January 2012, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
The NYT Judges Mitt Romney by the color of his skin.
Pundits have already begun the endless debate over whether Mr. Romney's wealth and religion are hindrances or assets. But there has yet to be any discussion over the one quality that has subtly fueled his candidacy thus far and could well put him over the top in the fall: his race. The simple, impolitely stated fact is that Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.(Emphasis added.)
Oh, I know, this is an op-ed, and so may not represent the official opinion of our newspaper of record, but it is consistent with the editorial opinions of the newspaper for many years. Again and again they have backed policies that judge people by the colors of their skins, rather than the contents of their characters.
I expected that the Times would play the race card in this election; I did not expect them to play it so soon, or so crudely.
(For the record: Mitt Romney, like his father George Romney, has an excellent civil rights record, better, in many ways, than Barack Obama's.)
- 10:32 AM, 16 January 2012 [link]
Today Is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: And it is tempting to use the day to make contemporary points, or to try to make some balanced assessment of his career. But this year, as in 2007, I decided to put that all aside and just look at his words.
His most famous speech, which he gave many times, in different versions, became famous when he delivered it to the 1963 March on Washington. It is named for a phrase that he used again and again, "I have a Dream". Contrarian that I am, I think his earlier letter from a Birmingham jail is more impressive. And his speech to the First Montgomery Improvement Association helps me understand why he was able to move so many.
But King's words that move me most are in his last formal speech, when he was supporting the Memphis sanitation workers. The speech meanders, but much of it is taken up with King's thoughts on his own mortality. It ends with these words:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!He was assassinated the next day. And we lost a great man.
(If you need a review on his life, here's the Wikipedia biography.
Through Orrin Judd, I found this useful site, which has 100 famous American speeches. They aren't the 100 I would choose, but I like most on the list. And all come in mp3 files, as well as text files, so you can listen to them as well as read them.
Recycled from January 2007.)
- 8:46 AM, 16 January 2012 [link]
How Many Atoms Does It Take To Store 1 Bit Of information? Twelve.
Researchers have successfully stored a single data bit in only 12 atoms.So twelve may be an absolute limit.
I wouldn't expect to see these in your smart phones any time soon — but I wouldn't bet that this advance will have no applications a decade from now.
- 7:25 PM, 15 January 2012 [link]
Want Some Perspective On Those Marines Who Took A Leak In The Wrong Place? (Assuming the story is true, of course.) You can get it from William Kristol.
We'll stipulate that of course the Marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Taliban in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, last year should be appropriately disciplined, assuming things are as they appear in the video.Pumping it up, as Panetta and Clinton did, made our propaganda losses worse. That seems obvious to me, but apparently it isn't.
- 4:42 PM, 14 January 2012 [link]
In 2006, The Federal Reserve Was Getting Clues About The Approaching Financial Crisis: But they weren't paying much attention.
Mr. Bernanke's words were contained in 1,197 pages of transcripts released Thursday of closed-door Fed meetings from that year. The transcripts paint the most detailed picture yet of how top officials at the central bank didn't anticipate the storm about to hit the U.S. economy and the global financial system.There were a few who saw the danger approaching. For example:
Susan Bies, a former banker who served as a Fed governor from 2001 until 2007, comes across in the transcripts as the most attuned to the brewing trouble. In May 2006, she warned that households were taking on so much debt that they might be vulnerable to financial shocks, such as layoffs or medical problems. She expressed dismay about the exotic mortgages that banks were offering to borrowers, particularly those in which debt grew, rather than got paid off, over time.But their colleagues didn't pay much attention to them.
This reminds me of the brief recession that cost George H. W. Bush his re-election. The Federal Reserve did not know that we were in a recession until after the recession was over. The Bush administration had been trying to get the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates, and received criticism then — and even after they had been proved right — for interfering with our central bank.
(You may have to get to the Wall Street Journal article the way I did, by using Google's search on news sources.
The New York Times has a broadly similar account of these meetings.)
- 4:09 PM, 14 January 2012 [link]
"Global Warming Might Make Lizards Super-Intelligent" Blogger Alasdair Wilkins is joking, as he describes an interesting, if very limited, experiment
Just when it seemed like we knew all the dangers of climate change, science has to go and throw us this curveball. Warmer temperatures make lizards' brains develop differently. Last thing we need is some newly super-intelligent lizards judging us.(If you read the whole piece, you will see that "super-intelligent" is a slight exaggeration.)
