October 2014, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Political Machines, "No Show" Jobs, And President Obama:   Machine politicians often have busy lives, as this example from more than a century ago shows us.
This is a record of a day's work by [Tammany district leader George Washington] Plunkitt:

2 A.M.: Aroused from sleep by the ringing Of his doorbell; went to the door and found a bartender, who asked him to go to the police station and ball out a saloon-keeper who had been arrested for violating the excise law.  Furnished bail and returned to bed at three o'clock.

6.A.M.: Awakened by fire engines passing his house.  Hastened to the scene of the fire, according to the custom of the Tammany district leaders, to give assistance to the fire sufferers, if needed.  Met several of his election district captains who are always under orders to look out for fires, which are considered great vote-getters.  Found several tenants who had been burned out, took them to a hotel, supplied them with clothes, fed them, and arranged temporary quarters for them until they could rent and furnish new apartments.

8:30 A.M.: Went to the police court to look after his constituents.  Found six "drunks." Secured the discharge of four by a timely word with the judge, and paid the fines of two.

9 A.M.: Appeared in the Municipal District Court.  Directed one of his district captains to act as counsel for a widow against whom dispossess proceedings had been instituted and obtained an extension of time.  Paid the rent of a poor family about to be dispossessed and gave them a dollar for food.

11 A.M.: At home again. Found four men waiting for him. One had been discharged by the Metropolitan Rail way Company for neglect of duty, and wanted the district leader to fix things.  Another wanted a job on the road. The third sought a place on the Subway and the fourth, a plumber, was looking for work with the Consolidated Gas Company.  The district leader spent nearly three hours fixing things for the four men, and succeeded in each case.

3 P.M.: Attended the funeral of an Italian as far as the ferry.  Hurried back to make his appearance at the funeral of a Hebrew constituent.  Went conspicuously to the front both in the Catholic church and the synagogue, and later attended the Hebrew confirmation ceremonies in the synagogue.

7 P.M.: Went to district headquarters and presided over a meeting of election district captains.  Each captain submitted a list of all the voters in his district, reported on their attitude toward Tammany, suggested who might be won over and how they could be won, told who were in need, and who were in trouble of any kind and the best way to reach them.  District leader took notes and gave orders.

8 P.M.: Went to a church fair.  Took chances on everything, bought ice cream for the young girls and the children.  Kissed the little ones, flattered their mother: and took their fathers out for something down at the comer.

9 P.M.: At the clubhouse again.  Spent $10 on tickets for a church excursion and promised a subscription for a new church bell.  Bought tickets for a baseball game to be played by two nines from his district.  Listened to the complaints of a dozen pushcart peddlers who said they were persecuted by the police and assured them he would go to Police Headquarter: in the morning and see about it.

10:30 P.M.: Attended a Hebrew wedding reception and dance.  Had previously sent a handsome wedding present to the bride.

12 P.M.: In bed.
(A modern politician who did similar things would be accused of spending more than half his day in "photo-ops".)

Did you notice something peculiar about that list?  Nowhere during his day did Plunkitt do anything that might have earned him money.  As busy as he was, he was not working at a city job, or serving in the state legislature.   No doubt some of those he helped repaid him with bribes, later, or had paid him in advance.   But still nothing he did that day had a direct connection to a salary.

So how did Plunkitt, and other machine politicians, keep themselves fed while they were working up to where they could make really big money from what Plunkitt called "honest graft".

Often, it would be with a "no show" job.  They would have a position in the city or state government, but no one in the machine would expect them to show up for work there, regularly.  There would be someone else, perhaps a lower-ranking member of the machine, perhaps even a bureaucrat, who would do the day-to-day work.

This would free the leader so that he would have enough time to do his real job, winning votes.

Let me suggest that President Obama takes a somewhat similar attitude toward the management part of the presidency; like Plunkitt, and so many other machine politicians, Obama sees management as something underlings should do, so that he can spend his time on the essentials, politics.

If this view of Obama is correct, then he isn't a "bystander", but a man with an old-fashioned, political view of his job, a view that Plunkitt, and others like him, would have understood better than most of our modern journalists.

This view would also explain the seemingly excessive secrecy of the Obama administration.  Much of what politicians do is not really fit for public viewing, by the standards of machine politicians.

