September 2013, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Being Smart Is Not Enough; You Also Have To "Un-Bias" Your Thinking:  If, that is, you want to get the right answers to controversial political problems.

That's the conclusion I draw from a study that asked people to draw conclusions about fake studies, where the results were presented in 2x2 tables.

From the Abstract:
In our experiment, we presented subjects with a difficult problem that turned on their ability to draw valid causal inferences from empirical data.  As expected, subjects highest in Numeracy—a measure of the ability and disposition to make use of quantitative information—did substantially better than less numerate ones when the data were presented as results from a study of a new skin-rash treatment.  Also as expected, subjects’ responses became politically polarized—and even less accurate—when the same data were presented as results from the study of a gun-control ban.  But contrary to the prediction of SCT, such polarization did not abate among subjects highest in Numeracy; instead, it increased.  This outcome supported ICT, which predicted that more Numerate subjects would use their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.
(SCT = Science Comprehension Thesis, ICT = Identity-protection Cognition Thesis)

Translation:  The better the subjects were with numbers, the more likely they were to get the skin-rash treatment question right.  But, the better the subjects were with numbers, the more likely they were to get the gun-control question wrong — if the right answer conflicted their ideology.

So conservatives who were good with numbers were more likely to get the answer wrong, if the table showed that gun control reduced crime, and liberals who were good with numbers were more likely to get the answer wrong if the table showed that gun control increased crime.

Why?  The researchers believe that we identify with our tribes, though they don't use that word, and try to find answers consistent with what our tribes believe, when those beliefs are important to our tribe.

If their general finding is correct, and I believe it is, then it explains why so many smart people find answers that fit with what their political groups believe.

How can you avoid this trap?  By giving especially critical attention to answers that please you, and that you know would make your "tribe" happy.  I have tried to do that for years, but won't claim to have succeeded more than half the time.

(The paper doesn't seem especially difficult to me, but, if you prefer, you can read this Chris Mooney article describing it, instead.

From reading about his work, notably his book, The Republican War on Science, I would say that Mooney often provides examples that support the study's findings.)
- 8:20 PM, 16 September 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Clarice Feldman makes the case against Hillary Clinton.

Here's Feldman's lead paragraph:
Watching Hillary get a Liberty Medal on September 10, the day before the anniversary of the attack on the United States soil and the more recent murder of our ambassador and others in Benghazi, I think it's time to review the record of a woman whose life is marked by deceit and professional failure and ask about the sanity and judgment of her ardent supporters.
(As you can see, this is not a wishy-washy post.)

Here's a detail that may surprise younger readers:
From Wellesley she went to Yale law school after which she moved to Washington, D.C. to take a job with the House Judiciary Committee investigating Watergate.  She was fired from her job and from that point on distinguished herself as a public master of mendacity.
So both Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton lost their jobs during the Watergate investigation.

(Feldman notes, correctly, that Hillary Clinton is far from the "smartest woman in the world".  But Clinton is smart, and her failures should be a lesson to the rest of us, however smart we are.)
- 2:02 PM, 16 September 2013   [link]

The Baseball Crank Summarizes New York's Mayors From Ed Koch Through Michael Bloomberg:  And explains why New York voters are choosing to shift away from the policies of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
The conventional wisdom entering the 2013 race, therefore, was that the City's inherent Democratic partisanship (Democrats control nearly everything but the Mayor's office) was overdue after two decades out of power to reassert itself, but most likely in the form of a candidate who would not run dramatically far to Bloomberg's left.  Enter Bloomberg's reliable ally and co-conspirator, Christine Quinn.  By any reckoning, Quinn was the heavy favorite when the primary began and well into the summer, and is the establishment candidate in the race, winning a rare trifecta of primary endorsements from the New York Times, the Daily News and the Post and running with Bloomberg's blessing and de facto backing.
. . .
Quinn's lead in the polls has crumbled so badly that she's now seen as unlikely to make the runoff, if there is a runoff; liberal as she is, and as hard as she pushes identity politics (she touts herself as the potential first woman Mayor of New York; she would also be the City's first openly gay Mayor - Koch's sexual preferences were the subject of much speculation but never confirmed), she's not a likeable campaigner and the Democratic primary voters seem inclined after two decades out of power to reassert their differences with Bloomberg.   All of Quinn's substantive dissents from Bloomberg haven't managed to separate her in the public mind from the Mayor.  And perhaps the most enduring lesson of Quinn's imminent failure, in light of her alliance with Bloomberg on education, is that a white female Democrat simply cannot afford to be at odds with the teachers' unions.
There's much more in his discussion, enough to give you some of the flavor of New York City politics.

(One thing he doesn't mention:  Some political scientists have described New York mayoralty elections as formally partisan — since the candidates run on party tickets — but actually nonpartisan, since many voters ignore party labels.  That's an exaggeration, but makes a useful point for outsiders trying to understand elections in our largest city.

