November 2015, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

What Should The United States Do About Chinese Expansionism In The Pacific?   In this New York Times op-ed, author Simon Winchester says we should surrender gracefully.

If you think I'm exaggerating, here are his first and last paragraphs:
The dangerous game of chicken now being played out in the South China Sea, with American warships sailing provocatively close to a clutch of new-made Chinese islands, is only the beginning of what looks to be a lengthy and epic tussle.
. . .
Whatever happens in the days ahead, one thing is certain.  The history of this huge region has now begun to turn on its hinge.  China is in the unstoppable ascendant.  It is time for prudence on what could swiftly become a very nonpacific Pacific Ocean.
(Emphasis added.)

In between, he tells us that the Chinese have plans to extend their perimeter to Hawaii by 2049, and that they are way better at long-term strategy than we are.

But he never mentions these three things, first, that other nations — Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia — are also concerned about China's territorial grabs, second, that there is reason to think that there might be oil and natural gas in some of the areas they have grabbed, and third, that China's demographic crisis will make it difficult for China to do anything by 2049.

So I don't see that op-ed as a serious argument, but as a plea for appeasement, when none is necessary.   What makes it interesting is that it was published in the New York Times.

(Full disclosure:  I've read a couple of his books, and liked both, The Professor and the Madman more than The Map That Changed the World.  I am nearly certain that I would like Krakatoa more than either.

Here's his somewhat dated Wikipedia biography, if you are wondering where his odd views came from.  I had not realized he was a Guardianista, which explains a lot.  And I have no idea why he chose to become an American citizen, in 2011.)
- 7:54 AM, 8 November 2015   [link]

President Obama Has Decided To Close Guantánamo:  Unilaterally, by executive order, by moving the prisoners to somewhere in the United States.

In spite of an express prohibition of such a move, passed by a Democratically-controlled Congress, in 2008.

So, pro-Obama lawyers have to argue that what he is doing is constitutional.

You can decide for yourself whether they are right about the Constitution.

I am no expert on the subject, but suspect they are wrong.

However, I can say this about a move — if it does happen:  Our propaganda losses from Guantánamo will be reduced, temporarily, until our enemies turn the new place into another symbol.

(When Obama ran for office in 2008, he had the opportunity to do the right thing; he could have said he would examine Guantánamo if elected, and, if necessary, end any abuses.  After he was elected he could have said that it needed a few reforms, but that people should not believe the lies that had been told about it.

Done early in his administration that would have reduced our propaganda losses, considerably.)
- 3:36 PM, 7 November 2015   [link]

Marijuana Growers Versus The Oregon Power Grid:  The grid has lost battles, recently.
Although recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon and Washington, problems linger from the industry's black-market past, not the least of which is substandard electrical work powering lights at marijuana grow-operations.

Pacific Power, an electrical utility company servicing Oregon, reported Wednesday that indoor grow operations from legal marijuana businesses have taken power grids above capacity, blowing out seven transformers since July, causing outages and equipment damage.

Steve Corson, a spokesman for Portland General Electric, said his company has had similar problems.  PGE crews anecdotally report that about 10 percent of their transformer blowouts are from grow-ops.  Corson said about 400 PGE transformers blow out each year.
I haven't heard of similar reports here in Washington state.  Perhaps the power grid here has more reserve capacity, or perhaps our journalists — who are almost all pro-marijuana — are reluctant to report them.

As far as I know, there is no mass movement to stop the production and use of marijuana, in order to save the planet from the evil CO2 those produce.

(This post, citing a study by Evan Mills, claims that 1 percent of the electricity use in the United States goes for marijuana grow operations.  I haven't looked at the study, but the number doesn't seem implausible, though you probably want to put wide error bounds on it, something like 0.5 to 1.5 percent.)
- 8:31 AM, 7 November 2015   [link]

This Jeb Bush Answer on Brexit — a British exit from the European Union — seems just right to me.
Great Britain is a sovereign nation, and they must make this decision about their relationship with Europe on their own.  The U.S. should not be putting a thumb on the scale and certainly shouldn’t bully an ally.  That said, as President, if Great Britain made that decision of course the U.S. would work with them on a trade agreement.
Especially since it seems increasingly likely that the British will vote to leave the EU in the 2017 referendum .

