January 2015, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Did European Union Regulations Make It Easier To Steal Cars In Britain? That's what car manufacturers are saying, after an increase in "keyless" thefts.
Almost half of vehicles stolen in London are taken through keyless theft, which includes towing and key cloning, according to recent crime figures from the Met.That sounds plausible.
The problem of theft is so bad in one wealthy borough of London, Kensington & Chelsea, that the police "have been told to stop all prestige cars which are being driven after midnight". And, according to the BBC, insurers have actually refused car insurance to a few owners of Range Rovers, because their cars are too likely to be stolen.
That said, I should add that car theft had been declining in Britain for many years, just as it has been declining here in the United States.
(This Wikipedia article has comparative statistics on car thefts by country (though you have to click on a link to see them). Note that the rates are based on the numbers of people, not cars. (I would have done both, since there will be more car thefts in countries that have more cars, everything else being equal.)
The usual caveats on international comparisons apply; nations often use different definitions of crimes, and nations vary widely in the quality of their crime statistics.)
- 7:40 AM, 16 January 2015 [link]
Professor Mankiw Shows Why You Should Almost Always Explain Your Acronyms: Here's the title of one of his recent posts: "Me at the ASSA Meeting"
Unless you happen to know what "ASSA" stands for in Mankiw's world, you are likely to have to stop yourself from thinking of some vulgar possibilities, possibilities that probably didn't occur to the good professor.
When I first looked it up at Wikipedia, either the third answer — Allied Social Sciences Association — wasn't there, or I missed it, which led me to hope, very briefly, that Mankiw was going to a meeting of the Astronomical Society of South Australia, which would be an interesting thing for a Harvard economist to do. (You may see other choices in that list that you like even better.)
(Almost always? There are a few that are so common, at least here in the United States, for example FBI and CIA, that I don't bother to expand them. But I would if I were writing very formally, or for a non-American audience that might not be familiar with them.
There are others that are so unfamiliar, that I would add an explanation to the expansion, would first tell the reader what words the letters stand for, and then say a little more about them.
Here's a very brief description of Mankiw's ASSA.)
- 1:53 PM, 15 January 2015 [link]
Charlie Hebdo Attack Puzzles: There are many of them, beginning with the question of what groups, if any, the attackers belonged to.
Two days after his death, a video emerged Sunday of one of the Paris gunmen pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group, while his two fellow militants have claimed to be from al-Qaida — a fiercely rival extremist organization.Then there is the question of what the Charlie Hebdo attackers planned to do, after the attack. The attack appears to have been planned carefully, with much thought, as shown by their almost perfect timing. The attackers arrived after the staff meeting began, and before the young woman arrived with her daughter, from day care. She would be, in their minds, the perfect person to force to let them in. (Naveed Azai Haq, who attacked the Seattle Jewish Federation in July 2006, used a similar method to get into those offices.)
After the attack, the two Kouachi brothers escaped, fairly easily, using a stolen car that, presumably, they dumped somewhere private, and then switched to another car.
And then, they seem to have wandered about, north of Paris, with no clear plan.
I can think, offhand, of three possibilities: They had a plan for escape, but something went wrong with it, something as simple, perhaps, as a car that broke down. Or, despite their escape, they planned, all along, to be martyrs, and were just looking for a dramatic place to take a stand. Or — and this is the most interesting possibility — they had been executing someone else's plan, someone who had promised them a safe escape, but didn't provide that escape, may never even have intended to provide that escape.
The discovery of a "safe house", rented by Amedy Coulibaly, just south of Paris, only adds to my confusion. Did the brothers spend time there after the attack? If so, why did they leave? If not, why not?
Then there is this odd detail:
A regional French newspaper has unearthed one additional revenue source: a loan for 6,000 euros (around $7,000) that Coulibaly obtained Dec. 4 from a consumer-lending company headquartered in northern France. In a video made public after all three terrorists had been shot dead by police, Coulibaly said he'd given the brothers several thousand euros so they could buy gear.Ordinarily, small-time drug dealers with criminal records are not considered good credit risks.
No doubt the French police are working hard on all of these puzzles, and, almost certainly, some they haven't told us about. I hope a few of their detectives are as sharp as Edgar Allan Poe's C. August Dupin.
