Archive:

April 2004, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Indian Art For Art's Sake:  This New York Times article begins with a provocative question.
Can a carved and painted Native American mask from the 19th century provide the same aesthetic frisson as, say, a 20th-century Modernist work?
That led me to look at the online exhibition here, where you can find works like this late 19th century Comanche baby carrier.



Which is, in fact, quite beautiful, more so, to my eye than most 20th-century Modernist work.   (I'm not good at measuring aesthetic frissons, so I won't try to make that comparison.)

Now I don't doubt that some Indian art can be treated as modern art, as the article and the exhibition argue.  Nor do I think there is anything especially wrong with doing that.  But I do think we should remember that the artists and craftsmen who made these objects may not have been trying to inspire aesthetic frissons.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the markings on that baby carrier are clan, tribal, or even religious symbols.  Art critics can force all those objects into their aesthetic categories, but I think we show more respect for those who created them if we try to understand their motives.

(To see the online exhibition, you'll need the flash plug-in.  And I should warn you that the objects are divided into categories that I found incomprehensible, "idea, emotion, intimacy, movement, integrity, vocabulary, and composition".  The Comanche baby carrier is in the "vocabulary" category, but a very similar Kiowa baby carrier is in the "movement" category.  Despite all that, I think you'll find the exhibition worth your time, because many of the objects are quite beautiful, whatever the motives of the artists may have been.)
- 2:31 PM, 30 April 2004
Oops!  As an emailer pointed out, I gave the wrong category for the Comanche baby carrier.  I've corrected it above.  Well, I did say that I found the categories incomprehensible.  And I should have mentioned that I used Paint Shop Pro to adjust the photo after I downloaded it.
- 5:59 AM, 1 May 2004   [link]


Getting The Basics Right:  I am still surprised, though I shouldn't be, by how often I see mistakes like this one, from an article surveying election prospects in key states.
Iowa (7 electoral votes): Mr. Gore easily won this strongly Democratic state, but it has turned into a struggle for Mr. Kerry that speaks volumes about his weakness in the pivotal Midwest.  An American Research Group poll of 600 registered, likely voters conducted April 18-21 showed Mr. Bush trailing by a single point — 47 percent to 46 percent.  Mr. Nader is at 3 percent.  "If we can't win in Iowa, where can we win?" said a frustrated Democratic official.
Iowa is not a strongly Democratic state, and Gore did not win it easily.  Let's flip open the 2004 edition of the Almanac of American Politics for the facts.  There are 627,520 voters registered as Republicans, 576,725 as Democrats, and 769,188 as independents.  Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Republicans, though not by large margins (29-21 and 54-46).  The Republicans have 4 of the 5 House seats.  The senior senator, Charles Grassley, is a Republican, and the junior senator, Tom Harkin, is a Democrat.  Grassley has won reelection easily; Harkin has had some close contests.  The current governor, Tom Vilsack, is a Democrat, but he is the first since 1968.

In 2000, Al Gore won the state by just 4,144 votes, with 638,517 votes to 634,373 votes for Bush.   That's not what I would call an easy victory.

Overall, I would call Iowa a swing state, leaning Republican in local politics.  In fact, given the current Republican edge in registration, I would have expected Bush to have carried the state in 2000.  That he did not is most likely explained by the lingering effects of the hard times in farm states during the 1980s.

(Minor technical point: Lambro writes "registered, likely", which is confusing because "likely" voters are a subset of "registered" voters.  Typically, in political polls, the interviewer begins by asking whether the person they are talking to is registered.  If not, they stop the interview at that point.  Assessing who is likely to vote is much harder, and different polling firms use different questions to decide that.  The ARG poll was of likely voters.)
- 7:30 AM, 30 April 2004   [link]


If You Needed More Evidence that the 9/11 Commission is a time wasting farce, here it is.
Two of the Democratic commissioners left the session [with Bush and Cheney] about an hour early.   Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton was scheduled to introduce the Canadian prime minister at a luncheon, and former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey left to meet with Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) on funding issues related to New School University, where Kerrey serves as president.
When I first saw this story on Drudge, I wasn't sure whether to believe it, but it's true.  The questioning of the President and the Vice President was so unimportant that Hamilton could not find some one else to make an introduction and Kerrey could not reschedule a routine meeting.

Why did they skip out?  Because the session wasn't on TV, much to the disappointment of New York Times writer Alessandra Staley.  For Ms. Staley, finding a way to fight the war on terrorism is all very well, but not as important as a TV show.

And I don't think it's an accident that the New York Times, which has been trying to pump up this farce, does not name the commissioners who walked out, or mention their party, in its main story on the session.  Can you imagine a sports story that said two players left a game early "because of other appointments", but did not name the players or their team?
- 5:55 AM, 30 April 2004
More:  In contrast to the New York Times, the New York Post gave full coverage to the walk out.   Sometimes the open partisanship of the Post beats the sneaky partisanship of the Times.
- 7:51 AM, 2 May 2004   [link]


Who Are We Fighting?  I don't claim to be an expert on Iraq, and so I have been puzzled by that question over the last few months, especially after Saddam was captured.  Before he was pulled out of his spider hole, most of the attacks on our troops came, as far as I could tell from news reports, from Baathist bitter enders.  And, as I recall, after his capture, the attacks declined for a time, which would fit that explanation.   I saw different suggestions for the rise afterwards, foreign terrorists, Iranian agents, Shiite extremists, and so on.  I don't doubt that all of these played some part.

