July 2009, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Good News For New Jersey:  Some of the state's many corrupt officials have been arrested.
A two-year corruption and international money-laundering investigation stretching from the Jersey Shore to Brooklyn to Israel and Switzerland culminated in charges against 44 people on Thursday, including three New Jersey mayors, two state assemblymen and five rabbis, the authorities said.

The case began with bank fraud charges against a member of an insular Syrian Jewish enclave centered in a seaside town.  But when that man became a federal informant and posed as a crooked real estate developer offering cash bribes to obtain government approvals, it mushroomed into a political scandal that could rival any of the most explosive and sleazy episodes in New Jersey's recent past.
. . .
Among the public officials arrested were Mayor Peter J. Cammarano III of Hoboken, who was a City Council member before he took office as mayor on July 1, and Mayor Dennis Elwell of Secaucus, both Democrats; Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith of Jersey City, also a Democrat; and Assemblyman Daniel M. Van Pelt, a Republican from Ocean County.
(All right, allegedly corrupt.)

As far as I can tell, Van Pelt is the only Republican official caught in this net.

It's good news for New Jersey because it is possible that their replacements will be more honest, or at least less recklessly greedy, than these men.  And because these arrests make it almost certain that Republican Chris Christie will replace Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

(Fun fact:  Some of these officials claimed to be reformers when they ran for office.)
- 4:40 PM, 24 July 2009   [link]

It Wasn't A Neighbor:  I haven't said anything about Professor Gates' little encounter with the police, because I haven't had anything special to say, and because so many others did, or at least thought they did.  That a Harvard professor of African-American studies might have a chip on his shoulder and a sense of entitlement seemed so obvious to me as to not need comment.

But I was puzzled about one thing.  (Partly, I suppose, because I grew up on a farm and am familiar with small towns, where everyone knows their neighbors.)  Almost all the news reports I have seen said that "a neighbor" reported seeing two black men trying to break in to a home.  And I couldn't help wondering why a neighbor would not know, at least by sight, someone as famous as Gates.   Cambridge isn't that big a city.

The answer to that question is simple:  The woman who reported what she thought might be an attempted break-in is not a neighbor.

(President Obama has apologized, sort of, as he should have.  And I suppose he really didn't want to have the police unions picketing him on his vacation.)
- 3:48 PM, 24 July 2009   [link]

Profiting From Global Warming Scares:  That's what Al Gore is doing.   But there are others, notably Steve McIntyre, who are just trying to get the facts right, and they are asking for donations to help support their work.   (And sometimes their web sites.)

Lucia (I won't give her full name without her permission) is also asking for donations.  And she is selling things to support her work.  If you haven't seen her site, I should mention that she does many interesting charts, so it is natural that she would sell pet bowls, dog shirts, mouse pads, notecards, postcards, and coasters with charts like this one:

Lucia chart 1 on coaster

If you haven't been following the debate closely, you may need an explanation of that chart.   The red line is the predicted temperature from Gore's friends at the IPCC and the dashed red line is the fitted linear trend.  The blue and green lines show measured temperatures from two standard sources, with their trends.  Some of us, not including Al Gore, are troubled by the divergence between the red lines and the blue and green lines.

It would be wrong, of course, to give one of those charts to a follower of Al Gore, and you should know that I could not possibly support such an action.  Whether you should display one of those charts where sensitive people might see it is up to you.  I am going to order a mug for myself, but I plan to use it only in the privacy of my home.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:42 PM, 24 July 2009   [link]

You'll Want To Watch Pat Michaels' Speech:  There was much of interest at yesterday's Washington Policy Organization conference on the environment.  But the unquestioned hit was the keynote speech from climatologist Pat Michaels.   I was told that the speech will be shown on TVW some time in the near future.  (For those not in this area:  TVW is like a Washington state C-SPAN, though with a much smaller budget.)  I believe, though I haven't verified this, that it will be watchable on line.

You should definitely take the time to watch it — especially if you generally agree with Al Gore on the threat of climate change.  Michaels took on Gore directly on a number of points, and showed that the former vice president has been exaggerating just a trifle.

Michaels was very informative, and quite entertaining.  If you had listened to the speech, you would have understood, in just a few minutes, why Gore is unwilling to debate Michaels.  It wouldn't be much of a contest.  Michaels knows what he is talking about, and is often quite funny.