The researchers incubated batches of lizard eggs at different temperatures. Lizards from eggs incubated at 72° C. showed more ability to learn, in a very simple test, than lizards from eggs incubated at 60°.
The post doesn't mention it, but I assume the researchers also dissected the lizards and found brain differences between the two groups.
By way of Tim Blair.
(The change in sex ratio with temperature that they found is common in reptiles. If I recall correctly, that has sometimes caused embarrassments for people trying to help an endangered species breed. If you incubate the eggs at the wrong temperature, you can get all males, or all females.)
- 8:10 AM, 13 January 2012 [link]
"Europe's Vicious Cycle Of Debt" That's the cheery headline on the lead story in the business section of yesterday's New York Times.
Europe has a $1 trillion problem.So borrowing that much can lead to chronic problems. Any other large economies that might have similar problems?
Why, yes. The US economy is a little smaller than the economy of the European Union, and President Obama wants to borrow $1.2 trillion this year.
There are, of course, many differences between their debt problems and ours. But there is one fundamental similarity. At some point, creditors will begin to doubt that we and the Europeans will be able to repay what we have borrowed.
That is an exceptionally unoriginal idea. An expert in ancient Sumeria could probably find examples from the early stages of that civilization, and historians could add examples from almost every age, and every country. But it is also an idea that some of our leaders, including President Obama, and some of our journalists, including one who won a Nobel prize in economics, are resisting.
(Did the reporter, Peter Eavis, intend for readers to draw the parallel I just did? I suspect so, though I may be giving him too much credit. But I do regularly find examples of honest reporting in their business section, and a range of opinions that make me think the editors there are open to ideas that don't fit with the newspaper's editorial policies.)
- 6:17 AM, 13 January 2012 [link]
"Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" Asks the New York Times public editor.
I'm looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge "facts" that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.Arthur Brisbane follows that with two examples of, as he sees it, Republican mis-statements. (You were expecting something different?)
Tomorrow, or perhaps over the weekend, I'll be sending him an answer, which will go something like this:
Absolutely. The Times should definitely begin "fact checking" — as long as you start locally.
For example — and I'll start with an easy one — you might ask reporter Jonathan Weisman how Republicans "compelled" President Obama to make those (probably unconstitutional) non-recess "recess" appointments. If Mr. Weisman has trouble understanding the question, ask him to explain why President Bush was not similarly "compelled" by Senate Democrats. (Of course, you'll want to follow up with the editor who approved that howler.)
Then you might go on to the editor (and editorial writers) who claim that vote fraud in the United States is "mythical". Ask them to use a very sophisticated tool, a search on news sources with this string: "vote + fraud". If they can't find any vote fraud that way, you may want to give them remedial training.
Eventually, after you have resolved those simpler cases, you might move to something more difficult, like the Nobel-prize-winning economist whose economic conclusions vary with the president's party. You could ask him, for instance, to explain why moderate deficits are very bad when the president is a Republican, but enormous deficits are good when the president is a Democrat.
And if you are really ambitious, you might get a methodologist to explain the "ecological fallacy" to him, and have him correct the columns that contain it.
If you would like more examples where local fact checking would be beneficial, I would be happy to provide some.
I would estimate that it will take you at least a year to clean up your place, and perhaps longer. After that, you may want to go on to others, particularly Barack Obama.
- 6:51 PM, 12 January 2012 [link]
Mercedes Benz Wasn't Near The Top Of The List For My Next Car, Anyway: But this makes it easy to move them further down.
There's something about Che Guevara that convinces older European men that they will become cooler through association with his "brand." We saw that again yesterday when Mercedes-Benz Chairman Dieter Zetsche launched a new car under a banner picture of Guevara. Years ago, an equally desperate Anglican clergyman tried to stem dwindling congregations with a poster of Guevara wearing a crown of thorns. The hip slogan? "Meek and Mild? As if."We can hope not; in fact we can hope that Herr Zetsche apologizes and, perhaps, contributes to some of the many victims of Guevara and his movement.
Michael Gonzalez has much more on Guevara, including his blatant racism.
By way of David Kopel, who has more.
- 1:48 PM, 12 January 2012 [link]
Even The Associated Press Has Noticed: At the Obama White House, it's all re-election politics, all the time.
To hear the White House tell it, President Barack Obama has scant interest in politics as Republicans battle each other for the right to challenge him. But in reality, Obama is increasingly involved in his re-election, staying in regular contact with his campaign staff, raising money and evaluating Republican debate performances.You can tell from the tone of the article that the reporter is annoyed at being asked not to believe what she can see with her own eyes.
