July 2008, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Do You Have Doubts About The Columnists At The New York Times? So do they.
Our cattle, sheep, chickens and goats certainly had individual personalities, but not such interesting ones that it bothered me that they might end up in a stew. Pigs were more troubling because of their unforgettable characters and obvious intelligence. To this day, when tucking into a pork chop, I always feel as if it is my intellectual equal.But Nicholas Kristof doesn't put the pork chop down when he gets that feeling.
(By way of James Taranto. Incidentally, I missed that line when I skimmed over the column. Perhaps I have become too used to nonsense from their editorial pages to pay as much attention as I should to details.)
- 2:00 PM, 31 July 2008 [link]
Which Campaign Song For Obama? I can't decide. Some days Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" seems like the best choice. Today, Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" seems more appropriate: Because I just discovered that among the many things that Barack Obama doesn't know much about is how much gasoline we could save with properly inflated tires. It isn't as much as we could produce if we opened up offshore drilling areas, despite what Obama believes.
After watching that blooper, you might think that Obama hasn't read much since he left college. And didn't read many serious books and articles while he was in college.
(Not that properly inflated tires aren't a good idea, as I said back in 2006. As well as improving your gas mileage, they make driving much safer. If you really want to improve your mileage, you should choose a small car with a manual transmission. Or, if it is available, a continuously variable transmission. Or just learn to drive smoothly, which can save surprising amounts of gasoline — and will make it easier for other drivers.)
- 7:47 AM, 31 July 2008 [link]
Mickey Kaus gets harsh in his latest post on the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter story. Here's his headline: "Oddly, some journalists want to know the truth".
Harsh, but fair. In fact, he could have gone farther and said "a few journalists".
- 6:24 AM, 31 July 2008 [link]
What Happens If You Read Obama's Berlin Speech? You are disappointed, if you are a conservative.
Instead, in the heart of Europe, before 200,000 breathless admirers, Obama pulled himself up to his full height, lifted his chin, unlimbered those eloquent hands, and said nothing at all.Except, as Andrew Ferguson goes on to illustrate, in parts what Obama said was closer to nonsense than nothing. Ferguson notes, for example, that Obama made claims about the Cold War that should embarrass a bright high school student:
And the lesson he drew from it was, to be kind, idiosyncratic: The West's victory in the Cold War, he said, proved that "there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one."Is that a difficult concept? It shouldn't be.
No great surprise in Ferguson's reaction, but leftist Thomas Frank had a similar reaction when he read the speech. (Frank is best known for his book, What's the Matter With Kansas.)
Examine the Berlin speech without the prior certainty that Mr. Obama is some kind of fist-jabbing demon, though, and it reads like so much goo-goo globaloney.Frank goes even farther in the column, comparing the speech to ads for brokerages — which is, for him, a devastating insult.
Obama has a big speech writing team — 25 according to talk show host Michael Medved. With that many people on his team, he should be able to have speeches that sound good — and make sense. Apparently, he does not care about the second. Or perhaps, and I am more inclined to this explanation, he prefers speeches that do not make sense, because they help conceal him. If that explanation is correct, then his speeches are part of his camouflage, one of the methods he has for disguising himself from the voters. (David Broder shares my suspicion.)
(Although most news accounts said that 200,000 watched Obama in Berlin, the most careful accounts suggested his actual audience was much smaller. I believe the 200,000 figure came from the Obama campaign.
Like Ferguson and Frank, I have found Obama's speeches unimpressive.)
- 2:15 PM, 30 July 2008 [link]
What Did Barack Obama Do As A Law Professor? The New York Times found some documents. But law professor Ann Althouse understands those documents (and law schools) far better than New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor does. For instance:
After his loss in the 2000 Congressional primary race to former Black Panther Bobby L. Rush, "colleagues noticed that he seemed exhausted and was smoking more than usual," and they offered him a tenured faculty position (with a job for his wife). Think about that! He never produced a word of legal scholarship, after all those years teaching, and now they would simply give him tenure — at the University of Chicago Law School, a top 5 school, where the faculty is known for voluminous scholarly publishing. The case for tenure in law school depends predominantly on scholarship. You don't get tenure for being a very popular teacher. The failure to publish anything should be fatal to the tenure case of a lawprof who was hired with a belief in his promise as a scholar, but here tenure is bundled into the original offer to someone who had demonstrated that he lacked that promise. So this is interesting. The University of Chicago Law School has some explaining to do.But don't expect them to do so, any time soon.
It would be cruel to say that Obama was filling a quota at the University of Chicago, cruel, but not entirely inaccurate.
