July 2014, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Harris V. Quinn Was A Big Win for a little gal.
A female homemaker (but we repeat our ownselves) takes on the entrenched forces of Big Labor and state government and wins big.  Some might see this as a huge victory for women - evidence that the distaff half of the human race are not as helpless and powerless as some would have us believe:
And a big win for many other little gals, and some little guys.  It isn't often that one woman (or man), without great resources or experience, can defeat both a big union (SEIU) and a state government (Illinois).

But Pam Harris did just that, not once, but several times.  Most of you — unless you are officials in a labor union — will find her story inspiring.

Eric Allie celebrated her latest victory with this cartoon.

(Here's a brief Wikipedia article on the decision, with a link to the actual decision.  Incidentally, the women on the Court voted against the little gal, and in favor the big union and big government.  You'll notice that the article is a trifle one-sided.)
- 3:03 PM, 8 July 2014   [link]

What Determines Which Country Wins A Soccer Match?  Mostly luck, says John Tierney.
Because of fluke goals, low scores, and the many matches that end in ties, soccer is less predictable than other major sports, as Chris Anderson and David Sally explain in their soccer book, "The Numbers Game."
Over a season, or over a long series of matches, like the World Cup, the most skilled teams do, almost always, come out on top, but not in individual matches.

There's much more in the article, including an explanation of the "paradox of skill", and a discussion of the great inequality among soccer teams in Europe, an inequality far greater than that in the American NFL, or even the American baseball major leagues.

(Here's the book Tierney mentions in that paragraph.  Those who read the whole article will find other books mentioned.)
- 2:37 PM, 8 July 2014   [link]

Marijuana's Big Day In Washington State:  If a Jehovah's Witnesses convention is the kind of story our local journalists most hate to cover, then marijuana legalization is the opposite, and we have been deluged with stories — almost all positive* — about the opening of the first legal stores, today.  (Legal under state law, but not federal law, which doesn't seem to bother many reporters, although it causes many practical difficulties for the stores.  The businesses have trouble, for example, setting up bank accounts.)

(Here's a fairly typical example of the coverage.)

Now what makes that excitement odd, from my perspective, is that marijuana has been, effectively, legal in Seattle, and some other parts of the state, for many years.  As I have mentioned before, Seattle has more "medical" marijuana outlets than it does Starbucks coffee shops.  For years, the alternative newspapers have been full of ads from these pot shops, ads that made it clear that you did not have to be suffering in any way in order to buy their product.

So not much is actually changing today.

(*The few negative stories I have seen have almost all been about the possible increase in driving while high.)
- 6:39 AM, 8 July 2014   [link]

The Almost Invisible Convention:  During this last weekend, a convention met in Seattle.  More than 38,000 people attended, from four states and forty foreign nations.  The people who attended belong to an unusual group, one with a history of persecution all over the world, even here in the United States, where they have been in a number of famous Supreme Court cases.

So, did Seattle's mayor make a big production of welcoming them to the city?  Did our local journalists rush to cover the convention, and perhaps do a story or two on the history of the group?  No, and no.

When I searched for news stories on the Seattle convention with Google, I found just eight; when I searched with Bing, limiting the search to news stories in the last thirty days, I found just five.

You will probably understand why this convention was almost invisible when I give you the search string I used: "Jehovah's Witnesses + convention + Seattle".  And if you know anything at all about this Christian sect, you know that they drive almost everyone nuts, from the Nazis in World War II, to the Malawi government in more recent years.

This is not because individuals belonging to the sect behave badly; in my experience almost all are peaceful, hard working, and decent.  Which in itself may be newsworthy these days.   But our jounalists, most of them secular, have no idea how to talk to Witnesses, and probably no idea how badly the group has been persecuted over the years.  (You can find some examples of that persecution in this Wikipedia article.)

And so, at best, they can hope to be ignored, as they were, almost completely, over this last weekend here in Seattle.