The Obama team has never had much respect for journalists, and some journalists are beginning to resent that. They expect politicians will try to deceive them, but they expect the deceptions to be a little more subtle.
(Is the Obama administration breaking laws by using White House staff for political activities? You'd have to know more details about both the activities and the laws than I do to tell, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they had broken these laws, perhaps even more than previous administrations had.)
- 10:17 AM, 12 January 2012 [link]
Arlen Specter Is Right: The Democrats should dump Obama.
Should President Obama dump Joe Biden as his running mate and replace him with Hillary Rodham Clinton?I wouldn't replace Obama with Hillary, but there are many Democrats, including Biden, who would be better presidents than Obama. Not necessarily good presidents, but better than Obama.
- 5:36 AM, 12 January 2012 [link]
Billions Of Habitable Planets In The Milky Way? That's what a new study has concluded.
By scouring millions of stars in the night sky over six years, researchers found that the majority of the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way have planets similar to Earth or Mercury, Venus or Mars, the other similar planets in our solar system.(The technique they used, "gravitational microlensing" is intriguing. I'll see if I can find a better description of it.)
For some of us including me, this will raise — again — the Fermi Paradox.
In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exists in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes is not seen.If there are billions of habitable planets, then many of them must have life, and some should have intelligent life. And at least a few of those with intelligent life should have civilizations more advanced than our own.
But we don't see any evidence for them.
(My own thinking on the paradox goes something like this: Given how quickly bacterial life began on earth, I would expect that we would find bacteria on many, perhaps even most, of the habitable planets of the Milky Way. (Some scientists even believe that bacteria, once evolved, could spread from star system to star system.) But it took billions of years to go from bacteria to larger organisms, first found, in abundance, in the Cambrian. And then it took another 500 million years or so to get to us.
So I am inclined to think that the second step, larger organisms, and the third step, intelligent life, may be far less common than the first — and may require unusually large periods of time without planet-wide disasters.)
- 6:47 PM, 11 January 2012 [link]
Worth Reading: Mickey Kaus explores the practical consequences of the Obama and Republican positions on those "recess" appointments.
a) President Obama claims that he gets to decide when Congress is in "recess," which seems to mean that anytime Congress breaks for the weekend a President could staff the entire executive branch without the Senate approval the Constitution seemingly contemplates ("advise and consent"). **Kaus then looks at the worst case possibilities of each position.
- 1:10 PM, 11 January 2012 [link]
Some "Occupy" Jokes write themselves.
The rat population around the two Occupy D.C. camps at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza has "exploded" since protesters began their vigil in October, according to Mohammad N. Akhter, the director of the District's Department of Health.If you can't think of two or three punch lines to go with that story, you aren't really trying.
- 9:20 AM, 11 January 2012 [link]
"A Fine for Not Using a Biofuel That Doesn't Exist" That's the New York Times headline; here's the story to show you that the headline isn't a joke.
When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.The law mandated the fuel because lawmakers (and, perhaps, some scientists) were too optimistic about the prospects for these kinds of fuel. (The Bush administration may have shared in that mistaken optimism.)
In principle, it's a good idea to use biological waste products for fuels, but it has been harder than many expected to put that idea into practice for applications like gasoline and diesel fuel mixes.
(There are many reasons why it's hard; one is that we haven't discovered, or created, the right breeds of bacteria to do the hard work for us. Earlier in the week, the Times had an interesting piece on Dr. David Mullin, who is searching for such bacteria, and has found a promising candidate in zebra dung.)
- 8:59 AM, 11 January 2012 [link]
Some Observations On The New Hampshire Primary: In no particular order.
First, a caveat: Most of these observations are taken from the exit poll. Exit polls have known problems. In the past, for example, national exit polls under-sampled Republicans. Pollsters have tried to correct some of the flaws, with some success, but some are not easily, or perhaps I should say, cheaply, corrected. (For example, exit polls, by themselves, can not capture the opinions of voters who mail their ballots.)
That said, they are useful tools, as long as you recognize that their numbers are not exact — like the numbers in all polls — and may even be systematically biased.
- 7:47 AM, 11 January 2012 [link]
Well, So Much For The Prediction from the spider monkey.