- 8:09 AM, 15 January 2015 [link]
George Will Has Some Fun with the Keystone XL pipeline
It has made mincemeat of Barack Obama’s pose of thoughtfulness. It has demonstrated that he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the most basic economic realities. It has dramatized environmentalism’s descent into infantilism.There's more, much more.
- 6:48 AM, 15 January 2015 [link]
Bats Are Even Stranger Animals Than I Had Thought: (And I suppose we would be to them, if they ever thought about such questions.)
That was my first reaction to this New York Times article on bats.
Researchers are trying to discover why bats are suffering from "white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease". Which was interesting, but not as interesting, to me, as these facts about bats.
Yet bats appear largely immune to the many viruses they carry and rarely show signs of the diseases that will rapidly overwhelm any human, monkey, horse, pig or other mammalian host the microbes manage to infiltrate.If I had thought about it — I hadn't — I would have guessed that bats lived about as long as mice, and were about as likely to suffer from diseases.
Understanding why bats live so long, and why they are so resistant to diseases may, I repeat, may, help us better control human diseases. Meanwhile, we have practical reasons for learning how to protect bats from white-nose syndrome, and practical reasons for learning how to avoid catching the diseases they carry.
(Here's the usual Wikipedia article.)
- 4:07 PM, 14 January 2015 [link]
Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Joke Collection: Malcolm liked this one best.
Meyers: Obama has issued three veto threats in just two days. Meanwhile, Chris Christie has threatened four Vitos, two Charlies and a Doug.But I prefer these four:
Conan: Obama is doing a speaking tour to preview his State of the Union. Pretty exciting— Obama rushes out on stage and shouts, “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME STUFF THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN?”Yes, the second one is a little crude. I guess I liked it as payback for all the similar jokes about George W. Bush and Dan Quayle.
- 1:07 PM, 14 January 2015 [link]
This Isn't New News: But it has received less attention than it deserves.
The radical American-born Muslim cleric who inspired the terrorists behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes while travelling the United States.He behaved similarly in San Diego, where he was arrested twice for soliciting prostitutes. (It seems fair to conclude that those weren't the only two times he solicited prostitutes, just the times he was caught.)
Al-Awlaki is not the only Islamic terrorist to have this particular habit. I don't know enough about Islamic theology to know what is permitted along these lines. I do recall reading some time ago that some sects of Islam allow temporary "marriages", which looked like slightly-disguised prostitution to me.
- 9:41 AM, 14 January 2015 [link]
Why Was The Oso Mudslide So Deadly? Because the ground had just a little too much water in it, according to a study done by the United States Geological Survey.
Here's a typical news story on the study.
If the slope that collapsed during the deadly Oso mudslide had been slightly drier, it probably wouldn't have caused anywhere near as much damage. A new report published Jan. 8, written by U.S. Geological Survey scientists, says the amount of water in the soil is what gave the slide its power and violence.And here is the same thing from the study.
Our findings lead us to conclude that the Oso disaster was severe not because a large landslide occurred, but because the Oso DAF was unusually mobile. Landslides might exhibit high mobilities for diverse reasons, but an abundance of empirical and computational evidence indicates that liquefaction of wet basal sediment played a pivotal role at Oso. Such liquefaction is by no means inevitable when a wet landslide occurs, however. Liquefaction requires a combination of initial conditions and dynamics than enables pore-water pressures to be driven to near-lithostatic levels as potential energy transforms to kinetic energy during landslide motion (Iverson, 1997). Seismological evidence indicates that rapid compressional loading of already-unstable wet sediment by material collapsing from upslope may have been an important factor contributing to liquefaction at Oso. More broadly, however, our numerical simulations indicate that dynamical feedbacks involving coevolution of landslide momentum, thickness, porosity, and basal pore pressure can cause a bifurcation in landslide behavior in response to small differences in initial conditions. Simulation results indicate that basal liquefaction and high mobility may not have developed at Oso if the initial porosity of water-saturated sediment had been only slightly smaller. A strong dependence of landslide mobility on nuanced differences in initial conditions – which themselves depend on geological and meteorological contingencies – has wide implications. It poses a significant challenge for quantitative landslide hazard evaluation, which differs fundamentally from landslide hazard recognition.(DAF = Debris Avalanche-Flow.)