Other cities, of course, have the opposite pattern; elections are formally nonpartisan, but actually partisan.)

As BC expected, Quinn did not even make runoff.  In fact, as you may have heard, Bill de Blasio won the primary outright.  As of now, he has to be rated a heavy favorite to become the next mayor of New York, and the first Democratic mayor since David Dinkins.

If de Blasio wins, it will illustrate my argument that, in democracies, parties will alternate.  Which is why, as a Republican, I worry about the quality of the current Democratic leaders and their ideas.
- 1:34 PM, 16 September 2013   [link]

At Least 12 Dead In the Washington Navy Yard shootings.
At least 12 people are dead and others were wounded after a shooter opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, police said, spreading fear and chaos across the region as authorities tried to contain the incident.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced the mounting death toll in a 2 p.m. news conference.  The suspected shooter, identified by three law enforcement officials as Aaron Alexis, a man in his 30s from Texas, is among the dozen dead.
And now you know at least as much as I do.

(Here's are the Washington Post's live updates.)
- 12:51 PM, 16 September 2013   [link]

Chuckle:  The National Journal's story has this headline: "Bugged: Obama's Roach Problem"

Which Matt Drudge improved to: "REPORT: White House Full of Vermin..."

Unfair, but funny.
- 6:29 AM, 16 September 2013   [link]

Yesterday's Weather In This Area Was Exciting, so exciting that it delayed an NFL game.

And caused me to turn off my computers for much of the day, as I usually do when there is lightning.

It was even more exciting east of the Cascades, but there wasn't any NFL game there, so that weather got less attention.
- 6:11 AM, 16 September 2013   [link]

What Do Editors Think Important?  The most-read lists tell us what readers are looking for in newspapers (though not necessarily what those readers think is most important).  The newspaper editors' choices of articles for their front pages tell us what stories the editors think are most important.

Yesterday's New York Times front page choices contrasted, in an instructive way, with the choices in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Both newspapers had front-page articles on the US-Russia talks on Syria.  I suspect both sets of editors would tell you that the importance of that news made that choice easy.

The Journal had, as they always do, a mildly amusing article, this time on that miracle food, quinoa.  (It's amusing because many "foodies" do not like the taste or texture of quinoa seeds.  I believe that these front-page humor stories in the Journal are intended to provide subjects for safe small talk before business meetings, but have never seen any confirmation of that theory.)

The Journal has just three other front-page articles: the growing resistance to choosing Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve, the end of the special vacations for Greek civil servants who use computers, and the hardships so many young people are having finding work.

The Times had five other articles: the death sentences for the four gang rapists in India, the fire on the Jersey Shore, the decision by Michael Bloomberg not to endorse a successor in the mayoralty race, the decision by a hip-hop DJ, "Mister Cee", to sort of come out as gay, and the suicide of a 12-year-old Florida girl, after intense cyber bullying.

If we were to judge by the numbers of people affected, the Journal article, "Help Wanted: Struggles of a Lost Generation", is at least three orders of magnitude more important than all five of those articles in the Times.  (Perhaps even four or five orders more important, since the Journal article also describe the even worse youth unemployment problems in Europe.)

What these choices show about the two newspapers is an exercise I'll leave to readers, except for this one observation:  The Times is far more interested in "culture war" stories than the Journal — and it isn't hard to see which side the Times is on.
- 7:23 AM, 15 September 2013   [link]

What's The Most-Read Article At The Seattle Times?   As I write, a very practical article, with this headline: "What channel is the Huskies’ game on?"

Second was the article on that game, which the Huskies won, beating the University of Illinois, 34-24.

(I only glance at the most-read lists in our local monopoly newspaper occasionally, but when I do the sports articles almost always head the lists.)
- 6:27 AM, 15 September 2013   [link]

Puppies And A PUP In The Australian Election Campaign:   Tony Abbott, the new Australian prime minister, is often thought to have too hard an image, to be too tough appearing for a country that likes friendly politicians, just as the United States does.

So you have to admire what his campaign team found for him to do on the last day of campaigning:  They had him visit Guide Dogs Victoria, which produced pictures like these.

Now don't those puppies look lovable?  And doesn't that man cuddling them look like a nice bloke?

(I hope Republican strategists are paying attention to this ploy.)

And the PUP?  A very wealthy Australian, Clive Palmer, thought it would be nice to have a political party of his own.  At first, he planned to use an old party name, but then, for practical reasons, gave it his own name, so it's the Palmer United Party.

No false modesty there.  And he is paying the bills, so I suppose he can name it whatever he likes.

