March 2008, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Global Warming On Mt. Rainier:  Last Saturday, I drove down to Mt. Rainier to look at the effects of global warming on the snow pack (and, incidentally, to do a little cross country skiing).  Global warming theorists generally agree that one effect will be less snow on Rainier and, eventually, shrinking glaciers.

This black-and-white picture of the Jackson Visitor Center shows you how much snow Rainier could get, before global warming set in.

Jackson Center on Mt. Rainier, March 2008

(I'm not sure just when it was taken, perhaps in the late 1940s, or the 1950s.  Those who know car models better than I do may be able to help with the date.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(How was the cross country skiing?  Pretty good, though I am so out of condition that I did not ski as far as I usually do.  Incidentally, I have decided that I like the NIS bindings that I bought last November.  They didn't feel quite right to me on the first outing so I moved them back one notch before I went out on Saturday, and that solved the problem.  You can adjust NIS bindings in just a few seconds during a ski trip, if snow conditions make that advisable.

Conditions for sledding were excellent, though there were fewer kids at Rainier than I would expect on a sunny Saturday.

If you live in this area, you may want to time your trips with the "nowcast" that you can get from the Paradise webcam.  If you want a forecast, remember that the address there is "Paradise Inn", not just "Paradise".  And don't forget to carry chains in your car during winter months.

As always when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 1:34 PM, 24 March 2008   [link]

Worth A Look:  Michael Ramirez's cartoon on Barack Obama's big speech, and the reaction from the public.

(You can find more Ramirez cartoons here.)
- 12:53 PM, 24 March 2008   [link]

Did You Go To Church Yesterday?  Then your visit may not have been as holy as you thought it was, at least if you believe in the black liberation theology of James Cone.
[Jeremiah] Wright has said that a basis for Trinity's philosophies is the work of James Cone, who founded the modern black liberation theology movement out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.   Particularly influential was Cone's seminal 1969 book, "Black Theology & Black Power."

Cone wrote that the United States was a white racist nation and the white church was the Antichrist for having supported slavery and segregation.

Today, Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, stands by that view, but also makes clear that he doesn't believe that whites individually are the Antichrist.

In an interview, Cone said that when he was asked which church most embodied his message, "I would point to that church (Trinity) first." Cone also said he thought that Wright's successor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, would continue the tradition.
It has been a while since I have studied Revelations, but I must say that I don't see the same resemblance that Professor Cone does.  And I am slightly relieved to learn that he does not consider me, personally, to be the Antichrist.

Barack Obama has said that his church is an ordinary black church.  Considering James Cone's theological doctrines, I would say that the junior senator from Illinois is insulting the vast majority of black churches, when he makes that claim.

(You can read an excerpt from that 1969 Cone book here.)
- 9:11 AM, 24 March 2008   [link]

Everyone In The US Is Living Longer:  As the three graphs, which I have taken from this New York Times article, show, everyone in the United States has greater life expectancies than they did in 1980, or even 1989.

US life expectancies, NYT graph, 2008

The graph in the middle shows that the life expectancy of poor men has increased from about 68 to about 72.  The graph on the right shows that the life expectancy for well-off women has increased from about 78 to about 82.  And the four groups in between these two have all increased their life expectancies.

This is good news, right?  Good news for everyone, right?  Not to the New York Times.   These universal increases in life expectancy are bad news — in their view —because the gaps in life expectancy between the well off and the poor have increased slightly.
In 1980-82, Dr. [Gopal K.] Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years).  By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said.
Singh and his coauthor, Mohammad Siahpush, are not sure what caused these gaps to grow, but they are sure that the government should do something about them.  But what is not entirely clear.  Robert Pear, who wrote the article, admits that many experts think that different levels of smoking explain much of the increases in the gaps.  Bluntly, rich people have given up smoking, while poor people have not.  It is hard to know exactly what more the government can do about that.  Cigarettes are already very heavily taxed, and you can't watch television without seeing public service messages against smoking.  We could ban tobacco, which would almost certainly decrease its use, but would add an enormous burden on our law enforcement agencies.

