Archive:

July 2017, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Some People Don't Believe in genetics.

When that belief forces them to consider disagreeable possibilities.

As for me, I would not be surprised to learn, some time in the future, that geneticists had identified genes that make the Trump and Kennedy families less civilized than we would like.

(And genes that make, for instance, the Bush and Romney families more civilized than average.)

This is, granted, a very difficult scientific problem — but scientists have made some progress on it in recent years.  (If you are like me, you may find this fox example instructive.)
- 4:27 PM, 16 July 2017   [link]


A Triumph For Leftist Demonstrators, A Disaster For A University:  Almost everyone had lost within a year of that triumph.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the fall of 2015, a grassy quadrangle at the center of the University of Missouri became known nationwide as the command center of an escalating protest.

Students complaining of official inaction in the face of racial bigotry joined forces with a graduate student on a hunger strike.  Within weeks, with the aid of the football team, they had forced the university system president and the campus chancellor to resign.

It was a moment of triumph for the protesting students.  But it has been a disaster for the university.

Freshman enrollment at the Columbia campus, the system’s flagship, has fallen by more than 35 percent in the two years since.
It is likely that applications have fallen even more, that the university is now accepting students it would have rejected two years ago.

There were a few winners:  "Missouri also has appointed a chief diversity officer; promised to double the percentage of minority faculty members by 2020 and recruit more minority postdoctoral fellows; and is requiring diversity training for faculty and staff members and incoming students."

I hope you will not think me too cynical when I say that, for at least a few, those jobs were the point of the protests.

It is worth taking a few minutes to think about what lessons other university presidents are likely to draw from Missouri's experience.  I'm sorry to say this, but I think most of them will conclude that, if they face similar demonstrations, a quick, preemptive surrender is the best policy.

In the short term.

In the long term, even in the medium term, not so much.

(Anemona Hartocollis is a fine reporter; I linked to important articles she wrote on health costs here and here.)
- 3:58 PM, 16 July 2017   [link]


As We All Know, kids are often forgetful.
- 7:23 AM, 16 July 2017   [link]


Love Can Unite Two People From Warring Clans:   Here's a modern example.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has revealed she is in a relationship with an SNP parliamentarian.

The politician has been dating Mid Fife and Glenrothes MSP Jenny Gilruth for about four months after the pair first met on a cross-party politics trip to the USA last summer.

Ms Dugdale then split from her fiancée Louise Riddell in December following a nine-year relationship.
One can hope this doesn't end as tragically as "Romeo and Juliet".

(I hope our State Department, which often organizes these trips, has denied any involvement in both the break-up and the hook-up.)
- 4:39 PM, 15 July 2017   [link]


Now We Have A Boris To Go With Natasha:  (As I like to call Natalia Veselnitskaya.)

Sadly, his name doesn't resemble Boris.
The Russian-American lobbyist who attended a controversial June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. said he was there by chance, as a result of a last-minute invite, and that he strolled into Trump Tower without anybody asking for proof of who he was.

“No one asked us for IDs,” Rinat Akhmetshin told Yahoo News in a brief telephone interview Friday.  “We literally walked in” without any security check.
But he does have the right background.

(Some more serious thoughts from Jonah Goldberg, who reminds us that we should not take "the word of anyone in that meeting as proof of anything".  True enough.)
- 4:23 PM, 15 July 2017   [link]


This Joke Made Me Nervous:  The Jennifer Doudna* interview, "The Gene Editors Are Only Getting Started", in last weekend's Wall Street Journal, included this joke:
A few bioethicists have even argued that research on editing human embryos is a "moral imperative," since 6% of all babies have "serious birth defects."  As for the risk of "off target" edits, merely smoking cigarettes can cause mutations in a man's sperm.  One academic joked that if old-fashioned sex were up for regulatory review, the FDA would never sign off.
My immediate reaction was:  Don't give the FDA ideas!

(*Jennifer Doudna.

The interview is well worth reading, by the way.)
- 4:03 PM, 15 July 2017   [link]


Councilmember Larry Gossett May Want To Revise And Extend His Remarks:  The area around the King County courthouse in Seattle has problems.
Two King County Superior Court judges are asking for help cleaning up the courthouse at Third Avenue and James Street after they say two jurors and half a dozen employees have been assaulted.

