October 2017, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Why Do The Burmese* Hate The Rohingya?  If you share my bad habit of watching the BBC and PBS news programs, you have seen the stories about the Rohingya being forced out of Myanmar.

As I watched these stories I became puzzled, since the brutal removals by the Burmese army seemed so out of proportion to what started them — an attack on police stations that killed nine.  And then I learned that the Myanmar government recognized 130 ethnic groups in the country, but not the Rohingya, who are officially non-citizens.

I am no expert on the history of Myanmar, but I do know that the nation has had a few minor tiffs with other ethnic groups over the years, groups that were still allowed to be citizens, and even were, to some extent, forgiven.

So why were the Rohingya treated so much more harshly?

A front page article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal gave me a likely answer to that question.  It's the Rohingya's religion.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, democracy activist and Myanmar’s main civilian leader, met with a senior diplomat last year and told a cautionary tale about how Muslims had come to dominate another southeast Asian state, Indonesia, after centuries in the minority.

Ms. Suu Kyi spoke about her country not wanting to face such a situation, according to a person familiar with the discussion.  Muslims were already the majority in some areas, she added, though they make up just 4% of the total population.
One would like better sources, but the story is plausible, and explains the Burmese treatment of the Rohningya better than anything else I have been able to think of.  It is likely that her views on the Muslim threat to Myanmar are widely shared in her nation, that she is saying what most of her countrymen believe.

She's right, by the way, about Indonesia, where, centuries ago, "Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms flourished".

(*The people of Myanmar are, officially, Myanmese.  As I understand it, that refers to all of the ethnic groups, so Burmese seemed more appropriate for the title of this post.

According to the article, during World War II, many Buddhists in Burma, hoping for independence, supported the Japanese, while the Rohingya (in reaction?) supported the British.)
- 8:54 AM, 8 October 2017   [link]

Worth Buying:  This weekend's Wall Street Journal for Nicholas Carr's essay, "How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds", making us dumber and less civilized.

(When I finished the essay, I was left with the uneasy feeling that, perhaps, we should treat smartphones like alcohol and tobacco, with age limits and Pigovian taxes.)

And for Mark Moyar's op-ed, "Ken Burns’s ‘Vietnam’ Is Fair to the Troops, but Not the Cause".
For the past several years, American and South Vietnamese veterans awaited Ken Burns’s “The Vietnam War” series with gnawing fear.  Would Mr. Burns use his talent and prestige to rehash the antiwar narrative, which casts veterans as hapless victims of a senseless war?  The program’s final episode has aired, and it is safe to say that worries about the portrayal of veterans were somewhat misplaced, while those concerning the war itself proved justified.
It is hard to imagine PBS sponsoring this series, if it had been less biased.  They would have lost sponsors, and made millions of viewers unhappy.

(Moyar has written, extensively, on the war.)
- 8:14 AM, 8 October 2017   [link]

I Should Have Linked to this cartoon before last November's election.

Sadly, there is a good chance it will be appropriate before future elections, too.
- 7:34 AM, 8 October 2017   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Political Cartoons from RealClearPolitics.

My favorite:  Gary Varvel's coach Trump.

(I'm not sure what Varvel is trying to say with Trump's tie, though I have my suspicions.)
- 8:04 AM, 7 October 2017   [link]

Who Knew About The Accusations Of Sexual Harassment Against Harvey Weinstein?  Practically everyone in Hollywood, according to this New York Times article.

Did the Clintons?  Probably.  Did the Obamas?  Possibly.

(In reading the article, you should keep in mind that it is based on accounts from his failures, and that there is every reason to think he often succeeded when he offered career help in exchange for sex.)
- 4:23 PM, 6 October 2017   [link]

Worth Reading:  Leah Libresco's confession.
Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way.  We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.  The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.
(Emphasis added.)

Libresco is not the only researcher to come to that frustrating conclusion, although few are as honest about how they were forced to change their minds.