But now there is an answer available from our intelligence, which says that many of the attacks are coming from resurgent Baathists, put in place before the liberation of Iraq.
A Pentagon intelligence report has concluded that many bombings against Americans and their allies in Iraq, and the more sophisticated of the guerrilla attacks in Falluja, are organized and often carried out by members of Saddam Hussein's secret service, who planned for the insurgency even before the fall of Baghdad.

The report states that Iraqi officers of the "Special Operations and Antiterrorism Branch," known within Mr. Hussein's government as M-14, are responsible for planning roadway improvised explosive devices and some of the larger car bombs that have killed Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners.  The attacks have sown chaos and fear across Iraq.
. . .
The report does not imply that every guerrilla taking up arms against the Americans is under the command of the M-14, nor that every Iraqi who dances atop a charred Humvee is inspired by a former Iraqi intelligence agent.  But the assessment helps explain how only a few thousand insurgents, with professional leadership from small numbers of Mr. Hussein's intelligence services and seasoned military officer corps, could prove to be such a challenge to the American occupation.  "They carefully laid plans to occupy the occupiers," said one United States government official who has read the report.  "They were prepared to try and hijack the country.  The goal was to complicate the stabilization mission, and democratization."
Supposing this is true — and unlike the New York Times I see no reason to doubt the report — then the lull in the attacks after last November requires an explanation.  What decreased the attacks then and increased them now?  The first seems easier to understand.  The death of Saddam's sons and the capture of Saddam and other high ranking Baathists naturally discouraged the forces left behind, even though they may have prepared for that possibility.

But what explains the Baathist revival?  I can only speculate, but several things come to mind.   The shock and awe after our swift battlefield victories and the depression after the loss of many of their leaders may have worn off, as they got to know us and see some of our weaknesses.   Our unwillingness to be as hard on resistance as they would be encouraged their belief that we were soft and had no stomach for casualties.  Propaganda from al Jazeera and similar sources began, as they must have known, to turn some of the population against us.  And the success of the Madrid bombing showed them how wobbly some of our allies were.

An irregular force without substantial outside support can succeed against us only if we give up, though you see contradictory claims from time to time.  (Including a bizarre one from one Sandra Mackey in today's New York Times, so foolish that I won't link to it, saying that the United States can not even defeat Sunni tribes.  Hitler and Tojo, yes, the tribes of Falluja, no.)  So Baathist morale will depend very much on their estimate of our staying power.  For now, as some have said, they are pinning part of their hopes on driving George Bush from office.  John Kerry may say that he will not abandon Iraq, and may mean it, but he has not convinced the Baathist diehards of that.

It is unpleasant to speculate that the conflict in Iraq is being prolonged and hundreds are dying in order to influence our election this November, but I think it may be true.  It would not be the first time in our history this has happened.  In 1864, the Southern forces tried hard to show that Lincoln's war was a failure.  Lincoln's election victory was made possible, in part, by the successes of the Union armies on the battlefield, especially Sherman's capture of Atlanta.   We are unlikely to see anything as dramatic this year, but I do expect enough successes to ensure a Republican victory this year, as in 1864.

I am not predicting, even if my speculation is correct, that George Bush's reelection will end Baathist resistance, but I do think it might help.
- 5:41 PM, 29 April 2004   [link]


Oliver North Versus John Kerry:  Most of the time when I see political parties switching positions with changing circumstances, I am just amused.  Almost no one is fooled when the party that favored new ideas and fresh thinking in opposition touts experience and stability when in office.  But the fevered efforts by John Kerry, the Democratic party, and many journalists (a group less and less distinguishable from the left wing of the Democratic party) to make his military record an answer to any charge have gone beyond the usual hypocrisy.

Try this thought experiment.  Suppose that John Kerry was running for Senate against Oliver North, who did run for the Senate from Virginia.  John Kerry's Vietnam record shows, from what I have read, physical heroism and the ability to lead a small group.  Oliver North's Vietnam record shows, again from what I have read, the same qualities, perhaps to a greater extent.  (There's a brief description of his record in this biography.  North won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts during his time in Vietnam.)  Would any of those now touting Kerry's record say that North was better because his service in Vietnam was more impressive.   Of course not.

Kerry himself attacked North severely during the Iran-Contra investigation.  Many of those now backing Kerry despised North, some because of his military service.  Some of the same journalists who now gush about Kerry's record were contemptuous of North's.  If there were any Democratic politicians who thought, while North was running for office, that his service in Vietnam should stop all criticism of North, they kept it to themselves.

I had an interesting email exchange with Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat over the importance of military service in judging politicians.  In my last email to him on the subject, I asked him if he had ever said that it was a big plus for earlier Republican candidates such as George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole.  He never replied, conceding my point.

