December 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Just In Case you missed it, here's "Dave Barry’s 2015 Year in Review".

Three samples:
In Paris, two million people march in a solidarity rally following the horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Eyebrows are raised when not a single top U.S. official attends, but several days later, Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in France with James Taylor, who — this really happened — performs the song You’ve Got a Friend.   This bold action strikes fear into the hearts of terrorists, who realize that Secretary Kerry is fully capable, if necessary, of unleashing Barry Manilow.
. . .
In the year’s biggest literary story, representatives of 88-year-old Harper Lee, denying allegations that they’re seeking to cash in on the beloved author’s literary fame, announce plans to publish what they claim is her recently discovered second book, Fifty Shades of a Mockingbird.

In the Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Picture goes to Birdman.  Accepting the coveted statuette, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu tells the audience that “like you, I never actually saw this movie.”
. . .
In Garland, Texas, two armed men are gunned down by police after they open fire on a security guard outside an exhibit of Muhammed cartoons, highlighting the need for a national conversation on the problem of cartoonists drawing things that leave religious fanatics with no choice but to try to kill them.  James Taylor is unavailable, so federal authorities dispatch The Captain and Tennille to the scene, where they perform a powerful version of Muskrat Love.
Jack Ohman's cartoons illustrating the piece are pretty good, too.

(Trigger warning: Fans of the New England Patriots may not enjoy one of his themes.)
- 9:40 AM, 31 December 2015   [link]

Camp Outs For German Kindergartners:  German educators think that kids should learn to be independent, early.
German kindergartens aren’t for crybabies. While U.S. preschoolers practice their ABCs, their counterparts in German kindergarten, age 3 to 6, head into the outdoors to learn to get dressed, prepare meals and go to bed—all without their parents.

There are no pencils or paper on the trips.  Children in Germany aren’t taught to read and write until they are 6.  That leaves time for such tasks as using knives to whittle sticks for roasting sausages.
Anyone who knows kids that age will guess that the kids sometimes cut themselves when they are whittling those sticks.  And in a way, that's the point.

American educators, as far as I can tell, have, in contrast, been pushing more and more academic content into pre-schools, and getting ever more protective.  I doubt whether either of these is really good for kids.

(Years ago, I read Preschool in Three Cultures, and found it fascinating.  I'd recommend it to anyone interested in this subject.)
- 5:54 AM, 31 December 2015   [link]

Penn's Woods (Pennsylvania) May Soon Look More Like They Did When William Penn First Saw Them:  Thanks to transgenic American chestnuts.
The near-extinct American chestnut looks set to make a comeback.  Genetically modified trees, which are resistant to a deadly fungus that has decimated the species, have produced the first resistant chestnuts.  From these seeds, countless resistant trees could be grown in the wild.

An estimated 4 billion American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) once covered the US, accounting for a quarter of all US hardwood trees.  But in around 1900, a lethal fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally imported in chestnut trees from Asia, and by the 1950s it had almost completely wiped out the American chestnut.

Over the past 20 years, the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project has been trying to turn the situation around.  Led by William Powell and Charles Maynard of the State University of New York in Syracuse, the team has used genetic engineering to create a strain of fungus-resistant chestnuts called Darling4.

The modified trees contain a gene from wheat called OxO, which makes an enzyme called oxalate oxidase that destroys the toxic oxalic acid made by the fungus, preventing cankers from forming on the tree.  By-products from the enzyme’s action help the tree’s own natural defences to fight off the fungus.
The team is waiting for regulatory approval before they plant these trees in the wild.  Perhaps they could speed things up with the Obama administration by saying that the trees are good at carbon capture — which is true enough.

(Here's the project site, and here's the usual Wikipedia article on the species.)
- 1:56 PM, 30 December 2015   [link]

If You Know Anything About Quantum Physics, you'll like this cartoon.

