February 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Declining Draft Standards In World War II:  In the fall of 1940, more than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, we instituted the draft.  Standards were low.  For example, a draftee had to weigh more than 105 pounds and be over five feet tall.  Even so, forty percent failed those low standards.

After the war began for us, we needed more and more men, and we lowered those standards.  By 1944, they had been lowered, in every way.
The typical soldier stood five feet eight inches tall and weighed 144 pounds, but physical standards had been lowered to accept defects that once would have kept many young men out of uniform.   A man with 20/400 vision could now be conscripted if his sight was correctable to at least 20/40 in one eye; toward that end, the armed forces would make 2.3 million pairs of eyeglasses for the troops.  The old jest that the Army no longer examined eyes, but instead just counted them had come true.  A man could be drafted if he had only one eye, or was completely deaf in one ear, or had lost both external ears, or was missing a thumb or three fingers on either hand, including a trigger finger.  Earlier in the war, a draftee had to possess at least twelve of his original thirty-two teeth, but now he could be utterly toothless.  After all, the government had drafted a third of all civilian dentists in the United States; collectively they would extract 15 million teeth, fill 68 million more, and make 2.5 million sets of dentures, enabling each GI to meet the minimum requirement of "masticating the Army ration."
. . .
In addition, the Army began drafting "moderate" obsessive-compulsives, as well as stutterers.  Men with malignant tumors, leprosy, or certifiable psychosis still were deemed "nonacceptable," but by early 1944, twelve thousand venereal disease patients, most of them syphilitic, were inducted each month and rendered fit for service with a new miracle drug called penicillin. (pp. 19-20)
We needed those men because — everything else being equal — big battalions will defeat little battalions, and because we had to replace so many casualties.

Even so, we were better off, by far, than any of the other major combatants.  For example, in the last year or so of the war, the British were forced to break up some units, just to provide replacements for units in combat.

(I would recommend Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy to many of you.  But you should know that it is written from a professional point of view; Atkinson discusses logistics more than tactics.  You will find much in those three volumes about supply difficulties, but little about the relative merits of the Sherman and Panther tanks.   Atkinson has written a "warts-and-all" version of history, but not a "warts-only" version.  He describes heroic actions, like the capture of the bridge at Remagen — and not at all heroic incidents like the unintended deaths of some German prisoners of war in sealed boxcars, while they were being transported across France.  Eisenhower apologized for those deaths to Hitler, sending the apology through the Swiss.)
- 4:46 PM, 8 February 2014   [link]

French President Hollande sets a new record. But it isn't a record that will make him happy.
French President Francois Hollande's approval rating has fallen below 20 percent for the first time since being elected in 2012, a poll published Thursday revealed.

According to the poll from TNS Sofres/Sopra group/Le Figaro magazine, Hollande's rating fell three points to 19 percent, a new low in his popularity, while the proportion of French voters who said they did not trust the president increased by two points to 78 percent.
According to this article, from October of last year, Hollande was the first French president to fall below 30 percent.   (They are, I assume, limiting that to the presidents of the French 5th Republic.)

What has made Hollande so unpopular?  The poor French economy, and policies similar to Barack Obama's, though pursued more competently, or perhaps I should say, less incompetently.
- 7:25 AM, 7 February 2014   [link]

"The Best Damn Venezuelan Telenovela Ever, Starring The Chavez Sisters And The Ghost Of Hugo !"  I am not familiar with Venezuelan telenovelas, but this one strikes me as pretty darn good.
Yes, the headline above says it all.  Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela Chavez continue to occupy "La Casona" in Caracas, Venezuela's official presidential residence, even though their father Hugo has been dead since the 3rd of March 2013, nearly a full year ago.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Maduro, the current nominal president and former vice-president, is still living in the vice-presidential mansion he occupied while Chavez was still alive.  But maybe the Chavez girls think this is only proper, since the real ruler is Raul Castro in Havana.

An ironic twist adds even more absurdity to this arrangement: as it turns out, Rosa Virginia, the eldest of the two "infantas", or "princesses" -- as they are known in Caracastan -- is married to Jorge Arreaza, the current vice-president of Venezuela.

