May 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"Obama's Dorothy Doctrine"  That's the Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who could change reality just by wishing it to be different.

Charles Krauthammer thinks that Obama errs in believing he has the same powers, and by wishing can make it so.
But much as Obama would like to close his eyes, click his heels three times, and declare the War on Terror over, war is a two-way street.

That’’s what history advises: Two sides to fight it, two to end it.  By surrender (World War II), by armistice (Korea and Vietnam), or when the enemy simply disappears from the field (the Cold War).
Obama's Dorothy doctrine is, unquestionably, a pleasant idea — but not one that shows even an elementary understanding of world history.

If I were grading Obama's Dorothy doctrine in an elementary strategy course, I would give it an "F" — and I would suggest that the student who came up with that idea withdraw from the class.

(Quibble:  There are examples from history in which wars have been ended unilaterally.  But most of those examples support Krauthammer's general argument, because most of those wars ended when one side wiped out the other side.

Wars have also ended unilaterally when one side had the ability to escape from the reach of the other side — but that doesn't apply to the War on Terror.  There is, alas, no way we can escape, entirely, from our terrorist enemies.)
- 1:39 PM, 31 May 2013   [link]

So Eric Holder Won't Ever Reach the Promised Land?
In an elaborate effort to exonerate the members of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department of any wrongdoing in relation to the scandal surrounding the sweeping subpoenas of the communications records of journalists, an MSNBC panel implied that the administration was the subject of persecution.  During the discussion, MSNBC contributor and Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson said that Attorney General Eric Holder, himself a victim of an elaborate right-wing effort to smear him, is “the Moses of our time.”
Having followed Holder's career for some years, I would say that he has been going in the wrong direction — if his goal was to reach a Promised Land.  But I had never thought to compare Holder to Moses before today, so perhaps I am missing Professor Dyson's point.
- 12:43 PM, 31 May 2013   [link]

KIRO 7 Has A New Surveillance Video Of The I-5 Bridge Collapse:  You can find it at their home site, though you will have to watch an annoying ad before you see the seconds-long video.

The video shows traffic that may have forced the truck to use the right lane, and the initial bridge failure.  It's the first thing I've seen that helps me understand why the breaks at the ends of the span were so clean.
- 7:33 AM, 31 May 2013   [link]

Worst Idea Ever?  Probably not, though few of us would think that "dolphin-assisted birth" is a good idea.
The couple planning to do this are entirely serious—and they won’t be the first to travel to Hawaii for a dolphin-assisted birth.  My professional opinion: this has to be, hands down, one of the worst natural birthing ideas anyone has ever had (and that is saying a lot).
The headline calls it "Possibly The Worst Idea Ever", but even in the natural birthing field I can think of some that would be worse: shark-assisted, polar-bear-assisted, tiger-assisted, . . .

In general, I am not a big fan of regulation, but I can see an argument for shutting down this Sirius Institute program, for the same reasons you would shut down an unsanitary maternity ward.

Although few would take the more extreme ideas of the Sirius Institute seriously, there are many who believe in the idea that nature, or parts of it, are benign, compared to human societies.

Mostly, those are people who have grown up in urban societies, out of touch with nature, and people who ignore much of what biologists have learned over the hundreds of years we have been studying animals (and plants) scientifically.

They are able to ignore what we have learned because we humans have killed so many of our top predator competitors, and made almost all of the remainder fear us enough to avoid contact with humans most of the time.
- 7:04 AM, 31 May 2013   [link]

Eric Holder Made A Mistake In Asking For This Meeting to be off the record.
Attorney General Eric Holder's plans to sit down with media representatives to discuss guidelines for handling investigations into leaks to the news media have run into trouble.

The Associated Press issued a statement Wednesday objecting to plans for the meetings to be off the record.  "If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter," said Erin Madigan White, the AP's media relations manager.

The New York Times is taking the same position.  "It isn't appropriate for us to attend an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general," executive editor Jill Abramson said in a statement.
He might have been able to have an off-the-record meeting before the scandals, but not now.
- 7:17 AM, 30 May 2013   [link]

Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman was no stranger to the Obama White House.
Publicly released records show that embattled former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times during the Obama administration, more recorded visits than even the most trusted members of the president’s Cabinet.
Way more.  In fact, almost as many visits as the next two visitors, Rebecca Blank and Thomas Perez, combined.

