January 2011, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Thieves Reveal Other Argentine Crimes?  Here's the story that raised my suspicions.
Thieves on motorcycle held up an aide to President Cristina Kirchner and fled with a bag-load of cash he was carrying for an upcoming foreign trip, police told AFP on Thursday.

One of the assailants put a gun to the aide's head, then fled with the bag that contained 68,000 dollars and 17,000 euros in cash, local news media reported.
If that doesn't raise your suspicions, consider this:  When President Obama travels abroad, how much cash does he carry?  Perhaps a little to buy souvenirs in a market, but no more than that.

Nor would you expect anyone on his staff to carry large amounts of money since they can pay for expenses with electronic fund transfers.

Argentina has had its little problems in recent years, but there is no reason to think that they can't use electronic fund transfers, too.

So, why did President Kirchner want to bring that much cash with her on this trip?

I don't have the answer to that question, but I am comfortable saying that the reason is far more likely to be illegitimate than legitimate.  She might, for instance, have wanted the cash for bribes to officials in the Middle East.  (You may not want to tell young children this, but bribes are common in Middle East dealings.)  And you can probably think of half a dozen similar possibilities, without much effort.

(Kirchner survived an earlier cash scandal, when a suitcase full of money, apparently from Hugo Chavez, showed up in Argentina.)
- 7:13 AM, 14 January 2011   [link]

Why Is This Man Smiling?  When politicians impose tax increases, ordinarily they look grim.  They may be happy to get more money from the taxpayers, but they seldom show it as openly as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn did yesterday.

Governor Quinn may be happy because of the way his fellow Democrats passed the tax increase.
Here's how the entrenched Illinois Democrats accomplished this revenue feat even during a recession: They passed the bill during a lame-duck session in the state Assembly by the barest legal minimum, 60-57.  In the Illinois Senate, where Barack Obama used to vote Present, they passed the revenue boost 30-29.

Not one Republican in either chamber voted for the tax increases, which hit corporations too.

And the Democratic leaders did this at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.  Why does this matter?

Because about 600 minutes later the newly elected Assembly and Senate took their seats with sufficiently smaller Democratic majorities that would have prevented passage.

So they got the dying votes of seven ousted Democrats who won't have to face voters again anyway.  Worked perfectly by Illinois political standards.
Which are lower than the standards in most states.
- 6:08 AM, 14 January 2011   [link]

3-D Printers For Everyone:  You can, right now, design something in 3-D and have it printed for you — cheaply.  You can, right now, buy a 3-D printer at a price a serious hobbyist can afford.  You can, right now, if you are running a small business, buy a 3-D printer that can do professional work.

All that, and more, in this New York Times article.

I tested out a BFB 3000 on loan from Bits From Bytes.  This is a fully assembled machine that costs about $3,000.  Or at least it's called fully assembled.  I had to tweak screws and knobs for what felt like forever to make sure the printing bed that held the object was almost perfectly level.

In the end, I had a machine 2 feet wide, 2 feet long and 2.3 feet tall, with moving parts and fancy blue lights.  It makes the wonderful electronic noises you would want from a 3-D printer.

And all the effort is worth it when the machine springs to life, receives a design from the computer and begins humming away.  You look at the thing, as feelings of empowerment and creativity flood your brain, and almost doubt that it really exists.
One limitation for many of us:  If you are going to use a home system, you will need to understand how to use 3-D software.  There may be simple 3-D programs some time, but I don't know of any right now.

(Here's a link to Shapeways, an on-demand 3-D printing company that the article describes as "more or less the of 3-D printing".)
- 12:52 PM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Howard Kurtz Admits To A Mistake:  A very funny mistake, though not a consequential mistake.  (Although the mistake does suggest that Kurtz hasn't talked to many elected Republicans in recent years.)

(I have to give Kurtz a little credit for the admission, but only because I have started grading "mainstream" journalists on a curve.  Or perhaps I should just say journalists, since I have found conservative journalists almost as unwilling to correct their mistakes, as "mainstream" journalists.  But I do believe that conservative journalists are, on the whole, more accurate than "mainstream" journalists, mostly because they work in a much more critical environment.)
- 10:23 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Tucson Massacre Delusions:  Charles Krauthammer finds delusions in both the "alleged" Tucson killer, Jared Loughner, and in "Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, the New York Times, the Tucson sheriff and other rabid partisans".

Like most of us, Krauthammer believes that Loughner's delusions are an obvious result of his mental illness — and like many of us, Krauthammer wonders about the origins of those other delusions.
When profiles of Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, noted that he once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him, a characteristically subtle statement carrying more than a whiff of malice and murder, it was considered a charming example of excessive - and creative - political enthusiasm.  When Senate candidate Joe Manchin dispensed with metaphor and simply fired a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill - while intoning, "I'll take dead aim at [it]" - he was hardly assailed with complaints about violations of civil discourse or invitations to murder.

