May 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Contradictory Names Of Obama's Press Secretaries:   Many have noticed that the latest, Josh Earnest, has a contradictory name, that you can josh, or be earnest, but not both at the same time.

The same, if you know some old slang, is true of Jay Carney, the man he replaced.  The word "carney" is often used as slang for a carnival worker, and since those workers do not have a reputation for honest dealing, by extension for someone who will try to con the naive.   According to my old Dictionary of American Slang, in Florida a "jay" was (and perhaps still is): "1 A stupid, inexperienced person, usu. with a rural or small-town background.   Since c1900.  2  An easy victim, one who is easy to dupe."

So Jay Carney is simultaneously an easy victim, and a con-man.

Those names seem almost intentionally symbolic, don't they?

(For quibblers:  Yes, con-men can be easy marks for other con-men.  So a man could be both a jay and a carney — but not at the same time.)
- 7:41 AM, 31 May 2014   [link]

We Can Thank The Lancet for this increase in measles.
Two hundred and eighty-eight cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States between Jan. 1 and May 23, 2014.  This is the largest number of measles cases in the United States reported in the first five months of a year since 1994.  Nearly all of the measles cases this year have been associated with international travel by unvaccinated people.

“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.  “Many of the clusters in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.”

Of the 288 cases, 280 (97 percent) were associated with importations from at least 18 countries.  More than one in seven cases has led to hospitalization.  Ninety percent of all measles cases in the United States were in people who were not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown.  Among the U.S. residents who were not vaccinated, 85 percent were religious, philosophical or personal reasons.
(And, to be fair, increased international travel.)

The decrease in vaccinations in the United States is often blamed on a woman most famous for posing without her clothes.  But I think we should remember that she got her ideas from an article by Andrew Wakefield in one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, The Lancet, a journal that defended the Wakefield article for years before finally admitting that the article was false.

Worse yet, the editor who approved the Wakefield article, Richard Horton, never resigned, as he should have.

(As I have mentioned before, I have glanced over the Wakefield paper, and immediately saw problems with it — even though I am no medical expert.)
- 7:55 AM, 30 May 2014   [link]

This Eric Allie cartoon shows us how many voters see the "mainstream" coverage of the Obama administration.

(Need an explanation for the Thomas Nast reference?  You can find one here.   That's right; Allie is comparing our "mainstream" journalists to one of the worst gangs of political crooks in American history.

Here's Allie's site, if you want to see more of his cartoons.)
- 7:18 AM, 30 May 2014   [link]

Which Do Likely Voters Think Is The Bigger Problem, Big Donors Or Media Bias?  It's close, but, according to Rasmussen, among likely voters media bias beats big donors 48 to 44 percent.

You should be careful not to over-interpret that result.  At least a few in that 48 percent think Fox News is the problem.  And a very large number think it's the other side's big donors who cause the problems.

Troubling point:  Most voters learn what they know about politics almost entirely from the media, and from campaign ads mostly paid for by those big donors.  So the respondents in that poll are saying that they don't trust almost all of the places where they get their information.  Unfortunately, I can't disagree with them; I think we do have reasons to distrust the media and campaign ads.

(The exact question is: "Which is the bigger problem in politics today—big campaign contributions or media bias?".)
- 6:18 PM, 29 May 2014   [link]

Does President Obama Think The Korean War Was An American Mistake?  That's what I wondered about, after I read this part of his West Point speech.
Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action, without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”
Of our five large and "costly" military "adventures" since World War II, only in Korea did we rush into action.   And there you could argue that our rushed response was a sensible reply to a military emergency.

In Vietnam, in the first and second Gulf Wars, and in Afghanistan, we thought long and hard before we committed ground forces.  (Some may have forgotten that President Clinton used cruise missiles against al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998.  After that, I have no doubt that officials in the Pentagon were preparing for a possible escalation of the war between us and al Qaeda — if they hadn't already done so before 1998.)

In all five of those wars, our presidents also built "international support and legitimacy" before acting.  In Korea, as you probably know, we actually fought under a United Nations flag.

Perhaps I am making too much of Obama's attacks on straw men, attacks which we have come to expect in his speeches.

But I do wonder what he thinks about the Korean War, because opinions on that war split the left in this country, split, to be blunt, the Communists and their dupes from the rest of the left.  And I have no doubt that some of his early political allies, notably Alice Palmer and Bill Ayers, would say that we were on the wrong side in the Korean War.

