March 2011, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Secrets Of The NBA Stars:  One of them is power naps.
[Steve] Nash is among a great majority of N.B.A. players who swear by their pregame nap.   Most are interested in its restorative benefits, although a few may just be trying to counter boredom.  Whatever the reason, balls stop bouncing and shoes stop screeching every afternoon.

"Everyone in the league office knows not to call players at 3 p.m.," said Adam Silver, the league's deputy commissioner.  "It's the player nap."
Some teams have even brought in a "sleep doctor" to help them get better naps.

Would other people who travel a lot benefit from this NBA practice?  Probably, though I can imagine that some bosses would find the idea hard to swallow.
- 6:47 PM, 8 March 2011   [link]

Should Japan Have Nuclear Weapons?  The governor of Tokyo thinks so.
Tokyo's outspoken Governor says his country, which suffered history's only nuclear attack, should build nuclear weapons to counter the threat from fast-rising China.

In an interview with The Independent, Shintaro Ishihara said Japan could develop nuclear weapons within a year and send a strong message to the world.

"All our enemies: China, North Korea and Russia — all close neighbours — have nuclear weapons.  Is there another country in the world in a similar situation?
China, North Korea, and Russia have been trying to impress their neighbors; it looks as though they are beginning to succeed — and that those neighbors may begin to take precautions.

Note that the article does not even mention possible protection of Japan by the United States.

I would suspect that leaders in South Korea and Taiwan are having similar thoughts — though they may not express them publicly — for similar reasons.  (Taiwan once had a nuclear weapons program, but we talked them into abandoning it.)

(You can find some background on Ishihara in this Wikipedia article.  They say that he is commonly viewed as on the "far right" — and that he won his current office with an "independent platform".  Since he won the last two elections in 2003 and 2007 easily, it is likely that many Japanese share his views.)
- 2:43 PM, 8 March 2011   [link]

Obama Recognizes Reality:  So says the Washington Post.
President Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will start new military commission trials for detainees there.
. . .
The executive order recognizes the reality that some Guantanamo Bay detainees will remain in U.S. custody for many years, if not for life.
All right, they said the "executive order" recognized reality, not Obama, but we know what they mean.

Better late than never, I suppose.  With a few exceptions, captured soldiers have been kept until the end of combat operations for centuries.  (Before that, they were often sold as slaves.  Before that, they were usually killed.)  They are kept because there is no good alternative to keeping them, as anyone who wants to think about the problem, honestly, can figure out, in few minutes.

All this has been obvious since, oh, approximately 9/12/2001, or even before then if you were a military planner.  Obama may be a slow leaner, but he is learning.

(Exceptions:  Prisoners of war are sometimes paroled.  Usually they have to promise not to go back into combat.  Prisoners were often paroled during our Civil War.)
- 9:14 AM, 8 March 2011   [link]

The Christian Science Monitor Cautiously Admits The Obvious:   The Obama administration wants higher gas prices.  Maybe not immediately, and maybe not this quickly, but they do want higher gas prices.
Are gasoline prices too high?

They may be heading toward $4 a gallon by this summer, having already topped $3.50.

But perhaps they aren't high enough — if you follow the logic of Presiden[t] Obama's energy policy.
And the logic is easy to follow — if you want to follow it.

The Obama administration wants to cut back on CO2 emissions; the simplest way to do that is to raise prices on fossil fuels.  The also want Americans, other Americans anyway, to use more mass transit.  Again, an increase in gas prices is a good way to encourage that shift.

The CSM mentions just a few of the Obama initiatives that are intended to raise prices for fossil fuels, including ending tax breaks for oil companies — which are passed on to consumers — and restricting drilling, especially off shore.

What is remarkable about this editorial is that it is something of a breakthrough for our "mainstream" journalists.  In this area, I have not seen or heard a single "mainstream" journalist blame — or credit — Obama for part of the increase in gas prices.