(The party won a single seat in the Australian House.)
- 4:50 PM, 14 September 2013   [link]

Good News On Climate Change:  The draft of the fifth assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is out, and it is less alarmist than the fourth assessment in 2007.
A more immediately relevant measure of likely warming has also come down: "transient climate response" (TCR)—the actual temperature change expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide about 70 years from now, without the delayed effects that come in the next century.  The new report will say that this change is "likely" to be 1 to 2.5 degrees Celsius and "extremely unlikely" to be greater than 3 degrees.  This again is lower than when last estimated in 2007 ("very likely" warming of 1 to 3 degrees Celsius, based on models, or 1 to 3.5 degrees, based on observational studies).

Most experts believe that warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels will result in no net economic and ecological damage.  Therefore, the new report is effectively saying (based on the middle of the range of the IPCC's emissions scenarios) that there is a better than 50-50 chance that by 2083, the benefits of climate change will still outweigh the harm. Warming of up to 1.2 degrees Celsius over the next 70 years (0.8 degrees have already occurred), most of which is predicted to happen in cold areas in winter and at night, would extend the range of farming further north, improve crop yields, slightly increase rainfall (especially in arid areas), enhance forest growth and cut winter deaths (which far exceed summer deaths in most places)  Increased carbon dioxide levels also have caused and will continue to cause an increase in the growth rates of crops and the greening of the Earth—because plants grow faster and need less water when carbon dioxide concentrations are higher.
(Emphasis added.)

So the climate change that the IPCC is predicting, in the next sixty years, is about as likely to be good for humanity, net, as bad.

Some may think that Matt Ridley, the Rational Optimist, is irrationally optimistic, but I haven't seen any significant mistakes in his data, or his reasoning.

(I'll put up a link to the report when it becomes available.)
- 4:18 PM, 14 September 2013   [link]

Britain Has some odd laws.
A gang of squatters have been accused of making their neighbours lives 'a living hell' for four years - but can't be evicted because of a legal loophole.

The squatters, believed to be eastern European, keep locals up all night by playing bongo drums and dump piles of rubbish in their street in Streatham, south London.

But police have been left powerless to boot them out because the building is classed as commercial property.
. . .
Developer and architect Mike Moxley, whose company owns the site and still pays rates on it, cannot enter the property legally after squatters changed the locks.
(rates = property taxes)

If I understand the article correctly, squatters were able to do the same thing in residential properties, before the law was changed last August.

(Often, you can figure out the motivation for an odd law, with a little effort.  I am guessing that this one came out of a desire to protect tenants from unfair evictions.  I can recall reading about somewhat similar laws in a few American cities.

Three years ago, a woman tried to find a similar loophole in my suburb, and took over a $3.2 million home.)
- 8:57 AM, 14 September 2013   [link]

Anyone Know Where Travel Writer Rick Steves Was On Wednesday?  Because this looks like his work.

If that's obscure, take a look at his defense of a similar action.
- 8:28 AM, 14 September 2013   [link]

Here's Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of jokes.

Three I liked:
Leno: If President Obama really wants to hurt Syria's Assad, instead of missiles he should send over Obama's economic advisers.

Fallon: People are freaking out about the new iPhone.  Apple is expected to unveil the new iPhone 5S at a press conference this week.  Experts say it's similar to the current iPhone, but different enough to make you hate your current iPhone.

Letterman: Charlie Sheen just turned 48. Do you think he had a party?  And John Kerry said he has evidence of illegal chemical use there.
Yes, the first one's obvious, but as George Orwell once reminded us, sometimes it is our duty to say the obvious.
- 2:42 PM, 13 September 2013   [link]

Parties Will Alternate:  In 2004, I predicted that Canada's Conservative Party would come to power in Canada.  (And they did in 2006.)

My argument was straightforward:
In democratic nations, the parties will alternate.  One party may hold power for years or decades, but they will eventually lose out to another party or coalition.

The reasons for markets fluctuating are well known; the reasons for parties alternating are almost equally well known.   A party too long in power makes mistakes, attracts corrupt individuals, and even begins to bore the electorate.   When it continues to hold power in spite of these factors, it is usually because the opposition is not credible to a majority of the voters.   Tony Blair's Labour party won control of the government only after Blair had promised a moderate path, and the party had discarded much of its ideological baggage.
That general conclusion makes me think that Michael Barone is reading too much into the elections in Australia and Norway.
Australia on Saturday and Norway on Monday voted to oust center-left governments in favor of center-right coalitions.  Both of these countries have economies which have been doing very well, thanks to the booming demand for resources.  Norway is a major oil producer and Australia mines iron ore and other minerals for which China has been importing in large amounts.  These both have income levels higher than almost any other country and they suffered little or not at all from the 2007-09 recession.  Yet both have rejected incumbent parties and have voted for more conservative alternatives.