So, to recap: the nominal president of Venezuela is living in the vice-presidential mansion while the nominal vice-president resides in the presidential mansion, along with the daughter of the previous nominal president.
The princesses are enjoying their time in the mansion (after, presumably, a period of official mourning).
But that's not all.  The two "infantas" have been driving their neighbors to the brink of desperation with non-stop raucous parties.  According to sources cited by ABC, the "infantas" have also amassed colossal debts with nearly every nearby restaurant, fast food joint, and liquor store, and are now hard-pressed to find any establishment in Caracas that will sell or deliver anything to them.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan economy is in desperate straits, with Maduro trying to solve the problems created by previous controls, with more controls.

By way of Fausta.

(A telenovela is not quite equivalent to an American soap opera, because "telenovelas have an ending and come to an end after a long run (generally less than one year)".)
- 5:28 AM, 7 February 2014   [link]

Those Into Football Strategy may find this analysis interesting.
The Seahawks gladly let Manning break the Super Bowl record for completions.  He connected on 34 of his 49 passes.  The hulking Seattle defense held those passes to an average of 8.2 yards per completion, the third-worst mark in Super Bowl history, according to Stats LLC.   The plan was simple: Let Manning have his short passes, but make sure they stay short.
Sounds plausible to me, but I am no expert on football strategies in the NFL (or anywhere else).
- 3:29 PM, 6 February 2014   [link]

It Isn't A Big BBC Story:  But it is funny.
The BBC have refused to accept a complaint about bad language transmitted on national radio – because the complainer’s letter used exactly the same words that they had used on air.

They told Colin Harrow that his letter’s tone and language were ‘unacceptably abusive or offensive’.  In other words, the BBC are ready to transmit words into our homes which their staff are not prepared to read.
And it reminds us of the double standards at the BBC — and so many other "mainstream" news organizations.

(I suppose that to get your letter of complaint read you would have to resort to using asterisks, or something similar.)
- 3:13 PM, 6 February 2014   [link]

"English Court Summons Head Of Mormon Church To Answer Charges That Mormon Religious Claims Are Fraud"  It actually happened.  Professor Volokh explains.

The legal action is unusual, but there are precedents in the United States, and Britain.
- 2:57 PM, 6 February 2014   [link]

"Spectacular New Martian Impact Crater"  

New Martian impact crater

Here's the story.
A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.   Researchers used HiRISE to examine this site because the orbiter's Context Camera had revealed a change in appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012, bracketing the formation of the crater between those observations.

The crater spans approximately 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and is surrounded by a large, rayed blast zone.  Because the terrain where the crater formed is dusty, the fresh crater appears blue in the enhanced color of the image, due to removal of the reddish dust in that area.   Debris tossed outward during the formation of the crater is called ejecta.  In examining ejecta's distribution, scientists can learn more about the impact event.  The explosion that excavated this crater threw ejecta as far as 9.3 miles (15 kilometers).
And here's a link to a higher resolution version of the picture.

By way of Anthony Watts.
- 8:55 AM, 6 February 2014   [link]

Police Estimate That 700,000 Fans welcomed the Seattle Seahawks, after their victory in the Super Bowl.
About 700,000 fans, known as the 12th Man, packed Seattle's streets for a boisterous victory parade on Wednesday, as the city celebrated the team's win over the Denver Broncos.
Seattle's population is about 635,000.  However, most fans live outside the city.

Credit where due:  Seahawk fans were relatively civilized after the victory on Sunday, and were quite civilized at this parade.

(Is that police estimate too high?  Probably.  Such estimates usually are, and it takes some time, and aerial photographs, to do reasonably accurate crowd estimates, unless you are counting people directly, at gates.)
- 8:31 AM, 6 February 2014
It took our local journalists a couple of days, but one of them — one of the better ones, Erik Lacitis — figured out that the 700,000 crowd estimate was way too high.  I don't expect the other news organizations to do corrections, by the way, though almost all of their people will have read this article.
- 3:20 PM, 8 February 2014   [link]

ObamaCare's Effect On Employment:  Here's a quick read from Megan McArdle.
-- Most of the projected disemployment will be voluntary -- people leaving the workforce because they no longer need to work to maintain their health insurance.  Or second earners who look at the extra income they get from their jobs, look at the amount it will cost the family in child care, other expenses, and lost Obamacare subsidies, and decide they might as well stay home.  The CBO is not saying that millions of people will be thrown out of work because of Obamacare; it’s saying that millions of people will be leaving of their own accord.
. . .
-- Economically, this is obviously going to be something of a drag, and it will put strains on other systems.  People who retire early probably aren’t collecting Social Security yet, but they aren’t paying into it, either.
You'll probably want to read the whole thing.