I watched parts of the ABC, CBS, and NBC national news programs last night just to see if any of them connected the Obama administration to higher gas prices.  None did.  Instead, they mostly treated it as a problem for him, and mentioned his efforts to relieve the burden on the public.  (I was unable to tell whether the anchors and their "experts" believed what they were saying.)

(Of course, the Libyan civil war has been responsible for much of the recent increase in gas prices, but they were rising long before it began, long before even the demonstrations started in Tunisia.

I have a longer post planned on this subject, but I felt I had to give the CSM a little credit, not a lot but a little for mentioning the obvious, while all their peers are pretending it isn't there.)
- 7:26 AM, 8 March 2011   [link]

The Milwaukee Teachers Union Has Provided Us a wonderful straight line — but I can't think of any good punch lines that would be suitable for a family-friendly site.  So, you'll just have to come up with your own, or wait for the late-night comics.
- 6:53 AM, 8 March 2011   [link]

Iowahawk Follows Up His Comparison Of Texas and Wisconsin, with more education statistics, and some gentle (unless you are Paul Krugman) explanations of the statistics, including some that are often misused.

(As I understand it, Iowahawk is a former physical scientist, now running his own business.   Whatever his academic background, you don't have to read him very often to realize that he's a very smart guy — and way more honest in his arguments than Krugman.)
- 7:54 PM, 7 March 2011   [link]

Historical Parallels To The Upheavals In The Middle East?   Western journalists have been searching for them madly, ever since the demonstrations in Tunisia began.  (Here's a better-than-average example from Anne Applebaum, who compares the upheavals to Europe in 1848.)

Christopher Hitchens is dubious about all the historical comparisons he's heard so far, even in Egypt.
Not a single one of these pregnant conditions, or preconditions, exists in Egypt.  Neither in exile nor in the country itself is there anybody who even faintly resembles a genuine opposition leader.  With the partial exception of the obsessively cited Muslim Brotherhood, the vestigial political parties are emaciated hulks.  The strongest single force in the state and the society—the army—is a bloated institution heavily invested in the status quo.   As was once said of Prussia, Egypt is not a country that has an army, but an army that has a country.  More depressing still, even if there existed a competent alternative government, it is near impossible to imagine what its program might be.  The population of Egypt contains millions of poorly educated graduates who cannot find useful employment, and tens of millions of laborers and peasants whose life is a subsistence one.
And so am I.  In fact, I am even more dubious than he is because I believe that Hitchens, perhaps because of his own atheism, is underestimating the chances that a radical Islamist movement will take over Egypt.
- 2:52 PM, 7 March 2011   [link]

Two Unemployment Graphs, Two Different Conclusions:  If you look at the unemployment rate graph that accompanies this New York Times article, you'll see some reason for the optimism in the article.
The economic waiting game may soon be over, as businesses signal that they are finally willing to resume widespread hiring.

In all, the nation added 192,000 jobs in February, a big jump from the 63,000 added the previous month, the Labor Department reported on Friday.

The job growth was the most in nearly a year, and the 12th consecutive month of gains by companies, which added 222,000 workers last month. It followed an unusually weak report in January, when major snowstorms across the country prompted offices and factories to close.
Unemployment, as measured by government surveys (and adjusted seasonally) has fallen from more than 10 percent, and the progress has been encouragingly steady.

If you look at the graph that accompanies this Gallup post, you'll see considerable reason for pessimism.
Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, hit 10.3% in February -- up from 9.8% at the end of January. The U.S. unemployment rate is now essentially the same as the 10.4% at the end of February 2010.
Unemployment, as measured by Gallup's surveys was improving, but has been getting worse since late last year.

Which graph is better summary of our current unemployment problem?  Probably Gallup's.

Recall that, because of population growth, we need gains of somewhere around 125,000 to 150,000 jobs each month, just to stay even.  If you look at this Bureau of Labor Statistics table, you'll see that the average job growth during this last year, per month, has been less than 75,000 jobs.

