We Should Help Ukraine

Ohio Sen. J. D. Vance has an op-ed today in the New York Times. Here’s its opening:

President Biden wants the world to believe that the biggest obstacle facing Ukraine is Republicans and our lack of commitment to the global community. This is wrong.

Ukraine’s challenge is not the G.O.P.; it’s math. Ukraine needs more soldiers than it can field, even with draconian conscription policies. And it needs more matériel than the United States can provide. This reality must inform any future Ukraine policy, from further congressional aid to the diplomatic course set by the president.

Although I materially agree with what he says in the piece, I draw a different conclusion from the uncomfortable facts he presents than he does. I think that we should continue to provide aid to Ukraine to prevent an outright Russian victory and I think that President Biden should speak frankly and publicly. He should urge Ukraine’s government to accept goals short of the return to pre-2014 borders.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the reality of the situation. There is no amount of aid we’re actually capable of providing which will enable Ukraine to achieve its maximalist goals.


Down and Up

This morning shortly after rising I checked my blog as I always do and found to my dismay that The Glittering Eye was inaccessible. I scrambled around for a while checking my various hosting providers and trying to submit support requests. As an aside one of the effects of chatbots is that it has become extremely difficult if not impossible to get technical support.

I had a number of meetings scheduled this morning, starting at 8:00am and running back to back until just a few minutes ago. Once my rash of meetings had ended I performed a tracert. Somewhat to my surprise it succeeded. Buoyed by that success I pinged the site (earlier pings had failed). That worked, too. I signed back in and checked things out.

Now I’ve got to go back and cancel my support requests.

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Whose Propaganda Are You Going to Believe?

I wonder how many people in April 1993 realized how greatly the Internet would facilitate the distribution of propaganda? I certainly didn’t and I’ve been using it almost since then. Now we are positively deluged with information from every source imaginable. The signal-to-noise ratio is pretty low and an enormous amount of it is propaganda of one form or another.

For example, how many people have the IDF killed in Gaza? If you answer 30,000, you are repeating what is materially Hamas propaganda. Is it true or false? We have no idea. We also have no idea how many of those killed were civilians and how many Hamas fighters (also civilians but let’s not mince words).

Here’s another example. Practically everything you know or think you know about what’s going on in the war in Ukraine is somebody’s propaganda. Russian, Ukrainian, U. S., British. There’s very little we can really rely on other than that Russia invaded Ukraine and a lot of people on both sides have been killed.

How propagandized information has become (or maybe always has been) is what caught my attention in this passage from Lee Fang’s piece on pro-Ukraine propaganda at RealClearInvestigations:

American influence in Ukraine’s media environment stretches back to the end of the Cold War, though it has intensified in recent years. Since the outbreak of the war, USAID support has extended to 175 national Ukrainian media entities.

Over the last decade, efforts to crack down on speech have been increasingly justified as an effort to protect social media from disinformation. The U.S. helped set up new think tanks and media watchdogs and brought over communications specialists to guide Ukraine’s approach. Nina Jankowicz, the polarizing official whom President Biden appointed to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board to police social media content, previously advised the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on its anti-disinformation work.

In response to questions about the U.S.-backed anti-disinformation groups in Ukraine targeting Americans, the U.S. State Department provided a statement saying it defines disinformation as “as false or misleading information that is deliberately created or spread with the intent to deceive or mislead.” It added, “We accept there may be other interpretations or definitions and do not censor or coerce independent organizations into adopting our definition.”


Last September, journalist Jack Poulson reported on a leaked report from the Zinc Network’s Open Information Partnership, which helps coordinate the activities of several anti-Russian disinformation nonprofits around Europe backed by NATO members, including Detector Media.

The lengthy report defines disinformation as not only false or misleading content but also “verifiable information which is unbalanced or skewed, amplifies, or exaggerates certain elements for effect, or uses emotive or inflammatory language to achieve effects which fit within existing Kremlin narratives, aims, or activities.”

In other words, factual information with emotional language that simply overlaps with anything remotely connected to Russian viewpoints is considered disinformation, according to this U.S.-backed consulting firm helping to guide the efforts of Ukrainian think tanks and media.

The emphasis is mine. That definition of disinformation is in direct conflict with the State Department’s (quoted above). Or, in other words, organizations whose mission is to identify and counter disinformation are themselves spreading disinformation. Talk about a wilderness of mirrors.

What then is a person to believe? My general strategy is to view just about everything skeptically but especially statements that are contradicted by the actions of people making them and to place special credence on declarations against interest.