Is there any common thread?  I would suggest it's the unpopularity of center-left policies which voters have had to live with.  Australia's Liberal party (it's the center-right party) leader Tony Abbott promised to repeal the Labor government's carbon tax.  Norway's Conservative party leader Ema Solberg has promised that her country needs more business-friendly policies in order to pay for its expensive welfare state.
Barone is right, in part, from what I can tell about both countries.  There were, both in Australia and Norway, specific leftist policies that annoyed majorities of voters.

But I think that the conservative coalitions in both countries also benefited from "time-for-a-change" effects, the feeling among some voters that they wanted someone different and some policy changes.  (Similarly, I think that in 2007 the Australian Labor Party also benefited from those "time-for-a-change" effects.  John Howard and his Liberal/National coalition had been in power since 1996, and Australian voters were ready to try something new.)

Somewhat similarly, voters in the Democratic primary in New York City rejected Christine Quinn, partly, I believe, because she was seen as an heir of Michael Bloomberg.  The voters were ready to try someone new, and different policies.  They are, I fear, likely to be disappointed if the current leader in the Democratic vote, Bill de Blasio, becomes mayor.

(There is one area where I believe the conservative coalitions in both countries won support: limits on immigration, especially limits on immigration by Muslims.  Of course, candidates did not say this, bluntly, but that was, in fact, what the winners in each nation were promising.

Here are the Wikipedia articles on the elections in Australia and Norway.

Caveat:  I didn't see any big mistakes in either article, but I am not an expert on the politics of either country.)
- 1:18 PM, 13 September 2013   [link]

The Greek Austerity Drive gets harsh.
Greece's austerity drive has cost public sector workers a privilege they have enjoyed for more than two decades - six extra days of paid holiday every year if they use a computer.
. . .
Allowances that have already gone include a bonus for showing up to work and one regulation letting unmarried daughters receive their dead father's pension.
It had never occurred to me that using a computer was hazardous duty, or even a hardship, but I now realize that I may have missed an opportunity, years ago.

There is, I should add, real hardship in Greece.  The official unemployment rate in May, according to the 24 August issue of the Economist, was 27.5 percent.
- 8:42 AM, 13 September 2013   [link]

If You Were Wondering What Google Was Getting In Return for all their contributions to Democrats, here's a possible partial answer.
Google Inc. GOOG +0.19% founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin may have to dig deeper to operate their fleet of private jets, after the U.S. Department of Defense ended a little-known arrangement that for years allowed the tech billionaires to travel on sharply discounted jet fuel bought from the Pentagon.
The special deal started after Democrats took control of Congress, and ended after Republicans took back the House.
- 6:44 AM, 13 September 2013   [link]

It's Uncomfortable To Admit This, But the new New York Times contributor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is much better than some of their regular columnists, notably Collins, Dowd, Egan, and Krugman.

I am not saying that because I agree with the heart of Putin's argument; quite the reverse.  Like James Taranto, I think Putin's conclusion can reasonably be described as diabolical.
Vladimir Putin's much-discussed op-ed in today's New York Times is a clever piece of work, but the conclusion is diabolical--and we mean that in the original sense of "devilish":
Though his conclusion is diabolical, Putin (or whoever wrote it for him) "doesn't take his readers for idiots", doesn't tell us for the umpteenth time about Mitt Romney's dog, doesn't try to use a movie reference to disguise an absence of serious thought, isn't so filled with hate that he is difficult to read, and doesn't resort to cheap sneers and smears.

And in that way, he is unlike those four regular columnists.

(Almost any American political operative, for instance Dick Morris, would admire the effectiveness of that op-ed, would recognize that we have a clever and tough opponent in Vladimir Putin.  But I am not sure that President Obama and his acolytes in the White House recognize how clever and tough Putin is, and how badly Putin just outplayed Obama.

So I'll put it in basketball terms.  Obama, you just got "posterized".)
- 4:08 PM, 12 September 2013   [link]

Not Breaking Home Ties:  Cartoonist Tom Toro borrows from Norman Rockwell to satirize "helicopter parents", parents who won't let go, even when their kids go off to college.
- 8:42 AM, 12 September 2013   [link]

Seattle Has An Old-Fashioned Jurisdictional Dispute:  A very expensive, old-fashioned jurisdictional dispute.
Longshoremen began picketing Tuesday at the site of Seattle's $3.1 billion tunnel project after claiming four jobs along the waterfront have been improperly given to workers with other unions.

A couple dozen members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union blocked access to the waterfront area where the four workers would be operating.  ILWU Local 19 President Cameron Williams said the mobilization will continue until there is movement toward giving the work to the longshoremen.
The longshoremen have rejected a compromise.
[Chris Dixon, project manager,] and Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council, said the ILWU rejected their suggestion to use a crew in which two longshoremen would adjust the barge position while building-trades members would run the shoreline conveyor spout and a front-end loading machine.
Washington state Democratic Governor Jay Inslee showed up for the July celebration starting the tunneling work, but is so far absent from any public efforts to resolve this dispute.  Despite the fact that it is costing Washington state taxpayers real money.