Read the whole post for some insights into this part of Obama's career. Like Reverend Wright, Althouse thinks that you can understand Obama if you remember that he is a politician who does what politicians do.
(Technically, Obama was a lecturer, if I recall correctly, but I am pretty sure most people at the law school thought of him as a part-time professor, despite his title.)
- 11:26 AM, 30 July 2008
More: There is, to say the least, some dispute over whether Chicago ever offered Obama tenure. It seems pretty certain that the law school did not make him a formal offer, but it is not clear whether the dean at the time, Dan Fischel, made him an informal offer.
The author of the post, Jim Lindgren, adds (in a comment) this summary:
Barack Obama is smart enough and writes well enough to be a tenured law professor at any law school in the country. I wish I wrote as well.Those who have read one of Obama's recent speeches, or anything he has written, will see Lindgren's summary as a sharp critique of our law schools. I don't know enough about our law schools to know whether they really are that bad. Possibly Lindgren is being sarcastic, since his own writing is much better than Obama's speeches.
- 9:08 AM, 1 August 2008 [link]
Obama Gets Two Standing Ovations: From journalists, specifically a convention of minority journalists.
When Obama walked on stage at the McCormick Center, many journalists in the audience leapt to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after being told not to do so. During a two-minute break halfway through the event, which was broadcast live on CNN, journalists ran to the stage to snap photos of Obama.Those journalists will, I am sure, cover the rest of Obama's campaign with cool professionalism, and a complete lack of bias.
(Most of the commenters to the article aren't as fond of Obama as the journalists.)
- 9:41 AM, 30 July 2008 [link]
Some Numbers On Gore's Plan: Rough numbers, but numbers nonetheless, from Ron Bailey.
As a very rough low estimate, Gore's 10-year no-carbon energy plan would cost about $300 billion per year for the next ten years. According to the Brattle Group consultancy, "new and replacement generating plants will cost about $560 billon through 2030, absent a significant expansion of energy efficiency programs or new climate initiatives." That comes to an average of about $25 billion per year over the next 22 years. Gore's proposal is a "new climate initiative" that aims to spend twelve times more than the utility industry would otherwise annually invest in new and replacement generating capacity. Gore explicitly likens his scheme to NASA's Apollo program, but reaching the moon cost only $150 billion (in current dollars) spent over eight years. In other words, getting to the moon cost half of what Gore wants to spend annually to realize his no-carbon energy vision.
That's without counting the cost of compensating the owners of the power plants that would have to be scrapped, and some other odds and ends that might add a few trillions to the cost of Gore's plan.
Bailey does not discuss whether we could build those plants in ten years — assuming our current laws and regulations. While looking around for information on this subject, I learned that it currently takes two to six years to build a power plant in the United States — after all the permits have been issued. If it takes that long to build a single power plant — after all the permits are issued — it is hard to believe that we could replace almost all of our power plants in just ten years.
Nor does he consider what other nations might do. If we go carbon free, and the Chinese don't, then carbon dioxide will continue to build up in the atmosphere. (Maybe almost as fast as it is currently, because the Chinese would be able to buy more oil and coal for the same amount of money, if we stop using those fossil fuels.)
Although Bailey has some rough numbers on costs, he has no numbers on benefits. I don't read Bailey often enough to guess why he left the benefit numbers out, though they are much more difficult to estimate, even roughly. In fact, Bailey doesn't even mention the benefits to Gore's plan, whatever they might be. In thinking about those benefits, you should remember that Gore's plan will not stop the build up of carbon dioxide, because other nations will not follow our lead. It hasn't gotten much attention in this country, but the Europeans are, right now, planning to build more coal-burning power plants. (The Germans and, if I recall correctly, the Swedes, are even committed to getting rid of their nuclear power plants, which will require them to build, you guessed it, even more coal-burning power plants. Or to turn off most of the lights in those two countries.) And the Chinese and Indians are planning to build many more coal-burning power plants. So Gore's plan might slow the build up of carbon dioxide. There may be benefits to a slowdown. It would be nice to know what those benefits are, and what they are worth, before we spend three trillion dollars.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(One ironic point: Gore's plan would require us to produce a lot of concrete and steel. Producing those materials will require burning fossil fuels, more fossil fuels than we would have burned otherwise. So, in the short term, his plan would add to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphereHere's my earlier post on Gore's plan, and here's my disclaimer on global warming.)
- 8:58 AM, 30 July 2008 [link]
Let Them Eat Tofu: The Los Angeles City Council knows what's good for poor people.
City officials are putting South Los Angeles on a diet.But what I don't understand is why they don't protect the better off, too. If it is bad for poor people (mostly blacks and Latinos) to eat this food, it should be bad for others, too.
