March 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Worth Reading:  In fact, worth studying.  This New York Times article on stolen Iraqi oil.  Some samples:
The sea of oil under Iraq is supposed to rebuild the nation, then make it prosper.  But at least one-third, and possibly much more, of the fuel from Iraq's largest refinery here is diverted to the black market, according to American military officials.  Tankers are hijacked, drivers are bribed, papers are forged and meters are manipulated — and some of the earnings go to insurgents who are still killing more than 100 Iraqis a week.

"It's the money pit of the insurgency," said Capt. Joe Da Silva, who commands several platoons stationed at the refinery.
. . .
In fact, money, far more than jihadist ideology, is a crucial motivation for a majority of Sunni insurgents, according to American officers in some Sunni provinces and other military officials in Iraq who have reviewed detainee surveys and other intelligence on the insurgency.
Of course, that would not be true for the leaders who are handing out the money.  Or for the Saudis who supply much of the money for the terrorists.

So the article is worth studying, but you should do so skeptically.  I am sure the article is broadly correct about the money pit, but not sure that it is right about the lack of organization among the terrorists.

(Long time readers may recall that I have been saying, for some time, that we need forensic accountants to help fight the war on terror.   This New York Times article illustrates that point — vividly, I would say.)
- 12:54 PM, 16 March 2008   [link]

Fixer Tony Rezko And Reverend Jeremiah Wright:  Both were important to Barack Obama's career in Chicago; both, presumably, say something about this strange man.  But what?

Yesterday, since he was already under fire, Obama released more information about his relationship with Rezko.
Trying to put his past with Antoin "Tony" Rezko behind him, presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday said he never thought the now indicted Chicago businessman would try to take advantage of him because his old friend had never asked for a political favor.

But in a 90-minute interview with Tribune reporters and editors, Obama disclosed that Rezko had raised more for Obama's earlier political campaigns than previously known, gathering as much as $250,000 for the first three offices he sought.

Obama also elaborated on previous statements about his private real estate transactions with Rezko, saying they were not simply mistakes of judgment because Rezko was under grand jury investigation at the time of their 2005 and 2006 dealings.  "The mistake, by the way, was not just engaging in a transaction with Tony because he was having legal problems.  The mistake was because he was a contributor and somebody who was involved in politics."
(Note that admission of "mistakes in judgment".  I'll come back to it later.)

Is Obama's story believable?  Are we to believe that a rising Chicago politician thought that a big contributor would not want political favors in return?  That is about as believable as his claim that he never heard his minister, Jeremiah Wright, say anything nasty from the pulpit.   (Those who want to believe that claim should read this Rich Lowry post.  Lowry found a passage in Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, where Obama says that it was Wright's angry rhetoric that attracted him to Wright and to Trinity United.)

Now, let's step back a bit and look at this from a slightly different angle.  On Sundays, Barack Obama would go to church and listen to Reverend Wright preach about how rich whites were bringing misery to poor blacks.  On the next Saturday, he might have brunch with Tony Rezko, who is white (and was thought to be rich).  To make the brunch more pleasant, Rezko might bring another campaign contribution.  In between, did Barack and Michelle ever invite both men over to dinner, ever sit down at the same table with the fixer and the minister?  It is hard to imagine that they did, hard to imagine what Rezko and Wright would have to say to each other over a dish flavored with arugula.

Which is the real Obama?  Rezko's friend?  Or Wright's follower?  Or neither?  Were both relationships simply acts for the sake of Obama's political gain?  That explanation seems the most plausible to me, since it doesn't require Obama to have entirely different sets of beliefs at the Saturday brunch and the Sunday sermon.

Now then let's go back to that admission of "mistakes in judgment".  Barack Obama is claiming, among other things, that he has better judgment than his opponents.  But if we are to believe the Tribune reporters, Obama admits that he showed terrible judgment in his relationships with Rezko.   And he showed terrible judgment in continuing to belong to Trinity United.  Though the church's doctrines might be a plus for a candidate with a mostly black constituency, they are an immense minus for a candidate who is trying to appeal to whites, Hispanics, and Asians.

