February 2010, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Weather Is Looking Better For A Rescue At Mt. St. Helens:  Although the odds don't look good for Joseph Bohlig.

Mt. St. Helens, 16 February 2010

The cornices at Mt. St Helens are particularly dangerous.  In 2008, snowmobiler John Slemp broke though one and fell into the crater.  (Almost miraculously, he survived.)

(There are live webcam views of the mountain here and here (hi-res).)
- 1:22 PM, 16 February 2010
- 5:42 AM, 17 February 2010   [link]

Marty Peretz Doesn't Think Much Of Eric Holder:  And he isn't shy about saying so.
Poor Eric Holder.  The fact is that he is none too smart ... and none too versed in constitutional issues.  Although Ronald Reagan did appoint him Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia!  Ah, those were the days when Republican presidents appointed Democrats to judicial office and Democratic presidents appointed Republicans to same.  Actually, aside from his graduation from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, "second rate" is what comes to mind when you hear Holder's name.

Hey, Janet Reno wasn't so brainy either.
(Actually George W. Bush re-appointed several Clinton appointees who had not been confirmed, in an effort to reach out to the Democrats.)

Though I don't disagree with Peretz, I have the feeling that he is making this argument in order to forestall an even more serious charge — that many of the ideas held by Holder, and his boss, Obama, are bad for the nation, and the world.

(The Janet Reno reference may seem out of place, unless you remember that Reno was, very definitely, an affirmative action choice.  No male prosecutor with her record would have been considered for attorney general.  Peretz is implying that Holder, too, is an affirmative action choice.)
- 12:53 PM, 16 February 2010   [link]

What An Indictment From Bayh!  CBS buried it at the end of their interview, so you may have missed it, but Matt Drudge caught it.  Here's what Evan Bayh said, when asked about his plans for the future:
"But if I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months.  If I could help educate our children at an institution for higher learning, that would be a noble thing.  If I could help a charity, cure a disease or do something else worthwhile for society — that's what has motivated my life and that's what I think Congress needs to focus on, things that will help the American people meet the challenges they face in real ways in their daily lives.  That's what I want to do with my life.  And if you'll invite me back on your show in 11 months, I'll be able to tell you!"
(Emphasis added.)

Bayh doesn't say so explicitly, but I suspect that he is making parallel statements after the first sentence; in other words, he thinks that Congress hasn't done anything "worthwhile for society" in the last six months.  It has failed on job creation — and almost everything else.

As you know, during almost all of those six months, Congress and the White House were controlled by the Democratic party.  And until Scott Brown was sworn in, the Democrats had large enough majorities so that they did not need to even consider Republican ideas.
- 10:27 AM, 16 February 2010   [link]

Obama Has No Long-Term Budget Strategy:  As economist Gregory Mankiw shows in this gentle, but devastating, column.

Here are three samples to show you why you should read the whole thing.  (And share it with your friends.)
The troubling feature of Mr. Obama's budget is that it fails to return the federal government to manageable budget deficits, even as the wars wind down and the economy recovers from the recession.
. . .
In other words, President Obama's long-term fiscal strategy is to appoint a commission to figure out a long-term fiscal strategy.
. . .
But unless the president revises his spending plans substantially, he will have no choice but to find some major source of government revenue.  Ms. Pelosi's suggestion of a VAT may be the best of a bunch of bad alternatives.  Unfortunately, in this new era of responsibility, the president is not ready to face up to the long-term fiscal challenge.
(Emphasis added.)

In my life time, presidents have often presented budget plans based on too-optimistic assumptions, and they have often pushed costs into the future.  But this is the first time a president did not even bother to present a long-term plan, however implausible, for controlling the deficit.

Why not?  Good question.  Obama may not understand the basics of the federal budget.   Seriously.  Or he may be planning on tax increases, but won't tell us about them until January 2013, assuming he is re-elected, of course.
- 10:01 AM, 16 February 2010   [link]

British Police Followed The Rules:  Even though a five-year-old girl was in terrible danger.
A girl fighting for her life after a car she was travelling in plunged into an ice-cold river was not rescued for almost two hours because health and safety rules prevented police from entering the water.
After 97 minutes, police divers — who are authorized to enter the water — arrived and rescued the girl.  She was rushed to a hospital but did not recover from the exposure (and injuries?).  Gabrielle Grady died yesterday.