The judges, Laura Inveen and Jim Rogers, acknowledged Tuesday that there are difficult underlying circumstances contributing to the unsanitary and potentially frightening atmosphere around the courthouse.
. . .
Inveen told the committee about two incidents, one in late May and one in June, in which jurors were attacked in separate incidents outside the courthouse’s Third Avenue entrance.  On other occasions, Inveen said, employees have been spat upon, slammed against a wall or punched.

Although cleaning and patrolling the area immediately surrounding the courthouse would not address some of the deep-seated issues faced by denizens of the space, it would send a signal that somebody was paying attention, she said.

She and Rogers asked the county to take immediate steps to clean up the courthouse with a daily power-wash of the surrounding sidewalks, which reek of urine and excrement.
Seattle and the rest of King County are booming now, so the failure to keep the area around the courthouse clean and safe is not caused by a lack of resources.

Rather, it is caused by the attitudes of some public officials, for example:
Some committee members expressed concern about addressing the symptoms of the area’s problems without getting to the cause.  Councilmember Larry Gossett said he didn’t like the idea of power-washing the sidewalks because it brought back images of the use of hoses against civil-rights activists

Another council member, Claudia Balducci, suggested that the county consider using social-service employees in partnership with police.
(Emphasis added.)

When I was called to jury duty at that courthouse years ago, I could already see some of the problems, most caused by homeless people with alcohol, drug, or mental problems, or some combination of the three.  There is what could be a very nice little urban park just south of the courthouse; according to the article it is nicknamed "Muscatel Meadows".

Even then, I didn't consider having lunch there.

(Gossett has a background in extremist politics — and a nice safe seat on the county council.

Sadly, I have to admit that Balducci represents my district, though I can proudly say I didn't vote for her.

Those unfamiliar with this area may need to know that, although the King County Council is officially nonpartisan, it has been controlled by Democrats for years.)
- 4:26 PM, 14 July 2017   [link]


Donald Trump Jr.'s Meeting With That Russian Lawyer may have been something he would do differently, "in retrospect", may have been amateurish, may even have been idiotic.

But it wasn't illegal, says law professor Eugene Volokh, tentatively.
That, at least, is my tentative thinking on the matter.  (I should note that, while I know a good deal about First Amendment law generally, I am less knowledgeable about the regulatory details of federal campaign statutes.)   I’ll be happy to revise my thinking as I hear more arguments, or as more facts emerge.
I think he is right, and I admire his honest tentativenss.

(I had tentatively come to the same conclusion about the meeting that Jonathan Turley did:
The most obvious question is why the Russians would call such a meeting but not actually produce any evidence or even substantive allegations.

One obvious explanation is that Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort fell for a classic bait-and-switch.  Veselnitskaya was representing people seeking to lift the adoption ban, and it was certainly amateur hour in Trump Tower.
I'd say lift the sancitons, not the adoption ban, but I agree that it looks like classic bait-and-switch.  That would explain why the meeting was so brief.)
- 11:04 AM, 14 July 2017   [link]


This Week's Collections Of Political Cartoons from Politico and RealClearPolitics.

My favorites:  In Politico, Michael Ramirez's Don, Jr. and Nate Beeler's birds; in RealClearPolitics, Steve Kelley's interviewer, Gary Varvel's X-ray, and Chip Bok's mayor.
- 10:09 AM, 14 July 2017   [link]


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Has Done Well, So Far:  The liberation of Mosul is his biggest triumph, but not his only one.  Since he became his nation's leader in August 2014, there has been steady progress against the "so-called Islamic State".  (As the BBC likes to call the terrorist organization.)

Ten days ago, the Wall Street Journal described how he had succeeded — so far — by "leading and balancing".
"Abadi has magnificently shifted between leading and balancing," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.  "If he led too much there'd be too many alienated people, and if he balanced too much, there would be no forward progress."
Leading, for instance, by installing competent generals, balancing by keeping support from Iran and the United States, Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites.  Which would impress even professional jugglers.

Oil output is up enough so that GDP increased 11 percent last year.