(This Wikipedia article describes some other usages of "no show" jobs, but is not very good on how the phrase was (and is) used in American political machines.  There's a good discussion of that throughout Mike Royko's biography of the first Mayor Daley, Boss.  I should add that, as mayor, Daley found time for both management and politics.)
- 4:13 PM, 30 October 2014   [link]

"If Sean Eldridge Doesn’t Lose By At Least 30 Points It Will Be a Defeat For America"  So says Andrew Stiles.
A recent poll of the NY-19 congressional race between lifelong district resident and Army veteran Chris Gibson (R) and carpetbagging Facebook spouse Sean Eldridge (D) shows Gibson with a commanding 24-point lead.  The Cook Political Report has moved the race from “lean Republican” to “likely Republican.”

That’s a solid lead, but not nearly enough to prevent a national embarrassment.  As the Free Beacon has repeatedly argued, every self-respecting human being should hope Sean Eldridge is utterly humiliated in November and suffers a defeat of no less than 30 points.

Eldridge is a self-parody of everything that is wrong with our political system, and represents everything that American voters despise about politicians.  He has more money than Hillary Clinton, thanks to his decision to marry Chris Hughes, who became fabulously wealthy after being randomly selected to be roommates with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard.  Not surprisingly, Eldridge (i.e., Hughes) is the largest donor to his own campaign.
There's more, and all of it justified.  Reading this Wikipedia biography carefully suggests to me that Eldridge has never held a real, non-political job.  Nor really lived in the the New York district he hopes to represent.  (He was born in Canada, grew up near Toledo, and didn't become an American citizen until 2006.)  Hughes and Eldridge looked at several districts before targeting the 19th.

In contrast, Stiles does not give enough credit to Chris Gibson.
Christopher P. "Chris" Gibson (born May 13, 1964) is an American politician and former officer in the United States Army.  He is currently the Republican U.S. Representative for New York's 19th congressional district.  A retired Army colonel, Gibson holds a Ph.D in government from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  He is a lifelong resident of Kinderhook, New York.  Gibson joined the United States Army in 1986 after graduating from Siena College.  He served tours in the First Gulf War, Kosovo, and Iraq.  He later taught American politics at West Point and was a national security affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.[3]  He has received four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, among other awards while in the military.

In 2008, he published his first book, Securing the State, which offered his overview on national security decision-making.  He retired from the army at the rank of colonel in 2010 to run for congress, where he beat incumbent Scott Murphy with 55% of the vote.   Gibson is married to Mary Jo Gibson, and the couple have three children.
Impressed?  I am.

Thirty points may be too much to hope for, in a district that Gibson won by 5.8 percent in 2012.  But we can probably expect fifteen, and hope for twenty-five.

(Here's Gibson's book.)
- 11:07 AM, 30 October 2014   [link]

The Seattle Times Should Hire A Good Tax Lawyer:  Why?  Because President Obama's IRS is not going to like the next-to-the last paragraph in this editorial.

The credibility of the press matters now more than ever.  This 2007 investigation occurred under President George W. Bush’s administration, but the Obama administration is racking up an unprecedented record of hostility toward the press, open government and transparency.  That ranges from limiting press access of White House photographers to seizing AP phone records to threatening to send a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter to prison for protecting a source.

Everything in that paragraph is true, and I suppose that we should be mildly pleased that the newspaper's editorial board has finally noticed what should have been obvious to them in 2007.  Leftists and machine politicians — and Obama is both — are rarely fans of the 1st Amendment (or the rest of the Bill of Rights, for that matter).

Now that their ox has been gored — and we really need an up-to-date metaphor to replace that one — will our local monopoly newspaper notice that the Obama administration has not always been kind to people who are not journalists?  One can hope so, but I would not suggest that you hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

(If the newspaper does want to start on that path, here's an easy story for them to do:   President Obama's fund raising trips here have almost all been timed to cause the maximum possible traffic disruption.  There ought to be at least one reporter, or columnist, at the Times who has enough nerve to ask Obama's local contributors whether that is deliberate.)

I am, by the way, serious when I suggest they get a good tax lawyer.  There have been too many incidents like this one for any prudent critic of the Obama administration to trust the IRS, while it is under his control.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can find a description of the FBI investigation that has them so hot earlier in the editorial.)
- 6:25 AM, 30 October 2014   [link]

Democratic Candidate Mary Burke Has Been Touting Her Business Success At Her Family's Company, Trek:  But there are people, including people who have worked for Trek, who say that she was not a success there, and was finally asked to leave by her own family.
In attempting to explain her two-year work hiatus in the early to mid-1990s, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has said she was just burned out after an intense period of leading European operations for Trek Bicycle Corp., her family’s Waterloo-based global manufacturer.

