November 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Mt. St Helens Through The Ice Grill:  Yesterday afternoon, Mt. St Helens was looking spectacular.

Mt. St Helens, 23 November 2010 afternoon
(Click on the picture to see the larger version.)

(The time stamp on the picture is one hour off; though it says PST, it is actually still PDT.)

At the moment, Mt. Rainier is looking prettier than Mt. St. Helens, but that may change during the day.  You can find links to both sets of web cams here, St Helens on the left and Rainier on the right.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(There's a set of my favorite St. Helens pictures here.)
- 10:06 AM, 24 November 2010   [link]

Terror Attack Or Incompetent Artillery Men?  The North Korean shelling of the South Korean island killed at least two civilians and injured many more.
The incident killed two South Korean soldiers and President Lee Myung-bak expressed regret Wednesday afternoon over "the passing of the two marines who met a glorious death in defense of the homeland."

The charred bodies of two civilians also were discovered as military teams canvassed the wreckage of the island.  Yeonpyeong, essentially a fishing village, is about twice the size of New York's Central Park.  About 1,600 civilians live there, along with a marine garrison of about 1,000.
The video I have seen, along with the map that accompanies that article, show that many of the North Korean shells hit the fishing village, not military installations.

Modern artillery can be extremely accurate; even at that distance, errors of feet, or at most yards, on initial shots are more likely than errors of hundreds of yards.  Probably the North Koreans deliberately targeted civilians in the shelling.  But we know so little about the regime that we can't exclude incompetence, rather than malice, as the explanation.

(The BBC has a helpful list of some of the earlier North Korean terror attacks, accompanying this article.  I probably should emphasize the word, some.)
- 8:35 AM, 24 November 2010   [link]

Taliban Impostor:  Here's the story.
For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all.  In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

"It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions.  "And we gave him a lot of money."
That little mistake doesn't inspire much confidence in the diplomats or the process, does it?

I suppose there isn't much chance of even getting our money back.
- 7:26 AM, 23 November 2010   [link]

Washington's Winter Wonderland:  Commuters in this area are getting lots of time to enjoy our early snowfall, crisp temperatures, and gentle breezes. For example.

More examples here and here.
- 6:15 AM, 23 November 2010   [link]

Whoopi Goldberg And Gloria Allred Say TSA Pat-Downs Are Acceptable:   First, Goldberg.

And then Allred — who tells me way more about her personal life than I needed to know.

I continue to think, in spite of these new examples, that women are more likely to find the pat-downs offensive than men.  And it may be significant that all three exceptions I've found are supporters of Barack Obama — and Janet Napolitano.  Perhaps I am too cynical, but I wonder whether the three would have the same position if the new policy had been started by Michael Chertoff, while Bush was still president.
- 6:37 AM, 22 November 2010   [link]

Is Obama Stuck In The 1980s?  That's what Jackson Diehl thinks.  (And so do I, after reading the column.)

About the kindest thing Diehl says in the column is: "Not all of the administration's foreign policy is anachronistic."

One of the most interesting things about Obama is that he came of political age during the Reagan administration — but seems to have learned almost nothing from it (or from welfare reform during the Clinton administration)
- 6:08 AM, 22 November 2010   [link]

Iowa Governor Chet Culver Loses His Bid For Re-Election:  But pays off his supporters, anyway.
Gov. Chet Culver's administration agreed Friday to offer pay increases for state employees that will cost taxpayers more than $200 million, despite Republican requests that the decisions be delayed until Terry Branstad becomes governor in January.

A Branstad spokesman called the deal "reckless," and House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen said it would likely lead to layoffs.
Terry Branstad won by more than nine points, so there isn't much doubt about which man has the mandate from the Iowa voters.

That's an odd move, even for a Democrat, unless Culver has given up on running for office in Iowa.   (His father served one term as a senator from Iowa, was defeated, and went into the lobbying business.  Chet Culver may be planning to do the same.)

It's outrageous, too, but you probably already figured that out.  (Culver may have done this partly to leave a stink bomb behind for Branstad.)
- 4:36 PM, 21 November 2010   [link]

Men, Women, And Airport Scanners And Pat-Downs:  Both men and women have objected to TSA's new airport scanners and pat-downs.  Megan McArdle is even willing to give up air travel to avoid them.
It wouldn't be fair to just drop out of sight and not return your calls without letting you know why I was leaving.  As it happens, I'm a frequent flier on American, and a pretty reliable customer of Delta and United.  Or rather I was.  Because like I said, I'm leaving you.

In fact, I've already left.  My cousin's wedding in Buffalo in October?  Drove eight hours each way.  Going to visit Dad in Boston over Christmas?  We're taking a slow train from DC rather than subject ourselves to the increasing indignity of flying.  If it's under 500 miles, I'll do anything rather than hop on a plane.  And if it's over 500 miles, it had better be way over . . . or I'd better be carrying a cooler with a still-beating heart in it.
(Well, most air travel.)

But there are some who say they aren't bothered by the new procedures.  For example, R. Emmett Tyrrell.
I blame Drudge!  Yes, I blame the Drudge Report for this insane controversy about the use of high-tech body scanners and "pat-downs" at airport security zones.