So we may want to be just a little skeptical about Obama's claim to have better judgment than other politicians.
- 2:41 PM, 15 March 2008
More:  The Chicago Tribune's John Kass reacts to that Rezko interview.  Here's his final paragraph:
I disagree with his policies, but I like the man.  And I almost liked his answers.  Almost.
Like Kass, I am too old to believe in fairy tales — and too old to believe everything Obama says.  About his relationships with Rezko and Wright, and many other things.
- 7:56 AM, 16 March 2007   [link]

"Where All The Children Are Above Average":  Not just in Lake Woebegone, but in Seattle, too.

In a move toward more rigorous academics in Seattle high schools, Roosevelt High School will require all sophomores to take an Advanced Placement course next year.

"The idea is to really embrace the idea that all children can achieve to a higher standard," Roosevelt Principal Brian Vance told School Board members Wednesday.  "It's a little bit of a risk, but I think it's also an opportunity to move forward."

Advanced Placement courses are growing more common in Seattle high schools, and both Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno and Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson want all students — eventually — to be required to take at least one.

Let me see, how can I put this gently?  How about this:  Garrison Keillor is joking when he uses that line.  But I fear that Vance, Santorno, and Goodloe-Johnson are not.

Let me give the three administrators this clue.  The average IQ is 100.  (The average is probably a point or two higher in high schools, since some of the slowest students have already dropped out.)  Because of the way IQ tests are constructed, half of the people have IQs lower than 100.  With a few exceptions, that half* will not get much out of an Advanced Placement class — but they may handicap the other half.

Some think it is cruel to even mention these well-known facts.  I think it is far crueler to put students in classes where they have no chance to succeed, as cruel as asking an average playground pick-up team to compete against the Seattle Sonics.

By way of Joanne Jacobs.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*More realistically, probably no more than a fourth of the students should take these classes.  I picked half for my argument so as to make it as clear as possible.)
- 7:40 AM, 15 March 2008   [link]

My Apologies For Being Slow To Reply To Email:  I was a little under the weather — nothing serious — on Wednesday and Thursday, and set the email aside.

Should catch up some time this weekend.  (Or early next week, if I can ski on Sunday.)
- 4:06 PM, 14 March 2008   [link]

Past Climate Shifts:  Last night, while reading Michael Benton's When Life Nearly Died, I was reminded of just how large, and how fast, natural climate shifts could be.
What if numerous gas hydrate bodies, all around the world, were to have been released at the same time?   Evidence has now been found for such a mass gas escape, a so-called methane burp, 55 million years ago, at the end of the Palaeocene.  At that time, there was a pulse of global warming, by 5 to 7°C over approximately 10,000 years, as shown by oxygen isotopes and the record of fossil plants. (p. 273)
That isn't the only time that the earth's climate has changed rapidly.  It is such events that make me think that we should develop the ability to control earth's climate, to cool it, or to warm it, if necessary.

(Here's more on that temperature spike, which the authors call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (among other things).  And, should you need a review on the Paleocene, you can find one here.

As I understand it, most of those who have studied the ice ages believe that they begin quickly.  That implies that earth has had sharp changes to colder climates, as well as to warmer climates.)
- 2:55 PM, 14 March 2008   [link]

Same Numbers, Different Emphasis:  First, the Associated Press.
While it was warmer than normal, the just completed winter was the coolest since 2000-2001, which climate experts attributed to the presence of moderate-to-strong La Nina, or cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, which can affect conditions around the world.

For the USA, this winter's average temperature was 33.2 degrees, 0.2 degrees above the 20th century average.
And now Anthony Watts.
Verifying what we've already known from news reports and global metrics (it was a cooler than expected winter nationwide and worldwide) NOAA just issued a press release saying that we had the 54th coolest Winter since records began in 1895.
Both are correct (as far as I know).  But the emphasis in the story and the post are entirely different.