The IRS Commissioner does not make policy, and so would have little reason to meet with the president or the White House staff, ordinarily.  It is only fair to add that there were legitimate reasons for some of those meetings, given the IRS role in implementing ObamaCare.

That bar graph is worth studying, by the way.  Here's my quick take:   Judging by those visits, President Obama and his staff prefer to spend their time with leftists who are interested in domestic policy, not foreign policy.

(I drew a blank on Rebecca Blank, so I looked her up.  She's a left-wing economist — and the acting Secretary of Commerce.

You probably have heard of Thomas Perez; if not, here's his Wikipedia biography, with the usual caveats.)
- 6:56 AM, 30 May 2013   [link]

Maureen Dowd Visits Bush's Library — And Becomes Discombobulated:  Last Sunday's column showed that George W. Bush has not lost his ability to confuse his opponents.

Consider, for example, this paragraph from one of our most famous journalistic wordsmiths:
After four years of bending the Constitution, the constitutional law professor now in the White House is trying to unloose the Gordian knot of W.'s martial and moral overreaches after 9/11.
We sort of know what she means by "bending the Constitution" but there are much better ways to say the same thing.

In the rest of the sentence, she borrows from Shakespeare, without crediting the man (who is, admittedly, both dead and white), uses the Gordian Knot, without understanding it, and then says a knot was created by "overreaches".

The Knot "is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an 'impossible' knot) solved easily by cheating or 'thinking outside the box'".  So a Gordian Knot is either impossible to untie if you attempt to do it in the usual way, or easy to untie if you cheat, or think of an unusual approach.

Now, visualize an overreach.  Got it?  Okay, keeping that visualization in mind, construct a knot from that overreach, and others.  If you can do that, you have a better imagination than I do — or you are getting help from LSD, or some other psychoactive chemical.

Dowd gets some well-known facts wrong.  She quotes, with approval, Bush biographer, Robert Draper:
So 43 grew up entitled but could display a commoner's touch, while 44 grew up hardscrabble, yet developed this imperial mien.
In fact, for most of his early life, Bush lived in a way that would be familiar to any middle class person of that time.  His houses in Midland, Texas were modest, and Bush attended the public schools there.

In contrast, Obama attended a series of private schools beginning with the not-at-all hardscrabble Punahou, and continuing to Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard Law.  (At only the last did he win any academic awards.)  His grandmother, who was his main support while he lived in Hawaii, was a bank vice president for many years.

Most likely, what most left Dowd so discombobulated was this:
Decision Points Theater — a whiny "Well, you try being the Decider" enterprise — lets you make the decisions after getting taped briefings from actors playing experts.   But it is rigged with so many false binary options that the visitors I voted with ended up agreeing with Bush's patently wrong calls on Iraq and Katrina.
I can almost sympathize with Dowd, as she realizes she is in the company of people who think Bush made mostly right choices in Iraq and Katrina — almost.

There is one bit of unintentional humor:  Dowd discovers that Bush cares about the environment, something she could have learned even from the New York Times.  Assuming, of course, that she read the newspaper carefully.

Today, she was mostly back to her normal self, showing us, I suppose, that Bush Derangement Syndrome need not affect a person's other judgements.  I'm not saying today's column was great, or even above her average, just that it didn't strike me as being written by a woman in the temporary grip of insanity.

I don't know whether she has a psychiatrist, but if she does, I hope that he (or she) advises her to expose herself to Bush, only in small doses.
- 7:54 PM, 29 May 2013   [link]

Should WashDOT Have Issued A Permit To The Truck That Took Out the I-5 Bridge?  The Mullen Trucking company applied for, and received, a permit from the Washington state Department of Transportation for its over-height load.  The permit required the company to provide a pilot vehicle, and the company hired one, which preceded the truck across the bridge.

(So far, I have not seen any statement from the driver of the pilot vehicle, so I don't know whether the pole on the pickup hit the bridge.  It might not have even if it was in the same lane, because, as I explained in this post, the pole was mounted at the middle of the pickup.)

