November 2006, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Democrats Are Better Politicians Than Republicans:  On the average.   You can find evidence for that in this Michael Barone column.
In 2004 George W. Bush carried 31 states, which elect 62 U.S. senators.  Yet there will be only 49 Republicans in the Senate that takes office January 3.  Why the shortfall?  The answer, I think, is unforced errors.
And he goes on to list them.  Democrats have made errors, too, but not as many as the Republicans have.

I have long thought that Democrats are better politicians — on the average — than Republicans.  And I think the underlying reason for that is simple: Democrats who run for office are more likely to be professional politicians, people who have never had any other career.  For examples, just consider the recent presidential nominees.  Three of the last four Republican nominees (Reagan, Bush, and Bush) had significant nonpolitical careers.  There were five Democratic nominees during the same time period; only the first, Carter, had a significant nonpolitical career.  And you can find more examples of this difference without much effort.

(I also think that Democrats are — again, on the average — worse in office for the same reason; they have less experience outside politics, less understanding of the effects of their decisions.)
- 9:59 AM, 30 November 2006   [link]

Good News:  Nancy Pelosi faces the inevitable.
House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided against naming either Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, or Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), the panel's No. 2 Democrat, to chair the pivotal committee next year.

The decisions came despite lobbying by conservative Democrats on Harman's behalf and a full-throttled campaign by Hastings to overcome the stigma of the 1988 impeachment that drove him from his federal judgeship.
. . .
Instead of picking Harman or Hastings, Pelosi will look for a compromise candidate, probably Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), but possibly Rep. Norman D. Dicks (Wash.), a hawkish member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, or Rep. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), a conservative African American with experience on the intelligence committee.  To entice Harman to run in 2000 for a House seat she had vacated for an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship, the Democratic leadership shunted Bishop off the committee -- another perceived slap at black lawmakers.
From what I know of their backgrounds, any of the three would be an acceptable chairman of the committee.   All three, judged by their voting records, are moderates.  Reyes served in the Army in Vietnam, came back and joined the Border Patrol, and served there with considerable success — and great publicity.  Dicks has been a moderate on foreign policy issues all through his long career.  Bishop calls himself a "moderate conservative" on fiscal issues and a "traditionalist" on family issues.  (He had an interesting race in 2000.  The district leans Republican, and is majority white.  His opponent in 2000 was Dylan Glenn, an African-American Republican who had worked as an aide in the first Bush White House.  Glenn came close, winning 47 percent of the vote.)

Does this switch by Pelosi fit your argument that she acts like a machine politician?   Sure.  Machines have almost always been willing to give up a candidate who got too hot.   When the hyperpartisan New York Times is criticizing a Democratic leader, that leader doesn't have to be a genius to realize that it is time to cut your losses and find someone who is not quite so embarrassing.

But let's not forget that Pelosi knew all the problems with Hastings' record — and still was at least considering making him the chairman of the intelligence committee.  (I think she promised the job to him, but admit that not all news accounts go that far.)
- 3:34 PM, 29 November 2006   [link]

Our Enemies have, since the founding of the United States, tried to bribe our leaders, and sometimes succeeded.  But they have seldom been this blatant with their bribes.
Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez is an ally of the Iranian mullahs, a supporter of North Korea, a close friend of Fidel Castro and a good customer for Vladimir Putin's weapon factories.  Now he's also a business partner of Joseph P. Kennedy II.
The former congressman is not the only lefty who is willing to help Chávez.
Massachusetts Democrats seem especially eager to help.  In a September 29, 2005, "confidential memorandum" addressed to "President Hugo Chávez" and uncovered by a Congressional committee, William Delahunt (D., Mass.) gushed that it was a "pleasure" to have met with the strongman "to discuss your generous offer."  The Democrat advised Mr. Chávez to steer his oil through Mr. Kennedy's nonprofit and declared that "from a public relations perspective" the discount oil scheme "is an extraordinary opportunity to address urgent needs of people living in poverty, while showcasing the compassion of your nation."
What makes this even more bizarre is that the United States is, as I am sure you know, much richer than Venezuela.  So Kennedy and other Chávez allies in the United States are ripping off the poor people of Venezuela, supposedly to help people with modest incomes in the United States, but actually to further their own political careers.  And, of course, helping an enemy of the United States at the same time.

Some people have no shame.
- 2:18 PM, 28 November 2006   [link]

Anyone Seen Al Gore In The Seattle Area?  That was almost my first thought when I awoke to this news.

