February 2008, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Two Octopus Videos:  While glancing over Carl Zimmer's web site, The Loom, I found this post, with a link to an astonishing video of a camouflaged octopus.  After looking at that video, I spotted a link to a video of an octopus that likes shark fin soup — with the rest of the shark attached.  Almost everyone will want to watch the first video, and most of you will want to watch the second.

The post links to Zimmer's New York Times article on cephalopods and their astounding abilities to camouflage themselves.  How cephalopods do what they do is still not well understood.  Here are the last three paragraphs of the article:
Dr. [Roger] Hanlon and his colleagues are also puzzled by the many camouflage colors of the cuttlefish, which have a single type of pigment in their eyes.  Humans have three.

Experiments in Dr. Hanlon's lab have shown that they are color blind.  They see a world without color, but their skin changes rapidly to any hue in the rainbow.  How is that possible?

"That's a vexing question," he said. "We don't know how it works."
No color vision, but they can still match colors?  Pretty good trick.  (Like many men, I have color vision, but sometimes have trouble matching colors, which makes the trick even more impressive to me.)

(Zimmer's best known book, Parasite Rex, is a great read, though it may give you the creeps.

In the article, Zimmer describes three types of camouflage.  All of them, even "disruptive" camouflage, have been used in military applications.  For example, in World Wars I and II, some ships were painted with what was called "Dazzle camouflage".   There is some doubt about how effective it was.  Perhaps they should have adapted natural designs, instead of making up their own.)
- 1:44 PM, 24 February 2008   [link]

Thanks For The Help:  That's what some McCain aides are saying to the New York Times.
Senator John McCain declared the battle over on Friday morning, but by then his lieutenants believed he had already won the war.

Conservative radio talk show hosts who had long reviled Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate from Arizona, had rallied to his defense.  Bloggers on the right said that this could be the start of a new relationship.  Most telling, Mr. McCain's campaign announced Friday afternoon that it had just recorded its single-best 24 hours in online fund-raising, although it declined to provide numbers.

Both sides traced the senator's sudden fortunes to an unusual source, The New York Times, which on Wednesday night published on its Web site an article about Mr. McCain's close ties to a female lobbyist who did business before the senator's committee.
The reporter, Elizabeth Bumiller, seems surprised that an attack by the Times might help McCain with conservatives — which just shows that she doesn't pay much attention to conservatives.  And she appears not to know that many conservatives speculated that the Times' endorsement of McCain was intended to hurt him.

The article helped McCain in the short run, and will probably help him in the long run.  Future media attacks on McCain, however merited, will be viewed with more skepticism from now on.

(As far as I can tell, most at the New York Times did not realize that this attack would help McCain, or that their earlier endorsement might hurt him.  They really are that clueless.)
- 10:35 AM, 24 February 2008   [link]

The Wandering Klamath Block:  On my third disaster area tour, I circled the Klamath block in northern California and southern Oregon.  The block puzzles geologists.   Most of them agree, in general, about how the rocks in the block were formed; they do not agree, in fact they don't even seem to have a hypothesis, about how the block moved to its current location.

Most of the rocks in the block were formed, geologists believe, at the same times, and in the same ways, as the rocks in the Sierra Nevada.  They accumulated in a series of belts as North America plowed westward for hundreds of millions of years.  In fact, geologists believe that the Klamath block was once attached to the Sierra Nevada.

But, say Alt and Hyndman, the Klamath block wasn't content to stay attached..
The match between the belts in the Klamath block and the terranes of the northern Sierra Nevada is very close — compelling evidence that they formed as one.  Few geologists doubt that the Klamath block is the detached northern end of the Sierra Nevada, moved west about 60 miles.  They differ only in their ideas about when, why, and how that movement happened.

We find it easiest to imagine the Klamath block moving west at the same time the line of collision between North America and the floor of the Pacific Ocean jumped from the Sierran to the Franciscan trench.  We think that probably happened sometime during the late Jurassic time, before the Franciscan complex was added to the western fringe of the Klamath block.  The separation was complete by early Cretaceous time because Great Valley sediments of that age lap onto the southern flank of the Klamath block.  It is not clear why and how the Klamath block broke off the northern end of the Sierra Nevada and moved 60 miles to the west. (pp. 99-100)
Here's how Alt and Hyndman picture what happened.

Klamath block, 2008

(Fossils of sea animals on the east side of the Klamath block are one of the reasons geologists are sure that the block moved.)

But why did the Klamath block move?  Alt and Hyndman don't a clue.  And like many other geologists, they are not afraid to speculate, when they have insufficient evidence, so they aren't just being cautious when they say "it is not clear".

If you would like to puzzle over this yourself, you may want to look at this article, which has a good map of the tectonic plates in the area.  And it may be relevant that the southern end of the Klamath block is close to the Mendocino triple junction, where the Pacific, Gorda, and North American plates come together.