Did Manchin push Loughner over the top?  Did Emanuel's little Mafia imitation create a climate for political violence?  The very questions are absurd - unless you're the New York Times and you substitute the name Sarah Palin.

The origins of Loughner's delusions are clear: mental illness.  What are the origins of Krugman's?
And what are the origins of those same delusions among so many other leftist partisans?
- 9:31 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

One Reason Spain Is Broke:  They spent way too much money on bullet trains.
Over the past few years, Spain has spent unprecedented sums on new infrastructures.  The results are plain to see: we now lead Europe in miles of motorway and have just overtaken France as Europe's number-one country in high-speed trains since the Madrid-Valencia line got started.  We now have 2,665 km of railway tracks in service, so Spain's network is second only to China.
. . .
Valencia, the last big city to get an AVE [Spanish high-speed train], has exuberantly applauded the new infrastructure.  But ecologists, trade unions and sustainable development advocates see the whole high-speed scheme as a bona fide policy error typical of a nouveau riche nation.  "The big difference between Spain and other European countries is that they plan services there, whereas here in Spain we only plan infrastructure," laments Pau Noy, a member of the Foundation for Sustainable and Safe Mobility.  "The main thing here is to get the AVE, regardless of whether we need it, how much it costs or how many passengers it'll carry."
(Emphasis added.)

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I've ridden the French bullet train, the TGV, and enjoyed it.  But its success may have encouraged too many nations to copy it without considering the different circumstances.  Like the TGV, the Japanese bullet train, the Shinkansen, is said to be profitable, but I don't know of any other bullet trains that don't need subsidies.  And it is worth noting that the TGV may cut back services because of a decline in traffic.
- 6:39 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Will The NYT Take Obama's Advice?  Our newspaper of record praises what President Obama said.
Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents.  The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside "point-scoring and pettiness."
I suppose that we can hope they will, but I wouldn't advise anyone to bet money that the New York Times will stop vilifying opponents, or even reduce their petty point scoring.
- 5:03 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Will The NYT Take Obama's Advice?  Our newspaper of record praises what President Obama said.
Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents.  The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside "point-scoring and pettiness."
I suppose that we can hope they will, but I wouldn't advise anyone to bet money that the New York Times will stop vilifying opponents, or even reduce their petty point scoring.
- 5:03 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Pistol Packing Mama:  Pistol Packing Mama Eleanor Roosevelt.  While she was First Lady.

(She didn't want Secret Service protection, so they gave her a pistol so she could protect herself.   And to her credit, she took some time to learn how to use the pistol.)
- 2:36 PM, 12 January 2011   [link]

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels makes a nasty crack about a neighboring state — a nasty crack that Obama's adopted state deserves.
- 1:55 PM, 12 January 2011
John Kass thinks that Illinois legislators forgot something when they raised income tax rates for individuals and businesses — a wall to keep taxpayers inside the state.
- 9:44 AM, 13 January 2011   [link]

Need An Excuse To Look At Some More Pictures Of Russian Spy Anna Chapman?  The Daily Mail supplies some.  Her story, they claim, tells us much about Putin's Russia.
Abuse of power continues — the country's best-known prisoner, the former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has just been consigned to another lengthy jail sentence after a Soviet-style show trial.  But Russia has become a go-getting capitalist country, with a concentration of glitz and glamour that puts the West to shame.

And nothing epitomises that better than the story of Anna Vasilyevna Kushchyenko, the flame-haired Kremlin temptress.

As Anna 'Chapman' (a named she gained from her unwitting British husband), she taught the West a big lesson.  Along with the other ten 'sleeper' spies unearthed in America last June, she lived inconspicuously among us, exemplifying the weakness of our society to penetration from the xenophobic, greedy and secretive gang that misrules Russia.
Note to single guys:  After you've looked at the pictures — and they are worth a look — read the article for some sad truths about modern Russia.  (Married men, I know, will concentrate entirely on the article without any prompting from me.)
- 12:23 PM, 12 January 2011   [link]

The New Congress Has A Higher Favorable Rating Than The Old Congress:   Or, to be more accurate, a less unfavorable rating.
Americans' approval of the job Congress is doing rose in early January to 20%, after falling to a record-low 13% in mid-December and registering 17% in November.  Support for Congress had been at or near 20% from about May of last year through October.
. . .
Republicans' approval of Congress is up since December, and the 22% currently approving is the highest in nearly two years.  Approval also improved among Democrats, from 16% to 24%.   Still, Democrats' approval remains significantly lower than what it was for most of 2010, clearly reflecting those partisans' diminished approval now that Republicans have majority control of the 112th Congress.  Independents' approval today is similar to December and to their ratings all of last year.
Interesting to see Republicans and Democrats raising their ratings at the same time.  And, no, I don't have an explanation for that, not even a speculative explanation.