So Gallup's pessimistic graph is probably a more accurate summary of our unemployment problem.
- 1:16 PM, 7 March 2011   [link]

Obama Should Play More Golf:  And more basketball, and go to more parties, and, in general, spend less time trying to be president.

Yesterday, Drudge did one of those clever headline juxtapositions he is so good at, grouping Obama's round of golf with a set of crises.  Drudge was implying that Obama was not doing what a president should do, not managing the crises.

On this, I disagree with Drudge.  On the whole, I think we are better off if Obama plays King Log, rather than King Stork.  The nation will be better off if he spends more time on the links, and less time in the Oval Office.

In domestic policy, I think the argument is obvious; almost all of the ideas that Obama and his team have are bad ideas, which would damage the country, especially our economy.  (Partial exception:  Education Secretary Arne Duncan has some interesting programs.)

In foreign policy, it's a closer call because there are great advantages to us when the nation speaks with a single voice, but I still think we will be better off if, until January 2013, the professionals in the State Department and the Defense Department do most of the heavy lifting.

So I was pleased to see Obama playing another round of golf, and pleased to see that he has so much free time that he can take up home brewing.  We should encourage him to exercise even more, and take up a few more hobbies.
- 8:52 AM, 7 March 2011   [link]

There Are Now More Than 1000 Exceptions To ObamaCare:   To be specific, 1040.
The number of temporary healthcare reform waivers granted by the Obama administration to organizations climbed to more than 1,000, according to new numbers disclosed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS posted 126 new waivers on Friday, bringing the total to 1,040 organizations that have been granted a one-year exemption from a new coverage requirement included in the healthcare reform law enacted almost a year ago.  Waivers have become a hot-button issue for Republicans, eager to expose any vulnerabilities in the reform law.
Perhaps HHS should save time and grant everyone waivers.  And then include the few who want to be included on a case-by-case basis.

I can't think of another law that required so many exceptions.  (And where the system for granting exceptions seems so subject to political considerations.)
- 7:38 AM, 7 March 2011   [link]

You Can't Follow A War Without A Map:  And the best one I have seen for the Libyan civil war is this one, from the New York Times.  For example, this article will make far more sense if you have the map available as you read the article.

(As you know, the Times often annoys me intensely.  But I still think it the best newspaper in the world, and that map is one of the many reasons why.  Incidentally, you should take a close look at the scale on that map to see how far the rebels have come — and how far they have yet to go.

That string of rebel-held towns in the mountains south and west of Tripoli are probably home to one of the tribes that has turned against Qaddafi, though I haven't figured out which one yet.)
- 6:09 PM, 6 March 2011
Those mountain towns, or many of them anyway, are inhabited by a group of Berber tribes, the Nafousah.  (As usual, there are several different ways to spell the name of the group.)  The area, judging by some of the tourist info I've found, is weirdly picturesque — and looks extremely defensible.
- 7:37 PM, 6 March 2011   [link]

Why Do People Watch Two And A Half Men?  When Charlie Sheen forced his way on to center stage, I was only vaguely aware of who he was.   I knew that he was a "truther", and that he behaved badly toward women — though I didn't realize just how badly.  But I couldn't tell you what movies he has starred in, or which TV show had made him rich.

So, out of curiosity, I searched on his name and discovered that he was the star of a program that had long puzzled me.  When flipping though the channels, I sometimes would come across the program, watch it for a minute at most, and then continue on, wondering why anyone would watch the program.

I didn't have that reaction just because I didn't like the program; there are many popular programs that I don't like, but I can almost always figure out why other people like them.   I never watch American Idol, but I can understand why other people like it.  And going much further back, I watched only one episode of Dallas — but that one episode was enough to show me why others liked it.

But Two and a Half Men puzzles me.  I can't figure out who would watch it, or why.

Any thoughts?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Which episode of Dallas?  The episode in which they revealed who shot J. R. Ewing — and I watched that one because I wanted to find out why the British were betting millions of pounds on the answer.)
- 5:09 PM, 6 March 2011   [link]

Wonder Why Qaddafi Thinks He Can Keep Control Of Libya?   Because, say some experts, he still has the loyalty of part of the army, and key tribes.