But Pear, and the experts he quotes, are ignoring something obvious, something so obvious you can see it in those simple graphs.  Women have greater life expectancies than men, and the gap between poor men and well-off men is much greater than the gap between poor women and well-off women.  If the gap was caused by the poor getting less medical care, we would expect the gaps to be about the same for men and women.  But they aren't, which leads me to think that the main reason for the increasing gaps is different behavior by the the poor and the well-off.  Not the only reason, but the main reason.

(Ordinarily, I do not show wire service photos or newspaper graphs on this site, out of respect for copyrights.  I made an exception in this case because I am criticizing the graph, and the article that it illustrates.  That's why I removed the New York Times headline on the graph, so you could look at the data without the editorial comment.  I believe that this is fair use, but I am no lawyer.)
- 8:16 AM, 24 March 2008
More:  As James Taranto reminds us, there are some fictional solutions to this problem of gaps.  The movie, Logan's Run, gives a drastic solution to the problem, and you can find a somewhat milder solution in Isaac Asimov's science fiction novel, Pebble in the Sky.
- 3:20 PM, 24 March 2008   [link]

Happy Easter!  To all those who celebrate it today.

Easter flowers, 2008

More from Michelle Malkin here.
- 7:54 AM, 23 March 2008   [link]

Limbs And Fingers, Salamanders And John Doe:  Sometimes I read two things on the same day that turn out to have a strange connection.  This morning, I was reading this Scientific American article about regeneration.  The authors began with this well-known fact about salamanders:
A salamander's limbs are smaller and a bit slimier than those of most people, but otherwise they are not that different from their human counterparts.  The salamander limb is encased in skin, and inside it is composed of a bony skeleton, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood vessels.  A loose arrangement of cells called fibroblasts holds all these internal tissues together and gives the limb its shape.

Yet a salamander's limb is unique in the world of vertebrates in that it can regrow from a stump after an amputation.  An adult salamander can regenerate a lost arm or leg this way over and over again, regardless of how many times the part is amputated.
And later told me something I hadn't known about human fingers:
One of the most encouraging signs that human limb regeneration is a feasible goal is the fact that our fingertips already have an intrinsic ability to regenerate.  This observation was made first in young children more than 30 years ago, but since then similar findings have been reported in teenagers and even adults.  Fostering regeneration in a fingertip amputation injury is apparently as simple as cleaning the wound and covering it with a simple dressing.  If allowed to heal naturally, the fingertip restores its contour, fingerprint and sensation and undergoes a varying degree of lengthening.
Shortly after I had read that article, I heard about "John Doe" on a radio news program.
The man in custody has used at least 32 identities since the 1980s, making it difficult for the FBI and prosecutors to determine his real name.  In the early 1990s, he apparently once tried to burn his fingerprints off, which could make identifying him even harder.  During a court appearance Thursday, he gave no clue to his real name.
Which made me realize that we have a way of restoring his fingerprints.  Not a very quick way, granted, and almost certainly not a constitutional way, but a way nonetheless.

(To be more serious, it would be wonderful if these researchers are successful in learning how to make humans do what salamanders already can.  I would like to see us put a little more effort into this kind of basic research, which might lead to solutions to some medical problems that are far better than those we now have.)
- 1:33 PM, 21 March 2008
Update:  The man's name is Scott Andrew Shain.   His parents identified him from a photo on the FBI web site.  And I may well have seen him from time to time, since he had a job in my little Seattle suburb, Kirkland.
- 10:07 AM, 25 March 2008   [link]

Charles Krauthammer:  Has looked at Barack' Obama's Philadelphia speech, and thinks it clever, but doesn't care for the message.  Here are the last two sentences of Krauthammer's column.
It is not just the older congregants who stand and cheer and roar in wild approval of Wright's rants, but young people as well.  Why did you give $22,500 just two years ago to a church run by a man of the past who infects the younger generation with precisely the racial attitudes and animus you say you have come unto us to transcend?
Goood question, and there are other good questions in the column.  But I doubt that we will ever get answers to them from Barack Obama, because even his very best answers aren't likely to be flattering to the junior senator from Illinois.