If you have any idea why the Klamath block decided it didn't want to be attached to the Sierra Nevada any more, let me know.  And, if you have a good idea, pass it on to your neighborhood geologist.

(Did the Klamath block have gold, like the Sierra Nevada?  Yes.  Alt and Hyndman say that the area produced about 20 percent of California's gold.

There is another puzzle at the northern end of the block.  You'll notice that the map leaves the the block open to the north.  That's because the northern end of the block is in Oregon.  But it is appropriate for another reason.  The northern end is buried by younger rocks.  In their book on Oregon, which was published in 1989, Alt and Hyndman speculate that the Klamath block may have stretched much farther north.  They note that some of the rocks in Ochoco mountains of central Oregon and the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon look much like the rock in the Klamath block.  So a much longer range could have opened up like a hinge, or the Klamath block could have detached on both the north and the south.

You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 1:08 PM, 22 February 2008   [link]

Worth Reading:  Greg Sheridan's analysis of the election in Pakistan.   Some samples:
One line of analysis that is quite wrong is to see the repudiation of Musharraf as a setback for the US, because Washington had given him some support.

This is analytically just plain wrong. Washington often does have to co-operate with dictators. That's the nature of the real world. After 9/11, the US got Musharraf to turn Pakistani policy, at least at the official level, on its head and to co-operate in the fight against terror. This was necessary to remove the totalitarian and savage Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US.
. . .
In so far as Musharraf was ineffective in combating terrorism and extremism, and failed to develop a civil society to form the basis of a democracy, it is not because he was associated with the Americans but precisely because he so often purused policies opposite to American advice.
Read the whole thing.
- 9:50 AM, 22 February 2008   [link]

Kudos To The Seattle PI:  And Managing Editor Dave McCumber.  For what they didn't print.

I chose not to run the New York Times story on John McCain in Thursday's P-I, even though it was available to us on the New York Times News Service.  I thought I'd take a shot at explaining why.

To me, the story had serious flaws. It did not convincingly make the case that McCain either had an affair with a lobbyist, or was improperly influenced by her.  It used a raft of unnamed sources to assert that members of McCain's campaign staff -- not this campaign but his campaign eight years ago -- were concerned about the amount of time McCain was spending with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.  They were worried about the appearance of a close bond between the two of them.
. . .
Admitting that [NYT editor Bill] Keller was in a better position to vet the sourcing and facts than I am as, basically, a reader, let's assume that every source is solid and every fact attributed in the story to an anonymous source is true.  You're still dealing with a possible appearance of impropriety, eight years ago, that is certainly unproven and probably unprovable.

You'll want to read the whole thing.  If you are in this area, you will want to buy a copy of the PI (assuming you don't subscribe), just to reward them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:46 AM, 22 February 2008   [link]

How Reliable Is The New York Times?  That's a good question to review after their attack on John McCain.  My own answer, after years of reading the newspaper — critically — is that their reliability is just so-so.

Here are two recent examples that illustrate why I have come to that conclusion.  First, the mercury in tuna story, which I wrote about here.  The Times story drew a lot of criticism, enough so that the public editor at the Times, Clark Hoyt, devoted a column to the controversy.  Hoyt can't seem to make up his mind on the controversy, though anyone who understands a little about science will be able to see that Professor Dariush Mozaffarian, who sees little danger from mercury in tuna, has a better case than Professor Philippe Grandjean, who disagrees.

Second, as Tom Maguire points out in this post, a New York Times reporter, Kate Zernike, got some well-known history just a little wrong.  Well, actually, completely wrong.

Neither of these stories would have been hard to get right, but the Times failed both times.  Worse yet, they don't seem to realize that they failed in the mercury story.  The Zernike story has been stealthily edited, but there is no correction at the end, as there should be.  Neither reaction should give us confidence in our newspaper of record.
- 4:22 PM, 21 February 2008   [link]

Another Election Prediction:  While having lunch, I read last week's Northwest Asian Weekly, where I found an AP article by Dikky Sinn, with predictions from "Chinese fortunetellers" for this "Year of the Rat".  At the very end of the article was this prediction:
Some countries will see new leaders this year, including in the United States, where a new president will be elected in November.  Celebrity fortuneteller Peter So was coy about who he thought would win the race.

"I can only say Hillary Clinton stands a better chance, as I don't see that Barack Obama or (Republican hopeful) John McCain will have a good year," So said.
Coy, indeed.

