February 2011, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Madrid Reduces Air Pollution:  By moving sensors from "traffic-clogged" streets to parks.
- 7:30 AM, 8 February 2011   [link]

Was The Super Bowl The "Most-Viewed" TV Program In History as Drudge is saying?

Nope, not even close, as any fan of the World Cup could tell you.

The Super Bowl was the top TV program in US history.
- 7:55 PM, 7 February 2011
More here, including a reminder that roughly 600 million people watched the Apollo 11 moon landing.
- 10:51 AM, 8 February 2011   [link]

First Consort?  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lived with his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, for five years.  And she will sometimes act as New York's First Lady.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has a "life partner", Cylvia Hayes, who will sometimes act as Oregon's First Lady.  (When she isn't responding to accusations of improper influence.)

I do have a serious point to make about these arrangements, which I will save for a future post, but for now I would like to have your help on a basic question:  What do we call these, uh, ladies?

The best I have been able to come up with is "First Consort", but that doesn't seem quite right, since consorts are often, but not always, married.  "First Girlfriend" (or "First Boyfriend) doesn't work for obvious reasons.  Kitzhaber's "life partner" makes it sound like a business deal — which it may sometimes be.

Any suggestions?

(The only other governors who are not currently married are Minnesota's Mark Dayton and Illinois' Pat Quinn, both of whom have other problems.

Monarchies have some advantages in these situations, since a monarch can always create a duchess or duke, or something similar.)
- 4:28 PM, 7 February 2011
So far, thanks to commenters at Just One Minute, I have these suggestions: Her Royal Mistress, First Mistress, First Courtesan, First Libertine, first friend or first friend consort, and Booty Czar.
- 9:23 AM, 9 February 2011   [link]

How To Repeal ObamaCare:  Keith Hennessey explains what's necessary.  Republicans keep the House of Representatives, win the White House and Senate, and then use reconciliation to repeal the bill.

By using reconciliation, the Republicans could repeal ObamaCare — even without a 60-seat majority in the Senate.

(Here's an explanation of reconciliation, if you need to brush up on the process.)
- 3:10 PM, 7 February 2011   [link]

Dick Morris Is Celebrating The 2012 Republican Senate Takeover:   As, he admits, he celebrated the 2010 takeover.  A little early.
I know we predicted Republican Senate control in 2010.  Republicans did gain seven seats and came within four of winning control.  Razor thin defeats in Colorado and Washington and unexpected thrashings in Nevada and West Virginia proved us wrong.

But this time — honest — we are going to win!

The battlegrounds in 2012 are a lot more red and less blue than in 2010.  If we switch seats in North Dakota, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, and Montana — red states all — we get control by 52-48.
This time I agree with him, though I still think he is a little too optimistic.  But I would bet on the Republicans controlling the Senate, right now.  (And so would the InTrade bettors, who are, as I write, giving the Republicans about a 75 percent chance of winning control of the Senate.)

And his analysis of individual seats is worth reading, even if it is, as I said, a little too optimistic.
- 10:01 AM, 7 February 2011   [link]

Those Monthly Job Numbers Are Wrong:  We know that, because they are revised — twice — though we pay little attention to the revisions.  But you may not realize just how wrong the numbers are.
Over all, from January 1979 through March 2010, the first estimate was off — either higher or lower — from the final figure by a median of 74,000 jobs.  If that holds true now, there is a 50 percent chance that the final number for January will be somewhere between a loss of 38,000 and a gain of 110,000.  And there is an equal chance that it will be outside that range.
Or that the numbers are systematically wrong.
Now, in an effort to improve that model, the bureau is changing some estimates to quarterly from annually.  But there is little it can do about the basic problem: when the economy turns up, there will be more new jobs than previous experience would predict.  When the economy turns down, the opposite will happen.
Take a look at the chart accompanying the article to see just how strong those effects are.

If the effects are systematic, then statisticians should be able to find a way to improve the current estimates.  So there is something that could be done about that basic problem — in principle.

But there may not be much that can be done about the general problem:  Government officials have to make policy decisions all the time, while relying on numbers that often turn out to be wrong.   (Example:  The Federal Reserve did not realize we were in a recession during 1990 and 1991 until we were coming out of it.)
- 9:32 AM, 7 February 2011   [link]

"Political Correctness Gets Americans Killed"  (And non-Americans, too.)  That's the lesson that I fear our executive will not learn from Fort Hood massacre.
Let's start by stating the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the re cent report by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins concerning the Fort Hood massacre: Unless we expunge it from our national discourse, political correctness gets Americans killed.