This is not new.  As McArdle says, the CBO concluded in an earlier report that ObamaCare would have "disemployment" effects.  And economist Greg Mankiw predicted those effects in 2009.

What is different in the latest CBO report is the size of those effects, more than double earlier estimates.  McArdle thinks we may never know how large they are; Mankiw suspects even the latest estimates may be too low.
- 7:34 AM, 6 February 2014   [link]

McDonald's Make Good NORCs:  Too good NORCs, in some places.  
A minor dispute between a group of elderly Korean immigrants in the New York City borough of Queens and the local owner of a well-known fast food establishment revealed some cultural fissures that would otherwise have gone unnoticed in the huge metropolis.  A group of senior citizen Koreans in Flushing, a heavily Asian neighborhood in northwestern Queens, have long annoyed the proprietor and employees of a McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of Northern and Parsons Boulevard by ordering only coffee or fries and spending hours in their seats -- thereby making it impossible for other diners (who bought hamburgers and other meals) -- to sit in booths in the eatery.

The issue became so heated that the managers often called the police or 911 to forcibly remove the elderly Koreans, sparking outrage among some quarters of the immigrant community, citing that in Asian culture, the elderly are respected and highly valued.

A resolution of sorts arrived recently after a contingent of local politicians, led by New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat who represents parts of Flushing and is himself a Korean-American, brokered a “truce” between the Korean seniors and McDonald’s.
(Emphasis added.)

Some were undoubtedly abusing the McDonald's; according to a Korean "social media user" some would "even take the [coffee] cups home, wash them and bring them back for refills".

None of the articles I've seen explain how these older Koreans happen to be here, in a community where they have no roots.  I would guess that many came here to be with their children — and then found themselves alone during the days.

If you are wondering why this McDonald's became a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Center), there's an explanation in this somewhat pretentious New York Times article.  The reporter, Michael Kimmelman, committed journalism; he went to the McDonald's and asked the Korean patrons why they were there.  It is surprising how often that simple approach works.

Kimmelman does not mention one possible attraction of the McDonald's:  It isn't age segregated.  Many old people prefer not to spend their free time only with other old people.  And I think you could argue that many young people should not spend all their free time only with other young people.  It would be better, I think, if we had fewer centers for the elderly and the young, and more community centers where all ages mingle, naturally.

Whatever faults McDonald's may have, it does not segregate people by age.

(Here's the Wikipedia article on the neighborhood.)
- 9:51 AM, 5 February 2014   [link]

Racial Extortionists Lose One in Portland.
The Trader Joe's grocery-store chain has dropped a plan to open a new store in the heart of the city's historically African-American neighborhood after activists said the development would price black residents out of the area.

The grocer, whose stores are found in urban neighborhoods across the nation, said Monday it wouldn't press its plan, given community resistance, The Oregonian ( ) reported.

"We open a limited number of stores each year, in communities across the country," it said in a statement.  "We run neighborhood stores, and our approach is simple: If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question."
So, instead of paying off the "community organizers" — who mostly don't live in that community — Trader Joe's chose to kill the project.

And you can understand why, after what they went through.  No sensible grocery chain wants to be the continual target of "racially tinged" accusations, wants to be accused of driving the poor out of their own neighborhoods.

The community will be worse off, but that rarely matters to groups such as the Portland African-American Leadership Foundation, which opposed the development.

(You shouldn't make too much of on-line polls, but, for what it is worth, this poll at the Oregonian currently shows about 80 percent "disappointed" by the decision.

And you can find more background, here.