So far the InTrade odds do not seem to have been affected by his prediction.  But maybe the bettors just haven't gotten the word.
- 1:26 PM, 21 February 2008   [link]

New Category:  In the left hand column, you'll find a new category, "Science Blogs", along with some new sites.  (And two old blogs where I am now using the blog names, "In The Pipeline" and "A Voyage to Arcturus", instead of the authors' names, Derek Lowe and Jay Manifold.)   I expect to add other science blogs to the category as I find them.

(And I expect to add some tech blogs to the category, too, though without changing the category name.)
- 12:35 PM, 21 February 2008   [link]

Good News From Pakistan:  The Christian Science Monitor has the story.
This week's election results in Pakistan give Islamabad's next government the mandate to finally put the terrorists out of business.  Violence in Pakistan — mostly driven by Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda forces — has not abated since the December assassination of leading opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.  But in a potential hinge moment for what Newsweek recently called "the most dangerous nation in the world," Pakistani public opinion has turned dramatically and decisively against the radicals.

Last August, Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) conducted a survey across Pakistan showing that from one-third to one-half of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Al Qaeda and related radical Islamist groups.   Nearly half of respondents had a positive view of Osama bin Laden.

But now, the momentous events of the past several months — President Musharraf's crackdown against the press and opposition figures, mounting terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the assassination of Bhutto, and the campaign leading up to Monday's unprecedented election — have resulted in a sea change in Pakistani public opinion.

In a new nationwide survey conducted last month, Pakistani public support for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, bin Laden and other radical Islamist groups has plummeted by half — all the way down to the teens and single digits.  The bottom has fallen out for support of the radicals.

If Al Qaeda had appeared on the ballot as a political party in the election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would have voted for them.  The Taliban would have drawn just 3 percent of the vote.
That's an amazing change in this short a time — assuming we can trust these poll results.  And we may be able to trust them.  As the analysts, Kenneth Ballen and Reza Aslan, point out, the election results, with great gains for the moderate parties, are what the polls predicted.

(I suspect that Benazir Bhutto's assassination was the main reason public opinion in Pakistan shifted.   And I will go farther and speculate that she may well have expected, both to be assassinated, and to shift Pakistan toward a more moderate course by her death.)
- 9:31 AM, 21 February 2008   [link]

Poor Timing:  Two examples, one from each Seattle newspaper.

On Monday, the Seattle Times editorial board made this prediction.

How will he do it, how will President Gen. Pervez Musharraf rig Pakistan's parliamentary elections today to ensure his hold on power?

Here's what happened.

Pakistan appeared on Tuesday to be heading for a transition to an elected civilian government after President Pervez Musharraf told visiting United States senators that he accepted the resounding defeat of his party in elections and would work with a new Parliament.

Many Pakistanis expressed relief that the overwhelming victory of the two major moderate opposition political parties in the parliamentary elections on Monday signaled a change in direction after eight years of military rule under Mr. Musharraf, even though in the past the parties had rarely produced models of stable government.

In yesterday's Seattle PI, columnist Joel Connelly complained that John McCain's press coverage has been far too favorable.  It has been as sycophantic, if you were to believe Connelly, as Connelly's own coverage of Bill Clinton was, for years.  (Connelly is wrong; although McCain has had better coverage than most Republicans, he has not been treated better than most Democrats.)

Today, the most influential newspaper in the world, the New York Times, published this strange attack on McCain, an attack which hints at a sex scandal, but provides no evidence of either sex or scandal.  I saw the story on three of Seattle's local TV stations this morning, and I am sure I could have seen it on a fourth, if I had kept on channel flipping.

It is not unusual for newspapers to be proved wrong, but it seldom happens this quickly.

There are lessons in both errors.  The Seattle Times editorial writers might consider being just a little more modest.  I don't know much about Pakistani elections, but I am honest enough to admit that I don't know much.  They should do the same.  (Some, especially in this area, think that the editorial writers should be more modest on almost every issue.)  Writing editorials may make a person feel omniscient — but an editorial writer would be foolish to be overcome by that feeling.

(Was the editorial writer overcome by Bush Derangement Syndrome, and predicted the worst because Musharraf has been an ally of Bush and the United States?  It wouldn't surprise me, but I have no direct evidence on that question.)

As for the press's favorable treatment of McCain, that's easily explained.  First, as Connelly mentions in the column, McCain is good about giving reporters access.  Second, the press almost always gives favorable treatment to Republicans who are attacking other Republicans — as McCain has done from time to time.  Similarly, the Republican candidate who must not be named got surprisingly favorable treatment from the press — because he spent much of his time attacking other Republicans.  And it is easy to think of dozens of other examples.

Now that McCain is the almost certain nominee, that favorable treatment ended, as almost every Republican would have predicted.  (And, as some did predict.)  I am not sure whether Connelly doesn't know about this pattern — or whether he doesn't want his readers to know about it.