Drivers inching their way through the Monday evening commute cursed the snow that returned to the Puget Sound region and shut down at least two highways while essentially turning others into parking lots for several hours.

Police couldn't keep up with cars careening across freeways, chain-reaction fender benders and motorists abandoning their vehicles on suburban roads.  Jackknifed and stuck semi trucks blocked some highways, turning typical 20- to 30-minute commutes into several-hour affairs.  For the first time in at least a decade, Highway 9, a major thoroughfare in Snohomish County, was shut down much of the evening because it became "a complete sheet of ice," Trooper Keith Leary said.  Highway 522 also was closed off and on throughout the night north of Woodinville.

(Those not familiar with the Seattle may need to know that significant snowfalls are rare here.)

I am, of course, joking, but Al Gore has demonstrated an uncanny ability to bring this kind of weather to the places he visits.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(As always, when I touch on global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, especially if you are absolutely certain in your views, regardless of which side you are on.

For a knowledgeable critique of Al Gore's movie, see this Iain Murray piece.

This interview suggests that Al Gore is in Toronto, and it appears to be unseasonably warm there today.  But cold weather is expected to hit Toronto soon.)
- 7:08 AM, 28 November 2006   [link]

Weird:  The fear of Christmas appears in a strange place, Chicago's Christkindlmarket.
A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story, the city says.  Officials have asked organizers of a downtown Christmas festival, the German Christkindlmarket, to reconsider using a movie studio as a sponsor because it is worried ads for its film "The Nativity Story" might offend non-Christians.

New Line Cinema, which said it was dropped, had planned to play a loop of the new film on televisions at the event.  The decision had both the studio and a prominent Christian group shaking their heads.
And, yes, "Christkindlmarket" (also spelled Christkindlmarkt and Christkindelsmarkt) means what you think it means, Christ child market, though you won't learn that from the Chicago festival's web site.

(You can find explanations of the festival here and here.  From the first, I learned that little German kids think their presents come through a keyhole instead of a chimney, and are not delivered by an old guy with a white beard.

My own view is straightforward; governments should not sponsor religious events, but they should not hinder them either.)
- 5:35 AM, 28 November 2006   [link]

Now That The Election Is Over, the New York Times can remind us about a well known fact:  The Democrats are worse on spending than the Republicans, though the Times does not make the point as bluntly as I do.
Many of the new Democratic chairmen are among the most experienced purveyors of political bacon.   The next chairman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee is Senator Robert C. Byrd, 89, the West Virginia Democrat who may be the foremost master of the art.  Dozens of West Virginia bridges, roads and public buildings bear his name.  Among his recent appropriations feats was putting the Coast Guard's Operations System Center, its National Vessel Movement Center and, next summer, its National Maritime Center in his landlocked state, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
You would think that he would get tired of having things named after him, but apparently not.

Senator Byrd may be the worst of the bunch, but he is not alone.  Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye will be heading the defense appropriations subcommittee and sees no reason not to use that position to grab pork for his state.  And there are many more Democratic congressmen, some of them mentioned in the article, with similar plans.
- 10:08 AM, 27 November 2006   [link]

Jonathan Chait Says What Others On Left Are Thinking:  (And what some "realists" on the right have always thought.)  It is time, he says, to think the unthinkable and restore Saddam Hussein.
So allow me to propose the unthinkable:  Maybe, just maybe, our best option is to restore Saddam Hussein to power.

Yes, I know.  Hussein is a psychotic mass murderer.  Under his rule, Iraqis were shot, tortured and lived in constant fear.
And those are his good points.

Chait favors this because he believes that surrendering to the Baathists would be better than the alternative, and because Saddam has shown that he can bring order to Iraq.  That Saddam brought order by massacring his opponents, or even those he just suspected of opposing him, bothers Chait — a little.  That Chait's solution would require the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iraq, and would be opposed by the vast majority of Iraqis, bothers him not at all.

I suppose I should say that I respect Chait's honesty, but the brutality of his "solution" and his indifference to the opinions of the Iraqi people appall me so much that I can not.  But he is saying what many on the left (and some on the right) think.

(I say "realists" because, so often, their proposals lack — realism — as well as morality.