For some I should add this clarification, because news stories almost always get this wrong:   Michaels is not a global warming skeptic, much less a "denier".  He believes that the earth has warmed in the last century, and that humans have caused part of that warming.  But he does not believe that current climate models are gospel (and I am using a religious term deliberately), nor does he think that a couple degrees warming (Celsius) will have, net, disastrous consequences.

Can't watch the speech, for some reason or another?  Then you should order his book, Climate of Extremes.  (And if you watch the speech, you'll probably want to order it to learn more about his ideas, and to see some of the data that he uses to support his arguments.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:29 PM, 24 July 2009   [link]

You Light Up My Life:   Literally.
The human body literally glows, emitting a visible light in extremely small quantities at levels that rise and fall with the day, scientists now reveal.

Past research has shown that the body emits visible light, 1,000 times less intense than the levels to which our naked eyes are sensitive.  In fact, virtually all living creatures emit very weak light, which is thought to be a byproduct of biochemical reactions involving free radicals.
But you will have to forgive me for not seeing your light.
- 8:15 AM, 24 July 2009   [link]

"Best Picture On Earth?"  Probably not.  But it's a fine picture of Mt. Everest.
This awe-inspiring photograph captures the majesty of Mount Everest as you've never seen it before - from more than a mile above.

The spectacular panorama shows the breathtaking landscape of the Himalayas from six miles above sea level.

It was shot by an intrepid British photographer wearing breathing apparatus in -56C temperatures 36,000 feet up.
Taken with Kodachrome, naturally.
- 4:17 PM, 23 July 2009   [link]

Who Is Setting The Schedule For The Obama-Pelosi-Reid Health Insurance Plan?   Astrologers.
President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the "stars are aligned" to pass healthcare reform legislation and Congress should take advantage of that opportunity.
Presumably one of his press spokesmen will give us the details, and the names of those astrologers, soon.
- 3:33 PM, 23 July 2009   [link]

Off To Cover this conference.  Back some time this afternoon.
- 5:53 AM, 23 July 2009   [link]

Questions For Obama:  Keith Hennessey has 20 of them, all better than this one, asked by Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, last April:
During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?
Since Hennessey is an economist, it is no surprise that his questions are all, directly or indirectly, on the economy.

I hope some of the reporters at tonight's press conference will ask questions as good as those twenty.
- 4:28 PM, 22 July 2009   [link]

The Obama Administration Has Had Problems Vetting Appointees:   So they are hiring more lawyers.
Stung by a string of embarrassing personnel moves at the outset of the administration, President Obama has significantly beefed up the number of lawyers working in the White House compared to previous administrations.
. . .
There are 41 attorneys in the Office of White House Counsel, according to information provided by the White House, compared to 26 at the end of President Bush's second term --a 57 percent increase.

The increase is largely the result of the president's decision in February to move the vetting and clearance process directly under White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, following a number of embarrassing disclosures that forced some of Mr. Obama's nominees for top posts to withdraw.
The fundamental problem is that Obama has almost no national experience in governing, and so he knows very few of his appointees.  Hiring more lawyers won't fix that, though the lawyers might catch some of the tax problems.

And, considering his long associations with Tony Rezko and Alexi Giannoulias, it would be easy to believe that Obama is not very good at spotting ethical problems.
- 1:46 PM, 22 July 2009   [link]

Worth Studying:  (Even if he does get the colors reversed.)  Joel Kotkin on the blue states "meltdown".
On the surface this should be the moment the Blue Man basks in glory.  The most urbane president since John Kennedy sits in the White House.  A San Francisco liberal runs the House of Representatives while the key committees are controlled by representatives of Boston, Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and the Bay Area—bastions of the gentry.

Despite his famous no-blue-states-no-red-states-just-the-United-States statement, more than 90 percent of the top 300 administration officials come from states carried last year by President Obama.   The inner cabinet—the key officials—hail almost entirely from a handful of cities, starting with Chicago but also including New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco area.

This administration shares all the basic prejudices of the Blue Man including his instinctive distaste for "sprawl," cars, and factories.  In contrast, policy is tilting to favor all the basic blue-state economic food groups—public employees, university researchers, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, and the major urban land interests.

Yet despite all this, the blue states appear to be continuing their decades-long meltdown.
Because, as Kotkin explains, they have been following the policies that the Obama administration is trying to impose on the entire country.