When events disprove an argument as quickly as happened in these two examples, a decent journalist ought, at the very least, to do an update.  I'll look for updates in both the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI — but I won't hold my breath waiting for them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:53 AM, 21 February 2008   [link]

But He did it very well.  The headline tells the story.
Even blowing his nose, Obama gets applause
Do his followers realize just how silly they look when they do things like this?  Probably not.   But someone should tell them.
- 5:56 AM, 21 February 2008   [link]

Good Shot.
A U.S. Navy cruiser blasted a disabled spy satellite with a pinpoint missile strike that achieved the main mission of exploding a tank of toxic fuel 130 miles above the Pacific Ocean, defense officials said.

Destroying the satellite's onboard tank of about 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel was the primary goal, and a senior defense official close to the mission said Thursday that it appears the tank was destroyed, and the strike with a specially designed missile was a complete success.
But then this weapons system has a good track record.
The three-stage Navy missile used for the mission has chalked up a high rate of success in a series of tests since 2002, in each case targeting a short- or medium-range ballistic missile, never a satellite.
The Chinese Communists are making a fuss, to no one's surprise.
- 5:42 AM, 21 February 2008
Video here.  Or, to be more precise, video of two Pentagon videos.
- 10:28 AM, 21 February 2008   [link]

Communist Monarchies:  Fidel Castro stepped down from his position as Cuba's dictator — and put his brother, Raul, in charge.  This provides another vivid example of that strange hybrid, the Communist monarchy, though the best example is still North Korea, where Kim Il-sung was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il.  (There are probably other examples, in some of the less well-known Communist countries.)

Although such successions are in complete contradiction to Communist theory, they do help solve a practical problem for Communist dictators.  Although few of them trust anyone very much — with good reason — they probably distrust their relatives less than they distrust others.  And so first the elder Kim, and now Fidel, allow relatives to take charge.  It isn't a good solution, but it is the best they can find.

Amusingly, both North Korea and Cuba call themselves "republics".  (Specifically, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Cuba.)   That reminds me of this observation from Asimov's Foundation.
Korell is that frequent phenomena in history: the republic whose rule has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name.  It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal "honor" and court etiquette.
And, like Cuba and North Korea: "Materially, its prosperity was low."

Frankly, I would like it if each country formally became a monarchy.  They might have a better chance to progress as monarchies than they do as "republics".  Seriously.
- 4:52 PM, 20 February 2008   [link]

Think January Was Cold?  You are probably right.  Though it does depend on where you live.
January 2008 capped a 12 month period of global temperature drops on all of the major well respected indicators. I have reported in the past two weeks that HadCRUT, RSS, UAH, and GISS global temperature sets all show sharp drops in the last year.
It would be a mistake to make too much of one month, or even one year, but this is interesting.  (And, to the best of my limited knowledge, not predicted by Al Gore, or even the most important climate models.)

(As always when I touch on global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 3:36 PM, 20 February 2008   [link]

Megan McArdle sounds a little nervous, as she contemplates Barack Obama's economic proposals.
It's very possible--given who his advisors are, and what they say--that Obama is just proposing these never-never policies to shore up his political base in the old industrial states.

But does that even matter?  After all, one might argue, if he runs on protectionism, he'll have to deliver in office.  Well, actually it does.  George Bush promised to protect the steel industry when he ran in 2000, for the same reason Obama may be sounding so anti-trade; he needed the swing states.  In office, he delivered--but in a particularly stupid way that was thoroughly unlikely to withstanding a WTO challenge.  Looked at that way, the very stupidity of Obama's plan may be a feature, not a bug; it signals voters that he cares, but signals policymakers that he's not really going to do much.

Of course, "I support my candidate because I'm sure he's lying" is hardly a stirring rallying cry.   And there remains the disturbing possibility that he's serious about all this.
Well, yes.  And commending his proposals because they are stupid doesn't seem like stirring rallying cry, either.

(If you are wondering about McArdle's curious position, here's how I understand it:  She admires Obama's economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee.   And so she supports Obama, even though there isn't much evidence that Obama has taken any of Goolsbee's advice.

For the record, Bush proposed the steel tariffs as a temporary exception to a general free trade policy, and that's just what he has delivered.  (Bush probably could not have gotten trade negotiating authority from the Congress without those tariffs.) And Obama has not just sounded "anti-trade", he has voted anti-trade consistently.

I think McArdle will eventually figure all this out, but it is disappointing to see this sharp thinker allowing her hopes to muddle her thinking.)
- 2:06 PM, 20 February 2008   [link]

Time To Help The Danes Again:  As you may have heard, they have been having a little trouble with "youths", whose motivations are obscure, at least to the BBC.  And with terrorist plots.   And with murder conspiracies.