(Here's my tentative suggestion from October 2015 — with my explanation of why leftists are unlikely to support it.)
- 12:47 PM, 6 October 2017   [link]

Everything is Bigger In Texas:  Including corsages.

- 11:09 AM, 6 October 2017   [link]

The Word "Decimate" Is Almost Always Used Incorrectly:  Which is unfortunate, because the original meaning is so interesting — and so gruesome.
Decimation (Latin: decimation; decem = "ten") was a form of military discipline used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as mutiny or desertion.  The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning "removal of a tenth".[1]  The procedure was a pragmatic attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders.[2]
. . .
A cohort (roughly 480 soldiers) selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten.  Each group drew lots (sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing.   The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier's diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the camp.[3]

As the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in a group sentenced to decimation were potentially liable for execution, regardless of individual degrees of fault, rank, or distinction.
Now, compare that to the way the word is used in this New York Times article, "Puerto Rico’s Agriculture and Farmers Decimated by Maria".

If you read the article, you'll learn that far fewer than 10 percent of the farmers died — for which we may be grateful — and that far larger proportions of crops were destroyed.

Objecting to this common usage of "decimate" makes me, I was reminded by my search, a "language pedant".  (There are worse things to be.)

But I still think I am right, for two reasons.  First, you will annoy many in the small group who know the original meaning, a group you just joined, if you weren't a member already.

Second, there are almost always better alternatives, for example: damaged, devastated, destroyed, or even annihilated.  For the Times headline, I would have said Maria destroyed most of the crops on the island.

(What about cases in which one out of ten do die?  For example:  "Cholera decimated the village, killing 130 of the 1300 inhabitants."  I wouldn't necessarily object to that, but I would note that simply giving the numbers would be better most of the time.)
- 6:47 PM, 5 October 2017   [link]

It Doesn't Have To Be "Or" On Trump And Puerto Rico; It Can Be "And"  By now, you have probably seen criticisms of President Trump's response to the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, and you may have seen defenses of his response, like this one.

As far as I can tell, most of the criticisms and defenses have followed the "tribal" pattern I described in June; either Trump deserves most of the blame, or none of it.

As I said in June, sometimes and makes more sense than or; many of the problems of hurricane relief in Puerto Rico are caused by failures of the local government over the years and Trump mishandled the relief.

We even know enough about when and how Trump failed, to make some rough judgment about how much he should be blamed, thanks to this Washington Post article, "Lost weekend: How Trump’s time at his golf club hurt the response to Maria".
At first, the Trump administration seemed to be doing all the right things to respond to the disaster in Puerto Rico.

As Hurricane Maria made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, there was a frenzy of activity publicly and privately.  The next day, President Trump called local officials on the island, issued an emergency declaration and pledged that all federal resources would be directed to help.

But then for four days after that — as storm-ravaged Puerto Rico struggled for food and water amid the darkness of power outages — Trump and his top aides effectively went dark themselves.
Here's what I think happened:  Trump, thinking the problems on Puerto Rico would be like those in Texas and Florida, signed the papers and made the phone calls his aides told him to make — and did not think about the ways Puerto Rico is different from the two states.  He did not stay in the White House, monitoring the reports coming in from the island.  Instead, he went off to play and politic.

And for those errors, he deserves some blame, though not as much as some leftists are heaping on him.
- 3:45 PM, 5 October 2017   [link]

So Far, I Haven't Said Anything About The Las Vegas Massacre Because I Have Almost Nothing To Say, beyond the basic news, which you know already.  As far as I can tell, that's true for major news organizations, too, but they still have to fill pages and time slots — even if they have little new to say.

(I said "almost", because I do have this speculation:  As soon as I heard about Stephen Paddock having ammonium nitrate I wondered whether he had been thinking about a two-stage plan, first guns, and then explosives.)
- 7:42 AM, 5 October 2017   [link]

It Is Cheering To See A Man winning a battle, as he is doing in today's "Pepper . . . and Salt" cartoon.