One of the worst examples comes from California:
Perhaps the most searing disaster is unfolding in the rich Central Valley.  Large areas are about to be returned to desert—due less to a mild drought than to regulations designed to save obscure fish species in the state's delta.  Over 450,000 acres have been allowed to go fallow.  Nearly 30,000 agriculture jobs—mostly held by Latinos—were lost just in May.  Unemployment, 17 percent across the Central Valley, reaches to more than 40 percent in some towns such as Mendota.

"We are getting the sense some people want us to die," notes native son Tim Stearns, a professor of entrepreneurship at California State University at Fresno.  "It's kind of like they like the status quo and what happens in the Central Valley doesn't matter.  These are just a bunch of crummy towns to them."
(Crummy towns in areas that raise a very large proportion of America's food — but that doesn't seem to matter to those who run California.)

Though the mistakes made by Michigan's Governor Granholm may provide an even clearer example of what won't work, economically.

Kotkin thinks there is hope, even for some of our most Democratic states, because voters in them, especially taxpayers, are beginning to catch on.  I agree, and expect to see Republican gains, starting, most likely, in New Jersey, where the Republican candidate, Chris Christie, now has a double digit lead in most polls over incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine.

By way of the Instapundit, who has a video interview of Kotkin.
- 12:49 PM, 22 July 2009   [link]

What Kind Of People Drive Hybrids?  People who get more traffic tickets, get in more expensive accidents, and drive more miles.

There are two ways you can interpret that last fact.  People who must drive more miles buy hybrids to reduce their gasoline costs and their impact on the environment.  Or, people who buy hybrids feel that they have done their bit for the environment and are free to drive as much as they like.  Both could be true; both probably are true, to some extent.  It would be interesting to know which dominates.

(From watching other drivers I have come to the conclusion that drivers of Toyota Priuses are — on the average — less polite than other drivers.  I haven't written about that because I was afraid my prejudices were distorting my perceptions.  But this study makes me think that my observations were correct, that Prius drivers may be, on the average, ruder than other drivers.)
- 7:24 AM, 22 July 2009   [link]

Should Affirmative Action Have An Expiration Date?  Ross Douthat thinks so.
In 2003, writing for the majority in Grutter v. Bollinger, Sandra Day O'Connor upheld race-based discrimination in college admissions . . . but only for the current generation. Such policies "must be limited in time," she wrote, adding that "the Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."

It was a characteristic O'Connor move: unmoored from any high constitutional principle but not without a certain political shrewdness.  In a nation that aspires to colorblindness, her opinion acknowledged, affirmative action can only be justified if it comes with a statute of limitations.   Allowing reverse discrimination in the wake of segregation is one thing.  Discriminating in the name of diversity indefinitely is quite another.
The beneficiaries of affirmative action are mostly well off, which makes it harder, politically, to justify giving them special treatment.
You can see this landscape taking shape in academia, where the quest for diversity is already as likely to benefit the children of high-achieving recent immigrants as the descendants of slaves.  You can see it in the backroom dealing revealed by Ricci v. DeStefano, where the original decision to deny promotions to white firefighters was heavily influenced by a local African-American "kingmaker" with a direct line to New Haven's mayor.
Oddly, Douthat does not mention one salient fact:  Race-based discrimination is already illegal in many places, including my home state of Washington, where it was outlawed by a voter's initiative, I-200, in 1998.  The racial preferences that the Supreme Court accepted in the Bollinger case would be illegal in Washington state.

(That doesn't mean that we have eliminated racial preferences.  I am reasonably sure that they survive, in disguised form, in Washington's colleges and universities, and in many of our government departments.)

As far as I can tell, there have been no bad effects from I-200.  None.  A few firms that had relied on racial preferences to get government contracts went out of business, but I can't feel sorry for them.  Minority enrollments at our colleges and universities are now higher than before I-200 was passed.  Although the state does not have a large minority population, we elected and re-elected a Chinese-American governor, Gary Locke.  And the state's largest county, King, elected and re-elected an African-American county executive, Ron Sims.  (Neither was very good, though Locke did less damage than he might have.)

(Race based affirmative action isn't the only kind, of course, and I will have more to say about that in future post, probably next week.)
- 6:59 AM, 22 July 2009   [link]

Rebbecca West Was Not Wishy-Washy:  From time to time in the last few months, I have been dipping into her most famous book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, and, whenever I do, I am startled by her boldness, by the way she writes without qualifiers.