(The Korean War has been, for many years, an embarrassment for the American left, because it is too similar to the Vietnam War, except of course for the eventual outcomes, stalemate and a truce in Korea, and a Communist victory in Vietnam.)
- 2:26 PM, 29 May 2014   [link]

Mice Like To Run In Wheels:  If you have watched a mouse (or a hamster) run in a wheel in its cage, you may have wondered whether the animal was running out of frustration, running only because it had nothing better to do.

Researchers Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers wondered about that, too, and decided to find out by placing wheels in the wild.
Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands set up a wheel enclosed in a small cage in two different settings—a patch of vegetation in an urban area and a grassy spot in a natural dune.  Then they outfitted the wheels with motion detectors and night-vision video cameras to monitor activity in the cages around the clock.  For most of the first two years of the three-year study, they left food in the cages to lure the mice in, but toward the end of the second year, the mice stopped being fed.

In analyzing more than 12,000 videos of mice in the cages, the researchers saw that the feral mice did, indeed, hit the running wheel of their own accord.  The mice “were seen to leave the wheel and then enter it again within minutes in order to continue wheel running,” Meijer and Robbers wrote in the study, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Although mice were the main users of these wheels, they were also used by "rats, shrews, frogs and slugs".  (Slugs?  I wondered about that, too, but found no explanation in the paper, though they do say that snails did wander into the wheels from time to time, but didn't appear to use them.)

Some of you may be wondering what this has to do with politics.  There is a connection, though it will take me more than a single sentence to get to it.

Years ago, I read about an assignment in a beginning architecture class at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  The students were asked to design and build homes for mice — and then were graded on whether or not the mice liked the homes, whether or not the mice moved into them.

The instructor in that class was trying to get the students to think about what the mice — and eventually humans — want in homes.  The instructor was also reminding the students that the mice — and, eventually humans — had choices about where to live.

It is easy to forget those basic points, especially for those who automatically think of top-down solutions to problems.  That appears to be what happened with the new federal rules on school lunches.  The designers paid too little attention to what kids (and their parents) want, and too little attention to the fact that the kids had choices, that they didn't have to eat all, or any, of the food in those new lunches.

As you almost certainly know, many kids have rejected part or all of these new lunches, throwing away the parts they don't like, or replacing them entirely with "junk food" brought in from the outside.  And that shouldn't surprise any biologist who has studied what animals eat — when they have choices.
- 8:18 AM, 29 May 2014   [link]

You Can See President Obama's "Icy Reception" At West Point here, along with, in a separate video, CNN's Jim Clancy's brief critique of the speech.

(For fun, watch the reaction of the CNN woman, whose name I don't know, to what Clancy says.   It seems likely that she wasn't pleased.)
- 7:15 AM, 29 May 2014   [link]

More Than 100 Seattle Police Officers Are Suing Attorney General Eric Holder And Seattle Officials Over The Use-Of-Force Consent Decree:  You can read the story here:
More than 100 Seattle police officers have filed a private lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Justice Department and Seattle city officials, alleging use-of-force policies instituted as part of a federal court consent degree endanger them, it was confirmed Wednesday.
. . .
Defendants in the U.S. District Court suit include Attorney General Eric Holder, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Seattle police chief, and federal monitor Merrick Bobb.

“Defendants have promulgated and imposed new use of force (UF) policies and practices in reckless and deliberate indifference to the protections afforded plaintiffs by the Constitution,” the pro se suit says.
(Pro se means "advocating on one's own behalf before a court, rather than being represented by a lawyer".)

When the consent decree was announced, I had my doubts about its fairness.  I have not studied the question, but from across Lake Washington from Seattle, it appears to me that the Seattle police department has fewer than average problems, for a big city police department.
- 7:04 PM, 28 May 2014   [link]

"Well, Better Late Than Never", says Donald Sensing (a Methodist minister).

(The story is actually from 2007, but I missed it back then, as, I suppose, did Reverend Sensing.)
- 2:21 PM, 28 May 2014   [link]

European Union Legislators Are Less Likely To Respond To Voter Emails Than US Legislators:  That's what Professor Catherine E. de Vries found in an experiment.
In a recent study conducted in November and December of last year at the University of Oxford, I ran a field experiment with Elias Dinas and Hector Solaz.  Following studies with U.S. state legislators, we designed an experiment in which ordinary citizens sent e-mails written in their original language to a member from their country.  All 766 members received messages.  The content of the messages was randomized in terms of the issues voters raised: left versus right wing or Europe versus national concerns (more details here).   Here is what we learned about their responsiveness.