Those last two sentences may need translation for those who don't read scientific papers regularly. Here's what Iverson and company are saying, more or less: It's very hard, perhaps impossible, to put numbers on landslide risks. A geologist can usually tell you that there might be a landslide in an area, but he can't, currently, tell you what the probability of a landslide there is.
In some places, highway departments install drainage pipes to prevent, or mitigate, landslides. I can't recall seeing any here in Washington state recently, but I suppose there must be some. It would be interesting to see the USGS take a look at whether that simple precaution might have prevented the Oso disaster.
(Here's the Wikipedia article on the disaster.)
- 8:25 AM, 14 January 2015 [link]
Byron York And Michael Ramirez Make The Same Point About Obama And Terrorism: York, with more details.
The uproar over whether President Obama or another top administration official should have attended the massive unity rally in Paris has obscured an important point about the White House's reaction to the latest terror attacks in Europe. The administration no-shows were not a failure of optics, or a diplomatic misstep, but were instead the logical result of the president's years-long effort to downgrade the threat of terrorism and move on to other things.Ramirez, more vividly.
- 1:53 PM, 13 January 2015 [link]
What's The Logical End Result Of Obama's Plan For "Free" Community Colleges? Fortunately, we don't have to study that question because science fiction writer Robert Sheckley has already done the work for us. Near the beginning of his hilarious novel, Mindswap, Sheckley gives us this description of his central character, Marvin Flynn:
Marvin had tried to reconcile himself to his position in life, and to the very acceptable possibilities that that position had offered him. After all, he was free, gray, and thirty-one (a little over thirty-one, actually). He was personable, a tall broad-shouldered boy with a clipped black moustache and gentle brown eyes. He was healthy, intelligent, a good mixer, and not unacceptable to the other sex. He had received the usual education: grade school, high school, twelve years of college, and four years of postgraduate work. He was well trained for his job with the Reyck-Peters Corporation. There he fluoroscoped plastic toys, subjecting them to stress analysis and examining them for microshrinkage, porosity, texture fatigue, and the like. Perhaps it wasn't the most important job in the world; but then we can't all be kings or spaceship pilots. It was certainly a responsible position when one considers the importance of toys in this world, and the vital task of alleviating the frustrations of children. (pp. 3-4)You can see from that how narrow and limited Obama's proposal really is. Obama is proposing two years of study after high school, Sheckley sixteen. (Although, to be fair, Sheckley doesn't mention pre-school, so the difference between the two could be as little as ten or eleven years.)
But is there really that big a difference between the two? Sheckley does not explain how his future society made sixteen years of study after high school the "usual education", but it seems likely that they would have reached that, a year or two at a time, following the path that was already more than a century old, when Mindswap was published in 1966.
(Here's Wikipedia's biography of Sheckley.)
- 1:27 PM, 13 January 2015 [link]
Rasputin And The Berlin Wall: John Fund, trying hard to understand the role of Valerie Jarrett in the Obama administration, mixes two metaphors that should not have been mixed.
Especially in the same paragraph.
After Obama’s inexplicable failure to note the rise of the Islamic State and to deal with problems involving veterans’ health care, I wrote last year that “Jarrett appears to exercise such extraordinary influence that in some quarters on Capitol Hill she is known as ‘Rasputin,’ a reference to the mystical monk who held sway over Russia’s Czar Nicholas as he increasingly lost touch with reality during World War I.” After my column appeared, I ran into a top aide to a Democratic senator. “You don’t know the half of it,” he told me. “[Jarrett is] not only Rasputin, she’s the Berlin Wall preventing us from even getting messages to the president.” The aide is convinced that the lack of communication between the then-Democratic Senate majority and the White House contributed to the GOP landslide takeover last November.Which left me, literal fellow that I am, trying to picture a combination mad monk and Berlin Wall.
And I suspect others will have similar reactions to that paragraph, which is unfortunate because what that aide and Fund are saying is important. If they are right, many of the organizational problems of the Obama administration can be blamed on Valerie Jarrett, and Obama's reliance on her.
Once you get past those unfortunate metaphors, you will see some details in the column that should worry everyone, so I am recommending that you read the whole column.