Her father and her six-year-old brother were able to escape from the car.  If a six-year-old boy was able to get from the car, a grown-up police officer should be able to get to the car.

Similar jurisdictional rules about rescues are found in many American cities, and sometimes even included in union contracts.  It is common, for instance, for the police and fire fighter unions in large cities to have complex rules describing which emergencies belong to which union.

(If you are wondering why her father did not try to rescue her, the answer is simple — and horrifying.  Police believe that Chris Grady drove the car into the river deliberately, and have charged him with murder.)
- 7:38 AM, 15 February 2010   [link]

Is Chess Sexy?  (Valentine's Day seems like a good time to pose that question.)

It is for some people, according to this New York Times article, which cites a French movie, Joueuse, an American movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, and a book-in-progress with a provocative title, Chess Kamasutra, in support of that thesis.

I must admit that I had never thought of the connection, since chess always seemed like a battle to me.  But there are people who like to make love and war, at the same time.
- 5:59 PM, 14 February 2010   [link]

Think Those Ski Jumpers Look Skinny?  You are right, though they aren't as skinny as they were only a few years ago.
Once the V-technique came into vogue in the 1980s, replacing the classic style of holding the skis parallel, jumping became more dependent on flight dynamics like lift and drag than on the propulsion force of the athletes, experts said.

Body weight became a critical factor. The lighter a jumper was, the farther he could jump.   Depending on the size of the hill used in competition, jumpers said, a weight loss of a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, could result in added distance of two to four meters, or 6 ½ to 13 feet.
Naturally, some jumpers went too far in losing weight, so they changed the rules.
To counter the problem, the International Ski Federation put in a rule in 2004 that tied maximum ski length to a jumper's relative height and body weight.

Officials said the most severe cases of underweight athletes had been halted, though current rules still encourage jumpers to remain thin.  Many weigh in the 132-to-147-pound range and few have body fat above 5 percent, officials said.
Having watched today's Nordic Combined, I can say with complete certainty that the skiers in that event do not look anorexic.  But then they have to actually ski as well as slide down a hill.  Incidentally, congratulations to Johnny Spillane for his silver medal, the first medal for any American in this event.  It was a great race to watch, even on NBC.
- 5:40 PM, 14 February 2010   [link]

Happy Valentine's Day!  With the usual exceptions.

If you need a chuckle, check out this odd couple.

(And if you must have some politics with your Valentine's Day, read what Jamie Glazov has to say about why some people hate this day, and try to suppress it.)
- 2:29 PM, 14 February 2010   [link]

All Operating Systems Go:  The new system now has both Windows 7 and my current version of Linux, Ubuntu 9.10, installed.  Almost all of the hardware that I have been able to test, including the Haupauge 1250 TV card, work correctly.  Though I did have to download the latest software from Haupauge to stop Windows 7 from complaining.  (The exception is the remote control for the TV card, which I have no use for, so I may not send much time trying to get that working.)

I plan to use the TV card to record political speeches, and may even do some live blogging.  The TV picture isn't bad, by the way, even in the small window.

The systems boots up quickly — in about 40 seconds in Windows — and shuts down even more quickly — in about ten seconds.  (Windows 7 has a set of programs you can run to test how fast your system is.  On a scale from 1.0 to 7.9, the new system scored above 6 on everything except main disk access, where it got a 5.9.  According to Microsoft, scores above 3 should be enough to run almost any Windows 7 program.)

Because I built it myself, Windows is not filled with ad ware.  In fact, the desk top began absolutely bare.  (Just a few years ago, I learned that the software companies pay for that ad ware to be placed on new PCs, and that you can have it removed — for a price.)

Ubuntu has a more usable, though less flashy, version of the solitaire game Free Cell.

(For those who like to protect their privacy, this detail:  On installation, Ubuntu gave me the opportunity to password protect and encrypt my home directory, adding another layer of protection for my private data.)
- 9:32 AM, 12 February 2010   [link]

We All Make Mistrakes:  But few of us make mistakes this embarrassing.
The general manager of the Chilean mint has been dismissed after thousands of coins were issued with the name of the country spelt wrongly.

The 50-peso coins - worth about 10 cents (6p) - were issued in 2008, but no-one noticed the mistake until late last year.