This column seems especially strange when contrasted to Chait's most famous previous effort, his explanation of why he hates President Bush.  I looked at that piece when it came out, and again this morning, and was struck each time by how real his hate seems, and how irrational.  It is hard not to agree with Victor David Hanson who said that leftists (including Chait, though Hanson doesn't mention him by name) hate President Bush because of who he is.

But Chait doesn't hate Saddam, at least not in the same way.)
- 6:08 AM, 27 November 2006   [link]

Maybe You Should stay home today.
This could be your unlucky day.  Monday the 27th has, it seems, overtaken Friday the 13th as the date on which the more suspicious among us should avoid the likes of job interviews, weddings and driving tests.

The date has been identified as the most ill-starred on the calendar, with more mishaps recorded than at any other.

The trend emerged from a study of more than one million insurance claims, showing more people are likely to have accidents on Monday the 27th than on any other day.  Domestic disasters, including burst water pipes and DIY problems, feature heavily on the lists.
Or maybe even stay in bed.

If, that is, you live in Britain, where this study was done.  It would be interesting to know what the worst day in the US is, and if it varies regionally, as I would expect.

(Many of the comments at the end of the article are strange, objecting to what seems to me to be an interesting, and probably useful, finding.)
- 4:49 AM, 27 November 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Guenter Lewy reviews the first volume of a new history of the Vietnam war, with some lessons for the present.
Mark Moyar's new history is the first of a definitive two-volume work on the Vietnam War.  Mr. Moyar, a Cambridge Ph.D. and currently an associate professor at the U.S. Marine Corps University, has done extensive and careful research in newly available primary sources such as North Vietnamese histories of the conflict.  The result is a valuable revisionist study that rejects much of the conventional wisdom about our early involvement in the conflict.  In particular, most of histories of the early part of the war have painted America's proxy leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, as an obtuse and tyrannical reactionary.  Mr. Moyar's first major contribution is to show that the American decision to abandon and help overthrow Diem was the most fatal mistake of the war.
. . .
Some of the most interesting parts of Mr. Moyar's book describe how Mr. Halberstam and Mr. Sheehan presented Lodge and their readers in the United States with grossly inaccurate information on the Buddhist protest movement and on South Vietnamese politics, much of it unwittingly received from two secret Communist agents.  Pham Ngoc Thao was a colonel in the South Vietnamese army and was touted by the Americans as a brilliant Young Turk who could help turn South Vietnam around.  Pham Xuan An worked as a stringer for Reuters and brilliantly manipulated and misled the foreign press.  As a result of disinformation and driven by their own bias, Mr. Halberstam and Mr. Sheehan seized upon the Buddhist protest movement as evidence that the Diem government was hopelessly repressive, lacked public support, and therefore deserved to be overthrown.
Believing in Halberstam and Sheehan's stories, President John F. Kennedy and the American ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. pressed for a change in the South Vietnamese government, and got one, a military coup that set back the war effort for years.  I have always thought that Kennedy was wrong to support the ouster of Diem, that it was both a crime and a monstrous blunder.  Now we know that it was a blunder partly inspired by stories coming from Communist agents.

How important was that decision?  This important.
Mr. Moyar concludes that under the continued leadership of Diem, South Vietnam quite possibly could have survived without the help of American ground forces.  Diem's successors shared most of Diem's shortcomings while they lacked his prestige as a nationalist leader and mandarin father figure.  The fast-changing successor regimes did not reform any of the faults of Diem's patriarchy.  Instead what was already bad — patronage, corruption, etc. — became worse.
Having botched the main story and contributed to hundreds of thousands dead, Halberstam and Sheehan went on to fame and, if not fortune, at least prosperity.

Will the New York Times, which employed both of these men during the Vietnam War, correct some of their errors, even now?  (Sheehan also worked for UPI during the war.)  I wouldn't wait for that.  In fact, I'm not sure the Times will even review this book.

(Guenter Lewy knows what he is talking about on this subject; he is the author of America in Vietnam, the best history of our involvement that I have read.

Ironically, Halberstam is the author of The Best and the Brightest, and Sheehan is the author of A Bright Shining Lie.  Some might take those titles to be confessions, but I doubt that Halberstam or Sheehan do.)
- 3:33 PM, 26 November 2006   [link]

Later Today, I'll be taking a dose of heart medicine from a box, this box, to be specific.

After about 40 for men and about 50 for women, the biggest health danger most of us face is heart disease.  The good news is that we can reduce that danger with regular exercise and with moderate amounts of alcohol*, a glass or two a day for men and a glass a day for women.