In fact, Burke apparently was fired by her own family following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff, multiple former Trek executives and employees told Wisconsin Reporter.
(I said "asked to leave", rather than "fired", because I think that's a more accurate description of what the informants say happened.)

If the informants are telling the truth, she didn't know what she was doing, and she treated the employees badly.  For what it is worth, Burke may not have been a success at her other executive job, either.
“She’s a disaster,” Cory Nettles, secretary of Commerce under Doyle from 2003 to 2005 told one of Doyle’s top aides in a 2006 email, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story published earlier this month.

Nettles told the newspaper he didn’t remember sending the email, which the Journal Sentinel obtained in an open records request.

Regardless, he said he does not feel that way anymore.
At least not publicly.

Burke disputes the story, but it sounds plausible to me, especially considering that, after working for Trek, she took two years off to snowboard.

("Doyle" is Democrat Jim Doyle, the governor of Wisconsin from January 2003 to January 2011.)
- 1:08 PM, 29 October 2014   [link]

Rhode Island, Too!?  Yesterday, when I wrote about likely Republican gains in New England, I didn't even bother to check what was happening in Rhode Island.

I knew, vaguely, that the Democrats had a formidable candidate for governor, Gina Raimondo, that the state was heavily Democratic (about 4-1 by registration), and that Obama had carried it easily in 2012 (63-35).

But I should have checked because the the Republican nominee for governor, Allan Fung, is now within just one point of Raimondo in a recent poll.  That's right; a Chinese-American Republican has a good chance to be the next governor of Rhode Island.

If you want to understand how that could happen, you should read this article by David Byler.

(There's a very entertaining third party candidate in the race, Robert Healey.  I am disappointed that he has changed the name of his party from "Cool Moose" to "Moderate", but I suspect he will still liven up the race.)
- 7:54 AM, 29 October 2014   [link]

What Kinds Of Foods Do The Kids At Sidwell Friends Eat?  Pretty much the foods that most American kids would choose for themselves.

(J. Christian Adams is too hard on Michelle Obama in that post.  She doesn't control the menus at Sidwell Friends, or anywhere else, despite what you may have heard.  She's just been the spokeswoman for menus the bureacrats at the Agriculture Department thought up.

But it is interesting that she hasn't been able to persuade Sidwell Friends to change their menus, even though many, perhaps most, of the parents who pay those enormous tuitions agree with her, politically.)
- 7:10 AM, 29 October 2014   [link]

"Smaller Fleas To Bite 'Em"  They don't go on "ad infinitum", as the verse has it, but they do go one more step than I had realized before today, as I learned from this New York Times survey article on viruses.
Viruses have managed to infiltrate the cells of every life form known to science.  They infect animals, plants, bacteria, slime mold, even larger viruses.
The last surprised me,  Since viruses can reproduce only by taking over cells, I couldn't see how a virus could infect another virus.  And they don't, exactly.

But there are satellite viruses that can reproduce only in cells that have been taken over by another virus.
A satellite is a subviral agent composed of nucleic acid that depends on the co-infection of a host cell with a helper or master virus for its multiplication.
If those satellite viruses "inhibit or impair" the reproduction of the "master" virus, then they are referred to as virophages.

If you need an analogy, think of the "master" virus as a criminal who breaks into a home and takes the owner hostage, and the virophage as a criminal who follows the first criminal in, and steals part of the loot.  (I should note that the terminology is inconsistent, with some calling the "master" virus the "auxiliary" virus.)

(The article, by Natalie Angier, is a good quick review on viruses.

If you would like your mind boggled, read this section of the Wikipedia article on viruses.  There's a lot going on in a teaspoon of seawater.)
- 5:33 PM, 28 October 2014   [link]

Do Illegal Votes By Non-Citizens Sometimes Determine Elections Here In The United States?  I began thinking about that problem more than two decades ago, and concluded, tentatively, that the answer was yes.  After the 2000 presidential election, and all the disputes that went with it, I put more time into the problem and, in 2002 gave an example, Maria Cantwell's defeat of Slade Gorton, where that may have happened.

The logic of my underlying argument is simple:

  1. There are more non-citizens living in the United States than ever before.
  2. Some small proportion of them will be tempted to register and vote, illegally.
  3. Many places have few checks against non-citizens voting, so most of those tempted will succeed.
  4. The non-citizens here in the United States tend to favor the Democratic Party.