Instead of C-H-I-L-E, the coins had C-H-I-I-E stamped on them.
(I'm pretty sure some people — coin collectors, if no one else — noticed the mistake before then, though they may not wanted to bring it to the attention of Chilean authorities.)

If I were the general manager, I think I would leave the country.
- 7:31 AM, 12 February 2010   [link]

Congratulations To The SAS And The Navy Seals:  For what appears to be a successful set of operations.
Special forces dealt the deadly blow to the Taliban by taking out scores of their top field commanders in the build-up to the massive offensive.

SAS men and US Navy SEAL teams killed the 50 insurgent leaders in a series of dramatic covert operations deep inside southern Afghanistan's Helmand badlands.

Their objective was to destroy the Taliban command structure - and military sources labelled the daring raids "a great success".
I love reading these stories in the Sun, because the newspaper uses words like "heroes", without irony, and because they celebrate our successes, without qualification.

(A little background on the SAS here.)
- 7:14 AM, 12 February 2010   [link]

Cat, Dog, And Candle:  The reporter who did this story thinks that it's mostly about a bad cat and a good dog.
A Florida family's Golden Retriever is being called a canine hero, while the family's cat should probably be sent to the "dog house."
Commenters "AnimalProtector" and "taraclabaugh2008" are more sensible than the reporter and think that it is mostly a story about a foolish family, who left a candle burning unattended.  (I'm with those commenters.)
- 6:55 AM, 12 February 2010   [link]

Because Environmentalism Is A Religion?  The BBC wonders why so many Greens use religious language.
If the case for tackling climate change is backed by science, why do so many green campaigners rely on the language of religion?
For example, Al "Elmer Gantry" Gore.

By the end of the piece, the BBC analyst, Helen Grady, has almost reached the obvious conclusion.   She even lets a founder of a Green PR firm make this central point:
For some, this appropriation of religious language and themes reveals the extent to which climate change is, for a section of the green movement, part of a much wider agenda for radical social change.

"Scratch the surface of a lot of greens and you find quite a lot of anger about the way people are," says Solitaire Townsend.  "There's a lot of passion to do more than just reduce carbon levels.
I don't have any great objection to the religious practices of Townsend and other Greens — except that they are so determined to force their views on the rest of us, which has hurt us in small ways (for example, the loss of styrofoam containers in fast food restaurants) and large (for example, the increase in energy costs).

(If you have been reading this site for some time, the argument that environmentalism is a religion for many will be familiar, since I have discussed it many times, for example, here, here, here, and here.)
- 7:03 AM, 11 February 2010   [link]

Jokers To The Left Of Me?  Probably unintentional jokers, but, with this administration, it's hard to be sure.

First, Joe Biden.
I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.
Next, Barack Obama.
President Obama insisted that he and his administration have pursued a "fundamentally business-friendly" agenda and are "fierce advocates" for the free market, rejecting corporate criticism of his policies.

"The irony is that on the left we are perceived as being in the pockets of big business, and then on the business side we are perceived as being anti-business," Obama said in an interview this week with Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  "You would be hard pressed to identify a piece of legislation that we have proposed out there that, net, is not good for businesses," he added.
There are, as far as I can tell, three ways in which you can interpret such statements.  First, Biden and Obama may believe what they say, in which case they are delusional.  Second, they may be saying what they think will benefit them politically, or please their immediate audience, in which case they are lying.  Third, they may be joking, saying something they know to be so outrageous that almost everyone will realize they aren't serious.

Of the three explanations, the last is the least likely, but by far the most pleasant.  And if they are intentional jokes, they are pretty good jokes.
- 6:11 AM, 11 February 2010   [link]

Popular Mechanics Gives Us Some Perspective On The Toyota Recalls:  In this post, I argued that we might never know whether Toyota has a sudden acceleration problem.  Popular Mechanics editor Larry Webster, who knows far more about this subject than I do, may agree.
There's no question that unintended acceleration is a serious problem that needs to be fixed.   But a little perspective is in order.  As Popular Mechanics automotive editor Larry Webster has pointed out, every major carmaker receives occasional reports of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA).  In the last decade, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency logged some 24,000 SUA complaints.  Less than 50 of these red flags were investigated.  Why so few?   The main reason is the nebulous nature of SUA.  Often the problem occurs once, never to happen again.  It's tough to fix a defect that can't be replicated.  And then there's the driver variable.  As awful as this is to think about, it's been shown that sometimes drivers simply mix up which pedal they're pushing.  In the late 1980s, the Audi 5000 was the target of a barrage of SUA allegations, lawsuits and press reports (including a notorious "60 Minutes" episode that was later discredited).  Then, as now, there were accusations that mysterious electronic gremlins somehow took over the car.  In the end, NHTSA concluded that driver error was the only likely explanation for the incidents.
(If it is driver error, that doesn't necessarily absolve Toyota of all responsibility, since designs can make driver errors more or less likely.  I recall seeing claims that part of Audi's problem was that the brake and gas pedals were closer together than on most American cars, making them easier to confuse, especially by careless drivers.)