(If you would like to see examples of the convention coverage, you can read this Seattle Times article, or this brief piece from King 5.)
- 2:37 PM, 7 July 2014   [link]

If You Need Something To Counteract That Dowd Column, you might try Peggy Noonan's latest.  Noonan, like Dowd, supported Obama in 2008, but, unlike Dowd, Noonan has learned from her mistake.

I thought this was especially good:
On his state trip to Italy in the spring, he asked to spend time with "interesting Italians."   They were wealthy, famous.  The dinner went for four hours.  The next morning his staff were briefing him for a "60 Minutes" interview about Ukraine and health care.   "One aide paraphrased Obama's response: 'Just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we're back to the minuscule things on politics.' ''

Minuscule?  Politics is his job.
And there is much more in the column, without any botched metaphors.
- 6:59 AM, 7 July 2014   [link]

Maureen Dowd Botches A Metaphor:  Yesterday's "Sunday Review" section of the New York Times featured a longish, and utterly predictable, piece on our Wilderness areas by Christopher Solomon — you will not be surprised to learn that he thinks they are threatened by global warming — and Maureen Dowd's regular column, a column so bad that it may lead critics to suspect that she has not entirely recovered from her marijuana overdose.

She lost me at the sixth paragraph:
Are we winners who have been through a rough patch?  Or losers who have soured our sturdy and spiritual DNA with too much food, too much greed, too much narcissism, too many lies, too many spies, too many fatcat bonuses, too many cat videos on the evening news, too many Buzzfeed listicles like "38 Photos Of Corgi Butts," and too much mindless and malevolent online chatter.
She begins with a metaphor, "rough patch", that could work well for her argument, such as it is.   But then, rather than continue with that metaphor, perhaps saying something about us being bad drivers, she switches to "spiritual" DNA and completely botches that metaphor.   DNA does not become sour, does not become more acid.  As you can tell from the full name, deoxyribonucleic acid, it is an acid.

What she could have said, of course, is that our DNA may have mutated.  But then she would have had to follow that with a more coherent list.

You can read the rest of the column if you like, but you won't find much in the way of rational arguments there.  (I didn't even see her usual movie reference(s).)

Except at the very end where she quotes Nathaniel Philbrick, who has written a book on the Battle of Bunker Hill:  "What George Washington did right was to realize how much of what he thought was right was wrong."

That's good advice, and Maureen Dowd (and many others) should take it.  She should, for example, consider this question:  We have a president who has been, on the whole, following the policies that Dowd favors.  We have a nation that is unhappy with the current state of affairs.  Is it possible that that president and those policies are partly responsible for that unhappiness?
- 6:42 AM, 7 July 2014   [link]

Film Maker Pamela Yates Made A Small Mistake In Her Movie, "When The Mountains Tremble"  But she is going to correct it.
"When the Mountains Tremble" was an award-winning movie that awakened wide attention to the war in Guatemala.  But at least one thing turned out to be wrong — and filmmaker Pamela Yates says she's going to set it right.

A dramatic scene from the 1983 documentary will be corrected to show that the Batzul massacre highlighted in the film was committed not by the military, but by leftist rebels disguised as soldiers.

"We intend to make a correction that will clarify what happened," Yates said in a statement last month.  "It stands as a reminder of the terrible human costs of the violence in 1982-83."

She said she will also amend a 2011 follow-up documentary, "Granito: How to Nail a Dictator."
(Emphasis added.)

According to Yates, she could have known the truth as early as 1999 by reading a report that came out that year (or in 1983 when she produced the movie, if she had been more careful at the time).  By now, you may have already said:  "Better late than never."  If you haven't, and feel the need to, go ahead and say it.  I did,when I first read this story.)

But this correction should make you wonder how many other award-winning documentaries are false, in important ways.  (My guess is that many are, and I suspect that if I followed film making more closely I could name a number of famous examples.)

(Here's her Wikipedia biography, with a link to the movie in question.)
- 8:13 PM, 6 July 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  Proud grandmother Alison Gopnik begins with an account of how her grandson is learning to make soufflés by watching her, and uses that to illustrate a general argument about "observational" learning.
New studies in the journal Human Development by Barbara Rogoff at the University of California, Santa Cruz and colleagues suggest that this kind of learning may actually be more fundamental than academic learning, and it may also influence how helpful children are later on.