Grandpa, a spider monkey known for his prognostic abilities, has picked Newt Gingrich to win today's hotly contested New Hampshire primary. While the primate's pick seems to go against all other predictions, polling and common sense, his record of picking US Open and Super Bowl winners might give the other candidates pause.Maybe "Grandpa" should stick to sports, since Gingrich is going to finish either fifth or fourth.
- 7:00 PM, 10 January 2012 [link]
"When Correctly Viewed, Everything Is Lewd" We can see the truth of those lines from Tom Lehrer's "Smut" in the reaction of Slate's Torie Bosch to a harmless reply from Governor Chris Christie.
If you are determined enough, you can find smut anywhere — and Ms. Bosch does strike me as determined. Sensible, no, but definitely determined.
- 2:29 PM, 10 January 2012 [link]
The Washington Post Publishes a picture including a sign that tells people not to believe the Washington Post. (And other news organizations.)
Did the photo editor miss that sign? Or does he (or she) have a wicked sense of humor?
- 2:17 PM, 10 January 2012 [link]
New Hampshire Primary Predictions: A fellow with a funny name now living in Washington, D. C.. will win the Democratic primary. But you are probably more interested in the results of the Republican primary.
Nate Silver has precise predictions. For instance:
Our forecast model gives Mr. Romney a 98.9 chance of winning New Hampshire. It gives Ron Paul a 0.6 percent chance and Jon M. Huntsman Jr. a 0.4 percent chance.(Silver doesn't entirely believe his own model, as he goes on to say.)
Romney, he says will get somewhere between 27 and 47 percent of the vote, with 39 percent the most likely.
Democratic (but honest) pollster Mark Blumenthal is less precise.
If ever there were a time when polls should be certain about something, it is that Mitt Romney will win New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary on Tuesday. At least 53 times over the past two years, and at least 24 times in the last two months, media pollsters have measured the preferences of likely voters in New Hampshire, and found Romney leading the Republican race every time, usually by large, double-digit margins.Steve Lombardo, who has worked for Republican candidates, thinks Romney will do a little better than the latest polls suggest.
The last 48 hours have been horrendous for Mitt Romney. A poor debate performance Sunday morning (his first one) was followed by 2 gaffe filled days on the trail. Newt Gingrich's suicide charge at Romney is full on and Huntsman appears to spit venom anytime the topic is Romney. Add to this the DNC attacks the last several months and you have a candidate facing one of the most severe multi-front political attacks in modern political history. So it may come as a surprise to hear that we think Romney is going to win big today in NH, crossing the 40% threshold and become the first non-incumbent GOP presidential candidate to ever win both Iowa and NH.His analysis is too long and complex to summarize easily. I should mention that he is also predicting that Jon Huntsman will just barely beat Ron Paul for second place.
I don't have an special insights on the accuracy of the Suffolk University poll, so I won't add my own predictions to these three. But I would note, as I have before, that polling errors are more common in primaries than in general elections.
- 1:11 PM, 10 January 2012 [link]
Criminologists Should Be Rushing To Study Venezuela: Because you can often learn more from failures than from successes.
Crime was rising in Venezuela before Hugo Chávez took power, and it has soared even higher since then.
It was 1988, Venezuelans were truly upset about crime. Imagine that! That year, there were all of 1,600 homicides in Venezuela, all of 9 homicides for 100,000 people.(I am using Veneconomy statistics)(By way of comparison, the US murder rate has, several times, approached 10 per 100,000. It's now under 5. If you are a glutton for data, you can find a set of international comparisons here.)
Can Chávez be blamed for some of the increase in crime? Miguel Octavio says yes.
But for 12 years, Chavez simply minimized security as an important issue. He dismantled a fairly competent police management created over the years, replacing them with former or active military with no clue as to how to fight or control crime. Meanwhile Chavez even justified stealing if you are hungry, much the way the Supreme Court decided to decriminalize invasions of private property today.Before Chávez, Venezuelan police arrested 108 suspects for each homicide; now they arrest just 9.
And, though this would be harder to show, I think that criminologists might be able to show that some Venezuelans have imitated their president's lawless attitudes.
(Caracazo is the name Venezuelans give to a deadly set of riots and massacre in 1989.
How good are the numbers? So, so, I would guess, but you would have to be an expert on both crime statistics and Venezuela to make an informed estimate. Usually, statistics on murders are much better than those on most other crimes, and, in general, you are safer making in-country comparisons than comparisons among countries.)
- 10:57 AM, 10 January 2012 [link]
Michael Ramirez Critiques Obama's Defense Strategy.