Result #1: Members are less likely to respond to voter messages compared to their U.S. counterparts

Roughly 29 percent responded to voter messages compared to more than 50 percent of U.S. representatives in similar studies.  We do find considerable cross-national variation in response rates.  Whilst in Luxembourg or Slovenia, roughly three-quarters of members of the E.P. responded.  Less than a quarter of Lithuanian or French MEPs replied.   No clear regional patterns emerge from the response rates (Note that small countries have small delegations and thus small sample sizes; making both positive and negative outliers more likely due to sheer randomness.)  Interestingly, there is significant variation in the response rates of the bailed-out member states, with Ireland, Cyprus and Spain displaying relatively high response rates and Greece relatively low.
If you are an election geek, like me, you may want to read the rest of the findings.  Others will wonder whether this pattern helps explain why the EU is losing legitimacy, why so many voters, or potential voters, in the EU think that representatives don't care about their constituents' concerns.
- 1:24 PM, 28 May 2014   [link]

Four Invisible Men:  On the front page of yesterday's New York Times was an article by Jennifer Medina headlined: "Campus Killings Set Off Anguished Conversation".

Here's a sample of the kind of conversation she means:
When a gunman obsessed with grievances toward women turned a postcard-perfect college town into a scene of mass murder last week, he did more than leave many women here thinking back to catcalls, leers, and the fears of sexual violence that have them traveling in packs and carrying pepper spray in their purses.

Both on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in an explosion of anger and frustration on social media, the attack has set off a raw, anguished conversation about the ways women are perceived sexually and the violence against them that has reverberated around the country.
(I'm using the Telegram version because that site popped up in the searches, first.)

If you read the entire article — and I am not particularly recommending that you do — you will notice a curious omission:  Nowhere in the article does Medina mention that Elliot Rodger killed four men, as well as two women.  But there is, apparently, no "conversation" going on about those four deaths, or about the fact that Rodger hated some men, as well as some women.

This Daily Mail article describes how that hatred resulted in a fight (incident?) between Rodger and some young men, in which Rodger was injured.  The young men were protecting the young women against Rodger.  It is unlikely that the Times will find that worthy of notice, much less a "conversation".

The article also gives us the names and pictures of all six that he killed: Weihan Wang, Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, Chris Michael-Martinez, Katie Cooper, and Veronika Weiss.  It may be old-fashioned of me, but I think all six deserve to be remembered, that all six may even deserve some "conversations".
- 9:07 AM, 28 May 2014   [link]

Small Ferry Monopoly Gets Challenged:  All my life I have known about the ferry on Lake Chelan, a beautiful, 55-mile-long lake near the center of Washington state.  But I had not known (or had forgotten) until I read this Wall Street Journal editorial that the ferry was a monopoly, thanks to a Washington state law, a law now being challenged in federal courts.
Regulations are often the biggest stumbling blocks for entrepreneurs trying to launch new businesses.  Just ask James and Clifford Courtney, who are hoping the Supreme Court will hear their important economic-rights case.

Since 1997 the brothers have been trying to start a ferry service on Lake Chelan in Washington state, a route that would support local businesses and seasonal tourism.  The problem is that another ferry already exists, and under state law any would-be competitors have to prove the new service would serve "public convenience and necessity."

Under the 1927 rule, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission only allows new competition if the current ferry provider "has not objected to the issuance of the certificate as prayed for" or has failed to provide the service. That gives the current ferry operator, the Lake Chelan Boat Company, a right to block all competition.  The company runs only one trip per day in each direction, three days a week, an inconvenience to tourists and local business owners who want to get back and forth to Stehekin, a nearby wilderness destination.
The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the tiny town of Stehekin, at the head of the lake.

Monopolies often have government protection from competitors, but this particular monopoly, says the Journal, is forbidden by United States Constitution.

(You may have to get to the editorial by searching with Bing, as I did.

There is a factual error in the editorial:  If you look at the ferry's schedule, you'll see that it runs three days a week only during January, February, and March.  It runs daily for almost half the year, beginning in May, and four or five days a week for the rest of the year.)
- 7:48 AM, 28 May 2014   [link]

Some Thoughts On Elliot Rodger:  No, not from me, from Jack Cashill:
Although talk of “white privilege” runs wild through Twitterdom, Rodger’s mother was an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia.  His father Peter Rodger was an aspiring British film director who uprooted Elliot from his native England when the boy was five and moved the family to Southern California.

This move was disruptive enough, but the real disruption occurred two years later.  Like so many Californians, Rodger’s mother and father divorced.
. . .
“I was absolutely shocked, outraged, and above all, overwhelmed,” wrote Rodger of his parents’ divorce.  “This was a huge life-changing event.”  Rodgers does not blame his parents or their divorce for his subsequent failures, but he could have.

