March 2011, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Victor Davis Hanson Gives Obama Credit For His Libyan Achievements:  Beginning with this one.
By bombing Libya, President Obama accomplished some things once thought absolutely impossible in America:

a) War-mongering liberals.  Liberals are now chest-thumping about military "progress" in Libya.  Even liberal television and radio cite ingenious reasons why an optional, preemptive American intervention in an oil-producing Arab country, without prior congressional approval or majority public support -- and at a time of soaring deficits -- is well worth supporting, in a sort of "my president, right or wrong" fashion.
Watching these dizzying U-turns is amusing — and disappointing.  Even now, I would rather believe that our "mainstream" journalists are not shameless partisans, who will support anything done by a leftist Democrat president — even if they condemned the same thing when done by a moderately conservative Republican president.

I would rather believe that, but I can't.
- 9:45 AM, 31 March 2011   [link]

Columnist Tom Friedman And Reverend Donald Sensing Make The Same Point About Libya:  (Though only Reverend Sensing seems to understand it.)

Friedman ends his meandering. and often unintentionally funny, column with a prayer:
Which is why, most of all, I hope President Obama is lucky.  I hope Qaddafi's regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet.  Then U.S. prestige will be enhanced and this humanitarian mission will have both saved lives and helped to lock another Arab state into the democratic camp.

Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky.
Reverend Sensing begins his post with some common sense:
When I was assigned to the Army Operations Center in the early 1990s at HQDA, the chief of staff was Gen. Carl Vuono. He sometimes found occasion during our briefings to him about current and planned operations to hammer home a point: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans."

Don't tell me what you hope will happen, don't tell me what you wish you could do, he repeated.  "Give me a plan that makes it happen."
Does Obama have a plan?  Reverend Sensing doesn't think so, and neither do I.

(It may seem tasteless to laugh at Friedman, considering the subject.  But I am told that joking is common in operating rooms, and among soldiers during wars.  Something can be horrible, and bizarrely funny, at the same time.  And we cope with that combination best when we see the humor, as well as the horror.)
- 7:05 AM, 31 March 2011   [link]

Everything's Up To Date In Kansas City:  Or will be, soon.
The year-long wait is over: Google announced Wednesday that it has chosen to deploy its ultra-fast broadband network in Kansas City, Kansas.

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) will provide broadband Internet access to the city with speeds of about 1 gigabit per second.  That's around 100 times faster than what most Americans have available to them today.  Google said that the network's speed would be fast enough to download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes.
Many servers will, I suspect, find it hard to supply data that fast.
- 6:28 AM, 31 March 2011   [link]

The Chinese Are Strengthening Their Border Fences:   Against refugees fleeing North Korea.
Fences more than 13ft high, topped with barbed wire, are now being erected along an eight-mile stretch of the Yalu river around the Chinese city of Dandong.  This is a popular escape point for North Korea refugees seeking food or better lives, Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

"It's the first time such strong border fences are being erected here.  Looks like it is related to the unstable situation in North Korea," a resident said of the work which began last November but is ongoing.
The refugees are fleeing to escape a monstrous tyranny and a looming famine.  The Chinese government has decided that, for its own interests, it would be better if those refugees stayed in North Korea.  (In the 1990s famine, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, died.  Estimates — and that's all we have — vary, but one common guess is that the famine may have killed more than 10 percent of North Korea's population.)

(Obviously, the Chinese do not agree with those who claim that fences can not stop people from crossing borders.  Of course their border guards may not operate under the same restrictions ours do.)
- 6:54 AM, 30 March 2011   [link]

Japan Will Be Short Of Electricity For Months:   That's the disturbing, but not surprising, conclusion in this New York Times article
Utility experts and economists say it will take many months, possibly into next year, to get anywhere close to restoring full power.

The places most affected are not only in the earthquake-ravaged area but also in the economically crucial region closer to Tokyo, which is having to ration power because of the big chunk of the nation's electrical generating capacity that was knocked out by the quake or washed away by the tsunami.
They've lost about 10 percent nationally, about 20 percent in that region.