Perhaps the City Council believes that poor blacks and Latinos do not have the will power to resist these foods, but that others do.
(Full disclosure: I think I am at least as health conscious as the average person, and I often have lunch at fast food places. Generally I get a diet drink, skip the cheese, and pick a healthy side dish, if it is available. If I were more obsessive about food, I would skip the side dish and have some whole fruit later. But I don't think that fast food, within limits, is bad for most people, as long as they are getting enough fruit and vegetables at other meals.)
- 5:56 AM, 30 July 2008
More: As you almost certainly know, in recent years the fast food chains have been trying hard to provide choices that would make most nutritionists happy. Here, for example, is a list of the items offered by McDonald's. You'll notice, if you look through it, that they are are offering fourteen salads, including a fruit and walnut salad made with apples, grapes, and low fat yogurt. Among their deserts is a similar item, a fruit and yogurt parfait, made with yogurt, granola, strawberries, and blueberries. Other fast food chains may not provide as many healthy choices as McDonald's does, but almost all the ones I'm familiar with have made some effort along these lines. One of the big chains, Subway, even advertises that it serves healthy food — and that chain has been doing very well in recent years.
It wasn't hard to discover these facts. Anyone familiar with simple internet searches could find them in a few minutes. Or if that is too hard for the members of the Los Angeles City Council, they could find them with quick calls to the headquarters of the different chains. I suspect their dislike of fast food outlets is partly a matter of snobbery, which is why they didn't bother to learn these facts.
Thinking about this problem made realize that the city council may be partly responsible for the high levels of obesity in these poor areas. High levels of crime often discourage likely victims from going outside to exercise. If the council were to work on lowering crime, they might make it safe enough in these areas for people to walk, jog, and bicycle, which would cut their rates of obesity, and be good for them in many other ways.
- 1:07 PM, 31 July 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: Amir Taheri on Obama's "Tour de Farce". Some samples:
Termed a "learning" trip, Sen. Barack Obama's eight- day tour of eight nations in the Middle East and Europe turned out to be little more than a series of photo ops to enhance his international credentials.Regardless of what a defeat would do to the Iraq, and to the United States, over the long run.
(The Iraqi quotations support the argument that I made in this post, that Obama didn't learn anything on the trip because he didn't listen. The quotations are anonymous, which is unfortunate, but probably necessary in the circumstances.)
- 3:45 PM, 29 July 2008 [link]
Another Great Success For President Bush: His policies have reduced the number of chronically homelessness in the United States by 30 percent.
The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation's streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent — to 123,833 from 175,914 — between 2005 and 2007, Bush administration officials said on Tuesday.That's a remarkable achievement in a short time, considering how many problems this group has. And how much our laws prevent us from just locking up those suffering from mental illnesses, or disabling alcoholism.
(By way of Commentary.)
- 2:54 PM, 29 July 2008 [link]
Fuel Subsidies In Other Countries: May be increasing the prices we pay for gasoline and diesel fuel.
From Mexico to India to China, governments fearful of inflation and street protests are heavily subsidizing energy prices, particularly for diesel fuel. But the subsidies — estimated at $40 billion this year in China alone — are also removing much of the incentive to conserve fuel.Who do these subsidies help? In China, Zhang Linsen, and people like him.
Nodding his head to the disco music blaring out of his car's nine speakers, Zhang Linsen swings the shiny, black Hummer H2 out of his company's gates and on to the spacious four-lane road.Zhang is right; last year the Chinese bought 43 percent more SUVs than they did the year before. And China is now the world's biggest market for Buicks, a brand not known for its sub-compacts.
But not just people like Zhang. In India, kerosene is so heavily subsidized that it costs less than a dollar a gallon, probably because so many poor people use it for cooking. (It is not a coincidence that the communist nation, China, subsidizes the rich, and the democratic nation, India, subsidizes the poor and the well off. Elections matter.)
These subsidies, at least at these levels, are probably insupportable in the long run, since they are taking such large shares of government budgets.
(By the same reasoning, nations that tax gasoline and diesel heavily may have been keeping our prices lower, at times, than they otherwise would have been.
The Washington Post article is by way of Tim Blair, who has been having fun for months with Al Gore's often-repeated claim that American cars pollute too much to be sold in China.)
- 10:53 AM, 29 July 2008 [link]
Richard Cohen Asks The Obvious Question About Obama: And gets a discouraging answer.
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.The liberal Washington Post columnist will probably end up voting for Obama, but he can't avoid a point I have made before: Obama's record is "tissue thin".