On Nov. 5, 2009, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American citizen, a radicalized Muslim, a psychiatrist and, in the words of the report, "a ticking time bomb," shot up a soldier readiness center on America's largest active-duty Army base, killing 12 military personnel and one civilian, and wounding 32 others.   It was a direct assault on the armed forces of the United States by a self-proclaimed "Soldier of Allah" (written on his business cards) who shouted the Muslim incantation Allahu akbar before opening fire.
Senators Lieberman and Collins understand the danger, but President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder do not and, I fear, never will.

(Any distorted view of the world can get you killed, but political correctness is especially dangerous.   It is so useful to politicians and journalists on the left that they find it hard to abandon, even after a massacre.)
- 7:34 AM, 7 February 2011   [link]

Will The Super Bowl Be a Good Game?  It often isn't; the average Super Bowl is definitely below the average playoff game.  So, every year, I plan to watch the game — but always with a backup plan in case it is too one-sided, or too filled with errors.

I'm not sure why the game is so often mediocre, though the disruption from all the publicity and the two-week gap seem like plausible reasons.

(What makes a good game?  For me, the game should be competitive almost all the way through, and determined by great passes, runs, and defense — rather than fumbles, silly interceptions, and other blunders.)
- 1:52 PM, 6 February 2011
Update: Well, the game was close enough, but not what I would call a great game.  The half time show managed to bore me.  And the commercials were, with a few exceptions, even more obnoxious than usual.
- 8:05 PM, 6 February 2011   [link]

"Alexander The Great Could Not Conquer Afghanistan"  You have almost certainly heard that claim, often in a sentence beginning with "Even".  A few days ago, I saw it at a fine site, Arts & Letters Daily, in a link to this National Geographic article.

It isn't hard to understand why we are seeing this claim now; those who want to end our liberation of Afghanistan often argue that the country is unconquerable and go all the way back to Alexander to support their argument.

The claim is false on two levels.  Those who make it show a shocking ignorance of history — at best.  (At worst, they may be deliberately distorting history.)

Let's start with the simplest level, and a quotation from my old (1945) but still very useful Encyclopedia Brittanica.  The author of the principal article on Afghanistan, Sir Thomas Wolseley Haig, describes the origin of Afghanistan, as follows:
In 1737-38 Nadir Shah, one of Persia's greatest monarchs, recovered Kandahar and conquered the Indian province of Kabul, but conciliated the Afghans and enlisted many of them in his army—among them Ahmad Khan, a young chieftan of the Sadozai family of the Abdali tribe. — Ahmed Khan rose to high rank in the Persian army, and, after the assassination of Nadir Shah in 1747 was chosen by the Afghan chiefs at Kandahar as their leader and assumed the royal title.  Among his titles as that of Durr-i-Dauran, "the Pearl of the Age," from which his tribe received the name of Durrani.

The land of the Afghans had been successively a congeries of petty states, the centre of great empires ruled by foreigners, and a dismembered country, furnishing provinces to three monarchies.  It now became, for the first time, a distinct political entity, ruled by an independent native sovereign.
So Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) could not have conquered Afghanistan for the same reason he could not read a watch; neither existed during his life time.

You will wonder, naturally, whether Alexander was able to conquer what is now Afghanistan.   And he was, at least as much of it as he wanted to conquer.  In fact, he suffered no defeats during his campaigns in what is now Afghanistan and pacified it enough so that he could receive reinforcements and supplies through it as he marched into India.  (Even in India, he did not stop because he was defeated, but because his army staged a sit-down strike and, after three days, got him to agree to let them go back home, or at least back to the Persian empire he had conquered.)

His successors, the Seleucids and the Bactrian Greeks, held the country until about 125 BC.

And what is now Afghanistan was conquered again and again after them.

It is true that the Afghans inflicted some nasty defeats on the British during the 19th century; it is also true that the British avenged those defeats sufficiently to make Afghanistan into a protectorate.   (The British had no desire to conquer a country as poor as Afghanistan; they just wanted to keep the Afghans down, and the Russians out.)

So Alexander the Great did conquer what is now Afghanistan, as others had before him, and as many others did after him.  Conquering it may or may not be a good idea (as some British colonial leaders could tell you if they were still around), but it has never been "unconquerable".

(I've added this post to my little list of common mistakes.