If there is a quick fix, it isn't obvious to me.  (They might be able to add gas turbine generators fairly quickly, but I don't know how easy it would be for them to import the additional natural gas those would need.)

(One oddity:
In theory, the Tokyo area could import electricity from the south.  But a historical rivalry between Tokyo and the city of Osaka led the two areas to develop grids using different frequencies — Osaka's is 60 cycles and Tokyo's is 50 cycles — so sharing is inefficient.
Some electric appliances are sensitive to frequencies.  I wonder how the two regions solve that problem.)
- 3:40 PM, 29 March 2011   [link]

So Why Is Carter Going to Cuba?
Former President Jimmy Carter isn't in Cuba to negotiate for the release of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, though he is hoping that his visit will help to thaw U.S.-Cuban relations, he said Tuesday.
Sometimes I think that Carter is taking revenge on us for rejecting him in the 1980 election.

(Jay Nordlinger has a telling detail about Carter, Castro, and Pierre Trudeau.)
- 1:05 PM, 29 March 2011   [link]

Russian Reactors Are Safe:  Thanks to the lessons of Chernobyl.
Opportunistic or not, in recent years the Russian nuclear industry has profited handsomely by selling reactors abroad, mostly to developing countries. That includes China and India — whose insatiable energy appetites are keeping them wedded to nuclear power, despite their vows to proceed even more cautiously in light of Japan's disaster.

And though Fukushima Daiichi provides a new opportunity to stress the message, Rosatom has long been marketing its reactors as safe — not despite Chernobyl, but because of it.
At least that's what their salesmen are telling prospective customers, with some success.

And, though I wouldn't necessarily accept those claims, they aren't obviously false.  As any engineer can tell you, we learn from our mistakes.  Sometimes.

(At one time the Soviets were exporting reactors without containment buildings.   And, if I recall correctly, a Finnish company had, for a time, a profitable business providing that basic protection to some of the Soviet customers.)
- 11:07 AM, 29 March 2011   [link]

Distasteful But Necessary:  Robert Samuelson defends TARP.
One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse.  Panics signify the triumph of fear.  TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome.   It wasn't the only part, but it was an essential part.  Without TARP, we'd be worse off today.  No one can say whether unemployment would be 11 percent or 14 percent; it certainly wouldn't be 8.9 percent.
Samuelson admits that parts of TARP were mis-handled.  I think that there is a strong argument that GM and Chrysler would have been better off if they had gone through formal bankruptcies, and an unimpeachable argument that the Obama administration did far too much for its political allies, the United Auto Workers.

But his central argument is impossible to refute, since no one, including Samuelson, really knows what would have happened without TARP.  Impossible to refute, and impossible to prove, for the same reason.

(I am inclined to think that he is wrong when he claims, in the final paragraph, that the rescue did not increase moral hazard.)
- 10:30 AM, 29 March 2011   [link]

Funniest Reaction To The Nuclear Reactor Problems In Japan?   Of the ones I've seen, this is the funniest.
The German broadcaster of "The Simpsons" said Monday it has decided not to show any episodes of the US cartoon series showing nuclear disasters in light of Japan's atomic emergency.
It's almost as if they want to revive that humorless-German stereotype.
- 9:33 AM, 29 March 2011   [link]

"You Cannot Hope To Bribe Or Twist . . ."  Mark Steyn offers an American version of a little poem on British journalists.  (The original is often attributed to Hillaire Belloc, but was actually written by Humbert Wolfe.)

Steyn thinks that our "mainstream" journalists should be a little less willing to oblige the Obama campaign.

(More on Humbert Wolfe here.)
- 8:53 AM, 29 March 2011   [link]

The Royal Air Force Is Running Short Of Pilots?  That's what the Telegraph is saying.
Since the conflict began, a squadron of 18 RAF Typhoon pilots has enforced the Libya no-fly zone from an air base in southern Italy.  However, a shortage of qualified fighter pilots means the RAF may not have enough to replace all of them when the squadron has to rotate in a few weeks.