Dr. Rogoff looked at children in indigenous Mayan communities in Latin America.  She found that even toddlers do something she calls "learning by observing and pitching in."   Like Augie with the soufflés, these children master useful, difficult skills, from making tortillas to using a machete, by watching the grown-ups around them intently and imitating the simpler parts of the process.  Grown-ups gradually encourage them to do more—the pitching-in part.  The product of this collaborative learning is a genuine contribution to the family and community: a delicious meal instead of a standardized test score.
It's more fundamental because it builds character — though Gopnik never uses that old-fashioned word — as well as teaching skills.

(In my experience, this kind of indirect teaching works well with adults, too, for most kinds of learning.)
- 5:24 PM, 6 July 2014   [link]

There have Been At Least 20 9-0 Supreme Court Decisions Against The Obama Administration:  So far.

According to John Fund and Hans Von Spakovsky, who have much more to say about the Obama administration's losing streak at the Court.

Two samples:
If Eric Holder were a baseball player, he’d have been benched long ago — if not kicked off the team.  His batting average before the Supreme Court is abysmal, losing again and again in his efforts to undermine the Constitution.
. . .
Canning and Wurie are only the latest losses of the administration in which all nine Supreme Court justices ruled against the government.

In fact, there have been 20 such cases during this administration — and even more if you include cases in which the administration filed an amicus brief, such as in McCullen v. Coakley, the free-speech case that was handed down the same day as the recess appointments case.
It is hard to decide which of the administration positions in these cases is most disturbing.  For sheer unfairness, it's hard to beat Sackett v. EPA; for over reach, it's hard to beat US v. Jones.

In recent 9-0 cases, the Obama administration even lost the vote of Elana Kagan — who, as solicitor general, used to represent them before the Supreme Court.

You may wonder how many cases his predecessors also lost, 9-0.  More than I would have guessed, according to this Washington Times article.
During the eight years each in the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the government lost on unanimous votes 15 times and 23 times, respectively.  That puts the Obama administration on pace to greatly exceed recent predecessors in terms of judicial losses.
I wouldn't say "greatly", and I am not sure whether the writer is including amicus cases.

But I would say that the cases that Obama has lost appear, to me, more important than the cases Clinton and Bush lost.

And there appears to be no doubt that the Obama administration loses a higher proportion of cases than most administrations, losing perhaps 60 percent, compared to the historical average of about 30 percent.

(Fund and Von Spakovsky have much more to say about Attorney General Holder in Obama's Enforcer: Eric Holder's Justice Department.)
- 4:43 PM, 6 July 2014   [link]

Here's A Different Kind of plane crash.
A Montana Rail Link train derailed near Superior Thursday, sending Boeing aircraft fuselages into a river.

Nineteen cars on the westbound train derailed.  Three of the cars contained aircraft parts and ended up in the Clark Fork River.  Boeing said the train was headed from Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita to the Boeing final assembly plant in Renton.
To be specific, whole aircraft fuselages.

(Montana Rail Link is a partner, though a very unequal partner, of Warren Buffett's BNSF.   I mention that because, here in the Seattle area, there have been chronic problems on one BNSF route, which keeps getting knocked out by mud slides.)
- 5:32 AM, 6 July 2014   [link]

Those Big Fees Hillary Clinton Has Been Charging Colleges And Universities?  Don't worry; Clinton says she donated them to the family's political machine charity.
Hillary Clinton continued to justify her high-dollar speaking fees on Friday, telling ABC News’ Ann Compton that all of the money she’s made from colleges over the past year and a half has been donated to her family’s foundation.

“All of the fees have been donated to the Clinton Foundation for it to continue its life-changing and life-saving work.  So it goes from a foundation at a university to another foundation,” Clinton said when asked about the criticism she and her husband have faced recently for their wealth.
Not only that, but in those profitable little talks, Clinton "is presenting new ideas to help strengthen the economy".  And who could be opposed to that?