The science writer for the Associated Press, Randolph Schmid, shows less curiosity than he ought about this fact:  The earth, which had been warming, stopped warming in 2002.  There are, I am sure, explanations for this that do not require giving up the climate models that predict man-caused global warming.  But at some point, if we continue to have an almost constant world climate, those climate models will have to be modified, or even abandoned.   I don't think we have reached that point yet, but I do think the roughly stable temperatures since 2002 should be at least slightly embarrassing to those who have constructed these models.

(As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.

What kind of winter did NOAA predict last fall?   Warmer and drier than average.)
- 12:56 PM, 14 March 2008   [link]

Pi Day:  Or, perhaps I should say, π Day.  Or, to be more exact, one of the π Days.  (My favorite is December 20, because 355/113 is such a good approximation to π.)
- 12:12 PM, 14 March 2008   [link]

Even Worse Than I Thought:  Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Sen. Barack Obama's pastor says blacks should not sing "God Bless America" but "God damn America."

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is "inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism."
And there is much more along those lines.

Remember, Obama chose this pastor, got married in his church, and has followed him for twenty years.  So he can't claim not to be familiar with Wright's preaching.  (Obama is being deceitful when he describes this kind of preaching as "social gospel".  The junior senator from Illinois is too smart not to know how false that description is.)

Sistah Toldjah has this question for Barack Obama: "What part of the gospel promotes racism?"  And a good question it is.

(More here, here, here, and many other places.

Meanwhile, for comic relief, there are these two posts, the first speculating about the politics of these revelations, as if they didn't tell us something important about Obama, and the second saying (in vulgar language) that it doesn't matter what Obama's pastor has been saying for decades.)
- 1:07 PM, 13 March 2008   [link]

Polygamy In The Seattle Area:  This morning, I was listening to local talk show host (and former Democratic congressional candidate) Dave Ross discuss the Spitzer scandal.  Since Ross is a partisan Democrat, he was not happy with the subject.  Perhaps for that reason, rather than discuss the Democratic governor's terrible behavior, he asked women who had had cheating husbands to call in, to give their insights.

One of the very first callers was a woman named "Sue".  She said that she was a Muslim, and that she knew a number of Muslim families, presumably in this area, that had solved the problem of unfaithful men through polygamy.  If a man wasn't entirely satisfied with his current wife, he could add one or two more until he was happy.  (She did not explain why adding wives made the women happy.)   Sometimes, she explained, these happy families all lived together, and sometimes they set up separate households.  She didn't say how many of these illegal families she knew, nor did Ross ask about that.  (Though, to give him credit, he did note that polygamy was illegal.)  This does not surprise me, and it should not surprise anyone who is familiar with the way foreigners bring their customs with them when they come to this country.

The call made me wonder how common polygamy is, in this area, and in the United States as a whole.   Years ago, I had a neighbor who was the long time mistress of a married businessman.  (The wife knew about the relationship.)  He supported both women, and his children by both women.  I considered the relationship polygamy, though I never told my neighbor that.  But that's the only case I have known personally.

From that you may have realized that I would use "polygamy" to describe relationships even when there are no legal ties.  Another example may make that point clearer.  When last I noticed, Hugh Hefner was traveling around with seven (eight?) young women, all of whom seemed to be his mistresses.  I would consider that relationship polygamy, though I know that not everyone would agree with me.

Is my experience typical?  Or would I see more polygamy if I lived in the right neighborhoods?

(Would legalizing polygamy actually solve the problem of male infidelity?  No.   And I think almost every man understands why it wouldn't.

I should add that many Muslim nations do not allow polygamy, and there has been some tendency to outlaw it over the years in Muslim nations.