Therefore, I concluded, some close elections were being tipped to the Democrats by these illegal votes.

All through this time, however, I have been unhappy that I could not find any academic studies of the question.  And it was obvious to me that it was not a difficult research problem, that you could get a good start on it simply by running a large survey, and asking the right questions, in the right way.

Now, finally, three researchers, Jesse Richman, Gulshan Chattha, and David Earnest, have done that study, and provided direct evidence for the conclusion I reached more than a decade ago.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).  Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections?  More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote.  Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted.  Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections.  Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes.  Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin.  It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina.  Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

You may want to apply those numbers to make back-of-the-envelope estimates of the likelihood that illegal votes by non-citizens gave Democratic candidates victories in your favorite close elections.  For example, this strengthens my conclusion that Cantwell's victory in 2000, by just 2,229 votes, was illegitimate.  And it makes it nearly certain that Christine Gregoire's 2004 victory over Dino Rossi, by just 129 votes, was illegitimate.  In fact, I will go further and say that, if you could have magically eliminated the non-citizen votes from just Seattle, Dino Rossi would have won the last recount.

There is nothing difficult in the chain of reasoning that I went through years ago, and I am nearly certain that others came to the same conclusion, independently.  I think it likely that unscrupulous Democratic operatives saw that they could gain a few votes by making it easier for non-citizens to vote, and that Republican operatives saw that they could be on the side of truth and justice — and gain a few votes, net — by putting tighter controls on registration and voting.  Understanding that non-citizens were sometimes tipping elections to the Democratic Party would explain, for example, why George Soros, and others, put money into the Secretary of State Project.

As has happened far too often in recent years, I wish that research had proved me wrong, wish that our close elections were not sometimes being determined by illegal votes.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For the record:  I can think of a few places where illegal votes by non-citizens might help Republican candidates, for example, where there were many immigrants from Russia, or other countries that have suffered from Communism.)
- 2:20 PM, 28 October 2014   [link]

Here's The Anti-Bruce Braley chicken ad.

I like it, and think it is likely to be effective.

By the way, those aren't just any old chickens; those are therapy chickens, used for treating kids with autism, as I noted in July.

(Correction:  There is a mistake in the text under the ad; Braley did not sue, just threatened to sue.  As a hotshot trial lawyer, he probably realized that winning such a suit would be almost as bad for him as losing.)
- 7:59 AM, 28 October 2014   [link]

The Republican Wave Is Splashing Up into New England.
The region’s GOP Senate contingent—now at two—would grow if former Sen. Scott Brown defeats Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, giving the party one of the six seats it would need to reclaim a majority in the chamber.

Not a single Republican represents a New England state in the House, contributing to the region’s reputation as a bastion of liberalism.  But this year, independent analysts say, Republicans have a shot at picking up as many as six seats in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
The phrase "have a shot" does not mean the Republicans are favored in all of those races, just that they might win, but winning even three of those House races would be a triumph, when measured against the results in 2008 or 2012.

Right now, I would make Scott Brown a slight favorite in New Hampshire because the state's Republicans outnumber the Democrats, because Brown is a better campaigner than Shaheen, and because of that Republican wave.

In addition, the Republican governor in Maine, Paul LePage, has a good chance of defeating his Democratic opponent, Mike Michaud, and the Republican candidate for governor in Connecticut, Thomas Foley, has a good chance of defeating the Democratic incumbent, Dannel Malloy.

(If you aren't familiar with LePage, take a look at his Wikipedia biography.   I think even most Democrats will be impressed by the way he has triumphed over adversity.)
- 7:32 AM, 28 October 2014   [link]

"Charlie Baker For Governor"  The very liberal Boston Globe joins the bandwagon and endorses a Republican for Massachusetts governor.
Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions.  To provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed.  Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that.   During this campaign, he has focused principally on making state government work better.  The emphasis is warranted.  And in that spirit, the Globe endorses Charlie Baker for governor.
. . .
One needn’t agree with every last one of Baker’s views to conclude that, at this time, the Republican nominee would provide the best counterpoint to the instincts of an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.  His candidacy opens up the possibility of creative tension.  Facing veto-proof Democratic majorities in both houses, Baker would have no choice but to work constructively with the Legislature.  Likewise, the Legislature would have to engage with Baker’s initiatives.
So Baker is a better executive than his opponent, Martha Coakley, and a Republican is needed to keep the Democrats in the legislature in check.