There are two different ways to think about this question.  First, did the company and the department follow proper procedures in applying for, and issuing, the permit?  As far as I can tell from news reports, they both did.

Second, is the procedure that WashDOT has established for over-height trucks correct?

Given the result, I have my doubts about whether it is.  There are two possible ways that I can see that it might be improved.  First, the rule could specify that highest point on the truck be lower than the lowest clearance on the bridge.  (If there had been such a rule, the truck would have had to detour around the bridge, but the detour would not have added much time to the trip, since there is a nearby bridge the truck could have used.)

Second, as this Tacoma News Tribune article explains, the department could require that over-height trucks have two pilot vehicles.

Transportation Department rules require pilot cars for loads that exceed 14 feet 6 inches in height.  The rules require that vehicle loads over 11 feet wide, which Scott’s was, have escort cars, front and rear, on all two-lane highways.

But on multiple-lane highways, such as I-5, only a front escort car is required.

If traffic on the bridge kept Scott from moving left, as some witnesses have suggested, experienced truckers say a rear escort vehicle would have solved the problem by slowing and straddling lanes to keep other vehicles from passing while the truck was on the bridge.

(The two procedure changes are not exclusive, of course.  Sometimes one would work better, sometimes the other, so you might want to have both available.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(There is another question that the National Traffic Safety Board — and the Washington state legislature — will want to look into.  The bridge has regularly passed inspections.  Did those inspections miss a weakness in the bridge, either because the inspection procedures are badly designed, or because the inspector(s) did not follow procedures?

The truck was not carrying a heavy load, so the blow to the bridge was much less forceful than it might have been.  The load is often described as "drilling equipment", but in fact the truck was hauling a "casing shed" for a drilling rig, or, to put it another way, a large empty box.)
- 3:36 PM, 29 May 2013   [link]

How Big Is Our Deficit, Relatively?  One of the things I like about the Economist is that, at the end of each issue, they publish a table showing summary national statistics.  In the current issue (May 18-24), for example, they have the GDP change, industrial production change, consumer prices change, unemployment, current account balance, budget balance, interest rate on 10-year government bonds, and the change in the value of currency against the dollar for 42 nations, and the European Union.

Of those 42 nations — which include all the most important nations economically — how many have greater budget deficits, relative to GDP, than our 5.4 percent?

Just six: Spain (6.5), Pakistan (7.0), Venezuela (7.2), Britain (7.9), Japan (8.8), and Egypt (12.1).

You can argue that the United States and Britain should be running even larger deficits, as leftist Paul Krugman has been arguing for years, but you can not argue that the polices of the United States and Britain have been "austere", relative to other nations' policies.

There's much more on the austerity argument here.

(Caveat:  Although people, including me, will insist on comparing them, nations collect these statistics with different definitions, and in different ways, so you shouldn't assume that the comparisons are exact.  Nor should you assume that the statistics in all of these countries are honest.  Greece was infamous, for many years, for the dishonesty of its accounts, and there are few outside the government of Venezuela, that even claim to trust their numbers.

One more example of the kind of insight you can get from these numbers:  According to the table, Sweden has an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent — which makes their policy of importing unskilled, mostly Muslim, immigrants look even stranger.)
- 8:19 AM, 29 May 2013   [link]

Apple CEO Tim Cook Is Buying some political protection.
Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson will become Apple’s top environmental officer, the company’s CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday.
Don't be surprised if Apple hires some former congressmen, or even senators, too.
- 7:20 AM, 29 May 2013   [link]

So Bad, It's Good:  This word play from James Taranto: "When did liberals stop caring about 'a woman's right to shoes'?"

(If you say that out loud to friends, be prepared for groans.)
- 2:54 PM, 28 May 2013   [link]

Some Theater Goers Go To See A Play — and find themselves attending a church service.
Carrie Watts, the characterplayed by Cicely Tyson in the Broadway revival of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful," is an old woman from a small Texas town who likes to sing hymns to herself.  When Ms. Tyson did so at the preview performance that I saw a couple of weeks ago, a fair number of people in the theater sang along with her.  It didn't look to me as though she was trying to encourage them, either: They just joined in.
In particular, according to this New York Times article, they join in to sing "Blessed Assurance".