Toleration has increased too; some shops began selling smart phones and designer jeans in east Mosul, even while the fighting was continuing in west Mosul.

(Abadi has an advanced degree in electrical engineering and spent many years in exile in Britain.  Perhaps that education, and his experiences in Britain, made him the pragmatist he appears to be.)
- 2:43 PM, 13 July 2017   [link]


If You Know Anything About Large Public Schools, this combination won't surprise you.
Graduation rates are up in Los Angeles Unified.  But standards are down, writes Conor Williams.

The LA Unified board lowered graduation requirements, allowing 53 percent of the class of ’16 to graduate with D’s in core courses, according to LA School Report.
As the post goes on to say, you can find the same combination in other urban schools.

Do the students know that lowering the standards cheats them?  Some must.
- 10:31 AM, 13 July 2017   [link]


Why Did President Macron Invite President Trump To Visit For Bastille Day?  Donald Trump isn't the guest of honor most French would prefer.  The two have no substantive business to discuss.   Paris doesn't need a Trump hotel or golf course.

And there is always the chance that Trump will misbehave.

I don't know what Emmanuel Macron is thinking, but I fear it is something like this:  It is amusing and easy to defeat Donald Trump, so I will bring him over for entertainment on this holiday.

And Macron is smart enough to think he can use Trump for entertainment — without Trump catching on.

The sad fact is that a great many foreign observers have come to the conclusion that Trump is an easily-maneuvered fool.

The visit probably won't do much damage to Franco-American relations.
- 9:46 AM, 13 July 2017   [link]


We Don't See What Happened Earlier, but that is probably good advice.
- 9:04 AM, 13 July 2017   [link]


Worth Reading:  Jason Riley's op-ed, "Still Living With the ‘Riot Effect,’ 50 Years Later".

Here's his conclusion:
Inner-city residents have legitimate grievances today—the quality of public schools, for example—just as they did when Newark exploded a half-century ago.  But arson and looting in the guise of protest is a form of self-sabotage that consigns yet another generation of blacks to society’s margins.
Incidentally, in some of the cities that had "race" riots, a significant number of whites joined in the looting.
- 2:50 PM, 12 July 2017   [link]


If, Like Me, You Are A Fan Of a certain old TV show, you'll feel that that Russian lawyer really ought to be named Natasha, not Natalia.

(Yes, I know, this is potentially serious — but so far we have seen farce, rather than tragedy.)
- 2:33 PM, 12 July 2017   [link]


It Isn't One Of Trump's Best Jokes:  But it is still pretty good.
Amid swirling revelations surrounding his eldest son's meeting with a Russian lawyer and cascading reports of infighting in the White House, President Donald Trump pushed back on Twitter on Wednesday morning.

"The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things," Trump wrote, adding, "I have very little time for watching T.V."
This from a man recently described as a TV addict.
- 10:29 AM, 12 July 2017   [link]


Jonah Goldberg Has A Sensible Suggestion:  Why not wait for the evidence before we make up our minds about the Russia investigation?
And I think that’s the real reason I don’t write about the story much: I just don’t know.  There’s an investigation going on.  It will produce its findings.  Until then, my attitude is purely wait-and-see.

But here’s the thing:  I wouldn’t be surprised by almost any finding by Robert Mueller.  If he found no truly damning evidence of collusion, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.  Nor would I be shocked if he found evidence of collusion.  Sure, if he unearthed a videotape of Trump and Putin plotting their strategy over shvitz, I’d find that shocking.  But you know what I mean.
Goldberg ends by naming the man who has done the most to keep this story on the front pages: Donald Trump.
What I just don’t understand is how conservatives can mock, scoff at, and ridicule the idea there might be some legs to this story when Donald Trump does everything he can to make it look like there might be a there there.  He fired the FBI director.  He told the Russian ambassador he did it to thwart the Russia investigation.  He told Lester Holt the same thing.  Donald Trump is clearly obsessed with the Russia story and with forging a bromance with Vladimir Putin.  Both his son and his son-in-law have ties to Russia and keep having to revise their denials, making anyone who believed them in the first place look foolish.
And who can forget Trump openly calling for Russian help in revealing Clinton's emails, during campaign speeches?  (I believe the Trump people now say he was joking, but at the time I thought he was semi-serious.)
- 8:54 AM, 11 July 2017   [link]


It Isn't Surprising That Networks Try This Trick:  What surprised me is that it works.
Boosting TV ratings is easy for networks that don’t mind playing dumb.