A minor altercation can take place at Genghis Kahn International Airport in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and it is headlines on the Drudge Report.  The millions of American travelers who are utterly insouciant to a high-tech scan or even a pat-down are ignored.  The other day a CBS News Poll found that fully 81 percent of Americans approve the use of the high-tech machines at the airport, but that means nothing to Drudge.  How many more Americans would welcome a soothing pat-down midst the hurly-burly of travel at our nation's stress-filled airports I do not know, but count me in -- especially if the pater-downer is a cute little number on the order of, say, Sarah Palin.
Tyrrell isn't alone, as that CBS poll shows, but so far everyone I have seen who say they don't mind the scanners have been men.  (The CBS poll doesn't give the answers by sex.)

Maybe that's just a coincidence, maybe men and women don't differ on this issue — but I suspect that they do.  (And I am absolutely certain that many men would not mind a pat-down from an attractive woman.)

My own view?  I haven't seen the arguments behind these changes, so I don't know whether they are justified.  I am reasonably certain that terrorists can think of ways around the scanners — but they still may be worth using.  Fortunately for us, many terrorists are not particularly smart or technically sophisticated.

I am inclined to think that we should copy the Israeli procedures, since the Israelis have been so successful for so long at detecting would-be terrorists — but I have no idea how much those procedures would add to the cost of air travel.

(Ann Coulter is quite funny on this subject, as she often is, but she is simply wrong when she says: "all the terrorists are swarthy, foreign-born, Muslim males."  A story from some years ago shows the possibilities:  A Palestinian terrorist became involved with an Irish girl (a hotel maid, if I recall correctly).  He got her pregnant, told her he wanted to marry her in Israel, and sent her ahead to Israel — with a bomb in her luggage.  Fortunately, the bomb was detected by airport screeners.)
- 8:11 AM, 19 November 2010
No sooner do I put up this post than I see a counter-example, this Joni Balter column.  I am still inclined to think that women are more likely to object to the scanners and the pat-downs than men — but a little less inclined than I was early this morning.
- 12:18 PM, 19 November 2010
More from Debra Saunders, including enough details on the Irish girl so that I could find this Wikipedia entry.
On the morning of April 17, 1986, at Heathrow Airport in London, Israeli security guards working for El Al airlines found semtex explosives in a bag of Anne-Marie Murphy, a pregnant Irishwoman attempting to fly on a flight with 375 fellow passengers to Tel Aviv.  In addition, a functioning calculator in the bag was found to be a timed triggering device.  She was apparently unaware of the contents, and had been given the bag by her fiancé, Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian.  He had sent her on the flight for the purpose of meeting his parents before marriage.  A manhunt ensued, resulting in Hindawi's arrest the following day after he surrendered to police.  Hindawi was found guilty by a British court in the Old Bailey and received 45 years imprisonment, believed to be the longest determinate, or fixed, criminal sentence in British history [1] (but see also life sentence).
(There is good evidence that Hindawi got the device from Syrian operatives.)

There is little I can add to that account — other than to wish that Britain had retained the death penalty.
- 1:01 AM, 23 November 2010   [link]

Soon-To-Be Minority Leader Pelosi Gets A Standing Ovation:  From the House Republicans.
- 6:56 PM, 18 November 2010   [link]

This Award Should Offend almost every partisan.
President Obama dropped a bipartisan bombshell today, announcing he will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom next year to ex-President George H.W. Bush.
(It doesn't bother me, even though it is obviously political.)

If you think I am joking about the award offending partisans, take a look at the comments after the article.
- 7:50 AM, 18 November 2010   [link]

Watch What Harvard MBAs Are Doing:  And then do the opposite.
Investors swear by market indicators.  Some, like Jeff Hirsch of the Stock Trader's Almanac, place their faith in the presidential cycle.  Others focus on inflows to mutual funds.  Still others look at more offbeat metrics like hemlines or Super Bowl winners.  Roy Soifer, a veteran banking industry analyst and consultant, looks to the career choices of Harvard MBA students.  And it may come as a surprise that their relative preference for jobs in finance is something of a contrary indicator.  In other words, when a large chunk of the latest crop of freshly minted MBAs decamps Cambridge for Manhattan — look out below!
That strategy won't work every time, but it will work often enough so that an active investor should watch those career choices.

( Michael Lewis made a similar point in Liar's Poker, arguing that the flood of Ivy League graduates in the early 1980s to Wall Street firms — and the willingness of those firms to hire them — was a strong indicator that there was trouble ahead.)
- 7:30 AM, 18 November 2010   [link]

Today's Feel-Good Story Comes from London.
Two drunken yobs tried to start a fight with three strangers - who turned out to be the military's most decorated hard men.

The thugs, who had a Staffordshire bull terrier with them, got a surprise comeuppance after hurling abuse at the smartly-suited trio in a street.

They had no idea their intended "victims" were a hero Royal Marine, an Army captain and a VC-winning SAS hero.
(VC = Victoria Cross, SAS = Special Air Service.)

The result was what you would expect.