(Yes, I am still planning to take a look at the speech myself.  But I am not eager to do that, because studying Obama's lawerly prose is unpleasant work.  But I will.  Probably next week.)
- 7:20 AM, 20 March 2008   [link]

So Simple, Even A . . . Can Do It:  I don't want to insult anyone, so I won't fill in the blank.  But you can, if you like, though you may want to do so silently.  There's another hit product that shows, again, that simplicity sells.
It's the Flip: a tiny, stripped-down video recorder the size of a digital camera (but you hold it vertically).  And in the year since its invention, it has taken 13 percent of the camcorder market, according to its maker, Pure Digital.  The latest model, called the Flip Ultra, had its debut six months ago with slightly improved video quality, greater capacity, a tripod mount and better looks (available in white, black, orange, pink and green).  It's been the best-selling camcorder on since the day of its debut.
That's not because it has fancy specifications.
Instead, the Flip has been reduced to the purest essence of video capture.  You turn it on, and it's ready to start filming in two seconds.  You press the red button once to record (press hard -- it's a little balky) and once to stop.  You press Play to review the video, and the Trash button to delete a clip.

There it is: the entire user's manual.
That's not quite right; you will also want to learn how to connect it to your computer.  But that's pretty easy, too, according to the reviewer, David Pogue.

There's a good discussion in the review of how difficult it is for designers to keep things simple.  That's an old story by now, but one that needs repeating from time to time.
- 3:55 PM, 20 March 2008   [link]

McCain Gains Against Obama:  According to Rasmussen.
In the week before the media frenzy over Wright, Obama and McCain were essentially tied in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.  Less than a week later, and two days after Obama's speech, McCain had opened a seven-point lead over Obama.  Significantly, by Thursday's polling, McCain had pulled slightly ahead of Obama among unaffiliated voters.  McCain also enjoys unified support from Republican voters while Obama only attracts 65% of Democratic votes at this time.
. . .
Over the past month, McCain has gained ground in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
If McCain were to win Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, it is hard to see how a Democratic candidate could put together enough states to defeat him.  (One interesting switch: Rasmussen shows McCain doing better in Washington than in Oregon, which is not what we have seen in recent elections.  The last time a Republican carried Washington was 1984.)
- 3:05 PM, 20 March 2008   [link]

Coal To Newcastle:  And to many other places.  The United States is exporting a lot of coal.
Coal has long been a cheap and plentiful fuel source for utilities and their customers, helping to keep American electric bills relatively low.

But rising worldwide demand is turning American coal into another hot global commodity, with domestic buyers having to compete with buyers from countries like Germany and Japan.
. . .
The United States will export 7 or 8 percent of its coal production this year, up from about 5 percent last year, industry leaders predicted in interviews.  Because of higher prices, the value of coal exports should double, to $3.75 billion.

United States exports of coal grew from 49 million tons in 2006 to about nearly 59 million tons in 2007, according to coal industry statistics, while domestic production increased by 1 percent.  Coal executives say they expect exports to reach 80 million tons this year, and with railroad and port improvements, to rise to as much as 120 million tons in the next few years.
The rising prices for coal will mean, very soon, higher prices for electricity in much of the United States.

(One strange thing:  A caption under a photograph accompanying the article says that the German government plans to "end mining in the country by 2018 because German coal is the most expensive in the world".  All the coal mining in the entire country?)