The reduction is significant.
Compared with those who abstain from alcohol, people who consumed one to six drinks per week were about 16 percent less likely to suffer from heart failure or die of cardiovascular disease, and those who had seven to 13 drinks per week were about 30 percent less likely to have these problems.

The lower risk held even after statistically adjusting for smoking, exercise intensity, body mass index, and having had a heart attack during the course of the study, as well as many other variables.

A drink was defined as one 12-ounce beer, one 6-ounce glass of wine, or an ounce of hard liquor.
If I recall correctly, that's about the same benefit that you get from exercising regularly.

There is one problem for those who would like to have a glass or two of wine each day, especially if you live alone, as I do.  Wine loses flavor after it has been opened, because of the exposure to air.  There are a number of systems that attempt to solve this problem, some quite expensive.  None of the cheap ones work very well.  (Your best bet may be to simply recork the wine and put it in the refrigerator, according to the current (December) issue of Consumer Reports — although I don't think that's what most experts would suggest.)

The box wines solve that problem by keeping the air out.  The wine is held inside a plastic bag that shrinks as you use the wine, so very little air gets in.  As a result, the wine lose very little quality over at least a month, and perhaps longer.  Here's what a bag looks like when it's empty.

But isn't the quality of the box wines awful?  Some, especially the very cheapest, are poor, but not all.  There are some very good wines being sold in boxes now, and they are usually very good bargains, as well.  There are four that I like enough so that I plan to buy them regularly, Avery Lane's 2004 chardonnay. Black Box's 2003 merlot and 2004 cabernet sauvignon, and Tefft Cellars' 2004 chardonnay.  (I would add just one caveat:  My first reaction to the Tefft Cellars' chardonnay was negative, but I found that, by the second glass, I was quite fond of it.  It may be one of those wines that people either like or dislike.)  So far, I have found only one boxed wine that I actively disliked, Wine Cube's merlot.  (Fortunately, it was a half-sized box.)

But I am no wine expert, so you may want to look at two sets of reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle's Carol Emmert, which you can find here and here.  Or you may want to find the September 2004 issue of Consumer Reports, which recommended four chardonnays (Black Box, Delicato, Banrock Station, Corbett Canyon), and five merlots (Black Box, Delicato, Banrock Station, Corbett Canyon, and Hardy's Stamp).  They rated the first two chardonnays "very good" and the rest of the wines "good".  (Thanks, by the way, to a helpful librarian at the Kirkland library for finding that Consumer Reports article.)

(*Does the kind of drink matter?  To some extent.  As I understand it, you get most of the benefit from the alcohol, whether it comes in wine, beer, spirits, or whatever.  But there are probably some extra benefits from drinking red wine, and perhaps from beer.  And I sometimes, for example when I am having chili, have a beer instead of a glass of wine with my evening meal.

Here's an article listing more health benefits from moderate drinking.

What will I have with the merlot?  Leftover turkey, of course.)
- 4:21 PM, 25 November 2006   [link]

Newberry Caldera's Big Obsidian Flow:  On my second disaster area tour in September, I took another look at the Big Obsidian Flow in the Newberry Caldera.  It's a big obsidian flow, but not the biggest, not even the biggest in the United States.  According to Steven Harris, in Fire Mountains of the West, four other obsidian flows in the United States have larger areas, and six others have larger volumes.

Although it is called an obsidian flow, it is actually a mix of obsidian and pumice.  Both pumice and obsidian are glassy, but pumice has bubbles and obsidian does not.  In the second row of pictures, you see, left to right, a chunk of obsidian, a chunk of pumice, and then a closeup of the same chunk of pumice, which shows you just how bubbly the pumice can get.

The intimate mix of pumice and obsidian that you see in the Big Obsidian Flow puzzles me.  I don't understand how the bubbles separated out so completely from the obsidian, which appears to have been right next to the pumice.  And both were, at some point, very hot liquids.  Perhaps the pumice came up through the obsidian and brought it to the surface, after it had lost its own bubbles.

And the picture of the evergreen growing out of the obsidian?  I just threw that in because I like the picture, and because I am impressed by anything that can grow in that mass of rock.

You can find my earlier disaster area posts from this September here, here, here, and here..  You can find the last post from the 2005 disaster area tour, with links to all the other disaster area posts, here.
- 2:09 PM, 25 November 2006   [link]