As you may know, the Obama administration has been advocating that Britain stay in the EU.  That's what Bush is referring to in that second sentence.

(There were other Bush answers in that interview that may be of more interest to most American voters.)
- 12:33 PM, 6 November 2015   [link]

Another Story Of Media Bias:  This one from Dick Morris.

In the first years of the Clinton presidency, the New York Times was highly critical of him, especially over the Whitewater development in Arkansas.

But that changed, as the 1996 presidential election approached.
As Bill Clinton ran for reelection, I got a call from the managing editor of The New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld.   He wanted an interview with the president.  His request came after months of the Times savaging Clinton with every kind of criticism.  Almost single-handedly, the Times kept the Whitewater scandal alive, joyously chronicling its every twist and turn.  How, I thought, did they think Clinton would grant them an interview?   So they could continue to savage him?
Lelyveld assured Morris that the interview would not touch on Arkansas scandals, and so Clinton reluctantly agreed to the interview.
Then, to my shock, Todd Purdum, the Times reporter who was to conduct the interview, called and asked to meet me beforehand.  When we met, over drinks at the Hay-Adams Hotel, he sketched out for me the questions he planned to ask and solicited my advice on any additional ones I might suggest.  Talk about softballs.  We got the questions in advance and even could chip in a few of our own.  It was the easiest pre-interview briefing I've ever conducted.  The president practiced hitting softballs out of the park all day.

The interview was the kindest and most gentle we ever had, and a cover story in the Sunday Times Magazine featured the president's picture on the cover.
And the Times continued, through the rest of the campaign, to treat Clinton very gently.

Usually, we don't get to see how these things are arranged.  But we can often guess what happened, from the product.

(Todd Purdum is not a man I would trust to write straight stories.

(More than the usual caveats apply to the Wikipedia articles on Whitewater and Purdum.)

For the record:  I don't believe in Morris's "four-year rule", though I do think that many "mainstream" journalists try harder to help Democrats, as elections get nearer.  Also for the record:  By 2008, Purdum had switched to supporting Obama against Bill Clinton.)
- 7:15 AM, 6 November 2015   [link]

China's Fertility Rate, Again:  A week ago, in my post on China dropping its one-child policy, I quoted the one number on China's fertility rate that I found in four sources: 1.17.  That number seemed very low to me, but not impossible; in fact, if the policy had been a complete success, that would be about the number you would expect, since there were always some exceptions to the policy.

But then I started seeing other numbers, even in the Wall Street Journal, and it became clear to me that there was considerable disagreement about the number.  Finally, I even took a second look at the Journal article and saw that the number was now 1.7.  I don't know whether I mis-read it, or whether a stealth correction was made.

Whichever, I think that I owe you my best guess about the real number.  The official number is, as the article now says, 1.7.  But a writer that I trust, Jonathan Last, said, four years ago, that the real figure is about 1.54, and that "there are a mind-boggling 123 boys born for every 100 girls".  (Both numbers may have changed since then, but probably not by very much.)

That difference between 1.7 and 1.54 may not sound like much, but it is enormously important.  It's the difference between a long-run disaster, and a medium-run catastrophe.

I've put a correction in last week's post.

(If you like playing around with arithmetic, you may want to calculate how much difference that sex ratio makes to eventual births.

As far as I can tell, this Wikipedia article is a good general introduction to the whole subject of fertility rates.)
- 9:36 AM, 5 November 2015   [link]

Australia's Penguin Protectors:  Many of Australia's animals, including some of its penguins, are helpless against predators brought in by European settlers.  But an Australian farmer found a local solution that may work in other places.
Foxes killed 180 penguins in that particular episode, in October 2004.  But the toll on Middle Island, off Victoria State in southern Australia, kept rising.  By 2005, the small island’s penguin population, which had once numbered 800, was below 10.

Today, their numbers are back in the triple digits, and much of the credit has gone to a local chicken farmer known as Swampy Marsh and his strong-willed sheepdogs.

“The powers that be wouldn’t listen to me until it got down to six penguins,” said Mr. Marsh, whose long-unused birth name is Allan.  “They were desperate.”

