Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekend of the world: Armstrong

Thoughts about items in the news.

1. Neil Armstrong - I think the guy was a fantastic pilot and engineer and probably was the best choice to command Apollo 11 and thus be the first man to walk on the Moon. But he was probably a poor choice to be The First Man to Walk on the Moon. The first part is about his ability to do the job of the mission, and in that - by all accounts - he excelled. According to people in the know, it's possible that with another Apollo astronaut at the helm, they would have had to abort the landing, so it's hard to argue with his selection in that respect. But the second part has to do with his role for every day after he got back. What NASA could have really used was someone less humble, less interested in a quiet life and more interested in the spotlight. A person who would grant every interview (or most at least) and go on talk shows at key points in the space program and an icon who could have been a tireless and unquestioned advocate for NASA, space exploration, science funding and engineering in general might have served the public good better. That person could show up at house science committee meetings to ask for more money and who is going to attack him? For NASA it might have been a missed opportunity, but it's hard to imagine who they should have chosen instead.

2. Akin breakin' heart - The first thing I thought of when I heard Akin's answer about self-aborted pregnancies was the book Watership Down in which the author notes that rabbits can in fact do this. Of course, people aren't rabbits and most Congressmembers should know this. Talking about "legitimate" rape is definitely offensive and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that he meant to say "forcible" rape. But that's only slightly better. Saying that 13 year old girls who consent to sex with an uncle or girls with down syndrome or girls who are raped while passed out, can't have an abortion if they choose to do so is pretty offensive. But also (not equally, but also) offensive is how far off he is on the science. This is not a guy who was talking off the cuff about a subject he isn't vested in. This is a guy who is very involved in abortion and has introduced legislation on it. And worse, in my eyes, is that he's on the freakin' House science committee. That he should have such a complete misunderstanding of the science is professional malpractice and is unforgivable. Unfortunately, it's all too common. I was once at a dinner where I sat next to a member of the House science committee (they determine NASA's budget) and his knowledge of space and science was appalling. He didn't know the Moon had no atmosphere. He didn't know that the Moon wasn't really "on the way" to Mars. He thought the Moon was "halfway" to Mars. So, this is what we have to deal with.

3. There were originally three good opportunities for Romney to get a bump and take the lead in the election: when choosing his VP, the convention and the first debate. There are other events that could occur (bad unemployment reports, collapse of Europe, etc...) but those are "planned" the way these are. The first came and went with no real bump. I doubt the second will, as people have too many other options on TV and for entertainment. Those who tune in will be the decided and they'll tune in to see the candidates validated their opinions (good or bad). Everyone likes to point to the '92 Democratic convention and the big bump Clinton got. What no one mentions is that Perot dropped out of the race, a bit crazily, on day one of that convention. So a lot of that bump was because the race changed from a three man race to a two man race. Anyway that leaves the first debate. Challengers usually win this. They suddenly are seen as equal to the President and for a host of other reasons they often do better. And Romney is a pretty good debater. So if you want to know when the race will be won or lost, it's probably the debates (or unemployment numbers).

3b VP choice. - George Stephanopoulos asked a Democrat earlier this year who "they were most afraid of." He meant who would be most likely to help Romney win.  But that isn't what scares me. The VP has three jobs: Candidate then Adviser and then, maybe, President. A bad Adviser doesn't scare me, because they will just be compensated for by other advisers, and a good Adviser probably only makes the presidency 1-2% better. But a bad President is a very bad thing. So if you plot out how good a Candidate someone is on the X axis and how good a President they would be on the Y, the people who scare me are in that bottom right quadrant (good Candidate, bad President). For me that isn't Paul Ryan. He's probably in the middle in both regards. Marco Rubio might be that person, or Rep. Joe Walsh (just because he'd be so bad as President), but not Ryan is not. Luckily I think people are pretty good at discerning this. Mondale, GHW Bush, Gore, Cheney and Biden were all pretty fit to be President. Quayle is possibly the only one that got through. Palin, Edwards and Ferraro, on the other hand, were all pretty weak (with Edwards being the "scariest" one since he was such a good Candidate).

4. I like Oregon to beat USC twice this year, once close and one a blow out. Then go to the BCS title game and lose to the SEC champion. But not so much that I'd put money on it. I love that in the College Gameday season preview they didn't even mention Missouri or Texas A&M when discussing the SEC. Welcome to irrelevance guys.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why isn't everyone just ignoring Harry Reid

Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has claimed that someone told him that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years, but he won't tell us who that person is beyond being a Bain investor. Now why a Bain investor would know how much tax Mitt Romney paid, but almost no one else does, I don't know.

Even if we believe Harry Reid is telling the truth - that someone did in fact tell him this, the credibility of this story falls only a little bit above "In a dream I had, a leprechaun told me that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years." On a 100 point credibility scale, the story is in the low single digits. But the media is running around like a bunch of junior high instigators saying "Mitt, you aren't going to believe what Harry said about you."  in the hopes that they'll fight by the softball field after school.

And Mitt is taking the bait. Here's what he should have said the first time he was asked about it.

"And how credible do you think Harry Reid's claim is?"

Because if they don't think it very credible - and I don't think anyone does, then the response is "Then why are you wasting our time with this?"

Now Reid has oversold his story, saying things like "you do pretty well if you don't pay taxes for 10 years when you're making millions and millions of dollars" and "the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove he has paid taxes, because he has not." which crosses the line from "Here is what someone told me, and I can't confirm it, so take it at that value" to insisting something is true with the flimsiest of evidence. 

Had he not, he would have had a better position. I don't think there would be anything wrong with reporting something he heard, which he thought was credible, as long as he includes all the caveats - like "I can't tell you who it is" and "That, and that Romney won't release his returns, are the only evidence I can offer." He could even say that he gives it little value, based on the lack of evidence. Then everyone can consider it and discount it appropriately.

So Harry Reid is showing poor judgment (or lying), the media is showing even worse judgement and Romney is mishandling the whole thing.