The National Geographic article does not say that Alexander did not conquer Afghanistan; instead they say that he "could not totally conquer" Afghanistan, and that he is "credited" with introducing opium.  The first is false; the second is extremely dubious.  Dubious not because someone hasn't credited Alexander with introducing it, but because it was almost certainly used in Afghanistan long before he was born.

For this post, I have relied on Tarn's biography, McEvedy's atlas, and, to a lesser extent, this Wikipedia article.)
- 3:52 PM, 4 February 2011   [link]

Did We Learn Anything From The 2008 Financial Collapse?  Apparently not, according to Gretchen Morgenson.
Truly startling revelations were few in the voluminous report, published last Thursday by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on the origins of the financial panic.  This is hardly a shock, given the flood-the-zone coverage and analysis of the crisis since it erupted four years ago.

Yet the report still makes for compelling reading because so little has changed as a result of the debacle, in both banking and in its regulation.  Providing chapter and verse, for example, on the bumbling and siloed management at the nation's largest banks is enlightening, in that many of these institutions are even bigger than they were before.  With too-big-to-fail institutions now larger than ever, we are almost certain to go through another episode like 2008 in the not-too-distant future.
And they are being regulated, she goes on to say, by the same regulators who failed us before the last crisis.

(There is one disturbing, and new-to-me, detail in her column:  The Treasury Department, all on its own without help from Congress, rewrote a tax law, in order to help out the banks.  It might have been a good change, but it was beyond their authority.)
- 2:23 PM, 4 February 2011   [link]

What Are People Who Know Something About the Middle East Saying About Egypt?  Not much.
I've noticed something the last few days — something that gives us a human lesson, I think: Those who know the most about the Middle East are saying the least, when it comes to the turmoil in Egypt.  Or they are speaking most cautiously.  They're quickest to say, "I really don't know.  I don't know the exact nature of this, or how it will turn out."  They seem to be humblest, about what can be known, now.

I'm talking about Bernard Lewis, David Pryce-Jones, Amir Taheri, Fouad Ajami — people like that.  These are men who have spent years and years in the Middle East, studying its politics, peoples, and languages, taking in everything possible.  Those who know less speak in far more confident tones.  They are even cocksure.  I'm not sure we should trust anyone who speaks in those tones, just now.
Or, as the old Wall Street saying goes, "Those that know don't say, those that say don't know."

(I'm not saying much, but not because I know a lot about Egypt.  But I do know enough to know that I don't know a lot.)
- 12:24 PM, 4 February 2011   [link]

Cynthia Stroum Was Not A Success As Ambassador To Luxembourg:   And I think it is fair to say that Luxembourg is not an especially challenging assignment for an American ambassador.  If you can fail there, you can fail anywhere.

The Associated Press gives us a few of the details from an internal State Department report.

As America's ambassador to Luxembourg, the wealthy Seattle-based businesswoman was a disaster.

According to an internal State Department report released Thursday, less than a week after she quit, Stroum's management of the U.S. Embassy in the tiny country was abysmal.  The report says her tenure of about one year was fraught with personality conflicts, verbal abuse and questionable expenditures on travel, wine and liquor.
. . .
But the report paints a picture of a corrosive atmosphere at the small embassy, with the ambassador running roughshod over staff, threatening to read their e-mails, largely concerned about job-related perks and involved in improper purchases.

The situation was so bad that the inspector general recommended that the State Department dispatch medical personnel to Luxembourg to test the stress levels of embassy employees.  It said at least four staffers quit or sought transfers to Iraq and Afghanistan during her tenure, unusual steps for diplomats assigned to a modern, Western European capital.

That a political appointee — and a big donor — was not a great ambassador, not even an adequate ambassador, is no great surprise.  But why Stroum failed is instructive.

She did not think that the rules applied to her, and she was unwilling to treat people under her decently.  And in those two ways, she is similar to many other Democratic politicians (and more than a few Republican politicians).  Anyone who followed the 2004 campaign knows about John "Do you know who I am?" Kerry.  Anyone who followed the 2008 campaign knows that Barack Obama has a certain disdain for the spirit, and sometimes the letter, of the campaign finance laws — at least for his own campaigns.

If you were to ask Stroum whether she cares about ordinary people, she would, I am sure, tell you that she does, just as John Edwards was telling us how much he cared about poor people, even while building an immense mansion.

But their actions tell a different story.