What Is the Legal Argument Against Dobbs?

As matters look now President Biden and Democrats more generally will run on abortion as their lead issue. That has worked well in the elections since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I have a question.

There are two distinct issues: the policy and the law. My question is not about the policy. It is about the law. I am not a lawyer so bear with me.

My understanding of the joint dissent in Dobbs was that the primary legal argument made by the dissenters was stare decisis, i.e. the legal concept that decided law should remain decided. I had made that point myself. Dobbs overturned roughly 50 years of precedent.

What I missed in the dissent was any test for when stare decisis should or should not apply. Clearly, they did not intend for stare decisis to be unequivocally binding. When Brown v. Board of Education was rendered in 1954 it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson which had permitted state-mandated racial segregation for 57 years. Do the dissenters believe that Brown was wrongly decided? It is my understanding that the majority in Dobbs believed that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and constituted considerable judicial overreach.


Immigration Enforcement Kabuki Theater

I found former immigration judge Andrew R. Arthur’s observations about immigrations court no-shows and the Biden Administration at the Center for Immigration Studies interesting:

The latest disclosures from the Department of Justice (DOJ) reveal that the number of alien respondents who failed to appear for removal proceedings is soaring — on track to exceed 170,000 in FY 2024, which would best last year’s record of nearly 160,000. Those aliens may be under orders of removal, but the Biden administration has no inclination — let alone plans — to remove them. Which is why so many aliens likely didn’t bother to appear.

In Absentia Orders of Removal. Section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), governs removal proceedings in immigration court.

Removal cases are heard by immigration judges (IJs), a position I held for more than eight years. Those IJs determine whether alien respondents are removable, consider bond requests, adjudicate applications for “relief” from removal (asylum, adjustment of status, cancellation of removal, etc.), and when appropriate, issue orders of removal.

That entire process is generally dependent, of course, on respondents actually appearing in court. While the Biden administration detains a tiny fraction of the three million-plus aliens currently in proceedings, the vast majority are free to live here while their cases are proceeding.

It’s not as though enforcement is impossible:

In its most recent report, current through the end of December, OHSS reveals that DHS removed just over 179,400 aliens in FY 2023. That may sound like a lot, but it’s important to keep in mind that CBP alone encountered more than 3.2 million aliens at the borders and the ports last fiscal year.

Those 179,400-plus removals in FY 2023 are even less impressive when you place them into historical context. In FY 2014, under the Obama administration, DHS removed just fewer than 405,000 aliens, and as recently as FY 2019, removals exceeded 347,000.

Were I to assign the most benign possible explanation to the Biden Administration’s unwillingness to enforce the law it would be that a) they think their engaging in an act of virtue by rescuing Central and South Americans and others from their countries of origin and b) they have a lot on their plate.

The problem is that it’s not an act of virtue. The mass immigration we’re presently experiencing is pushing and will push wages down for people with whom those migrants do or will compete, mostly young black men and previous migrants. They’re being kind to one group by being cruel to another. That’s not virtuous.

The author concludes:

I can’t tell you dispositively why the number of aliens who failed to appear at their removal hearings has soared under President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas, but I do have an educated guess.

In all of its policies — from its announcement the day of the 2021 inauguration that it would pause alien removals for 100 days, to its “overarching non-detention” regime for illegal migrants, to the Mayorkas guidelines themselves — the administration has signaled to aliens with no legal right to be here that it has no interest in enforcing Congress’ dictates in the INA. If the White House doesn’t care, why would the aliens?

In much the same way, Secretary Mayorkas has concluded he has the discretion to determine which immigration laws he’ll enforce — few, if any, as it turns out — and so alien respondents in removal proceedings have concluded that they, too, had the right to decide which court orders they’ll comply with.

What happens if 725 IJs held removal proceedings in three months and 42,714 respondents failed to appear? For the time being, not much. Immigration enforcement has become kabuki theater. Enjoy the show — you’re paying for the enforcement the administration refuses to provide.

That the enforcement mechanisms are overwhelmed is not a credible explanation: there were four times as many removals under the Obama Administration as at present.