In a game largely sanctioned by TV-ratings firm Nielsen, television networks try to hide their shows' poor performance on any given night by forgetting how to spell.

That explains the appearance of "NBC Nitely News," . . .
And other, similar oddities.

(I haven't read the rest of the article, so I don't know why Nielsen tolerates this, or how much money is involved.  I am reasonably sure that advertisers have known about this trick since it began, and adjust for it.)
- 7:43 AM, 11 July 2017   [link]


Worth Reading:  Keith Hennessey's post on "QTIIPS".
Both President Obama’s 2016 signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change and President Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement today fit into a category I will label as QTIIPS.

QTIIPS stands for Quantitatively Trivial Impact + Intense Political Symbolism.

QTIIPS policy changes provoke fierce political battles over trivially small policy impacts.  Passionate advocates on both sides ignore numbers and policy details while fighting endlessly about symbols.
It's a fine discussion.

Note that QTIIPS are unlikely to trap you if you are willing to think with numbers.
- 3:33 PM, 10 July 2017   [link]


Congratulations To The Iraqi Armed Forces for this victory.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has arrived in Mosul to declare victory over ISIS in the city, his office said.

Small pockets of fighting were still ongoing near the Tigris river, but the militants are expected to be defeated, a spokesman told NBC News.
Even though the victory is not quite complete.

I suspect that Abadi made this announcement a little early in hopes of saving some of the civilians who are still held hostage by ISIS.

There are more Iraqi cities yet to be liberated, but none of them is likely to pose nearly as difficult a military problem as Mosul did.
- 10:40 AM, 10 July 2017   [link]


Are You Stuck On A Difficult Problem?  This suggestion might help.
- 9:41 AM, 10 July 2017   [link]


Neither, Trump, Putin, Or Both:  Who was telling the truth about the Donald Trump/Vladimir Putin meeting?

As I am sure you know, the Russian and American sides came out of the meeting with different accounts; Putin says that Trump accepted his claim that Russia had not interfered with our 2016 presidential election, while Trump denies that.

There are, as I see it, just four possibilities:  First, neither may be telling the truth.  What was said between them may have been ambiguous, and each has chosen to invent a version that will look good to the citizens of his nation.

Second, Trump may be telling the truth and Putin lying for his public, knowing that Trump wants a better relationship so much that Trump will not call Putin a liar.

Third, Putin may be telling the truth.  This would not be the first time that the Donald told a fib to make himself look better.  Putin would have no reason to call Trump a liar, since Putin almost certainly believes — with some reason — that he can manipulate Trump in future deals.

Fourth, both men may be telling the truth, as they know it.  The men were speaking through translators, and translators have been known to make mistakes, or even deliberately shade meanings.  And there is the possibility that each man heard what he wanted to hear.

(I don't know enough to put personal probability estimates on the four possibilities, but I have ordered them from most to least likely.

I assume that each side has a recording of the talks.  It is, I think, significant that neither side has even hinted at a possible release of their recording, or called for the two sides to agree on a transcript.)
- 4:58 PM, 9 July 2017   [link]


This Is A Story That Lyndon Johnson Would Have Liked*

During the Great Depression, a young teacher, Jones by name, desperate for work, was interviewing for a teaching job in West Texas ranch country.

As you would expect, the school board interviewing him consisted of ranchers.   As you probably know, ranchers tend to be a stoical lot, not prone to showing their feelings on their faces, so as the interview went on, Jones had no idea how well he was doing.

Finally, one rancher, who had little to say earlier, asked Jones this question:  "Mr. Jones, do you teach that the earth is round or flat?"

Jones, thinking quickly, replied:  "Sir, I'm a professional.  I can teach it either way."

(*And may have told.  At the moment, I can't recall just where I got it.)
- 1:10 PM, 9 July 2017   [link]