(If you need an explanation, you can find one here.)
- 8:22 AM, 29 December 2015   [link]

Congress Did Some Good Things In 2015:  Though you aren't likely to hear much about them from "mainstream" journalists, or from right wing talk show hosts.

Charles Lane describes three of them, all of them important.

Here's the third:
Finally, the National Defense Authorization Act has modernized military compensation, so that soon almost all U.S. troops will have some access to retirement benefits, as opposed to 20 percent of them under current rules.

Before the new law, the military norm was a fixed pension for those who stay in uniform 20 years or more — and nothing for the vast majority who don’t.

Now troops will be able to open 401(k)-style accounts, into which amounts equal to 11 percent of their pay may flow each year, partly from their own contributions and partly from government matching funds.
There's still a time limit, but it's 2 years, instead of 20.

(This is a good time to recycle the quote, often attributed to Bismark, but actually from John Godfrey Saxe: "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made."  We heard a lot about the congressional process of law making this year, but less than we should have about the content.

By the way, I've seen sausage being made, and can tell you the process is interesting — but not appetizing.)
- 8:05 AM, 29 December 2015   [link]

"A Rare, Tantalizing Peek Into Putin's Secret Family Life"  At a press conference last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin did something extraordinary; he said a little about his family, specifically his daughters Maria, 30, and Katerina, 29.
"They live in Russia and have never lived anywhere other than Russia permanently,” he said, his face frozen and expressionless — allegedly the result of a facelift and too many Botox injections.

“They studied only at Russian universities.  I am proud of them.  They continue to study and work.   My daughters speak three European languages fluently.  One of them can even speak one or two Oriental languages.  They are making their first steps and are successful.”
Putin left close observers of Russia wondering why he had done that.  My guess is that he may be thinking of bringing his daughters into the family business.

(Putin's Wikipedia biography has more on his personal life, and I am reasonably sure that some, perhaps even most, of it is true.)
- 1:31 PM, 28 December 2015   [link]

Censorship At The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:  It won't surprise you which religion is protected from criticism — and which isn't.

(Perhaps in the future the investigator will extend the experiment to other religions, beyond those two.)
- 9:48 AM, 28 December 2015   [link]

Two Hits And One Miss On My Analysis Of The Spanish Election:  In my post on the election, I said that the main parties, the conservative People's Party and the Socialist party were unlikely to form a "grand" coalition, and that the most likely outcome was a weak leftist coalition.

This Wall Street Journal story, "Spain’s Main Parties Meet After Inconclusive Election", supports both speculations.
Mr. Rajoy, whose party won 123 seats, has called on the Socialists to back him with their 90 seats when the body convenes to elect a government—or at least allow him to stay in office by abstaining.

Before the meeting, the political adversaries posed for photographers shaking hands though scarcely making eye contact after a bitter campaign.  In a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Sánchez said voters had expressed their desire for “progressive change” and that the prospects for an agreement on a second term for Mr. Rajoy were “null.”
But I missed on what should have been obvious to me; the centrist Citizens party might enter into a coalition with the two main parties, or even, though the article does not mention it, the two main leftist parties.
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, wrote in a blog post published by The Huffington Post that the next Spanish government could be led by “an independent figure with prestige,” rather than either Mr. Rajoy or Mr. Sánchez. He did not suggest any specific candidate.

Albert Rivera, the leader of Citizens, proposed forming a three-way pact between the Popular Party, the Socialists and his own centrist party. Spain’s politicians, he said at a news conference, should do “everything possible to think more of Spain than of our parties.”
Right now, what seems most likely — and here's another tentative prediction — is that the Socialists will form a a weak government, with the support of the other leftist parties, but will not be in a formal coalition with Podemos.   Sometimes parties in parliamentary democracies make a "confidence and supply" agreement; the party or parties outside the government agree to vote against "no confidence" motions, and in favor of budgets.