Could the call have been fake?  Sure.  The woman did have a bit of an accent, though not one I could identify.  Other than that, I have no evidence that she was telling the truth.  But it is also true that what she said is not a novel idea among Muslims, especially those who come from nations where polygamy is legal.

For the curious:  I didn't listen to much more of the program, since I find it painful to listen to these confessions.  I am old enough so that I am no longer surprised to learn that men (and sometimes women) often behave badly.  And the details interest me less than they once did.)
- 1:07 PM, 12 March 2008   [link]

Here's A Simple Thought Experiment:  Suppose that Barack Obama was not considered* black.  Would he have won yesterday's Mississippi primary?  (If you are not sure, take a look at the pattern of votes in the exit polls.)

Of course not.  And it is true that many of his other victories would not have happened were he not considered to be black.  But to say that is to commit, as Mickey Kaus says, a "Kinsley Gaffe".  (Which, as you probably recall, is what happens when a politician tells an inconvenient truth.)  And anyone who does say this inconvenient truth will be accused, more or less automatically, of racism.   For example.

(*I am using that odd way of describing his race because I think that we can understand Obama better if we do not think of him as black — even though almost everyone else now does.  That was what I was hinting at in my December post, when I suggested that we call him Barack "Arugula" Obama.  Genetically, of course, he is of mixed race.)
- 9:26 AM, 12 March 2008   [link]

Governor Spitzer Isn't A Good Listener:  So says an anonymous supporter.
"He's got such a fabulous mind," said a strategist who had worked closely with the governor on past campaigns and spoke on the condition of anonymity.  "But he's not a listener.  His dramatic flaw is that he only wants to talk about his ideas."
In fact, he sounds like a terrible listener.  Which helps to explain why he has been such a disaster as a governor, even before yesterday's announcement.

(You may recall that, last month, I suggested that we needed to know how good presidential candidates are at listening, among other things.  The same would be true for gubernatorial candidates.)
- 2:16 PM, 11 March 2008   [link]

The "Hockey Stick" Debate:  If you have followed the debate over man-caused climate change at all, you will probably have heard about the "hockey stick", a graph supposedly showing a sharp, unprecedented rise in temperature during the late 20th century.  (It is called a hockey stick, because that's what it looks like, a long flat section, with a sharp increase at the end.)  Ross McKitrick, one of the two people responsible for discrediting the hockey stick has written a relatively readable account of the flaws in the hockey stick, and how he and Steve McIntyre discovered them.

Relatively is the key word.  You will not understand the whole paper unless you understand, among other things, principal components analysis (I don't, though I have a vague idea of what he is talking about), but I think that even those whose science education stopped in high school can get something from the paper.

By way of Climate Audit.

(There's brief description of principal components analysis here.

Here's my discussion of another, more general McKitrick paper.

As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 8:03 AM, 11 March 2008   [link]

Spitzer News?  Here's the original New York Times story, and two link-filled posts from Michelle Malkin and Allahpundit.  If the accounts are correct, Spitzer was caught breaking federal laws, not just disappointing his family.  If so, he will resign, and soon.  Unless he is even more arrogant than I suspected.

(I know why they do it, but I wish that these guys wouldn't drag their wives out with them for these announcements.)
- 4:15 PM, 10 March 2008
Update:  No resignation so far.  Spitzer may be hoping he can tough it out, or negotiating for the best deal with the Justice Department.  Or both.

If you wonder why so many celebrated his disclosure yesterday, you can read this gentle piece from the New York Times, or this sharper editorial from the Wall Street Journal.  Though they differ in tone, they agree on the essentials; Spitzer is a nasty man, who has often used the powers of his offices to abuse those he saw as enemies.