Here's an example, chosen more at less at random.  She and her husband had gone to visit the remains of a Roman city, Salonæ.  A hard rain had come up, and so they had stopped at a little house that had been converted into a museum.
We were not alone.  The house was packed with little girls, aged from twelve to sixteen, in the care of two or three nuns.  They were, like any gathering of their kind in any part of the world, more comfortable to look at than an English girls' school.  They were apparently waiting quite calmly to grow up.  They expected it, and so did the people looking after them.  There was no panic on anybody's part.  There were none of the unhappy results which follow the English attempt to make all children look insipid and docile, and show no signs they will every develop into adults.  There were no little girls with poked chins and straight hair, aggressively proud of being plain, nor were there pretty girls making a desperate proclamation of their femininity.   But, of course, in a country where there is very little homosexuality it is easy for girls to grow up into womanhood.
That paragraph is, believe it or not, typical.  She follows it immediately with an attack on what she suspects the girls are being taught by the nuns, and follows that with an attack on the way the ancient Romans treated the Illyrians and other conquered peoples.  (The Illyrians had a sort of revenge in the end, supplying many Roman emperors long after they were conquered.)

My first reaction to that paragraph was delight, partly, I must admit, because of that last, politically incorrect, sentence.

My second reaction is to want to quiz her.  How can she be so definite, how can she be so sure?  How can she possibly know the sexual habits of a country that she has only visited?   Were English girl's schools really that awful?  And so on.

But of course I can't, unless I could learn how to communicate with a Ouija board, or some similar device.  And so, after I read one of those vigorous, unqualified paragraphs, I sit there for a moment or two, impressed by the writing, and annoyed by her certainty.

All that leads to a small confession:  I would often like to make my posts more fun to read by leaving out some of the qualifiers.  But usually I can't, and be honest with you.  I am not as sure of anything as West was of almost everything, and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.

(Here's her Wikipedia biography.  As you might expect from her prose, she did not lead a quiet life.)
- 7:57 PM, 21 July 2009   [link]

The Quiet Sun:  Kennth Chang has a balanced review of our almost spotless sun — and the possible consequences. Two samples:
Indeed, last year marked the blankest year of the Sun in the last half-century — 266 days with not a single sunspot visible from Earth.  Then, in the first four months of 2009, the Sun became even more blank, the pace of sunspots slowing more.
. . .
Among some global warming skeptics, there is speculation that the Sun may be on the verge of falling into an extended slumber similar to the so-called Maunder Minimum, several sunspot-scarce decades during the 17th and 18th centuries that coincided with an extended chilly period.
What I like most about the article is Chang's efforts to tell us what we know — and what we don't know — about the sun's behavior.
- 3:12 PM, 21 July 2009   [link]

Why Did The Seattle Area Build A Light Rail Line From Seattle To Tukwila?   The transit line opened this weekend and some of those riding free explained why they backed the new line.  For example, Chloe Brussard.

"It's about time," said Chloe Brussard, echoing the sentiments of many who turned out for free rides during the debut of the $2.3 billion 14-mile Link line.

Brussard, her husband and a friend toured the entire line, starting in Rainier Beach, with stops to stroll Westlake Center and grab dim sum in the International District.  "It makes Seattle feel like a real city," she said.

Columnist Danny Westneat agrees.

It's true, Seattle finally has something most big cities had decades ago: a rapid mass-transit line.  During the opening ceremony, everyone was shaking their heads at how long it took for stubborn Seattle to mature out of adolescence.

So there you are.  We built this line so people in Seattle can feel they live in a "real city", or as Westneat might say, a grown-up city.  Some might think that 2.3 billion is a lot to pay for those feelings, especially if you don't live in Seattle,  And very especially if you moved out of Seattle, as so many in the suburbs have, because you don't want to live in a city, even a real grown-up city.

I have been saying "we" because the people of Seattle did not pay for this line by themselves.   Sound Transit (often called (un)Sound Transit by picky folks who think that transportation projects should pass cost/benefit tests) has a taxing area that takes in much more than Seattle.

Sound Transit taxing district

(If that boundary looks like it was gerrymandered, that's because it was.  When an early proposal failed, narrowly, they redrew the boundary lines to eliminate some rural areas and their no votes.)

The people who live, or just shop, in Everett, Mukilteo, Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway, Bothell, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Woodinville, Kirkland, Redmond, Yarrow Point, Hunts Point, Medina, Bellevue, Clyde Hill, Beaux Arts Village, Sammamish, Mercer Island, New Castle, Issaquah, Burien, Renton, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, Ruston, Algona, Tacoma, Pacific, Milton, Fircrest, Fife, Edgewood, University Place, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Steilacoom, Puyallup, Lakewood, DuPont, and Orting helped pay for this line.  But for now, only the people of Seattle and Tukwila get any direct benefit from the line, though we are promised that it will be extended to the SeaTac airport by the end of this year.  And much farther, eventually.