Not all the tribes are loyal; the Senussi, who live in eastern Libya, have turned against him, but other tribes are are wavering or even loyal.
But they [the experts] suggest that tribes in the other important areas of Libya — Tripolitania and Fezzan — remain nominally loyal to the regime.  The revolutionaries of 1969 came largely from three tribes — the Qadhadhfa (the colonel's own ), the Maghraha and the Warfalla — which had been subservient to the Senussis.

The Warfalla are now wavering, with its leaders supporting the opposition, having been implicated in coup attempts in the 1990's, but its other members split.  The other two tribes "still seem loyal so far to the regime, in which they have vested interests," said George Joffé, a scholar of North Africa at Cambridge University in England.
If that tribal division continues, we might see a long-running civil war, rather than the quick collapse of the regime.
- 7:46 PM, 3 March 2011   [link]

Iowahawk Corrects Krugman And The Economist:  By making a standard analysis of educational statistics, the kind you would expect a good undergraduate to be able to make.

Krugman and the Economist argue that Wisconsin is doing better at educating its students than Texas.  And that's true, but misleading, because they ignore the ethnic differences between the two states.  If you control for them, you see a very different picture.

Here's the summary:
To recap: white students in Texas perform better than white students in Wisconsin, black students in Texas perform better than black students in Wisconsin, Hispanic students in Texas perform better than Hispanic students in Wisconsin.  In 18 separate ethnicity-controlled comparisons, the only one where Wisconsin students performed better than their peers in Texas was 4th grade science for Hispanic students (statistically insignificant), and this was reversed by 8th grade.  Further, Texas students exceeded the national average for their ethnic cohort in all 18 comparisons; Wisconsinites were below the national average in 8, above average in 8.

Perhaps the most striking thing in these numbers is the within-state gap between white and minority students.  Not only did white Texas students outperform white Wisconsin students, the gap between white students and minority students in Texas was much less than the gap between white and minority students in Wisconsin.  In other words, students are better off in Texas schools than in Wisconsin schools - especially minority students.
It is not surprising to find this kind of mistake in the Economist.  The magazine may have journalists who are better than average with numbers, but they also have some who make silly mistakes from time to time.  (I almost never read an issue without learning something new and interesting — and without spotting an embarrassing error.)

But it is a little surprising to see Krugman miss something this obvious.  He is, no question about it, a very smart man.  But he is often blinded by his own partisanship.

(Incidentally, George W. Bush deserves some credit for those Texas numbers, especially the better numbers for blacks and Hispanics.

Here's the National Assessment of Educational Progress site, if you would like to do your own analyses.)
- 1:43 PM, 3 March 2011   [link]

Charlie Sheen Or Muammar el-Qaddafi?  The Guardian has an entertaining who-said-what quiz.

I got 8 of 10 correct, which was pure luck, since I have tried hard to ignore Charlie Sheen.

(I sometimes see a few minutes of his hit show when I am surfing TV channels, and always end up wondering why anyone watches it.)
- 9:37 AM, 3 March 2011   [link]

Jeffrey Epstein's Journalist Guests:  Money manager Jeffrey Epstein has wealth, which he has shared with Democratic politicians, artists, and scientists.  (How much wealth is uncertain.  He's often described as a billionaire, but it is unlikely that he actually has that much money.)

Given his wealth and his generosity, it is not surprising that he has been able to accumulate a remarkable array of celebrity friends, from Bill Clinton to physicist Lawrence Krauss.

Nor is it surprising to learn that journalists, including Katie Couric, Charlie Rose, and George Stephanopoulos, would accept his hospitality.  Especially since Epstein's party gave them a chance to beg for invitations to Britain's upcoming royal wedding.

Except — Jeffrey Epstein is also a convicted pedophile and pimp, with a long history of exploiting underage girls.  (Go to this Daily Beast article for some of the lurid details of his long criminal career.)