How to help?  We can offer our support, of course.  And one of the most practical ways for most of us to do that is to make a point of buying Danish products.  And so, today, I bought a little Danish Havarti, the kind with the dill seeds.  It's a great tasting way to make a political protest.  (I think the dill version goes especially well with our Northwest salmon, by the way.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Full disclosure: My maternal grandmother was Danish, but I would take this stand even if I had no Danish ancestry.)
- 1:05 PM, 20 February 2008   [link]

Castro Quit:  But what exactly was he?  Tim Blair has a little quiz that will help you answer that question, in case your usual news sources are being coy.
- 12:47 PM, 20 February 2008   [link]

An Easy Choice:  Today, a little after two o'clock, I walked a few blocks to the Lakeview school and voted in the Republican primary.  The choice was easy; there is only one viable candidate left — assuming no miracle — and so I voted for John McCain.

But I would have voted for him anyway, even if there had been other candidates with a serious chance of winning.  At the beginning of the campaign, I was leaning, slightly, toward Mitt Romney, because I admire his remarkable executive talents.  (And I hope that a President McCain can find a way to use those talents.)  I didn't reject any of the candidates, except, of course, for the Republican candidate who must not be named*.

But each of the candidates, except for McCain, took himself out of the running during the campaign.   Rudy Giuliani ran one of the strangest campaigns I've ever seen, making me think that he had no clue about how to run for president.  Fred Thompson managed to convince more than one person that he didn't really want to be president.  (That's not a terrible defect, in a president, but it is in a presidential candidate.)  Mike Huckabee showed me that he is a gifted politician, one of the best I have seen in my life time, but he also showed me that he had a weak grasp of some important issues, especially in foreign policy.  And Mitt Romney chose not to run as himself, not to run as a brilliant, pragmatic executive, with a wonderful family, and a great record of achievement.  He would have had a better chance, I think, if he had done so, and if he had skipped some of the negative campaigning, and some of the pandering.

That left McCain, but I am not, unlike some others, disappointed in my choice.  He was, by a small margin, my second choice at the beginning of the campaign, and he was my first choice by the middle.

That isn't because I don't have policy differences with McCain, or that I think he is the perfect person to be president.  (But then I have policy differences with every politician I know much about, and have never met a perfect man — or even a perfect woman.)

McCain has one great virtue.  He is right on the greatest issue of our time, winning the war against terror, as it is usually called, or the war against Islamic extremists, as it might be called, if we were not so mired in political correctness.  I have no doubt that we will win that war, though it will take years.  (McCain has sometimes said one hundred years, which is the rough estimate that I have been using myself, for years.)  We will win that war, but how much it will cost to win that war will vary greatly, depending on how intelligent our strategy is.

McCain may not have finished at the top of his Annapolis class, but he does understand something fundamental about our strategy in this war.  Pulling back, from, for instance, Iraq, will, almost certainly, inspire our enemies and lead some on the fence to join them.  Which will make the war far longer and bloodier.  That ghastly prospect should lead every decent person to back the man who wants to win this war, and understands that it will not be won by ceding entire nations to our enemies.

Sylvester Stallone said it right, when he endorsed McCain.

I like McCain a lot.  A lot.  And you know, things may change along the way, but there's something about matching the character with the script.  And right now, the script that's being written and reality is pretty brutal and pretty hard-edged like a rough action film, and you need somebody who's been in that to deal with it.

Or, if you don't care for that Hollywood metaphor, think of it this way.  We are in a war.   Who better than a warrior to ensure that we win that war, and at as low a cost as possible?

McCain is the right person for this time for another reason.  One of the reasons — there were many — that the Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 is that many of them had become too greedy for pork.  McCain has a great record on controlling spending, a record that he will be able to use effectively against either of those two big spenders, Clinton or Obama.

And McCain can win.  For those who value ideological purity above all, that will not matter; for those who care about what will happen to our nation in the next four years, and in the next hundred years, that will matter.  Patriots will rally to McCain; ideologues may not, even if he is, by their narrow yardsticks, a far better candidate than his Democratic opponent.

This afternoon I voted for John McCain, without regrets, and this November I will vote for him again — and I don't expect to regret that vote either.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*Because putting his name in a post draws his supporters, and far too many of them do not behave well on other people's web sites.  It is a curious fact that one of the strongest arguments against the CWMNBN is the behavior, and in some cases, the ideas, of his strongest supporters.

And the Democratic candidates?  If I had to vote in the Democratic primary, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama.  Although neither has been a model of clarity on the war on terror, I think it somewhat less likely that she would surrender to our terrorist enemies.   There are other reasons I would prefer Clinton to Obama, but that one is sufficient, at least for me.)
- 6:54 PM, 19 February 2008   [link]

Too Much CO2 In The Air?  Two Los Alamos researchers have a solution.
The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.

