February 2011, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Cougar Family Reunion?  That's what biologists think was happening in this series of photos.  (You can see larger versions of the pictures in this post.)

The biologists think this may have been a family reunion because, though cougars are usually solitary, mothers do get together with their daughters occasionally, and sometimes bring their current batch of cubs to these meetings.

(Douglas County is close to the center of Washington state; Moses Coulee is rather barren place, with a very interesting ice-age history.)
- 4:36 PM, 24 February 2011   [link]

This Score Will Make Some People's Heads explode.
The politician who once best exemplified the idea of a "maverick" independent has shifted so far to the right that he is now tied for the title of the Senate's most conservative member, according to National Journal's 2010 vote ratings.

According to a comprehensive examination of 96 Senate votes taken in 2010, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with seven of his colleagues, voted most often on the conservative side.  His 89.7 composite conservative score ties him with stalwarts like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and gives him a more conservative score than Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
The National Journal goes on to argue that McCain and other Republicans have shifted right.  But it is at least as plausible to conclude that the Democratic party has been trying to pass a far-left agenda that almost all Republicans, even the few moderates, oppose.

(I hesitate to mention this, but McCain may be freer to be himself again, now that George W. Bush is no longer in the White House.  Like almost everyone else, I think that some of their disagreements were personal, that McCain never forgave Bush for the 2000 nomination campaign.)
- 3:35 PM, 24 February 2011   [link]

Why Are The Democrats Backing The Public Service Unions So Strongly?  Michael Barone answers that question.
Enormous contributions, yes -- to the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Unions, most of whose members are public employees, gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle.  The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest public employee union, gave Democrats $90 million in the 2010 cycle.

Follow the money, Washington reporters like to say.  The money in this case comes from taxpayers, present and future, who are the source of every penny of dues paid to public employee unions, who in turn spend much of that money on politics, almost all of it for Democrats.   In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.
And the unions didn't just give money; they gave thousands of hours of volunteer time in, for instance, get-out-the-vote campaigns.

It is odd, sometimes, to read "mainstream" accounts of Republican counter-attacks against the public service unions.  The "mainstream" journalists seem not to understand that when a union spends millions to defeat a candidate, that candidate is unlikely to look kindly on the union, afterwards.
- 2:49 PM, 24 February 2011   [link]

Unequal Protection And Obamacare:  Deroy Murdock has a good summary.
Obamacare is not being enforced equally at all.  As of February 9, the Obama administration had granted 915 waivers, mainly to influential organizations, major companies, and pro-Democratic labor unions.  Those less lucky or less well connected have a different option: Obey Obamacare.
. . .
Major waiver recipients and their enrollees include the Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund (20,500), Service Employees International Union Local 25 (31,000), Darden Restaurants (34,000), Aetna (209,423), CIGNA (265,000), and the United Federation of Teachers (351,000).   Union members represent 43.1 percent of the 2,443,047 enrollees included in these waivers.
(Emphasis added.)

Political machines have always relied on their ability to pass out favors, to be blunt their ability to replace the rule of law with the rule of the organization.  Obama and many of his advisors learned their trade from the Chicago machine, so this pattern should not surprise us.

(I suspect that many of those receiving waivers were also big Obama donors.)
- 10:20 AM, 24 February 2011   [link]

Including Nukes?  President Obama said that he has asked his administration to prepare a "full range of options" to respond to the Libyan crisis.

So, naturally, I wondered whether he meant that, because the "full range" would necessarily include nuclear weapons.  And, in the past, that phrase and similar phrases have often been used to hint at the possible use of nuclear weapons.

Now I don't think that's what Obama intended to say, and that certainly isn't what he should have said.  Most likely he was just talking big in order to make up for his relative silence on the Libyan crisis.  But as president, he really needs to be more careful in what he says.
- 9:41 AM, 24 February 2011   [link]

When Baseball Bats Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Baseball Bats:   Think I am joking?  Then you don't know Sweden.
Sweden's Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen - HD) is to consider whether wielding a baseball bat in a public place is against the law.
. . .
According to Swedish law the possession of dangerous items such as knives, and other weapons "designed to be used as a weapon in crimes against life or limb", are not permitted in a public place.

The defendant in the case has argued that a baseball bat is not covered by the law and pointed out that it has a number of other uses.