(I attended the celebration, and was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear a campaign speech from Inslee.

The big drilling machine they are using, nicknamed "Bertha", has averaged just 6.4 inches a day.)
- 8:21 AM, 12 September 2013   [link]

Two 2nd Amendment Victories In Colorado:  The Democrats in that state over-reached on gun control and, last night, two Democratic state senators lost in recalls.
An epic national debate over gun rights in Colorado on Tuesday saw two Democratic state senators ousted for their support for stricter laws, a "ready, aim, fired" message intended to stop other politicians for pushing for firearms restrictions.  Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron will be replaced in office with Republican candidates who petitioned onto the recall ballot.

Party insiders always said Giron's race was the harder one.  Although her district is heavily Democratic, Pueblo is a blue-collar union town.  Morse's district included Manitou Springs and a portion of Colorado Springs — and more liberals.
. . .
The turn of events made Morse and Giron the first Colorado state lawmakers to be recalled.   Former Colorado Springs councilman Bernie Herpin will take Morse's seat in the Senate, while Pueblo will be represented by former Deputy Police Chief George Rivera.
The best analysis of the recall elections that I've seen comes from gun rights supporter Dave Kopel.
Former State Senate President John Morse represented Colorado Springs, plus the somewhat hipster mountain community of Manitou Springs.  While El Paso County is strongly Republican, the interior city of Colorado Springs has been center/center-left for years.  Senate District 11 was carved to make the election of a Democrat possible, and it worked.  Voter registration in SD 11 is about a third, a third, and a third among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, with Democrats having the largest third and Republicans the smallest.  Morse barely won re-election in 2010, and might have lost if not for the presence of a Libertarian on the ballot.

As the conventional wisdom expected, voter turn-out was relatively low.  Morse was recalled by 51-49%.  The conventional wisdom of Colorado politics had been that Morse would probably lose, but that the election would be tight, and there was a chance that he might win.   As things turned out, Republicans turned out greatly in excess of their registration percentage, and that was probably the difference.
. . .
Based on the latest campaign disclosure reports, Morse/Giron enjoyed an 8:1 spending advantage over recall advocates, in terms of direct contributions to campaigns.  Michael Bloomberg contributed $350,000 to fight the recalls, about equal to the $361,000 contributed by the NRA, which is probably about $3 per NRA member in the state.  Another wealthy contributor gave $250,000 to oppose the recalls.
. . .
The Republicans (for a change of pace in Colorado) ran near-flawless campaigns with strong candidates: new Senators Bernie Herpin (Colorado Springs) and George Rivera (Pueblo).
Judging by the brief descriptions I've seen, both men have good chances of retaining those seats in the next election.

The party balance in the state senate is now 18-17, so the Democrats retain control, but just barely.  According to Kopel, supporters of gun rights now have control of the state senate, 19-16.

Simplifying greatly, you could say that a grass-roots movement defeated both the Democratic Party organization, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.  The spending numbers tell us which side had the money in these contests; the results tells us which side had the enthusiastic voters.

(You may have noticed that Kopel disagrees with Denver Post reporters Lynn Bartels, Kurtis Lee, and Joey Bunch on which recall was more likely to succeed.  Judging only by registration numbers, I would have guessed that Morse would be more likely to lose than Giron.  On the other hand, the Post reporters say that twenty percent of the signatures on the recall petitions for Giron came from Democrats.

Neither Kopel nor the Post reporters explained why the turnout was so much lower in Morse's district, although both seemed to think that was not unusual.)
- 1:09 PM, 11 September 2013   [link]

What Happened One Year Ago In The Attack On Our "Facility" In Benghazi, What The Obama Administration Said Happened, And What The Evidence Shows:   The Guardian newspaper — which is not a conservative publication — has a superb article describing all three.

For example:

Event Staff at the US special mission in Benghazi woke on 11 September to the sight of a Libyan policeman, deployed to guard them, filming the compound from a neighbouring rooftop.   When challenged, he vanished.  Later, an unmarked car made lazy circles around the compound, a walled redoubt rented in the southern suburbs of the Libyan city.

US version The state department says there were no warning of impending attack, a spokesman insisting there was "nothing unusual during the day at all".

Conflicting evidence Two days earlier, the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, had received a veiled warning.  According to one of his cables, one of his diplomats had a meeting with two Islamist militia leaders in which they complained that the US was supporting a secular leader, Mahmoud Jibril, in a vote for prime minister due on 12 September.  If Jibril won, they warned, they would "no longer guarantee security".  The consulate was already relying on one of the militias, the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, for armed protection.

(Most Americans will automatically substitute "Obama administration version" for "US version" throughout the article.)

Here's Chris Stephen's conclusion.