The farmer’s simple solution — deploy a particularly territorial breed of sheepdog to scare the foxes away — became local legend and, in September, the subject of an Australian film, “Oddball,” which fictionalized the story and made a lovable hero of one of the dogs. The strategy is now being tried elsewhere in Victoria, in hopes of protecting other indigenous species from non-native predators.
Specifically, Maremma Sheepdogs, which Marsh had learned could be taught to protect his free-range chickens.  And that success led March to conclude that the sheepdogs could also learn to protect penguins, which are, he thinks, just chickens "in dinner suits".

(Is there a larger political point to this post?  Yes there is, but I am saving it for a later post.

Here's the Wikipedia article on Little Penguins, which are, in fact, little, about a foot tall as adults.)
- 7:03 AM, 5 November 2015   [link]

A. J. McCarthy Was Amused by this Hillary Clinton   campaign promise:
In a little-watched speech at an NAACP banquet in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday, Hillary Clinton addressed “the box”—the section on job applications that requires applicants to indicate whether they have a criminal record.  Specifically, she boldly (?) claimed that under an HRC presidency, “former presidents won’t have to declare their criminal history at the very start of the hiring process.”

Was it a gaffe?  A Freudian slip?  A softening liberal opinion of the Bush family?  A subtle tip of the cap to Ulysses S. Grant’s reckless horse and buggy rides?
But, as you probably noticed, McCarthy missed most of the joke.

There is just one ex-president who might have to check that box, the one who admitted to perjury, and had to give up his law license as a result.

So that campaign promise would apply to exactly one man.

Does McCarthy not know that?  Or does he prefer not to mention it?  Probably the latter.

(If you are interested in the issue, Allahpundit has a reasonable discussion of it.)
- 6:22 AM, 5 November 2015   [link]

Puzzling:  This New York Times article, "Bird Eggs Are Fertilized by More Than One Sperm".
Bird eggs are fertilized by more than one sperm, a process called polyspermy.  Penetration by multiple sperm may be unusual in the animal kingdom, but it is somehow crucial to the development of the bird embryo, a new study finds.
That seemed impossible to me, given the way two sets of DNA combine in fertilization.

So puzzling that I had to find the original research paper.

Polyspermy is a major puzzle in reproductive biology.  In some taxa, multiple sperm enter the ovum as part of the normal fertilization process, whereas in others, penetration of the ovum by more than one sperm is lethal.   In birds, several sperm typically enter the germinal disc, yet only one fuses with the female pronucleus.  It is unclear whether supernumerary sperm play an essential role in the avian fertilization process and, if they do, how females regulate the progression of sperm through the oviduct to ensure an appropriate number reach the ovum.   Here, we show that when very few sperm penetrate the avian ovum, embryos are unlikely to survive beyond the earliest stages of development.  We also show that when the number of inseminated sperm is limited, a greater proportion than expected reach and penetrate the ovum, indicating that females compensate for low sperm numbers in the oviduct.  Our results suggest a functional role for supernumerary sperm in the processes of fertilization and early embryogenesis, providing an exciting expansion of our understanding of sperm function in birds.
That gets rid of the impossibility, but still leaves a major puzzle.

In mammals, a single sperm penetrates and fertilizes an egg.

In the two bird species they studied — zebra finches and chickens — multiple sperm usually penetrate an egg, though only one fertilizes it.

The additional sperm appear to be important in the fertilization process and the early development of the embryo, which is puzzling but not impossible.
- 1:02 PM, 4 November 2015   [link]

The Comeback Of Joseph Ganim:  In 2003, the Democratic mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut had a minor setback.
On March 19, 2003, Ganim was convicted of 16 federal counts: one count each of racketeering, extortion, racketeering conspiracy, and bribery; two counts of bribery conspiracy; eight counts of mail fraud, and two counts of filing a false tax return.[16][17]  Ganim was acquitted of six other counts.[17]  Ganim surrendered his law license upon conviction.[16]  The charges arose from Ganim's "role in a six-year scheme to shake down city contractors for more than $500,000 in cash, meals, clothing, wine and home renovations."[17]  In April 2003, two weeks after being convicted, Ganim resigned from office.[18]  He was replaced by councilman John M. Fabrizi.[18]
(Links omitted.)

Ganim served his time, came back to Bridgeport, won endorsements from the local Democratic organization, the police union, local clergy, and one of the FBI agents who had sent him to prison.  In the August primary, he narrowly defeated the incumbent Democratic mayor, Bill Finch.  Yesterday, he won election to his sixth term as mayor..
For months, Joseph P. Ganim asked residents of Connecticut’s largest city to give him a second chance as mayor.