St. Louis’s Urban Doom Loop

I found this report by the Wall Street Journal’s Konrad Putzier sad. When I was a kid, well over 70 years ago, downtown St. Louis was a busy, thriving place. St. Louis proper had a population of more than 800,000 people and growing suburbs. At least once a week my mom would take me downtown and we’d have dinner with my father who was an associate at one of St. Louis’s biggest law firms. We’d park on the street and go up to his office in an elevator with a gate separating the carriage area of the elevator from the door and an elevator operator who was invariably pleasant and courteous. We’d go past the receptionist’s desk (everyone else had gone home) and find my dad. We’d go back down in the elevator and walk to a restaurant—you could walk everywhere and everywhere was safe. We’d eat in one of the many restaurants nearby. Rosa’s, an Italian place. O. T. Hodges for chili. Miss Hulling’s. They’re all gone now.

Here’s his description of downtown St. Louis today:

The Railway Exchange Building was the heart of downtown St. Louis for a century. Every day, locals crowded into the sprawling, ornate 21-story office building to go to work, shop at the department store that filled its lower floors or dine on the famous French onion soup at its restaurant.

Today, the building sits empty, with many of its windows boarded up. A fire broke out last year, which authorities suspect was the work of copper thieves. Police and firefighters send in occasional raids to search for missing people or to roust squatters. A search dog died during one of the raids last year when it fell through an open window.

“It’s a very dangerous place,” said Dennis Jenkerson, the St. Louis Fire Department chief.

It anchors a neighborhood with deserted sidewalks sprinkled with broken glass and tiny pieces of copper pipes left behind by scavengers. Signs suggest visitors should “park in well-lit areas.” Nearby, the city’s largest office building—the 44-story AT&T Tower, now empty—recently sold for around $3.5 million.

Today St. Louis’s population is below 300,000.


It’s All Mom’s Fault

At RealClearScience physiologist Edward Archer argues that the upswing in obesity is not caused by what we’re eating but by changes in how our bodies react to what we’re eating:

Foods and beverages are a sine qua non for life — everyone must eat and drink. Yet just as water does not cause drowning because not everyone who drinks, bathes, or swims, drowns — diet does not cause poor metabolic health because not everyone who eats and drinks becomes obese or diabetic. Yet in contrast to the perfect correlation between water and drowning, there is no clear correlation between diet and obesity.

For example, muscular, male athletes consume more calories, ‘carbs’, sugars, salt, fat, cholesterol, and ‘ultra-processed’ foods than obese, sedentary women, yet have lower levels of adiposity and T2DM. Thus, more foods, beverages, and physical activity are linked with better health and less disease. Clearly, athletes’ bodies ‘handle’ their diets differently than those of sedentary people. Therefore, metabolism — not diet — is the ‘difference that makes a difference’ in health.


Stated simply, consuming dietary sugar increases everyone’s blood sugar — but not everyone’s blood sugar returns to ‘normal’ after a meal (e.g., diabetics). Thus, the diet-induced increase in blood sugar is irrelevant to cardiometabolic health because it is not the ‘difference that makes a difference’. What matters are the metabolic differences that cause blood sugar to decrease — or not — after a meal.

Yet most importantly, as a recent “intensive food-as-medicine program” showed, altering your diet has little effect on cardiometabolic health over time, whereas adequate physical activity “obliterates the deleterious effects of a high-caloric intake”. This explains why muscular athletes can consume massive amounts of calories, ‘carbs’, and ‘ultra-processed’ foods yet remain lean and healthy.

In sum, differences in metabolism — not diet — cause differences in cardiometabolic health.

and points the finger directly at mothers:

Importantly, if a woman’s physical activity is too low, her metabolism will be too weak to ‘handle’ pregnancy and she will consume too many calories. As a result, her children will be born fatter and with weaker metabolisms. In other words, they ‘inherit’ a life-long predisposition to obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. [Note: the non-genetic process of inheritance by which a mother’s prenatal metabolism irreversibly alters her descendants’ metabolism is known as a ‘maternal-effect’].

Consequently, the fact that women ’move less’ than they did five decades ago explains the recent rise in ‘inherited’ (childhood) obesity and adolescent T2DM. For example, from 1965 to 2010, the time women spent doing housework decreased by ~2 hours per day while sedentary time increased by 1 hour/day. This reduced the number of calories burned by ~250/day and doubled the amount of time spent sitting. By 2020, women spent more time sitting in front of the TV and using social media than cooking, cleaning, childcare, exercise, and laundry combined. As a result, their metabolisms became weaker — and because metabolic strength is essential for a healthy pregnancy, the decline produced successive generations of obese children with weak metabolisms.

I haven’t bothered to read Dr. Archer’s research. Consequently, I can’t judge whether what he’s saying is right, wrong, or something in between. I suspect it’s something in between.