Even such agreements require experience to make them work, which Spain lacks.
Compounding the difficulty is the rigid political culture of a country, where the two parties have held sway, almost since the end of the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco in the 1975.  Earlier this year, former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González said prophetically that Spain was moving toward a multiparty system “a la italiana but without Italians,” who know how to manage it.
And if the leftists can't form even a weak coalition?  Then, most likely, there will be a new election, early next year.

(If that isn't complicated enough for you, read one or both articles to learn a bit about how separatists might affect coalition formation.

Note on the party name:  I am using "People's Party" because the Wikipedia article did; it's my impression that the Journal's "Popular Party" is more common.  I don't know enough Spanish to say which is the better translation.)
- 6:23 PM, 27 December 2015   [link]

New Yorker Cartoon, with a current political point — if you want it to have one.

(I found that cartoon in their 2015 collection, which is not as good as their 2014 collection.  But I was charmed to learn that the magazine has a cartoon fact checker, who sometimes rejects cartoons.)
- 5:25 PM, 27 December 2015   [link]

Looking West From The Paradise Visitor's Center:  Yesterday, I said you might be able to see some lovely snow pictures from the Mt. Rainier web cams during the day.  I was wrong — it was overcast up there every time I looked, after I put up that post.

But I had a reason for saying that because yesterday morning, I was seeing scenes like this one:

Looking east from Paradise vistor's center, 26 December 2015

(It looks even better at full size, 1280x720 pixels.)

I can't promise that you will see pictures that striking any time soon, but if the weather forecasters are right, there should be some good views during this week.
- 9:31 AM, 27 December 2015   [link]

It Is Partly Sunny In This Area Today, and Mt. Rainier is looking beautiful, with all the new snow.  You may want to take a look at what the web cams show you from time to time, especially late this afternoon, between, say, 3 and 4.

(Unfortunately, the Mt. St Helens web cams don't seem to be showing anything today.)
- 8:49 AM, 26 December 2015   [link]

Manual Print Too Small?  Here's a tip some of you may be able to use.

The manual for the motherboard for the new PC I am about to assemble is printed in small type — very small type, 3 or 4 point, I would guess.  I can read it, with the help of a magnifying glass, but it's work.

Yesterday, I looked at the company's web site and found a PDF version of the manual, which I downloaded, and will be using instead of the printed manual.

As anyone who has worked with PDF files knows, you can enlarge them on the screen to the size that works best for you.  You can even print them in a comfortable size, if you want to.

I don't know if providing manuals in PDF files is a common practice in the tech world, but I suspect that it is, suspect that you can often download more usable versions of manuals.

(The screen version I found comfortable is probably about the size that the manual was originally created in.   Most likely it was reduced when printed, to save a few pennies,)
- 8:28 AM, 26 December 2015   [link]

"At Christmastime, George W. Bush was Santa, Obama is Scrooge"  Joseph Curl recycles this 2013 column, showing a fundamental difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Here's part of what the Bush family did at Christmas.
But here’s the thing: In December, we never left Washington, D.C., until the day after Christmas.  Never.  Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, would always depart the White House a few days before the holiday and hunker down at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.  After a few years, I asked a low-level White House staffer why.

I still remember what she said: “So all of us can be with our families on Christmas.”
There's more, enough to convince anyone who isn't a hopeless partisan that President Bush cared about people like you and me — and that President Obama doesn't.

That shows up in many other ways, too.  Bush was consistently on time for press conferences; Obama is consistently but not predictably late.  Bush made some effort to avoid snarling traffic; Obama, judging by this visits to this area, seems to enjoy making the lives of millions of commuters miserable.

(One of the things that still fascinates me about the 2012 election is that so many voters thought that Obama cared about them, and that Romney didn't, in spite of all the evidence that the reverse was true.  It shows, I suppose, just how good Obama is faking sincerity, and how unwilling our "mainstream" reporters have been to describe his indifference to others.)
- 7:35 AM, 26 December 2015   [link]

Merry Christmas!

To all those who are celebrating it today.
- 9:00 AM, 25 December 2015   [link]