- 8:04 AM, 9 January 2012 [link]
President Obama Was "Compelled" To Make Those "Recess" Appointments Of Dubious Legality: Compelled by those rascally Republicans, according to the New York Times.
Tom Maguire again catches our newspaper of record being partisan (and silly), and for a bonus shows us how the newspaper has changed its views on "recess" appointments — depending on which party holds the White House.
It's dirty work cleaning up after the Times, but someone has to do it, and Maguire is one of the best at this dirty, but absolutely necessary, job.
(You may wonder why he (and I) spend so much time criticizing the Times. I can't speak for him, but I do it in part because the Times often sets the agenda for other news organizations, very definitely including our major news networks.)
- 7:49 AM, 10 January 2012 [link]
Why Did The Obama White House Hold That Secret Halloween Party? That lavish Halloween party for — as "Occupy" protesters might say — the 1 percent.
After it was revealed that the Obamas hosted a lavish Halloween party in 2009 during a low point of the recession, people are now questioning how the event was kept a secret for two years.If the Obamas realized that the party would be bad politically, why hold it at all?
Here's my guess: Someone at the White House, most likely Michelle Obama, got the planning for the party started and got commitments from some of the stars. At that point, the political operatives heard about it, and realized the party could be a problem.
So they decided to hide it, since it was too late to cancel it without creating even more bad publicity.
The political operatives would have understood that the theme of the party, a twisted Alice in Wonderland, would be a perfect metaphor for some of their political opponents. Now that the secret has been revealed, expect to see cartoons with that theme, and references to Alice in Wonderland in Republican speeches.
(It seems likely to me, by the way, that some reporters agreed to keep quite about the party, most likely because they were protecting the Obamas, and, perhaps, hoping for future favors.
Here's a set of pictures.)
- 6:20 AM, 10 January 2012 [link]
The Daily Mail Gives Us a campaign ad for Mitt Romney.
It is a journey which started in a humble, working class Welsh mining village and could yet finish in the powerhouse of western democracy.Technically, it's an article, but the Romney campaign could use it as an ad, without any changes. Especially when you include that family picture showing all the Romney children and grandchildren.
Ordinarily, I disapprove of journalism this unbalanced, but I couldn't help liking this article, because it is so rare to see an "ad" for a Republican, in a "mainstream" newspaper.
(In the last year or so, the Daily Mail noticed that they were getting a lot of visitors from the United States. And so they have begun deliberately running pieces to appeal to us, for instance, collections of historical photographs from the US. So far, I haven't seen any imitation of this obvious, and successful, strategy by American newspapers.
It's as if the editors running those newspapers think that pleasing their readers is beneath them.)
- 12:55 PM, 9 January 2012 [link]
Jackson Diehl Looks At Obama's Foreign Policy Initiatives: And declares them failures.
The easiest one to document — and the one most likely to draw Republican attention next fall — is the busted Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Obama arrived in office afire with the ambition to create a Palestinian state within two years. But his diplomacy was based on a twofold misunderstanding: that the key to successful negotiations was forcing Israel to stop all settlement construction — and that the United States had the leverage to make that happen.Those failures have made the world a more dangerous place — and I fear that, even now, Obama does not understand why he has failed, that he has not changed his world view to bring it closer to reality.
(It is more than a little ironic that such foreign policy successes that Obama has had, have come from his imitation of Bush policies, often policies that Obama had criticized earlier. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has said that Obama has been "very good at executing Bush's foreign policy, particularly the war on terrorism". I would agree that the Obama administration has kept many Bush policies, more than I expected them to, but I am less willing than Friedman to give Obama personal credit for successes like getting bin Laden.)
- 9:34 AM, 9 January 2012 [link]
Jim Hoft Compares Michelle Obama to Marie Anoinette.
Which may be unfair to the French queen.
And is not at all racist.
- 8:37 AM, 9 January 2012 [link]
Jake Tapper Understates the obvious on yesterday's This Week program.
I don't know whether to give him a credit for recognizing that the media may have been "tilting on the scales a little bit" for Obama, or a debit for putting it so mildly.
Note, by the way, that George Stephanopoulos did not disagree with Tapper. Which, I suppose, might be an indirect confession that Tapper is right.
(As I write, the transcript was not available at the the program site, but you can watch the interchange at the Roundtable. Start just a little before the 11 minute mark to see it.)
- 7:58 AM, 9 January 2012 [link]