(Curiously enough, the Globe could have made similar arguments in 2012, and endorsed Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, but they didn't.)

It is probably not entirely a coincidence that the Globe made their endorsement after the newspaper's own poll showed Baker leading, 45-36.

The Globe does not mention this, so I will:  Martha Coakley's career as Massachusetts attorney general has not been a great success, as you can tell even from her Wikipedia biography — which appears to have been written mostly by Coakley, or her supporters.  She doesn't, for instance, seem to have won any major corruption cases against elected Democrats — and that isn't because there is a shortage of targets in the state.

(A month ago, I noted that Baker had a good chance to win, so these recent poll results do not surprise me, though the endorsement does, slightly.)
- 6:49 AM, 28 October 2014   [link]

Pohl's "Joymaker" And Modern Smart Phones:  In his story, "The Age of the Pussyfoot", science fiction writer Frederick Pohl predicted a device, the Joymaker, that could do what smart phones now do, with a few extras that they could do, if you made them larger.
The Joymaker is a fictional device invented by Frederik Pohl for the novel The Age of the Pussyfoot, first published in 1965.  It bears a remarkable resemblance to devices in common use in the years following the start of the 21st century.
The remote-access computer transponder called the "joymaker" is your most valuable single possession in your new life.  If you can imagine a combination of telephone, credit card, alarm clock, pocket bar, reference library, and full-time secretary, you will have sketched some of the functions provided by your joymaker. - from the novel
The Joymaker was conceived by Pohl in the 1960s after he saw one of the earliest time sharing computer systems.  These allowed multiple users spread over a wide area, connected by good quality telephone or data lines, to simultaneously use one or more large (for the time) computers for a variety of purposes.
The story, if you are wondering, was set in 2527 AD.  It is only fair to add that Pohl expected something like the Joymaker in about five decades, not five centuries.

Computer people will quibble that the Joymaker is a small terminal, not a small (and very powerful) computer, but on the whole I think we have to give Pohl credit for a successful prediction.

(If you want to read the story, the easiest place to find it is probably in Bipohl, where it is paired with "Drunkard's Walk".  Both are interesting stories; neither, in my opinion, is among his very best.)
- 1:40 PM, 27 October 2014   [link]

Michael Ramirez Has Some Fun with the Democrats who are fleeing from Obama.
- 1:04 PM, 27 October 2014   [link]

Two Weeks Ago I noted that Thomas Eric Duncan had not told the truth about his exposure to a sick woman in Liberia, three times, once when leaving Liberia, and twice at the Texas hospital.

Now, "Sixty Minutes" (and Drudge) have caught up with me.

Let me repeat the sad conclusion I came to then:  Duncan's delay in telling the hospital staff about his contact with the sick woman may have cost him his life.
- 12:57 PM, 27 October 2014   [link]

Ron Fournier Says President Obama Should "Fire Himself"  By which Fournier means, not that President Obama should resign, but that he should get a new set of staffers.
For his sake and ours, Obama must fire himself.  He needs to recognize that, for all of his strengths as a person and a politician, he's shown an astonishing lack of growth on the job.  Obama won't evolve unless he replaces enablers with truth-tellers—advisers unafraid of telling the president he's wrong.

He should start, of course, with [Chief of Staff Denis] McDonough.  A solid public servant, McDonough has the misfortune of serving a president who doesn't understand the importance of a chain of command, the perils of backchannels, the value of relationships, or the inherent powers of the presidency.  Obama should hire and empower a CEO powerhouse.
In other words, Obama has been an ineffective executive, and hasn't learned from his mistakes, so he should hire someone who can do the executive job for him.  Presumably, Obama would continue to do the ceremonial duties of a president, much as monarchs do in constitutional monarchies.

For me, the most disturbing part of that Fournier critique is his claim that Obama has "shown an astonishing lack of growth on the job".  That tells me that — according to Fournier — Obama is not learning from his mistakes.

I had come to same unfortunate conclusion, tentatively, years ago, but hoped that I was wrong.

(Here's McDonough's Wikipedia biography.)
- 9:05 AM, 27 October 2014   [link]

The Marysville Pilchuck School Shootings:  My sympathy to the families who lost their children.  Beyond that, there doesn't seem to be much to say, though the usual suspects have been saying the usual things at great length, especially in this area.

One of the families has asked that their privacy be respected — and I can understand why they would say that.  Sometimes our reporters seem a touch too ghoulish for my tastes.