But the line makes Brussard, Westneat, and company happy that they live in a real grown-up city.  Only they can tell how much that feeling is worth to them.  But I do think that they owe the rest of us, who paid for most of this boondoggle, a 2.3 billion dollar thank you.  (With more thank yous to come, as the line is extended.)

I would feel somewhat less negative about this line if this area had not skimped on road construction and maintenance for decades.  Doing too little to improve, or even maintain, our roads has caused the people of this area to waste immense amounts of time in traffic.  And doing too little to improve, or even maintain, our roads has probably contributed to many accidents, and even, possibly, to a few deaths.

I hesitate to give Brussard, Westneat, and company advice, since they do not seem to be moved by rational arguments.  But I will go this far:  Perhaps, they should try to make Seattle a better city, not a small imitation of New York and Chicago with all their faults.   Perhaps — and I know this would be considered a radical idea in most parts of Seattle — they should consider whether 19th century technology is really the right way to make Seattle a better place for the people who live there.  (I won't suggest they use cost/benefit tests for the next big projects.  Not because those aren't a necessary part of any rational transportation plan, but because I can not imagine Brussard, Westneat, and company understanding them.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The attitudes described in the article, and in Westneat's column, seem so extraordinary that I asked the lead reporter, Mike Lindblom, if the attitudes were typical, and Westneat if he intended his column as a parody.  Lindblom, who appears to be a solid reporter, said that they were; Westneat did not reply, even though I told him that, as a parody, his column was a good piece of work.)
- 1:37 PM, 21 July 2009   [link]

Gallup Has Some Semi-Bad News For Obama:  He's 10th out of 12.
Barack Obama, who completed six months in office Monday, has a 55% approval rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, putting him 10th among the dozen presidents who have served since World War II at this point in their tenures.

That's not as bad for Obama as it may sound: The six-month mark hasn't proved to be a particularly good indicator of how a president ultimately will fare.
Not a particularly good indicator, but not a positive sign, either.

(USA Today has two interactive graphs, so you can make your own comparisons.  One thing I notice when I do those comparisons is that our more recent presidents tend to have lower ratings than the earlier presidents.)
- 9:06 AM, 21 July 2009   [link]

American Triumph, Kennedy Blunder:  Forty years ago yesterday, America landed men on the moon — and then brought them back.  It was an enormous triumph for this nation, and for the world.

And it was also, as I have argued for years, the result of an enormous blunder, a blunder made by John F. Kennedy.  Tom Wolfe describes, in his usual understated way, how the blunder was made.
But that wasn't what was on President Kennedy's mind when he summoned NASA's administrator, James Webb, and Webb's deputy, Hugh Dryden, to the White House in April 1961.  The president was in a terrible funk.  He kept muttering: "If somebody can just tell me how to catch up.  Let's find somebody — anybody . . . There's nothing more important."  He kept saying, "We've got to catch up."  Catching up had become his obsession.  He never so much as mentioned the rockets.

Dryden said that, frankly, there was no way we could catch up with the Soviets when it came to orbital flights.  A better idea would be to announce a crash program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, which had produced the atomic bomb.  Only the aim this time would be to put a man on the Moon within the next 10 years.
The decision was a blunder because putting a man on the moon led nowhere.  Instead, we should have aimed to become a space faring nation, become a nation that routinely sent men and large payloads into orbit.  Once we had that capability, we could have put a man on the moon without much additional effort.  It would have taken a few years longer, but would have cost about the same amount.  In fact, we could have put a small colony on the moon years ago, if Kennedy had chosen to make us a space faring nation, rather than the spectacular, but dead end goal of putting a man on the moon.

And in the five decades since, we have not corrected Kennedy's error.  (Both presidents Bush made efforts to redirect our space program, but neither had much success, perhaps because they, like Kennedy, were too focused on a single, spectacular goal, now putting men on Mars, rather than building space capability.)

(There is no evidence that Obama understands this problem, much less that he will do anything about it.)
- 8:29 AM, 21 July 2009   [link]

What Does GM Need?  More cars like the Camaro.
Believe it or not, General Motors has a hit car on its hands.