(For the record, I think that service as an enlisted man or low ranking officer, whether as heroic as George H. W. Bush's during World War II, or as routine as Al Gore's during Vietnam, does not say much about their fitness to be president.)
- 8:26 AM, 29 April 2004   [link]


Smart Traffic Cones:  No, really.  And you may be seeing them soon, so don't be startled.  Here's the story on the invention.
Herds of robotic traffic cones could soon be swarming onto a highway, closing down lanes and slowing the traffic.

The new road markers have been developed by Shane Farritor, a roboticist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in a bid to help reduce the $100 billion per year that the Department of Transportation estimates is lost to the US economy through accidents and delays caused by highway lane closures.

The self-propelled markers take the form of robotic three-wheeled bases for the brightly coloured barrels that are set out to demarcate road repair zones.  Farritor says they can open and close traffic lanes faster and more safely than humans.
. . .
"Our tests proved these robots can work in teams to provide traffic control," he says.  "Deploying and retrieving highway markers on open roads is hazardous so the robots will reduce risks for workmen," he adds.
  Highway departments will have to warn us before deploying them.  If I were to see a group of traffic barrels maneuvering by themselves, I'd take a second look, and I think most drivers would do the same.
- 6:52 AM, 29 April 2004   [link]


The Continuing Mystery Of Saddam's WMDs:  After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, most expected that we would find stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons quickly, just as we did after the first Gulf War.  When, after a brief and partial search, David Kay did not find stockpiles, many jumped to the conclusion that the stockpiles did not exist.   That seems to me not just premature, but a failure to think about the problem clearly.

The inescapable fact is that we may never know whether Saddam had stockpiles — if we do not find them.  Because of the ease with which they could be hidden, the secrecy, compartmentation, and ruthlessness of Saddam's regime, and the vast area to search (all of Iraq, parts of neighboring countries, parts of the ocean, et cetera), it is possible that Saddam hid stockpiles — and that we will never find them.  It is also true that we may never know for certain that Saddam destroyed his stockpiles, for much the same reasons.

Although inescapable, this is also, I agree, unsatisfactory.  For many reasons, some practical, some political, we would like to know what weapons Saddam possessed and what happened to them.   But wishes are not comprehensive records, which we have not found — and might not trust if we did.

Consider this point, which is almost universally ignored by those who think the matter settled.   During the liberation of Iraq, Israeli officials claimed that Saddam was transferring his weapons to Syria, his neighboring Baathist state.  Israeli officials have not dropped that claim; in fact, just a few days ago, Israel's military head repeated the claim.
Iraq had chemical weapons and the means to deliver them ahead of last year's US-led invasion, Israel's military chief said in an interview published today.

Iraq may have transferred the weapons to Syria or buried them in desert sands, said Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, speaking a month after a parliamentary investigation criticised Israeli intelligence gathering on Iraq.
. . .
In today's interview in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Yaalon said that before the war, Iraq had developed the ability to fit planes with chemical weapons that could have been used against Israel.

"There is no doubt that in the eight months leading up to the war, the Iraqis prepared an ability to deliver by air chemical weapons, at least at us," Yaalon said.
. . .
He said the US military destroyed the [chemical carrying] planes in the first two days of the war — based on Israeli intelligence information.  The chemical weapons, Yaalon said, were more carefully hidden.

"Perhaps they transferred them to another country, such as Syria," Yaalon said. "We very clearly saw that something crossed into Syria.  Perhaps, they (the Iraqis) buried them."
This is not, I agree, absolute proof, but Israel's military intelligence is widely respected, even by its enemies.

And we continue to see odd bits of news like these three:  Sudan just asked Syria to remove chemical weapons.  Were those weapons originally Iraqi?  Possibly, although I have seen reports that Syria also has a significant chemical weapons program.  And then there were the stories about the planned terrorist attack in Jordan using chemical weapons, supposedly from Syria.  Could they have been from Iraq originally.  Again, possibly.   Then there was the explosion in Iraq at a facility suspected of being a chemical weapons plant.  Could the explosion have been an attempt to destroy evidence?  Once more, possibly.

So we can not be certain whether Saddam had stockpiles, and, if so, whether they still exist, hidden somewhere.  Anyone who claims that they are certain about the non-existence of the stockpiles is ignoring both the difficulty of the search and this additional evidence.

Those who are certain that Saddam's stockpiles do not exist miss something else, too.   In the long term, programs for developing and producing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are a more serious problem than stockpiles.  And there is no question that Saddam had such programs, although there is considerable disagreement about their extent.  Both David Kay and the current head of the Iraqi Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, agree that there is substantial evidence of programs.   In his interim report to Congress last March, Duelfer even mentioned one program that is new to me, an experimental railgun, most likely intended for nuclear research.

The evidence for Saddam's programs is very strong, incontrovertible in some cases, including some that were in defiance of United Nations resolutions, such as his efforts to develop longer range missiles.  (Given the inaccuracy of these Iraqi missiles, it is hard to avoid thinking that Saddam intended them to carry nuclear, chemical, or biological payloads.  An inaccurate missile with a conventional payload of explosives is not much of a military threat, though it can be used as a terror weapon against cities.)