Environmentalists are extremely unhappy about this increase in the use of coal, world wide, though most are still unwilling to back nuclear power as a substitute.
- 12:47 PM, 20 March 2008   [link]

What Is Black Liberation Theology?  It is a variant of liberation theology, where race replaces class, to put it crudely.  It is also what Jeremiah Wright has been preaching and teaching at Trinity United for decades.  You can find a brief description of black liberation theology here, and a much longer, and deeper, description here.  (Incidentally, if you read the comments to the second post, you will see just how annoying a single troll can be, even when the troll starts out with a reasonable question.)

And, if you would rather not take the time to read even the first post, here's a selection from it, with a quote from one of the principal black liberation theologians:
In the black liberation theology taught by [Jeremiah] Wright, [James] Cone and [Dwight] Hopkins, Jesus Christ is not for all men, but only for the oppressed:
In the New Testament, Jesus is not for all, but for the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors ... Either God is for black people in their fight for liberation and against the white oppressors, or he is not [Cone].
In this respect black liberation theology is identical in content to all the ethnocentric heresies that preceded it.  Christianity has no use for the nations, a "drop of the bucket" and "dust on the scales", in the words of Isaiah.  It requires that individuals turn their back on their ethnicity to be reborn into Israel in the spirit.
Does Obama believe all of what Wright has been preaching?  Probably not.  Some of what Wright has been preaching?  Probably.  That's what Obama says, and he may be telling the truth.
- 10:29 AM, 20 March 2008   [link]

What Do Ocean Temperature Measurements Show?  The same thing atmosphere temperature measurements show.
Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message.  These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years.  That could mean global warming has taken a breather.  Or it could mean scientists aren't quite understanding what their robots are telling them.

This is puzzling in part because here on the surface of the Earth, the years since 2003 have been some of the hottest on record.  But Josh Willis at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the oceans are what really matter when it comes to global warming.
Even though the NPR science correspondent, Richard Harris, doesn't realize that.

In fact, the slight cooling since 2003, as measured by these robots, is just what you see in, for instance, this simple chart, which shows atmosphere temperatures since 1998.  And which you can see in much more detail in four of the charts in this post.

Let me repeat what I have said before.  This cooling does not, by itself, disprove theories of man-caused global warming.  But, if the cooling continues or, even if the temperature stabilizes, then at some point those climate models will have to be revised.

I am not enough of a statistician to say when that would happen, when the models would have to be revised.  But I will go this far.  If the global temperatures in 2018 are no higher than they are now, then those climate models will have to be re-examined.

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

Incidentally, I will probably be revising that disclaimer some time soon.  The revision will not change the main arguments in the disclaimer, but will add some depth, and some references.)
- 1:25 PM, 19 March 2008
More:  It does not suprise me that an NPR journalist does not know about this slight cooling trend in the atmosphere — though he should know about it — but it does surprise me that the scientists he talked to didn't tell him about it.  Perhaps they did, but he didn't understand what they were saying.
- 7:04 AM, 21 March 2008   [link]

Tony Rezko Wasn't Just A Fixer:  He was also — with a lot of help from the taxpayers — a developer and a landlord.  But he wasn't very good at either, and many of the people who suffered were his tenants.
Obama, who has worked as a lawyer and a legislator to improve living conditions for the poor, took campaign donations from Rezko even as Rezko's low-income housing empire was collapsing, leaving many African-American families in buildings riddled with problems -- including squalid living conditions, vacant apartments, lack of heat, squatters and drug dealers.

The building in Englewood was one of 30 Rezmar rehabbed in a series of troubled deals largely financed by taxpayers.  Every project ran into financial difficulty.  More than half went into foreclosure, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.
Many of those tenants were also constituents of state senator Barack Obama.  Who says he didn't see much wrong with Rezko, until Rezko was indicted.

There are several ways to explain why Obama did not cut his ties to Rezko until after Rezko was indicted.  (And not immediately after.)  For example, Obama may have been paying no attention to what was happening to some of the poorest people in his district.  You can probably think of even worse explanations, without much effort.  But I can't think of any explanation that makes Obama look good.
- 8:10 AM, 19 March 2008   [link]

First Reactions To Obama's Speech:  I don't have any since I didn't listen to the speech, and haven't read it yet.  But Tom Maguire did listen to it, and Ann Althouse did read it, and have some reactions.  (As do their many commenters.)