The appeals court however based its rejection of his appeal on the grounds that he kept it on apparent display in his car, and thus can be construed to conform to the legal definition of a dangerous item.
The man had been assaulted twice before, and was carrying the bat for protection.

The Swedes, like many leftist Americans, do not think people have an inherent right to protect themselves.

(The case isn't quite as crazy as it might seem.  In many parts of Europe, baseball bats are popular among young thugs, but not because they are planning to hit baseballs with them.

The defendant was arrested in Malmö, a southern Swedish city with a very high crime rate.)
- 7:31 AM, 24 February 2011   [link]

Organic Versus Conventional Vegetables:  A British consumer organization did some tests; the Telegraph reports the results.
Organic vegetables are less tasty and contain fewer nutrients than normally-grown produce, according to a leading consumer watchdog.
(I am always tempted to call conventional foods "inorganic" — or to protest that nearly all of our foods are "organic".  There are a few exceptions like artificial sweeteners, but not many.)

The tests sound reasonable, and are consistent with other findings that I have seen.

(The consumer organization is Which?.  They are quite similar to the American Consumer Reports.  Among other things, both organizations prefer to sell their results, rather than giving them away for free, so their web sites are not particularly informative.)
- 3:47 PM, 23 February 2011   [link]

Thomas Friedman Has Another Column Demanding Higher Gas Prices:   So it's time to link to a picture of his house.

He really does have a "Sasquatchian" carbon foot print.  And I can't recall him even claiming that he has reduced his own energy use.

(Here's the column, which you should read only if you have already looked at the picture.)
- 10:51 AM, 23 February 2011   [link]

Congressman Capuano Doesn't Sound entirely civil, does he?
Sometimes it's necessary to get out on the streets and "get a little bloody," a Massachusetts Democrat said Tuesday in reference to labor battles in Wisconsin.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) fired up a group of union members in Boston with a speech urging them to work down in the trenches to fend off limits to workers' rights like those proposed in Wisconsin.
Anyone who is familiar with, for instance, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, will understand that Capuano is not being metaphorical when he talks about blood.  (And that Wikipedia article does not give many of the significant details about the blood spilled during some strikes by the United Mine Workers.  Most, but not all, of the blood was spilled by the UMW, not its opponents.)
- 7:43 AM, 23 February 2011
Here's one sample of Trumka's violent past.
- 9:08 AM, 23 February 2011
Congressman Capuano says he regrets his "choice of words".  No word on whether the union members, who cheered him loudly, have also had second thoughts.
- 8:56 AM, 24 February 2011   [link]

Why did the Somali Pirates Kill The Four American Hostages?   This New York Times article includes some speculation:
It is not clear why the pirates killed their hostages, either accidentally during a firefight or possibly out of revenge for the Somali pirates killed by American sharpshooters in a hostage-taking in 2009.
(Others have wondered whether the pirates might have had religious motivations, since the Americans were, from time to time, distributing Bibles and even preaching.)

But I think it more likely that the deaths were, in a sense, accidental, that the pirates did not intend to kill their hostages.  (A dead hostage is worthless, except as an example, and if all of them are killed, the pirates must have known they would all be dead or captives, soon.)

This paragraph, from later in the article, supplies a clue:
But the talks seemed to unravel on Tuesday morning, when a pirate aboard the Quest fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the destroyer.  Almost immediately gunfire erupted from inside the yacht's cabin, Admiral Fox said, and several pirates then stepped up to the bow with their hands up.
Here's my guess at what happened:  The pirate with the RPG fired it accidentally.  (It would not be an effective weapon against a destroyer, something even a Somali pirate should be able to figure out.)  One or more pirates inside the yacht heard the shot, panicked, and started killing the hostages.  Other pirates tried to stop them, and were killed.
- 5:42 AM, 23 February 2011   [link]

The Scent Of A Woman:  It's not just the name of a movie; it's a powerful effect on the actions of men, powerful and surprisingly subtle.
Each of the young men thought she was simply a fellow student at Florida State University participating in the experiment, which ostensibly consisted of her and the man assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks.  But the real experiment came later, when each man rated her attractiveness.  Previous research had shown that a woman at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle seems more attractive, and that same effect was observed here — but only when this woman was rated by a man who wasn't already involved with someone else.