(You can find Republican politicians with similar gaps between what they say and what they do — but there are fewer of them, partly because the Republican base is less tolerant of most kinds of misbehavior, and partly because our "mainstream" reporters are less likely to tolerate those gaps in a Republican than in a Democrat.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Judging by a quick search, our local monopoly newspaper, the Seattle Times, was completely scooped by the AP on this story.  That doesn't surprise me.  Although there are some real reporters at the newspaper, all too many of them spend their time protecting local Democrats, rather than investigating them.)
- 6:57 AM, 4 February 2011   [link]

Here's That Daily Mail Map, showing the snow-covered northern hemisphere.  The article has some great snow pictures from all over to illustrate the map.
- 6:56 AM, 3 February 2011   [link]

It's Almost As If Obama Is Ashamed of his START treaty.
President Obama signed the START nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia this morning.

Despite the great attention the president has devoted to this treaty -- and the vast coverage of the treaty negotiations by the media -- the White House refused to allow reporters or TV cameras in the room.  Still photographers were the only representatives of the free press permitted to record the historic moment.
Or perhaps Obama thinks that the treaty will be a political liability.  (It might be, if the Russians keep misbehaving.)
- 6:29 AM, 3 February 2011   [link]

Ruth Marcus Wakes Up From Her Dream:  The Washington Post columnist has been dreaming for years that Barack Obama would be a responsible president, but she now seems to realize that's unlikely.
Jerry Brown for president?

Maybe not, but it's striking how much more responsible and specific the California governor was in his State of the State address Monday than President Obama was in his State of the Union speech the week before.

The man once known as Governor Moonbeam sounded more like Governor Laser Beam when it came to addressing the state's fiscal crisis.

Obama waited until minute 35 to mention the nation's "mountain of debt."  He then proposed almost nothing concrete to dig out from under it - certainly nothing politically risky.
What makes this especially infuriating is that there are many Republicans — for instance, Paul Ryan — who would be willing to work with Obama, if he were to be "responsible and specific".  (In 2005, few Democrats were willing to work with President Bush to reform social security.)

Perhaps Marcus has begun reading Robert Samuelson's columns on our fiscal problems, such as this one from last Thursday.
It was a teachable moment - and Barack Obama didn't teach.  Unless public opinion changes, we won't end our budget deadlock.  As is well-known, Americans want budget deficits curbed.  In a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 54 percent urge Congress and the president to "act quickly" and 57 percent prefer spending cuts to tax increases.  But there's little support for cuts in Social Security (64 percent opposed), Medicare (56 percent) and Medicaid (47 percent), which together approach half of federal spending.  The State of the Union gave Obama the opportunity to confront the contradictions and educate Americans in the unpleasant realities of uncontrolled government.  He declined.

What we got were empty platitudes.  We won't be "buried under a mountain of debt," Obama declared.  Heck, we're already buried.  We will "win the future."  Not by deluding ourselves, we won't.  Americans think deficits are someone else's problem that can be cured by taxing the rich (say liberals) or ending wasteful spending (conservatives).  Obama indulged these fantasies.
Because, I believe, he thinks that he won't be re-elected if he tells us unpleasant truths about our budget problems.  (Or, possibly, because he does not realize just how bad those problems are.  There's no evidence in his career that would suggest that he is very good with numbers, though he may be.)

(Is there any chance that E. J. Dionne, also of the Washington Post, will wake up from his dreams about Obama?  I would say the odds are very much against that, but we can hope.  Those who know him only through his recent columns may not realize that he was once a pretty good reporter.)
- 6:32 AM, 2 February 2011   [link]

Popeye Was Right?  That's what a Swedish researcher says.
Researchers have discovered that eating a bowl of spinach a day makes your muscles "profoundly" more efficient.

They found that eating 300g of the vegetable reduced the amount of oxygen needed to power muscles by as much as five per cent when exercising.

The effect is so powerful it works after just three days.
(So the Popeye cartoons might have exaggerated how fast spinach works.)

As always, one hopes that other scientists try to replicate this work — and look at other vegetables for similar effects.  And that cooks start looking for ways to make tasty spinach dishes.
- 5:11 AM, 2 February 2011   [link]

Snowzilla!  Anthony Watts describes the snowstorm that is beginning to hit the Midwest and is headed for the Northeast.  Here's the scariest part:
The synoptic map shows freezing rain ahead of the system, followed by heavy snow.  It's the worst sort of situation.
So the worst-hit areas will have ice on the roads, concealed by a layer of snow.

If that forecast is correct, then this is very good advice.
The plan: stock up and stay home, and make sure you have a backup plan for heat if the power goes out.
- 4:45 PM, 1 February 2011   [link]

Kim Jong-Il's Incredible Achievements:  The Telegraph has a partial list.  Golfers will like this one.
The first time he picked up a golf club, in 1994, Kim reportedly shot a 38-under par round on North Korea's only golf course, including 11 holes-in-one.  He then decided to retire from the sport for ever.
Even Tiger Woods at his best would have trouble matching that.

