Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Funny polls that don't mean anything

This really is an apple-to-oranges comparison. I mean, if someone asked me whether I approve or disapprove of Darth Vader, I would interpret that to be a question about how much like Vader as a character. As it happens, I do. But part of the reason I "approve" of Darth Vader is because he is imaginary. If the genocidal dictator who killed the population of an entire peaceful planet just to prove a point were a real person, I would not approve of him. Likewise, if someone were to describe an imaginary character like Sarah Palin, I would probably think the character was amusing and might even say I "approve." But that doesn't mean I would ever approve of the actual Sarah Palin, clownish as she might be.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A way out?

From what I can tell Hamas' rockets don't have any real targeting system. So I doubt if they can shoot a plane out of the sky. But because its probably untargetted rockets have shown they can reach Ben Gurion Airport, the FAA has banned U.S. airlines from landing in Israel. Immediately after that move, Delta and U.S. Airways canceled their Israel-bound flights.

The FAA ban is only supposed to last for 24 hours. But I'm not sure what the agency thinks will be different 24 hours from now to make the airport less dangerous. If the ban is extended beyond tomorrow that will put some pressure on Israel to find a way to end this conflict. U.S. travelers would still be able to reach Israel, they just would need to switch planes in Europe to get there. If the EU aviation authorities--or even if just a few critical European airlines also impose a flight ban--that will put a whole lot of pressure on Israel to end the conflict, even if it means making concessions to Hamas that it rejected when it rejected Hamas' ceasefire proposal.

I wonder if the FAA's move is influenced by what happened last week in Ukraine. Hamas doesn't seem to have anything like the SA-11 Buk missile system. But that tragedy in Eastern Europe might have just gotten aviation authorities thinking more about the wisdom of flying passenger airplanes into war zones.

How it will play out

Maybe I'm misunderstanding how this works, but if the DC Circuit's decision holds up and the people who bought an individual health insurance policy in a state that does not run its own exchange lose their subsidy, there will suddenly be tremendous pressure for that state to begin running its own exchange so its residents can get their subsidy back. Am I being over-optimistic to predict that this decision may lead more states to participate in the ACA and not less?

The people who are eligible for subsidies are middle class Americans. They have too high of an income to qualify for medicaid as expanded under the ACA. This is a demographic that votes. I guess conservatives hope if the subsidy goes away and they have to pay more for their insurance these middle class voters will attribute the increased costs to the "skyrocketing premiums" that critics of the law predicted (instead of realizing that the increase in cost is due to the efforts of the opponents of the law). But the subsidy-ending premium increases are only going to happen in states that did not set up their own exchanges. Surely people will notice that. It will create an obvious discrepancy between what people must pay for insurance in states that set up their own exchanges versus those that did not. That may serve as a demonstration of how much better the law works if the state is just willing to cooperate.

UPDATE: Olga Khazan posted an analysis showing how much the average premium rates would rise in each state if today's D.C. Circuit case is upheld. So, as an example, the people who purchased an individual policy via the federal exchange in Pennsylvania will have their rates go up by 70-74% because of the loss of the subsidy. Just over the border in New York or Maryland, people who purchased individual policies will continue to pay the same low rates that Pennsylvanians got a taste of before this decision came down.

How can that not hurt the Republican party in the upcoming gubernatorial election? Tom Wolf is already running on the platform of fully implementing the ACA in this state. Right now, his web site mostly talks about Medicaid expansion. But if the DC Circuit court's decision is applied here, then you can bet he will start talking more clearly about building a state exchange and getting PA residents access to the federal subsidies that keep insurance rates low in neighboring states. Governor Corbett was already a goner before this decision came down. But what about a closer race like Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, or Georgia? Couldn't this change give a real boost to the democrats?

False flag!

I must admit, if I'm looking for half-baked analysis to serve a pre-ordained narrative, Lambert never disappoints. I guess when I made this prediction, I should have written: "I predict that the pro-Russian people and the cowards of Correntewire will always believe that the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by the Ukrainian military and the rest of the world will conclude that it was probably pro-Russian separatists."

The National Guard!!!

Is there anyone in the country who doesn't see this as a publicity stunt? When Rick Perry officially launches his inevitable presidential campaign, every reporter should ask him why he billed the federal taxpayers thousands (millions?) of dollars just to make a political point.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not worse because they are the worstest, but worse because the others were not as bad to his particular religion

According to Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako:
The head of Iraq's largest church said on Sunday that Islamic State militants who drove Christians out of Mosul were worse than Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his grandson Hulagu who ransacked medieval Baghdad.
Maybe he is right, at least if you're just measuring which was worse for Christians. Thanks to Nestorian Christian missionaries who went deep into Asia in the 7th Century, a significant number of the Mongols and Turkic tribes who invaded the Middle East were Christian. Doquz Khatun, the wife of Hulagu was Christian, and she is credited with sparing the Christians when the Mongols sacked Baghdad.

But if you're talking about which was worse for people in general (and not just Christians). I think the Mongols were worse than ISIS. At least based on what I remember from reading Empire of the Steppes one year ago.

Not that I'm saying ISIS is less than awful! It's just that the Mongol hordes are hard to beat, atrocity-wise.

(via Memeorandum)

More than 700 more

Think the last week has been really shitty, with all the death and destruction in Gaza and Eastern Ukraine? The good news is there's a lot more stuff going in the the world! The bad news is some of that other stuff makes the week even worse.