Finally, if we did learn that Saddam had programs but not stockpiles, it does not necessarily affect the decision to go to war in the way some believe.  As a practical matter, it would mean that the risks in overthrowing Saddam would be less than most thought, prior to the conflict.  And, that the risk would increase in future years.  Since Saddam would be weaker, temporarily, striking now would be a better military option than striking later.

(For more on this subject, see this critique of David Kay by Douglas Hanson, a former army officer with considerable experience with WMDs, and these two articles by investigative journalist Kenneth Timmerman, the first giving the evidence that Saddam moved weapons to Syria and the second claiming that the Iraqi Survey Group has already found WMDs.   I think that conclusion goes too far, but his accumulation of evidence about weapons programs is impressive.)
- 4:47 PM, 28 April 2004
More:  John Kerry agrees with me.   Here are the first few lines of his reply to a multi-part question from Chris Matthews on Hardball.
Kerry: It appears, as they peel away the weapons of mass destruction issue, and--we may yet find them, Chris.  Look, I want to make it clear: Who knows if a month from now, you find some weapons.   You may.
Since he is John Kerry, he hedges, ascribes bad motives to the Bush administration, and gets a detail wrong, but he does concede that the question is open, just as I said.  (The wrong detail?   Kerry said that Saddam had used only artillery shells to deliver chemical weapons.  This may have been true of his attacks against the Iranians, but was definitely not true of his attacks against the Kurds.)

(If Matthews does another equally sycophantic Kerry interview, he may have to rename his show.   A caller to a talk show, perhaps Tony Snow's, suggested, not "Softball", which occurred to others, but "T-Ball".  From what I know of the game, that sounds about right.)
- 7:19 AM, 29 April 2004   [link]


Historical Tidbit 1, The Flower Class:  Bruce Rolston's discussion of decorations reminds me of a historical tidbit that I just ran across.  Nasturtium, Gladiolus, Celandine, Dianthus, and Poppy.  Names of flowers, of course, but also the names of British warships during World War II.  The British navy, knowing that it would need small anti-submarine ships, commissioned a class of corvettes which could be built in civilian shipyards.  (The winning design was a modification of a deep-sea trawler.)  All were named after flowers.  The corvettes were intended for reservists and coastal patrols, but soon were patrolling the entire Atlantic, in order to follow the German U-boats.

If you read many descriptions of Atlantic convoy battles, you will find oddities like this:
That night U-556 was also moving in to attack when it was detected on sonar by Gladiolus, which called on Nasturtium and Celandine for help.  Cooperating closely, the three corvettes carried out a long series of attacks, in which they expended 54 depth-charges before U-556 was forced to the surface, appearing almost underneath Gladiolus.  The three corvettes opened fire at point-blank range with any weapon that could be brought to bear, whereupon the U-boat's commanding officer decided to scuttle.  Gladiolus tried to board in order to save cypher documents but the boat was already sinking and the attempt had to be abandoned.  Of U-556's crew, 40 were rescued and five died. (Battle Winning Tanks, Aircraft & Warships of World War II by David Miller, p. 135.)
When I see Gladiolus or one of the other flower names in such descriptions, I hit a mental bump, since I don't think of flowers as warships.  Others, apparently, have gotten used to it, because I have yet to find an explanation for the choice of flowers for names of a class of warships.

(The ships were also used in the American and Canadian navies; both gave them more traditional names.  Here's a site with more information.)
- 10:26 AM, 28 April 2004   [link]


Decorations, Medals, Ribbons:  Wonder what the differences are?   Bruce Rolston has an explanation here.   To complicate things, the three overlap in ways that may surprise those not familiar with the military.

(Rolston is generally quite good on military details like this, though I sometimes disagree with his judgments on larger matters.)
- 9:25 AM, 28 April 2004   [link]


Having It Both Ways:  Unlike some others at the newspaper, the Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi supports John Kerry so much that most of her columns should be reported as in-kind contributions.  Even so, she can't help noticing that he has a problem.
A person watching Kerry run for president wants to shake him and say, "Stop, please stop."

Stop trying to have it both ways, on issues big and small.  If you voted against the $87 billion in military aid for Iraq, you did not vote for it.  If the Kerry family owns a couple of SUVs, you do, too.  Don't make it so ridiculously easy for the GOP to make you look foolish and untrustworthy when Bush is the one who is truly foolish and untrustworthy.
(Ms. Vennochi forgets that there are people, mostly Republicans, who are delighted by Kerry's performances.  It is not hard to see why she might miss this.  Since she works at the Globe, her understanding of Republicans may be purely theoretical.)

And Vennochi misses one of the most interesting examples of Kerry having it both ways.  For months, Kerry has been attacking outsourcing.  But what kind of companies does Kerry invest in?   Patrick Hynes has a list.
But the media has missed a bigger story about Sen. Everyone-Is-Stupid-Except-Me.  Leave aside for a moment his holdings in the Pennsylvania Catsup concern.  Even a cursory glance at John Kerry's most recent Personal Financial Disclosure forms (filed in 2003) shows Ted Kennedy's more liberal, junior partner is deeply invested and has personally profited from the outsourcing phenomena that haunts corporate America.