The other guys, the ones in romantic relationships, rated her as significantly less attractive when she was at the peak stage of fertility, presumably because at some level they sensed she then posed the greatest threat to their long-term relationships.  To avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves she wasn't all that hot anyway.
At least the researchers assume that it's changes in scent that cause these changes in the men.  And that seems like a reasonable assumption, though there are other possibilities.  (And I suppose it might be interesting to repeat this experiment with guys who had stuffy noses.)
- 1:48 PM, 22 February 2011   [link]

Thanks To Ann Althouse And Lawrence Meade For Their Coverage Of The Demonstrations In Madison:  If you read their posts, you were much better informed than if you got your news from the usual talking heads on TV.

If you haven't read their posts, you can start here, where Althouse links to highlights of their coverage.

One thing I particularly like about their posts was their effort to be fair; for example, they showed you some of the extremists you may not have seen on "mainstream" TV, but they also told you that the extremists were not typical.
- 12:53 PM, 22 February 2011   [link]

You Shouldn't Make A Bet Unless You Are Prepared To Lose:   As a Ugandan truck driver could now tell you.
The Police and army officers in Mityana rescued a Muslim man who was being forced to eat pork on Sunday.

Ali Kaaya had vowed to go against Islam and eat pork if his candidate, Henry Kamya Makumbi of NRM, did not win the Mityana South parliamentary seat.

He then made a written bet with his workmate, Issa Lwanyaga, a driver at Busimbi Lorry Park and a supporter of Ssozi Kaddu Mukasa.
You can probably guess the rest of the story.

(I would be especially careful about betting on elections in some parts of Africa.

The NRM is the National Resistance Movement, the governing party in Uganda.  That they lost an election is, of course, encouraging.)
- 10:45 AM, 22 February 2011   [link]

Good News, If True:  According to this New York Times article, midlevel Taliban commanders are getting weary of the war.
Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban's top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.

After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new American troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taliban fighters retreated across the border to the safety of Pakistan.  They are now coming under pressure from their leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taliban commander said.  Many are hesitant to do so, at least for now.
. . .
One close supporter of the Taliban in Helmand Province said that the insurgents had lost 500 fighters there last year, including virtually all the known commanders.  Those who survived remonstrated with the leadership in Pakistan over why they had to sacrifice so many men.
(Emphasis added.)

Very few men, however fanatical, want to face American soldiers and Marines year after year, especially when they are commanded by a man like General Petraeus.  The Taliban have resorted to terrorist tactics, especially roadside bombs, because they can not compete on the battlefield.

So the story sounds plausible, but we have to treat it with some caution.
- 9:51 AM, 22 February 2011   [link]

The Coup In Olympia:  The coup in Olympia?  Yes, I have it on good authority that there was a coup in Olympia.

At this point you are probably already protesting that if there had been a coup in Washington's capital, you would have heard about it by now.  Our local TV stations would have mentioned it, in between more important stories like another crime in fashionable Belltown, the rescue of a cat from a tree, or the latest traffic accident on our crowded roads.  If you read the Seattle Times, you would have seen an editorial from their Defeat Now! caucus explaining why it would be wrong to interfere in the internal politics of Olympia.  One way or another, you would have heard about the coup.

Even if you don't live in this area, you would expect to have heard about the coup, perhaps in one of those lists of wacky happenings in funny places that many news organizations are fond of running from time to time.

As it happens, I only heard about the coup last Friday, when I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs, KUOW's Gang of Four.   (As I like to call it.)

That mention piqued my curiosity and so, when I had a little free time, I checked out the post.

I thought it was just my conspiracy theory. Noting that Roadkill Caucus leader state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) was on the supplemental budget conference committee (the RKC is the conservative Democratic caucus), I theorized that the conservative coup in the state senate over liberal Senate Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) was complete.

Josh Feit is not quite as clear as he might be, but if you read that post carefully, and the earlier post he links to, you will learn that some moderate Democrats are — this will shock you — working with Republicans in the legislature.  (Incidentally, Lisa Brown is better described as a leftist, not a liberal.)

Some of us might think this is democracy in action.  The voters showed, in last November's election, that they wanted a change in policy, even in this very Democratic state.   Legislators, especially those that face real competition, are responding to voters, instead of going all out to appease the bosses of the public service unions.