(By way of Andrew Malcolm.)
- 10:03 AM, 12 January 2011   [link]

Quest Field earthquake.  (Caused by the fans cheering Marshawn Lynch's touchdown run.)
- 6:35 AM, 12 January 2011   [link]

For Most Of Us, The Tucson Shootings Were A Tragedy:  For Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, they were an opportunity to raise campaign cash.  (And libel political opponents.)
- 6:15 AM, 12 January 2011   [link]

What Is Vitriol?  (Other than the political word of the week.)

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says that vitriol is:

1 Any of various sulphates of metallic elements; spec. ferrous sulphate.   Also sulphuric acid.  Usu. with specifying word. LME
vitriol of copper, vitriol of iron, vitriol of lead, etc.

As a late Middle English word, it has had time to acquire a second meaning, as it did in the middle of the 18th century:

2 fig. Acrimonious, caustic, or scathing speech, criticism or feeling. M18

So vitriol is — most often — sulfuric acid, or speech that is similar to sulfuric acid in its effects.

It became clear to me that some of our journalists needed this little lesson after reading this paragraph from a Seattle Times editorial.

Innocent bystanders become targets as the shooting outside a Tucson grocery story so lethally demonstrated.  One cannot anticipate how high-caliber heinous vitriol will be translated by extreme and disturbed elements, but that is no excuse to dismiss such talk as colorful rhetoric.

Neither acids nor speech can be measured in calibers.  (Both can be measured in volumes, though, for this example, decibels might be more appropriate.)  Sulfuric acid can not be heinous, since it does not have motives.  Speech can be heinous, but caustic speech is not necessarily heinous, nor is heinous speech necessarily caustic.  Since the concepts are distinct, they should not be coupled in this way.

Acids can not be translated, and caustic speech almost never needs to be, since those who use it almost always use a language understood by their audiences.

As always when using metaphors, it helps to visualize them.  When you wonder whether vitriol is the right choice to describe speech, imagine a person pouring sulfuric acid on something.   If that picture makes no sense, then you need to find another word.

That picture reminds us that, like sulfuric acid, vitriolic rhetoric is sometimes appropriate.  And that, also like sulfuric acid, vitriolic rhetoric should be used with care.

(I have offered, several times, to help the journalists at the Times with metaphors, but so far none have taken me up on that offer.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:39 PM, 11 January 2011   [link]

Today's New Yorker Cartoon:  (I thought you might want something lighter; I certainly did this morning.)

An authoritative-looking waitress is explaining one of the restaurant's rules to a meek-looking businessman:  "Sorry, we don't serve the Lumberjack's breakfast to accountants."
- 11:17 AM, 10 January 2011   [link]

Good News From South Sudan:  Tentative good news, but good news just the same.
As voters continued flooding the polls Monday for a landmark referendum on southern Sudan's independence, officials said more than 40 people had been killed over the weekend in intense skirmishes in a contested area along Sudan's north-south border.

The voting, which began on Sunday, is proceeding jubilantly and remarkably smoothly, with high expectations and few serious complaints anywhere across southern Sudan.  But if the referendum passes and the south breaks off from the north, the disputed border will become the next issue to resolve, and some fear that the specter of a significant border clash is rising.
It's good news when more than 40 people die during an election?  Yes it is, relatively.   The election itself seems to have been mostly peaceful and conducted fairly, which is something of a miracle in a nation where the majority of adults are illiterate.

And, if the election leads, finally, to the independence of South Sudan, then perhaps that decades-long civil war, a war that cost millions of lives, will finally be over.

(The Washington Post has a long article on the referendum that repeats two common mistakes.  A peaceful vote would not "lay the groundwork" for an Obama administration policy success; instead, it would be a triumph, mostly, for the Bush administration, which did almost all of the hard work in these long negotiations.

Nor would an independent South Sudan be "mostly Christian", though there is a significant Christian minority in the country.  Most of the people in South Sudan adhere to traditional religions, as they always have.

Most of the comments after the Post article are creepy.)
- 11:06 AM, 10 January 2011   [link]

The Lead Story Is Still The Tucson Massacre:  But I haven't said anything about it so far because I have been so angry, at the shooter — and then the reactions from all too many on the left.  (Some people can write well when they are angry, but I usually find that hard to do.)

This Glenn Reynolds "blood libel" reply is worth reading.
To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible.  Which is it?
As is this Ross Douthat historical reminder.
When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general.  Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall.  The week of Kennedy's arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president's photograph and the words "Wanted For Treason."

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist.  Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro's Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker.  The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president's assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.
There are still many on the left who refuse to accept that Oswald killed Kennedy by himself, and that Oswald was a man of the left.

A story that meets the psychological needs of so many will not be given up easily, despite the evidence.
- 6:53 AM, 10 January 2011   [link]