The brake problems on the Toyota Prius are a separate problem, and common to most hybrids.
By the time conversation got around to disconcerting glitches in the antilock brake system on Toyota's high-tech Prius hybrid, there was no containing the outrage.  (The fact is, most hybrids exhibit slightly twitchy braking as they try to manage the switchover from the electrical braking that recharges the batteries to the hydraulic braking needed for more aggressive stops.  Conditions that engage the antilock braking system only complicate that challenge.)  Without the previous incidents, news that Toyota was making a small change in its Prius braking software would have been a non-story.
You could, I assume, avoid these "glitches" by getting rid of the electrical braking, which would lower the gas economy slightly.  (As always, there is no free lunch.)

(Related thoughts here on the difficulty of testing complex systems.)
- 2:22 PM, 10 February 2010   [link]

Republicans Make Gains In New York Special Elections:  And in the suburbs, where they will need gains to continue their revival.
In Tuesday's 4 special elections to fill vacant NYS Assembly seats, Republicans won 3 of the 4 races - and garnered a net gain of 2 seats.  While this is not enough to affect the overwhelming Democratic majority in the Assembly, this will have an impact on the political landscape immediately ahead - particularly in the race for Governor and for control of the NYS Senate.
The Democrat won in New York city; the Republicans won in all three suburban races, in Suffolk, Nassau, and Westchester counties.

(One of the Republican winners, Bob Castelli, looks impressive.
Bob has spent his adult life demonstrating his sense of duty and public service, first in the United States Army, where he served honorably in Vietnam; then fighting crime for 21 years as a New York state police officer; and now molding young minds into our future protectors as a professor at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Albany, which has more than a few crooks, could use a police officer to keep them in check.

For those not familiar with New York state politics, a bit of background:  For decades, the Democrats controlled the state Assembly and the Republicans the state Senate.  Last year, the Democrats finally gained control of the Senate, too.  (Though they lost it, briefly, in a bizarre deal.  Republicans were lucky the deal didn't stick.)  These gains suggest that Republicans will retake control of the Senate this fall.   Maybe they will behave better than they have in the past, having been scared by their loss of control.  Maybe.)
- 8:45 AM, 10 February 2010
If you wonder why I am so negative about the New York state legislature, read this account of state senator Hiram Monserrate.  You'll find it instructive — and, if you live in New York, depressing.
- 5:01 PM, 10 February 2010   [link]

Teacher Fired Because He Wouldn't Tolerate Muslim Bigotry From His Students?  That's what Nicholas Kafouris claims.
Mr Kafouris, a Greek Cypriot, taught for 12 years at Bigland Green Primary School in Tower Hamlets, East London.

He claims he was forced to leave his £30,000-a-year job because he would not put up with the 'racist' and anti-Semitic' behaviour of his pupils.

The predominantly Muslim youngsters, some as young as eight, openly praised Islamic extremists in class and described the September 11 terrorists as 'heroes and martyrs'.
So far, we have mostly his side of the story, but there is nothing implausible about his claims.   And he may have evidence of a pattern of discrimination.
Nineteen teachers left an east London primary school accused of racial and religious discrimination in just six years, an employment tribunal has heard.

The teachers were employed at Bigland Green Primary School in Tower Hamlets and, according to Nicholas Kafouris, who is suing the school, this was due in part to the head, Jill Hankey.
Kafouris claims that the attitudes of Muslim students changed for the worse after 9/11
The teacher told the tribunal attitudes among the pupils changed after the New York Twin Towers bombing and said in one incident shortly after the September 2001 attacks he accidentally brushed against a boy who told him: "Don't touch me, you're a Christian."
That, too, seems plausible.  Osama bin Laden intended the 9/11 attack as propaganda, and there is much evidence that the attack inspired more than a few Muslims.  (Though its effect has worn off somewhat, as the years passed.)
- 7:39 AM, 10 February 2010   [link]

Sign Of The Times?  Last week, the local Unitarian church had this message:

Unitarian sign of the times, February 2010

And which disenchanting leaders would those be?  Washington Governor Gregoire?  Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell?  Perhaps even President Obama?