On Tuesday, they answered with a resounding yes, electing Mr. Ganim, a Democrat, once again to lead the city he was convicted of betraying a dozen years ago.

Mr. Ganim, 56, claimed victory on Tuesday night, citing numbers that had him beating his closest opponent, Mary-Jane Foster, vice president of the University of Bridgeport, by a vote of about two to one, with Councilman Enrique Torres, a Republican, in third place, according to unofficial results.
So, were Democratic leaders in Connecticut embarrassed by his victory?  Probably, but they are hiding it well.
In a statement late on Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, a Democrat, said: “The voters have spoken, and I want to congratulate Joe Ganim on his victory.  I am committed to moving Bridgeport forward, and, as I have said, I will continue to put the best interests of the community first.”
Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut, and very Democratic, so Democratic leaders in the state have good reasons not to offend him.

For similar reasons, national Democratic leaders have good reasons not to pay too much attention to corruption in other Democratic cities.

(Here are the Wikipedia articles on Bridgeport and Ganim.

And here's an article explaining how he won.  Although his percentage (almost 60 percent) is impressive, his vote total (11,198 votes) is not.  According to the Times, the city has about 60,000 registered voters.)
- 11:35 AM, 4 November 2015   [link]

48-50, Almost Certainly:  As I write, Teri Hickel has a solid lead — 7,110 - 6,075 — in the special election in the 30th district, so I expect that the Republicans will hold 48 of the 98 seats in the state house of representatives, going into the 2016 election.

Although there are many votes to be counted, leads that large are seldom lost in this state.

Three of the four local television stations in this area (all but KOMO) did not see this likely Republican win as an important story this morning.

(The district straddles two counties, King and Pierce, and Hickel is leading by almost the same margin in both counties.

Oh, and goodspaceguy is winning almost 15 percent of the vote, which is about as well as he has done in any of his previous elections.   Incidentally, it occurred to me after I voted that he may not be eligible, if he really is a space alien.)
- 7:50 AM, 4 November 2015   [link]

Today Was Election Day In Washington State:  Since it was an off-year, or perhaps an off-off-year, or even an off-off-off-year* election, not much is at stake here, outside of Seattle.

Statewide, there are two initiatives — I voted against both — four "advisory" votes — where we can tell the legislature whether we agree with what they have been doing on taxes — and two special elections to the legislature..

One of those elections, in the 30th district, could be important.  If the Republican, Teri Hickel, defeats the incumbent Democrat, Carol Gregory, Republicans would have 48 seats in the lower house to the Democrats 50.  That would make it possible for Republicans to tie with a net gain of one seat next year, or take control with a net gain of two or more seats.  Republicans already control the state senate.

As far as I can tell, most observers think Hickel is the favorite.

I'm not in that district, but I did get to vote on a whole bunch of other races, everything from port commissioners to school board members.  (In one of the port commissioner races, I couldn't resist voting for Goodspaceguy.)

(*Americans usually call the election two years after a presidential election an "off-year election".   They can be enormously important since all the House seats, and one-third of the Senate seats are up, and there are races for governor in many of the states.

Most Americans also call elections in odd years off-year elections.  But years ago, it occurred to me that you could call the election one year after a presidential election, an off-off-year election because, though those years are less important, New Jersey and Virginia do elect their governors then.  And that would make elections three years after a presidential election "off-off-off-year elections".

This seems logical to me, but I haven't seen anyone else use this terminology.  And I notice that Wikipedia doesn't agree with my definition of off-year.)
- 7:12 PM, 3 November 2015   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Conan: Ben Carson now holds a 14-point lead over Donald Trump in Iowa. Experts say Carson appeals to Iowa’s conservatives, Iowa’s evangelicals and both of Iowa’s black people.
(For the record, blacks are about 3 percent of Iowa's population — and many of them are evangelicals.)

I preferred these two:
Fallon: Happy Birthday to Hillary Clinton, who turned 68 last week.  Asked what her favorite gift was, she said, “Donald Trump.”
. . .
Conan: Russia is planning to send four monkeys to Mars.  Not as preparation for a human mission.  But because the monkeys criticized Vladimir Putin.
Putin can be as touchy as Mugabe.
- 9:17 AM, 3 November 2015   [link]

Some Leaders Don't Tolerate Small Errors:  For instance, Robert Mugabe.
For Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, one size does not fit all.