The situation is so serious that the RAF has halted the teaching of trainee Typhoon pilots so instructors can be drafted on to the front line, according to air force sources.  The handful of pilots used for air shows will also be withdrawn from displays this summer.
(The Typhoon is a relatively new aircraft.)

And, as far as I can tell, the Telegraph is right.  (Though you do have to consider the possibility that this story is being published as part of a bureaucratic fight over cuts in military spending.)  And that shows, sadly, just how much even the British have come to rely on our "unique" military capabilities.
- 7:34 AM, 29 March 2011   [link]

If You Are Going To Listen To Obama's Libya Speech this evening, you might want to prepare by reading Speaker Boehner's letter, just to see if Obama answers any of Boehner's questions.

(I'll be following my usual procedure and skipping the speech, though I will probably read it later.)

On the whole, I thought Boehner's letter was quite good.  And it is a pleasure to see an adult in the Speaker's chair again.
- 3:38 PM, 28 March 2011   [link]

Why Did They Call It The Holocene Climate Optimum?   We are living in the Holocene age, which began about 12,000 years ago.  The highest temperature during the Holocene began about 8,000 years ago.

Holocene Temperature Record

That time is called the Holocene Climate Optimum.  In some parts of the world, the climate was significantly different from what it is now.
Of 140 sites across the western Arctic, there is clear evidence for warmer-than-present conditions at 120 sites.  At 16 sites where quantitative estimates have been obtained, local HTM temperatures were on average 1.6±0.8 °C higher than present.   Northwestern North America had peak warmth first, from 11,000 to 9,000 years ago, while the Laurentide ice sheet still chilled the continent.  Northeastern North America experienced peak warming 4,000 years later.  Along the Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska, there are indications of summer temperatures 2—3C warmer than present.[5] Research indicates that the Arctic had substantially less sea ice during this period compared to present.[6]

Current desert regions of Central Asia were extensively forested due to higher rainfall, and the warm temperate forest belts in China and Japan were extended northwards.[7]

West African sediments additionally record the "African Humid Period", an interval between 16,000 and 6,000 years ago when Africa was much wetter due to a strengthening of the African monsoon by changes in summer radiation resulting from long-term variations in the Earth's orbit around the sun.  During this period, the "Green Sahara" was dotted with numerous lakes containing typical African lake crocodile and hippopotamus fauna.
All those differences sound positive, better than the present day.  And the article does not mention any negative differences.  So, I think we have an answer to the question; scientists called it an Optimum because they believed that the climate was best in that part of the Holocene.

Can we conclude from what we know about the Holocene Climate Optimum that an earth warmed by human activities would also be, on the whole, better for us?  Not necessarily, because different causes of warming might have different effects.  But I do think we can conclude that an earth that was a degree or two warmer would not inevitably be worse.

(Naturally, there is some debate about the Holocene Climate Optimum, as there is about everything else connected to the global warming debate.  That's one of the reasons I posted that temperature record, so you could get some idea of what the data looks like — and how much the different reconstructions vary.

Here's my standard global warming disclaimer, which I really should bring up to date some time.)
- 1:21 PM, 28 March 2011   [link]

The NYT Pay Wall Shouldn't Affect This Site:  At least not for the rest of the year, if I understand their policies correctly.  Here's the key:
Readers who come to Times articles through links from search engines, blogs and social media will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit.
Since someone (the Times?) gave me a digital subscription good through the rest of the year, I'll be able to link to their articles without going over my quota, or yours.

But I will start looking for alternatives, and will make more efforts to link to original sources, where possible.

(I don't blame the Times for making this move, since they have every right to charge for their content.  I have no idea whether they have found the right model this time.)
- 12:37 PM, 28 March 2011   [link]

And Now For Something Lighter:   Literally.
This week, the Vu1 Corporation, based in New York, will begin shipping a lamp that uses a new technology borrowed from an old product, a picture tube TV.

The Vu1 lamp, available as a 65-watt-equivalent reflector lamp, creates light the same way a TV picture tube creates images.  It fires a stream of electrons at phosphors coating the inside of the globe.  The company calls the technology electron stimulated luminescence.
The company says their new light is more efficient than incandescents, and more pleasing than fluorescents.