By way of Tim Blair.
- 3:14 PM, 17 November 2010   [link]

Obama's Heroes?  You can find some of them in his latest book (which is, for a change, not about himself), Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.  The description at Amazon is not a useful as this one in the Guardian.
How could one not have faith that he will succeed in rekindling the American spirit when in the book he invokes 13 great Americans as a way of inspiring his daughters, Malia and Sasha.  Americans such as Albert Einstein, who, he writes, "turned pictures in his mind into giant advances in science, changing the world with energy and light".

And Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player, who "gave brave dreams to other dreamers".  And Billie Holiday, who "made people feel deeply and add their melodies to the chorus".

And Georgia O'Keefe, and Sitting Bull, and Helen Keller and Maya Lin and Martin Luther King and Neil Armstrong and George Washington and César Chávez, the farmworkers' leader who chanted "Yes, you can!" mdash; which rings a bell.

And, of course, Abraham Lincoln, who, the president writes, "knew that all of America should work together".
(I'm not sure who the 13th one is.)

All right, this book is supposedly addressed to his daughters, but that's still an odd list, particularly the choice of Sitting Bull.  (If Obama was trying to fill a quota — and I am almost certain that he was — he could have chosen Sequoyah, instead.)

(Spelling correction: It's actually Georgia O'Keeffe, even though that spelling doesn't look right.)
- 1:39 PM, 17 November 2010   [link]

Some People Shouldn't Watch Dancing with the Stars.
Authorities say a 67-year-old rural Wisconsin man enraged over Bristol Palin's "Dancing with the Stars" routine blasted his television with a shotgun, leading to an overnight standoff with a SWAT team.
Or maybe Mr. Cowan should just avoid watching the Palins.
- 9:44 AM, 17 November 2010   [link]

Jay Cost Has Completed His Post-Election Survey:  Here are his analyses of the results in the South, the Northeast, the West, and the Midwest.

Four samples:
The Republicans control 94 of the 131 congressional districts in the South, or about 71 percent of all districts.  The GOP has not held such a large share of Southern districts since 1868, during Reconstruction.
. . .
In all three states [New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania], what we basically see is the GOP snapping back to pre-2006 form.

This is good to see, especially in New York.  A quick and easy "pulse check" for the GOP is to see how it does in Upstate New York, historically a bastion of Republicanism and an indicator of its nationwide appeal.  And as you can see, it wasn't doing very well the last two cycles!  What is especially noteworthy about the GOP's six-seat pickup (net) in New York is that the party did it despite getting crushed at the top of the ticket — Paladino, DioGuardi, and Townsend all carried less than 40 percent of the vote, and lost every geographical region.  So, these Republican victories depended on a good number of ticket splitters.
. . .
A point I have been making through these write-ups is that the GOP needs to run "broad" candidates.  I want to expand on this point by putting together a simple "breadth of appeal" metric. . . . I haven't done a systematic search just yet, but I would not be at all surprised if Sharron Angle turns out to be the most narrow of all statewide Republican candidates who had enough money to fund a full campaign.  Notice also how narrow Buck's appeal was.  That's how two easy wins turned into losses.
. . .
In the final analysis, I cannot emphasize the following point enough. The Midwest is going to decide the 2012 presidential contest.  This, for now, is good news for the Republicans. The data indicates pretty clearly that President Obama, who performed very well here in 2008, is now in a very weak position. His approval numbers in state after state were terrible, resulting in significant Republican triumphs.
Some purists won't like his conclusions, but very few students of electoral politics would disagree with his main points.

(Minor correction:  There is no gerrymander in Iowa, where re-districting is done (mainly) by a nonpartisan commission.)
- 8:06 AM, 17 November 2010   [link]

Two Errors And A Possible Stealth Edit:  First, from the New York Times.
The old chestnut about Abner Doubleday's inventing baseball in a cow pasture in upstate New York has been so thoroughly debunked that it has taken a position in the pantheon of great American myths, alongside George Washington's cherry tree, Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.
You don't have to know a lot about American history to know that there was a Johnny Appleseed.  (And a most interesting character he was.)

Next, from the Washington Post — as the story appeared in the Seattle Times.
The theory that black holes exist was first put forward by Albert Einstein and is now a well-accepted fact in astronomy and cosmology.
Except Einstein didn't do that.  The idea has been around at least since the late 18th century.  In modern times, I'd be inclined to give more credit to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar than to anyone else.

Here's how the same sentence now appears in the Washington Post.
The theory that black holes exist was first put forward by J. Robert Oppenheimer, based Albert Einstein's work on general relativity.
(Oppenheimer deserves some credit, but not all the credit.)

Did the Post notice their mistake and then do a stealth correction?  Or did a Seattle Times editor botch the job of shortening the article?  I don't know, but I'll inquire at both newspapers.  (The first seems more likely.)

I should, perhaps, add that I don't often pore through newspapers searching for mistakes.  Both of these mistakes jumped out at me while I was skimming through the articles to see if there was anything new in them.

(Fun fact:  No one seems to know who came up with the term, "black hole".  John Wheeler helped popularize it, but denies having originated it.)
- 6:48 AM, 17 November 2010   [link]