(Cohen compares Obama to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, two others who were sometimes thought to be lightweights when they ran for president. In fact, both men had far more accomplishments when they were as old as Obama is now, and in FDR's case, even more accomplishments when he ran for the presidency. No one, in 1932, would have said that FDR made a good speech, when asked about his accomplishments. No one, in 1960, would have said that JFK made a good speech, when asked about his accomplishments.)
- 7:35 AM, 29 July 2008
More: Matthew Yglesias tries to answer Cohen, and is crushed by Tom Maguire.
WaPo columnist Richard Cohen wonders what Obama has ever done. Matt Yglesias has an easy answer - he has put up lots of cool proposals and position papers at this website!To which I will add that there is no reason to think that Obama actually wrote many of those position papers. Or even that he has read all of them.
- 3:17 PM, 29 July 2008 [link]
Has The New York Times Heard About This? Because if this isn't torture, I don't know what is.
(Seriously: I would not be completely surprised if the Times decided these techniques were torture. The newspaper has been that irrational on this subject.)
- 6:04 AM, 29 July 2008 [link]
The Presidential Race Isn't Over? Even though an important German journalist thinks so? But the voters may have different ideas.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain moved from being behind by 6 points among "likely" voters a month ago to a 4-point lead over Democrat Barack Obama among that group in the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. McCain still trails slightly among the broader universe of "registered" voters. By both measures, the race is tight.In spite of what journalists, even important German journalists, think.
I wouldn't make too much of this result. It is still early, and many voters are not paying much attention to the campaign. And I am not sure that Gallup's likely-voter screens will work well with a candidate like Obama. Even so, everything else being equal, I would rather see my candidate gaining in the polls than losing in them.
(Or because of what German and American journalists think? Earlier this year, I speculated that journalists might be going too far in their Obama mania. (In a comment I left on Tom Maguire's blog.) Many (most?) voters don't care much for journalists, so it wouldn't be surprising if some voters took all that positive coverage of Obama as a negative cue.).
- 7:40 PM, 28 July 2008 [link]
Chris Hedges Annoys Linda Seebach: The result is entertaining, unless you happen be Chris Hedges. Or one of his friends, assuming he has any. A sample from her post.
This is a piece of meretricious claptrap, endless cliches tossed together without thought, all in order to lead up to the concluding line, a ringing affirmation of the author's Bush Derangement Syndrome:(The subject of Hedges' piece? The decline of newspapers.)
Read the whole post if you want to see how someone who thinks clearly disposes of someone who doesn't.
(If you can't quite place Hedges, here's the Wikipedia biography. Judging by the biography, Hedges is a failed preacher, who has channeled his life into destructive leftwing politics. For many years, he had a pulpit at the New York Times; now he is with the Nation Institute.
For an alternative view on the future of newspapers, read this article on the success of a chain of local newspapers. The publisher, David Black, keeps costs down, and provides what people want in local newspapers — local news. Full disclosure: The author, Don Ward, was a contributor to my group blog, Sound Politics.)
- 3:21 PM, 28 July 2008 [link]
Are Compact Fluorescents Just A Passing Fad? That's what our lighting companies suspect.
The nation's Big Three of lighting — General Electric, Osram Sylvania and Royal Philips Electronics — are embracing a new era of more efficient technologies, like halogen, compact fluorescent and solid-state devices. Encouraged by legislation and the rising cost of energy, as well as concerns about greenhouse gases, consumers are swapping out incandescent bulbs.LEDs are even more efficient than compact fluorescents, though LED lights are, for now, far more expensive than their incandescent or compact fluorescent counterparts. I'm not sure whether LEDs would have lower total costs in most home uses, though they do last much longer than compact fluorescents, if I understand the article correctly.
(In general, I follow the rules used by the New York Times and the Associated Press. But this is one time where those rules produce something that looks silly, at least to me. That's why I wrote "LEDs", instead of their "L.E.D.'s". Though I would add "light emitting diodes" on the first use, just as the Times did in the article.)
- 1:22 PM, 28 July 2008 [link]
Pretty In Pink: While walking back from lunch, I saw a giant dump truck, a giant pink dump truck. Which is not something you see every day, as I told the young man I was passing on the street. (Where I live talking to strangers — within limits — is generally considered friendly, not a sign of insanity.)
And then I added that I hoped that the driver was a woman. And she was, as I saw a few moments later. A young blonde woman, in fact. Often stereotypes contain some truth.
(Incidentally, I am pretty sure that the young woman chose the pink herself, partly as a joke. And I appreciate her sense of humor. A pink dump truck is funny.)