There is no mystery about Jaylen Fryberg's motives; he was obsessed with sex, and his girlfriend had broken up with him a few weeks before.  (Please note:  The link in that post to the twitter account will take you an exceptionally crude series of tweets.)

So far, I haven't seen any description of his relationship, if any, with his father, something I always wonder about in these school shootings.  (His father owned the Beretta pistol Fryberg used, so there were some links between the two.  It was, of course, completely illegal for Fryberg to have the pistol.)

(You can find descriptions of the city and the murders in the usual Wikipedia articles.)
- 7:50 AM, 27 October 2014   [link]

The Scale Problem For Executives:  As I have said before, top executive talent is rare; there are few men, or women, who have the ability to lead large organizations.

And the larger the organization, the harder it is to find an executive competent to lead it.

Military men have known this approximately forever; there are many officers who can command small forces, but are failures when given larger forces.  An important dividing line, I suspect, is when the force becomes large enough so that the commander can not know the soldiers in his command, as individuals.

There is a famous example of that kind of failure from the 19th century, Redvers Henry Buller.
Buller was archetypical of the British field grade officer of the second half of the nineteenth century.  It was a time when a career officer still needed few qualifications to follow the military trade beyond outstanding personal courage and the ability to conform with the contemporary concept of a gentleman.  Buller was pre-eminent on both counts, and his courage verged on sheer rashness.  He may have known the meaning of the word fear, but there is no evidence that he ever let it influence his conduct and he had no tolerance for it in others.  His horsemanship was superb and his magnificent endurance let him ride most men into the ground.

He also possessed a very high order of personal leadership.  He based his command on the pure force of his personality; he was stern without unjust harshness, and his demands were high, but never more than he was giving himself.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and he was one of the few Imperial officers who could squeeze out of irregular volunteers the performance and reliability expected of professional troops.  He was, in fact, one of that small and fabled band of leaders men cheerfully follow to hell. (p. 261)
Donald Morris then describes, in a long paragraph, Buller's defects as an officer, ending with this summary:  "He made a superb major, a mediocre colonel, and an abysmally poor general."

Buller could lead personally, but not statistically; he could lead well when he could know all of his men, but not when he had to rely on written reports to understand what his forces were doing.

Napoleon is an obvious contrasting example, but it is worth noting that one of his largest battles, Leipzig, was not a great success.

You don't have to know much military history to know that Napoleons are rare — but, somehow, most of us fail to see that the same must be true of political leaders, that few of them have the ability to lead a nation, a state, or even a large city, statistically.  And, I must add, at the same time those political leaders must be able to lead their own staffs, personally.  So they must be able to make good decisions on the basis of numbers, and people.

To some extent, both of those can be learned — but I would rather have our political leaders get that education before they reach the Oval Office.

(For more on Redvers Buller, see this moderately favorable Wikipedia biography.)
- 4:25 PM, 26 October 2014   [link]

If You Have A Weird Sense Of Humor, you'll like this weekend's New Yorker cartoon.

(I did, as you probably guessed.)
- 2:58 PM, 26 October 2014   [link]

Why Don't We Have An Ebola Vaccine Ready To Use?  Because it was — and still is — a rare disease found, sporadically, in poor countries.
Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus.  The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting.  The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.
. . .
Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time.  But experts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries.  Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay.
How enormous?  This enormous:
To that point, the research may have cost a few million dollars, but tests in humans and scaling up production can cost hundreds of millions, and bringing a new vaccine all the way to market typically costs $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Dr. Crowe said.
If you could sell doses of the vaccine at $100 per dose, you would need to sell 10 to 15 million doses to break even.  And I doubt that every family in countries as poor as Liberia would be able to pay that much for vaccine doses, even if they wanted to.

(It would be interesting to see how the costs of bringing a vaccine to market have risen over the years — and interesting to hear opinions from experts on how much unnecessary regulation has contributed to those rising costs.

The Director of the National Institute for Health, Dr. Francis Collins, blamed budget cuts for the fact we don't have a vaccine.  But a glance at the graph at the bottom of the article will show you that appropriations for the NIH soared when Bush came into office, and have stayed high since then.  What the graph does not show you is that the NIH budget was already growing rapidly before 2000, partly because Newt Gingrich was an enthusiast for biological research.

For the record:  I thought the increases during the early Bush administration were too large, too fast, and said so at the time.  Because researchers take so long to train, it is difficult, even for the best research directors, to spend additional money effectively, if it comes in a sudden flood.)
- 3:53 PM, 25 October 2014   [link]