His crimes are no secret; they pop up in the first ten items when you search on his name with Google or Bing.

Did Couric, Rose, and Stephanopoulos not know about his crimes, or did they not care?  Either answer would be distressing.  (If I had to guess, I would say that Couric didn't know and that Rose and Stephanopoulos didn't care.)

(Couric has said, privately, that she regrets going to the party.

Why isn't Epstein in prison?  The New York Times cautiously suggests that he received "preferential treatment" from Democratic prosecutors in Palm Beach County.  The Daily Beast, less cautiously, asserts that he received preferential treatment from state and US prosecutors, too, and notes that many of his influential friends were on flights with those underage girls.)
- 9:12 AM, 3 March 2011   [link]

Qaddafi's Libya Should Stay On The UN Human Rights Council:   Along with Sudan, Syria, North Korea, "Palestine", Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Cuba, and Myanmar.  As James Taranto says, it's "funnier" that way.

Libya's membership is funny for those who live in nations that mostly respect human rights, and bitterly funny for those who do not.

I have long thought that the UN has become, for those who value democracy and human rights, a net minus.  It does do many positive things, but those are outweighed, in my opinion, by the negatives.  We can't get rid of it, so we should try to reform it, and we should consider creating a new organization of democratic nations that will be less often funny, but more often constructive.
- 6:54 AM, 2 March 2011   [link]

Carter, Reagan, And The Western Water Projects:  In 1977, Jimmy Carter tried to kill a set of Western water projects, claiming that they were pork barrel projects.  (He was right, or mostly right.)  When he vetoed spending for these projects, the Democratically-controlled Congress passed the appropriation over his veto.

When Reagan took office in 1981, he took a different approach.  He didn't veto the spending, didn't, as I recall, even criticize the projects, but did change the cost-sharing formulas.   States could still have the projects, but they would have to pay for most of the costs.

Oddly, it turned out that the states soon found that these once essential projects were no longer essential.

So the projects mostly died quiet deaths.

Carter's failure and Reagan's success remind us of an old, old lesson, but one that has not reached many of our politicians:  People are more careful when they are spending their own money.  And we ought to apply this lesson far more widely than we do.  If, for example, we want health care consumers to be more careful about spending, then we should look for ways to share any savings with the consumer.

(One of the projects that died under Reagan was a planned expansion of the Central Arizona Project.)
- 9:56 AM, 1 March 2011   [link]

Worried About Libyan Dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi?  Don't be; the Cambridge (Massachusetts) City Council is on the case.
"Thank God they're on the job again," said one heartened Cambridge watcher.  "I sleep better at night knowing Cambridge is back in the international arena."

Don't we all?
I had not realized that the Cambridge police department has the military power necessary to overthrow Qaddafi.
- 6:38 AM, 1 March 2011   [link]

George Will Tries To Explain Why The Obama Administration Is Hooked On High-Speed Rail:  And succeeds, partially.
So why is America's "win the future" administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago?  Because progressivism's aim is the modification of (other people's) behavior.
. . .
To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends.  Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables.  Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates.  The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
That's most of the explanation, and Will is certainly right to stress the connection between trains and the desire to control other people's behavior.

But there is a little more to this love affair.  The high-speed trains that the Obama administration is pushing would do little for most of us — but the few who would benefit from them are disproportionately left wing bureaucrats and politicians, since they often work in the downtown areas served by these trains, and sometimes even live in those areas.

And, though this idea may not come naturally to George Will, trains are fun, and they are especially fun these days compared to air travel, for those of us who do not own our own airplanes.   If you simply look at the experience, and ignore the total costs, there is much to be said for train travel.

(Leftists are always advising us to learn from the Europeans, but often miss some of the more interesting lessons from that continent.  Britain is far more densely populated than the United States, but even they are having trouble building a high-speed rail system that isn't a big drain on the taxpayers.)
- 6:08 AM, 1 March 2011   [link]