(The bosses who ran the old political machines would be impressed by this foundation tactic.   The foundation provides a legal way to keep your people employed while you are out of office, it generates, if you handle it right, great publicity, and it provides a way for supporters to give you political donations that evade the usual controls and scrutiny.)
- 4:37 PM, 5 July 2014   [link]

Happy 4th Of July!  And thank you to those who make it possible.

Veterans of Foreign Wars at Kirkland 4th of July, 2012

(I didn't get a picture of the veterans this year, so I recycled one from two years ago.)
- 7:22 PM, 4 July 2014   [link]

Another (Small) Reason College Tuition is so high.
At least eight universities, including four public institutions, have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak on their campuses over the past year, sparking a backlash from some student groups and teachers at a time of austerity in higher education.

In one previously undisclosed transaction, the University of Connecticut — which just raised tuition by 6.5 percent — paid $251,250 from a donor fund for Clinton to speak on campus in April.   Other examples include $300,000 to speak at the University of California at Los Angeles in March and $225,000 for a speech scheduled for October at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Why would these colleges and universities pay Hillary Clinton that much money just to give her standard speech?

Offhand, I can think of several possibilities, and, of course, different institutions may have had different reasons:
  1. The institution believes that Clinton is a great scholar, and is paying her to impart learning.   This seems unlikely, unless she has been hiding her scholarly achievements, all these years.
  2. The institutions are rewarding an ideological ally.  It is easy to think of examples of similar rewards for Democratic politicians (and a few Republicans), so this is at least plausible.
  3. The institutions invited her as a symbol of feminism — because what demonstrates feminism more than the willingness to tolerate an unfaithful husband?  This seems possible, perhaps even likely, for one of the institutions, Simmons.
  4. The institutions think that she may, in a few years, be in a position to give them really large amounts of money.  That, I fear, is the most likely explanation for most of those invitations.
But they may have erred in their thinking; Clinton is not a certain nominee, much less certain to be president.  Meanwhile, the publicity about these speaking fees is not going to help Clinton, or the institutions.

(I assume that she could have chosen to charge much less at colleges and universities, as some speakers do.)
- 8:13 AM, 3 July 2014   [link]

Worth Reading:  William Tucker's discussion of our failed nuclear policies.  (You'll probably have to use the Google (or Bing) search trick to get to it.)

Two samples:
Work on more than 50 reactors had already begun when the effort hit a snag.  With the new administration of President Jimmy Carter, environmentalists gained a foothold in the government for the first time.  They were opposed to air pollution but they were more opposed to nuclear power.  At the same time, Mr. Carter was under tremendous pressure to find a replacement for foreign oil, so environmentalists came up with a solution.  Theorists such as soft-energy guru Amory Lovins argued that coal could be cleaned up through new technologies—the fluidized bed, for instance, which pulverizes coal for nearly complete combustion.  This would allow coal to serve as a bridge to the coming legions of wind, solar and other renewable energies that would be ready to take over completely somewhere around 2025.

Given the choice between coal and nuclear, Mr. Carter chose coal.   He canceled experimental reactors, shut down research, ended the reprocessing of spent fuel (a decision that created the unnecessary problem of nuclear waste), and effectively brought the technology to a halt.  At the time, the nation was burning half-a-billion tons of coal a year.  Mr. Carter vowed we would reach one billion tons by 2000 and that promise was fulfilled.  Even as coal use declines today, we still consume just under one billion tons a year.
. . .
To illustrate further how far things have declined in this country:  Fourteen years ago Bill Gates assigned Microsoft's technology genius Nathan Myhrvold to explore the frontiers for advanced energy.  Mr. Myhrvold settled on a design using the traveling wave, a reactor that burns for 50 years without refueling and consumes its own waste.  After waiting a year at the gates of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, Md., Messrs. Gates and Myhrvold realized there was no hope of experimenting in the U.S.  So they took their reactor design to China. In 2011 Mr. Gates signed an agreement with the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation to develop the traveling wave.
There's much more.