- 12:59 PM, 28 July 2008 [link]
Carbon Free In Ten Years? After former vice president Al Gore gave this demagogic speech, I thought that everyone — well, almost everyone — would laugh at what he was proposing.
And that everyone — well, almost everyone — would note that adopting his proposals might not solve any real problems, but would make Al Gore very rich.
I was wrong.
Some people did take it seriously. For instance, the New York Times reporter who wrote this article. The Christian Science Monitor blogger (reporter?) who wrote this piece. And the editorial board of the the Seattle PI, who think that Gore's goal is practical.
(None of the three noted Gore's financial interests in his proposals.)
Currently, we use coal plants to produce 49 percent of our electricity, natural gas to produce 20 percent, and oil to produce less than 2 percent. To meet Gore's goal, we would have to replace 70 percent of our generating capacity in ten years. And that's not all. Since the places that are good for producing power from the sun and wind are mostly far away from consumers, we would have to build brand new transmission networks. And, because neither of these sources is exactly reliable, we would have to add enormous storage facilities (probably pumped storage).
Is this even possible? Could we do it if we mobilized on a World War II scale, and devoted 50 percent of our GDP to Gore's goal? Maybe, but I have my doubts, even then, even with rationing and far higher taxes. Unless we also instituted martial law. Because, as Gore and the journalists should know, we have lawyers in this country. And a few of those lawyers will sue to block almost any proposal to build new generating capacity. Which will, inevitably, result in delays, regardless of who wins the lawsuits.
If it is possible, is it a good idea? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Gore and the PI editorial board are certain that they do, but give no numbers for either the total costs, or the total benefits. There is no bottom line in the speech, or in the editorial. A bottom line is not necessary in religion, but it is in most other areas. I am not asking for exact figures, but would be satisfied with something as vague as 8 trillion dollars in costs, 10 trillion dollars in benefits (or the reverse). Once we have estimates on costs and benefits, we can argue about minor details, whether, for example, Gore's plan would cost 11 trillion dollars, instead of 8. But without those estimates, we can not evaluate the plan.
Unless, of course, Gore and the PI editorial board have religious reasons for backing his proposal. In which case, they should propose that we change the 1st Amendment so that Congress can establish a religion. If we are going to make environmentalism our state religion, let's do so openly and honestly.
Let me end with this inconvenient fact. According to the most common sets of measurements, the earth has not warmed since 1998 and, if anything, has cooled slightly in the last five years. It has been warmer in the last ten years than in most of the 20th century, but it has not continued warming. To some of us, that pause in warming (reversal?) suggests that demagoguery on this issue is inappropriate, that we have the time to learn the facts and, if necessary, to adjust our policies gradually. (And that we do not have to pay enormous sums to promoters like Gore and his associates.)
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(There is a serious factual error in the PI editorial. They quote T. Boone Pickens as saying that "we import 70 percent of our energy". I doubt that Pickens said that. We do import about 60 percent of our petroleum, but we import little electricity, and little fuel for electric generating plants. (And we export a significant amount of coal.)
Neither Gore nor the journalists even mention nuclear power. Does Gore want to replace our nuclear power plants, too? If so, then we would have to replace about 90 percent(!) of our generating capacity in ten years. If he doesn't want to replace them, then he should explain to us why he does not mention expanding nuclear power as as part of the solution to global warming.
As always when I discuss global warming, I suggest that you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.You can find more criticism of Gore's proposal here.)
- 10:39 AM, 28 July 2008 [link]
British Papers Pick Up The John Edwards/Rielle Hunter Story: The Times has a fine summary.
Scratch John Edwards off the list of potential vice-presidential candidates. The former White House contender, who had been hoping to get the nod from Barack Obama, is in the midst of a full-blown sex scandal.The Independent joins in.
Will American newspapers and television networks cover this story? Eventually, and with great reluctance. This reminds me of the way they avoided telling us what they knew about Bill Clinton's wandering ways in 1992. The British papers were much better then, as they are now, much more willing to print a big story, even if it embarrasses the Democratic party.
(Edwards was probably hoping more to be attorney general than to be vice president.)
- 7:12 AM, 27 July 2008 [link]
If You Never Have Any Doubts: Then new information will just confirm previous beliefs.
Barack Obama said Saturday that his weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East only reinforced his foreign policy views, telling FOX News that his proposed troop withdrawal timetable and other military strategies will stay in place if he is elected president.Not that he spent a lot of time fact finding on his senior trip.
(Here's the post in which I noted Obama's bizarre claim to never have any doubts about his ability to be commander in chief.)
- 6:30 AM, 27 July 2008 [link]