A senior staffer at the University of Zimbabwe has been suspended for allegedly procuring academic caps for Mugabe that were too small for his head, according to court papers filed this week.

A mortarboard that was offered to the longtime leader at a graduation ceremony last year was rejected as too small, the papers said. But Mugabe wore that same mortarboard without any problems at an Oct. 2 ceremony after the cap bought for this year was also rejected as tiny, they said.

Mugabe appeared at the ceremonies in his role as chancellor of Zimbabwe's dozen-plus state universities.
Or what they perceive as errors.  The staffer, Ngaatendwe Takawir, is claiming that the caps fit Mugabe just fine.

(Mugabe is getting rather old to be any nation's leader.)
- 7:11 AM, 3 November 2015   [link]

This New Yorker cartoon didn't strike me as funny, when I ran across it in a collection of cartoons from the 2010 New Yorker.

And so I began wondering why the cartoonist, William Haefeli, thought it was funny, and why the magazine's editors thought so, too.

And I concluded that it was because in 2010 there was still enough glow to Obama — for some people — so that Haefeli and the editors thought that potential for disillusionment was funny.

I doubt if they would publish the same cartoon, now.

(The New Yorker doesn't publish many political cartoons, and the ones they do tend to be mild, and are more likely to be on the left than the right.

If that cartoon left you in a sour mood, here's another from the same collection that you might like.)
- 6:42 AM, 2 November 2015   [link]

"Cities Losing People, Not Brains"  That's the headline on the latest Froma Harrop column, published one day after Halloween.

Which is too bad, because it would have been a great headline for a Halloween column.

Were the people leaving their brains behind in the cities when they left?  Or were the people leaving the cities brainless already, as zombies are often said to be?

Either way, it would have made for an interesting column.

(The column, if you re wondering, is about the fact that even cities that are losing population are often gaining in the percentage of college educated, which is mildly interesting, but not nearly as much fun as the two possibilities suggested by that headline.)
- 7:23 PM, 1 November 2015   [link]

George Condon Remembers When People Were Shocked by Nixon's "enemies list".
When Richard Nixon’s secret “enemies list” was dis­closed in the Wa­ter­gate hear­ings in 1973, the country was hor­ri­fied to learn that the White House was look­ing for ways “to screw our polit­ic­al en­emies.”  It led dir­ectly to the second art­icle of im­peach­ment against the pres­id­ent.  Forty-two years later, when five Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates de­bat­ing in Las Ve­gas were only too happy to boast of their own lists of en­emies, the coun­try yawned.

This was des­pite the breath­tak­ing es­cal­a­tion in the use of the term.  The Nix­on White House had only 20 people on its ori­gin­al list.  The Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, Hil­lary Clin­ton, has more than 50 mil­lion—in­clud­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party, with its 45 mil­lion mem­bers, and the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation, with its 5 mil­lion.
He's right about the change, but mostly wrong, I think, about the reasons for the change.

During much of the Cold War, the United States had an unusual amount of unity, not the unity that we had in World War II, but more than is common in peace time.  When the Vietnam War bogged down, and much of the press turned against it, that unity began to break down and many on the left began to think their principal enemies were here, rather than in Moscow, Peking, and other Communist capitals.

At the beginning of that period, the Republicans and Democrats overlapped ideologically to a considerable extent; there were many conservative Democrats, a fair number of moderate Republicans, and even a few liberal Republicans.   The parties now have much greater coherence — almost all elected Republicans are conservatives of one kind or another, and almost all elected Democrats are on the left — which makes it far easier for people in both parties to see the other party as made up of enemies.

There's much more to this change, of course, easily enough for a book, rather than a brief post.  I won't get into any other parts of that change, with one exception:  I think that the 1994 House election was a turning point.  Democrats had become complacent about their House majority, and tolerant, if a bit contemptuous, of the Republican minority.  When Newt Gingrich and company showed that majority could be broken, the Democrats were shocked, and began to take the Republicans more seriously — and to dislike them far more than they had before 1994.
- 5:53 PM, 1 November 2015   [link]