(I mentioned his wife yesterday.  Today, I would like to say just how sorry I am for his three daughters Elyssa (18), Sarabeth (15), and Jenna (13).  They are all old enough to be humiliated by their father's behavior, but not old enough to defend themselves effectively.)
- 6:58 AM, 11 March 2008
More:  When the New York Times reporter wrote this paragraph in January, I'm sure she meant it innocently.
Mr. Spitzer, who sleeps in the mansion only on occasion, seemed happy to play the part of gracious host, listening to the tidbits of counsel with an amused grin.  "People like to give advice," he said.  "Mostly they say, keep up what you're doing and keep going."
But it is strange to read those sentences today.
- 1:50 PM, 11 March 2008
The End:  Of his public career, for some time anyway.   Be interesting to know just what bargain he made with the prosecutors.  (And it will be fun to see the wild theories from the nutroots about how the Bush administration forced Spitzer to resign.)
- 8:56 AM, 12 March 2008   [link]

Expect Change:  That's Michael Barone's advice for those wondering what to expect in this November's election.
It's time to throw out that old map with the red states and blue states.  The map that implies that all but a handful of states will definitely vote Republican or Democratic and that the real contest will be decided in Florida or Ohio or whatever.

For a time, the map served its purpose.  Only three states changed parties between the 2000 and the 2004 presidential elections, and the average change in percentage margin in those states was only 1.5 percent.  But such hugely static political patterns are the exception rather than the rule in our history.

The last two presidential elections whose results so closely resembled each other were 1952 and 1956, when the two parties nominated the same candidates and only four states' results were different.
For instance, it is entirely possible that John McCain will carry Washington state, judging by this recent poll.  And I think we will see more such surprises as the year goes on.

George W. Bush came to be seen, in much of the country, as devout and southern.  Fairly or not, those are negative qualities for many voters, especially voters in the Northeast and on the Pacific coast.   (The devout part helps him in the Midwest, but the southern part hurts him there.)  John McCain is not seen as particularly devout, nor is he seen as at all southern.  That will help him, and the Republican party, in many parts of the country.  And it may hurt him in a few places, such as West Virginia.

(Career military men have, I think, a small advantage in American politics, just because they are not identified with a particular region.  (For what it is worth, I had no idea where John McCain had gone to grade school and high school, until I wrote this post, got curious, and checked.)  A man without a region has an advantage because there are are people in each region that dislike the other regions.)
- 2:16 PM, 10 March 2008   [link]

Gerald Ford, Barack Obama, And Shaquille O'Neal:  Those are not, I think you will admit, three names you often see grouped together.  But they share something significant, something that, I believe, tells us about the character of all three.

First, Gerald Ford.
His father, Leslie Lynch King, Sr., a wool trader who was the son of a prominent banker, and his mother, the former Dorothy Ayer Gardner, separated just sixteen days after his birth.  His mother took him to the Oak Park, Illinois home of her sister Tannisse and her husband, Clarence Haskins James.  From there she moved to the home of her parents, Levi Addison Gardner and his wife, the former Adele Augusta Ayer, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Ford's parents divorced the following December with his mother gaining full custody.

Gerald Ford later said his biological father was abusive and had a history of hitting his mother.[1]
. . .
Ford was not aware of his biological parentage until he was 17, when his parents told him about the circumstances of his birth.  That same year his biological father, whom he described as a "carefree, well-to-do man", approached Ford while he was waiting tables in a Grand Rapids restaurant.  The two "maintained a sporadic contact" until Leslie King, Sr.'s death,[1][5] but Ford maintained his distance emotionally, saying, "My stepfather was a magnificent person and my mother equally wonderful.  So I couldn't have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing."
Second, Barack Obama.
Obama was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr.  (born in Nyangoma-Kogelo, Bondo District, Nyanza Province, Kenya,[8] of Luo ethnicity) and Ann Dunham (born in Wichita, Kansas).[9]  Throughout his early years, he was commonly known at home and school as "Barry".[10]  Obama's parents met while both were attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father was enrolled as a foreign student.[11]  They separated when he was two years old and later divorced.[12]
. . .
His knowledge about his African father, who returned once for a brief visit in 1971, came mainly through family stories and photographs.[13]
Wikipedia is being kind; in fact, Barack's father abandoned him and his mother, and, as you can see, made little effort to stay in touch with Barack.