The idea is simple.  Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels.
The chemistry works, though you will almost certainly need a whole nuclear reactor for each fuel production plant.  The process is still too expensive to be competitive in the United States, even by Martin and Kubic's own analysis, but less so than I would have thought.  (They say they could produce gasoline for a retail price of $4.60 a gallon now, and less later.  That's lower than the price in most other industrial nations, which mostly have much higher taxes on gasoline than the US does.)

(Here's a little more on the proposal, along with many links, including one to a technical overview.)
- 12:38 PM, 19 February 2008   [link]

Obama Supporter:  And former terrorist.
Senator Obama's ties to a former leader of the violent left-wing activist group the Weather Underground are drawing new scrutiny as he battles Senator Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

As an Illinois state senator in 2001, Mr. Obama accepted a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the group that bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during the 1970s.

Mr. Ayers wrote a memoir, "Fugitive Days," published in 2001, and on the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "I don't regret setting bombs.  I feel we didn't do enough."

He and Mr. Obama served together on the nine-member board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, for three years beginning in 1999, and they have also appeared jointly on two academic panels, one in 1997 and another in 2001.   Mr. Ayers, who was never convicted in the Weather Underground bombings, is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
All this doesn't make them close friends — but it is fair to ask why this unrepentant terrorist is backing Barack Obama.

(I wonder what future Illinois teachers are learning from Ayers.  And whether, with his criminal record, Ayers could be a teacher in Illinois.

If you need a review on the Weather Underground, or are too young to remember them, you can find one here, here, and here.  Or, if you just want a short summary, here's mine:  In the Cold War, the Weather Underground was on the side of the Soviet Union, Communist China, Communist Vietnam, and the Khmer Rouge, violently.

And here's David Horowitz's take on Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn.)
- 11:14 AM, 19 February 2008   [link]

What Will Michelle Obama Say Next?  This latest should keep us busy for a week or so.
Michelle Obama today said that "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.  And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.  I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction."
As John Podhoretz notes, she is 44, so she has been a adult, legally, since 1982.

I do hope some "mainstream" reporter asks her about that statement.  It would be interesting to know if, as Mickey Kaus suspects, her default position is aggrieved.  Or if there is some other explanation.

My own guess is that she has been entertaining friends and political allies with this kind of extreme statement for years, and that she hasn't really thought about what she is saying.  And in some circles, being permanently aggrieved works really well at cocktail parties.

(Here's a video of that part of her speech, followed by a list of things that should have made Michelle Obama proud, but didn't.

Will the Obama campaign muzzle her?  Hard to say, without knowing more about the relationship between Michelle and Barack.  But I do think we may hear less from her, if she keeps saying things like this.)
- 6:35 AM, 19 February 2008
More:  That was quick.  Barack Obama says that Michelle Obama didn't mean what she said.  (Harvard trained lawyers are often careless with words.)
Barack Obama, interviewed on WOAI radio in San Antonio, Texas, expressed frustration that his wife's comments became political fodder.

"Statements like this are made and people try to take it out of context and make a great big deal out of it, and that isn't at all what she meant," Obama said.

"What she meant was, this is the first time that she's been proud of the politics of America," he said.  "Because she's pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she's not alone.  But she has seen large numbers of people get involved in the process, and she's encouraged."
So who do we believe?  Call me cynical, but I am going with Michelle Obama.  I think she said what she thinks, not realizing that it was politically inconvenient.

And does Barack Obama agree with his wife on this?  Hard to say, though he has made speeches, such as his 2004 Democratic convention speech, that imply that he does have some pride in this country.  Not enough to wear a flag pin, but some pride.  At least as long as we keep electing him to office.
- 5:41 AM, 20 February 2008   [link]

Some Of Us Would Be Happy If Democrats Would Read Orwell:  But William Kristol (who is obviously having fun as a New York Times columnist) thinks they should read Kipling.
Browsing through a used-book store Friday — in the Milwaukee airport, of all places — I came across a 1981 paperback collection of George Orwell's essays.  That's how I happened to reread his 1942 essay on Rudyard Kipling.  Given Orwell's perpetual ability to elucidate, one shouldn't be surprised that its argument would shed light — or so it seems to me — on contemporary American politics.

Orwell offers a highly qualified appreciation of the then (and still) politically incorrect Kipling.   He insists that one must admit that Kipling is "morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting."   Still, he says, Kipling "survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly."  One reason for this is that Kipling "identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition."

"In a gifted writer," Orwell remarks, "this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality."  Kipling "at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like."  For, Orwell explains, "The ruling power is always faced with the question,  'In such and such circumstances, what would you do?', whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions."
The opposition, in other words, can behave like whiny adolescents.  It will not surprise those who have read even a little of Kristol's work to find that he thinks that, in modern American politics, Republicans — on the whole — behave like adults, and Democrats — on the whole — like whiny adolescents, that Democrats lack a "certain grip on reality".