And I won't have any reactions unless I take the time to read the speech with a lawyer's eye.
Barack Obama desperately needs to distance himself from his spiritual mentor and pastor of two decades, Jeremiah Wright, Jr.  But the man who wants America to believe his promise of unspecified change adopts the carefully-parsed language of a Harvard-trained lawyer.  There is a fundamental discordance in spirit between a canny, evasive lawyer inserting loopholes, and the smiling vision of unity and change you can believe in.
That summary was in reaction to Obama's first try at making the controversy go away, a statement at, of all places, Huffington Post.

Obama, or someone in his campaign, realized that statement wasn't sufficient, so he came up with today's speech — which contradicts what he said earlier in at least one very important way.
Contrary to his earlier suggestion, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) acknowledged in his speech Tuesday that he had heard "controversial" remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
So, a few days ago he said that he hadn't heard those remarks, and now he says he had heard them.   That's more believable, but the quick switch doesn't add to Obama's credibility.

The switch makes me think of a little kid who tries a big lie, sees that no one believes him, and then tells part of the truth.  Most parents would still suspect that the kid wasn't telling the whole truth, and I doubt that Obama is, either.
- 1:16 PM, 18 March 2008   [link]

This Is A Big Country:  And there are all kinds of people in it.  For instance, on the south side of Chicago (not far from where Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright live) is Ladarius Beal.
He is a young Republican, a suit-and-tie-wearing island of conservatism in a sea of Democrats, many of them supporters of presidential candidate Barack Obama, who lives nearby.
. . .
He is a young black man living amid the "Obama-mania" that has overtaken not just his predominantly black high school, but college campuses across the country.  He is among the up-and-coming Republicans who stand proudly against the tide, even if they are in a distinct minority.
His favorite candidate in this presidential campaign?  Mike Huckabee.  (I suspect Beal is not a member of Trinity United.)
- 11:03 AM, 18 March 2008   [link]

We Like Him, We Really Like Him:  Two-thirds of us, anyway.
John McCain's 67% favorable rating is the highest of any of the three major candidates running for president, and ties for his highest in Gallup polling history.
. . .
McCain gets an extraordinarily high 52% favorable from Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, while Obama gets a 39% favorable rating from Republicans and Republican leaners.  Clinton, on the other hand, receives only a 20% favorable rating from Republicans and Republican leaners.

McCain is also helped by the fact that he receives an 87% favorable rating from Republicans, higher than the 80% and 79% that Clinton and Obama, respectively, currently receive from Democrats.
Note that this is a survey of "adults".  I would expect the results would be even better if it were a survey of likely voters.
- 10:02 AM, 18 March 2008   [link]

How Consistent Has Barack Obama Been On Iraq?  Not very.  Peter Wehner looked at his record.  And found just a few inconsistencies.  For instance, it is true that Obama opposed the war in 2002.  But it is also true that, shortly afterward, he had second thoughts..
Almost as soon as the war began in March 2003, Obama had second thoughts about his opposition to it.  Watching the dramatic footage of the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad, and then the President's speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, "I began to suspect," he would write later in his autobiographical The Audacity of Hope (2006), "that I might have been wrong."  And these second thoughts seem to have stayed with him throughout the entire first phase of the occupation following our initial combat victory.  As he told the Chicago Tribune in July 2004, "There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage."
And he had third thoughts, and fourth thoughts, and fifth thoughts, after that.  Wehner is harsh, but accurate, when he gives this summary:
To say that Senator Obama has not thought through the implications of his vertiginously shifting positions is to err on the side of charity; in fact they give every appearance of having been adopted without any systematic thought whatsoever.  The same, unfortunately, can be said for the other main pillar of his position on Iraq.  This is that the way to bring stability to that country is not by winning the war in the first place but rather by striking a "new compact in the region"—one that will include all of Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran.  Such a compact, he says, will "secure Iraq's borders, keep neighbors from meddling, isolate al Qaeda, and support Iraq's unity."