Amid the gloom of bankruptcy and a miserable market for new vehicles, G.M.'s new Chevrolet Camaro muscle car is winning over consumers looking for a little excitement in a bland landscape of look-alike sedans and watered-down sport utilities.

G.M. sold 9,300 Camaros during the month of June — more than either its entire Buick or Cadillac divisions could muster on their own.
More cars that people actually want to buy, and that General Motors can sell at a profit.

That's what GM needs if GM's goal is to become a profitable car company again.  (If GM's head, Barack Obama, believes that other goals are more important for GM — cutting CO2 emissions, for example — then the success of the Camaro may be a bad thing.  I am guessing that he would consider it a good thing, because pleasing the United Auto Workers is probably more important to him than pleasing the Sierra Club, at least for now.)

(NPR has more, including a description of GM's strategy for selling the car.  They are pretending, at least for some audiences, that the new Camaro is not really a muscle car.)
- 6:27 AM, 21 July 2009   [link]

Obama Catches the Biden Disease:  And accidentally tells the truth.
Would health care reform bring "greater inefficiencies" to the country's health care system?

That's exactly what Obama said Monday when he spoke about health care reform at the Childrens National Medical Center in Washington.
(Actually Obama is proposing health insurance "reform", not health care reform.)

Obama recovered quickly, but we can hope that he relapses from time to time, and accidentally tells us the truth on other subjects.
- 5:06 AM, 21 July 2009   [link]

Congressman Hoekstra Is Unhappy With The Democratic Leaders:  The ranking minority member on the intelligence committee thinks they are politicizing intelligence.
The incredible amount of partisanship Democrats have introduced into intelligence matters is demoralizing the US intelligence community, causing sensitive information to be disclosed and encouraging our enemies.  For the good of our nation, Democrats need to start acting like adults and begin conducting responsible and bipartisan intelligence oversight.  These attacks on our intelligence community need to stop now.

Partisan political games have no place when it comes to national security.
Hoekstra, like many others, thinks that the Democrats are behaving childishly in an attempt to protect Speaker Pelosi from her own statements.
- 2:04 PM, 20 July 2009   [link]

Because They Want To Save Some Of The Good New For August?  That's one possible explanation.
The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update - usually scheduled for mid-July - has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.
But even the Associated Press doesn't think that's the right explanation for the delay.
- 1:41 PM, 20 July 2009   [link]

Super Marijuana:  It's much stronger than it was four decades ago.
Marijuana, the country's most widely used illicit drug, is typically not thought to destroy lives.   Like alcohol, pot has been romanticized by writers and musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, and it has been depicted as harmless or silly in movies like "Harold and Kumar."  And addiction experts agree, marijuana does not pose as serious a public health problem as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.  The drug cannot lead to fatal overdose and its hazards pale in comparison with those of alcohol.  But at the same time, marijuana can be up to five times more potent than the cannabis of the 1970s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And this new more-potent pot and the growing support for legalization has led to an often angry debate over marijuana addiction.  Many public health officials worry that this stronger marijuana has increased addiction rates and is potentially more dangerous to teenagers, whose brains are still developing.  And officials say the movement to legalize marijuana — now available by prescription in 13 states — plays down the dangers of habitual use.
One result of that more potent marijuana is rising rates of treatment for marijuana addiction, even as the specialists argue over whether people are really addicted.  

(Why is it so much stronger now?  The article doesn't say, but I believe that good old American plant breeding know how has "improved" the yield of the main active substance, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.)
- 1:28 PM, 20 July 2009   [link]

Biden Unmuzzled:  Often says what the Obama administration is really thinking.
So do not criticize him; applaud his palaver, and hope for more.  Biden's "gaffes" are anything but -- they're simply what the administration is really thinking.  Truer words have never been babbled.
I do hope for more, and so should anyone who wants more transparency from this secretive administration.

(I have said similar things about Biden, for example, here.)
- 8:47 AM, 20 July 2009   [link]

Did The Democrats Need Republican Votes To Pass Waxman-Markey?  In this post, I noted that the Democratic leadership may have had extra votes, if needed.  Recently, Congressman Mike Pence supported that analysis, saying that the Democrats would have passed the bill, even if they had no Republican votes.

Pence was speaking to talk show host Mark Davis, while Davis was subbing for Rush Limbaugh.  Unfortunately, Davis did not ask Pence to explain, so I don't know for certain whether the Democrats had extra votes, if needed, though that is common on important votes.