We have cross-referenced Kerry's holdings of publicly traded assets with Lou Dobbs' worst outsource offenders list.  Herewith are the results. Kerry invests in the following outsourcers: BristoMyers Squibb, Medtronics, Proctor & Gamble, SBC Communications, Verizon, Suntrust Banks, ExxonMobil Corp., Intel, Microsoft, 3M, General Electric, Wyeth, Citigroup, BellSouth, American Express, Monsanto, Emerson Electric, Mellon Bank, USAA, AT&T, Comcast, Bear Sterns, Pfizer, Ingerson-Rand, Anheuser Busch, Automatic Data Processing, Bank of America, Becton Dickson, Chevron Texaco, Electronic Data Systems, Equifax, Goldman Sachs, Hershey Foods, Home Depot, IBM, JP Morgan, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle, Pepsico, Sun Microsystems, Target, Texas Instruments, Veritas Software.
So Kerry has made a lot of money on outsourcing, which is not an "atrocity", but definitely something to be discouraged — at least when it benefits people other than John Kerry.
- 6:44 AM, 27 April 2004   [link]


Corrections Policy:  I've added an item to the FAQS at the right to describe my corrections policy.  There is just one point in it that I would like to stress.  If you notice a mistake in a post and tell me about it, you do me a favor.   Although I can't offer financial rewards to those who spot mistakes, as computer scientist Donald Knuth has done for his great work, The Art of Computer Programming, I can and will thank you for your help.
- 5:07 AM, 27 April 2004   [link]


They Get Letters:  But which ones do they publish?  For years I have been wondering how newspapers decide which letters to print.  Last year, I noted that the New York Times has much higher standards for its letters than for some of its columnists, and that the newspaper simply refuses to print letters on some subjects.  And for years I have wondered about a pattern I saw in the Seattle newspapers; letters from those on the left were much more likely to call for censorship than those on the right.  Does this reflect the letters they receive, or the ideas of the letters editor?

I am not the only one to be curious about this matter.  For a while, three bloggers (Moira Breen, Bill Quick, and "Timekeeper" of the Horologium site) had a contest on to see who could find the silliest letters from leftists in their home town newspapers (respectively, the Portland Oregonian, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Seattle Times and PI).  That made me wonder whether those West coast newspapers received more silly letters from the left, or whether the letters don't seem silly to the people choosing to print them.

One reason I wonder about this general question is that, from time to time, I send letters to newspapers pointing out errors.  More often than not, the newspapers choose not to print them, or other letters with the same correction.

Yesterday, I finally found a vague statement of the principles governing letter selection in this Seattle Times column by editorial page editor, Jim Veseley.
Normally, there is an initial wave of letters taking the most obvious position on a controversy.   By the second or third day, the letters are breaking into the factions the stories produce, politically left, right or — rarely — in the middle.

That's why objections to our letters page as biased miss the point.  Because we use the letters in the rough proportion of those received, they usually represent a predominant viewpoint and then, by the third day, the opinions are fragmented as letter writers begin to disagree, not with The Times, but with each other.
So, at least at the Seattle Times, they print more letters from the left advocating censorship and more truly silly letters from the left, because they get more of those letters.  Or at least so Mr. Veseley believes.  (I assume that isn't all of their policy.  Letters from lawyers threatening lawsuits get slightly different treatment, I am certain.)

Although this is a simple policy and seems fair, it has a crucial defect.  As Veseley indicates, most of the letters they receive, especially at first, are likely to be supportive of the newspaper's position, and so they publish more of these.  But this cuts down on the feedback that newspapers (and every large organization, for that matter) needs.  It is the letters that disagree with the newspaper that may teach the reporters and editors something they don't know.   By not giving those letters priority, Veseley makes it harder for the newspaper to correct its own mistakes.

These uncorrected mistakes, over time, lead to what we have now, a very great distrust of journalists, a distrust recognized by, of all people, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of the New York Times.
At a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Newspaper Association of America on Thursday, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. discussed the issue.

"The scariest thing of all of last year ... wasn't Jayson Blair," Sulzberger told a panel discussion on journalism ethics.  "The scariest part was that the people we lied about didn't bother to call because they just assumed that's the way newspapers act.  That's scary, and that's not a problem about The New York Times, that's a problem about our profession."
One reason so many of us do not trust journalists is the refusal of journalists, including some at the New York Times, to print corrections.  Sulzberger seems to be unaware that many readers do try to make corrections, and have their efforts rejected — which does not encourage them to try again on another subject.

Finally, an ironic point.  Some of those whom Jayson Blair lied about did contact the New York Times — and were brushed off, even if they were people most of us would trust.  I am tempted to send a letter with that correction to the New York Times — but doubt very much that they would print it.
- 1:52 PM, 26 April 2004   [link]


Watch That Metaphor!  Seattle PI columnist Susan Paynter is one of those journalists who inspire the fake mass disaster headline.  You have probably seen versions of it for various papers; my favorite is: "Nuclear Attack Destroys New York, Women and Minorities Hardest Hit".  If Paynter has ever entertained a politically incorrect idea, I missed it, so I take more amusement than I should from seeing her botch a metaphor completely in this column.
Now, increasingly, AIDS is the face of women, of people of color, of the poor, and the drug-addicted -- not a group we rush up and throw our arms around.
She has forgotten one of her feminist tenets.  People, particularly men, can get in serious trouble by rushing up and throwing their arms around women.  Especially in Seattle, where charges of sexual harassment are enough to drive politicians from office.