One of the things I liked about the Wall Street Journal article and the New York Times article is that both frankly discussed the differences in customs that led many of the blacks who attended these performances to join in.  And neither article was disfigured by the political correctness that damages so many articles that mention race, even indirectly.

(For the record:  If I were to attend this play, I'd be pleased if the audience joined the singing.  But I probably wouldn't join in, myself, because I am a lousy singer.)
- 2:08 PM, 28 May 2013   [link]

Order Hasn't Broken Down Completely In Sweden:  They are still issuing parking tickets, even to cars destroyed by the rioters.
Owners of cars destroyed in the riots fined for parking illegally while police adopt non-intervention policy.
(They were nice enough not to show the meter maid's face.)

Sweden's rules may be flexible enough so that the owners won't have to pay these tickets — but bureacracies often lack common sense.

One of the things that American police forces learned — the hard way — in our riots in the 1960s and 1970s is that they should respond with numbers, that they should flood the riot area with police officers, as soon as they could.

As I recall, many large cities also adopted the policy of bringing in those extra police officers in buses, having learned the hard way that police cars were often targets.  (If you bring in, for example, forty police officers in a bus, you can detail two or three of them to guard the bus, send most of them out to make arrests, and then use the bus to haul off the arrested rioters.

(Caveat:  I don't know anything about Fria Tider, beyond its own description: "an independent conservative Internet-based newspaper in Sweden".)
- 1:20 PM, 28 May 2013   [link]

Swappable-Battery Car Manufacturer Goes Broke:  In March, I mentioned, in an aside, that it would be possible to make electric cars with "interchangeable" batteries, batteries that you would swap out at a service station when their charges got low.

In the aside, I said that I hadn't seen any discussion of such a system — which was true, but only because I hadn't bothered to do the obvious search.

There is such a system — or was such a system I should say — because the Israeli company making it, Better Place, has filed for bankruptcy.  By now, you shouldn't be surprised by the reason for their failure: not enough customers.
In its original overview, Better Place had hoped to be selling hundreds of thousands of cars a year in Israel by now, produced by Renault-Nissan, its manufacturing partner.  It was betting that the electric-powered vehicles would prove attractive based on cheaper cost, comparable acceleration, similar speeds, and environmental advantages over conventional gas-guzzlers.

It planned a nationwide network of plug-in “charging spots” and battery swap stations.   It also touted partnerships developing in France and the US, harboring particular hopes of an electric car revolution pushed by the Obama administration.

However, Better Place had sold barely 2,000 vehicles.
When I wrote that post, I thought that such a system might be practical — and I still think so, with some emphasis on might — but that a company building it would have to be prepared to absorb substantial losses for a decade or so, as they built up the network and persuaded consumers that the network was there to stay.

By way of David Gerstman.

(I'm still interested in seeing a formal analysis of the costs and benefits of such a system.)
- 7:47 AM, 28 May 2013   [link]

"'Lone Wolves’ Who Run With The Pack"  Andrew Gilligan makes an obvious point about the murderers of the British soldier, Lee Rigby.  Like almost all terrorists, the two murderers are not self-radicalized "lone wolves".
Journalists and analysts rushed to explain the attack as the work of “lone wolves”, “self-radicalised” online.  Politicians demanded crackdowns on jihadi websites and the revival of the so-called “snoopers’ charter”, a Bill allowing the authorities to monitor the internet use of every person in the country, in the belief that the plot could somehow then have been detected.

But the parrot-cry that the most serious terrorists are radicalised in a vacuum, alone in their bedrooms, is almost never true.  It is rather a large step to go out with a machete and murder in cold blood a total stranger.  It is the culmination of a long journey between normality and fanaticism, usually (if not quite always) needing help from other people on the way.
We can understand why journalists and analysts want to explain such attacks as the work of "lone wolves".  That allows them to evade unpleasant questions about just how much support these terrorists have in Muslim communities in Britain, and elsewhere.   But evading those questions doesn't make the evidence go away.

You may be tempted, especially if you are an American, to skip over some of the details that Gilligan provides about one of the murderers, Michael Adebolajo.  Go ahead, if you like, but don't miss Gilligan's conclusion, that Britain has been "tough where it should have been liberal, and liberal where it should have been tough".