- 7:01 AM, 5 October 2017   [link]

Tadpoles Are Swamp Creatures, Too:  As this article about the bullfrog's two eldest children reminds us.
In the spring of 2012, Donald Trump’s two eldest children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., found themselves in a precarious legal position.  For two years, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been building a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo, a hotel and condo development that was failing to sell.  Despite the best efforts of the siblings’ defense team, the case had not gone away.  An indictment seemed like a real possibility.  The evidence included emails from the Trumps making clear that they were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.
I know you are shocked to learn that members of the Trump family may not have been telling the truth.

You will probably want to read the whole thing, since many of the details are interesting.  For instance, the Trump SoHo wasn't actually in the trendy SoHo neighborhood.
- 3:59 PM, 4 October 2017   [link]

If You Were Wondering What A "Bump Stock" is — I was — Popular Mechanics has an explanation.
Along with the 23 guns that police officers found in Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock's Mandalay Bay hotel room, officials also found at least two "bump stocks."  These devices, which are legal, use a semi-automatic weapon's recoil to allow it to fire repeatedly at a rate closer to that of a fully-automatic weapon.

Bump stocks are simple pieces of equipment that replace the stock of a rifle and add a small "support step" in front of the trigger.  The shooter rests his finger on this step and pulls forward on the barrel or forward grip to press the trigger against his finger.  The recoil of the shot then propels the rifle backwards into a gap in stationary stock where the loose fit gives the rifle freedom to bounce forward.   This, along with sustained forward pressure on the rifle, has the effect of 'bumping' the trigger back into the shooter's unmoving finger.  So long as a shooter maintains forward pressure, the rifle will continue to fire at a rate much faster than could be accomplished with even the quickest possible series of manual trigger pulls.
That explains something that had puzzled me (and many others), how Paddock had acquired automatic weapons.
- 12:36 PM, 4 October 2017   [link]

Bringing Out The Worst (1):  In June, Jonathan Turley wrote:
Donald Trump continues to show a remarkable ability to bring out the worst in people — supporters and critics alike.
Here's an example from a critic:
CBS fired a legal executive Monday after she wrote on Facebook that she was not "sympathetic" to the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

“I’m actually not even sympathetic [because] country music fans often are Republican gun toters," former executive Hayley Geftman-Gold wrote.
I could do these posts every day, giving examples from supporters and critics.  I don't plan to write on this subject often, but I do plan to illustrate Turley's generalization, occasionally.
- 10:21 AM, 4 October 2017   [link]

Artists Will Appreciate this cartoon tribute to Edward Hopper.

(There's a hint in the cartoon, just in case you needed one.)
- 9:10 AM, 4 October 2017   [link]

The Kim Dynasty Has Never Gotten Along Well With Communist China:  So, Blaine Harden explains, we shouldn't expect Kim Jong Un to show Chinese President Xi Jinping and company much deference.
What motivates Kim to alienate the affections of an ally that accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade?  What does he have against China?

Totalitarian leaders usually don’t explain themselves, and Kim — six years in power and only 33 — is no exception.  But insights into his Sino-belligerence can be gleaned from the back story of his family.  In nearly 70 years of dealing with their powerful patrons in communist China, three generations of dictators named Kim have lurched between dependence and distrust, cooperation and contempt.  The family’s unruly behavior suggests there is little reason to assume — as Trump and other U.S. presidents sometimes have — that China can impose its will on North Korea.

The edgy attitude of the Kim family is likely rooted in the arrest and humiliation at Chinese hands of Great Leader Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding despot and the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un.
We should begin by qualifying this statement:  China can impose its will on North Korea — but not necessarily at a price the Chinese are willing to pay.  If nothing else, the Chinese could win a war between the two nations.