Before the divorce, Rodger “thought a man and a woman had to be married before living together in such a manner,” but when his father promptly found a new girlfriend, Elliot “was completely taken aback.”  Through his father’s adventures, he began to see sex as a commodity, something one purchased through money, good looks, and “cool,” an intangible that eluded Rodger as much as it obsessed him.
Is Cashill right?  In part, I suspect.  But I also suspect that Rodger was born that way, that he would have had problems even if his father and mother had been model parents.
- 12:35 PM, 27 May 2014   [link]

Two Score Cards For The European Union Elections:   From the BBC, a set of graphs, mostly on economic conditions.  You will probably be struck, as I was, by the sharp range in unemployment rates, from 5 percent in Austria and Germany to more than 25 percent in Spain and Greece, and by the tragically high youth unemployment rates in most of the nations

But what I found most impressive (or depressive, depending on your point of view) is the declining turnout in EU elections, from about 61 percent in 1979 to about 43 percent in 2009.  (It may be higher this year — because the anti-EU parties have gained so much strength.)

It is hard not to conclude from that declining turnout that the EU is losing legitimacy.

From the Daily Mail, an article, and a set of brief descriptions of the major anti-EU parties, which all want controls on immigration and a less powerful EU, but otherwise have little in common.

(Caveats:  As usual, I should remind you that different nations have different ways of measuring unemployment, and so those rates are only roughly comparable.

And, though I didn't notice any obvious mistakes in those party descriptions, I am not familiar enough with the parties to be certain that there are no errors in that Daily Mail article.)
- 6:43 AM, 27 May 2014   [link]

"Kerry Insults France, UK, Canada, Israel In One Speech"  By claiming, falsely, that the United States was the only country offering help to Nigeria, after the Boko Haram abduction of more than 200 girls.
Nonetheless, Mr Kerry appears to believe the US is acting alone.  During an event at the State Department marking the 90th anniversary of the creation of the American diplomatic service, Mr Kerry said: “Boko Haram, Nigeria – only the United States is there offering the assistance to help find those young women.  Other countries not only aren’t they invited, but they didn’t even offer.  That’s a difference, and I think it’s a difference worth dwelling on.”

A Western diplomatic security source in Lagos, the Nigerian commercial capital, voiced dismay over Mr Kerry’s remarks.  “It's all been pretty shambolic and careless on the Nigerian side,” he said.  “If we now reckon coordination between the Americans and the Brits and the rest is also pretty poor, then we - and the schoolgirls - are much worse off than we’d thought.”
For a diplomat, John Kerry can be awfully undiplomatic.  And for a man who has full access to almost all the information gathered by the United States government, rather poorly informed.

There are more details in the Telegraph story, which Daniel Greenfield is quoting.

(When the abduction occurred, it struck me as a good time to get together with our allies, and jointly offer help to Nigeria.  I would have been inclined to approach the British privately, and ask them if they wanted to take the lead in organizing the help, since they controlled Nigeria for so many years, and have so many ties to and so much knowledge of the country.)
- 6:09 AM, 27 May 2014   [link]

Bing Remembers Memorial Day, with a background, for today, of a sea of flags.
- 4:47 PM, 26 May 2014   [link]

Karzai Refuses To Meet with Obama.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was offered a meeting with President Barack Obama at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul but declined, a US official said Sunday.
(Apparently, Obama didn't offer to come to Kabul, or meet somewhere in between.)

Remember when Obama fans were telling us how good he would be with working with foreign leaders?  He was, they told us, unlike that cowboy, George W. Bush (who somehow managed to work with Karzai, much of the time).

(The Associated Press has more on Obama's visit, and tries real hard to absolve Obama from any blame for the breakdown of even minimal relations between the two men.)
- 4:46 PM, 25 May 2014   [link]

Contrarian Investors Can Sometimes Do Well With Art, As Well As Stocks:  For example, Norman Rockwell.
Apart from any critical reappraisal, Rockwell's paintings show that in art, as well as in the stock market, it can pay to be a contrarian.  Rockwell's paintings have turned out to be a singularly good investment.  "After the Prom" last sold at Sotheby's in 1998 for $880,000.  This week's sale price [$9.1 million] represents a compounded annual rate of return of 13.1 percent, compared with 7.9 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index over the same period.
Not all the critics are pleased, as you'll see if you read the whole article.

(I've always liked Rockwell's paintings, in part, I'll admit, because they annoyed so many critics.

Here's the Wikipedia biography of Rockwell, with links to many of his paintings.

Incidentally, if you follow those links, you'll see some interesting legal boilerplate justifying the use of the images.  I like to study those kinds of statements from time to time, in order to help keep this site on the right side of the line between fair use and copyright infringement.)
- 4:10 PM, 25 May 2014   [link]