Holding the victims' corpses hostage didn't turn out to be the strategic asset they thought it would be

The only thing that would have made this story better is if the group holding the bodies turned out to be the Donbass People's Militia.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolution 29: Kallari, Sacha-Sisa's Secret

Sisa's secret is that this bar is a cheat. I'm supposed to be sampling "pure" chocolate bars. That is, not chocolate with any other flavors added, like fruits, nuts, peppers, etc. On the other hand, only a few of the bars are really pure. They often have ingredients other than cacao and sugar. Some add salt, some add vanilla. Some add emulsifiers, or other things that I don't completely understand what chemically they do to the bar. They still work for me, because they are not adding those other things to make a flavor other than a chocolate bar flavor.

The Sisa's Secret is a 70% cacao bar with vanilla added. When I tasted it, I noticed that enough vanilla is added to give it a taste of actual vanillaness. In fact, if you look at the smaller print at the bottom of the wrapper you can see it is touted to be a dark chocolate bar "with vanilla." So I think this bar crosses the line between a chocolate bar that has some small amount of vanilla to adjust the chocolate taste to a bar that is trying to add actual vanilla flavor. Which violates my arbitrary rule.

That being said, it's good! Vanilla and chocolate are flavors that go well together. It gives this bar a very smooth, almost cool, taste. So if you don't give a shit about my arbitrary rules (and let's face it, who other than me does?) then it is a good one. It's only a cheat if you're someone like me with obsessive rules surrounding new year's resolutions.

Acting like they're guilty

I take this as further evidence that the rebels downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. If they knew they didn't do it, they would give unfettered access to the crash site in the hopes that the in-site evidence would exonerate them and point the finger at he Ukrainian army. The only reason to tamper with the site would be to damage or destroy any evidence it may hold for whose missile brought the plane down.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


As I have hinted at previously, we are moving next month. I have lived in this house for nine years, which got me thinking about how the duration of time I have lived in each place since college has steadily increased.

First law school apartment: 1 year (1992-93)
Second law school apartment: 2 years (1993-95)
Chicago apartment: 4 years (1995-99)
First PA apartment: 6 years (1999-2005)
Current PA house: 9 years (2005-09)

Then I tried to figure out what mathematical formula would produce the series 1-2-4-6-9. What I came up with is this:

(current number x 1.3) + 1, then round to the nearest whole number

So 1 x 1.3 = 1.3 + 1 = 2.3, rounded to 2
Then 2 x 1.3 = 2.6 + 1 = 3.6, rounded to 4
Then 4 x 1.3 = 5.2 + 1 = 6.2, rounded to 6
Then 6 x 1.3 = 7.8 + 1 = 8.8, rounded to 9

Which means that we will stay in our new house for 13 years:
9 x 1.3 = 11.7 + 1 = 12.7, rounded to 13.

Which means once we get through this move, there won't be another one until 2027. That sounds pretty good to me.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I predict that the pro-Russian people will always believe that the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by the Ukrainian military and the rest of the world will conclude that it was probably pro-Russian separatists.

Personally, I think the separatists are the most likely culprit. Plus, Igor Stelkov's post on VKontakte seems pretty damning to me. I don't think that can be easily explained away.

UPDATE (7/18/14): The NYT got a copy of this intercepted audio. Case closed (at least for me).


While no one knows anything for sure about the future, I expect it will end much like the last one ended: with a bunch of people dead for no reason and Hamas still in control of Gaza. It's just a question of how long Israeli troops will stay there and how many people will be slaughtered, before Israel finds the face-saving excuse to stop.

CorporatePR Today

Don't get me wrong, this is a horrible. But USA Today's headline, "Malaysian Airlines Has a Long History, Won Many Awards," is ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Hamas wants

A longer term truce with Israel (ten years), the re-release to all the released prisoners who were recently re-arrested, and an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Frankly, it is not a bad deal. But I think there is zero chance that Israel will accept it. To accept would be an acknowledgment that Israel's policies with regards to Gaza for the past eight years have been a failure. There is no way that the current crazy right wing political culture in Israel would be receptive to an idea like that. Maybe that zero chance is why Hamas is making the offer. But Israel could still take it if its leadership had any political courage.

Of course, some might claim that Hamas is not really interested in going ten years without attacking Israel and as soon as the blockade is lifted, it would resume attacks. But if that happened Israel could always reimpose the blockade and retaliate for any attacks, essentially sending us right back to where we are today. Israel still would have plenty of options. The important thing about Hamas' proposal (assuming the above report is true) is that it is a step towards a long-term solution of the Gaza situation. The Egyptian cease fire proposal that Israel signed on to yesterday would not have done anything but stopped the immediate killing and frozen all the long-term problems in place.

UPDATE: Mondoweiss has a full list of Hamas' 10 conditions for the ceasefire. There is a bit more to it than my summary in the first sentence of this post. There is other stuff, like easing the process for obtaining permits to pray at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an increase in the zone where Gazan fishermen are allowed to operate, and a reestablishment of the Gaza industrial zone. None of those extra details change my views that this would be a good deal and that I don't see any reasonable possibility that Israel would accept these terms.

The response from right wing sources is really fascinating to watch. I'm not sure which one I like the best, is it the totally unbiased way that the story is presented by Arutz Sheva? (does AR have some rule in its style guide that it must refer to the group as "the terrorist" instead of Hamas?) Is it noted Arab linguist Roger L. Simon, claiming that hudna, the Arabic word for 'truce" does not really mean "truce" but rather a "temporary Islamic truce not to be confused with real peace"? Or maybe my favorite is Carl from Israel Matzav, wondering why the Mossad hasn't murdered Azmi Bishara yet? (Bishara being the Hamas spokesperson who spoke to the media about the proposal)

(links in the above two paragraphs via Memeorandum)

UPDATE 2: Per og in the comments. Bishara is not a Hamas member after all, but rather the founder of the Israeli Balad party and a former member of the Israeli Knesset . Which makes Carl's wish that he be assassinated all the more delightful. (Thanks og!)