Full disclosure:  I sometimes shop at the Trader Joe's stores in this area.  I like their produce, and sometimes find things there that other chains don't carry.  In this area, their stores are located close to other super markets, so it is easy to stop at one of them when I am shopping for groceries.)
- 5:54 AM, 5 February 2014   [link]

For Years, I've Wondered Whether There Were People At The New York Times Who Were Embarrassed By The Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal:   Apparently, there are.
It's well known among the small world of people who pay attention to such things that the liberal-leaning reporters at The Wall Street Journal resent the conservative-leaning editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.  What’s less well known—and about to break into the open, threatening the very fabric of the institution—is how deeply the liberal-leaning reporters at The New York Times resent the liberal-leaning editorial page of The New York Times.

The New York Observer has learned over the course of interviews with more than two-dozen current and former Times staffers that the situation has “reached the boiling point” in the words of one current Times reporter.  Only two people interviewed for this story agreed to be identified, given the fears of retaliation by someone they criticize as petty and vindictive.

The blame here, in the eyes of most Times reporters to whom The Observer spoke, belongs to Andrew Rosenthal, who as editorial page editor leads both the paper’s opinion pages and opinion postings online, as well as overseeing the editorial board and the letters, columnists and op-ed departments.
As I read the whole article, I was struck by how similar the reactions of these "liberal-leaning" — I would say leftist — journalists were to my own.  They often find the editorials in our newspaper of record embarrassing, even though they, unlike me, mostly agree with those editorials.  And they think that most Tom Friedman columns are jokes.

It's possible that some of those anonymous informants are unhappy because the editorial writers at the Times often appear not to read their own newspaper, carefully.  From time to time, I see claims in the editorials that contradict earlier articles or columns.

(Rosenthal should be most famous, or perhaps I should say, infamous, for completely botching the Bush scanner story.  The Times should have fired him after that story, which will not die, even though it has been shown to be false, again and again.)
- 4:54 PM, 4 February 2014   [link]

Today's Michael Ramirez cartoon is worth a look.
- 8:18 AM, 4 February 2014   [link]

Quangos For Labour:  Political factions have looked for ways to reward their supporters, forever.  (Before there were humans, in fact.)  If a faction is in power, that can be relatively easy.  A supporter of President Andrew Jackson said, bluntly, that "to the victor belong the spoils", by which he meant that Jackson's followers would get the federal appointments — which they did.

But a faction finds it harder to reward their supporters when the faction is not in power.  And that can make it harder for the faction to return to power.

Inventive political leaders have, naturally, looked for ways to solve this problem.  One of the most elegant is Britain's "quangos".
The term "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation" was created in 1967 by the Carnegie Foundation's Alan Pifer in an essay on independence and accountability in public-funded bodies incorporated in the private sector.  This term was shortened to "quango" by Anthony Barker, a British participant during a follow-up conference on the subject.[2]

It describes an ostensibly non-governmental organisation performing governmental functions, often in receipt of funding or other support from government,[3] while mainstream NGOs mostly get their donations or funds from the public and other organisations that support their cause.  Numerous quangos were created from the 1980s onwards.   Examples in the United Kingdom include those engaged in the regulation of various commercial and service sectors, such as the Water Services Regulation Authority.
(Emphasis added.)

So a quango usually gets money from the taxpayers — but doesn't have to answer to them at elections.

The Labour Party took full advantage of the opportunities offered by quangos.
For 13 years, quangos and public bodies were stuffed with former Labour ministers and activists.

The imposition of the party’s supporters on everything from the Food Standards Agency to the broadcast regulator Ofcom began the moment Tony Blair seized power in 1997.

Of the senior appointments made that year, an astonishing 75 per cent declared political affiliations for Labour.
And they have continued at that high level ever since.

If you are like me, you have to admire the Labour Party's political skill, even as you wish that Britain, for its own good, would get rid of most (all?) of these quangos.
- 7:32 AM, 4 February 2014   [link]

President Obama Thinks That Fox News has been "unfair" to him.
During the sit-down in which O’Reilly asked about issues like the 2012 Benghazi attack and the troubled health care roll out, the Fox News firebrand asked the president if he felt his network has been unfair to his administration.