The Obama administration has made mistakes of the second kind far too often; like both Labour and Conservative governments in Britain, they have been "ridiculously tolerant and indulgent towards a small minority of Muslim extremists".  (The Bush administration was also, sometimes, too tolerant and indulgent of Muslim extremists, but not ridiculously so.)
- 5:46 AM, 28 May 2013   [link]

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:  It seems appropriate for Memorial Day.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battle-field of that war.   We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
There are five contemporary versions of the Address.  I chose the Bliss version, more or less randomly.

(Until I read this Wikipedia article, I had not known that Lincoln was sick — probably with early-stage smallpox — when he wrote and delivered his most famous speech.)
- 4:06 PM, 27 May 2013   [link]

Memorial Day Tributes:  From Andrew Malcolm, history, and five versions of "God Bless America", beginning with Kate Smith's 1938 introduction of the song.

From the Daily Mail, many photographs.
- 8:23 AM, 27 May 2013   [link]

Under Barack Obama, Public Education Spending Per Pupil Has Declined:  All right, that's a little unfair, but we can say that during the first two years that Obama was president, per student spending declined.
Spending for elementary and high schools across the 50 states and Washington, D.C. averaged $10,560 per pupil in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011.  That was down 0.4% from 2010, the first drop since the bureau began collecting the data on an annual basis in 1977, the agency said Tuesday.  However, when you adjust the figures for inflation, this isn’t the first drop on record.  By that measure, spending per pupil dropped once in 1995 and hit its highest level in 2009.  In inflation-adjusted terms, spending per pupil was down 4% in 2011 from the peak.
(The 2011 numbers are the most recent available, as you probably guessed.)

Although overall per pupil spending fell in 2011, thirty states increased their per pupil spending.  Their increases were outweighed by decreases in twenty states, and the District of Columbia.  The largest percentage decrease, 7.4 percent, was in Barack Obama's Illinois.

By way of Joanne Jacobs.

(Here's the full Census Bureau report.)
- 5:20 PM, 26 May 2013   [link]

Scientific American: "Most People Believe That They Are Above Average, A Statistical Impossibility."  So says Ozgun Atasoy, "a doctoral candidate in the Department of Marketing at Boston University".

Actually, it's not impossible if you are using the most common meaning of "average", the arithmetic mean.

Example:  Three young guys and I walk into a bar together.  Though we don't know it, a group of young women are rating each of us on the usual 0-10 scale.  They give each of my young friends a 6, and, perhaps out of charity, the old guy a 2.  The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

A majority can also be below average.  The majority of families in the Seattle suburb of Medina have wealth below the average for the town, since Bill and Melinda Gates live there.

On the other hand, if by "average", you mean the median, then it is true that only half of a population can be above it.

But it isn't true for another common average, the mode.

(The post includes some interesting examples of our tendency to over-rate our own abilities and qualities.)
- 2:08 PM, 24 May 2013   [link]

The Best Explanation I've Seen So Far For The I-5 Skagit Bridge Collapse is in this set of diagrams, from the Seattle Times.

(I can add a little bit of background and some speculation.  Washington state requires high loads to get permits.  Those loads must be preceded by a pilot vehicle with a vertical pole the same height as the highest point on the truck.

The truck did have a permit, and did have a pilot vehicle, a pickup truck with the required pole.   So far, I have not seen or heard whether that pole on the pickup hit the bridge.  (A caller to a news show said that the driver of the pilot vehicle, not the driver of the truck, is responsible for making sure they have enough clearance.  That seems reasonable, but I haven't seen or heard any confirmation of that claim.)

However, since the pole was mounted at the front middle of the pickup, it is possible that the pole on the pickup did not hit the bridge.

Now for some speculation.  I have heard that another truck passed the truck with the oversized load, just as it was approaching the bridge, pinning the oversized truck in the right lane.  It is possible that the truck with the oversized load might have been able to cross the bridge safely if it had been in the middle of the two lanes.

There's more background in this Seattle Times article, and there's a description of other notable Pacific Northwest bridge failures in this article.)
- 1:00 PM, 25 May 2013   [link]