The list is funny, but then you remember that Kim is largely responsible for a famine that may have killed ten percent of North Korea's population, and that laughing at any of those "achievements" in North Korea might get you sent to a labor camp.

After you remember that history and that penalty for laughing, the list is still funny, but gruesomely funny.
- 3:01 PM, 1 February 2011   [link]

That Big Snowstorm Hitting The Midwest And Northeast could be caused by global warming, says Al Gore.
Last week on his show Bill O'Reilly asked, "Why has southern New York turned into the tundra?" and then said he had a call into me.  I appreciate the question.

As it turns out, the scientific community has been addressing this particular question for some time now and they say that increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with what they have been predicting as a consequence of man-made global warming:
(Gore misunderstands, perhaps deliberately, O'Reilly's question.   Tundra has low temperatures for most of each year, but gets little snow.  But maybe Gore doesn't know that.  Come to think of it, O'Reilly may not know that either.)

Oddly enough, Gore might be right on this one, especially if he keeps that qualifier, "global warming could make snowstorms more severe".  (Emphasis added.)  Some of the global warming models do indeed predict more snowfall — in some places.  (And less snowfall in other places.) So, it could happen.

(Some will want to see the by-now famous list.  It can be fun to try to figure out the logic behind each link before you click on it.  For instance, I decided not click on the first, "acne", at least not for a day or two, until I can guess how global warming might cause acne.

Wouldn't increased snowfalls make glaciers grow?  Yes, in general, though again you have to look at the details of the models to see where glaciers might grow.)
- 1:59 PM, 1 February 2011   [link]

Australian Joe Hildebrand Claims a record.
But then this weekend I realised that NSW Labor had achieved something no other government of either persuasion has managed to do - not just in this state, nor the country, but the entire world.

The State Labor Government has now, thanks to the small, unassuming alleged purchase of a single ecstasy tablet, successfully accounted for every single type of scandal known to human history.

This feat is even more impressive given that the previous record was also held by the same State Labor Government.

This is a group of political leaders who looked at a front page story about a cabinet minister dancing in his underpants and said to each other: "Come on guys, we can do better than that."

We have, in the last decade alone, had ministers seeing mistresses in Parliament House, cruising gay saunas, surfing for porn in their offices - although only incidentally to online gambling - and of course the aforementioned celebrated gyration in lime-green jocks.

And that's only the good stuff.

There have also been the comparatively mundane couple of MPs done for corruption, the obligatory drink-driving scandals, a paedophile Aboriginal affairs minister and a former milkman who somehow made it into cabinet, got caught speeding four times, and then had a secret lovechild with his staffer.
(NSW = New South Wales, the most populous Australian state.)

That's an impressive list, but I am not ready to accept it as a world record.  (For one thing, there's no mention of vote fraud, an essential in any complete list of scandals.  Nor do any of the ministers appear to have sold themselves to sleazy foreigners, another essential.)

(By way of Tim Blair.)
- 8:59 AM, 1 February 2011   [link]

Huntsman Resigns:  And begins preparing for a presidential run?
Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China, sent a resignation letter to President Barack Obama on Monday and now is likely to explore a Republican presidential bid, a close associate told POLITICO.

In a letter hand-delivered to the White House, the former Utah governor said that he wants to return to the United States by May, the associate said.

GOP allies of Huntsman have already begun laying plans for a quick-start campaign should the former Utah governor decide to enter the ill-defined Republican field.
When the Obama administration named Huntsman ambassador to China, they celebrated, rather openly, thinking they had taken Huntsman out of the presidential contest.

I never understood that celebration, since it was obvious that Huntsman could do just what he has done, serve for a while, and then come back with better foreign policy credentials, and a bipartisan air.   The tactic might have worked, I thought, if they had named Huntsman an ambassador with less than a year to go before the election, but not that early.

(I haven't followed Huntsman's career closely.  If this Wikipedia article is reasonably accurate, he's had a long string of successes in business and politics.  Some voters will be impressed by his rock and roll credentials, others by his two adopted daughters, one from China (Gracie Mei), and one from India (Asha Bharati).

He's often described as a "moderate", but, again assuming that Wikipedia article is correct, he might better be described as a moderate conservative.)
- 7:45 AM, 1 February 2011   [link]