One year after the killings, no suspects have appeared in court, either in Libya or in the US.  Until that happens, and until the gap between claims made in the US and reality on the ground is explained, the American public will remain in the dark about the events of 11 September 2012 in Benghazi.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that congressional hearings will shed some more light on these events, and it is possible that civil suits by those who think they were treated badly by the Obama administration will, too.

Sadly, almost none of our "mainstream" journalists have even tried to shed some light on those events, and the conflicts between what the Obama administration said happened, and what the evidence shows.

Cross posted at Sound Politics

(Many have wondered what the CIA was doing in their Benghazi "facility".  Most likely, operatives were trying to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles.)
- 6:35 AM, 11 September 2013   [link]

9/11 Jumper:  The New York Times will not show you this picture today, so I will.

9/11 jumper

This man jumped from one of the World Trade Center towers, rather than burn to death.  From the picture we can see that he was a young black man, probably American though he might have been an immigrant, and that he worked in a kitchen.

We can not know whether he knew why he was about to die, though I think it unlikely.  Few Americans then understood how much the fanatics who planned the 9/11 attack hated us, and how little they cared for innocent life.  Whether this victim knew or not, I hope that he rests in peace.

He, and nearly three thousand others, died in order to create a propaganda poster for Al Qaeda.

(I scanned the picture from a New York Times book, Nation Challenged.  I believe this to be fair use because I am criticizing the Times, and most other "mainstream" news organizations, for suppressing this picture, and similar pictures, in the years since 9/11.

Reposted from 2008.)

Although I think it appropriate to remember the victims of 9/11, including this man, I have come to believe that we make a mistake when we call this a "tragedy", as so many now do.  It was an attack, like Pearl Harbor in 1941, and that's what we should call it.
- 5:33 AM, 11 September 2013   [link]

James Taranto Gives Us a good summary of the Obama administration's recent diplomatic maneuvering on Syria.
In a mordant way, it is fitting that this crisis seemingly ended with an administration gaffe, for that is also the way it began.  Obama wasn't doing anything more than thinking out loud last year when he set a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, but he trapped himself into making it U.S. policy, then demanded Congress and the world back it up.  It's as if Emily Litella--the hard-of-hearing old lady the late Gilda Radner played on "Saturday Night Live"--were in charge of U.S. foreign policy.  Only President Litella, on having her error pointed out to her, would have the good sense to say: "Never mind."
For the record:  I have no objection to overthrowing the Syrian regime — assuming we could replace it with one headed by someone like, for instance, former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, someone friendly to the West, instead of an ally of Iran, and a client of Russia.

And assuming also, of course, that the overthrow could be done easily and cheaply.

That seems unlikely, from what I have been able to learn about the forces opposed to Assad; enough of them are now jihadists to make it unlikely anyone friendly to the West could be installed, permanently.  And Assad has enough strength, and enough support from Russia, Iran, and those Iranian clients, Hezbollah, to make it unlikely that we could win an easy and cheap victory.

(There are people who argue that we could have overthrown Assad easily two years ago, and that the moderate forces in Syria would have taken control of the country.  I haven't seen a formal analyis of the military possibilities then; in fact, I don't know if one was possible, even with the help of the CIA, and other intelligence agencies.)
- 2:50 PM, 10 September 2013   [link]

The Error Messages Are Usually Wrong:  This is mostly a reminder to myself, but others, who have to do occasional debugging, may find it useful, too.

(Those who do regular debugging will mostly be amused by how much I had forgotten over the years.)

When I was trying, unsuccessfully, to access the Internet this weekend, I kept getting messages about failures to resolve the names into addresses, which is what Domain Name Servers do.  Several different browsers, running under two different operating systems, gave me similar error messages, often with suggestions for fixing the problem, suggestions that were completely useless.

All of the error messages were wrong.  The problem was not that the Domain Name Servers were not returning the addresses I needed to connect to particular sites, but that I wasn't connected to the Internet at all.

(My DSL provider was Verizon, until the local phone business was bought by Frontier.   Verizon and Frontier have been exceptionally reliable over the years, which is one of the reasons I assumed that I had a connection to the Internet.  Given the timing of these problems, I suspect that Frontier may have been repairing, or upgrading, some equipment over the weekend.)

This is not unusual, as anyone who has spent much time working with software can tell you.   In my experience — which is a little dated by now — the error messages are usually wrong.  So the first step in debugging is usually to find out what the problem really is.

Which I finally did by ignoring the error messages and reading the manual — even though it wasn't exactly the right manual.  Software folks will smile as they read that, since one of their standard bits of advice is to RTM (read the manual), often put in a more forceful form (RTFM).

Is there a political lesson in this?  Sure.  Quite often, our leaders have the wrong diagnosis of a problem, often because our "mainstream" journalists have given them incorrect error messages.  And so their attempts to solve that problem will almost always fail.