And she's forgotten the main way that AIDS spreads.  Women with AIDS often contracted it from throwing their arms (and more) around the wrong guy.

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic to the victims of AIDS.  But the fact is that the fight against it has been hindered from the beginning by the politically correct, including Susan Paynter.
- 10:50 AM, 26 April 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Dave Cullen's explanation of the Columbine killers.  There are two common explanations of the killings.
Five years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School.  Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it.  The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed "Trench Coat Mafia outcasts" were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them.  The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.
But the FBI experts who have studied Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold don't agree with either of those conclusions.  Instead they see Harris as a classic psychopath who brought Klebold along with him.  Rather than being the victim who finally strikes back at those he disliked, Harris was a cold-blooded killer, who didn't care much who his victims were.

Many, most infamously Michael Moore, exploited the Columbine killings to promote their own political views.  But they could do so only by ignoring much of the evidence.  For example, those who want strong controls on guns have to ignore the fact that Harris and Klebold planned to kill most of their victims with propane bombs, failing only because they got the wiring on the timers wrong.

Psychopaths are not common — civilization wouldn't be possible if they were — but they are so dangerous that every adult should have some idea about how to recognize them.
- 10:10 AM, 26 April 2004   [link]


Do As We Say, not as we do.  Howard Kurtz notes that news organizations are not very good at apologies.
Reporters at President Bush's prime time news conference two weeks ago were relentless in pressing him to admit "any errors in judgment," or his "biggest mistake," or that he owes the American people an "apology."

But when news organizations screw up, their executives often fail to admit culpability or tell readers and viewers they're sorry.  In many cases, they merely issue canned statements and slink into the shadows without answering questions from the sort of nosy reporters they employ to harass everyone else.

And as the implosions at USA Today and the New York Times make clear, newsrooms are sometimes more dysfunctional and paralyzed than the government agencies they cover, with top editors uninformed about problems with subordinates, missing obvious warning signals or intimidating their staff against bringing them bad news.
Strangely, Kurtz then goes on to wonder why editors have to resign now, when they didn't in the past.  I suppose he must report to an editor, who won't mind getting a way out from Kurtz, just in case he needs one.
- 7:35 AM, 26 April 2004   [link]


John Kerry's Medal Throwing more than thirty years ago doesn't interest me as much as his current equivocation.  Journalists seem to have caught Kerry in yet another contradiction.
Throughout much of his political career, Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has faced questions about a singular event that took place 33 years ago last week: he and fellow veterans discarded medals in Washington to protest the war in Vietnam.

The Kerry campaign Web site says it is "right-wing fiction" that he "threw away his medals during a Vietnam War protest." Rather, the Web site says, "John Kerry threw away his ribbons and the medals of two veterans who could not attend the event."
Actually, conservatives have claiming for years that Kerry pretended to throw his own medals, but kept them and has them on display in his Senate office.  And, although the New York Times doesn't mention it, many of those who said they were veterans during these protests were not.

Now a 1971 tape has surfaced which appears to show Kerry saying that he had thrown away medals that day, in contradiction to what he now says, that he just threw away ribbons.  (It is not clear to me why he might to choose — if he did — to throw ribbons but not medals, and why that matters now.)

But this issue seems trivial to me compared to his hedging on what he said then.  In the Meet the Press interview, Tim Russert played the tape of Kerry's testimony in 1971, including this remarkable statement.
There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones.  I conducted harassment and interdiction fire.  I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people.   I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages.
Russert then follows up.
MR. RUSSERT: You committed atrocities.

SEN. KERRY: Where did all that dark hair go, Tim?  That's a big question for me.  You know, I thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word.  I think it's an inappropriate word.
And they go back and forth for a while.  This summary of the segment from Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News is about right.
In other words, Kerry believes his language in 1971 was "a little bit excessive," "a little bit over the top," and might have been phrased "more artfully."  But on the other hand his statements were "honest," he's "proud" of his position at that time and he's "not going to walk away" from his fundamental thesis regarding the grotesque nature of U.S. conduct.  Indeed, "a lot of those stories have been documented."
As Carroll says, there are two mysteries about this, why Kerry would stick to a position that would alienate most Vietnam veterans, and why he would "want voters to believe he spent his time in Vietnam committing awful acts against innocent people".

When I try to summarize Kerry's position, I come up with something like this:  Kerry thinks that we should honor him (and perhaps elect him president) for his service, which included, if not quite "atrocities", certainly terrible acts.  If you can make any sense out of that, let me know.
- 7:07 AM, 26 April 2004   [link]


Black Voters Will Move Toward Bush this November, I predict.  In fact, I will go farther and say that I expect Bush will win between 12 and 15 percent of the black vote, which would be the best for any Republican since Gerald Ford.  (The New York Times exit poll estimated that Bush won 8 percent of the black vote in 2000; Gallup estimated it at 9 percent, if my memory is correct.)