“Absolutely, of course you are, Bill. But I like you anyway,” Obama said.
Is he right?  Perhaps.  (I don't watch Fox News, except for their Sunday talk show, so I don't have an independent opinion.)

But I think every recent Republican president, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, would laugh at Obama's complaint about unfair treatment by Fox.  And every single one of them would say that they would have loved to have been treated as well as Obama has been, by the rest of our news organizations, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many others.
- 6:28 AM, 4 February 2014   [link]

As Usual, The Super Bowl wasn't a very good game.
The Seattle Seahawks didn't merely win the Super Bowl.  They ruined it.  They made Peyton Manning look like a mediocre quarterback, and the Broncos look like a 6-10 team, and America look like a nation of fools for thinking this would actually be, you know, a football game.
In fact, even though my team won, I would have to say that this was one of the worst Super Bowls, for anyone who likes a little suspense in their football games.  I thought it was over when Percy Harvin ran back the kickoff for a touchdown, to start the second half.

But, credit where due:  Pete Carroll has done pretty well for a coach who was fired from his two previous NFL head coaching jobs, at the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

And soprano Renee Fleming gave one of the best versions of "The Star Spangled Banner" that I've heard.  I hope that her success will persuade the NFL to continue to bring in singers who can actually sing that difficult song.   For example, next year it would be fun to hear what an operatic baritone can do with the song.
- 5:55 AM, 3 February 2014   [link]

In 2009, Paul Krugman Accepted the Obama Adminsitration Predictions That We Would Have Solid Growth Through 2013:  Greg Mankiw was skeptical, and offered a wager.  Krugman did not take him up, which was fortunate for Krugman, and unfortunate for the rest of us.
Marcus Nunes already did a post on this, but now that the GDP numbers for 2013 are in it’s official, Greg Mankiw won by a landslide.  Here’s Mankiw back in 2009:
Paul Krugman suggests that my skepticism about the administration’s growth forecast over the next few years is somehow “evil.”  Well, Paul, if you are so confident in this forecast, would you like to place a wager on it and take advantage of my wickedness?

Team Obama says that real GDP in 2013 will be 15.6 percent above real GDP in 2008.  (That number comes from compounding their predicted growth rates for these five years.)  So, Paul, are you willing to wager that the economy will meet or exceed this benchmark?  I am not much of a gambler, but that is a bet I would be happy to take the other side of (even as I hope to lose, for the sake of the economy).
Krugman wisely decided to avoid this bet, which suggests he’s smarter than he appears when he is at his most political.  In any case, the actual 5 year RGDP growth just came in at slightly under 6.3%.  That’s not even close.  Mankiw won by a landslide.
It is too bad that Krugman wasn't correct in his forecast; most of us would be happier if our GDP were about 9 percent higher than it is, currently.

Incidentally, in most years, the Bush administration predictions on the economy were, if anything, a little pessimistic.

Krugman would show some class — and a dedication to thinking about our economy scientifically — if he were to admit his error (and apologize for that evil comment).

By way of, naturally, Mankiw.

(One thing I like about Mankiw is that, unlike Krugman, he isn't a trash talker.)
- 12:14 PM, 2 February 2014   [link]

It Is Still Almost All Richard Sherman All The Time Here In The Seattle Area:  The Seattle Times ran a column defending him, then an editorial (!), and yesterday followed those up with this cartoon and this op-ed.

And that's just on the editorial page.

They may be overdoing it, just a little.

(If you are wondering why they are giving this incident so much attention, here's my tentative explanation:  Many of our local journalists feel that they live in a city that is inferior to New York and San Francisco, so they are even more rabid fans than you would find cities with more self confidence.  It may be irrational to think that the achievements of professional team shows much about the quality of a city, but it's a common mistake, especially here.   And, of course, our journalists are also irrational about anything that can be labeled a civil rights issue, such as calling a misbehaving player — of the wrong color — a thug.

For the record, I don't think Sherman is a thug; in fact, if anything he seems to behave better than the average NFL player, though he is a trash talker.)
- 11:31 AM, 2 February 2014   [link]