(Meanwhile, the makers of LED lights are coming up with some interesting gadgets, such as this remote-controlled light.  I'm not sure how practical it would be in most homes, but it looks like a lot of fun.)
- 9:22 AM, 28 March 2011   [link]

10,000 To 1, And 1 To 10:  More than 10,000 people are believed to have died from the tsunami that struck Japan.  I have not seen an estimate on the cost of the damage from the tsunami, but the extent makes it certain that total will be in the billions, probably tens of billions.

(Even in the United States, the tsunami caused millions of dollars in damages and took one life, a photographer who got too close.)

So far, I have seen exactly one report of a death from the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan, a worker who was killed in a crane accident.  To repair or replace the reactors will cost millions, perhaps billions.

(There may have been other lives lost in Japan because of the lost electrical power, which is so essential to our civilization.  If so, those lives were lost, not because of nuclear power, but because of the lack of it.)

The tsunami was, by the most basic measure of all, roughly ten thousand times worse than the nuclear power plants.

So, are we taking another look at our coastal areas and their vulnerabilities?  Are we studying, for instance, the experience at Crescent City, where the design of the harbor may have worsened the impact of the tsunami?  Are we installing tsunami warning systems on the Atlantic coast, which does get tsunamis, though less often than the Pacific?  (Those who create disaster movies have their scripts half written for them in this possible catastrophe, a landslide in the Canary Islands setting off a tsunami that would devastate the Americas.)

No.  Oh, I am sure that some scientists and even a few city planners are looking at the dangers revealed by Japan's tsunami.  But we aren't.  Most Americans haven't given those problems a second thought.  But we are discussing, again, the risks from nuclear power.

We are discussing a tiny danger while ignoring an immense danger, mostly because of the idiotic press coverage.  In this area I would say that, during the last two weeks, there has been at least ten times as much coverage of the nuclear reactors as there has been of all the tsunami damages in Japan.  And that is especially remarkable because we know, from a variety of evidence, that the Pacific Northwest has been hit by extremely powerful earthquakes every few hundred years.

But we aren't worrying about that problem; instead we are worrying about the non-existent danger of radiation from Japan.  There are many words that could be used to describe our mistaken emphasis.  The nicest is probably misinformed, and I'll leave the others to you.
- 8:50 AM, 28 March 2011   [link]

Toby Harnden Has Drawn 10 Conclusions From Obama's Libyan Adventure:  Here are two of them.
2. Obama's failure to consult Congress further illustrates that much of his campaign rhetoric about President George W. Bush's foreign policy was bogus (other evidence includes the increase in drone strikes and the maintenance of Guantanamo and the accompanying military tribunal structure).
. . .
8. Obama really does believe in the "international community" and the intrinsic goodness of the UN.
The rhetoric might not have been bogus at the time; Obama may have believed it when he said it.  But if he has changed his mind on these subjects, he owes us some explanations — and George W. Bush some apologies.

If Obama believes in the "intrinsic goodness of the UN", then he simply hasn't been paying attention to what the UN actually does, some of it good, much of it bad.  (There is, for instance, good reason to think that the Israelis and Palestinians might have reached some accommodation years ago, were it not for the UN.)

(Two more views, just for balance:  Anne Applebaum thinks that Obama's soft approach is just right.  Michael Goodwin thinks Obama's approach shows his "magical thinking", shows his belief that his presidency is "exempt from the lessons of history and human nature".)
- 7:36 AM, 28 March 2011   [link]

On Saturday Night Many Turned Out Their Lights To Observe "Earth Hour"   (Well, all right, just a few did, in most countries.)  But in North Korea, as Joe Noory reminds us, it's always Earth Hour.

For some reason, North Korea has not received the credit from environmentalists that one might expect, given that nation's success in limiting energy use.

And North Korea may be doing even better soon.  The United Nations says that as much as one quarter of Korea's population is at risk of starvation.
North Korea's government food distribution programme will run dry in May and put one-quarter of the country's 24 million people at risk of starvation, the United Nations has warned.