Pence may simply have meant that the Democratic leaders would keep buying votes until they had the necessary majority.
- 6:04 AM, 20 July 2009   [link]

Buying Votes For Waxman-Markey, Part 2?  In this post, I noted that the House Democratic leadership had bought votes for the cap-and-tax plan with "hundreds of pages of special interest favors".

They also, it turns out, may have bought votes more directly.
Three House Democratic leaders who were whipping members on the climate change bill gave tens of thousands in campaign cash to party moderates around the time of the 219-212 vote on June 26, according to Federal Election Commission records.

It's impossible to tell if that torrent of cash was an attempt to schmear wavering Democrats -- or just part of the usual cash dump made by leaders on the eve of the June 30 quarterly fundraising deadline.
You would have to do a more complete analysis of the recipient lists than Thrush did to be sure.
- 5:48 AM, 20 July 2009   [link]

One Cheer For Unnatural Foods:  Some years ago, I developed lactose intolerance.  It hasn't been much of a problem for me, after I figured out what was causing my digestive upsets.  (In some ways, the worst part of it, at least for me, is having to quiz my friends when they offer me food.)

But over the years, I have missed ice cream from time to time, especially on hot summer days.  And so I was pleasantly surprised last month when I got around to trying some of the ice cream substitutes from the Hain Celestial Group.   They are, if my memory hasn't failed me, close in taste and mouth feel to real ice cream.  That's true as far as I can tell, of both the soy-based and rice-based deserts.

And though they are made of mostly "organic" ingredients, they are thoroughly unnatural foods.   Here's the list of ingredients for the butter pecan Soy Dream:
Filtered water, organic soy base (organic dehydrated cane juice, organic brown rice syrup solids, organic soybeans, natural flavor, sea salt, soy lecithin,) expeller pressed organic soybean oil and/or organic canola oil and/or organic safflower oil, pecan praline pieces (dehydrated cane juice, pecans, salt, vanilla extract), may contain 2 percent or less of: potato starch, guar gum, locust bean gum, carrageenan, natural pecan flavor with other natural flavors, caramel color, annatto color.
I am grateful to the cooks, nutritionists, and food chemists who figured how to combine those ingredients into an unnatural food, one that tastes very much like ice cream.

Dieters may want to know that these products have about 150 calories in a standard serving (a half cup).  That's about half as many calories as in the same standard serving of ice cream.

(I haven't noticed any big differences between the rice-based and soy-based desserts.  And I haven't gotten around to trying any of the similar desserts from competitors.)
- 7:49 PM, 19 July 2009   [link]

Getting The Headlines Right On Health Insurance:  Last Friday's Seattle Times carried the disappointing news that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid health insurance plan would increase costs under this headline: Health Care Fix:  Budget Buster?  (The on-line version has a tamer headline, perhaps because they weren't limited to a single column.)

The headline repeats a common mistake, identifying the problem as health care.  And sometimes one sees an even worse mistake.  The Friday Wall Street Journal used this headline for the story:  Budget Blow for Health Plan.

What we are arguing about is not health care, much less health, but health insurance, how we pay for health care.  We need to get the headlines right, need to be clear about what we are arguing over because there is little reason to expect that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid plan would improve our health care, and almost no reason to expect that the plan would improve our health.

Some will find those assertions surprising.  But there is strong evidence to support both, from variations in longevity, and from formal experiments.   In the first of those two posts, I gave my best guess as to why this should be so.

So there are very large differences among groups in the United States, but one can not explain those differences with income alone, and having health insurance doesn't do much for your longevity.   Or, putting the two together, the amount of health care a person can buy doesn't make much difference in a person's longevity.

Why would this be so?  Here's my best guess:  The things that make the most difference in longevity are almost all cheap.  Safe water, vaccines, antibiotics, and nutritious diets do not cost much, at least in the United States.  On the opposite end, heart bypass surgery is enormously expensive, but doesn't seem to make much difference in longevity.

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi plan would extend health insurance to some of the uninsured — many of whom do not want that insurance.  (They may be wrong to prefer to be without insurance, but anyone who cares about liberty will think twice before depriving them of their choice in the matter.)  It appears to be intended to destroy most private health insurance over time, though I will admit that the details are unclear to me, not having read the thousands of pages in the principal bills.