For one thing I have a problem with some of his comparisons:

Importantly, all humans start life consuming ~40% of their daily calories as dietary sugars and 25% as saturated fat — either in breast milk or infant formula (an ‘ultra-processed’, sugar-sweetened beverage with ‘added’ sugars, salts, and fats). Thus, recommendations to restrict ‘added’ sugars and ‘processed’ foods would prevent the feeding of most infants in industrialized nations. And contrary to current rhetoric, nations with the highest rates of sugar-sweetened beverage (formula) consumption by infants have the lowest rates of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases (Japan and Norway). Moreover, sugars added to foods and beverages enter the same metabolic pathways as intrinsic sugars. Thus, the glucose molecules in breast milk and the fructose molecules in fruit are exactly the same glucose and fructose molecules as in soda, sports drinks, and your favorite candy. This basic fact of biochemistry shows that the term ‘added sugar’ has no place in scientific discourse.

He also compares the Amish in the United States with other Americans. Now, I haven’t checked and things may be much different in Amish country than they used to be but if I recall correctly no Amish people are either black or Hispanic. According to the National Institutes of Health:

  • More than 2 in 5 non-Hispanic white adults (42.2%) have obesity.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6%) have obesity.
  • More than 1 in 6 non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4%) have obesity.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 Hispanic adults (44.8%) have obesity.

I’m not pointing fingers or fat-shaming anyone, just pointing out what should be obvious: it is quite likely there is a genetic component to obesity. Consequently, let’s take a look at China:

Rather clearly something has happened. What? As it turns out there is no single good answer but rather lots of answers: what they’re eating, how much they’re eating, their grandparents are feeding them too much.

I would speculate that obesity is multi-factorial including but not limited to

  • Eating out (restaurant portions are frequently too large)
  • How much we’re eating
  • What we’re eating
  • Heredity
  • Maternal behavior and agew
  • Sedentary habit
  • Intestinal flora (maybe too many antibiotics?)

What If They’re All Dead?

I’ve wanted to raise this question for some time. What if the hundred some-odd hostages captured by Hamas in their October 7th attack on Israel are all dead? Will that make a difference to the Israelis? Should it? Will it make a difference to the United States?


The Cost of Corruption

I found this report by Isabel Coles in the Wall Street Journal on the activity in Ukraine to root out corruption in military procurement very encouraging. The short version is that the Ukrainian government has realized that the country cannot endure with the level of graft that has afflicted its military procurement.

KYIV, Ukraine—Masked Ukrainian security officers have raided properties, seized wads of cash and detained suspects in a recent crackdown on graft in the purchase of goods for the military ranging from eggs to artillery shells.

At the same time, a quieter operation is being waged by a new team of professionals including a former energy executive called Maryna Bezrukova. From her office in a gleaming business center in Kyiv, she is on a quest to save money and ensure new arms contracts are untainted.

“We need to change the system,” said Bezrukova, who became head of Ukraine’s Defense Procurement Agency earlier this year. “Unless we change the system, nothing will happen.”

As Ukraine faces setbacks on the battlefield in the third year of Russia’s invasion, attention has turned to corruption that is corroding support for the war effort at home and abroad.

Allegations of graft have helped galvanize Republican opponents of military aid to Kyiv, who are holding a $60 billion package hostage to their demands for tighter border control. Short of munitions and men, Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold the line against a much larger enemy. Corruption is also denting morale and making it harder to persuade more Ukrainians to risk their lives.

Ukrainian anticorruption activists say the steely-eyed Bezrukova has what it takes to challenge entrenched interests and shady middlemen while negotiating arms deals worth billions of dollars. Her efforts to clean up arms procurement could prove more meaningful than the recent spate of arrests, they say. But the scale of the challenge is huge. “Of course, it’s not easy,” said Bezrukova, likening her mission to sewing a parachute while in freefall.

Don’t underestimate how difficult a task this will be. Ukraine is generally considered the second most corrupt country in Europe, right after Russia, and some of those who profit from all of the corruption are very powerful.

The position that has been articulated by U. S. officials, that they are confident that non of the $113 billion that Ukraine has received from the U. S. has gone into anybody’s pockets, is facetious. For one thing money is fungible.

But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.


Eclipse of 2024

My wife and I just finished watching the solar eclipse. Here in Chicago they’re saying we had 94% totality. The weather is perfect for it—hardly a cloud in the sky. We carefully looked up with our solar glasses.

Quite an experience.