Trump still couldn't think of an answer to a simple question. Hewitt even gave Trump a follow-up chance, and Trump struck out again.
After quoting from that exchange, Henninger asks this rhetorical question: "That answer raises the recent Ben Carson question: How much does a candidate for the U.S. presidency actually need to know about anything in the real political world? "
Good question, in my opinion.
(If you need a review on the nuclear triad, you can find one in this Wikipedia article. For younger readers, I should add that the triad was discussed extensively during Trump's youth and middle age. It would not be a new idea to anyone who was paying attention to national security questions in the 1970s and 1980s.)
- 11:07 AM, 17 December 2015 [link]
Politifact Gets All Serious about Ted Cruz's ancient joke.
CRUZ: "Well, you know, I'm reminded of what FDR's grandfather said. He said, ‘All horse-thieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horse-thieves.’"(A joke that Republicans are more likely to enjoy than Democrats — but I can assure Democratic readers that the joke has also been told the other way around, especially in the old South.)
You can read their serious analysis if you like; I'll just remind you that similar ideas inspired the names given to what were England's two major parties for centuries, the Whigs and the Tories.
- 9:30 AM, 17 December 2015 [link]