I think the Democrats should read Kipling, too, but, as I said in the title, I would be happy (and surprised) if they would read Orwell, who also had a "certain grip on reality".

(Which Orwell collection?  Probably this one.   Which I owned for more than four decades, re-reading it about once a year.  I finally gave it to my brother, not because I had gotten tired of it, but because I had bought this complete collection.   So, if you see that collection in a used book store, grab it.

And the idea that an airport would have a used book store is so charming that I am tempted to travel to Milwaukee, just to check it out.)
- 4:31 PM, 18 February 2008   [link]

Africa, Clinton, And Bush:  When Bill Clinton came into office in 1993, he had little foreign policy experience.  And he had said little about foreign policy during the campaign.  (Interestingly, what he had said often reflected what would now be called a "neoconservative" critique of the first Bush administration.  He said, for instance, that the first Bush administration was too willing to deal with China, too willing to set aside human rights issues.  During the 1992 campaign, both Gore and Clinton criticized Bush for letting Saddam off the hook, after the first Gulf War.)  But he had to cope with a problem, almost immediately, that was not of his making.

During the last months of 1992, President Bush had agreed to send a mission to Somalia to to prevent starvation.  He had consulted with Clinton on the decision, and Clinton had gone along with it.  But then the mission was drastically expanded in March, 1993 by a UN decision to disarm the militias and restore order, an incredible mistake.  Somalia clans have their faults, but they are staunch supporters of the ideas in the United States constitution's 2nd amendment.  Disarming them would require far more force than we had on hand, or were willing to commit.  Soon, our soldiers got into an all-out fight with one of the warlords, a story best told in Blackhawk Down.   After the losses in Somalia, Clinton, to the surprise of many, withdrew American forces, in order to cut our losses — and his political losses.  (To the surprise, because most expected us to at least take revenge on the warlord, Mohammed Farah Aideed, before we left.)

After that, in order to preserve his political viability, Clinton determined never to commit American forces to an African country again, unless they were rescuing American citizens.

In 1994, after the plane carrying Rwandan president Juvévenal Habyarimana was shot down, Hutu extremists in Rwanda began a long-planned campaign to kill moderate Hutus and all Tutsis (including many who had a Hutu father or mother).  American diplomats reported the genocide from the beginning, but did not get a hearing from the Clinton administration.

Here's how Samantha Powers describes Clinton's actions — and inactions in her book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
The Rwandan genocide would prove to be the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the twentieth century.  In 100 days, some 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were murdered.  The United States did almost nothing to stop it.  Ahead of the April 6 plane crash, the United States ignored extensive early warnings about imminent mass violence.  It denied Belgian requests to reinforce the peacekeeping mission.  When the massacres started, not only did the Clinton administration not send troops to Rwanda to contest the slaughter, but it refused countless other options:  President Clinton did not convene a single meeting of his senior foreign policy advisers to discuss U.S. options for Rwanda.  His top aides rarely condemned the slaughter.  The United States did not deploy its technical resources to jam Rwandan hate radio, and it did not lobby to have the genocidal Rwandan government's ambassador expelled from the United Nations.  Those steps that the United States did take had deadly repercussions.  Washington demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Rwanda and then refused to authorize the deployment of UN reinforcements.  Remembering Somalia and hearing no American demands for intervention, President Clinton and his advisers knew that the military and political risk of involving the United States in a bloody conflict in central Africa were great, yet there were no costs to avoiding Rwanda altogether. (pp. 334-335)
No political costs to Bill Clinton, that is.  There were great costs to the Rwandans and, in time, to many others in central Africa.  A Tutsi force, led by Paul Kagame, eventually expelled the Hutu forces committing the genocide.  But the Hutu forces did not disappear; instead they fled to Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and helped set off the civil wars there.

The actions taken not taken in Rwanda were the Clinton administration's important African policy.   Besides that, he did little, other than to continue the policies of previous administration.  Africa did not much interest either of his secretaries of state, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.

In contrast to Clinton, George W. Bush had promised a less activist foreign policy during his initial campaign for office.  There were some exceptions.  From the beginning, he backed Colin Powell's successful efforts to end the civil war in the southern Sudan, a war that had gone on for decades (or perhaps centuries in some ways of looking at it).  (Incidentally, I have thought for some time that Powell has gotten too little credit for that success, and for helping defuse the tension between India and Pakistan, somewhat later.)

But, after the 9/11 attack, that changed, and Bush decided on a more activist foreign policy, in part, I suppose, to get support for the war on terrorism.  But the area he chose, and the policies he backed after 9/11 were not inevitable, and show something interesting about the man, and his administration.  Bush decided to help the poorest continent, Africa, and decided to help in three principal ways; he provided help for fighting malaria and AIDS, and he set up a new system of foreign aid, which challenges African countries to reform, before they receive the aid.