If this Unitarian congregation is as far left as most, those four are the most likely suspects.

(This week's sign says something about learning to be happy with what you have, which seems like a good follow-up to last week's sign.)
- 4:51 PM, 9 February 2010   [link]

System Almost Go:  During the past two days, I have been putting together my new computer and am almost finished.  I have to figure out why the cheap floppy drive I installed isn't working, install the TV card, and finish tying down the cables.  (The last is more complicated than you might think, since there are so many cables.  But I have figured out reasonable solutions for almost all the parts in this 3-D puzzle, so the hard part is done.)

When that's all done, I'll spend a week or two (part time) installing software and peripherals, and copying over files.

(Incidentally I build my own systems mostly to catch up on the technology, and have learned some interesting lessons this time, as I always do.)
- 4:28 PM, 9 February 2010   [link]

Ghost Bill In Washington Legislature:  On taxes, naturally.

A strange thing happened in Olympia today.  This morning a bill was introduced in the Senate, SB 6853, which has no text.

I don't think this is what is generally meant by transparency.

Call me suspicious, but I fear that SB 6853 will not be good for the taxpayers of this state.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:28 PM, 9 February 2010   [link]

Think There's Been A Lot Of Snow Lately?  You're right, if you live in the northern hemisphere.
But what NOAA isn't saying is that snow is falling earlier and heavier in the Northern Hemisphere.  Rutgers University Global Snow Lab has reported that January was the sixth snowiest on record, and that six out of the last eight Januaries were above normal snowfall.

January, 2008 saw the second greatest snow extent ever recorded.  December was the third snowiest on record in the Northern Hemisphere and seventeen out of last twenty-one Decembers were above normal snowfall.  November was above normal snowfall and fifteen out of the last nineteen Novembers have had above average snowfall.  October was the sixth snowiest October on record and seven out of the last ten Octobers have had above average snowfall.
(I don't know whether they have data for the southern hemisphere.)
- 1:44 PM, 9 February 2010   [link]

Even The New York Times Is Catching On:  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its leader are in trouble.
Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist's version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations' climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore.

But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists.  Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri's resignation last week.

Critics, writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
The phrase "scientific sloppiness" is too mild, in my opinion (though it may meet standards at the New York Times).  Critics have found that some of the evidence the IPCC has been using to make its case is wrong, and that some of their wilder assertions come from non-scientific sources.

The accusations of conflicts of interest worry me less than the sloppiness.  But I would say that Pachauri has not even tried to avoid those conflicts.

(If you are wondering why the New York Times is so late to this party, read some of the posts by Andrew Revkin, who has been covering these issues for the Times.  He long ago chose to be as much an advocate as a reporter, and set aside his reporter's skepticism when covering the IPCC.)
- 12:54 PM, 9 February 2010   [link]

NPR's Mark Memmott Finds It Hard To Believe That Some Of Us Miss President Bush:  But some of us do, and one person has even put up a billboard to say so.

(More here.)
- 7:50 AM, 9 February 2010   [link]

Will John Murtha's District Go Republican?   Probably.
Presumably there will be a special election in Pennsylvania 12 to replace Murtha on May 18, which is primary day.  This is the only district in the nation that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008.  You might want to explain that as an affinity for Vietnam veterans.   The better explanation is that it is part of the Jacksonian belt that starts in southwest Pennsylvania and extends along the Appalachians and southwestward to Tennessee and Texas—an area where Barack Obama ran very poorly in both the primaries and the general election in 2008.  In any case, it voted only narrowly (51%-49%) for Kerry and favored McCain over Obama by an even narrower margin (49%-49%, a margin of 873 votes).
(In 2000, Gore carried the district, 55-44, with a margin of 29,509 votes.)

Michael Barone doesn't give odds, but I will.  Right now, I would say that the odds favor the Republican candidate, by at least 3-2.
- 7:07 AM, 9 February 2010   [link]