But that simple textbook picture isn't what leftist Josh Feit saw when he watched those events.  Instead, he saw something more sinister, a "coup".  That word doesn't tell us much about the happenings in the Washington state legislature, but it does tell us quite a bit about Josh Feit.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I hope Mr. Feit will excuse me if I give him a little advice:  If he wants to do real, honest investigative reporting, he would do well to concentrate on Democrats, not Republicans.   That isn't because Republicans are always more virtuous — though their average is higher — but because Democrats have been in control in this area, for years.   Democrats have had way more opportunities to misbehave — and I don't doubt that some of them have taken those opportunities.

Otherwise, Feit is likely to spend his time digging up petty "scandals", like the single man who eats out often.  Few, other than the most partisan, will see anything strange, illegal, or even unethical about that pattern.)
- 6:19 AM, 22 February 2011   [link]

Make Basketball, Not War:  Now that the independence of South Sudan seems a near certainty, some of the young men are turning away from war to something more fun (and, for a few of them, way more profitable).
After decades of civil war, peace has finally settled in southern Sudan. The south will soon declare independence from the north, and with this newfound freedom, the southern Sudanese are beginning to rediscover themselves, reacquaint themselves with all that has been stunted or twisted or buried under the weight of war.

Crazy for basketball is part of who they are, or were.  Manute Bol, their pioneer, became an N.B.A. star a quarter-century ago.  Since then, many talented players, some driven out of southern Sudan by the years of violence, have had solid collegiate careers in the United States.
. . .
Now, though, at the dawn of peace, there appears to be emerging an exuberant re-embrace of the sport, and with it a second wave of talent to be recruited, prospects perhaps no longer seen chiefly as curiosities.
It is little short of amazing that this decades-long (or centuries-long, from another point of view) civil war may finally be coming to an end.  That peace will allow them to play basketball — and do a thousand other things they could not do before.
- 7:49 PM, 21 February 2011   [link]

Warplanes And Mercenary Troops?  There are reports that Qaddafi is using both in an attempt to hold on to power.  The first seems nearly certain, judging by this New York Times article.   The second, mercenaries, is not as well-sourced, but seems plausible.
And people in eastern Libya told CNN that hundreds of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa had been killed or captured while fighting for Gadhafi.  Opposition leaders say they are concerned that pro-Gadhafi forces may try to retake the area, so the men on the street remain armed.
Tyrants often favor foreign mercenaries when they are worried about their control over their own country.  (Foreign mercenaries are less likely to sympathize with the local population, and would, in general, find it harder to switch sides.)

But we need to be cautious about all these reports, as the Washington Post reminds us.
It was impossible to verify the scope or precise details of the events unfolding in Libya, an oil-rich North African nation.  Foreign journalists have been denied visas, and Internet access, phone service and other forms of communications have been largely cut.
(Three different sources, and three different spellings of Qaddafi's name.  I'm using the NYT's, just to be consistent, but I have no idea why they chose that variant.)
- 6:37 PM, 21 February 2011   [link]

Today's Michael Ramirez cartoon

Unfair perhaps, but very funny.
- 5:15 PM, 21 February 2011   [link]

Democrats Lost Everywhere Between 2008 And 2010:   That's what Gallup found when they analyzed their state-by-state party identification.
Gallup has documented the decline in Democratic Party affiliation at the national level from its recent peak in 2008 and early 2009.  After several years of increasing Democratic affiliation beginning in late 2005, the current political situation is similar to what it was in the mid-2000s, when the parties were more or less even.

In fact, every state and the District of Columbia had fewer residents identifying as Democrats, or identifying as independents but leaning Democratic, in 2010 than in 2008.  The greatest declines were in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, and Hawaii; the smallest were in North Dakota and Mississippi.
But Republicans shouldn't get cocky because they now have, at best, a narrow advantage in national elections.  To be specific, with issues and candidates equal, I would expect a Republican presidential candidate to beat a Democratic presidential candidate by 51-49 or 52-48, or thereabouts.

(Republicans have that advantage because they are more likely to be voters, and they are more likely to vote.  So, if there are equal numbers of adults who are Republicans and Democrats, then I would expect Republican candidates to win, narrowly — if everything else was equal — which it never is.

For decades, in most national elections, Republicans have also been more loyal, less likely to vote for the other party, which again gives them a small advantage.