(After identifying the problem, the next step is to check the most likely cause, or causes, of the problem, which I did, by looking at all the cables.)
- 1:09 PM, 10 September 2013   [link]

Meanwhile, Back In Barack Obama's Illinois (22):  The indictments, and convictions, just keep coming.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Springfield has been busy the past few years investigating a variety of fraud schemes involving state grants.  Thirteen people have been charged so far, six who have pleaded guilty.

Two of them have ties to President Barack Obama.  One is the daughter of his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Another was chief of staff to Obama’s longtime friend Eric E. Whitaker when Whitaker was Illinois’ public health chief.

In all, prosecutors are alleging a total of $16 million in fraud involving state health or commerce department grants and contracts.
As far as I know, Obama did nothing about corruption in Illinois, before he was in office there, or afterwards.  And that's understandable when you realize how many people close to him were corrupt.

(Here's a brief Wikipedia biography of Eric Whitaker.  It doesn't mention this fact:  Whitaker and Obama have been basketball buddies since they met at Harvard.)
- 10:18 AM, 10 September 2013   [link]

"How Not To Win Over Congress"  John Fund critiques the Obama administration's efforts to win congressional support for a strike on Syria.

For example, Obama is sending Susan Rice to testify on a special day.
In an astonishing display of either ignorance or brazenness, the White House will mark the first anniversary of the Benghazi terrorist attack this Wednesday by sending National Security Adviser Susan Rice to Capitol Hill to argue the administration’s case for military force in Syria.  Rice infamously delivered false talking points on national television, blaming the Benghazi attacks on a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam YouTube video.  Sending Rice to Congress to brief members on Syria is like sending Typhoid Mary to lecture on public health.  Her credibility is, to use a diplomatic term, limited.
You could ascribe that error to sheer arrogance, but there are other errors so inept that they should worry all of us.

Here's a small, but telling, example:
Just how distant White House aides are from Capitol Hill was evident early this year when Denis McDonough became Obama’s new chief of staff.  He quickly responded to complaints from Capitol Hill and pledged that his office would be more accessible to members of Congress; he promised, for example, to return phone calls.
(Emphasis added.)

If I read that right, the Obama White House was not routinely returning phone calls from congressmen.
- 6:27 AM, 10 September 2013   [link]

An Unusual Seattle Baptism celebration.
Police say a baptism celebration ended up as into a large-scale brawl in which five officers were assaulted and two celebrants were arrested in the South Park area of the city.

Officers say abundant alcohol was being served on Saturday evening at the South Park Community Center to celebrate the big baptism, and fighting broke out just before midnight.
At least I hope it's unusual.

This Associated Press article leaves out all the interesting details, like who was being baptized by whom, why the celebration wasn't in a church, and when heavy drinking became an appropriate way to celebrate baptisms.  But they do tell you that the celebration turned into enough of a riot so that the city called in deputies from King County to help quell it.

(Here's a brief Wikipedia article on the neighborhood.)
- 8:03 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]

Comforting The Comfortable Leftists:  Way back when, Finley Peter Dunne (Mr. Dooley) told us how important newspapers had become.
As a journalist in the age of "muckraking journalism", Dunne was aware of the power of institutions, including his own.  Writing as Dooley, Dunne once wrote the following passage cautioning against the power of the newspapers themselves:
"Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us.  It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward".
The expression has been borrowed and altered in many ways over the years:
Not least by missing the satire in his "comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable" lines.   Newspaper men (and women) often took that as a command, often said they wanted to be, almost automatically, for the under dog, and against the top dog — regardless of which dog was protecting his own territory.

Sometimes, that resulted in fine journalism; sometimes it resulted in perversions like "liberal racism", which demean the people they claim to help.

Most often the better journalism came from reporters who had worked their way up from the working class, or even the poor, who had what we now sometimes call "street sense".   Most often the perversions came from those who didn't have that grounding.

In recent decades, many "mainstream" journalists have pursued a different implicit goal:  They write stories that will comfort comfortable leftists, stories that will appeal to the self regard of the well-off people who vote, and think, left, people, in other words, like themselves, but usually with more money.

(What makes Tom Wolfe's journalism so insightful is that he has usually taken the opposite point of view, as he did, for example, in "Radical Chic".)

It's understandable that so many of our "mainstream" journalists would have that implicit goal; they write pieces that please themselves, and their friends.  Almost all of us do similar things, saying what makes those around us happy, even if it isn't entirely true.

But that approach is a serious defect in a journalist, who often does readers, listeners, or viewers a favor by telling them things they don't want to hear.

Those who are hurt most by it are the comfortable leftists themselves, because they are less likely to hear unpleasant things that would force them to reconsider their ideas.  For example, when crime began to soar in the 1960s and 1970s, many journalists downplayed their crime stories, or wrote vaguely about "root causes", so that they could evade the cruel facts of street life in urban areas.