Never mind that Syria and Iran have spent the past years doing everything in their power to violate Iraq's borders, meddle in its affairs, arm and support the factions that have been killing Iraqis and American troops alike, and fracture its unity.  To Obama, all this murderous activity is but the understandable reaction of frustrated governments to the policies of George Bush (and, although he does not say so, every single one of his predecessors going back decades).  By contrast, if he himself were elected President, both Iran and Syria would utterly reverse direction.
Does Obama believe that?  I hope not.  I hope, in short, that he is lying, that he is not that naive about the world, or arrogant about his own diplomatic abilities.  But I don't know.   He may be that naive, he may be that arrogant.  Or he may be conning the voters on a grand scale.
- 9:36 AM, 18 March 2008   [link]

A Whole Lot Of Erasing Going On:  As soon as Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright became publicly embarrassing, Wright's picture vanished from Obama's campaign site.  As the church itself became controversial, the church modified their statements about their doctrine, softening them.

These erasures will remind more than a few people of the way Stalin's lackeys erased people, who had become inconvenient, from old pictures, something documented in David King's The Commissar Vanishes.   Often, as the cover pictures suggest, this happened in a series of steps.  So we may see a still softer statement from Trinity United in the near future.
- 10:46 AM, 17 March 2008   [link]

Tom Maguire On Obama And His Minister:  On the whole, the best posts I have seen on Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright have come from Tom Maguire.  Those who want to stay on top of the controversy will want to read his site regularly.  For those who want some samples, I would particularly recommend this post, where Maguire analyzes one of Wright's sermons, and this post on Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko.

Maguire has linked to many other worthwhile articles and post, notably this Weekly Standard article, which analyzes what Obama actually says in his speeches.  The author, Andrew Ferguson, is not impressed.
On the page, deprived of his baritone, without the prop of his steely jaw, his speeches limp from one shopworn phrase to another.
And Ferguson shows that many of Obama's best-known phrases have been borrowed from an array of conventional politicians.

Maguire has, so far, missed this this post by "Ginny" of the Chicago Boyz.  But no one can cover everything written in the blogosphere.

(Maguire did something similar with the Plame affair.  His site was the place to go for the latest news, and the best analysis of the matter.  And I say that even though I disagree with him on some points.)
- 10:21 AM, 17 March 2008   [link]

They Don't Look Irish:  Except when they dance.
With a student body that is 71 percent Hispanic and 27 percent black, Public School 59 does not seem an obvious home for a thriving Irish dance troupe.  And when Caroline Duggan first arrived from Dublin at age 23 to try her hand as a New York City public school music teacher, it wasn't.  Many of her students had never heard of Ireland.  Why, they wanted to know, did she talk funny?

Then, to stave off homesickness, Ms. Duggan hung a "Riverdance" poster in her fifth-floor classroom, and one thing led to another.  The children pointed to a long-haired dancer on the poster and asked if it was her.  No, she laughed, but I could show you a few steps.  The impromptu lesson grew into a wildly popular after-school program and, for the first time last year, a trip to Ireland that still inspires dreamy looks among those lucky enough to go.
The program has not just created dancers, but has inspired some kids to work harder on their schoolwork, and has helped strengthen a few families.

(I can't help wondering what Michelle Obama — who has been awfully quiet lately — would say about these kids, and about this wonderful teacher.)
- 9:37 AM, 17 March 2008   [link]

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

And if you would like to go beyond the green beer, the pinches for those not wearing green, and the rivers dyed green, you may want to read this Wikipedia biography of the saint.  We know little about the man for certain, but what little we do know is fascinating.

(A three-leafed shamrock would be a better illustration than that four-leafed clover.  Next year, I will have to see if I can find one.)
- 6:55 AM, 17 March 2008   [link]