One quibble, which I have made before:  Since Gallup is combining survey data for an entire year, they may be underestimating Republican gains.  In this case, I don't think they are, because I think most of the changes happened before 2010.)
- 10:08 AM, 21 February 2011   [link]

The Obamas Try Hard To Cheer Us Up:  Barack Obama tells us to cut back on our own vacations — and then Michelle Obama heads off to Vail.
The trip came just days after the President tried to sell his cost-cutting budget to the American people by asking them to stay at home.

'If you're a family trying to cut back, you might skip going out to dinner, or you might put off a vacation,' he said.

While Mr Obama is staying put at the White House, the rest of his family headed to Colorado — rather than visiting slopes closer to Washington in Virginia or Pennsylvania.
Rooms at the Sebastian Hotel, where they will be staying, cost "up to $2400 a night".

(As I did last August, when the First Lady went to Spain, I have to wonder whether this trip was planned by a Republican operative.)
- 9:27 AM, 21 February 2011   [link]

Today Benghazi, Tomorrow Tripoli?  Anti-Qaddafi protestors have taken control of the Libyan city of Benghazi, according to news reports.

Benghazi, according to my 2010 World Almanac, has a population of 1,180,000.  The largest city in Libya (and the capital), Tripoli, has a population of 2,189,000.  Since Libya's total population is just 6,310,434, it seems likely that Qaddafi must hold Tripoli to hold Libya, and must retake Benghazi soon if he is to continue claiming to be the leader of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, as the country is officially called.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on Libya.   You may be amused, but you shouldn't be surprised, to learn that they have a higher estimate of Libya's population (6.4 versus 6.3 million), but a much lower estimate of Tripoli's (1.7 versus 2.2 million).

Probably no one really knows that the population of Tripoli is, though academic demographers (and, just possibly, specialists at the CIA) may have more accurate estimates.)
- 7:47 AM, 21 February 2011   [link]

Congratulations To Belgium:  They've set a new record.
What does it take to form a government?

Belgians are not sure, but a lighthearted mood prevailed Thursday as Belgium overtook Iraq's record in trying to form a government: 249 days and counting.

To mark the occasion, 249 people planned to strip naked in Ghent (though apparently only about 50 people got down to their underwear), while students in Leuven tucked into free frites and downed beer — Belgian, of course.
Of course.  And why not since Belgium is rightly famous for its beer.  (I've never figured out why they like mayonnaise with their fries; maybe they developed the habit before ketchup was widely available.)

None of the articles I looked at explained why Belgians haven't been able to form coalition government.  My guess, after looking at these election results, is that it is impossible to form a Flemish coalition without the "far right" Vlaams Belang party — and that the party is considered unacceptable as a coalition partner, because of its racist reputation.  (Which may be deserved.)

And there simply aren't enough Walloons in the country to form a governing coalition.  (Belgium is roughly 60 percent Flemish (Dutch speaking) and 40 percent Walloon (French speaking).)
- 12:45 PM, 18 February 2011   [link]

Another Reason Not To Watch CNN:  You may end up sleeping with a pig.
Every night for the last year, Kathy Ruttenberg has been taking a bath, putting on pajamas, turning on CNN and getting into bed with a little pig named Trixie.

"She's a great cuddler if you lie still," said Ms. Ruttenberg, a 53-year-old artist who lives near Woodstock, N.Y.  "But if you're restless, she gets annoyed, and her hooves are very sharp."
It's not hard to see who's in charge in that household.
- 12:46 PM, 17 February 2011   [link]

Last Night, I Watched Jeopardy:  And, like Reverend Sensing, I was unimpressed.

Most of "Watson's" advantage was in the computer's speed, not its "reasoning".  The programming for the system is impressive, and I would like to know more about how the system works, but I didn't see anything that I would consider a breakthrough.

(Full disclosure:  I have sometimes thought of trying to be a contestant on Jeopardy, or some similar program, but have always rejected the idea because I know too little about pop culture — and questions on pop culture are common on these shows.)
- 9:33 AM, 17 February 2011   [link]

Want To Read A Parody Of NPR?  Then you'll like this post, with the parody coming directly from NPR's Steve Inskeep.  Unintentionally, I assume.
- 7:04 AM, 17 February 2011   [link]