The UN World Food Programme, which resumed sending food aid to North Korea in 2006, blamed flooding, foot-and-mouth disease, and an unusually cold winter for devastating food supplies to the country.
Like nearly every other communist country, North Korea has had decades of unexpectedly bad weather.   (Why communist countries attract so much bad weather is, as I understand it, still a mystery to climate scientists.)
- 5:48 PM, 27 March 2011   [link]

Canadian Conservative Stephen Harper Will Be Facing A New Election Soon:   Luckily for Harper and his party, he has a good economic record to run on.
In his budget yesterday, [Fiance Minister Jim] Flaherty used an improving fiscal outlook to provide some new funding in a bid to assuage opposition lawmakers, particularly the NDP, which was considered the party most likely to support the budget.

The five-year fiscal plan projects a C$29.6 billion deficit in the fiscal year that begins April 1, down from C$40.5 billion this year and a record C$55.6 billion two years ago. A surplus is projected for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
. . .
Recent data have shown Canada's recovery is accelerating, even as inflation remains tame. The economy added jobs for a fifth straight month in February, and expanded at a 3.3 percent annualized pace in the fourth quarter, the fastest in the Group of Seven nations.

Canadian government bonds have returned 4.7 percent over the past year according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data, compared with a 2.8 percent average for the G-7.  Canada's benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index has risen 17 percent in the past 12 months, compared with a 7 percent gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Moreover, the Canadian unemployment rate is lower than ours, and their job growth has been, relatively greater.  (Canada's population is about 34 million, so you can multiply by nine to get roughly comparable job growth numbers for the United States.)

It would be wrong to give Harper and his party all the credit for Canada's better performance; it would also be wrong not to give them some.  And I don't think it irrelevant that Prime Minister Harper has a masters degree in economics, and President Obama has a law degree.

(Everyone does it, but you do have to be careful about comparing unemployment rates between nations, since the nations have different ways of measuring unemployment.  But I think the differences between Canada and the United States are large enough so that we can say, with some confidence, that Canada has significantly lower unemployment.)
- 12:55 PM, 25 March 2011   [link]

ObamaCare Is A Great Idea — For Other People:  The Washington Post's Dana Milbank gets all excited by Congressman Anthony Weiner's defense of the anti-reform monstrosity.
The New York congressman, a Brooklyn-born streetfighter, held six events Wednesday to defend the law.  His message was, predictably, a collection of snappy comebacks to Republican accusations.  But he also delivered a call to arms to his Democratic colleagues, who have been passive to the point of wimpy as Republicans press for repeal.
. . .
In general, neither Democrats nor Republicans lack for hotheads.  But in this case, Weiner's brand of politics has some merit.  As Republicans push daily to undermine the new law, the Democrats play under Marquess of Queensberry rules, answering the opposition's often-scurrilous allegations with earnest pleas not to "re-litigate" the past.  In wishing away the fight, they are losing it.
But Milbank missed or ignored this bit of news.
Rep. Anthony Weiner said Wednesday he was looking into how a health law waiver might work for New York City.

Weiner, who is likely to run for mayor of New York, said that because of the city's special health care infrastructure, his office was looking into alternatives that might make more sense.  Weiner is one of the health care law's biggest supporters; during the debate leading up to reform, he was one of the last holdouts in Congress for the public option.
So Weiner believes that ObamaCare is a great program — except for himself and his constituents.

Will Milbank do a new column mentioning this development?  Most likely not.  But he should.

(Yes, I know, the idea that Democrats "play under Marquess of Queensberry rules" is bizarre, but Milbank may well believe it.  It is common for partisans on both sides to say — and often believe — that their side is wimpy and the other side is tough.  I do wish that a journalist, especially a journalist at the Post, had paid more attention to what each party has actually said over the years.)
- 6:58 AM, 25 March 2011
Correction:  Milbank does mention Weiner's possible request for a New York waiver, but does not seem to think it significant.  Milbank and Weiner should explain why not wanting the program to apply to New York isn't an argument against it for everyone else.

Thanks to an attentive reader for catching my mistake.
- 12:02 PM, 25 March 2011   [link]