Third, Shaquille O'Neal.
O'Neal was born in Newark, New Jersey. He remains estranged from his biological father, James Toney of Newark.  Toney has struggled with drug addiction and was imprisoned when O'Neal was an infant.   Upon his release, Toney did not resume a place in O'Neal's life and instead agreed to surrender his parental rights to O'Neal's stepfather, Phillip A. Harrison, an army sergeant.[16]  O'Neal and Toney have never spoken, and O'Neal has expressed no interest in a reconciliation.[17]  On his 1994 rap album, Shaq Fu: The Return, O'Neal voiced his feelings of disdain for Toney in the song "Biological Didn't Bother," referring to Harrison with the verse, "Phil is my father."
Ford, Obama, and O'Neal all had fathers who failed them.  Ford and O'Neal reacted as most men would; they did not identify with their biological fathers.  In contrast, Obama has spent years trying to identify with the wastrel father who abandoned him, even writing a book, Dreams from My Father.

Obama's identification with his father is strange, so strange that it requires an explanation.  And I am working on one, as I dig into his background, and write this series of posts.

(All three men have some claim to be athletes.  O'Neal is obviously the best, by far.  Ford, who played football in college and was skiing into his social security years, was probably a better athlete than Obama.)
- 9:55 AM, 10 March 2008   [link]

BMW Is Expanding Production:  In Germany?  No, in the United States.
On one side of the Atlantic Ocean, BMW says it will cut 7.5 percent of its work force over two years.   On this side of the water, the company says it plans to increase production by more than 50 percent by 2012.
. . .
By building the cars in the U.S., BMW can save money on the lower dollar and on wages since its South Carolina workers make less than German workers, [analyst Greg] Gardner said.

The declining dollar also means BMW and other foreign automakers likely will start buying locally for more of the parts used by their U.S. plants, he said.
This is just the latest example of the remarkable expansion of auto manufacturing in the United States over the last two decades by obscure companies such as BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, and Toyota.   For some reason, perhaps because these companies are so obscure, the expansion has drawn very little attention.  I am not sure, for example, whether polemicist Pat Buchanan, and others who believe that Americans don't make things anymore, have heard about it.

(I've written about this expansion earlier, here, here, here, and here.)
- 6:38 AM, 10 March 2008   [link]

Worth A Look:  The graphic accompanying this op-ed on the progress in Iraq.  There are fifteen indicators in the graphic; thirteen of them, Iraqi civilian deaths, US troop deaths, size of the Iraqi security forces, Iraqi security force fatalities, daily attacks, joint security stations in Baghdad, Sunni volunteers, displaced civilians, multiple fatality bombings, oil production, household fuel supply, money going to provinces, and political progress, show improvement since February, 2007.  One of the fifteen, US troop levels, has had a moderate increase, from 135,000 to 157,000, which I assume the authors think is a negative trend.  (Though it isn't obvious to me that it actually is.  In past wars, the number of troops in contact with the enemy was generally thought to be positive indicator, at least in the early and middle stages of the war.)  One indicator, Iraq's rank for corruption, shows a clear turn for the worse.  (Although it is hard to know just how accurate those rankings from Transparency International are.)

The op-ed is brief, but has two bits worth quoting:
Iraq's security turnaround has continued through the winter.  The question for 2008 is whether Iraqi security forces can preserve and build on this improvement as they increasingly bear more of the responsibility as the number of American troops declines (and as refugees and internally displaced Iraqis try to return to their homes).
. . .
It is far too soon to predict that Iraq is headed for stability or sectarian reconciliation.  But it is also clear that those who assert that its politics are totally broken have not kept up with the news.
I suppose that I should add that the Brookings Institution, which is where this op-ed came from, is not filled with cheerleaders for the Bush administration.
- 5:44 PM, 9 March 2008   [link]