Why?  Three reasons.  First, Bush will gain from a natural rebound as moderate blacks notice that many of the nasty predictions made about him during the 2000 campaign did not come true.  The racial appeals used by the Gore campaign and its allies were both disgusting and successful.  Even Richard Cohen (or "Ayatollah Cohen, as we now call him), the liberal Washington Post columnist, agrees that the Gore campaign used disgraceful racial appeals.  They are unlikely to have the same success this year.

Second, John Kerry does not have much rapport with blacks, unlike Bill Clinton and even Al Gore.   Washington Post columnist Colbert King is not the first to notice Kerry's problem, but he agrees that it is real.
John Kerry, oh, John Kerry, say it isn't so. But, alas, apparently 'tis true.

The Massachusetts senator, putative 2004 Democratic standard-bearer and soon-to-be leader of the party that most voting African Americans and other people of color call home, has an innermost circle of advisers that is practically as white as the driven snow.  That slam against the Kerry high command appeared last week in "The Inside Edge" column of Carlos Watson on CNN.com.
Good column, Mr. King.  And more evidence that I was right to suggest that you run for mayor of Washington, D. C. — as a reform Republican.  (So far I haven't gotten a response from him on the idea.)

Third, attachment to the Democratic party has been declining among blacks, especially young blacks and most especially young black men.  They have not become Republicans in any large numbers, but they have become independents, which means they are more open to appeals from Bush and other Republicans.

(There is a common belief that the Republican party's stance on Civil Rights lost it the black vote.  This is wrong historically.  Black voters gave the majority of their support to the Democrats after 1932, like many other groups.  Goldwater's candidacy in 1964 did lessen support for the Republican party among blacks, but it was a matter of going from 20 percent to 10 percent roughly, not losing a majority.)
- 3:38 PM, 25 April 2004   [link]


There's More Than one kind of terrorist.
SNOHOMISH -- Arsons that destroyed two new homes, and attempts at several others this week, were the work of the environmental extremist group the Earth Liberation Front, a statement released by the group claims.
. . .
FBI agents have been investigating the possibility of ELF involvement since the note was found Tuesday at the Cedars Crossing development, about 13 miles from Lobo Ridge, the site of the arsons, FBI spokesman Ray Lauer said Friday.
. . .
"If it says ELF, and it is within the guidelines of what they stand for, it's ELF," said Gary Perlstein, a professor of criminal justice at Portland State University in Oregon who has studied and written extensively about the elusive extremist group.

ELF activists have claimed responsibility for dozens of incidents across the country, including torching new developments in California and Michigan last year.
As far as I know, their many acts of sabotage and arson have not claimed any lives — yet.

The ELF fanatics, though not as bloodthirsty, are similar to radical Islamists in some ways.  Both groups dislike Western civilization and feel contempt for democratic procedures.  And both look back to a time before, as they see it, the world was spoiled by capitalism, democracy, and Christianity.

(Snohomish is a small town north and east of Seattle.  Growth limits in this area have pushed much development farther out to places like Snohomish.)
- 1:45 PM, 25 April 2004   [link]


When The Seattle Times Printed The Photo showing the coffins of American soldiers last Sunday, it gave us a simple and rather pretty story.  The photo was taken by a woman with no political views, simply a desire to show the people how the dead were being honored.  The newspaper published the photo with no political motives, but simply a desire to give the full story to the public.  That simple and pretty story is now in tatters.

We may never learn the entire truth about this incident, but some points are clear.
  • The picture is a terrible photograph, as even this amateur can see instantly.  Nearly one fourth of the picture is taken up by an out-of-focus man in the foreground, which is enough of a mistake by itself to disqualify it from publication, ordinarily.  I notice other problems and I am sure professionals would notice even more.  Many have found it evocative, and I do not doubt that their feelings are genuine, but it is still a terrible photograph.
  • Silicio and Katz sued a Halliburton subsidiary in 2000 and have reason to dislike Dick Cheney.
  • No serious person can accept the original claims from Silicio and Katz about their motives.
  • The Seattle Times thought that publishing this terrible photograph was worth Tami Silicio's job, as did she and her "friend", Amy Katz.
  • No serious person can accept the original claims from the Seattle Times, about the newspaper's motives in publishing the picture.  The newspaper published the picture for political reasons, at least in part, as they almost admit, in this editorial.
  • Circulation at the Seattle Times is falling and will continue to fall because of the distrust created by incidents like this.
(Here's the most recent Seattle Times story, with the missing background.  And here's an Editor and Publisher story about the ethical problems in trading Silicio's job for political gains.

Finally, a hint for Ms. Silicio.  A friend who keeps getting you in trouble may not really be your friend.)
- 11:16 AM, 25 April 2004   [link]


New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks that it would be good idea for liberals to be more tolerant of evangelicals.
I've argued often that gay marriage should be legal and that conservative Christians should show a tad more divine love for homosexuals.