(If I were picking a metaphor, I would probably describe Jarrett as King Obama's "favorite", and mention some of the historical precedents that led me to choose that metaphor.
Here are the Wikipedia biographies of Jarrett and Rasputin. More than the usual caveats apply to the Jarrett article, which I almost didn't link to because of what it leaves out.
That mixed metaphor will remind some of an old "Saturday Night Live" skit.)
- 7:09 AM, 13 January 2015 [link]
Which Party Got The Most Money In 2014 From The Very Wealthy? The Democratic Party, if you are counting only open money.
Democrats spent much of the 2014 campaign castigating Republican big money, but, it turns out, their side actually finished ahead among the biggest donors of 2014 – at least among those whose contributions were disclosed.But probably not if you include secret money.
Of course, that edge doesn’t take into account contributions to deep-pocketed non-profit groups that don’t disclose their donors. They heavily favored Republicans, with reports showing conservative secret money non-profits outspending liberal ones $127 million to $33 million. While that’s just a fraction of the overall undisclosed money spent in 2014, it’s indicative of a dramatic imbalance in a type of big money spending that likely would close the gap between Democratic and Republican top donors, if not put Republicans ahead.Politico has a list of the top 100 open donors. It would be interesting to try to guess how many of them were making contributions for idealistic reasons, and how many were making contributions expecting something in return. (Of the few that I recognize, I would say that most appear to be making contributions out of idealistic reasons, though not necessarily idealistic reasons that I agree with.)
It would be even more interesting to see which donors switched parties between 2012, when most expected a Democratic victory, and 2014, when most expected a Republican victory.
There are several possible explanations, good and bad, for the greater Republican desire to make anonymous donations. The donors might have motives that wouldn't look well in public, the donors might fear retaliation, and so on.
(Some states allow small parties to keep their finances secret, to protect their contributors from retaliation. Similarly, civil rights organizations have had similar protections, though I believe that most of those protections came from court decisions, not laws.)
- 7:56 AM, 12 January 2015 [link]
Why Didn't The Obama Administration Send An Official Delegation To The Anti-Terrorist Rally In Paris? That non-decision has already draw considerable criticism, here.
And though it’s symbolism—Obama made several statements last week condemning the terror, and the government has been supporting French efforts throughout—the symbolism has caught a lot of attention.And abroad.
President Barack Obama and other top members of his administration have snubbed a historic rally in Paris today that brought together more than 40 world leaders from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and even Russia.That the Obama administration made a deliberate decision not to join the rally is obvious from this fact: Attorney General Holder was in Paris at the time — and did not attend (because he was in a meeting, he said).
Roger Simon thinks he knows why Obama didn't attend.
There had to have been a reason for his non-attendance and the bizarre dissing of this event by his administration. I believe it stems from this: There are two words our president seems constitutionally unable to put together — “Islamic” and “terrorism.” For Obama (and, as a sideshow, the zany Howard Dean), these terms are mutually exclusive, an oxymoron. Appearing in Paris, Obama might be put in the unusual position of having to link them, our complaisant press rarely having the nerve to ask such an impertinent question. Holder, in a television interview from Paris (I think it was CNN — there have been so many), danced around the question, hemming and hawing as if he couldn’t quite make out what was being said or had been asked an embarrassing question about IRS emails.I think Simon is right.
And I think we ought to think hard about why Obama is unwilling to put those two words together, why he is unwilling to say the obvious. (And I hope to come back to that in a later post.)
But for now, I'll just say what Obama should have done. He should at least have sent Vice President Biden — with a bipartisan congressional delegation to show America's unity on this question. Asking Speaker Boehner, House Minority Leader Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Reid to each choose two or three representatives would have been a good gesture in itself, and would have given the United States an impressive presence at the rally.
(Even some Obama allies are unhappy with him; the New York Daily News said, in a powerful editorial, that Obama was "inexcusably absent".
Even the New York Times criticized Obama, implicitly, in their own editorial, where they gushed about "unity" — without mentioning that missing Obama delegation.)
- 6:23 AM, 12 January 2015 [link]
Generals Allen And Petraeus: Before World War II, Terry de la Mesa Allen was in trouble with his superiors. But when fighting began, the top brass in the United States Army managed to forget about a minor defect or two in his record.