All three have had successes, some of which you can read about in this article in the Washington Post.  It is likely that, in the next decade or so, millions of Africans will live who might have died without these Bush initiatives.

Let's summarize.  Bill Clinton could have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans — but chose not to, in order to preserve his political viability.  George W. Bush has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Africans, in spite of the political costs.

The political gains for Clinton were not great, and the political costs to Bush were probably small.   But the contrast, in which one man does the right thing and the other doesn't tells us more than a little about the two men.  And the fact that this contrast has gotten so little coverage tells us more than a little about our "mainstream" journalists.

(I was dubious about the Somalia intervention; I was, to the extent I followed the question, in favor of stopping the genocide in Rwanda.  That's because I thought that the first required enormous resources — or exceptionally skillful diplomacy — and that the second required trivial resources.  In fact, the UN commander in Rwanda at the time, Roméo Dallaire, thought he could stop the genocide with a mere 4,000 troops.  In contrast, to disarm the Somalia clans might have required 400,000 troops, or a very long campaign.)
- 2:52 PM, 18 February 2008   [link]

Trial Lawyers Are More Important Than Fighting Terrorism:  Robert Novak makes a serious charge.
A closed-door caucus of House Democrats last Wednesday took a risky political course.  By 4 to 1, they instructed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call President Bush's bluff on extending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to continue eavesdropping on suspected foreign terrorists.  Rather than passing the bill with a minority of the House's Democratic majority, Pelosi obeyed her caucus and left town for a week-long recess without renewing the government's eroding intelligence capability.

Pelosi could have exercised leadership prerogatives and called up the FISA bill to pass with unanimous Republican support.  Instead, she refused to bring to the floor a bill approved overwhelmingly by the Senate.  House Democratic opposition included left-wing members typified by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, but they were only a small faction of those opposed.  The true reason for blocking the bill was Senate-passed retroactive immunity to protect from lawsuits private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government.  The nation's torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity.
Lobbying successfully, it would seem.

Is Novak right about the motivation of the Democrats?  I am sure that some House Democrats objected to the bill for the reasons they said they did — but I am equally certain that at least a few put trial lawyer contributions ahead of protecting the country.  And I don't doubt that many had both motivations.  And, of course, some opposed the bill just because President Bush and the Republicans backed it.

And Speaker Pelosi's motivations?  Mixed, I would guess.  And I don't think I am being unfair when I suggest that she is not always motivated by what is best for the country.  After all, she was willing to accept Alcee Hastings as chairman of the sensitive intelligence committee, and she actively worked to make unindicted Abscam co-conspirator John Murtha majority leader.
- 9:08 AM, 18 February 2008   [link]

Washington's Birthday:  Gleaves Whitney tells us why we should celebrate it.
George Washington earned the respect even of his former enemy, King George III, by doing something exceedingly rare in history: When he had the chance to increase personal power, he decreased it — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.
Democracy requires that elected officials relinquish power from time to time, voluntarily.   Washington showed us all how to do that, mostly through his sterling example.  Or, I should say, examples, because he relinquished power again and again.

(Fun fact: There's a statue of George Washington in London.  It was sporting of the British, I must say, to accept that particular gift.  And perhaps some of them appreciate his lesson, too.)
- 8:31 AM, 18 February 2008
More Washington stories from presidential historian Richard Brookhiser.  All but one were new to me.
- 9:53 AM, 19 February 2008   [link]

Michelle Obama Is Worried About Our Souls:  And she thinks her husband can help us fix them.
We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another — that we cannot measure the greatness of our society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure our greatness by the least of these.  That we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done.  That is why I am here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that.  That before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls.  Our souls are broken in this nation.
I might find this idea more appealing if I were sure that people with faint tans like mine were welcome in her church.

That's one cut from a speech she gave a couple of weeks ago.  There are many more amazing things in the speech; if you have a few minutes, you will want to listen to all the cuts that Hugh Hewitt selected.  And then, if you think that government should have some limits, should not, for instance, be in the business of fixing souls, you will want to do something to relax, like taking a brief walk.

(I wonder if she thinks that John McCain understands sacrifice, or compromise?)
- 2:51 PM, 17 February 2008   [link]

Weird:  Here's the story.  And here's the most amazing part of the story.
They were all right feet, size 12, and all three were shod in sneakers.
Size 12 feet are not that common, outside of basketball teams.

(No political point to the story — I hope.  But it is an interesting puzzle.  Right now, I would guess that it is a prank of some kind, rather than something more sinister.)
- 6:33 AM, 17 February 2008   [link]