This implicit goal often explains all those "mistakes-were-made" articles, where a failure by some leftist government is described passively, with no blame ever attached to any elected leftist.   Today's Seattle Times, for example, had a front page article on the poor care at local Veteran's Administration health care facilities.  I knew without reading it that Hal Bernton — who is not the worst reporter at our local monopoly newspaper — would not blame our senior senator, Patty Murray, for these defects, and I was certain that he would not even mention President Obama.  And I wasn't surprised to see Bernton absolve Seattle congressman Jim McDermott of any blame for these problems.

If Bernton had blamed elected Democrats, he would have annoyed many readers, his colleagues, and his editors — but his article would have been much stronger.
- 7:37 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]

"Unbelievably Small"  That's how Secretary of State John Kerry described a possible US air strike on Syria.

It's hard to know exactly what he means by that, but here's a possibility:  Secretary Kerry will go to the Syrian border and throw a paper airplane into their territory.  With, naturally, a stern note written on the airplane.

Did you ever think you would be missing the cool competence of Hillary Clinton in that position?

I have to admit that thought never occurred to me.
- 4:35 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]

Kirkland Will Be Celebrating Oktoberfest:  In September.

The date is about as late as it can be, and still have a reasonable expectation of good weather, if you are wondering why they chose that date.  Kirkland does not have any large meeting rooms down town, so these kinds of events have to be held outside.

Kirkland does not have any special German connections.  This is just an excuse for a party — which is fine with me.

(I plan to walk down to it once or twice, if the weather is at all decent that weekend.)
- 1:59 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]

Internet Connection Still Irregular:  This morning, I didn't have a connection, but when I came back from grocery shopping, I did again.  So that's why the post below appeared a few minutes ago.

(For those interested in the technical details:  I am now reasonably certain that the problem is with my DSL provider, Frontier.  I dug through the pile of driver CDs — which I should have done first thing — and found some documentation for my Westel 6100 modem, and can now interpret the blinking lights .  The CD did not have a manual for that particular model, but from reading manuals for other Westel models, I am reasonably certain that a DSL light that blinks once a second means that the modem is trying to connect to the phone company, but not succeeding.)
- 12:37 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]

Germany Is Learning The True Costs Of Its Green Energy Policies:   Germany, as you probably know, invested vast amounts in solar and wind power and, more recently, shut down its nuclear power plants.  Germany did what the Greens all around the world have been urging the developed nations to do.

On 4 September Der Spiegel — which is not a right-wing news organization — published a long assessment of the results.  (What follows is from an excerpt published in the weekend Wall Street Journal, since I am again cut off from the Internet.  I'll try to add a link in an update after I get that fixed.)
German consumers already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe.  But because the government is failing to get the costs of its new energy policy under control, rising prices are already on the horizon.
. . .
Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten of the Green Party once claimed that switching Germany to renewable energy wasn't going to cost citizens more than one scoop of ice cream.   Today his successor [Peter] Altmaier admits consumers are paying enough to "eat everything on the ice cream menu."

For society as a whole, the costs have reached levels comparable only with the euro-zone bailouts.  This year German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar wind, and biogas plants—electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion.
There are, in addition, many indirect costs, and some absurd results.  For example, sometimes when there is too much wind power, German consumers pay for the potential electricity from wind turbines that have been shut down.

Although the excerpt doesn't mention it, the increase in electricity prices has imposed real hardships on some low-income German consumers.

All these policies were intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but they aren't even doing that.
On the other hand, when the wind suddenly stops blowing, and in particular during the cold season, supply becomes scarce.  That's when heavy oil and coal power plants have to be fired up to close the gap, which is why Germany's energy producers in 2012 actually released more climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2011.
If Germany wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, they should re-start the nuclear plants, and build more, rather than increasing their reliance on coal.  If they want to continue their switch to renewables, they should build immense storage facilities — and tell the German people the true costs of those renewables.

And the rest of us should learn from those German failures.  If we are going to continue to increase our reliance on renewables, we should do so with honest estimates of the increase in the costs of our electricity.

(Washington state is requiring utilities to shift toward greater use of renewables — without, oddly enough, counting hydroelectricity as a renewable.  It's my impression that the shift has already increased my costs of electricity by 10 or 20 percent, though the bills from Puget Sound Energy are obscure on that point, deliberately I fear.)
- 8:22 AM, 9 September 2013
Update:  Here's a link to the Der Spiegel article.  If you read the whole thing, you'll find that the writers do not even mention the possibility of reviving Germany's nuclear power plants.  Instead, they want to continue the current policies, but design them better.

The German Green Party has been losing support continuously since its peak in 2011.  The Der Spiegel reporter, Charles Hawley, does not even discuss whether that might be partly because of these failed Green energy policies.
- 2:29 PM, 9 September 2013   [link]