With war, the rioters came into their own. In contemplating who should command the Army's multiplying regiments and divisions, [George] Marshall and his training chief, Lesley J. McNair, kept a list in a safe of more than 400 colonels with perfect efficiency reports. Allen, neither a full colonel nor perfect, was not on it. Rather, he was facing court-martial for insubordination in 1940 when word arrived of his double promotion from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general. He was the first man in his former West Point class to wear a general's stars. No man better exemplified the American military leadership's ability to identify, promote, and in some cases forgive those officers best capable of commanding men in battle. Among the encomiums that followed Allen's promotion was a penciled note: "We guys in the guardhouse want to congratulate you, too." (p. 82)(Atkinson says "former West Point class" because Allen had flunked out of West Point, in his final year there.)
Marshall and McNair recognized that, in a war, you need command talent, and that it is rare enough so that you should ignore some past problems, if you see it in one of your officers. They were right about Allen, as his record shows.
General David Petraeus is very different person from Allen, but he too has a rare talent for command. So why in the world is the Obama administration considering prosecuting him?
There are several likely answers, none of them good. The Obama administration may not recognize command talent, or may not think we need it, now. The Obama administration may want to keep Petraeus from speaking out on sensitive subjects. Or, the Obama administration may want to block him from pursuing a political career.
Or, of course, they may have some mixture of all of those motives.
- 2:42 PM, 10 January 2015 [link]
Gunmen, Militants, Activists, Or? Today's New York Times used this headline for the death of Saïd Kouachi, Chérif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly: "PARIS GUNMEN DIE IN RAIDS".
Today's Seattle Times put the massacre in Baga, Nigeria on the front page, but used this headline: "NIGERIAN MILITANTS SLAUGHTER HUNDREDS". (The article, from the Los Angeles Times, notes that Amnesty International says "thousands", but quotes a government spokesman rejecting that high a number.)
Earlier, CNN's Christiane Amanpour had referred to the three Islamic terrorists as "activists".
We use euphemisms when, for whatever reason, we don't want to speak plainly. It is not hard to see why our "mainstream" journalists are uncomfortable with speaking plainly on this subject. The two obvious words for those headlines, "terrorists" and "Islamists", each pose problems, terrorists because there is so much blame in the word, and Islamists for the obvious reason.
This use of these euphemisms by our news organizations, when discussing this subject, harms us all, by making it harder to discuss these difficult subjects, honestly. I don't see that changing any time soon, unfortunately.
- 1:46 PM, 10 January 2015 [link]
Yesterday, Vermont Elected Their Governor: But didn't they hold a gubernatorial election last November? They did, but no one won.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin ran for re-election to a third term in office against Republican businessman Scott Milne, Libertarian businessman Dan Feliciano and several other minor party and independent candidates.Shumlin received 46.4 percent of the popular vote; Milne received 45.1 percent.
Milne urged the members to vote as their districts had, which would have produced an interesting result.
Mr. Milne had asked lawmakers to vote according to their districts’ choices in November, not the statewide popular vote. If every legislator had done so, the outcome would have been a 90-90 tie, according to The Burlington Free Press. (One person did not vote on Thursday.) But at least 20 members ended up voting against their constituents.(The article doesn't say what would have happened if there had been a tie, but a re-vote seems the most likely outcome.)
The Times gives a number of reasons for Shumlin's close call, including one that surprised me: his support for wind power. In this area, wind power is very popular with leftists. But it might be less popular if the wind turbines were closer to where leftists live, as the turbines would have to be in a state the size of Vermont.
Two stray thoughts: The election was close enough so that Milne might have won, if he had gotten enough financial support from the national party. All the public polls were wrong — by a lot. Which could explain why he didn't get that support.
(We tend to think of Vermont as a hopelessly Democratic state, which it is, nationally. But it elected Republican Jim Douglas governor in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008, and almost elected Republican Brian Dubie governor in 2010.)
- 12:58 PM, 9 January 2015 [link]
If You Want To Follow The French Stand-Off With The Kouachi Brothers, the Daily Mail has maps.
(You can see the location of the 19th arrondissement of Paris, where the brothers lived, here. Their organization, the "Buttes Chaumont gang", was named (by the police?) after that arrondissement.)
- 5:49 AM, 9 January 2015 [link]