But there's a corollary.  If liberals demand that the Christian right show more tolerance for gays and lesbians, then liberals need to be more respectful of conservative Christians.
. . .
On the other hand, the left seems more contemptuous than ever of evangelicals.  Sensitive liberals who avoid expressions like "ghetto blaster," because that might be racially offensive, blithely dismiss conservative Christians as "Jesus freaks" or "fanatics."

Take Ted Turner.  He has called Christianity a "religion for losers" and once ridiculed CNN employees observing Ash Wednesday as "Jesus freaks."  Later, he apologized.

Then there are the T-shirts: "So Many Right-Wing Christians . . . So Few Lions."
And it would be easy to add to those examples.

But here I would like to make a different point.  It's not just a good idea; it's the law.  Nearly every Civil Rights law includes religion as a protected category; the 1964 law is typical; again and again in its text, you will see the phrase, "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin".  The same laws that forbid the New York Times from discriminating against blacks forbid the newspaper from discriminating against evangelicals.

And does the New York Times — an organization dominated by leftists with the attitudes Kristof criticizes — discriminate?  Almost certainly.  In an earlier column, Kristof made two claims, that evangelicals are about 40 percent of the American population, and that he did not encounter them at the New York Times.  There are all sorts of reasons why that might be so, but I think it certain that discrimination in hiring is one of them.

(Of course, I do not think that the New York Times has an official policy of discrimination against evangelicals.  Rather, the attitudes Kristof describes are so strong that the individuals making the hiring decisions discriminate without being directed to.)

Most news organizations are like the New York Times and have few evangelicals, partly, as I said, because of discrimination in hiring.  Most major universities — also dominated by those on the left — have few evangelicals, and discrimination would be part of the reason there, too.  All this may seem natural to those on the left Kristof criticizes, but it is nonetheless illegal.

Within the next ten years, I expect to see law suits from evangelicals who have lost jobs because of this discrimination.  Perhaps even one directed at the New York Times.  Kristof may see his columns entered as evidence.

(Kristof seems to think, judging by the following paragraph, that religious conservatives are the only group mocked by those he calls "polite society", and I call the politically correct.
Those kinds of pointed questions are fair, but sneering is not.  And in polite society, conservative Christians — especially Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses — are among the last groups it's still acceptable to mock.
Actually the poltically correct mock all sorts of groups; in fact, currently they are defined more by whom they hate than the ideas they favor.  And Miss Manners would not necessarily consider the politically correct to be models of politeness and civility.)
- 5:56 AM, 25 April 2004   [link]


Life Insurance Companies might want to charge higher rates to poets.
[O]ne of the largest studies of its kind shows that poets tend to die younger than other types of writers.

The study of 1,987 dead writers was conducted by James C. Kaufman, director of the Learning Research Institute at California State University, San Bernardino. Mr. Kaufman, a psychologist, tallied the average ages at death for prominent male and female novelists, poets, playwrights and nonfiction writers who were American (with some Canadians and Mexicans), Chinese, Turkish and Eastern European.

Overall, poets lived an average of 62.2 years, compared with nonfiction writers, who lived the longest at 67.9 years.  Playwrights lived an average of 63.4 years; novelists, 66 years.  The differences between poetry and prose were pronounced among Americans, where poets lived an average of 66.2 years, and nonfiction writers lived an average of 72.7 years.
The more purely "creative" the writer, the sooner they die, it would seem.  The article has much speculation as to the causes of this pattern and some whining from an American poet who feels unappreciated, but leaves out Edna St. Vincent Millay's explanation, which you can find in her poem, First Fig.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.
I can't say that I agree with her attitude, but I like it more than the whining.

(You can find that poem, and many others from American poets, at this site.)
- 5:24 PM, 24 April 2004   [link]


More On Those Coffin Photos:  Here's another twist in the story, just barely hinted at in the Seattle Times articles, like this one.  
The Times received [Tami] Silicio's photograph from a stateside friend, Amy Katz, who had previously worked with Silicio for a different contractor in Kosovo.
Which contractor?  The Times doesn't say.  But it may have been a subsidiary of Halliburton.  According to talk show host Mike Siegel of KTTH 770, Amy Katz lost her job with a subsidiary of Halliburton, and both she and Silicio have a grudge against Dick Cheney who was then head of Halliburton.

Is this true?  Maybe.  Mike Siegel has made mistakes in the past, one big enough to get him fired from another station.  (He allowed a caller to pass on a nasty rumor about a Seattle politician.)  Does this background give us another possible motive for the photos besides the one Silicio says she has, wanting to show "the care and devotion that civilians and military crews dedicate to the task of returning the soldiers home".  Absolutely.

Will the Seattle Times mention this background in a news story?  Now, that's an interesting question.

(Although everyone calls them coffins, I understand that the boxes underneath the flags are not, technically, coffins.  They have some mushy bureaucratic name like temporary transfer containers, or something similar.)
- 7:52 PM, 24 April 2004
More:  To their credit, the Seattle Times did fill in the missing background in this story.   To their discredit, they did not explain why it took them a week to do so.  Briefly, unless the Seattle Times story is wrong, Mike Siegel was correct.  There's a bit more background in this NewsMax story.
- 10:24 AM, 25 April 2004   [link]