Presumably, the Chinese (and Harden) have ruled out war.  That leaves propaganda and economic pressures.  The first seems unlikely to have any measurable effect; the second, the Chinese tell us, has limits.

The Chinese have been telling us for years that they fear too much pressure will cause the North Korean regime to collapse, leading to a massive refugee crisis, and the expansion of an American ally, South Korea, up to the Chinese border.

(Do they believe their own argument?  I suspect that if you asked five experts on China that question, you would get five different answers.  But the argument is consistent with Chinese behavior.)

At the same time, the Chinese must recognize that Kim's continuing provocative behavior is likely to lead to his neighbors — Japan, South Korea, and possibly Taiwan — acquiring their own nuclear weapons which, presumably again, the Chinese do not want.

So they will exert some pressure on North Korea, but probably not enough to satisfy us.  And there is little we can do about that, in the short term.  Neither Trump's bluster nor Tillerson's diplomacy is likely to have much effect.

As happens too often, I wish I had come to a different conclusion.
- 8:49 AM, 3 October 2017   [link]

Three Of The Last Four A-hed stories amused me.

(Which one didn't?  The Vermont weeds story.)
- 7:34 AM, 3 October 2017   [link]

Need A Feel-Good Story, For Contrast?  Here's one.
A young chess champion from the Uganda slums — whose against-the-odds story was featured in the book and movie “Queen of Katwe” — came to Kirkland to study at Northwest University.  A friend arrived with her, giving the small school dreams of becoming a chess powerhouse.
The main campus of Northwest University is about a mile away, so I may encounter Phiona Mutesi some time.  (If I do, I'll give her my usual greeting to women I haven't been introduced to, a smile and a brief nod.)

(The reporter on this story, Nina Shapiro, has done consistently good work in this area, for years.)
- 1:59 PM, 2 October 2017   [link]

No Jokes This Morning:  For obvious reasons.

But I will pass along this list of "hoaxes", a list that we can expect will grow.

(Presumably, some of the originators believe their own stories.  A scholar who had studied similar events could probably make good guesses about which are genuine hoaxes, and which are simply mistakes.)
- 9:51 AM, 2 October 2017   [link]

Worth Studying:  Christopher Caldwell's article on the rise of Germany's AfD, "The Germans Turn Right".

Angela Merkel’s time as “leader of the West,” to use the honorific the New York Times and CNN bestowed on her, lasted about eight months​—​roughly from the swearing-in of Donald J. Trump in January until people began throwing tomatoes at her during a September campaign rally in Heidelberg.  “Traitor to the people!” the signs said.  “Hau ab!” the attendees shouted, an instruction too obscene to translate.  By election day, so loud was the whistling that outdoor rallies were moved indoors.
. . .
The rawness of the country’s memory of Nazism gave it an aversion to the style of politics now called populist.  But something has destroyed the German party system.  Possibly it is globalization or the mere passage of time.  More likely it is Merkel’s invitation in the late summer of 2015 to refugees fleeing the war in Syria​—​an invitation she saw fit to extend without consulting parliament.  Germany got over a million immigrants in the months that followed, virtually all of them Muslims, the vast majority young men, and most of them from places other than Syria.  At the time Merkel appealed to the common decency of Germans:  “If we have to apologize for showing a friendly face,” she said, “then this is not my country.”
(Emphasis added.)

I would say weakened, not "destroyed", but I understand his point.

(Caldwell's book on these problems is somewhat dated by now, but still worth reading.) .
- 3:42 PM, 1 October 2017   [link]

Reason Umpteen + 1 Hillary Lost The Presidential Election:  Another story from Bob Dole's collection.
At a National Prayer Luncheon, Hillary Clinton once said, "In the Bible it says they once asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said seventy times seven.   Well, I want you all to know that I'm keeping a chart." (p. 120)
(A cannier politician — her husband, for instance — wouldn't tell that joke at that luncheon.)
- 2:31 PM, 1 October 2017   [link]