Subsidizing insurance for those with moderate incomes (the poor are already mostly covered by Medicaid or Medicare) can be justified on redistributionist grounds.  (Though some of those with moderate incomes may prefer cash, instead of subsidized insurance.)  And forcing those who prefer not to have health insurance to buy it may be good for them.  But there is no reason to expect that the immense sums that we will have to spend to achieve these goals would have a significant effect on our health, or a measurable effect on our longevity.

We are arguing, not about health, or even health care, but about health insurance, and our headlines should reflect that fact.  Since I don't expect many headline writers to take my advice, I urge you to do the corrections yourself.  When you see "Health Care" in a headline over an article on the Obama-Pelosi-Reid plan, correct that to "Health Insurance".  For example, here's how I would fix that Seattle Times headline:  Health Insurance Fix?  Budget Buster!

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(What might make a difference in longevity?  Among other things, encouraging people to exercise.)
- 2:52 PM, 19 July 2009   [link]

Tour De France:  And Monaco, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and probably Andorra.  Bicyclists will know this, and may even be surprised that others don't.  But I must admit that, until I took a closer look at one of these maps, I did not know that much of the Tour de France does not take place in France.   And I suppose there are must be a few other people who are as ignorant on that point as I was.   (The name does suggest that the race is entirely in France, as I suppose that it once was.)

But, judging by the map, the designers of the tour decided to make it international, and to add a few more mountains to the trip.

(I say probably Andorra because the map isn't quite clear; in the printed version it looks as if the Tour drives through the small nation, but in the on-line version it looks as if the bicyclists do at least few miles there.)
- 1:23 PM, 19 July 2009   [link]

New Jersey Hug:  Governor Jon Corzine seems to be more into it than President Obama.   I don't want to make too much of a single photograph, but it really does look as if Obama does not want Corzine to hug him — while Corzine is clinging to Obama like a drowning man grabbing a life preserver.

Corzine may have reason to feel that way, judging by this poll.

(Interesting bit of trivia:  Tigerhawk says that "Forty-nine states have elected a Republican to state-wide office since New Jersey last did".  Governor Corzine has given the people of New Jersey many reasons to break that streak.)
- 1:29 PM, 17 July 2009   [link]

Good News For The Economy:  If Verleger is right.
Crude oil will collapse to $20 a barrel this year as the recession takes a deeper toll on fuel demand, according to academic and former U.S. government adviser Philip Verleger.

A crude surplus of 100 million barrels will accumulate by the end of the year, straining global storage capacity and sending prices to a seven-year low, said Verleger, who correctly predicted in 2007 that prices were set to exceed $100.  Supply is outpacing demand by about 1 million barrels a day, he said.

"The economic situation is not getting better," Verleger, 64, a professor at the University of Calgary and head of consultant PKVerleger LLC, said in a telephone interview yesterday.  "Global refinery runs are going to be much lower in the fall.  If the recession continues and it's a warm winter, it's going to be devastating."
Devastating for OPEC, and other oil producers, but great news for almost everyone else.

(Almost everyone, because producers of alternative energy want oil prices to stay high.  As do many in the Obama administration.)
- 9:45 AM, 17 July 2009   [link]

Astronauts Chosen For Mars Mission:  Very small astronauts.
Scientists have picked the first crew of Earthlings to fly to another planet.  Those chosen for a Mars mission to be launched in October include specimens of thale cress and brewer's yeast, and a microbe known as Conan the Bacterium.

Together with several other microscopic organisms, these representatives of earthly life will be carried in a package that will be flown on a Russian robot spacecraft and are scheduled to be returned to Earth in 2012.  The experiment - Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment, or Life - is designed to show if living organisms can survive unprotected in space for long periods and thus support the theory of panspermia, which argues that simple organisms can survive for years as they float through space and that life on Earth could have been wafted here from another world.
The experiment is traveling on a Russian rocket, but is sponsored by an American organization, the Planetary Society.  (For a mere one million dollars, according to the article in the Guardian.)

Sounds like a good experiment, even though we can not expect any great lines from these astronauts.

(The microbe "known as Conan the Bacterium" is, as some of you will already have guessed, deinococcus radiodurans, which is famous for its ability to resist radiation.)
- 9:26 AM, 17 July 2009   [link]

Senator Barbara Boxer Is Condescending To Almost Everyone:  When she was racially condescending to a black man, he took it personally.

He probably shouldn't have.  If the witness had been a white man, Boxer would have found some other way to be condescending.

The junior senator from California has long struck me as an example of that unpleasant type, an arrogant airhead.
- 5:58 AM, 17 July 2009   [link]