And for even more, you could pick up a copy of his book on nuclear energy, Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Energy Odyssey.  Or look in from time to time at his web site.

(More recently Tucker has been writing about the family.

Here's some background on Amory Lovins.  According to the Wikipedia biography, he has ten honorary doctorates.  Which, in my opinion, might better have been given to William Tucker.)
- 10:45 AM, 2 July 2014   [link]

Worst President Since WW II?  According to a Quinnipiac poll, that's Barack Obama.

Some highlights (or low lights, from the White House point of view):
President Barack Obama is the worst president since World War II, 33 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.  Another 28 percent pick President George W. Bush.
. . .
Obama has been a better president than George W. Bush, 39 percent of voters say, while 40 percent say he is worse.  Men say 43 - 36 percent that Obama is worse than Bush while women say 42 - 38 percent he is better.  Obama is worse, Republicans say 79 - 7 percent and independent voters say 41 - 31 percent.  Democrats say 78 - 4 percent that he is better.
. . .
America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the 2012 presidential election, 45 percent of voters say, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off.
. . .
American voters say 54 - 44 percent that the Obama Administration is not competent running the government.
(It is interesting to see how many voters do not have an opinion on those questions — which don't require much political knowledge.)

That last strikes me as the most devastating finding; a solid majority of Americans think that the Obama administration is "not competent".
- 6:31 AM, 2 July 2014   [link]

Happy Birthday!  To our Canadian friends, who are celebrating Canada Day.

Canadian flag

  Since Canada was founded in 1867, this is their 147th birthday.  The man most responsible for that founding was Canada's first Prime Minister, John Macdonald.

Recycled, with some changes, from 2008.

(Picture notes:  This flag appears every Canada Day, a few blocks from where I live, along with the American flag, which you can just see behind it.  In 2008, I finally met the couple that own the flags.  He's American; she's Canadian.  And the two seem to be getting along very well, which may be a lesson for our two nations.)
- 1:13 PM, 1 July 2014   [link]

From 150 To 750 Troops In Iraq?  This speculative New York Times article on the possible choice of Ahmed Chalabi as a new prime minister for Iraq, includes this admission, in the fourth and fifth paragraphs:
And on Monday, Obama administration officials said that about 200 more troops had been sent to protect the American Embassy in Baghdad and the Baghdad airport.  The additional troops, who arrived on Sunday, will operate helicopters and drones to “bolster airfield and route security,” Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

In addition to those forces, another 100 troops who the Pentagon had previously said would be sent to Iraq are headed to Baghdad to help with security and logistics.  The moves will raise the total number of American troops deployed to Iraq for security and advisory missions to about 750.
Those paragraphs are a little bit confusing, but I think this summary is roughly accurate:   We had about 150 troops in Iraq, mostly guarding our embassy, I would guess.  Obama sent an additional 300 "advisors" — who are allowed to shoot back, if someone shoots at them.  Now, he is sending 200 more troops as guards, and another 100 to help with "security and logistics".

Let me repeat that I think that's right — unless these new troops are the same as the original 300, but with a different description of their duties.

(Yes, they are discussing that Ahmed Chalabi, a man who could almost be designed to drive the left, and many on the right, crazy.)
- 12:41 PM, 1 July 2014   [link]

The Hobby Lobby Case Was About Abortion, Not Birth Control:  Hobby Lobby pays for sixteen birth control methods, including all the most commonly used methods.

Hobby Lobby does not pay for "four contraceptive methods that its owners fear are abortifacients".

Those who describe the case as about birth control are lazy, misinformed, dishonest, or some combination of all three.

(Deroy Murdock say "fear" because there is some dispute about how those four methods work.  I haven't followed the subject closely enough to have an opinion on whether all of them are, in fact, abortifacients.  And the subject has become so politicized that I don't think I could learn the facts in any reasonable amount of time.)
- 7:49 AM, 1 July 2014   [link]